How to survive your first lab meeting

Lab meetings can be daunting, but we have some great tips to get you through.

It’s today: your first lab meeting. You’ve got your slides together, tested the animations, and as long as that one video loads, everything should be smooth sailing. But you’re probably still worrying, “What about Professor Knowsitall and the inevitable question? What if someone interrupts me? What if I forget what I’m talking about?!”.

It’s okay. We’ve been there and we know it’s a scary thing. Thankfully we have some tried and tested words of wisdom and so we bring to you the "Lab meeting survival guide".

1. No one expects you to present a breakthrough

It might be daunting being up in front of your lab members, but no one’s waiting for you to deliver groundbreaking studies (not yet anyway!). You build your research up bit-by-bit and these are just the foundations you’re building and everyone knows that. Relax. You’ve got this.

2. Interruptions are a chance to clarify things

Rather than panicking when you see the dreaded hand go up mid-way through your talk, see it as a chance to explain something you already know. Most interruptions are just to clarify minor points. It’s because the listener is interested, and they want to hear from you. That’s a good thing.

3. Slow and steady wins the race

Nerves are going to make you want to race through your slides. Don’t give in to them: talk through each slide at a leisurely pace – even at a pace you feel is too slow. It will come across much clearer and more thoughtful. It’s also a chance for you be very clear on what you’re saying rather than possibly stumbling over concepts. Maybe even take a casual stroll over to the whiteboard to sketch out an idea you’re trying to explain!

4. Less is more

Don’t pack your slides with text as you’ll only end up reading them off word-for-word. Have a title, a sentence or two, and then some interesting data that you can discuss. No one wants to read a whole slide – they want to hear your interpretation of the results.

5. Even negative results are results

Don’t feel the need to only include successful experimental data. You’re going to have your fair share of failed experiments and lab meetings are often a great place to show that data and come up with a solution as a group. Your lab members want to help you. Honestly.

6. Everyone hates PowerPoint

It’s going to happen so just accept it now: PowerPoint will freeze, fail to load a slide or just plain old crash. That’s okay – we expect it to happen at some point. No one will blame you. Just apologize, lament about Microsoft, and pick up where you left off. It’s almost over by now anyway.

7. “Any questions?”

Try not to wince when you say this as there will be questions. No one’s trying to trip you up; instead they’re trying to understand your methodology to ultimately make it better. If you don’t know a term, a reference, or the question in general, just say so. There’s no shame in not knowing something. However, if you try to pretend you know something, you’ll fall short at some point and then you’ll look silly. They’re the experts at this point, so feel free to ask for their input even on their question: “That’s a great question but I’m not sure how I’d go about investigating that. What do you think would work best?” is a perfectly acceptable answer.

Even though lab meetings – and especially your first one – can seem terrifying, no one’s out to get you. It’s a chance to troubleshoot, to discuss ideas, and hopefully, focus the direction of your work. Think of your lab meetings as brainstorming sessions rather than interrogations!

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