1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Other Phobia with public speaking and PhD

  1. May 20, 2017 #1

    First, I did not find anywhere else on the internet to talk about my problem, so I hope this discussion is not off-topic here.

    I want to start a PhD in physics soon but I have a phobia of public speaking. Even before being enrolled I am asked to make presentations (like giving an oral presentation on my master thesis) during interviews. I would like to know if I can be honest about that with my potential supervisors and tell them that I am not really able to do this. Or would that make me automatically lose the job? Sometimes in the less stressing situations I can overcome the problem by taking (medical) drugs at high doses but I still don't make good presentations, my skills are poor of course since they have never been trained.

    The problem is that it is not something that I can cure in a few days, weeks or even months, even by working hard on it. And I would not like to delay my career by months or even years.

    What do you think the best solution(s) could be for someone in my situation?

    Best regards.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 20, 2017 #2
    In my own experience, I found that the best solution was to be very sure that you know more about your topic than anyone else in the room. If you are the most knowledgeable person present, there is little chance that you will be challenged on anything at all. If you are talking about your own research, this condition is almost certainly guaranteed.

    I think it is extremely important that you get past this problem. No one is going to support your work (in any sense at all) if you cannot talk about it with confidence and enthusiasm. This is very important.
  4. May 20, 2017 #3
    Thank you for your answer, I see what you mean, and this is for sure important in attenuating the stress and make a good performance. But I am really talking of a psychological/psychiatric problem, a phobia. In my master studies I had to see a psychiatrist to cancel my oral examinations because of this problem. So I completed my master studies almost without doing any presentation. Without that, I would have given up on my studies rather than go to the examinations, that was beyond my strength.

    Now I cannot wait for years to solve this problem before going on with my life. Should I go back to the doctor and asks for a certificate to avoid again oral presentations until I have made enough progress to feel confident? Would that be acceptable for a PhD student? Or anyone whose job usually has public speaking skills required? Which are almost any jobs beyond the master level, as far as I know.
  5. May 20, 2017 #4
    I can't imagine how you would go through life holding a certificate that reads, "I can't speak in public" or the equivalent. Life is not likely to give you a pass on speaking in public. I suggest you might want to work with a psychologist to overcome this block.
  6. May 20, 2017 #5
    Sure, I am already seeing a psychiatrist and we are talking about possible solutions, different methods to tackle this problem. But you don't have results fast with this kind of phobias, it is in the long run. So I am looking for a solution to go on with my life before solving the problem. Or I will just stay home during months or years before it is solved, instead of having a career. And my skills in physics will slowly become outdated as well.
  7. May 20, 2017 #6
    I suggested a psychologist because that would lead to non-drug solutions.

    Otherwise, I really do not know what to say to you.
  8. May 20, 2017 #7
    Yes my purpose is to avoid the drugs in the end, learn methods to reduce the stress, train, and feel more confident. I will do more than just talking with the psychiatrist... Thank you for your help. It is much appreciated.

    I will be waiting to see if other people come up with other ideas, maybe people who would have been in my situation before.
  9. May 20, 2017 #8


    Staff: Mentor

    If you have a phobia of public speaking then you probably should not pursue a career which requires it.

    Similarly, I would not expect someone with a phobia of heights to be a pilot, or someone with a fear of blood to be a medical doctor. You should realistically assess your career goals and your skills. Public speaking is an essential part of a PhD and most PhD related careers.
  10. May 20, 2017 #9


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    You're probably already aware that academia requires a certain amount of public-speaking. Starting with the PhD you'll have: committee meeting presentations, candidacy examination, your final defence, as well as presentations at conferences. Most graduate students will also have to TA - so that will mean doing some instruction in labs at minimum. When you compete for post-doc or tenure-track positions, you'll have to give presentations. If you're hired, you'll be expected to present your work at conferences and within the department. And if you make it all the way to being a professor, you're going to have to teach lectures, sometimes to large numbers of people. In short, public-speaking is a big part of how science is done.

