What a brilliant interview with Dr Rachael Dunlop – I love the idea of starting by learning to communicate effectively and THEN getting into science. Possible a harder way of doing things but she has made it a success.
Recently I spoke with my father Jeremy Pollard about the growing need for scientists to have an online presence. Without being able to communicate your research effectively to people – how will they understand the value? And without examples of your ability to communicate effectively and present in a concise, clear and interesting way, how will anyone – a company, a workshop, or even a conference committee, know you’re any good?
So what can you do? Practice presenting all the time, in front or your mirror, your friends, your family. And when you do present professionally – ask someone to record it. Even with an iphone (just remember to keep it framed on you and keep it STILL). Or if your presentation is filmed by whoever is running the event, ask for a copy. Watch them. Learn from them and upload the good ones to your online profile e.g. LinkedIn.
Don’t have an online professional profile? Then this might be the time to start – LinkedIn is a great simple way to showcase your experience, your skills, even your best work. The best part is that when you connect with those you know on LinkedIn, you can get them to vouch for your skills AND even write recommendations of you. Keep it concise, honest and up-to-date.
This article titled “Communication: Spontaneous Scientists” is from the Naturejobs blog, and it welcomes improvisation to science communication. The article discusses techniques to develop the capacity to adapt during a presentation or a conversation, in addition to how we can even be a little bit theatrical or personable when attempting to communicate. I found this whole idea just so exciting!
During my undergraduate science degree, presentations were always a matter of: making your slides look professional, ensuring you defend your research strongly enough and remaining composed and serious in front of your audience. For many of my classmates at the time, standing up and speaking even just in front of the class was a terrifying, or at the very least, uncomfortable experience.
Now in my PhD research I am still being guided towards keeping my presentations serious, with lots of tables and references. Once I was even told to put more words on my slides, as I was speaking more than what was up on the screen.
I do understand that to be taken seriously by other scientists we need to keep within some traditional boundaries, especially for those of us relatively new to the world of research and publishing scientific journal articles. But I still find it frustrating that your research could be exemplary or ground-breaking, but present that research with too colourful slides or too enthusiastic a manner and you would not be taken seriously.
The article above does refer to presenting research to non-scientific audiences. I guess I am just looking forward to a time when I can push some of these presentation boundaries myself, particularly in an academic setting.
This March Alan Alda was interviewed by Will Grant and Rob Lamberts from the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science. Alan is not a scientist, instead he is simply fascinated by talking to, and questioning all kinds of scientists.
During this interview Alan talks about the power of curiosity – the drive to ask and find out “why?”, and yet he insists that curiosity combined with ignorance is even stronger!
During his life Alan has had the opportunity to interview many, many scientists. Some of these he did without a list of questions, but more as an informal curious conversation. He said that doing so brought out much more of the individual scientist’s personality than usually shown. And he spoke of wishing that scientists could get into that conversational tone all by themselves, without an interviewer to help them.
Alan is a vocal advocator for teaching communication skills to science students as a core part of their university education.
Alan also spoke of the need to not dumb down the science being communicated but to instead to focus on clarity and vividness. He defined being vivid as, “to show how it affects our daily lives, what the stories are that led to these discoveries.”
Some scientists may ask what good communicating their research to the public actually does for them. According to Alan, the scientists who undertook training at the Centre for Communicating Science found that working to refine their research message resulted in them becoming much more focussed and clear about what they were doing and why.
This idea that re-working, re-explaining and re-focusing on the purpose and value of your science can actually lead to better science, is amazing. By attempting to communicate your message to a variety of people, journalists, community groups or organisations you are constantly re-afirming and checking how you describe and explain your work. This sort of reflection can be a powerful process for clearer, more vivid science.