Communication skills are critical for success in any profession, and science careers are no exception. Yet employers across the board name poor communication skills as the No. 1 problem in employees. I encourage graduate students and postdocs to develop effective communication skills early on in their careers.
For those of us in science, it is essential to know how to get a message across effectively using multiple forms of communication. For example, an academic scientist must have strong writing skills to get grants funded and publish well-written papers. In industry, business or government, writing reports and documents may be an important part of your daily activities. Verbal communication of research findings with colleagues or at conferences is also fundamental. No matter what form of communication you use, the key to communication success is to know your audience and meet their expectations.
In this column, I will share communication tips with you and provide you with resources to help improve your speaking and writing skills.
Know your audience
When giving a talk or writing about science, you first need to identify who your audience is. Are they nonscientists, undergrads, your colleagues, senior scientists or a mixed group of individuals? Being aware of who your audience is will help you to prepare so that you can communicate effectively at its level of understanding. Communication is all about making sure the audience understands your message and is satisfied by how you delivered that message.
Depending on your audience and subject matter, you need to come up with a good strategy to present the information effectively. For example, I am very interested in writing about science for the general public. I decided to communicate the latest scientific advances on cancer with the public through my blog to increase awareness of this topic and hone my writing skills. Starting your own blog is an excellent way to practice communicating science for lay audiences. “Don’t get so caught up in scientific jargon. Communication is supposed to be simple,” says Geoff Hunt, the public outreach manager for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
You can also take a scientific writing course or attend workshops on scientific writing. I recently attended a workshop offered by the New York Academy of Sciences titled “Writing about Science for the Public.” There are lots of resources to help you develop your communication skills. Take a look at some of the resources I have provided below.
We have all heard the saying “practice makes perfect.” Practicing a talk not just once but several times can make a huge difference. Allow yourself lots of time to prepare, edit and re-edit. Have someone else look it over before your actual presentation. It is important to realize that being a great talker is not the same as being a great communicator. Being prepared will give you the confidence that you need to present the material effectively.