A Comprehensive Guide for Public Speaking at Scientific Conferences

Introduction

I served as a judge for some of the student presentations at the 2016 Canadian Statistics Student Conference (CSSC).  The conference was both a learning opportunity and a networking opportunity for statistics students in Canada.  The presentations allowed the students to share their research and course projects with their peers, and it was a chance for them to get feedback about their work and learn new ideas from other students.

Unfortunately, I found most of the presentations to be very bad – not necessarily in terms of the content, but because of the delivery.  Although the students showed much earnestness and eagerness in sharing their work with others, most of them demonstrated poor competence in public speaking.

Public speaking is an important skill in knowledge-based industries, so these opportunities are valuable experiences for anybody to strengthen this skill.  You can only learn it by doing it many times, making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes.  Having delivered many presentations, learned from my share of mistakes, and received much praise for my seminars, I hope that the following tips will help anyone who presents at scientific conferences to improve their public-speaking skills.  In fact, most of these tips apply to public speaking in general.

I spoke at the 2016 Canadian Statistics Student Conference on career advice for students and new graduates in statistics.

Image courtesy of Peter Macdonald on Flickr.

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Maximizing Your Learning Potential at Professional Conferences – A Detailed Guide

Introduction

During last summer, I attended the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Statistical Society of Canada (SSC).  I spoke on the career-advice panel at the 2016 Canadian Statistics Student Conference (CSSC), and I met some colleagues and professors to share ideas about our mutual interests in statistics, statistical education, and the use of social media to promote statistics to the general public.

From observing and talking to many students at this conference, I realized that most of them did not use it effectively to maximize their learning potential.  A conference like this is a great opportunity for networking, career development, and – eventually – finding a job, but I suspect that most statistics students do not comprehend the depth of its value, let alone how to extract it.  Thus, I’m writing this advice column to help anyone who attends a professional conference.

Image courtesy of Rufino from Wikimedia Commons.

Objectives

Most statistics students want to succeed academically and find a job after completing their education – that job could be within or outside of academia.  Thus, at any professional conference, they should have the following objectives:

  1. To learn new ideas in your fields of interest
  2. To meet others who share your professional interests
  3. To learn soft skills from veterans in your industry for developing your career
  4. To build valuable relationships in your professional network

Unfortunately, based on my anecdotal observations, many students in statistics, math and science don’t seem to grasp Objectives #3-4.  These students tend to be passive in their attendance and shy in their participation.  When they do try to pursue Objectives #3-4, they are often unprepared and do not take advantage of all of the learning opportunities that are available to them.

The first step in maximizing your learning potential at a professional conference is recognizing that it takes preparation and hard work.  To do it well, you need to take all 4 objectives seriously and practice them frequently.  Attending a professional conference is a skill, and developing this skill requires thought and effort.  It involves much more than just showing up, talking at your turn, and listening at all other times.

Hopefully, the rest of this article will help you to develop this skill in an intelligent way, but you must realize that there is no substitution for hard work.

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Analyst Finder – A Free Job-Matching Service for Statisticians, Data Scientists, Database Managers and Data Analysts

If you are a statistician, data scientist, database manager, or data analyst, then consider using Analyst Finder for your next job search.  It is a web site that connects job seekers in data analytics with employers.  The service is free for job seekers, and it earns money by charging companies and recruiters a small fee to find qualified candidates through its job-matching service.

To register for this service as a job seeker, you simply need to complete a check list of skills and preferences.  It’s quick and easy to do, and you can change this list whenever your wish to update your qualifications.

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Employers and recruiters can register for this service to search for qualified candidates, and the fees are displayed on the web site.

This company was founded by Art Tabachneck, a former president of the Toronto Area SAS Society and a veteran analytics professional.  In case you’re interested in learning more about him, SAS has a profile about him in recognition of his expertise in SAS programming and his contributions to online support communities and user groups.

My Alumni Profile by Simon Fraser University – Where Are They Now?

I am happy and grateful to be featured by my alma mater, Simon Fraser University (SFU), in a recent profile.  I answered questions about how my transition from my academic education to my career in statistics and about how blogging and social media have helped me to advance my career.  Check it out!

During my undergraduate degree at SFU, I volunteered at its Career Services Centre for 5 years as a career advisor in its Peer Education program.  I began writing for its official blog, the Career Services Informer (CSI), during that time.  I have continued to write career advice for the CSI as an alumnus, and it is always a pleasure to give back to this wonderful centre!

You can find all of my advice columns here on my blog.

