I recently participated in the MT180 tournament, where contestants are asked to present their thesis in a clear, interesting and entertaining way to a public of non scientists in 180 seconds, using only one presentation slide.
Today, the results of the tournament arrived and I was selected to be one of the finalists. I am very happy and grateful to the jury of the tournament for choosing me along with 13 other EPFL PhD students to compete in becoming the EPFL representative at the national level of MT180.
My video can be found here: https://youtu.be/4YXstZ_ZSZ8
Participating in such tournament is an extremely beneficial exercise for any scientist as it not only develops our presentation skills, but also gives us some perspective on our day to day work in the lab. As scientists, we are very often required to present our work to our peers in order to communicate our findings and exchange with specialists of our fields. Our presentations need to be clear, concise, and to highlight the interest of our research to an audience of experts. This in itself is very hard exercise at which even some very experienced scientists suck (not all of them). Nonetheless, it is probably the easiest kind of talks we have to give, since we are asked to talk about the bulk of our work, which we are really specialised in. The hardest is to acquire the communication skills that will make our presentations clear, interesting and somewhat entertaining in the sense that we need to captivate the audience. MT180 is an excellent place to learn about these skills!
MT180 is even more useful, I think, for our public outreach talks. As scientists, it is our foremost duty to participate in the education and information of the general public about our research (also, we are mostly financed by public money sooo…). We have to give feedback on what we are doing with the money people invest in us and it is crucial that we keep scientific discovery clear and accessible to everyone so that we can all understand our world with the whole of the information available to us. The better scientists are able to communicate about their science, the less politicians and opportunists are likely to distort the truth and spread lies to serve their agenda. Summarising complex science in accessible words is one of the hardest exercise we are faced with, even harder than quantum physics sometimes. Addressing people who do not have the same background as us is as difficult as understanding them! It requires being able to break things down to a common ground but also to give metaphors our audience can relate to, to make our subject understandable. An aspect we sometimes neglect in our day to day work is to give perspective and context to what we produce. For that reason presenting our findings to the public, requires to think about what we are bringing to the society and in what extent this is important to them. In essence, every finding in science is of outermost importance, even the most technical discovery, but in order to make it relevant to everyone, we have to think about the actual breakthrough it represents. We need to make sure that people understand that we did not just discover a new obscure maths trick that allows to better look at astronomical images, for instance, but that we achieved a milestone in a much bigger picture and let the public understand that a new way of looking at images leads to new discoveries about the origin and composition of our Universe. Modern science is hardly about having a genius idea and producing a revolutionary concept on our own, but very often requires large collaborations to build instruments or analyse petabytes of data. Our single contribution, though minor in comparison to the work of the whole collaboration, is an essential part of it and deserves to be shared, but not without the big picture we are contributing to. This is what, to me, requires the most thinking as we need to take a step back from the technical aspects of our research and wonder why we are doing it, which we sometimes lose in the process.
MT180 is an excellent opportunity to learn about all these skills. If you are interested in taking part in such event, please feel free to ask me questions about my experience, I will be very happy to give feedback and impressions.