Throughout my first two years of my PhD, I have learned that the hardest thing is not just working hard and doing your research in order to get your degree, but also exploring and trying totally new things that you have never thought that will be able to do. One of them (and the most scary for me) is giving a presentation in front of a big audience in conferences.
In general, conferences provide a unique opportunity of networking. You are able to meet people in your field from academia and industry, coming from different geographical areas around the work. In some cases and if you are lucky enough, you even might be able to meet your “research idol”. In any case you can expand your knowledge, hear new things in or outside your field and enhance your own work.
Moreover, it is the perfect occasion for people to meet you and your work, which is of paramount importance for future collaborations, job ideas and opportunities. This can be achieved by giving a presentation, having a poster or by simply spending few minutes in the exhibit hall talking to people. However you decide to outreach your work, you will have the opportunity to get feedback on your work from people having similar and/or completely different area of study and provide you new insights.
Some weeks ago, I attended the 6th International Slag Valorization Symposium at Mechelen in Belgium (April 2019). This conference aimed at contributing towards near zero-waste processing and processes and closed material loops. Many people from both academia and industry were present providing an in depth overview regarding the valorization of ferrous and non-ferrous slags, fly and bottom ashes as well as high temperature metallurgical residues. One of the conclusions of the SVS-symposium was that ‘green slag valorisation’ has been transformed from an academic concept into an industrial success story.
Working also with Fe-rich slags on my PhD, I was asked to give a presentation providing a more fundamental knowledge of the structure and formation mechanisms. The title of my presentation was: “Binary, ternary and quaternary Fe-rich slags: influence of Fe and Si substitution by Ca and Al on the atomic structure and reactivity”.
Presenting part of the work you do in a conference can be very beneficial for all the reasons I mentioned before, but also forces you to break out of your comfort zone. Unless you are a born networker, giving a presentation can be a big challenge, as it was for me during the Slag Valorization Symposium. Would I be good enough? Will people understand and like what I am doing? Will I be able to answer all the questions? These and many other questions can made me feel under a lot of stress. The way I overcame or at least calmed down my nervousness before the day of the presentation, was to practice. Rehearsing the complete presentation several times alone or in front of my colleagues, made me feel more comfortable (my amazing SREMat colleagues supported me a lot in all aspects). Attending earlier talks by other presenters changed positively my mood. When the moment of my presentation arrived and after doing some deep breathing I started talking. After the first minutes, you realize that it was not that “scary” and I can now say that I was looking forward to hearing the questions or comments. The most delightful part was when people came and discuss further with me the work I presented at the exhibit hall in a more relaxed atmosphere.
Overall, I can say giving a presentation at the 6th International Slag Valorization Symposium was a great experience that I will never forget!
About the author
ESR 12, Christina Siakati grew up in a beautiful small village, called Emporio, situated near Kozani in north Greece. There, she spent all her school years, till she went to university to become a physicist. Now, she is doing her PhD at the Materials Engineering department of KU Leuven in Belgium on “Iron-rich inorganic polymers derived from residual matrices”, deepening the knowledge of the structure and formation mechanism of Fe-rich inorganic polymers, following experimental and computational approaches. If you are interested in her topic and you wish to learn more about it, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with her at firstname.lastname@example.org