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‘If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself’

RISE:2017 was held in Cabot Cage on Thursday, April 13, 2017. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Presenting your research can be pretty daunting, particularly if your audience is comprised of hundreds of people whom you have never met.

But that’s the challenge for more than 400 students, faculty, and staff who are showcasing their solution-focused innovations at RISE:2017.

When we ask a handful of presenters to dole out some tips for those looking to make their RISE debuts next year, they stress three particular things: be ready to explain your research to people of any age and academic background; practice before colleagues both inside and outside your field of study; and seek the insight of those more knowledgeable than you.

“If you can’t explain it to a 6-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself,” says Anne Shutt, MS’18, quoting one of Albert Einstein’s most famous phrases.

Shutt, a graduate student in industrial engineering, is presenting her work to apply systems engineering methods to improve opioid prescribing practices in primary care settings. She notes: “You have to make sure you understand your research on a deep level so that you can explain it to anyone.”

Vivian Ma, DMSB’17, advises students to reach out to faculty for guidance. “There are so many faculty with robust professional backgrounds,” says Ma, who  prototyped a first-of-its-kind relationship management software to help up-and-coming musicians better connect with their fans. “Reach out to them, because they have so much knowledge to pass on to you.”

Lauren Raine, a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Psychology, recommends future participants give themselves plenty of time to prepare. She spent countless hours practicing her presentation on the link between daily physical activity and cognitive function in kids in front of her peers in psychology and her friends in other academic fields.

“Give yourself more time than you think you’ll need,” she says. “It’s important to fully understand your data and be able to fully explain it from start to finish.”