Schulich school of Medicine and Dentistry logo Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry

Conquering fear in three minutes or less

Lauren Solomon, PhD

Lauren Solomon steps slowly toward centre stage and into the spotlight. Taking in the crowd of faces gazing up at her, she immediately feels her hands begin to shake and her heart beginning to race.

She has practiced this presentation countless times — in the lab, in front of strangers, and in the comfort of her home with her husband at her side. She’s memorized it all. She knows the entire talk by heart. She knows she’s got this.

All she has to do is get through the next three minutes.

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Meeting Solomon, PhD, for the first time, you would never assume she has difficulty with public speaking. Her calm, cool and collected demeanor seems far too ingrained in her personality to shake up — it’s hard to imagine her getting nervous or anxious before speaking in front of a crowd.

But that is not the case. Solomon has been terrified of public speaking her entire life, which is exactly why she wanted to take part in the 3 Minute Research (3MR) Competition on May 7, hosted as part of the 2015 Postdoctoral Research Forum. 

“I absolutely hate public speaking, but when I received the email about the Competition I knew it was something I should do,” Solomon said. “Scientists have to continuously challenge themselves, so it is important that I not only develop myself scientifically but professionally as well throughout my postdoctoral fellowship.”

Solomon took a course at Western University’s Teaching Support Centre to help prepare for the big day. The group that took part in the course had the opportunity to watch other presentations, practise their own presentations and receive constructive feedback.

What Solomon didn’t know was the extra bit of work she put into preparation would help her achieve first place for her presentation Shooting the Messenger: Targeting Transcription in Cancer.

“I thought I might place third, but when they announced second place I had a feeling I was off the hook,” she said. “When they called my name for first place, I was absolutely shocked.”

Solomon’s research focuses on leukemia and lymphoma, which are blood cancers caused by genetic mutations. When blood cells develop normally, they go through an ordered progression and turn genes “on” or “off” at the right time. When there are mutations in the genes, they do not go through normal development and at some point they either keep dividing when they’re not supposed to, or they never turn into proper blood cells, which is how you leukemia and tumours develop.

Her ultimate research goal is to identify molecular-targeted therapies for leukemia and lymphoma.

Solomon explained the 3MRCompetition helped her recognize what a lay audience really is, which will help her explain her research in front of a variety of audiences in the future.

“To communicate amongst ourselves, scientists have a vocabulary that is completely different than what the lay audience uses,” she explained. “3MR helped me get my head out of that space, which is especially important since there has been a big call in the community to get the public involved in advocacy for scientists. If we can’t teach our research to the public, they’re not going to care.”

Even though it was a scary experience for her, Solomon recommends taking part in 3MR to all of Schulich Medicine & Dentistry’s postdoctoral fellows, explaining it is important for scientists to continuously challenge themselves.

“I think there’s this stereotype that we’re all just a bunch of nerds hidden away in our labs,” she said with a laugh. “I think to some extent we are, but we have to be more than that. We need to take part in competitions like these, and interact with the public more.”