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I always think of a conference presentation to be like a rock band concert. Sure, the band is going to play some of their biggest hits, but they also want to propagate their new stuff. More importantly, they want to put on a show so that people are entertained. I do think there should be more emphasis on entertaining the audience during oral presentations.
As I write this, I am on a train headed from Prague to Olomouc in the Czech Republic. This is not the first time that I have been in the Czech Republic in January, but the weather is always striking this time of year. Not only is it cold (especially compared to Texas), but there is a certain mysticism to the countryside-a seemingly permanent shroud of fog framing the edges of the numerous fields and villages along the 2-hour journey between the cities. I have made this trip many times to collaborate with my friends at Palacky University in Olomouc, but also to attend the semiannual Advances in Chromatography and Electrophoresis & Chiranal 2018 conference (http://chiranal2018.upol.cz/), which is organized by those friends.
I am delivering the closing plenary lecture of Chiranal 2018 this week, a charge I consider to be quite an honor. I have not had the opportunity to give too many plenary lectures to date, though I am hoping those opportunities will continue to grow. I will be speaking about the vacuum ultraviolet (VUV) spectroscopy toolkit for gas chromatography (GC) detection (1). We have had lots of opportunities to innovate in this area, as we develop and apply concepts like time interval deconvolution (2,3), pseudo-absolute quantitation (4,5), and other approaches that are uniquely enabled by the GC–VUV system. There is no problem coming up with new material to present each time I take the stage on this topic, because we are constantly performing new research with the instrument.
So, now the conference season for 2018 has begun. I am currently traveling to Chiranal, but even while that conference is happening, the deadline for abstracts will pass for the American Society for Mass Spectrometry (ASMS) meeting, which is in San Diego this year. Abstracts have already been submitted for some time for Pittcon 2018 (Orlando) and the national American Chemical Society meeting (New Orleans), both of which are in March. In May, I have the pleasure of attending the International Symposium of Capillary Chromatography (ISCC) in Riva del Garda, Italy. In fact, there I have to introduce the 2019 ISCC and GCxGC conference, which I will be co-chairing with Dan Armstrong in Ft. Worth in 2019 (March 12–17, 2019: please go ahead and put it on your calendar, so that you can plan to attend).
Every year, there are 8–10 conferences where my students and I present our research. I feel bad when I present the same talk multiple times. I feel a constant pressure to continue to populate talks with new material. Certainly, I am not advocating a wholly new slide deck each time, but I aim to make each slide deck a little different-and it is always good to develop new supporting material, such as stories and jokes. Sometimes it does not work out, and that is okay if the audience changes significantly. However, I really dislike situations where I hear someone give a talk one year and the next year not much (or anything) has changed in the content of the talk. People really do notice that. I feel like I am obligated to make each talk relatively fresh and entertaining. To be clear, I am actually procrastinating right now-I should be already revamping and augmenting my GC–VUV material so that I am ready for the talk this week, but I still have some time.
Luckily, the diversity of our research lends itself to the constant generation of new material in very different areas. I will speak this week about GC–VUV, and I will also focus on GC–VUV at the ISCC conference in Riva in May. At Pittcon, I will give two talks. One will be on the potential environmental impacts of oil and gas extraction (6–8) and our efforts to help develop new water recycling technologies in a session organized by Ryan Rodgers, Director of the Future Fuels Institute at Florida State University (Thursday afternoon). The other will focus on our research to enable intact protein determination using triple quadrupole mass spectrometry in multiple reaction monitoring mode (9,10). That talk will be presented as part of a whole-day session organized Wednesday by the Japanese Analytical Instrument Manufacturers Association (JAIMA). My talk will be in the morning session. At the ACS meeting in New Orleans, I will be talking about automated liquid chromatography method development (11,12) and the move toward more on-line multidimensional sample preparation and separation strategies. I am giving that talk by invitation of Prof. Joseph Pesek, who will be honored at the session by receiving the 2018 ACS Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution (congratulations, Joe!). All of these talks will build out of previous talks I have given, but they will emphasize the most recent (and unpublished) findings.
I always think of a conference presentation to be like a rock band concert. Sure, the band is going to play some of their biggest hits, but they also want to propagate their new stuff. More importantly, they want to put on a show so that people are entertained. I do think there should be more emphasis on entertaining the audience during oral presentations. The younger generations, who are more adept at designing fancy animations and making videos appear in their talks, certainly have an advantage over the overhead transparency generation in this regard. I have seen some clever talks in the past couple of years-people seem to be upping their game, and that is a smart move to gain more attention for their work. However, putting together a compelling and unique presentation takes a lot of time and thought, and the entertainment should not be at the expense of quality science.
Those of you who have been on the conference circuit for many years know what I am talking about, when we lament that Prof. So-and-So always seems to give the same talk. For those of you who are new to the game, I urge you to pay attention not just to the scientific content of the talks, but also to the storytelling. There are some people that I will go and watch lecture no matter what they are talking about, because they always seem to give interesting, entertaining, and fresh talks. There are also some people whose talks I will not go out of my way to attend, because I have seen it before or I know it is going to be pretty boring. Also, if you are going to a conference for the first time, consider this previous blog post I wrote, titled “How to Get the Most Out of Your First Conference Experience” (13). If you are giving a talk, please not only think about and practice your content, but try to make it interesting and fun. I can always use a few more rock groups to follow.
Kevin A. Schug is a Full Professor and Shimadzu Distinguished Professor of Analytical Chemistry in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at The University of Texas (UT) at Arlington. He joined the faculty at UT Arlington in 2005 after completing a Ph.D. in Chemistry at Virginia Tech under the direction of Prof. Harold M. McNair and a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Vienna under Prof. Wolfgang Lindner. Research in the Schug group spans fundamental and applied areas of separation science and mass spectrometry. Schug was named the LCGC Emerging Leader in Chromatography in 2009 and the 2012 American Chemical Society Division of Analytical Chemistry Young Investigator in Separation Science. He is a fellow of both the U.T. Arlington and U.T. System-Wide Academies of Distinguished Teachers.