So, my first supervisory committee meeting came and went, and what a humbling experience it has been. I generally don’t shy away from scientific discussions – the more heated, the better. Nothing excites me more than a good round of intellectual sparring. But giving a formal presentation is like kryptonite to the part of my brain responsible for articulating thoughts. I have no innate public speaking skills, never practice talks as much as I should (or at all), and, unsurprisingly, consistently emerge as a bumbling, nervous mess. It turns out that talking about your research within the familiar environment of your own lab (even when everyone is constantly challenging your ideas), and presenting the same to a group of faculty members, are two almost completely unrelated experiences. I had made the naive assumption that comfort with the former would prepare me for the latter, with predictable consequences.
I think the actual content of my presentation was OK, but the delivery was kind of a disaster. Yet my committee members were nothing but supportive and encouraging. Their subtle cues were so powerful in making me feel at ease (as much as I was going to get), and their approach is definitely one I will strive to emulate in the future. I also got very useful feedback from my advisor after the meeting – she emphasized that this is all part of the learning process that everyone goes through, and some learning only comes from experience and some of those experiences can be painful. It’s reassuring to know that mistakes made in the process of learning are not only forgiven, but expected.
All in all, it was a nerve-wracking and exhausting endeavour, but one that has provided a much-needed dose of humility. I look forward to many more such experiences that take me outside of my comfort zone and serve as reminders of all the learning that lies ahead.
“That something is everywhere and always amiss is part of the very stuff of creation. […] We could have planned things more mercifully, perhaps, but our plan would never get off the drawing board until we agreed to the very compromising terms that are the only ones that being offers.” – Annie Dillard