Presenting work

Peasant girls, Russian Empire, 1909. Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii Collection.

Mary Vincent writes:

Mary Vincent LSA history PhD establishes expertise. The focus is on knowledge, interpreting that knowledge and situating it within a published literature. This is careful, detailed work, referenced with full scholarly apparatus. But none of that knowledge actually matters if it stays locked up inside the researcher’s own head. Presenting your work is about communicating that knowledge, often to different audiences.This is a skill in its own right and, ironically, the scholarly skills learnt over the course of a PhD are poor preparation for it.

Historians in our own field or subfield are in some ways the least intimidating audience. They understand and appreciate the detail and subtle debates you are engaging with and will need far less in the way of context or introduction. But such audiences are rare. Even at an academic conference you are likely to be speaking to people with different specialist interests, whether of period, place or theme.  Making what you are saying accessible and intelligible is key.

Preparing and presenting a seminar paper

There is a lot of advice available on the internet; some of it is extremely detailed and not all of it is good.  UK and US university websites are a reliable source of sensible advice but this can be prescriptive, and not all of it will work for you.  READ MORE

Preparing and presenting a conference paper

Conference papers are shorter than seminar papers—commonly twenty minutes—and run more tightly to time.  You will present as part of a panel, and you should determine the kind of audience you are speaking to—whether specialist or general, historical or interdisciplinary—and be clear as to how long you have to speak. READ MORE

Intervening in academic discussion

Questions after a seminar or conference paper provide an important opportunity to participate in academic debate.  This can be nerve-racking.  Some university cultures have a robust style of questioning, which can lead to a critique, for example from the panel chair, to which you are expected to reply. In others, questions are much longer than the repartee style of question and answer than is common in Britain.  Try to find out as much as you can in advance about what to expect. READ MORE

What happens in a viva?

A PhD viva is a unique opportunity to discuss your research with two experts. They will have read every word of your thesis and all their attention will be on you and your work.  Though any examination is nerve-racking, you should try to enjoy the viva; this detailed, thoughtful consideration of your work doesn’t happen very often. READ MORE

Further information can be found at these useful websites: