4 Things We Worry About At Conferences

ImageThe Society for Consumer Psychology Conference is this week. Here are four questions that we often worry about at conferences and four answers answered by quoting interviews from our Research Heroes series.

Which presentations should I go see? Should they be all in my topic of research or should I branch out? Hal Arkes recommends branching out and exploring many different topics in general, “Begin by sampling a wide cafeteria of courses, colloquia, readings, and professors.”

Should I emphasize theoretical contribution or practical application in my presentation? John Payne advises that, “As long as the criteria for tenure remain what they are at the top schools, young researchers will need to concentrate more on basic research.” This suggests you should focus on theory. However, it should be noted that nearly every Research Hero we interviewed emphasized how much they personally value practical contribution.

What if I find myself not enjoying research talks on my topic? Should I switch topics? Jonathan Baron suggests focusing on what you are passionate about. “Remember that research is a labor of love. If it doesn’t feel that way, do something else.”

When meeting with collaborators at conferences, should we decide to continue that weak project? Elke Weber suggests showing self-control and dropping it. “If something is not working out … give it a second chance, but then move on.”

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Four Sins of Conference Presentations

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Worried about your upcoming conference presentation? Here’s some advice paraphrased from some of the greats in our field. Try to avoid these four sins and you should be on your way to success.  If you know of any other presentation sins that make you cringe add them to comments.

#4: Saying too much

As the common adage goes, “If you say three things you’ve said nothing.” A presenter is best off if they make one clear point, especially in a short 15 minute conference presentation format.

Jim Bettman advised at the 2012 Association for Consumer Research Doctoral Consortium that when communicating research presenters should tell a consistent straightforward story. He noted that it is a simple linear story, not a mystery story and not a story with many subplots. In sum he advised: tell the audience what you are going to tell them, then tell them it with data, and then remind them what you told them.

#3 The useless literature review

Conference presentations are about the presentation of new research, not old research. However, many presenters (especially young presenters) often are so excited by past findings they spend half their talk reciting papers from the 1980s.

Literature reviews should serve two main purposes: motivating the current research question (e.g. where are the gaps) and providing any necessary background info with which a diverse audience might not be familiar.

#2 Being too in love with methods and data analysis  

Research presentations for the most part should be presenting new theory, clarification of theory, or application of theory. However presenters are often so proud of their methodologies or data analysis that they focus more on their stimuli and statistical models than on the actual research. Remember, three-way interactions are only interesting when audiences understand their potential theoretical importance.

#1 Failing to remind audience of anything

Audience members often get distracted through thinking about an implication of the finding, zoning out from tiredness, or worrying about their own later sessions. This means audience members are not hanging onto a presenter’s every word. If a presenter explains a method, an acronym, or a hypothesis only once, the audience members may miss it.

Thus, for the important items presenters need to remind the audience a little bit. For instance, before presenting a data slide a presenter should say, “Recall that we predicted that because people high in X are more Y they should be especially vulnerable to W, however if they were remind of Z they should not be as vulnerable.”

Guest post: Why we should talk to the media

This week we have a guest post from Lisa Munoz, the Public Information Officer at Society for Personality and Social Psychology. She spoke at the recent SPSP conference in New Orleans on how researchers can get their message across in the media – today she tells us why she thinks that’s a worthwhile thing to do. 

A Love Letter for Public Outreach

As I write this post, it is Valentine’s Day week, one of the busiest weeks fordog-with-valentines-day-heart (1) psychology in the news. Relationships, gift-giving, sex, cultural norms, group dynamics – all provide fertile ground for popular press stories at this time of year. This media draw toward psychology may make some scientists wary as they wonder, for example, if the press will misrepresent their work just to get out a cute Valentine’s story. While the chance always exists that a reporter will distort or water down your research to “sell” a sexier or cuter story, to deny yourself the opportunity to reach a broader audience would be a huge disservice.

I can list at least a dozen good reasons to talk with the press and the public about scientific work: among them, publicizing your research to potential funding agencies and future collaborators; attracting people to your specific field of study; and raising the profile of the science. A sometimes overlooked reason for talking with the press is simply to share the excitement and joy of your research with others who have similar interests.

You study social psychology to explore questions about human behavior that have piqued your curiosity throughout your life. Undoubtedly, most of us have or will have asked ourselves some of the same questions at some point in time. It is rare to be in a profession that shares so much in common with so many people, thus putting you in the rare position to constantly teach and share.

Just this past Sunday, Eli Finkel, a social psychologist at Northwestern University, wrote an Op-ed in the New York Times about his relationship research – yes, taking advantage of Valentine’s Day. His work found that married couples who spent just 7 minutes at a time, 3 times a year writing about their fights from a neutral point of view were happier in their marriages. The title of the Op-Ed, “Dear Valentine, I Hate It When You …”, is cute yes but the message is far from trivial: For all couples, this research hits home, offering insight into how we can more constructively tackle relationship problems.

Reaching out to the media to share your research is an enriching experience that I hope you all will undertake throughout your careers.

Lisa M.P. Munoz, Public Information Officer, SPSP

spsp.publicaffairs@gmail.com | @SPSPnews