Note the emphasis on “really.” Because I wonder why I’m doing this every day. No. Every waking moment of everyday. No. Even in my sleep. I want to be done with this so badly that I dream about being on rotations and how great that is (which it isn’t, or so I hear). I kid you not.
And nothing reminds me more of why I hate this whole PhD thing than having to give a talk about all of the progress that I failed to make since the last time we all got together (which led to this brilliant post about my lack of progress) to rub our fellow MD/PhDers’ faces in just how much more brilliant we are than them. I’m sure I’m such an easy target now that it’s not even any fun anymore. I’d love to talk about something besides my experiments not working. In fact, I’d even settle for something I actually believed in even if it doesn’t work. Because back during my un-jaded days as an undergrad in my major professor’s lab, I actually believed in his work. I don’t today. The only thing I’ve learned from him is how not to do research and how not to be a mentor. I guess I’ve also learned how to bluff and pretend that I’ve done a lot more work than I really have. How else do you explain the fact that I haven’t yet been reprimanded by the powers-that-be for my complete and utter lack of progress even though I brazenly admitted my failures and issues with my major professor on more than one occasion? Because it obviously can’t be because they’re so disorganized and clueless that they haven’t noticed one of their huge investments (med school $50,000/year X 4 years + grad school $30,000/year X 3+ years = $300,000?! Maybe my numbers are wrong, but you get my point) tanking.
So in honor of my sheer brilliance at (unintentionally) avoiding getting in trouble for getting nowhere, I present you with my tips for pretending that you’ve done way more work than you really have when you have to talk about your work.* Use these tips wisely to slack your way through your PhD or to ensure that no one cares to save you even if you jump up and down screaming, “please save me from crappy major professor hell.”
1. Graphs. I love graphs. Such minimal effort yet it looks like so much more. Be sure to label the axes and use large enough fonts. Pretty colors help too. So does real data.
2. Pictures. Thankfully, my research involves visualizing something people have never seen before. So when all else fails, my pictures really do say a thousand words.
3. Tables. Tables are good too. Nobody has enough time to actually read them before you move onto your next slide, especially if your research is like mine and involves measuring 20 different variables in 6 experimental groups at 5 different timepoints, and the sheer size will make it look like an awful lot of work was done.
4. Summarize old work that is related to your current work. Because everybody needs to be on the same page before you pontificate on the finer points of your new brilliant research, right? Depending on how much detail you go into, this could make up 75% of your talk if need be (though I’ve never tried it before, so beware).
5. When you have to finally admit that you’ve only done your experiments on one animal in each experimental group, make sure to liberally use the word “preliminary” and the phrase “continuing experiments to confirm results” to avoid being beaten down by power analysis freaks.
6. Include your cool-sounding funding sources in your acknowledgements. Nobody funded by the Super Cool University’s Department of Super Cool Stuff MD/PhD Student Research Award could possibly get away with not accomplishing anything, right?
7. And if you really have no substance to your talk even after these tips, be sure to wear something really outrageous or draw a mustache on your face or something on your forehead so that your audience will be so distracted by your appearance the entire time that they will not be able to form a coherent question by the time you finish your sad song and dance.
So there you have it.Â If you’ll now excuse me, I need to go put some of these tips into action for that talk I have to give tomorrow.
*Disclaimer: These tips will only work for casual talks given to your peers and, apparently, your MD/PhD program directors. Don’t try this for your quals or your dissertation or at a real conference as these are untested waters and results may vary drastically.