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  • Oriana Skylar Mastro

Using RAs Part I: Presentations!

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

After over a decade of working as other people’s research assistant, I finally got my own when I started teaching at Georgetown. Research assistants are THE best part of moving up in the research world. They are worth their weight in gold.

But to my surprise, many of my colleagues didn’t use RAs. I heard over and over – ‘its easier if I just do it myself.’

Craziness. It’s like these people don’t have multiple jobs, kids, or hobbies they’d rather be enjoying. I use RAs for all sorts of tasks. And in this series of blog posts, I'm going to share some of the ways RAs make my life better.

So, in no particular order, here is the first post. Using RAs – the presentations edition!

I HATE making powerpoints. Yes, presenting research is a huge part of my job. But making the presentation is not something I need to do. Whether for big conferences like APSA (American Political Science Association) or smaller talks I’m giving, I often have my RAs make my presentations.

Rule #1: RAs can most easily put presentations together if you have provided them with something written. A relatively well-written paper should have a clear introduction, sections of information in the body, and a conclusion. One skill all students learn is how to summarize things they read – you are asking them to do this in the form of a PowerPoint. If you are worried about it, you can start by creating the slides and inserting their titles, so the RA has an outline with which to work. I have had RAs work both with Prezi and with Powerpoint – neither is particularly easier to use. It depends on your preferences.

Rule #2: Plan for three iterations. Don’t worry. You aren’t just going to take your RAs presentation and disseminate it to the world. You’ll have ample opportunity for honing. I ask my RAs to take the first cut at the presentation. I'll then go through the presentation and provide more specific feedback and requests. They may have missed a key section, or I may have an idea about specific graphics. I directly type in these directions – like Ill add a slide and type in "make a slide that includes images of China's island building in the South China Sea.” And the third iteration is for any remaining issues. Two to three times of back and forth may sound like a lot, but each time it takes me a max of 10 minutes to provide feedback. There is no way I could put together an awesome presentation myself in less than 30 minutes. Formatting the fonts alone takes that long!

Rule #3: Provide guidance. Making presentations is a skill. You need to provide guidance beyond the substance of the presentation. What are your presentation preferences? I like to keep slides clean, concise, and to use images or infographics in the place of words as much as possible. I have a complete PowerPoint guide I provide to my RAs. I also ask them to amend and update this guide as they learn best practices. To save you time, you can use mine! I've attached it below.

Research Assistant Powerpoint Guide
Download DOCX • 16KB

So give it a try. The next time you need to put together a presentation based on your research, ask your RA to do it. He/she is probably more tech-savvy than you anyways, and you are teaching them an important skill in the process.

Do you have additional suggestions on PowerPoint best practices or how to use RAs? Drop be a line!

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