What’s a scientist’s most valuable tool? In my view, it is not the $1million microscope, scanner or other gadget he or she may cherish, but rather their ability to effectively communicate their ideas, dreams and achievements.
Communication is the lifeblood of good science. Whether it is formal or informal, one-on-one or groupwise, to the public directly or amongst colleagues and students, if you can’t express your ideas effectively then your science is not going to flourish.
But how often during our scientific training are we actually trained in communication? Rarely, if ever. And media training is not communication training!
At RNG, I strive to develop each student’s communication skills on a number of levels. This includes remorseless editing of all written work (including emails!). A manuscript review that starts with, ‘a well written paper about…’, is half the battle won. A poorly written manuscript will engage a reviewer for all of 20 seconds. Every year I also grab a selection of different group members’ drafts (including my own) and show how the original becomes so much better with the application of just a few simple editing and grammatical principles.
Each RNG member also has frequent opportunities to present orally within the group and beyond. Each receives individual feedback, not only on content, but also with respect to non-verbal technique, voice projection, personal style.
It also helps if you have something to say. Be very clear about what is the novelty or importance of your work, and believe it. When presenting your work remember that nobody knows it as well as you do – surely that’s reason for some confidence! And for the difficult interrogator, it’s good to have a couple of stock answers up your sleeve (‘that’s a very good question, I had planned to look at that next…’), rather than impersonating a rabbit-in-the-headlights, passing out, or losing bodily function.
The best training is of course practice. I remember my first radio interview and cringe. Over time you do get better at any form of communication as long as you don’t become avoidant. And always ask someone else, ‘how could I have done that better?’.
A/Prof Michael Valenzuela
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