On a whim, I joined a RES group here at BSM. I wasn’t planning to be in a research class– I considered it but was entirely daunted by the task. Yet somehow I ended up in the bioinformatics research group for the term…
And, although I absolutely love it, the RES class is definitely daunting. Our first real assignment was due last Thursday; we were told to give a fifteen minute presentation explaining the research question and goals in place of that week’s colloquium. Cue a lecture hall including the students who are giving presentations, the professors whose research topics are being presented by well-intentioned students, and a few extras who wanted to watch it all happen. Throw in some Hungarian cheesy biscuits, chocolate cookies, and fizzy water at the front of the room to snack on and you have the idea.
The presentation was essentially asking us in our small groups to give a fifteen minute presentation on an open mathematical question, on a subject we had known nothing about two weeks before, to a room-full of people, in front of the professor who came up with the question and could give the presentation better with his eyes closed. It was terrifying. My research partner and I were told afterward that we did “OK-ish” and I was fully satisfied with that result.
The event was really intense, but also totally fascinating to me. Interruptions from professors in the middle of presentations may or may not have (hint: they did) included things like:
–I can’t hear you because you are talking into the wall. I also can’t read your handwriting. Therefore I have no idea what you are saying.
–I do not know what g is. You did not label g. What is g? Is it a set, a polynomial, an integer, what?
–Can you put the title on the board? I do not know what you are talking about. You’re mumbling.
–You should have practiced with the Powerpoint clicker first. That is very distracting.
Whenever a mistake was made, professors in the back would have side conversations to clarify for each other. Students would make mistakes on the board because they were trying to give equations from memory, then their research professor would correct it for them from the back. You could tell each RES professor wanted their student to do well and get it right, in part because they were being judged by how well we were doing. The research questions were being introduced to some of the other professors for the first time by us, their students. So their ideas were being judged in whatever form we were presenting them. It had to be right.
During the Q&A for me and my partner, we were asked what results we expected by the end of the semester. My honest idea was I don’t know!! Ask my professor what he thinks we will find at the end of the semester! I gave my best shot at an answer, watching my bio professor’s face the entire time for any signal of agreement or disagreement.
The colloquium was somewhat painful to watch. Part of the assignment was to sit in the audience and observe each other flounder at the board. We wanted each other to succeed!
It was rough going.
Thankfully, there were cookies.