CB 399: Science Presentation as a Performing Art Fall 2010

Intellectual Unit: Building a Better Scientist

Science Presentation as a Performing Art

Nanocourse Director: Nancy Houfek and David Van Vactor
Curriculum Fellow: Latishya Steele

Effective communication of scientific knowledge is an essential component of any career in the sciences. The “Science Presentation as a Performing Art” nanocourse is designed to meet a critical and unfulfilled need for oral science communication training. The first day of the course is a four-hour introductory lecture and workshop that is open to the Harvard community. Drawing from her background in theater performance, Ms. Houfek will teach specific techniques that can be easily and effectively implemented to improve the quality and effectiveness of science presentations, ranging from body language, gesture, and movement, to vocal clarity, operative words, and the use of metaphor, analogy, and storytelling. Dr. Van Vactor will contribute his scientific and teaching expertise to further inform the discussion of effective science presentation with a focus on scientific content. He will give a short presentation on a research question, which will be evaluated by Ms. Houfek and members of the audience. Dr. Van Vactor will give his presentation a second time, incorporating the techniques that Ms. Houfek has presented and the feedback he received. 

The second session of the nanocourse is a three-hour session where groups of five or six students each will be given the opportunity to give brief scientific presentations and receive specific, critical feedback from Dr. Van Vactor to improve their presentation skills. In addition, all students will act as audience in the second session, learning from Ms. Houfek’s techniques both how to improve their own specific speaking skills and how to promote and develop speaking skills amongst their colleagues so that they can apply their learning to train other classmates, colleagues, and members of student organizations outside of the scope of the nanocourse.


First Session: Tuesday, October 12, 1 – 5 pm
Location: Goldenson 122
Second Session:
*Once you have successfully enrolled and are confirmed, you must c
lick on the link & enroll for the second section (6 students maximum per section).
October 25, 10 am – 2 pm, Countway Ballard Room
October 27, 9 am – 12 pm, TMEC Building, Rm. 126
October 27, 1 – 5 pm, TMEC Building, Rm. 126
October 28, 9 am – 12 pm, TMEC Building, Rm. 446
October 28, 1 – 5 pm, TMEC Building, Rm. 447

*The second session of this nanocourse is limited to 35 graduate students. For the second session, please be prepared to give a five-minute scientific presentation in PowerPoint. As you prepare your presentation, we encourage you to consider the spectrum of audiences to whom and contexts within which you could be speaking. Examples include: departmental seminar to expert/peer scientists; job seminar to scientists not in your field; lay audiences who are interested in science; interested students who are not very knowledgeable about science. In giving your presentation, please be sure to mention which audience you chose. Davie Van Vactor and other audience members will provide feedback on both content and delivery to enhance your presentation skills. An audio recording of each speaker’s presentation will be provided to that presenter.


Taking together all of the verbal and audio feedback you received, please prepare the following and submit with your PowerPoint presentations:

  • A short summary (two to three sentences) of your strengths

                 - Do these mesh well with strengths you think you have

- Were some of the strengths that were mentioned different than what you might have expected?

  • A short summary (two to three sentences) summarizing areas where you could improve

       - Of the areas for improvement, which area(s) would you would want to address first?

Following your presentation, you will have 48 hours to re-design your presentation and submit both versions.  In order to receive credit for this nanocourse, you must attend the second session, perform the presentation, AND resubmit your PowerPoint presentations with the self-reflection. 


DROP DEADLINE: Tuesday, October  5, 2010