Your oral presentation will be scheduled in the term after you prepare your synopsis and bibliography. Assignment of dates and times for the oral presentation is done at random, taking into account student and committee members’ schedules.  Requests for early scheduling will be honored when possible; however, requests for “late scheduling” will not be accepted. When the schedule for oral presentations is complete, you can find the time of your presentation on the department website (see Committee Talks and Schedules). Scheduling is done over winter break for Fall/Winter comps and over spring break for Winter/Spring comps. If the assigned Comps time conflicts with a legitimate academic exercise (i.e., another class), the student should work with their Comps advisor to find another meeting time that will work for both student and faculty schedules.

Your oral presentation will consist of a talk of approximately 25 minutes followed by a 30 minute oral question period by your faculty committee. When you submit your talk title, you will have the opportunity to designate your talk as “open” or “closed.” Open talks are public, whereas closed talks are attended by the committee members only.

Your talk should not be used to repeat the exact order and content of your submitted synopsis. Instead, pursue some aspects of your topic in greater depth than is allowed by the synopsis alone. The presentation should follow a structured format, but should be presented without reading a prepared script verbatim. Direct your remarks to those familiar with the topic, not toward any non-scientists who may be present in the audience. At least one hour before you make your presentation, upload your presentation file to Moodle, so that the faculty committee can access it as part of the evaluation.

During the question period, committee members may ask questions on a variety of topics related to either your paper or your oral presentation. In preparing for the questions, be sure to pay particular attention to the key references you chose in your bibliography. You should be able to defend your choice of each key reference within the context of the question, as well as demonstrate an understanding of details such as experimental methods, figures and tables, etc.

You should have available a copy of each of your key references, which you are free to refer to during the question period. Other questions from your committee will be diverse and not easily predictable, but the faculty will be interested in how well you are able to explain and defend the positions you have taken. If you are well-prepared and are interested in the subject, the discussion should be stimulating and even enjoyable to all.

Tips for your Oral Presentation and Q&A Period

Below are a few tips that the faculty have compiled to help you think about your comps talk and Q&A. Please keep in mind that there is no one “right way” to complete these aspects of comps — you should consult with your comps advisor to get their advice. 

Oral presentation

  • The presentation should complement, not replicate, the paper. Do this by going into greater depth on specific examples mentioned in your paper, or by expanding your interpretation or analysis of one or more key points.
  • In the oral presentation, slides should have minimal text and instead use photos, diagrams, and figures from papers to illustrate the information being presented.
  • When a figure is presented in an oral presentation, all axes, colors, and shapes should be clearly defined before interpreting the results. In many cases, some background on the experimental design is necessary to give context for the figure.
  • Presentations should be practiced (and timed)  in front of an audience of your peers several times before your presentation date.

Q&A Period

  • You should understand the basic biology for the processes you describe in either your paper or your presentation. Basic biology is not necessarily all the names of all the proteins or the molecules; it is understanding the general concepts that unite biological systems.
  • Be prepared to apply your understanding of the basic biology for the processes you describe to new situations (for example, you might not know how every cell signaling pathway results in cell proliferation, but you should be able to think your way through how an extracellular signal could lead to changes in cell proliferation).
  • Recognize the limits of your knowledge of hard facts; propose what you think could happen based on the reality of our biological systems, your foundation of conceptual biology knowledge, and the published literature.
  • “Starred” references from your paper are likely to be the basis of questions in the Q&A. You should have a full understanding of all aspects of these papers and be prepared to discuss them. It is permissible (and encouraged!) to have copies of your papers on hand during the defense.
  • If some aspect of presentation, such as the interpretation of a figure, is not clear in your presentation, you will be asked about it in your defense; know all the details about any figure you present in your paper or presentation.