Nonacademic takeaways from an academic workshop

I went to a workshop on China and international trade today, and had some interactions with the speakers. Apart from the academic papers and theories, here are my takeaways:

1. You can only present your work convincingly if you are convinced yourself.

2. Always motivate your topic before you jump to the details. This applies not only to academic presentations. All too often we overestimate others’ familiarity with our work. Give the audience your context, point out the key questions you asked, and present main insights of your work upfront.

3. Spend time doing your PPTs. Visual tools can be used to make your presentation more enjoyable, but poorly designed slides will do you more harm than good. A speaker today put white letters on a golden background and it was a disaster. I wasn’t able to see a thing. Then I guess most of us lost interest in what he was talking about.

4. Networking is only effective if a) you have done your research of the person you want to network with, and b) both of you have something to learn from each other.

5. Women are judged by their looks and personality a lot more than men are. During dinner, a professor was talking about a student of his and he said :”she is very good.” A female professor sitting next to him immediately responded:”Yes, and she is charming.” On the contrary, the most frequent praise men get is “he is smart”. This reminds me of some of the arguments Sheryl Sandberg made in her book Lean In.

The academic takeaway: asking an interesting question is the first step to a good research paper.

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