In Spring 2014, the WMU Graduate Student Association (GSA) developed GradTalks, our own version of TEDtalks, an opportunity for WMU grad students to talk about their innovative research, travel to conferences, and other exciting scholarly experiences. TEDtalks grew out of a conference dedicated to tech, education, and design, and now the 10-minute, interactive presentation style used at that conference has spread world-wide and encompasses topics ranging from life-hacks, science and engineering, business practices, arts and humanities, social media and new technology. Thus far, our GradTalks have also embraced this inclusive scope, featuring students speaking about research in areas as diverse as dental anthropology, LGBT identity-creation in online forums, technology and disability studies, bacterial applications for curing cancers, education among Central American communities, and the transitional experiences of international students. The talks have been recorded and will be available online in the near future.
Recently, we talked to graduate alumna and former GradTalks participant Jamie Losee about her experience presenting in this forum. Jamie completed her MA in Anthropology last year, and her research focuses on dental anthropology.
Can you tell us a little about the topic of your GradTalks presentation and your research in general?
Jamie: My GradTalks presentation was on the preliminary results of my thesis, focused on secular trends in dental health in the US during the 1900s. I am interested in inequalities and differences in rates of dental disease in relation to SES, race, sex/gender, and time. My sample of human skulls was taken from the Hamann-Todd Collection housed at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. This sample is a low SES population from the early 1900s, who all died in Cleveland. I am comparing my results to published literature on dental health from the mid to late 1900s. I have found racial secular changes in dental health, that could be related to changing cultural consumption patterns (sugar consumption, smoking, drinking, etc.).
How did you prepare for the presentation format?
A 10 minutes presentation seems long (or at least it did when I was an undergraduate), but when you are doing a presentation on your thesis research 10 minutes is nothing. I had to make sure that my presentation had a quick general introduction to my topic, so that everyone in the audience (non-anthropologists) would be able to understand and follow my research. Then, I also had to have time to present my results. It was definitely a task to try to fit everything into the 10 minute presentation, but it is really necessary to be able to condense your research into a shorter presentation for a general population.
How did the presentation help you? Was the practice talking about your research helpful?
It was great to start giving presentations about my results way before my thesis defense, because people have been able to ask me questions that helped focus and clarify my research and results. I, also, went to our international conference about two months after my GradTalks presentation in Calgary, Canada, and had already had a good place to start from, and a presentation under my belt. It is really important for a graduate student (any person in general) to be able to give a presentation and talk about their research in various formats to various audiences, and this experience was helpful to prepare me for future presentations (including my thesis defense). I really enjoyed being a part of GradTalks because I improved my presentation skills, but also improved my thesis as a result of discussion with other graduate students.
What is the greatest benefit of the Grad College offering this kind of event for students?
I think this event is a great benefit to the Graduate College because it allows for presentations to a cross disciplinary audience, which creates more well rounded research, these/dissertations, and graduate students. Explaining your research to someone from a different academic background can be very difficult, but often allows for discussion that would have never taken place between two people with similar backgrounds. I never could have imagined that other graduate students (may who I had never met) could help improve my research so much. I also think this is a great benefit because it gives graduate students the ability to present their research, which can sometimes be difficult. Academic conferences can sometimes be hard to get accepted to and are frequently far away and costly, so having this medium on campus is amazing!
GradTalks will start again in Fall 2014, and GSA will begin accepting applications for presentations in September. Any student wishing to share an exciting research idea or scholarly experience to a supportive, audience from a variety of disciplines should consider presenting. For more information, contact the GSA at firstname.lastname@example.org.