The Research Toolkit

CURIE's open research platform

Category: Research Tips

A personal experience of Compass 2018

26/10/2018 – Post by CURIE Research Fellow Magdalini Maligali 

Interdisciplinary teams

Compass brings together interdisciplinary students to work collaboratively on their individual research projects along with a supportive mentor.  The program encourages us to openly discuss our research interests and ideas on future or current tasks. It was a safe place where feedback was welcomed in order to enhance everyone’s research skills and is an ideal place for everyone who thinks they might have a passion for research but don’t know where to begin!

The interdisciplinary nature of the team allows the spread of different viewpoints and beliefs. For example, my group consists of members from Biomedical, Psychological, IT and Science background. Being exposed to their interests helped me think about important multidisciplinary issues I never thought I would be interested in. Even though we came from a diverse background of knowledge, it was great to see that we had common interests. Our mentor also encouraged us to give feedback to each other to develop our individual research projects. Through our weekly meetings, we worked as a team to deepen our understanding of research, develop our own research projects and brainstorm ideas for current assignments. In the process, we developed social, presentation, writing, and communication skills, as well as a long-lasting friendships.

Personal gains

For me, compass was an opportunity to take the first step into research. Compass has equipped me with information about the importance of research, how it is conducted and how the results are reported in a scientific way. Coming into the program, my understanding of research was limited and only on a theoretical level. Compass not only helped me to build these skills but also helped me design my own project with the help of my mentor, as well as my group members. Within the group, I identified my weaknesses and set new goals to address them. It was also enlightening to listen to other people’s experiences and explore other potential undergraduate pathways for research through networking.  It was a really incredible experience and opportunity to learn from my mentor and everyone else around me. I can’t wait to be involved again next year!


What makes a good poster presentation?

17/09/2018 – Post by CURIE Policy and Project Officer, Hannah Skipworth

Last Wednesday, Ros Haliday (Matheson Library Learning Skills Advisor) put this question to a room of undergraduate researchers at the Poster Preparation and Presentation workshop. With a little bit of head scratching, some answers emerged. A good poster doesn’t have too much text, uses contrasting colours and represents data using graphs.

When asked ‘what are the challenges when starting a poster?’ The conversation was much more animated. I leaned over to my partner, whose immediate (and relatable!) fear was getting the font size incorrect. What is a good font size anyway? We’ll get to that.

Ros took us through a collection of example posters, each time asking us to point out what was good and what could be done better. For example, oftentimes the title could be snappier, the information could be presented in a more logical order, or dot points could be used to break up dense text.

Taking all this on board, the students received an A3 piece of paper each and some markers, and were set to the task of mapping out a poster. Every student organised their poster differently, depending on their methodologies, graphs, images, and conclusions. It was great to see many different approaches.  

And with the library’s walls covered in undergraduate research posters, it was time to practice ad-lib presenting with a partner. This was great fun and it was tough to wrap it up once the workshop ended! We left the session with these key pieces of advice:

On creating the poster:

  • Create a snappy title and use sentence case (do not Capitalise Each Word)
  • Use academic language that doesn’t alienate the audience
  • Have a main point
  • Clearly define your research questions
  • Make it accessible to audience members from all disciplines
  • Make the best use of the page
  • Use an attractive colour scheme (blue writing on a green background is not going to work!)
  • Have photos that invite the audience in
  • Use graphs that represent the data
  • Consider using dot points
  • Don’t forget your references

On presenting the poster:

  • The poster should be able to stand-alone
  • The presenter shouldn’t need to explain the vital information, it should be on the poster
  • It should be presented like a PowerPoint presentation; you can’t be looking back at it!

Still wondering what the right font size might be? Well, anything that can be read from 1 meter away will work!

Good luck with your posters and look forward to seeing you at ICUR next week!

Tips & opportunities for presenting original research at ICUR

03/09/2018 – Post by Senior Student Projects Officer Jenna Barker

ICUR is an event that provides students with an assortment of challenges and possibilities when presenting their original research. While the prospect of presenting your own research to an interdisciplinary audience can be a bit daunting, the benefits outweighs the challenges. 

