Every year, SMU holds its annual Research Day where graduate students from every department and discipline are invited to come and present their research to peers, professors, and professionals. With two competitions for students to enter, the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) contest and poster session, everyone has the chance to practice communicating their research interests to a broad audience.
One of this year’s winners, Claire Trotter, has always had a keen interest in applied physiology and physiological research. We were able to chat with Claire about her research and her presentation at Research Day — read on to hear what she had to say!
Tell us a little about yourself!
I am originally from a small town in Vermont. I attended SMU for undergrad and received a B.S. in Applied Physiology and Health Management and a B.A. in Psychology. As an undergraduate, I was a distance runner on the SMU Track and Field team which naturally made me interested in applied physiology and more specifically the human cardiovascular system. I earned the opportunity to work as an undergraduate research assistant in the Integrative Physiology Lab in the Simmons School of Education and Human Development where Dr. Scott L. Davis leads research investigating autonomic dysfunction in multiple sclerosis patients. It was this time in the lab where I developed a true curiosity for physiological research.
After graduating from SMU, I earned my M.S. in Biology from University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. I was able to nurture this passion for physiology while in Colorado, where my research focused on the interaction between thermoregulation and cardiovascular control in young healthy humans. I was then fortunate enough to receive an offer from Dr. Davis to return back to SMU as his Ph.D. student. My Ph.D. research investigates central nervous system activity in multiple sclerosis patients in excitatory states such as exercise, heat stress, and blood loss.
How did you prepare for the Poster Session?
I prepared myself for the SMU Research Day poster session by thoroughly reviewing literature and my data. I predicted areas where questions could arise and then focused my preparation time there. I avoided strong conclusions because my results left much up for debate.
It was also important for me to consider my audience. I knew in advance that individuals who would approach my poster most likely had much less background in this subject than those who would approach me at a national scientific conference. Therefore, I was careful to always establish what an individual’s level of knowledge on the topic was before presenting the poster and then tailored my presentation to their understanding.
How did you decide to narrow your research to include on the poster?
All of the advisors I have ever worked with have suggested limiting word count on posters as much as possible. I agree with this advice. My poster was over half graphs of the data, a photo to show the experimental set up, and then about 500 words of text. I also excluded data on variables that did not directly answer the question that I outlined in the introduction on the poster. The experimental set-up for the research protocol had multiple arms, so I chose to just include one question in my poster in order to deliver a clear and concise message to my audience.
What advice do you have for putting together a winning poster?
Always get multiple people to review your poster before printing it including peers and/or advisors. On multiple occasions I have spent a descent amount of time reviewing my presentation and believed there were no mistakes in my work, only to find out after a review that there were multiple mistakes. Sometimes when you spend so much time with a project it limits your ability to see the overarching picture, and that makes it more difficult to identify mistakes.
How is doing a poster presentation different from an oral presentation?
Poster presentations are much less formal and, in my opinion, less stressful. You can get personally acquainted with you audience and receive good, critical advice, which is sometimes more challenging in an oral presentation. In order to get the most out of a poster presentation you must be willing to engage with your audience and learn from their advice.
What’s the benefit of presenting a poster at Research Day?
SMU Research Day was a great opportunity for me to practice presenting my research before I was required to do so at a large national scientific conference. I was able to receive good feedback and was asked questions that allowed me to better prepare for the national conference. SMU Research Day also gave me the opportunity to make more connections with people on SMU’s campus, some from within my same school and some from other schools on campus.
What are your future career plans? How has the Research Day event at SMU helped prepare you for the future?
Currently, I am at the end of the first year of my Ph.D. work at SMU. After graduating from SMU, I hope to secure a post-doctoral fellowship. I think any opportunity to present prepares me for a career in research and/or academia. Specifically, this Research Day allowed me to improve my presentation and gain confidence for a national conference two weeks after, which undoubtedly helped me to make connections to find future employment.
What is your favorite part of your Ph.D. program at SMU?
So far, my favorite part of the Ph.D. program at SMU is the people that I have the opportunity to work with. The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex has provided me access to an almost uncountable number of experts in my field. Although SMU is a smaller institution, it’s geographic location and faculty give great opportunities to Ph.D. students.
Presenting at Research Day is one of the many opportunities graduate students at SMU have to grow in their communication and presentation skills, while networking and gaining confidence in their ability to speak about their research. If you are interested in learning more about the graduate research opportunities available at SMU, we invite you to reach out to your program of interest and request more information. Or if you are ready to begin applying to graduate school — click below to learn more. We look forward to hearing from you soon!