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Career Advice Panel – Statistical Society of Canada’s Annual Student Conference

I am excited to go to Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, and speak at the Statistical Society of Canada‘s (SSC’s) Annual Student Conference on Saturday, May 28, 2016!  This one-day conference will be a chance for statistics students from all over Canada to share their research with each other, network with industry professionals, and get career advice from the career advice panel.  I will be one of 3 speakers on this panel, and I look forward to sharing my advice and answering the students’ questions.  Read the Final Program Booklet to get the schedule and learn about the backgrounds of all speakers at this conference.

If you will attend this, conference, please feel free to come and say “Hello”!

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This event will occur before the 2016 Annual Conference of the Statistical Society of Canada.

 

How to Ask for Reference Letters From Your Professors

This following article was published on the Career Services Informer (CSI), the official career blog of Simon Fraser University (SFU).  I have been fortunate to be a guest blogger for the CSI since I was an undergraduate student at SFU, and you can read all of my recent articles as an alumnus here.

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Image courtesy of Frank C. Müller on Wikimedia

I recently blogged about fast-approaching deadlines for professional programs and graduate studies. Applying to those programs and scholarships requires reference letters from professors, and – having done so as a student at SFU – I have learned that this task is far more intense than simply sending a quick email. Here are some tips for how to make it easier for your professors to write the best reference letters for you.

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Get Ahead in the Race to Graduate Studies

This following article was published on the Career Services Informer (CSI), the official career blog of Simon Fraser University (SFU).  I have been fortunate to be a guest blogger for the CSI since I was an undergraduate student at SFU, and you can read all of my recent articles as an alumnus here.

 

As most students return to school in the upcoming semester, their academic studies and back-to-school logistics may be their top priorities.   However, if you want to pursue graduate studies or professional programs like medicine or law, then there are some important deadlines that are fast approaching, and they all involve time-consuming efforts to meet them. Now is a good time to tackle these deadlines and put forth your best effort while you are free of the burdens of exams and papers that await you later in the fall semester.

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Image Courtesy of Melburnian at Wikimedia

Speaking from experience, these applications are very long and tiring, and they will take a lot of thought, planning, writing and re-writing. They also require a lot of coordination to get the necessary documents, like your transcripts and letters of recommendation from professors who can attest to your academic accomplishments and research potential.  Plan ahead for them accordingly, and consider using the Career Services Centre to help you with drafting your curriculum vitae, your statements of interest, and any interview preparation.

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Leaving My Dream Career – Reflecting on My Decision 10 Years Later

I just couldn’t pretend any longer.

It was near the end of my second year at Simon Fraser University.  My GPA was pretty high, and I had just won a competitive NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award to work with an accomplished cardiac physiologist.  I attended all of the relevant seminars to get the “inside scoop” on how to successfully apply to medical school, and I volunteered in numerous organizations to demonstrate my non-academic credentials.  I had already developed good relationships with several professors who would have gladly written strong recommendations for my application.  All of the stars were aligning for my path to medical school.

I was also miserable, angry and devoid of any further motivation to stay on that path.

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Image courtesy of Carsten Tolkmit from Flickr.  Obtained via the Creative Commons License.

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Eric’s Enlightenment for Thursday, May 21, 2015 – A Special Edition on the Mental Health of Chemistry Graduate Students

Today, combining

  • my passion for chemistry,
  • my experienced knowledge of university culture in North America,
  • and my deep concern for mental health issues,

The Chemical Statistician will feature a collection of writing about the struggles that graduate students in chemistry face during their studies, and how those struggles affect their mental health.  This is a special edition of Eric’s Enlightenment.

  1. Chemjobber began a dialogue with Vinylogous about mental health and graduate studies in chemistry in 2013.  It started with this blog post as Part 1, containing reflections of Chemjobber’s own experience and thoughts on general issues on this subject.
  2. In Part 2 of their dialogue, Vinylogous responds to Chemjobber with a very detailed post on his conjectures of why graduate studies in chemistry is so hard on a student’s mental health.
  3. In Part 3 of their dialogue, Chemjobber responds to some of Vinylogous’ main points and addresses possible solutions to mental health challenges for chemistry graduate students.  He/She also begins to answer the question “Is a graduate degree in chemistry worth the sacrifice?”.
  4. In Part 4 of their dialogue, Vinylogous examines some alternative issues in this subject, including possible benefits of chemistry graduate studies for mental health, how some research supervisors aggravate mental health problems, and differences between sub-fields of chemistry.
  5. Finally, in Part 5, Chemjobber concludes this discussion by trying to answer some of the key questions that this dialogue generated and summarizes some of the key points that they learned.
  6. I am surprised that I never learned about this sad story during my studies as a chemistry student: Jason Altom was an accomplished and well-liked doctoral student in chemistry at Harvard University, yet he committed suicide at age 26, citing excessive pressure from abusive research advisers, including his supervisor, Nobel Laureate Elias Corey.  Notably, his suicide notes contained policy recommendations on how academic departments can better protect their students.

