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Tips and tricks for presenting research at a medical conference as a premed


Last summer, I had the incredible opportunity to present a case report as a poster at the Women in Ophthalmology Summer Symposium. As a premed student, this was exciting but also quite intimidating.

This meeting is a large national medical conference with about 1,500 attendees, including ophthalmologists of all career stages, many ophthalmology residents, and medical students interested in ophthalmology. I presented the case of a child who had experienced retinopathy as a side effect of an MEK inhibitor chemotherapeutic, a complication well-known in adults but rarely reported in children. The poster presenters at the conference were placed into groups of 10, divided by subspecialty/poster topic, with a moderator to ensure that presentations stayed within their time limits and to help facilitate discussion and questions following each presentation. For me, this meant that not only was every presenter (except for me) in my group a physician, but they were all also experts in the field of my case, neuro-ophthalmology. I was assigned to present last in my group. While listening to these phenomenal women present their research, I paid careful attention to not only the subject matter but also how it was presented. I mentally noted what I liked and wanted to emulate in my presentation, and what I didn’t like and wanted to avoid. When it was finally my turn to present, I was excited and very nervous. I put on my best brave face, ran over the pronunciation of a few particularly difficult words in my head (hoping not to embarrass myself in front of this group of experts), flashed a confident smile, and began the presentation I had practiced in the mirror so many times.

I was amazed by the support and encouragement I received from the women in my group of presenters as well as the small audience that we had garnered. Although I was not the most expert person there, I was the most expert on my presentation. My preparation paid off, and it felt amazing to present my research to people who were interested and knowledgeable in the field rather than my dog, my business major friends who had no idea what I was talking about, and my parents who had listened to me practice about 100 times too many.

Through my own preparation, observing others present, and my own experience presenting research at a medical conference, I have picked up a few tips and tricks.

When you are practicing, practice out loud. This may seem obvious, but it is much easier to go over things in your head than it is to say the words out loud. It may feel awkward at first, but practice alone in the mirror, record yourself and make yourself listen to the recording, or present your research to anyone who will listen (even your dog). While you are practicing, make sure to time yourself. Many conferences adhere to strict timing and the last thing that you want on presentation day is to be cut off and not able to finish your presentation or run over your allotted time. If in doubt, it is almost always better to be a bit under the time limit rather than any amount over the time limit. The more comfortable you get with presenting out loud, the less you will need to rely on reading off your poster or notes, the more comfortable you will be with your timing, and the less likely you are to stumble over your words. (Even those tricky five-syllable medical terms!)

Prior to your presentation, check out the space where you will be present. Take a mental note of what the acoustics are like in the room, where exactly you need to stand, how the technology that you will use works, etc. When you return for your actual presentation, you will feel so much more comfortable and relaxed if you know what to expect.

During your presentation, avoid reading from your poster or notes. Instead, make eye contact with the people who have come to listen to what you have to say. Speak loudly and animatedly. This project is likely something you are passionate about and have worked hard on—let it show! Try your hardest not to fidget with your hands or with your clothing. This is more distracting than you may think to your audience.

The most anxiety-producing aspect of presenting my research for me was the questions that I knew would follow my presentation. I was able to prepare for my presentation, but I had no clue what people would ask afterward. What I learned was that it is okay if you don’t know the answer to someone’s question. If someone asks a question that you don’t know the answer to, admit that you don’t know, never make anything up, and shift the conversation to talk about what you do know.

Despite the nerves that accompanied it, my experience presenting research at the Women in Ophthalmology Summer Symposium was extremely rewarding. Not only did I present something that I was proud of, but the conference’s supportive environment allowed me to make connections with remarkably smart, kind, inspiring, and empowering women who offered me mentorship and friendship.

Natalie Enyedi is a premedical student.






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