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Santa Cruz, CA

Vikram Baliga, PhD Candidate at UC Santa Cruz, member of the Mehta Lab. Areas of study: ecology, ontogeny, morphometrics, and comparative methods.

Never Trust Projectors!!! (My Qualifying Exam Seminar)

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Never Trust Projectors!!! (My Qualifying Exam Seminar)

Vikram Baliga

Last week, I completed my final requirement for advancing to PhD candidacy: giving a departmental seminar to outline my proposed dissertation research. It's amazing how something like this can be simultaneously wonderful and frustrating.

I had spent a few weeks preparing for my 45-50 minute talk, consulting with lab mates and colleagues about the best way to present my research. Luckily, I was able to recycle a number of slides from my Qualifying Exam, but when I had created these slides, I had not placed much emphasis on aesthetics. I thus spent a quite a bit of time composing the presentation. The final version of my departmental seminar consisted of around 60 slides, each of which had been meticulously crafted and altered. I even made sure to adjust all of the colors on my slides to account for the distortion/washout that occurs when using projectors. Finally, I tried to make sure that there would be no technical difficulties in connecting my laptop to a projector by: 1) making sure my video card's driver was up-to-date, 2) using the Mehta Lab's projector to practice several times before the actual seminar, and 3) praying to the Projector Gods.

My seminar was scheduled for a 4:30pm slot on a Friday, meaning that attending my talk would be the last thing people would do before celebrating the arrival of the weekend. I was quite flattered by the turnout; about 35-40 people crammed themselves into the room (the average for these events is close to 25). As they were shuffling in, I began setting up my presentation. I had made sure to bring the Mehta Lab's projector, given all of my aforementioned preparation.

I then came to realize that the Projector Gods had spurned my prayers. I connected my laptop to the projector using the same cable I had been using all week. This time, no dice. The projector refused to recognize my computer and kept searching for a device. A few colleagues from the audience were kind enough to help me troubleshoot the problem. It took a good 10 minutes for us to realize that one of the pins in the cable's connector was bent.

I was so happy the first time this title slide popped up. I thought that it signaled the end of my troubles!

We found a new cable and lo-and-behold, the connection was established! After my advisor, Rita Mehta, gave me a laudatory introduction, I began my talk....or so I thought. I didn't make it past the first slide before the projector flickered out, displayed a plain blue screen, and complained that it couldn't find an attached device. I quickly re-set the connection, waited for my presentation to display again, and then picked up where I left off.

About 5 minutes later, the projector flickered out again...and then again after another 5...and periodically throughout the rest of the talk. I was a little flustered the first couple times it happened, but I managed to keep my frustrations to myself. After the fifth or sixth flickering-out, I just got used to it. I actually started welcoming the interruptions, as they each gave me the chance to catch my breath and sip down some water. The only real frustrating aspect of this experience was that I would build up momentum while explaining concepts to the audience, only to feel like I was slamming against a brick wall each time the projector crashed. Luckily, I've worked in an emergency room setting before, so dealing with high-pressure situations generally doesn't faze me.

I'm glad that I seem to be able to roll with the punches, as my audience gave me incredibly high praise for the talk -- both in terms of its content and in terms of my ability to handle the situation. A number of my colleagues told me that even in spite of the technical difficulties, they were completely captivated by my lecture. A few faculty even approached me to speak about how some of the comparative methods I was using could help them in their own projects.

And now I'm a Candidate!