At a time filled with personal and professional challenges one of the things that never fails to bring me joy is my team.
Last week all six of my students (yes I even claim the ones I co-supervise!) made me very happy (is proud too patronising?).
Sutton Bonington has a campus-wide postgrad symposium at which first and third years give a 10 minute talk, the third years also chair sessions and the second years present posters. All students are expected to participate which meant the whole team was in one place for the first time, with Magda and Darwin travelling in from NIAB-EMR and Rothamsted, and Olivia having just arrived back from 2 years in Australia.
Unfortunately I had to miss the first day of the symposium talks (teaching conference) and so missed Olivia's third year talk, but by all accounts she did very well. Of particular note another academic made a point of telling me how well she chaired a particularly challenging session at the end of the Thursday program (an achievement, that she admitted, had worn her out!). This is quite an honour. I definitely find chairing sessions harder than any other form of presenting! Not only do you have to speak in front of the audience, you have to keep time (a feat in itself sometimes) and listen carefully enough to think of sensible questions under pressure! (perhaps future post-grad symposiums could include a chairing award!).
When I arrived on campus to take everyone for dinner, our team were milling around chatting together as a group. With three of them based elsewhere (well happily Olivia is back to stay now) seeing them mingling and joking together really made my day. I know what it's like being an outsider or being based in a different location to the rest of the group so I was really pleased to see them integrated as a team.
We unsurprisingly had a nice evening first sitting in the warm spring sun, smelling the cut grass and laughing about the noise pheasants make, and then enjoying some good pub grub (that's an Aussie term for food).
Friday morning our team first years were all presenting in the same session (conveniently for me!).
I remember how scary it is to give the first big seminar. Mine was my honours seminar at the University of Queensland (sort of like masters in some other countries). I was nervous as anything, stomach churning. I started ok, then disaster struck! I flicked to a slide and went completely blank. There was a graph on the slide but it might as well have been a fully black slide. I stared blankly for what felt like hours (probably 10 seconds). I was convinced I'd completely messed it up. This fear of messing up came back to haunt me when I worked in forestry research and had to present a seminar to industry funders. With my honours blank-out fresh in mind I was terrified. About 10 minutes before I was due to present, my boss lent over and whispered to me 'no pressure, but the next $20K depends on this' (I hadn't quite worked out yet that my boss was a tease - thanks Mark!). After that I honestly thought I would pass out. I still don't know how I got through that talk. It still makes me feel a little bit ill thinking about that experience and I confess, it all came flooding back as I nervously waited for the postgrad session to start on Friday morning.
I was also worried they hadn't had enough support in practising, since I'd been waiting for an emergency hospital appointment the one day we all had to practice. I had made time to go through slides with each of them but it's not the same as standing up and practising the order of words. Reflecting back, I had no doubt they can all present well, instead my nerves were all about hoping they wouldn't develop a fear as I had!
Remembering how valuable nodders and smilers are in the audience I chose a seat right in the middle close to the front to actively be that person for them. After all, the hard work in preparing is over by this stage so no need to scrutinise - that's what the assessors will do!
The whole session was excellent. Rumour had it, that was one of the best sessions of the meeting (not my words, although I do believe it - but then more than half the talks were by students in my team - nothing unconscious about that bias!). This rumour however, was supported by the fact that both the gold and silver talks for our division came from that session - and since my guys really are the best, gold and silver went to Daisy Dobrijevic and Darwin Hickman!
Although I'm super excited that it went to people in our team, full credit goes to their hard work. And even though only a few can receive awards, all of my students worked hard, improved their slides and gave clear talks (and chaired sessions like a professional!), and those not presenting went along and supported the others. As a supervisor I can't ask for anything more than that!
Well done everyone! :)