With the spring semester starting up, this has been a busy week for me and, I’m sure, for you. So I’ll make this post brief.
Coming from a big Ph.D.-granting university, I got used to attending several talks a semester, whether at special events, from visiting scholars, or from professors or graduate students sharing their own research with the community. Sometimes these were aimed at general audiences, but fairly often they were field-specific: either within the English department, or even a sub-field like “nineteenth-century studies” (my own). Since moving to a SLAC, there’s still plenty of opportunities for generalist talks, and a few literary ones (N. Scott Momaday will be here soon, as part of a winter program that invites established, well-known writers to work with students). But the chances that a scholar in my specific field will be here are slim.
I realized this last semester, I think, when I attended the Victorian conference. But I’ve been thinking more about it lately, as I prepare my own talk, which I’ll be giving as part of an interdisciplinary scholarship series (more on this later). Were I still in graduate school, or presenting to an English department, I’d want to focus on the contributions I’m making to particular fields — indeed, I signed up for this time of year as a dry run for a job talk. Having now been to some of the series, though, I’ll definitely be shifting my focus for a more general audience. I’m still excited to be sharing my work, and maybe even more so — I mean, I have plenty of chances to talk to experts at conferences, but fewer to speak to broader crowds. But it’s a shift I didn’t think about when I initially signed up.
Have you shared your research with groups far outside your discipline? How do you change your presentations for non-expert audiences?