    Unfortunately, if you can't figure out how to overcome this issue, academia will not be a good fit for you, I'm afraid.

    So you basically have a couple of choices - either solve the problem, or set a different course.

    There are a lot of things you can do to make public speaking easier. The advice is generally for people without a medical/psychological condition. For what it's worth here are a few off the top of my head:
    • Practice, practice, practice. Make sure that any public talk you give, you've rehearsed many times over.
    • Visualisation. When you're practicing your talk, visualize an audience. Imagine people starting at you and visualise yourself speaking confidently.
    • Get good at developing slides. Don't make them too jumbled. Use large font. Make use of contrast. There's a lot of tips you can find online.
    • Break your talk down into the specific points you want to communicate. Many speakers will ramble on through a stream of consciousness. The best talks actually have very few points.
    • Practice with feedback. You won't be the only grad student who has to give a presentation. When I was a grad student a group of us would listen to each other's talks and give each other feedback on what worked and what could be improved.
    • When you can, invite friends to listen to your public talks. That way you can focus on friendly faces when you have to speak to large groups.
    • Spend time seriously thinking about what questions people might ask you and prepare answers for these. You won't be able to predict ALL of the questions, but if you get about half of them, you will come across as very composed during your talk.
    • It's quite often fine not to know an answer - particularly if you're not in an exam situation. If you don't know an answer, or if you don't understand a question, ask if you can talk further in person after the formal part of the talk.
    • There are a number of psychological "tricks" you can do to make yourself appear more confident or inviting when speaking in public - certain gestures are good, others are less-so, stance, intonation, how you dress, etc. Read up on this stuff.
  11. May 20, 2017 #10
    In the past I've always felt an anxiety when speaking to large amounts of people but I don't think to your extent when the time passed and I had talked in front of hundreds of people it started to go away, I always feel stressed about having to present something I don't like or I'm not familiar with why I like to study a lot or present on a subject I already know, somethings that helped with me was doing the presentation in front of a wall, and again researching the topic.

    As you stated above this isn't going to be a fix, although I recommend going to see a psychiatrist, doing the speech/presentation in front of friends or family. If you practice it enough your brain will subconsciously do the presentation. This looks like a problem that you've persistently been building up through your educational career if you don't overcome it soon it will continuously get worse and will affect your career especially if you're going to use the PhD to become a prof or other job that requires large amounts of public speaking
  12. May 20, 2017 #11
    Yes, Choppy, I am very aware of that now. In my master class, there was a huge amount of oral examinations but as I said, I did not have to do them due to my medical condition. So now I have years of training to catch up with. My problem was there since middle school, maybe elementary school, but teachers told me with time and experience this would make the stress reduce. I naively believed them but exactly the opposite happened: the stress increased after each presentation until it became impossible to handle. And before university, I thought you could do research just by staying in your lab and doing experiments, publish... So I did not think to actively do something about this.

    Thank you very much for all your tips. I don't know if it will suffice to overcome my problems, but that looks like something worth trying, it can only improve my situation. Thank you also to Zach S, I see you provide similar advices and if it helped for your anxiety it must be helpful for me too. It makes sense that training, even in front of a wall, should make my brain believe the situation is less stressing when I am in front of a real audience.

    Dale, I really put too much efforts, I cannot imagine stopping there after sacrifying my social life, my health, so much money (and much more)... just to do something I like, which is science and physics.
  13. May 20, 2017 #12


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    ( I read only the first post on your topic.)