The dialogue between Chemjobber and Vinylogous was very productive, with many other chemistry bloggers adding valuable perspectives in their own blog posts.  I highly encourage you to read those articles, too.

I also highly recommend you to read the comments in all 5 blog posts – they add great diversity to the perspectives and experiences about this complicated topic.

Here are some key quotations that I gathered from these articles:

Chemjobber – in Part 1 of the dialogue with Vinylogous.

After weeks and weeks of long hours and frustration in the lab in either my 2nd or 3rd year of graduate school, I remember walking into my apartment bathroom, smashing the mirror with my fist and sitting on the edge of the bathtub. I seem to recall yelling at the top of my lungs “What am I going to do!?!?” about whatever reaction sequence of my total synthesis that simply was not going anywhere.

I can easily say that was one of the darkest periods of my time in graduate school. I am not sure if I was depressed — I’m a synthetic chemist, not a clinical psychologist. Close to ten years later, it’s mostly an unpleasant memory, with little recall of the details that set me off. But I can remember sitting on that bathtub edge, the deep despair of a project that wasn’t going well and the feeling that my entire life was an utter failure. Now, of course, I don’t feel that way at all. I can leave my work at work (mostly, anyway), and my self-worth is not entirely reliant on the yield of my last reaction. But there was a lot of pain in between then and now.

Vinylogous – in Part 2 of the dialogue with Chemjobber.

At one point during my previous degree, when I was doing research, taking classes, and teaching, my advisor told me frankly that my productivity needed to increase. It needed to double. At that point I already felt that I was at my absolutely limit in what I could accomplish in a week. At that point, I had nowhere near enough data for a paper and barely enough for a mediocre conference poster. Weekends had been given up, as had hobbies. When I mentioned to my advisor the many demands on my time, his response was short: “Sometimes you need to prioritize what’s important to you.” (The subtext: stop caring about class and teaching and hobbies). It was an existential moment. I managed somehow to increase my productivity and my efficiency, and within a year or so I had three first-author manuscripts. I defended my M.S. and graduated, moving to another (higher tier) school for a Ph.D. But I left with a pre-conditioned bitterness towards graduate work.

Career Seminar at Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, Simon Fraser University: 1:30 – 2:20 pm, Friday, February 20, 2015

I am very pleased to be invited to speak to the faculty and students in the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science at Simon Fraser University on this upcoming Friday.  I look forward to sharing my career advice and answering questions from the students about how to succeed in a career in statistics.  If you will attend this seminar, please feel free to come and say “Hello”!

Eric Cai - Official Head Shot

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Interview with SFU Office of Graduate Studies & Postdoctoral Fellows: Using Social Media to Advance Your Career

Jackie Amsden, the Coordinator of Postdoctoral Fellows & Professional Development Programs in the Office of Graduate Studies & Postdoctoral Fellows at Simon Fraser University (SFU), recently asked me to share my experience in using blogging and social media to advance my career.  I am pleased to have shared my advice with Jackie in an interview, and she summarized our conversation in a blog post.  I am especially delighted to hear that my advice generated valuable discussion about professional development for a new group of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows during their orientation at SFU.

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Jackie and other members of her team have written a series of blog posts on professional development for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows – check it out!  You can follow Jackie on Twitter @jackiecamsden.

It is always a pleasure to give back to my alma mater and help university students to develop their careers!  Thanks, Jackie!

Getting Ready for Mathematical Classes in the New Semester – Guest-Blogging on SFU’s Career Services Informer

The following blog post was slightly condensed for editorial brevity and then published on the Career Services Informer, the official blog of the Career Services Centre at my undergraduate alma mater, Simon Fraser University

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As a new Fall semester begins, many students start courses such as math, physics, computing science, engineering and statistics.  These can be tough classes with a rapid progression in workload and difficulty, but steady preparation can mount a strong defense to the inevitable pressure and stress.  Here are some tips to help you to get ready for those classes.

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Using Your Vacation to Develop Your Career – Guest Blogging on Simon Fraser University’s Career Services Informer

The following post was originally published on the Career Services Informer.

I recently took a vacation from my former role as a statistician at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. I did not plan a trip out of town – the spring weather was beautiful in Vancouver, and I wanted to spend time on the things that I like to do in this city. Many obvious things came to mind – walking along beaches, practicing Python programming and catching up with friends – just to name a few.

