Oral presentations, professors and hypocrisy

Hypocrisy, incoherence, abuse of power, I’ve already got a job and can do whatever I please, practising what you preach is overrated, shame, disrespect, unprofessionalism…


Where moral integrity is compromised every day [source]

Every year, students at university are required more and more to deliver oral presentations and they’re given guidelines on time, clarity, display… which sound more like threats to be taken into account for grading than advice for them to learn.

Students think that someone who delivers at least an oral presentation—lecture—a day, can give advice based on professional experience. Duh! That’s what they’ve read or have been told, but few put it into practice. They can fool us on many things, but if there’s one thing students know better than anyone, that’s the quality of their oral presentations.

Allow me to give some examples of pieces of advice given and pearls of wisdom that ignore them [real sentences from researchers who go to conferences and enjoy luxurious feasts thanks to the European taxpayers].

Piece of advice: Rehearse the presentation and adapt to the time given.
Pearl: ‘This is the first time I do this speech and I don’t know how long it’ll take.’

Piece of advice: Stick to style, aesthetic and coherence criteria on your slides.
Pearl: ‘The presentation is in Catalan, but there’re also slides in Spanish or even English.’

Piece of advice: Make sure you know what you’re talking about.
Pearl: ‘This was called [insert specialised term], which I don’t know the meaning of, but it’s OK.’

Professors usually say ‘You’re not in high school any more, this is university’. Maybe it’s time for students to say ‘You’re not students any more, you’re getting paid for this’.

My first experiencies with massive open online courses

Massive open online courses (MOOC) are becoming more and more popular lately, especially among professionals like translators and correctors, who need to know a bit of everything to tackle the texts they receive. Being a member of this group, it was a matter of time that I enrol any.

Today I’m writing about my first two MOOCs. They were on the Miríada X platform and about free software and open knowledge the first and about the history of chemistry and the discovery of the elements the second.

A — maybe too — humble project.

A — maybe too — humble project.

Miríada X is quite simple a platform in both positive and negative senses. It is convenient for an interface to be easy to use in an intuitive way. On the other hand, how much quality can a course offer if it’s that simple and uses such an ordinary video system as embedding from YouTube?

Focusing on the courses themselves, they weren’t any better than the platform. The one about free software and open knowledge, offered by the Technical College of Madrid and the University of Zaragoza, was but a bunch of videos with vague remarks on Creative Commons and the tasks consisted in sharing relevant links on social networks. That is, you just looked for four links to create a cooperative data base. I didn’t learn anything.

The course about chemistry, offered by the University of Girona, was more informative, though not more educational. The best of it was the experiments explained at some point in the video. Not that they always gave special meaning to the lecture, but they kept the student interested and amused. The rest of the time the professors were throwing up a baroque speech they read from a screen ignoring their audience, constantly stumbling over their words in a very strong Catalan accent in Spanish. I’m not sure whether the three lines of subtitles made up for the bad reading or made it more stressing. A genuine will to do it properly could be sensed, however, both the format of the course and their communicative skills need to be improved.

I’m currently enrolled in other courses in Coursera with a higher level of satisfaction for the moment. Stay around to read about them.

My Master in Analytical Chemistry – 2 of 2

Acknowledgements – continuation

Everything started in February last year during a birthday supper with the Sílvias — two girls with the same name that you have to name in plural and never individually. They had just finished their masters and were starting their PHDs. They said such nice things about the experience that I got interested. The fact of socialising and having lunch with my friends was convincing enough. I rushed to the Department of Analytical Chemistry at university because the deadline for registration was that week.

There I talked to Mercè Granados, who told me that I was actually three weeks late, but there were two groups still available. One of them was the group on Solution Equilibria and Chemiometrics. Santi Hernández — one of the professors in charge of the group — explained to me everything they were doing in the group and what would be my project.

When I was in the group, Toni Checa taught me the details of my work and watched me all the time. He will remember me for a long time after my many often absurd questions. I also had a talk to Xavi Saurina — another professor in charge of the group —, who told me about my objectives and the methodology and the analysis I had to carry out to get them.

I must mention the Fluorescence group as well, for they took me in and spent many hours and meals together — especially when the French guys were here. The fluorescents have been half of my entertainment the last year. During the experimental months, I used to visit them between my analysis because I was alone in the new laboratory. During the data treatment months, I spent more time with the Chemiometrics group; but I am not giving details because it could be dangerous for us all.

Additionally, in November I had two presents: the possibility to use the mass spectrometer at the Barcelona Science Park and a paper about my work where I am the main author — and I have been told that some groups are not that generous. And it kept getting better. I had always been told that the deadline for the report was in January, but then they told me I had an extra month. In fact, that made my suffering longer rather than helping me. Although I must admit that I used that month to improve some last moment details with the help of Toni, Santi and Xavi.

And that was it. The rest of the report is quite boring if you’re not really interested in polyphenols. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to leave. The audience is waiting for my presentation. Wish me luck — not that I need it, but still…

They say I work in a lab

This week we got the part of the computers in the old laboratory painted. This gave me some free time away from my job. Some free time means half a week.

Last Monday was a normal working day; Tuesday was not supposed to be the same. The painters had to be there soon in the morning to paint a wall and a part of the ceiling. The boy who guides my master told me to not go to the lab because, even if they finished fast, the bad smell would remain for some hours. I do like harmful smells, but I’m an obedient boy and took a day off.

When I entered the lab on Wednesday, the painters were still there. I spend the morning correcting some papers on a corner. It was really cold because we opened the windows to avoid death by air poisoning. After having lunch, I went home because I could not work with my table and my computer on a corner under a blanket.

Thursdays and Fridays are a different thing. I’m working in a school now and I can only go to the lab on Thursday afternoon. Well, this week, my master guide was not going to be in the lab these two days. He said it was not worth going just one afternoon and be there alone after a week like this.

And that’s my week off. If I’m lucky enough, next Monday the paint will be still wet.

Accident in the laboratory

I had an accident in the laboratory some weeks ago.

To be admitted to a chemistry master you need to attend a course in research laboratories risks prevention. If you haven’t attended it, you must sign a document saying you’ll do it so you can get the master’s certificate.

When you think of it, it’s rather absurd they ask for you to attend the course before finishing the studies instead of before entering the laboratory. When you attend it you realise why it’s like this. In fact, the course is just a conference. A four-hour conference, long and boring, but still it’s only four hours. You’re not told anything you haven’t been told a thousand times in the degree training: emergency exits, showers, eyewash fountains, fireproof blankets, fire extinguishers, waste management, lab coat, glasses, gloves…

But there are far more dangerous things they don’t warn you about and this was my problem.

I was doing my round to pick up the people for lunch. I entered the laboratory of a girl who always smells like a Nenuco doll. She denies it and says it’s vanilla perfume. That’s the reason.

I sat next to her while she ended some analysis with the TOF. She told me to go for the mates in the other laboratory and come back in five minutes. Then the accident happened, when I stood up.

Imagine a considerably big table with a not less big instrument on it, and even heavier and more expensive (much more). And this instrument ionizes substances and analyse the ions by mass spectrometry using a magnetic field. Excellent stuff. Well, as I stood up I hit my knee against the table edge.

Yes, the mot dangerous thing in the laboratory is the furniture.

It was one of those gentle but just-at-the-spot hit. I fell to the ground thinking I would die young and handsome, which appeared like a funny comment to Nenuco, I don’t know why.

What I mean is that I’ve never seen anyone using fire extinguishers, showers and fireproof blankets, but these silly accidents happen now and then. It would we wise to add a warning to the risk prevention conference.