Oh no, public speaking!!!

Ever since I was young, I dreaded speaking in public. I hated the English and Afrikaans teachers the most because they would make us have prepared reading, unprepared reading and all those other readings that required us to stand in front of the class with everyone listening to you. Over the years as I grew older, I thought that maybe this fear of public speaking would go away but it never did. I am a very friendly person who can literally befriend anyone in any situation but why was is it so difficult for me to speak to a group of people at once?

There are different techniques people recommend that normally help with public speaking like picture everyone naked or take a deep breath before you start and you will be fine. All I can think about the second I open my mouth is how I would like to be done already.


When I got to university and was seated in a lecture room with more than a hundred students, I couldn’t help but have this satisfying feeling that I never have to speak in front of anyone for the next three years. Unfortunately, my excitement was cut short when I got to the second year major physics, we were expected to give project presentations all the way to Honours.

Finally, I started my MSc and I was certain that I was done but to my dismay, I was told I would be attending conferences and would have to give a talk about my research. I was overwhelmed with fear when I got to my first international conference, especially since I was not just giving a talk but I also felt the pressure of representing the University and the country. I remember the night before my talk, I tried really hard to practice my slides but I couldn’t get anywhere. I decided to get some rest and I would “go with the flow” during my presentation the following day.

When I got there in front of everyone, I had a very tight knot in my stomach that completely disappeared after I started speaking. I stood there in front of everyone and started talking to everyone about my research. That was the day it finally made sense to me why they call it a “talk” instead. The idea is to engage with your audience, talk to them instead of trying to recite as much information to them as you can in 15 minutes. Ever since that day, I don’t have sleepless nights when I am told I will be giving a talk for anything. Obviously, I still prepare for presentations but I don’t spend countless hours trying to cram what to say in every slide.

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I overcame my fear of public speaking by realising that the people in my audience are there to either learn something from me or the experts in the field are there to teach me something. I realised that giving talks is a great platform to get peoples’ input and ideas on what I am working on. What I do now is I only add content that I am 100% sure that I know and understand in my slides. I do not add words I do not know their exact meaning or diagrams that I have no idea what they are representing. I stopped looking at giving talks as punishment and I honestly believe that exactly was the day I also started enjoying speaking in public.

Another thing I do is always remove my glasses, that way I can make eye contact with the audience and yet I don’t actually see them because my eyesight is a little impaired.

I am mastering the art of communicating my science, just watch the space. My postgraduate journey so far has equipped me with communication skills, something that I struggled with all my life. I can now give a talk, present a poster and generally just speak in front of a group of people without feeling like the air is becoming less in the room.

Relationships……with our supervisors of course!!

After reading Kimberleigh Tommy’s post last month titled: “We need a break, it’s both of us (but more you than me)”, it left me thinking about the importance of relationships as a postgraduate student. When I say relationships, I obviously mean the relationships we have within our “professional” space. While choosing a project that you like or love is the most important aspect when starting a Master’s or Doctoral degree, one must also take into consideration who their supervisor will be. Unlike with jobs where you really have no control of who your boss will be, with a postgraduate degree, you have the option of choosing who you will report to for the next two or three years of your life. I personally think it is important to have a good relationship with your supervisor, especially since this will be the person who will be guiding and mentoring you throughout your postgraduate degree. 


I read an article about the different types of PhD – supervisor relationships written by Susanna Chamberlain from Griffith University, it gives a broad idea of the different types of relationships students have with their supervisors. It worries me that my relationship with my supervisor does not fall under the ten relationships discussed in the article. I would say that my relationship with my supervisor is different from what other fellow postgrads have with their supervisors. Sometimes he disappears for some time and never responds to my emails, this stresses me out so much because that is exactly when I need something from him. Other days I see him twenty times in one day and I want nothing from him. We are always playing a hide and seek game, with him always doing most of the hiding. Luckily for us, we always manage to get things done eventually, which is where I believe I got my procrastination tendencies from.  

I always find it interesting that my supervisor has different relationships with his students. Whenever we get together and discuss life with him as a supervisor, we all have different stories to share but one thing we have in common is how difficult it is to get him to respond to our emails. I think he treats us differently in response to how we act towards him, which I personally think is great because we are all unique with different personalities and different ways of doing things. 

During the first few months of my MSc, I had extremely high expectations of how my relationship with my supervisor would be based on how other people described their relationships with their supervisors. They would have weekly meetings with their supervisors to discuss the progress made and what to do next; when this didn’t happen between me and my supervisor, I would panic thinking I’m doing something wrong. I would see him every day during tea time and he would have a small chat with me about how I am doing and other random things. It took me almost half the year to finally be comfortable with the fact that he is the type of supervisor that is relaxed. He is the “decaf” kind of supervisor as defined by another SAYAS blog post. Once I finally accepted what kind of a supervisor he is, I panicked less when we didn’t see each other for three months and I didn’t know what my research topic was about anymore because I got stuck in the “black hole” of reading papers. I would find myself again after having a quick meeting with him and it turned out that those endless papers I read were quite useful.

There were however times when I would panic all over again when I needed to submit an abstract or discuss my presentation for a conference and I couldn’t find him to discuss the abstract before the deadline. I got no comments from him about my dissertation and I panicked every day for 13 weeks during my examination. At the time I was extremely frustrated and I was convinced I would change universities and supervisors for my PhD. Little did I know that him giving me space and time to learn was his way of mentoring me to be a great researcher. I passed my MSc with distinction and this is all thanks to him. Since he wasn’t there to critique me on my writing, I pushed myself so hard to give it my best and my best is what I gave it.

Looking back now, and still working with the same supervisor, I see that my supervisor was a teacher; a mentor who supported and facilitated the emotional processes. His way of supervising is completely different from the rest of my colleagues’ supervisors. If you know that you are the kind of person who needs constant monitoring and guidance in everything that you do, then you should get yourself a supervisor that does that otherwise, you will finish your degree exhausted emotionally and physically. All supervisors have a lesson to offer. Even the most “difficult” ones are a lesson for life.  My supervisor and I still have random talks about politics and history, how I should get married one day and how bad the economy is. I love that we can balance academics and personal life. I chose to continue my PhD with him because “better the devil you know” right? Choose your supervisor wisely and you will have an enjoyable and fulfilling postgraduate career.