Explain It Like I’m 5: Sharing Your Research With a Wider Audience

Are you an undergraduate researcher? Whether you’re doing research on or off campus, figuring out the best ways to articulate your research can be challenging. This is true in discipline-specific settings (poster presentations and conference), but becomes even tougher when we begin reflecting on how to share our skills and experience on a resume, in a personal introduction, or in the interview.

I get questions from students frequently about this very topic.

What are some ways that I can highlight my research? There is so much jargon to explain, and I get bogged down in the details and start rambling. What do I say? How do I frame it?

Here are a few tips for sharing your research in a personal introduction, also known as a research spiel, elevator pitch, or personal commercial. I like the term personal introductions, because that’s what you are doing! Introducing yourself to your audience. These strategies are especially good for answering the question, “tell me about yourself,” particularly when applying to a research-intensive graduate program (MS, PhD) or are applying to Research Assistant positions.

In developing your research spiel, you should be asking yourself:

  • Who is my audience?
  • What is the goal of my research?
  • What interests me about this project?
  • What have I learned from this experience?
  • What do I want my audience to know about me?
  • Am I being judged (such as in a poster presentation) or graded?
  • How much time do I have to share my research with my audience?

The basic structure of a personal introduction with a focus on research might look like:

  1. Start with a hook: a statistic, fact, or a simplified version of your research question. (“Did you know that approximately 38.5 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer of any site at some point during their lifetime?”)
    1. You could also share why or how you became interested in this specific area.
  2. Tell the story of your research. Where does it fit in with the grand scheme of your discipline? Why is your research significant? What about your project was surprising? What did you learn from it?
  3. Describe your involvement in the research project using active language to highlight your skill set.
  4. The “so what”: Why is your research question interesting?

Looking for concrete examples of research spiels? 3 Minute Thesis, or 3MT (tips and tricks for 3MT can be found here) is an excellent resource. Though 3MT often attracts graduate and doctoral students, you can find a multitude of examples online through YouTube and Vimeo that can provide you with inspiration on taking an in-depth, jargon-filled dissertation and making it compelling to a wider audience of “interdisciplinary, educated professionals.”

Two of my favorite 3MT pitches:

Suspects, Science, and CSI: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvjPzsLIyGw

Cancer – Bad to the Bone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfoF2SCboJ0

I wish you the best of luck in developing your introduction and sharing your research with a wider audience! Once you’ve built your introduction, the best next step you can take is to practice. Feel free to make an appointment with me or visit during my drop-in hours to share it with me!

By Kimberly English
Kimberly English Career Advisor