    Outline and organize your presentation! Stop worrying so much about having a fear of public speaking. Identify and know the objectives for your presentation. This is much like a teacher creating a lesson plan and then presenting, according to his plan. What? You think no teachers have any fear about public speaking? They will usually work according to a pre-organized plan, and they plan what they will do and say according to clear objectives.
  14. May 20, 2017 #13


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    Haven't read that too carefully - just barely took a look. That seems like very good advice anyhow.
  15. May 20, 2017 #14
    I hear what you are saying symbolipoint, and on the few presentations I have made, I tried to construct something logical and to follow a clear organization. But that is still a step ahead of my problem, which is that I cannot "stop worrying so much about having a fear of public speaking". In any case, your advice is good to take for training, so thank you.
  16. May 20, 2017 #15


    Staff: Mentor

    But that is just it. This career and education path is probably not going to be something you like. If a person needed a doctor's note to get out of being in a cockpit due to a fear of heights would they really enjoy being a pilot? Would you encourage them to be a pilot or would you encourage them to seek another career? Would how much they had sacrificed even be relevant? I don't think so.

    I would recommend stopping where you are with your education until and unless you can resolve the phobia. Until then any more money or time you spend on a PhD will be wasted, you will be unable to take advantage of the typical opportunities. (No marginal benefit)

    Instead, look for positions where your current level of knowledge will be valued and used and which do not require public speaking. Such positions do exist, but do not require a PhD. You can do technical work without public speaking.
    Last edited: May 20, 2017
  17. May 20, 2017 #16
    For me, it is relevant, the sacrifices did not involve only me but also were made by my family. And, by the way, I had also a phobia to take the plane, but I finally was able to do it, although I still feel uncomfortable in a plane. So I don't know if I would encourage this hypothetical person to be a pilot, but I would not tell him/her that this is impossible either.

    Neverthess, I would be interested to know what kind of jobs you are thinking about that involves physics and would not require any public speaking. If I really cannot solve my problem fast, I might try that and do a PhD later so that I have a new experience instead of doing nothing.

    Edit: by the way, I forgot to mention that, but I enjoy teaching physics to people, like my brother or my former classmates in a small group. It is just that the fear totally overcomes and annihilates the pleasure when it is in front of an audience of unknown persons, or of people who judge me in an examination, etc.
  18. May 20, 2017 #17


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    You have not yet learned how to be honest with yourself. What scares you about public speaking? What size of public or of audience makes a speaking event scary? Is the fear not about size of audience of the type of audience? Is some quality of the character of the audience members what scares you?
  19. May 20, 2017 #18
    I cannot answer your question without telling all my life since my childhood, and it would take a lot of time. To give you a short answer, all my failures are what blocks me. Anytime I am supposed to have a new presentation, I cannot do otherwise but to remember all my failures and I start shaking, breathing very fast, and usually I feel so sick that I don't even go to the presentation, even if it means getting a minimum grade, letting people behind if it is a group project (and lose friends), being fired or anything important like that. From my childhood, I was very shy and extremely afraid of making mistakes, which is unavoidable in public speaking. Now I am not really shy anymore in general but this has remained part of my mental construction over the years and has built my mind as it is now. So usually I would say if there is more than 2 or 3 people, I really start panicking. The fear is there for any type of audience but will of course increase in front of experts or people who would be grading me and decide whether I deserve to have a diploma for example.
  20. May 20, 2017 #19


    Staff: Mentor

    Sorry, but you misunderstand my point. This type of reasoning (focusing on past costs) is an incorrect way to think of cost/benefit and leads to bad economic decisions.

    The issue is not who made the sacrifice nor how large the sacrifice was, but rather that they are in the past. No decision that you make today can change the fact that they made the sacrifice in the past, they are what is called a "sunk cost".

    A sound economic decision is based on anticipated "marginal costs" and "marginal benefits" meaning what future cost/benefits will change based on the decision.

    For instance, as a result of your family's sacrifice you are now qualified for jobs requiring a MS degree. Expected salary is about $60k. So that is the starting point, all marginal benefits are relative to that.

    So if you pursue a PhD then you will need to spend about 6 years. Let's be optimistic and assume that you get a full ride with $15k/yr stipend left over. So that is $90k over 6 years, but that is less than the $360k that you would have earned over those same 6 years. So that is a marginal cost of $270k.

