Stepping Outside of the Comfort Zone: An MLIS Student’s Experience Presenting at GradTerp Exchange

Karrin Thompson, UMD iSchool MLIS Student - June 12, 2020

GradTerp Exchange is a monthly speaker series in which The Graduate School invites 3-4 graduate students and postdocs to share their research.

three people standing side by side smiling

November GradTerp Exchange speakers: Donny Pearson (Physics), Nicole Barbour (Biology), Karrin Thompson (Library and Information Science)(left to right)

I’m not much of a public speaker. Sometimes I fidget, talk too fast, or forget what I have to say. I always have a great deal of thoughts I’d like to share but when it comes to expressing those thoughts in front of an audience, I falter and tell myself what I have to say isn’t enough. Yet there I was at GradTerp Exchange, standing behind a podium, trying to remain calm as I stood in front of a crowd of 25-30 people who were eager to hear me speak. It might be helpful to explain how I, the girl who just admitted to not being a public speaker, got here.

Last year, I kept seeing fliers about students presenting at GradTerp Exchange. GradTerp Exchange is a monthly speaker series in which The Graduate School invites 3-4 graduate students and postdocs to share their research in a relaxed environment in front of a general audience. This general audience normally consists of UMD students, faculty, staff, and community members. The event normally takes place in a bar or restaurant with an option for participants to help themselves to appetizers and drinks. Speakers from different disciplines come together for one night to present research on a related theme.

For one of my courses last semester, I had an option to ‘create my own deliverable’ for a final project. The only requirements were that the deliverable needed to be ‘tangible’ and needed to contribute to my job search or professional development. I wanted to think of a project that would stand out, challenge me to try something new, and show how much I developed over the semester as a student. I instantly thought of GradTerp Exchange. After attending one of Linda Macri’s workshops called “Want to give a GradTerp Exchange Talk?” I found the courage I needed to present. So, I submitted my proposal. There was no looking back.

I was set to present for the November GradTerp Exchange along with two other graduate students (Biology and Physics) relating to the theme “Overcoming Barriers.” My topic of interest fit right in. I have always been fascinated with the discussion of redefining libraries. As society continues to change, libraries have to continue to adapt to keep up with new demands and needs in order to remain relevant. For my presentation, I talked about the role of librarians when serving communities experiencing social unrest. Inspired by the librarians who stepped up during the riots in Ferguson, MO, Baltimore, MD, and Charlotte, VA, I discussed ways in which librarians could respond to support these communities and help them overcome barriers.

“By opening up the library as a place of refuge…we are encouraging those who would’ve never thought to use our space before to begin to see libraries in a different light.” After I completed my last sentence, everyone in the audience started clapping. I breathed a sigh of relief. I did it. So many people came up to me afterwards to tell me how much they enjoyed my talk. With the amount of questions I received after my talk, I knew I had caused a lot of people to rethink the way they look at libraries. It was truly a fulfilling experience and one that I will never forget.

That night I walked away with three takeaways:

  1. Don’t limit yourself: If you see something that interests you but you’ve never done it before, don’t be afraid to pursue it. You might find that you’re great at it! Or that it’s something that you want to continue to explore.
  2. Always take advantage of professional development opportunities: The Graduate School offers many professional development opportunities like research symposiums, webinars, and more. However, outside of what is offered at school, presenting or volunteering at library conferences is a great way to build yourself up in the field and learn from professionals.
  3. Your voice matters: Don’t underestimate your worth when it comes to contributing to conversations in the academic field. Your thoughts and ideas are meant to be heard.

If you’re interested in presenting at the next GradTerp Exchange, reach out to Dr. Linda Macri at