Thursday, December 1, 2011

The sperm presentation...and that other presentation I'd rather forget about.

Jeez Louise...I can't believe there is only one more week of school left.  What the...?

I also can't believe my genetics presentation went okay today.  At the beginning of the semester I was really struggling with that class, because I don't have a genetics background at all, but as the months have passed I've really come to enjoy the subject.  It's very useful stuff to know. 

Anyhow, it's one of those classes that has some undergrads and some grad students in it, and we 6 grad students had to do secondary research projects and make presentations about them this week.  The topic was flexible; we could research anything as long as it had some kind of human genetics component.  At first I thought I'd continue with my wisdom tooth paper and look at the genetics of prognathism, but that was getting a little dull, so I switched my topic and picked the most ridiculous thing I could think of.

Sperm, of course.

So my project was about hominine (chimp, bonobo, gorilla, and human) mating systems and the homologous genes (SEMG1, SEMG2, and TGM4) between these species that code for cross-linking proteins (semenogelin 1 and semenogelin 2) and enzymes (hTGP) that coagulate to form copulatory plugs, which vary in softness or hardness between species.  Chimps and bonobos have firm copulatory plugs, whereas gorillas have none at all, and humans apparently have a barely-there, semisoft one, "like a copulatory booger," I explained to the class.  This was one of my slides:


It was great fun giving this presentation.  The class seemed to think so, too, considering they were laughing quite a bit.  And at the end, during question time, there were so many comments and questions about different genetic and evolutionary aspects of sex that my question time was longer than my speech.  But it was fun, I thought.  I didn't mind being in that hotseat at all, because we were discussing one of my absolute favorite subjects.  When I was finally done, everyone clapped enthusiastically and one person even shouted, "Wooo!"

But I had to remind myself that just because the class found it entertaining, doesn't mean the professor liked the science behind it or thought it was a decent graduate-level project.  So maybe I only got a B or a C...or worse.  I don't know. 

All I know was that this genetics presentation went waaaaaaayyyyy better than my paleobiology presentation on Tuesday.  Man, that was a pure train wreck.  You know how huge disasters like Chernobyl and the BP oil spill always seem to be the culmination of 1000 small things that went wrong?  Like a series of minor mistakes and circumstances that all add up to a colossal failure?  My paleo presentation was like that.  And you know how when you've done something really embarrassing and your insides are just melting with self-loathing?  And every time you think of it you just want to shoot yourself?  It was like that, too. 

Oh, Hope, you're just exaggerating, my imagined audience says. 

Dude, I'm so not.  Here, why don't I just lay it all out for you on the Internet: 

When, on the first day of paleobiology, I learned that we had to come up with a research project and do a presentation on it at the end of the semester, I was not alarmed, as I've done several of those types of presentations before.  And in my previous life as an undergrad, I'd seen dozens upon dozens of these types of presentations, and I saw no cause for concern.

At that time I was, like I said earlier, really struggling with that genetics class, so I always put that first, and this paleo thing always came second or third on my list of school work.  Did I mention I fucking hate(d) this paleo class?     

As the semester went on, I would occasionally chat with my paleo classmates about how their project was going.  "Hm, it's not going so good," they'd say, or "I don't have a project yet."

Wow, really?  Okay. 

So finally I got my ass in gear and started working on this project, and I wanted to do something with primates and facial expression, and one of the class profs just kind of handed me an idea for a project, and it didn't sound that interesting, but I thought, "Alright, let's just do this project and get it over with because this class makes me want to scoop my eyes out with a melon baller."

By that time, I had a handle on my genetics class, and I was workin' all hard on this paleo project every single day, early in the morning and late into the night, doing a shit ton of readings, measuring my skulls, and watching SPSS tutorials on YouTube so I could remember how to use that stinking program; it's been so long since I've done stats on anything.  And I even volunteered to present on Day 1 of presentations, just because I wanted to get it over with ASAP.

So I made my little PowerPoint slides.  Not that I wanted to, because PowerPoint is so overused and abused and ubiquitous, but it was required for this paleo presentation.  So, I followed the advice I'd always been told regarding PowerPoints, which had served me well in the past.  And that advice was:  Don't have too many slides--no more than one per minute.  Don't blather or go on tangents and don't use too much jargon.  Be concise and brief.  Don't type your speech onto your slides and then read off your slides because that's boring and redundant.  You're a presenter, not a PowerPoint narrator.  The slideshow is your helper/sidekick--not the star of the show. 

So I had my simple little 7-slide presentation and my paper notes, and I went to class as usual.  And who was there, aside from the two class profs and my classmates, but the department chair and several other grad students who came to watch just for fun.  Oh, goodie!

And the first student presented and had dozens of charts and graphs and slides, and I thought, "Wow, that's a really detailed, extensive project.  They must've carried that over from another class." 

Then the second student went, and their project was even more super-detailed and complicated and hyper-advanced and crammed with dozens of slides full of charts and graphs and stats, and I was scheduled to go after them.  And that's when it dawned on me that I everything I'd been told about PowerPoints did not apply to the sciences, and that I was in seriously deep shit and that my presentation was about to go over like a lead balloon.

So student #2 finished, and it was my turn.  And walking up there, just having realized that my presentation was total crap--too short, too simple, and inadequate in every way--was what I imagine stepping up to the gallows is like. 

But what could I do at that point?  I couldn't leave.  I couldn't feign sudden illness.  So I picked up the little slide clicker thing and fumbled through this short, tiny, pathetic presentation and looked like a complete fuckhead in front of some of the most famous people in anthropology.  Oh, and by the way, my stats were all wrong, so my conclusion was wrong too.  

Nice way to justify that big fat fellowship I was given, right?

And then I went home and crawled into bed and pulled the covers up over my head and went to sleep, wondering if I should ever show my face at school again.

I spent a lot of time the next day trying to pinpoint exactly how and why this had happened, and contemplating what to do with my new Dumb Kid status.  I was afraid to go work in my office even, because what if someone from that paleo class saw me and thought, "Oh look, Dumb Girl is in her office.  Heh, what is she doing in there, clicking on random buttons in SPSS?"   

Well, I did go to my office and worked, but I just closed the door. 

I know...I'm such a little turd.  Be quiet.

So I was extremely happy my sperm presentation was well received, at least by the other students.  Of course that project turned out better, because I enjoyed the topic.  Research always turns out better when you're truly interested in what you're studying.  I'll try to remember that when I fail paleo and have to take it all over again next year.