Hi everyone! It looks like I have the pleasure of writing the last blog of the Fall semester. I hope that your final exams, papers, and end of term assignments went well, and that you have learned many things this semester. With just over a week away until Christmas, I’m sure everyone is looking forward to having a nice break from academic study. Whether you end up staying in St. John’s or going wherever home is for the holiday break, I hope that you get an opportunity to relax and recharge. Of course, I say that knowing full well that many graduate students often use the extra time during the break between semesters to work on one (or some) of their many projects (yep, that’s my plan!), but it is still important to take some time off to rejuvenate yourself before the Winter semester starts. As a grad student, I’ve noticed that the semesters always seem to fly by so quickly. Yet, I’ve also noticed that the scheduled academic breaks throughout the year seem to go by even faster! So honestly, use this time off to your advantage and make sure that you actually do take a break from academic tasks. Trust me, as soon as the second semester starts up, you’ll be back to being busy all over again. The best way to prepare for that leg of the race is to refresh yourself now.
In terms of graduate school, I’ve had a few great academic experiences since my last blog entry. In October, I participated in two academic competitions at the university, the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competitions. The Faculty of Science hosted a 3MT for science students, while the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) hosted a campus-wide competition for graduate students from all programs. I recall mentioning this competition in my March blog entry last year, however, this year was the first time that I was able to compete with an actual project. As you can likely deduce from the competition’s name, students are challenged to communicate the importance and significance of their thesis research to a non-academic audience in three minutes or less. With the aid of one PowerPoint slide, the competitors get one shot to explain their research in a creative and coherent fashion before the time limit is up. The competition is also filmed, and this fact can add to the pressure of the presentation! I’d like to give a shout out to all of the students who gave talks at the 3MT (both competitions), and just say that everyone did a great job! There were a lot of great and interesting projects presented at both 3MT competitions and I hope to have another chance to compete again next year. Admittedly, it can be quite difficult to explain a huge project in such a short window of time, but it is possible. The competition is a great way to hone your communication skills and as academics; presenting ideas in a clear manner is a vital part of the graduate student life. Whether you are drafting a funding application to one of the Tri-Council Agencies, writing a paper for a class or an academic journal, or giving a presentation in class or at a research conference, being able to articulate ideas and information clearly to others is a great quality to have, and will only strengthen your chances of success in these areas. When you have finished your graduate studies, having clear communication skills in the professional setting is an essential tool to have for all interaction purposes. No matter what profession you find yourself in, most of us will end up working with other people in some capacity, whether it is professionally or simply by the nature of the work setting. As such, being able to articulate information clearly between yourself and clients/co-workers is (I think) one of the most important skill sets in any professional worker’s life. So, honing this effective skill early in your career (i.e., while in grad school!) is key. I’d really encourage any students who are reading this blog to give next year’s 3MT competition some serious thought. In addition to further developing your presentation skills, it’s really a great and fun thing to do and looks awesome on your CV! However, if you decide that 3MT is not something for you, then I would at least suggest that you attend the competition just to hear about all of the great and diverse research that is happening at Memorial. The 3MT competition is open for the campus community and the public/non-academics to be part of the audience. Mark your calendars for next year!
For those of you who attended the SGS’s 3MT competition in The Landing, you would have heard the winning presentation by my lab’s very own Meagan McCardle! Meagan gave a great presentation about her master’s research entitled Safeguarding Youth Interrogation Rights: Enhancing Legal Literacy through Technology. As she pointed out in her talk, her research findings could have huge implications for youth involved in the criminal justice system. Her first place win means that Meagan will represent Memorial this spring at the Eastern Regional 3MT Competition. (Check out Memorial University’s YouTube and Facebook pages for some videos and pictures from the competition). This isn’t the first time that Meagan’s important work has been recognized! This past summer, Meagan and some other lab colleagues were featured in The Telegram newspaper and on Memorial’s official news site, the Gazette, talking about how important it is that youth comprehend their legal rights. I’m glad to see that another member of the Psychology and Law lab is getting recognition for her valuable work. She’s a great friend and an awesome study-buddy! Needless to say, I’m a pretty proud ‘academic-big-brother’!
Another unique graduate student experience that I had was teaching an undergraduate class in November. When my supervisor offered me the opportunity to give a guest lecture, I said “Sure! No problem. I’m happy to help.” When I found out that 225 students were in the 2.5 hour long night class, I thought ‘Wow…what have I just committed to?’ The course was Introduction to Forensic Psychology (PSYC 2150), and my lecture was about the topic of Juries. I had taken the Forensic Psychology class during my undergraduate degree, and the concepts of juries (e.g., how jury members are selected, how jurors make decisions, the role of group dynamics in the deliberation process and decision-making) always fascinated me. After getting over the initial anxieties and nervousness that I was feeling at the beginning of the lecture, I felt like it went really well. It was an interesting experience being on ‘the other side’ of the lecture. Obviously, as students, we spend most of our academic career in the lecture hall seats listening to our professor talk. Yet, until this lecture opportunity came up, I had not fully appreciated how challenging it is to stand up in front of people and talk for an extended period of time! Of course, I had presented research to large groups of people at conferences in the past, and I have even taken graduate/seminar classes that were heavily focused on student-led presentations. However, those experiences generally involved giving a 15-20 minute presentation, and paled in comparison to lecturing for a full 2.5 hours. Remember what I was saying above about the importance of honing communication skills? Teaching a class gave me another chance to put this into practice. Based on the feedback surveys, I think I did well since a lot of students wrote “Best lecturer so far” (Sorry, Dr. Snook… I couldn’t resist). If you get a chance to give a guest lecture in a class, I’d recommend taking the opportunity – it’s good for presentation practice and another gem on your CV. With that said, let me warn you about post-lecture fatigue. You will be mentally exhausted the next day (at least I was). Still, do the lecture anyway if given the chance.
So, whether it is giving a presentation in one of your courses, giving a guest lecture for one of your professor’s classes, writing up a research paper for a class assignment or academic journal, telling the public about your thesis work in three minutes or less, writing an academic blog for the School of Graduate Studies, or one of the many other knowledge mobilization exercises at university, the point I’m making is that there are plenty of opportunities to improve your oration, and develop an effective communication skill set. Don’t let these opportunities go to waste! As someone who strives to personally advance in this area, I welcome these articulation challenges and encourage you to do the same. Meagan McCardle is a great example of an effective communicator. She took a large scale project and articulated challenging research concepts to a group of non-academic people in a clear fashion. As a result, she is getting a trip to the Eastern Regionls and due recognition for both her research and strong presentation ability. With practice and motivation, you could be the next student representing Memorial at a regional and/or national competition.
Enjoy the break, everyone. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Until next time…