*This post is part of a series of posts based on my research and experience as a masters student at UGA. To find out more go to my page Holy Basil Research.
If I could give advice to anyone about grad school, I would say one of the most important skills to learn is how to communicate effectively. I have put this as a priority and during my first semester of grad school I took advantage of many opportunities to present about my research and teach people about herbal medicine.
My first opportunity was a joint effort between myself and Maisie, the Master Gardener that runs the Medicinal Garden at UGArden. We presented to a class at UGA called Herbs, Spices, and Medicinal Plants. We talked for 50 minutes about what a full season of work in the medicinal garden looks like from prepping the beds, planting seeds, weeding and watering to harvesting, processing and blending teas for sale. I also had a chance to talk about my research and ways that I incorporate herbs into my lifestyle at home. We got some great feedback from the students and they said it made herbal medicine seem more accessible. A couple of them even started volunteering regularly with Maisie in the medicinal herb garden!
My next opportunity to present was for my Masters Thesis Proposal Seminar. I had to prepare a 30-40 minute talk about my research, with an emphasis on WHY I chose to research Holy Basil, what I plan to do, and how I plan to do it. I had to present it to the grad students and faculty in the Horticulture Department. No pressure! Giving a proposal seminar at the beginning of a grad student research project is an opportunity to clearly describe the research project and get feedback from experts in the field.
I was nervous about it, so I made lots of food to make people feel comfortable and welcome. I promise it wasn’t to make sure they were nice to me during Q&A :). I made applesauce, homemade granola and cinnamon streusel coffee cake and samples of holy basil tea for people to take home. I also prepared in the days leading up to the presentation by recording myself as I practiced and listening back to it during my commute to make sure I was presenting things logically.
My friend Kaitlin even wrote me an encouraging note!
At the beginning of the talk my advisor introduced me, and then I was on my own.
I was able to share about my passion for medicinal herbs, and that we need research based information for growers that want to produce high quality medicinal herbs to support a growing natural products industry.
The talk went really well! I had multiple professors come up to me and shake my hand at the end and congratulate me on a job well done. I was proud of myself and the time I took to prepare. I learned so much from this experience!
I was also approached by the UGArden club to lead a workshop on herbal tea blending. I created a handout that explained how to prepare tea, highlighted a few herbs with their herbal actions and uses and talked about using parts and ratios when creating a tea recipe.
I made 7 different kinds of tea that I passed around for them to taste when I was talking about each of the herbs, and on their handout they had the opportunity to write down their reactions and experience of the herb!
I showed them all the different ways I make tea; compostable disposable tea bags, metal tea strainer, a mesh tea strainer and a french press, and using a mason jar (not pictured) is also a favorite way to make herbal infusions.
Then I had a bunch of herbs lined up on the table with measuring cups and scales and they each created their own personal tea blend.
They got to brew a little sample in glass jars to test it out as they were mixing and then take a 1 oz bag of tea home with them.
After they were done they wrote down their favorite blends. I loved seeing their creativity!
Finally, at the end of November last year I gave a talk as part of an event called the Plant and Soil Symposium. The founders of the symposium had a desire to bring together different departments in plant science and learn from each others research. So, they had Masters and PhD students from Horticulture, Plant Pathology, Plant Breeding, and Crop and Soil Science give 12 minute presentations about their research with cash prizes given to the top three presenters. I didn’t win anything, but I learned a lot from this experience.
Each of these opportunities and experiences taught me about the importance of effective communication. I am realizing that if I want to communicate effectively, it needs to be in terms of the experience of the audience. I know that herbal medicine is a foreign concept to many and by others it may even be ridiculed. As I give more presentations I want to do a better job of getting into the experience of my audience and talking in a way that will create mutual understanding. I don’t know how I will do that yet, but I know that I will get better the more I practice.
In light of this, I am excited about more opportunities this year for giving presentations and sharing about my research. I will be applying for 2 grants, I am putting in applications to give talks or poster presentations at 3 conferences, I plan to lead more workshops for the UGArden club and possibly at the Botanical Gardens, and give talks at department functions. I want to continue to learn and get better at communicating effectively while I have so many opportunities to share about my research and things I am passionate about!
I want to hear from you! Are you afraid of speaking in public? What are some opportunities you could take to share something interesting and helpful with the people around you?