December 8th, 2020

By: Jay Kang

“This is it! This is the moment I have been waiting for!” I thought loudly, as I waited in front of my research poster for the Montclare lab. I was finally ready to present my work at the 52nd MACUB Research Conference. Looking around, I saw students standing in front of their posters, each displaying interesting results, schematics, and graphs. As attendees began to mill about, I was excitedly preparing bits of what I might say to an interested viewer. I got my hopes up as someone seemed to approach, but at the last minute they settled into conversation with a nearby presenter. I tried, but failed to wait patiently in front of my poster.

Finally! After what seemed like half of the session, a woman holding a clipboard approached my poster. Suddenly, I was concerned. My thoughts started running, “How do I explain so much information concisely?” I was comfortable explaining my work to colleagues, but had absolutely no experience conveying my message to someone outside of my specialty. My stressed stream of consciousness continued, “Does this person understand amino acids? Do they know the objective of circular dichroism experiments? Do I have to explain part 1 of the schematic, or should I skip to part 2?”

Wanting to start simple, I began by explaining blindness, how it can be treated using a drug called DENAQ, and the obstacles faced in delivering this drug. Then, I transitioned into the specifics of our research. As I was explaining how we genetically engineer novel protein Q, I noticed that the viewer was still reading the abstract of my poster. She stopped me and asked, “What are rods and cones?”. I was surprised, but I kindly explained the functions of the rod and cone photoreceptors in the human retina. She nodded her head, wrote a few things on her clipboard and walked away. At that moment, I felt very frustrated because I had not been able to share the full story of my hard work.

Soon, a young student approached me. She vivaciously explained that she was interested in the field of biotechnology and the NYU logo on my poster caught her attention. She was “dying to know” about my research, so I tried my best to eloquently explain the purpose of the research project and our experiments. Judging from her expression, she seemed to have understood and was impressed. I felt grateful for her attention because it made my hard work in the lab feel validated.

What did I learn from this somewhat unpleasant, yet enlightening experience?


  1. I should ask the listener about their background, so I’m not making assumptions. That way, I won’t be speaking an unknown scientific language, nor will I waste their time with fundamentals they already understand.


  1. My goal as a presenter is to have an exchange with the viewer that is impactful, interesting, and educational rather than trying to impress. Next time, after learning that a viewer isn’t familiar with rods and cones, I’d avoid terms like photoreceptors or retina, instead selecting more common language.

  2. It is very rewarding to present to someone who is knowledgeable and interested, but I must be adept at explaining my project in accessible language in addition to specialized conversations with scientists in my field. If I have a deep enough understanding of my research, I can explain it to anyone.


Edited by Eliza Neidhart