Some Advice on Oral Presentations

The "Presentation Proposal Assignment" in the link above was handed out in class and sent to CAETE students. It gives specifics of the one paragraph proposal due on March 31 from students taking the course for graduate credit. We will be able give you feedback more quickly if you hand in a printed copy in class on March 31, but an email submission by 5 PM is also acceptable.

Comments by Prof. Wachtel

Prof. Wachtel explained the assigment in class with words similar to:

The general theme of the talks should be biologically feasible "improvements in Neural Design" aspects that could evolve from "Nature's'' basic components. (i.e. how you might advise "mother Nature" to improve neural function within the context of existing biology -- not a "robotic" substitution).

For example, you should not suggest replacing axons with copper wire or fiber optics -- since that lies well beyond biological feasibility.

You should first identify the basic neural impovement you "propose" to attack and then go on to explain the engineering approach you could (hypothetically) use to achieve that. In other words you should pose a relevant question and then propose an answer-- not the other way around! Within this broad framework you should suggest your topic.

Comments by Prof. Beeman

A complete solution to a problem of this nature is an ambitious undertaking. It could well be a major research project or PhD thesis project. Of course, we are not asking for this level of depth!

In class, I suggested that you imagine that you have been asked to an interview at a bioengineering company or to enter a PhD program in neural engineering. The interviewers are looking for someone with innovative ideas, even if they are a "long shot", and would like to see how well you can do some preliminary research to explore the feasibility of your proposal. They come from a variety of backgrounds, so in your presentation you should assume that their level of knowledge is similar to that of your fellow students. You do not need to repeat what is in your textbook, except as a quick reminder.

The initial proposal assignment is simple. If you turn it in on time and it is a serious attempt, you will likely get full credit. It is mainly to put forward an idea as a starting point. You will probably make some changes later, as you look into it deeper.

The most common criticism that I make when reading such proposals is that the focus is often too broad. For example, don't focus on "the brain" or "memory", but pick a specific neural region or sensory system, and inadequacies or problems that arise in that context.

Preparing the presentation will require some researching of topics that are related to your idea and some synthesis of information to come up with something plausible.

Researching a topic

It is easy to get overwhelmed with information once you start reading scientific papers and looking up the other papers that are referenced.

You should start by reading some rather general material in order to get ideas and to find out where you need to "drill down" to get more detailed information. Of course, Kandel, Schwartz, and Jessel or another textbook is a good place to start. The internet can provide a lot of information, if you know how to find serious research. Google Scholar can help limit the search in this manner. Scholarpedia ( is a peer-reviewed open-access encyclopedia written by scholars and experts. It has an emphasis on neuroscience. You may want to do a preliminary search at this level before you submit your one paragraph proposal.

However, one would expect a graduate level presentation to dig deeper than that. You may need to find specific data or reports of relevant research that you need to demonstrate the feasibility of your idea. Both Google Scholar and Pub Med ( will help you find links to scientific papers. Some papers are available for free download. Others will require you to access the web from a address in order to take advantage of the CU electronic library subscription. Also, don't forget the CU library index (

Before you get dragged down in too much detail, look for review papers. In among the very narrowly focused papers on a single specific topic, you will often find a paper which sums up the current state of knowledge in some area, written by an authority on that subject. Some journals, such as "Trends in Neurosciences" (TINS) specialize in review papers.