Francisco Guerrero, a Ph.D. student in sustainable forest management, is passionate about spreading ideas, communicating his research, and bridging gaps between fields. He studied aquatic biology when pursuing his bachelor’s degree in his hometown of Santa Marta in Colombia before discovering ecohydrology — which looks at the relationships between water and the other elements within their ecosystems — and then moved into forestry for his Ph.D. This interdisciplinary view allows him to branch out in his research and consider questions such as, “What happens with a leaf that falls in the stream coming from the forest, because that represents a strong connection with what is happening on land and inside the river.”
Equally as important as his investigation of the interactions between the forests and the water, however, is his desire to communicate this research to others both in and outside of his field. Fortunately, he has ample opportunity to practice these skills at OSU. A couple of years ago, Francisco decided to present at the Scholars’ Insights competition hosted by the OSU Graduate School. This competition challenges graduate students to give a compelling, three-minute presentation about their thesis, or project topic and supports the development of graduate students’ capacity to explain their research in language appropriate to a non-specialist audience.
Since English is his second language, Francisco was worried about his accent and wanted to make sure he was clear in his presentation. He memorized every single word of his presentation to make sure he was prepared on the day of the event. On the stage halfway through his presentation, however, he froze. He forgot his lines. He went on stage and couldn’t remember the script and, being unable to improvise on the spot, the three minutes stretched out like an eternity before him. After his presentation, due to the fact that he knew he wouldn’t win, he was able to focus on the other presenters and the small details of their performances. He noticed what they were doing well, what their weaknesses were, and recognized some of the mistakes that he had made.
This experience gave Francisco an idea: what if he could learn from the other participants that year when preparing his presentation for the following year? He decided to invite Kelly Lytle, the first place winner in 2014, to a small workshop and ask her how people could prepare for the event. Based on this meeting, Francisco developed a series of workshops centered on a few key areas that would help himself and others prepare. Last year, Francisco came in first place with his presentation “Reconstructing Watershed History From a Sedimentary Hard-Drive” under the advisement of his major professor, Jeff Hatten.
Francisco is quick to point out that he took away much more than a first place from this experience. Through storytelling and talking about his research to people not in his field, Francisco found himself getting more excited about his work. “There is a lot that we can do to improve how we feel in terms of engagement to our academic activities,” he says, and this experience worked for him.