Thoughts on 703

by Sarah Luna

Today I gave my first 703 presentation to the department.

In a 703 seminar, the graduate student presents a journal article that is relevant to nutrition to the faculty and other graduate students. We are asked to give appropriate background, explain the study design, report the findings, and critique the conclusions all in 35-40 minutes. Then the faculty have (and take) the chance to grill us for 15 minutes over anything from epidemiological flaws to assumptions made by the authors to appropriateness of treatment to “what do we know now that we didn’t know before?”.

I had seven meetings to prepare for this experience on top of a four-year college education and one year of graduate work. I presented to members of the audience who have been nutritional titans longer than I have been alive. It was absolutely terrifying.

I talked about obesity and iron deficiency in children (specifically this paper)–a subject that absolutely fascinates me and that I hope to work into my dissertation project.

After the actual presentation and grilling, I got debriefed by the three faculty in charge of running the seminar. They each had glowing things to say about my presentation skills. I was poised. I explained things clearly and had beautiful slides. I was pleased to hear that they think I have “enormous potential” in a teaching career (since, you know, university professor is pretty high on my career list).

In many ways, however, the clarity of my presentation highlighted the numerous inadequacies of my talk. The brighter the light, the more dirt you see. Now, I’m a second-year graduate student; I’m lowest of the low on the nutrition totem pole. I did not expect to give a perfect presentation about the intricacies of iron homeostasis. That did not make it easier to hear their criticisms. As poised as I had been for the presentation, I could not talk during the debriefing.

Things that could be improved: I assumed my audience knew too much (specific example: I did not define anemia. In my defense, people who are part of one of the best nutrition departments in the world at the graduate level or higher should know what anemia is.). I did not place this paper in the context of existing literature ( I should have reviewed the state of the evidence for each relationship I talked about). I need to explain the end of my presentation even more thoroughly than the beginning of my presentation.

The three professors had many instructive things to say that will be very helpful for my next 703. I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed though. One of them pointed out that it would take a three-hour presentation to address each of their concerns.

For now, I’m trying to be relieved. This presentation has been on my mind for the past two months. It was easily the most public thing I have done in the department, and it makes me nervous to be that visible. Now that it is over, I can lose myself in research.

At least until next semester…