Academic presentations are a usual sight to see in the conference rooms scattered about the Department of Biomedical Engineering building. Yet throughout the Summer of 2023, there were several presentations significantly different than your typical PowerPoint.

A student-led program at UT Austin is providing a unique environment for students to practice showcasing their research, projects, publications, and more to an audience consisting of only their peers. The Works In Progress Student Seminar, or WIPSS for short, is an opportunity for both lower division and upper division students to practice presentations in a calm environment with the added benefit of feedback from fellow students.

WIPSS was born in March of 2023 and Ketsia Zinga, a third-year Ph.D. candidate, took the helm alongside Megan Baker and Saket Sripada ever since. Zinga became involved with WIPSS due to her role as the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Student Society president for the 2022-2023 academic year with a goal of promoting community across labs, both for social and for professional interests.

This summer, WIPSS was made up of mostly first-year students practicing their qualifying exams, yet there were also Ph.D. students in nearly every year since the program started. Additionally, students practiced conference talks, proposals, and postdoc interviews.

The meetings are held in a conference room complete with a projection screen, podium, microphone, and the whole nine yards. This professional environment provides an extra dose of authenticity for when the students present their final project.

“My favorite aspect about the program is the sense of community it builds among the students. I knew a little bit about what each of my friends do for research, but being able to watch them do a full presentation about what they do every day is really cool. It's also just a great way to get practice presenting and get feedback in a more relaxed setting.  Sometimes it's the most obvious things that are the hardest for you to see yourself, and WIPSS is a great way to get that valuable feedback from fresh eyes while getting some low-pressure practice in,” said Cole Barnett, Ph.D. candidate.

With plenty of opportunities to practice, the final version may not be perfect, yet students say it is leaps and bounds from where they began.

“Most of the feedback I received revolved around explaining figures and details of experiments more in-depth. Presenting to others who weren't familiar at all with my work was a great way to see what I needed to explain and what I was skipping over,” said Barnett.

WIPSS had its final scheduled meeting for the Summer Session in mid-August. Zinga said she hopes to continue the meetings throughout the Fall semester, and the program would not have been possible without the generous support of Dr. Ed Castillo and Department of Biomedical Engineering Chair Dr. Tyrone Porter, who provided the space and funds to make the program a reality.