Friday, October 17, 2008

Chocolate time again...

So I gave a talk in an informal seminar today - and now I feel terrible about it.

It was on some ongoing research that I've been doing with my undergrad advisor. We've been working on some volcanic rocks out in the High Plateaus of Utah, and arguing one particular scenario for their origins. This is the first time either of us has presented this work, and we thought that are arguments made sense, given the geologic setting and the characteristics of the rocks. The presentation was just a short one, twenty minutes with questions afterward, so it shouldn't have been too big a deal. Unfortunately, once I got to our arguments, I found out that many of them weren't so conclusive as we'd thought, and they got shot down.

How the hell did I get so far without someone noticing this? It could be because my advisor isn't an expert in volcanology, and neither am I, and most of the volcanology I knew that pertained to our project, I taught myself. Apparently I didn't learn it well enough.

I suppose I should be glad that I can weed out the shaky arguments in the work, but all I feel right now is incompetent. This is my first time presenting this kind of research in front of a group of experts in the field, and to have it dissected is tremendously disheartening. I wanted to present this particular research because I thought it would be interesting, and because I thought that my senior research didn't really contain enough volcanology for a volcanology seminar. I realize that it still needs a lot of work, but I'm a first year MS student, for crying out loud. I know I'm not an expert and I know my work can always be improved, and I didn't expect great praise for the presentation, but it felt like everyone was expecting me to be perfect, or to have all the experience that the previous student presenters had (and all of them had their MS already).

People are saying I did fine, but it sure doesn't feel that way. And I know I'm constantly second-guessing myself and my abilities, and I shouldn't do that so much, but it's really hard to be confident in yourself when almost everyone in the room has more experience than you do. Okay, it wasn't a big deal and it wasn't for a grade or a thesis or anything - I still hate feeling like an idiot.

This is also the last time that I do a presentation at this particular time of the month, seeing as my horomones make me a weepy nervous wreck in normal situations. Combining that with a presentation, which also makes me a nervous wreck, sucked. I'm going to go home and eat some chocolate.

This "life experience" thing needs to not happen when I'm already stressed out by life.


Kim said...

Here, have some virtual chocolate: .

A lot of people fresh out of undergrad go through similar experiences - it's one of the things they just don't tell you about grad school. (I had the experience just before I graduated - I gave a poster presentation at an undergrad research meeting, and was told that my conclusions were entirely wrong. In the end, I ended up learning a lot from that experience - I read the papers that explained why I was wrong, and I didn't make the same mistake again, and I became friends with the prof who left me feeling so humiliated.)

Callan Bentley said...

Chocolate's good... but beer is good too. ;)

Tuff Cookie said...

Ah, yes, but that would require me to go out and buy beer...I do, however, have Costa Rica coffee liquor in the fridge, as well as a whole pint of Ben and Jerry's "Two bites will kill your daily calorie allowance" ice cream.

Thanks for the chocolate, Kim - I know I'll learn from this, and it's much better that I do it now instead of at a meeting or from journal reviews, but I still feel crappy, and that's been happening a lot lately.

Ron Schott said...

Enjoy your chocolate, but savor the experience, too. This is something that almost everyone going to grad school gets to experience at some point, and the real test here is how you react to it. Sure it doesn't feel good now (and it may not ever) but recognizing it as an opportunity for growth and not recoiling into a defensive shell is the critical thing. It sounds like you're well on your way to making the best of it.

Now go and enjoy that chocolate!

hypocentre said...

I echo the other comments. It is just part of the postgraduate experience. I still cringe at the heap of dingos' kidneys that I delivered in my first talk as a postgrad. I wasn't ready, but it was, in retrospect, a good learning experience.

Oh, and you can get chocolate ale

Divalent said...

Actually, welcome to science! This is really what it is about, bouncing ideas off of other knowledgeable people before you submit the paper or are in front of a national meeting. (Usually it's better to run things by people in the hallway and over a beer first, but an "informal 20 minute talk" is not so bad).

The smart response to this is not to NOT give talks, but to talk about your work and ideas more. There is a reason they are referred to as colleagues.

Silver Fox said...

I think it takes guts - every time you do it - to stand up and present your ideas to any group, so way to go on the bravery side!

In the future you can bounce your ideas off other people besides your one undergrad advisor. Even a thesis advisor can be wrong - and at the very least, you will get a read on what comments and questions might come up after the talk, and you'll have a better idea about how to address them.

And hey, sometimes the getting shot down might happen when your ideas are very good, and you will want to go back to work on your topic/area and get more ammunition for them!

[It's good to know about the chocolate beer!]

Lockwood said...

Hope you're feeling better, TC. Your post hit a pretty deep chord in me, and I've been thinking about it since I read it yesterday. I wanted to see what others said in the comments, and I wanted to give my thoughts time to gel. I have posted a "comment," if you will, at his post

Again, I hope you're feeling better; I can tell you love you some volcanoes (I'm pretty fond of them too- and Oregon's lousy with them). That by itself will get you far. Most of my professional exerience is in science education, and I can tell you've got what you need to plow through this. Gad, I hate seeing students hurting... good luck.

Geology Happens said...

I will add my name to the "been there and cried a lot" list. I thought I had it nailed...nope I didn't. Enjoy Kim's chocolate and Callan's beer

Lockwood said...

Have some more chocolate. How to eat M&M's in a way that benefits the world.

Chuck said...

I had that happen to me at an invited talk after grad school. I was presenting the extra experiments I ran after completion just to check on something, and they were done using an instrument I didn't use much for my PhD, so I didn't realize what technical details were or weren't important... until the hands went up.

as +2 says, welcome to science.