To begin, it can be challenging to know how much depth to go into to, while still making sure your audience understands, can engage with, and will enjoy your presentation.

What will make your audience curious?

What is unique about your research it? What got you interested in the first place? Try incorporating some of these elements into your presentation to engage your audience. Think about it from their perspective. What’s really special about your research? Practice explaining it in front of your parents, housemates, partners, friends, peers and your Compass group!

Each time you practice you will know your presentation better, and the feedback they provide will help polish it to a point where it’s enjoyable and understandable for the ICUR audience. The process of constructing a presentation suited for an interdisciplinary audience also involves critical thinking about your own research topic. Consider what are the most important messages to get across and why. 

It’s all about skill building!

Presenting original research is also fantastic for practising critical thinking and developing a persuasive and interesting presentation. Thinking about a research topic in a new way or addressing gaps in the literature show that you are able to think independently which is useful for both work and university. As you work on your presentation you are honing your communication skills, overcoming personal challenges, the fear of public speaking and employing time management skills. 

You will be able to demonstrate to future employers that you have these skills, and having had the experience of presenting at an international conference also shows that your research was of a certain quality to be accepted.

Be on the lookout for possible collaborators.

ICUR also provides you with the possibility of getting new people interested in your research topic, and to make them care! This could be around a particular issue, new approaches to old questions, or simply something you find intriguing. Often students at university can feel siloed into their discipline and rarely have the opportunity to learn about what others are doing in different disciplines. More often than not, people are really enthusiastic to learn about new things, and may even draw links with their own areas of study. Who knows, you could meet future colleagues at ICUR this year!

So remember, go out and make friends! Remember to enjoy yourself and be proud that you are presenting your original research!


The dos and don’ts of intercultural communication and presenting to international audiences

27/08/2018 – Post by Senior Student Projects Officer Darcy Whitworth

Second Language learning & ICUR 2017

Presenting for the first time at ICUR in 2017 was an extremely rewarding and eye-opening experience where I was exposed to an entirely new form of research communication.

As a Japanese studies student with advanced proficiency in the Japanese language, I was tactically paired in a panel with Kyushu University. Approaching my presentation with the understanding that I would be talking to an international audience, I specifically designed my speech and content to include simple language. This meant I could communicate my message effectively to all members, no matter their level of English language. Moreover, I utilised my language skills to present a short introduction of my topic in Japanese; thus, I was able to foster a sense of inclusion between myself and the Kyushu audience from the very beginning of my presentation.

Overall, my involvement in ICUR 2017 taught me the importance of speaking slowly, using well-known graphics in my slides, body language and eye contact within my presentation. Looking toward the future, I have devised a checklist of ‘must-do’s’ for presenting to an international audience which can be a used by anyone wishing to boost their intercultural competency skills.  

Must do #1: Think of language as a tool to bridge the gap between cultures

Firstly, language plays a vital role in how well the audience can understand the crux of your research and if used correctly, your words can be a powerful tool to bridge the gap between cultures. For this reason, it is essential that you choose your words wisely, and if you know that you will be presenting to an audience whose first language is not English, I would consider simplifying your content. Furthermore, always remember to speak slowly with a measured pitch, so as the audience will be able to easily process information. In this way, you can be sure that everyone will know what you are talking about and that your research message will be effectively conveyed to all.

Must do #2: Body Language is your superpower

Secondly, I cannot stress enough the importance of using body language, gestures and stance when presenting and communicating. This is a skill which is valuable to not only for your ICUR experience, but also in your everyday life as well. I would like to think of you as Superheros, with body language as your superpower which you can use to connect with every member of the audience. Communication with your audience begins before you open your mouth. The audience’s first impression of you is your posture and presentation, so it’s very important to know how to stand, as well as, how to act.

Tips for how to present yourself: (Don’ts)
  • Don’t stand facing your visuals and turning your back to your audience.
  • Don’t stand with your hands in your pockets, with your shoulders slumped forwards. It’s very difficult to convey a strong message through this posture.
  • No hands-on hips; when your hands are on your hips you tend to look too powerful.
  • Lastly, hands clasped in front of your body. While it makes you look somewhat timid or scared it is very bad when you would like to use your hands to gesture from this stance. (“I want to show you something.”)
Tips for how to present yourself: (Do’s)  
  • Stand face on to the people you are talking to with your hands by your sides. Move your hands forward to emphasis main points, with palms up, not down.
  • Gesture toward your body by opening your arms, using both at the same time to demonstrate positive facts.
  • Move your hands down in a ‘chop’ motion, one or both, to deliver strong opinions.
  • Eye contact, look at how your audience members are sitting, are they paying attention or are they zoning out? You can alter your movements and actions to reconnect with the audience. For example; try adding a little bit of humour to your presentation to lighten the mood!

Must do #3: Slide graphics, the simpler the better!

Finally, the content of your slides can dramatically affect how well you are able to communicate your message across cultures. For this reason, I would recommend using simple English, with a minimum of two to three dot-points per slide. For your presentation, you do not want to overwhelm the audience with textual information in your slides, as they will already be working very hard to understand the English within your speech. To ensure effective intercommunication, include well-known graphics and analogies to simplify your main points. This approach can be useful to bridge the gap between multiple nations and reconnect with the audience through common interests. Furthermore, by including well-known ideas and graphics such as images from pop-culture, you can increase the likelihood of the audience understanding the main message of your research; thus, improving their engagement and experience of your presentation.

So, best of luck on your journey into presenting to an intercultural audience! If you take on even a few of these points you will be well ahead of many in the field. Good luck to those of you presenting at ICUR 2018 and enjoy the experience, it’s really special when you are able to connect with an international audience.

Writing an Abstract: The “blurb” of your research

13/08/2018 – Post by Compass Mentor Alice Kim

Writing an abstract is an important skill in academic writing. It is probably one of the most common pieces of writing that researchers do – for journal submissions and conference proceedings. Once you master the art of writing an abstract, you have acquired a skill that can be used in a myriad of ways.  

I like to think of the abstract as the “blurb” of your research. It’s usually the first thing people read so it should give them enough information to understand your research journey.

Coming from a science background, I was taught the “formula” but this can be applied to all disciplines. An abstract usually has five components:

  1. Introduction: Starting your abstract with a bit of background information helps sets the stage for your research. Introduce the key concepts or terms that are critical to your research to help the reader contextualise your research.
  2. Aim/hypothesis: Briefly state your aim (what you want to find out) or hypothesis (what you think you will find out) of your research.

  3. Methodology: How did you conduct your research (ie. literature search, experiments)? How did you analyse your data (ie. statistical tests, thematic analysis)?

  4. Results: What did you find out? Or if you do not have results yet, what are your preliminary results and/or what do you expect to find?

  5. Conclusion/significance: What do your results mean? What do they mean in the context of the field?

Altogether, this should give the reader the information to get a general understanding of your research. Some tips that I discovered through writing abstracts include:

  • Use bullet points to plan your abstract. I extract the main points from each section and compile a list. By doing this, you can see all the critical points of your research, making it easier to link all the main points together.

  • Keep it concise. An abstract is usually between 250-300 words, so it should be concise. Concise means brief but informative – you should be able to convey all the information you need using the minimum number of words. Writing concisely is a skill – the more you write, the better you will become.

  • Avoid jargon. Your abstract could be read by anyone. In the case of ICUR, your audience is inter-disciplinary. To ensure that your audience understands your research, avoid using discipline-specific terms. If you need to use them, make sure to define them.

  • Do the “mum test” – get someone from outside of your discipline to read your abstract. If they can understand it, that’s a good sign your abstract is fit for an interdisciplinary audience.

I hope these tips were helpful and happy abstract writing everyone!