NOTAF First Year Presentation Days
These days were formerly known as the 'Graduate Seminar Training Days'. Attendance is compulsory for all probationary PhD students (NOTAFs).
What are the Presentation Days?
At the Presentation Days, each NOTAF student presents a 15-minute paper to a group of peers and a moderator who is a member of the History Faculty. Each presentation is followed by about 15 minutes of questions, comments and discussion.
What are the goals of the Presentation Days?
The Presentation Days are designed to give students experience of presenting academic work, and to engage with and offer feedback on the work of others. These days offer students a chance to develop their ideas in a supportive environment of their peers.
What should the presentation be about?
Graduate student are invited to present some aspect of their doctoral research, striking a balance between general ideas and specific evidence. Students might focus on methodological or theoretical issues that will need to be addressed during the course of doctoral research: feel free to raise questions rather than provide definitive answers. Or instead they might use a specific example (or examples) to illustrate a significant aspect of the doctoral topic or to explore a particular problem of method or approach. Here are some of the presentation topics from past Presentation Days:
- ‘Perceptions of women in early Irish society: the sources’
- ‘Alcohol in colonial historiography: Issues and Approaches’
- ‘Catholic apocalypticism in post-Reformation England, 1558-1625’
- ‘Travel and haggling in the early modern phrasebook’
- ‘War Rumour and State Control in Calcutta, 1939-45’
- ‘Overspill and the impact of the Town Development Act, 1945-74’
- ‘Current issues in research related to Paul the Deacon's homiliary’
Should you use visual or presentation aids?
Presenters are under no obligation to illustrate the presentation with paper handouts, overhead projections or PowerPoint. However students are welcome to use such aids if they will enhance the audience’s ability to follow and appreciate the presentation or if you wish to gain some experience in using them.
- The audience will not be comprised of only specialists in your field, you will need to present your work in a way that is accessible to all
- Remember to think about the physical aspects of presenting; planning your speed, pitch, volume, eye-contact and gestures can be just as important as what you actually say
- Practice your timing; 15 minutes is shorter than you think so don’t try to squeeze in too much!
- It can be helpful to rehearse your presentation aloud, in front of a friend or colleague.
- The title of the presentation need not be identical to the current official title of your dissertation project.
What is more important, content or style?
Both content and style are important. The audience may ask questions or comment on both the content and style of the presentation. The particular advantage of the Presentation Days is that it provides an opportunity for a frank yet supportive discussion of presentation skills at a very early point in a young academic’s career.
Isn’t a 15-minute presentation rather short?
Yes, but learning to adapt a presentation to a set time is a useful skill for your academic career. Applicants to academic positions in the Faculty of History at Cambridge are asked to encapsulate their entire academic career – past, present and future – in a talk of just 15 minutes, and historians are often asked by Melvyn Bragg or Andrew Marr to tell what is important about the Black Death, ‘common-sense philosophy’ or the Crimean war in a minute! The presentation is not designed to be a test or everything you know about your subject, but rather a chance to practice selecting ideas and evidence and organising them in a lucid and engaging way.
How are the Presentation Days organized?
For Presentation Days, all NOTAF PhD students are divided into groups of about ten: there are usually five or six groups each year. The groups convene concurrently on both days. Within each group, half the group presents its work on the first Presentation Day, and the other half presents its work on the second Presentation Day. Therefore, it is essential that all participants attend the entirety of both Presentation Days.
How are the groups constituted?
Each group will comprise students working on a variety of different periods, places and problems in order to create the potential for fruitful discussion. Presenters should not assume that the historical significance of their research will be immediately obvious to the others in the group and it may be that a brief explanation of where the research topic fits within a wider historical field, and what its special significance is, is more likely to engage the interest of the group than a paper that focuses too heavily upon the details of the topic. This is a skill that will be valuable throughout your academic or professional career.
What about the discussion?
After each paper, the group will be invited, for about 15 minutes, to ask questions. This gives students chance to benefit from discussion, feedback, and exchanges among graduate students and senior members of the Faculty. The spirit of the Presentation Days is constructive observation; unconstructive or combative criticism is out of place. For this reason all students are required to stay for the whole of both afternoons.
What is the role of the moderator?
The moderator is an experienced member of the History Faculty. Where possible, the same Faculty member will moderate both sessions for a given group. The moderator will keep time and alert speakers if they go beyond the 15-minute limit, plus they will lead the feedback on the basis of their own extensive experience. However, all members of the group are encouraged to ask questions and to give feedback.
What about refreshments?
There is a break for tea in the middle of each Training Day, and there is a drinks party at the conclusion of each day. Students in the past have found the Presentation Days to be enjoyable and not intimidating, and we do hope this will be your experience.