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I'm an assistant professor of neuroscience at Washington State University in Vancouver, where I use tiny zebrafish (the size of an eyelash!) as a model system to study human hearing loss and how we can prevent it. I'm also a long-time Toastmaster and I teach communication workshops. This blog represents the merging of my two passions - science and communication, which has really become one central passion - the science of communication. There's a revolution in science right now...the idea that we scientists should sometimes leave the lab and talk about what we do, and why we do it, to real people. This blog looks at why we should do this, and how to actually talk about science with non-scientists (and with each other!). Portions of this blog are also featured on Qualia, the AAAS MemberCenter blog site.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Increase your h-index by improving your presentation

By Janine Castro, PhD

According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H-index) “the h-index is an index that attempts to measure both the productivity and impact of the published work of a scientist or scholar. The index is based on the set of the scientist's most cited papers and the number of citations that they have received in other publications.” If you quickly scan the average number of citations per scientific journal article, you are likely to see a range of 5 to 10. Because a few papers are cited hundreds or thousands of times, there are many papers on the other end of the distribution that are never cited.
Have they read your paper?
The River Restoration Northwest audience, February 2013.
Using myself as an example, my most cited publication has accumulated 81 citations over the past decade, while 7 of my papers have never been cited. In contrast, over the past six months, I have made 7 presentations that reached 850 individuals. Recognizing that the h-index does not reflect the total number of individuals who have actually read a paper, but rather just those who cited a paper, this isn’t really a fair comparison. However, giving presentations is an excellent opportunity to enlighten an interested audience about your research.

The goal of a presentation should not be to tell the audience everything you know in 20 minutes, but rather to encourage them to read your work and interface with you following the event. Thinking of your presentation in terms of a research paper, the presentation should be at least the abstract, and perhaps the introduction, summary, and conclusions, depending on both the time available and the audience. 

Let’s get back to the “h-index” of presentations and why you should spend adequate time preparing.  Start by asking yourself how much time you have dedicated to a research project --  developing a study design, writing a grant proposal, collecting and analyzing data, writing up your findings, submitting for publication, making revisions, and finally (hopefully) getting published. How many months? Or, more likely, how many years?

I am not suggesting that you spend years working on a presentation. I am, however, suggesting that you invest enough time to plan your presentation months in advance. You may start by simply developing an outline and identifying your main message. With a solid foundation, you can begin the thoughtful preparation your visuals. Since you are working so far in advance of your presentation date, you will have adequate time for peer review. If your paper deserves peer review, then certainly your presentation visuals deserve it as well.  By developing your talk over a period of months, you will have both the temporal and mental space to revise and improve upon your talk. And if you take the final step of actually practicing your talk the week preceding the event, then you will have maximized the impact of your presentation.  

Scott Berkun may have said it best: ““The problem with most bad presentations I see is not the speaking, the slides, the visuals, or any of the other things people obsess about.  Instead, it’s the lack of thinking”  (2010, Confessions of a Public Speaker, http://scottberkun.com/). Give yourself time to think.

While there is no guarantee that an engaging presentation will result in an increased h-index, it is an excellent opportunity to recruit new readers – much like a good movie trailer.  

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