Today I felt like a drop of oil in a glass of water.

Every fall, my university hosts a research conference for graduate and professional students. The students that participated in the Summer Research Scholars Program (SRSP) are required to present their projects from their 10-week program placement. Since I haven’t presented my research on campus, and I did my research on this campus, I thought I’d submit an abstract to see if it would be accepted. I thought it would be a great opportunity to practice public speaking as well as to get some feedback, since I don’t have a PI (primary investigator), and as prep for next month’s conference (that I am SO excited to have been accepted into!).

Well, this was nothing like I expected. The website to submit abstracts was difficult to navigate, and I guess maybe that should have been an omen. I submitted my abstract and waited weeks without hearing if I had been accepted or not. There was no place on the submission page to choose a category either, which I was used to from other conferences. The day before the conference, I looked up my abstract to see if I had an ID number, since I still hadn’t heard. When I saw that I had a number, I prepped my poster and presentation for today.

Maybe I should have read the fine print a little better. Like I had noticed, there were no categories at this particular conference. All of the med students were lumped into one time slot, in alphabetical order. It looked like everyone else, or at least a large majority, was in the SRSP program (which I wasn’t, due to being heavily pregnant by that time of the summer–and turning it down for the peds externship), and we were arranged in alphabetical order by last name. My poster stuck out like a sore thumb, since my project didn’t fit the Western blot, animal model, immunofluorescence model that many of the other biomedical posters highlighted. I would have been better off presenting with the public health posters, but that wasn’t an option for me.

So, I was nervous before my time to present to the judges. There were two that visited my poster for my 10-minute allotment. I wanted to address the dissimilarity of my poster first, which was not met with much understanding–I was immediately met with negativity, even before I got to introduce myself. The judges did not seem interested in my project at all since it didn’t fit the biomedical mold. One of them would not even look at me or my poster, and the other argued against my basic premise right out of the gate. After attempting to explain my background for the fourth time and being immediately shut down despite my clear explanation and evidence, I gave up. I don’t think I even used half of my time allotment, and I didn’t even get to outline my entire project. I was disappointed and a bit dejected. So when the preliminary time was over, I took down my poster and headed home. I was relieved when the judges moved on to the next presenter. I hadn’t even considered the possibility that my project wouldn’t be well-received, or even received at all. The NSRF Conference last April went very well–I had a lot of interest in my project, and I scored really well, by all four judges. The feedback I got from them was excellent, and I made adjustments to my manuscript based on the encouragement and suggestions I received.

In speaking of my manuscript, it’s still just sitting there on my table, waiting on me to submit the final draft. In all honesty, I’m scared to submit it. This project has been my baby for so long; I’m afraid it will be rejected and dismissed much like my presentation today. Not having a PI or mentor for this project has not helped my insecurity, since I’ve never submitted a manuscript to a journal like the Journal of Clinical Ethics before. I have worked so hard on this. I guess I just need to suck it up and submit it already, and let what will be, be, so I can move on to other projects.

By now, you’d think I’d be used to being the odd man out of the group. I hate it when I get the stink eye over being a bioethicist in the healthcare field. Overall, though, I’m still glad I went. I completely understand that not everyone will identify with my project or even like my idea. That’s fine. I think I’m mostly disappointed with the lack of constructive feedback so I can prepare a bit more for the next conference next month. I did learn a lot, though. I now know that I need to thoroughly consider my target audience, and do a bit more research before I submit future abstracts. (I really, really wish they would have rejected my abstract submission if it didn’t fit what they wanted!) Thankfully, I’ve also got some ideas about how to tweak my future directions so my research interests can reach a larger audience. Today was not a wasted day.


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