I recently gave a presentation that was poorly received by my PI. I presented a technique that I have been trying to master (Patch Clamp). My PI thought I was not adequately prepared but gave no further feedback.

I spent three days putting together my presentation and read chapters (Springer books) and papers, listened to lectures on the subject--over two weeks. I have been giving presentations since undergrad. I just finished my M.S. I hope to enter graduate school in Fall of 2012.

I donâ€™t know what I am doing wrong. What is a more effective way to prepare a talk or presentation? How much background reading is sufficient? What types of questions do ask yourself when preparing a talk? How do you know you have truly mastered the material?

## 1 Answer

*(this is rather long: I wrote it for one of my students, who had a similar question)*

**BASIC UNDERSTANDING** When you're processing a paper, ask yourself:

- what is their precise problem formulation
- what is their solution
- what larger issue are they trying to address with their paper
- Do (1) and (2) actually fix (3)
- (for experimental papers) do the experiments tell a convincing story to bolster their claims. Be suspicious of what they claim unless the line of reasoning is clear.

**SYNTHESIS** Once you've done this for a set of papers, you should start trying to connect them together:

- is there a linear progression of ideas ?
- How do the tools connect up
- Is there some way to simplify and explain what groups of papers are doing under a common theme ?

**CRITIQUE** Once you have the above, then you can ask

- what are the gaps in what people are doing
- Are these gaps important or minor ?
- Does some union of the papers essentially solve the problem ? if so, why and if not, why not ?
- Are these papers even solving the right problem ? (this last point is both tricky and critical - it is very easy for a line of research to be internally consistent but get totally derailed from the original motivation for the problem)

**DIRECTIONS**

Now you're ready to suggest new directions and new ideas.

note that critique comes AFTER basics and synthesis - you must understand very well before you can judge.