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Yes, Python programming was one of the obvious things on my vacation to-do list, and I understand how ridiculous this may seem to some people. Why tax my brain during a time that is meant for mental relaxation, especially when the weather is great?

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A Story About Perseverance – Inspiration From My Old Professor

Names and details in this blog post have been altered to protect the privacy of its subjects.

I met my old professor, Dr. Perez, for lunch recently.  We have kept in touch for many years since she taught me during my undergraduate studies, and she has been a good friend and mentor.  We had not seen each other for a few years, but we have been in regular contact over phone and email, exchanging stories, updates, photos of her grandchildren, frustrations, thrills, and perspectives.  It was nice to see her again.

I told her about the accomplishments and the struggles in my early career as a statistician so far.  I am generally satisfied with how I have performed since my entry into the statistics profession, but there are many skills that I don’t have or need to improve upon.  I want to learn distributed computing and become better at programming in Python, SQL, and Hadoop – skills that are highly in demand in my industry but not taught during my statistics education.  I want to be better at communicating about statistics to non-statisticians – not only helping them to understand difficult concepts, but persuading them to follow my guidance when I know that I am right.  I sometimes even struggle with seemingly basic questions that require much thinking and research on my part to answer.  While all of these are likely common weaknesses that many young statisticians understandably have, they contribute to my feeling of incompetence on occasion  – and it’s not pleasant to perform below my, my colleagues’, or my industry’s expectations for myself.

Dr. Perez listened and provided helpful observations and advice.  While I am working hard and focusing on my specific problems at the moment, she gave me a broader, more long-term perspective about how best to overcome these struggles, and I really appreciated it.  Beyond this, however, she told me a story about a professor of our mutual acquaintance that stunned and saddened me, yet motivated me to continue to work harder.

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How to Find a Job in Statistics – Advice for Students and Recent Graduates

Introduction

A graduate student in statistics recently asked me for advice on how to find a job in our industry.  I’m happy to share my advice about this, and I hope that my advice can help you to find a satisfying job and develop an enjoyable career.  My perspectives would be most useful to students and recent graduates because of my similar but unique background; I graduated only 1.5 years ago from my Master’s degree in statistics at the University of Toronto, and I volunteered as a career advisor at Simon Fraser University during my Bachelor’s degree.  My advice will reflect my experience in finding a job in Toronto, but you can probably find parallels in your own city.

Most of this post focuses on soft skills that are needed to find any job; I dive specifically into advice for statisticians in the last section.  Although the soft skills are general and not specific to statisticians, many employers, veteran statisticians, and professors have told me that students and recent graduates would benefit from the focus on soft skills.  Thus, I discuss them first and leave the statistics-specific advice till the end.

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Christmas: A Great Time To Accelerate Your Job Search – Guest-Blogging on SFU’s Career Services Informer

I am excited to publish my new post as a guest blogger on the Career Services Informer, a blog on career advice from Simon Fraser University’s Career Services Centre.  (I volunteered as a Career Peer Educator there for 6 years.)  I recount how I successfully used the winter break during my 8-month Master’s program to network and conduct information interviews, which eventually led to a job that I started 6 days after the last exam in my degree.  While your classmates and colleagues may be resting over the Christmas holidays, you should take advantage of this lull to make a strong impression on potential employers and conduct information interviews with them.  Employers tend to be less busy during this time of the year, so this is also a good time for them to meet with you and share their advice.  Pursuing this contrarian strategy will give you an advantage, and this is why Christmas is a Great Time to Accelerate Your Job Search.

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Opening Doors In Your Job Search With Statistics & Data Analysis – Guest Blogging on Simon Fraser University’s Career Services Informer

The following post was originally published on the Career Services Informer.

Who are the potential customers that a company needs to target in its marketing campaign for a new service? What factors cause defects in a manufacturer’s production process? What impact does a wage-subsidy program have on alleviating poverty in a low-income neighbourhood? Despite the lack of any suggestion about numbers or data in any of these questions, statistics is increasingly playing a bigger – if not the biggest – role in answering them. These are also problems your next employer may need you to adress. How will you tackle them?

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The information economy of the 21st century demands us to adapt to its emphasis on extracting insight from data – and data are exploding in size and complexity in all industries. As you transition from the classroom to the workplace in a tough job market, becoming proficient in basic statistics and data analysis will give you an edge in fields that involve working with information. This applies especially to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and business, but it also applies to health care, governmental affairs, and the social sciences. Even fields like law and the arts are relying on data for making key decisions.

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