Public Presentations

Two of the founding values of the Joint Laurier-Waterloo Doctoral Program in Religious Diversity in North America are civic responsibility and public intelligibility. From the beginning, the program emphasized that scholarship should in some way be of value to society and, in order to serve that role, had to be presented in a manner that a non-specialist, educated audience could understand it. This idea of rendering scholarship accessible to a non-specialist audience also serves the purpose of promoting interdisciplinary research, since even scholars who are not immersed in the particular discourse of religious studies (or its many sub-discourses) need to be presented with an accessible version of highly specialized research.

Benefits of the Public Presentation

  • Allows students to contribute to public debates on religious diversity
  • Promotes connection between scholarship and civic responsibility
  • Provides education opportunities for specific groups and communities
  • Trains students for public policy work or other work in public fields
  • Sharpens communication and teaching skills
  • Gets students thinking about writing the dissertation as a book
  • Trains students to present material to an interdisciplinary audience

Timing of the Public Presentation:

  • The following guidelines apply:
    • Since you are presenting your research, the presentation should happen near to the end of your research. We suggest this be completed in or by the Fall semester of the student’s fourth year. However, it must be completed at the very latest by the final term of your studies, before you graduate.
    • It is up to the supervisor to decide if a student is ready to address this milestone. Again, a conversation should be had about whether the student is ready to complete this milestone in the Fall semester of the student’s fourth year.
    • Some things to consider about timing:
      • A presentation at an earlier time has the advantage that feedback from the public could direct the candidate to new sources of information or could add a new perspective.
      • A presentation at a later stage in research has the advantage of giving the candidate more material to present and more confidence in their conclusions. It would be more useful to the public audience.
    • Only under the most exceptional circumstances should the public presentation come after the dissertation has been defended.

Organizing the Public Presentation

  • The student is responsible for organizing the public presentation.
  • Look for a public audience. Avoid inviting only fellow scholars and specialists.
    • Try to generate a decently sized audience, i.e., do not limit yourself to a small, particular audience. For example, a talk on Mormons in Canada may be “intelligible” to a small group of non-professional Mormon historians or church employees, but we hope to define the term public more broadly.
  • Hold the event off campus—or at least a publicly accessible place on campus (a public lecture hall instead of an obscure classroom).
    • Past examples: Canadian Forces base, public library, church assembly hall, seniors’ educational program (e.g., Third Age Learning).
  • Schedule it for a time that the public will be available to come (avoid M-F, 9 am-5 pm).
    • Avoid public and religious holidays, March Break in public schools, and, if you can, the months of July, August, and December.
  • Provide a welcoming environment.
    • Install signs directing the audience to the venue.
    • Some have provided refreshments, put up a display related to the topic, etc.
    • Have a moderator to introduce you, moderate questions, and thank the audience at the end.
  • Publicize effectively
    • Publicity should start at least six weeks in advance.
    • Publicize the event in social media and other forums at least four weeks in advance.
    • Distribute flyers and posters broadly.
  • Invite students and faculty in the program and related fields.

Craft your presentation appropriately.

  • Do not “dumb down” your work even though must present it in an accessible way. The purpose of this exercise is to offer substantial and serious scholarship to a public audience. This is not a dissertation defense.
    • For example, you may present your research, but do not be afraid to speculate about related questions, take a stand on issues, or explain the significance of your study (if any) for broader public policy or other purposes.
  • Use audio/visual material as appropriate to your material.
  • Do not be afraid to be entertaining.


  • The student must approach the supervisor with a plan to make a public presentation.
    • The supervisor decides that the student is at an appropriate stage in their research to undertake a public presentation.
  • The student must organize the venue, publicity, audio-visual equipment (if any), etc.


  • The supervisor must attend the public event and should offer feedback to the candidate afterwards.
    • If the supervisor cannot attend, another member of the committee should.
    • If no one can attend (for example, for a student who has moved away), the supervisor or committee member should participate remotely or the event should be video recorded (including a shot of the audience).
    • It is best that other members of the supervisory committee could attend.
  • Evaluation is made by the supervisory committee (although only the supervisor or one member of the committee is required to attend).
  • Evaluation is on a pass/fail basis
  • Criteria for evaluation
    • Was there a sufficient audience? (Was it an appropriate audience? Was it large enough? Was it a public rather than specialist audience? Were attempts made to promote diversity in the audience?)
    • Was the presented material appropriate?
      • Was the research solid?
      • Was the presentation accessible?
      • Was the audience engaged?
  • After the presentation, the Supervisor shall report to the director of the Joint PhD program as well as the Graduate Officer and Administrative Assistant of the department in which the student is registered that the milestone has been reached.
  • Laurier students must register for RE 898 for the term in which they are giving the public presentation while Waterloo University students will follow the procedure to record this as a program milestone.