    Now, normally a PhD can expect to earn $80k per year, which is a marginal benefit of $20k per year. So after that initial cost if their career lasts 40 years then that would be $800k marginal income over their career. So it seems worth it.

    However, you will not be able to take the vast majority of those $80k jobs. In fact, it is hard to see who would hire you then who wouldn't hire you now. So in your case, the marginal benefit may be more like $5k per year, if anything. So over 40 years that marginal benefit would be only $200k which is $70k less than the marginal cost.

    Of course, a thourough analysis would include salary increases, a better analysis of the economic impact of your phobia, and a calculation of the time value of money. But in all likelihood the result would not change, just the magnitude of the loss.

    You act as though stopping with a MS is throwing away the sacrifice of your family, but it is not. Their sacrifice enabled you to qualify for a certain set of jobs that will benefit you for the rest of your life. Do not demean their sacrifice by thinking that it was in vain if you stop with a MS. The question is only if another 6 years of sacrifice (marginal cost) will be worth it (marginal benefit)

    I am not saying it is impossible. I am just saying that it is a bad idea. You will not enjoy it, it will cost a lot, and it will provide little or no benefit.
    Last edited: May 20, 2017
  21. May 20, 2017 #20
    Dale, thank you for your message, but I think I am too tired to follow you reasoning now. So I am going to sleep and answer tomorrow.
  22. May 21, 2017 #21


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    Take your rest. After the resting, time to find some real counseling, maybe from a psychologist.

    Just a feeling, but PhD might not be the next good step. Maybe something else, like either a job in a field related to what you studied or maybe master's degree.
  23. May 21, 2017 #22
    I sympathize very much with your challenges. I would like to say that according to the literature, it is not correct that anxieties and phobias can only be addressed "in the long run"; this is an outdated view. Modern, evidence-based psychological therapies can help with even severe anxiety and panic attacks, and these are typically designed to be relatively short-term. Forum rules prohibit giving anything resembling medical advice in comments, so rather than say more on this point I will private-message you with more information. But I will say here that the very existence of such therapies reinforces what others have already said about what the priority should be. If a person with lifelong anxiety & panic issues can find appropriate and effective treatment, it would make sense to pursue such treatment starting immediately, rather than waiting. And not just to help the person eventually pursue a career, but to help them in their entire life.
    Last edited: May 21, 2017
  24. May 21, 2017 #23


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    (1) Public speaking can be studied just like any other academic or craft subject . Learn how to do it .

    Learn by observation or enrol in a public speaking class .

    (2) Find an opportunity to practise public speaking in a non academic setting .

    Go to a poetry reading club or get involved with amateur dramatics .

    (3) Perhaps cheer yourself by remembering just how bad many public speakers in the academic world really are .

    Remember those rambling stuttering lectures given by professors who spent the entire lecture period mumbling to the blackboard with their back to you ?

    I doubt whether you could do any worse . Probably you could do much better .
    Last edited: May 21, 2017
  25. May 21, 2017 #24
    Don't worry about that. As Nidum hinted, the bar for presentation skills is low in academia. If you can get yourself in front of the audience, any technical deficiencies won't be lethal to your prospects, and you will improve with time.

    Not all PhD interviews involve a presentation in front of a panel, and even then it's rarely more than four people. It can be an informal talk with 1 or 2 people. I guess it depends on the country; I only have experience with the EU system. A way to mitigate the anxiety would be to informally meet the potential supervisor(s) ahead of time.

    Check out these threads from stack exchange for relevant advice and interesting perspectives,

    I suspect that if the OP wanted to optimise his life for money, he would have chosen a different field altogether.
  26. May 21, 2017 #25


    Staff: Mentor

    There is an economic value to lifestyle as well. You can certainly factor that in to the marginal cost benefit analysis.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted