How to put theory into action 

Workshop teaches undergrads to present their work at conferences

By Anna Sarkissian

While most graduate and doctoral students are encouraged to present their work at academic conferences, undergrads barely get their feet wet. Organizers of the fourth annual Study in Action, an undergraduate conference on social and environmental justice, helped prep students for the task during their Papers into Presentations workshop on Nov. 10.

Presented by the Quebec Public Interest Research Group at Concordia and McGill, the interdisciplinary conference will take place March 12 to 14, 2010, on the SGW campus.

“It all comes down to confidence,” said QPIRG McGill External Coordinator Indu Vashist, who facilitated the workshop with Cleve Higgins, a McGill student who presented a paper at last year’s conference.

“We would like to validate that undergrads have work that is worthwhile and should be shared,” Higgins added. If the topic is politically relevant, even better, he said. Study in Action aims to create dialogue by linking students and community activism.

Until Dec. 10, students and community members are invited to submit 250-word summaries of completed papers or works in progress that could become presentations during the three-day event. Works of art are also welcome.

“There’s a distinction between a paper and a presentation,” Higgins told the group assembled at QPIRG Concordia for the workshop. Complex turns of phrase might work well on paper but they will not translate well in speech. Take elements of the paper and talk about them in a way that is relevant for the audience, he advised. Repeating the argument several different ways can help drive the point home.

Participants also suggested strategies for making presentations more engaging: use visuals to accentuate examples, encourage participation, establish eye contact, manage your time wisely and share experiences.

Presenters should avoid speaking quickly, rambling, reading chunks of text, relying solely on PowerPoint slides or cramming in too much if they run out of time.

Vashist, recommended using the 3-1-2 method, in which the conclusion comes first, followed by less critical information.

“You don’t want people to be wondering the whole time about what you’re going to conclude. Start by telling people what you think, why it’s interesting, and how your evidence supports your thesis,” she said.

This year’s Study in Action is focused on environmental justice but the organizers encourage submissions from a broad range of fields and especially those that connect environmentalism with racism, poverty, gender and other issues.

For more information about Study in Action or to find out how to submit your research for consideration, send them an email or visit their site.


Concordia University