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The art of effectively communicating science

Andrew Watson

Research discoveries do not help anyone if they remain in the lab. They must be communicated to be understood, to offer promise, to make a difference and to have impact. Developing strong oral and written communications skills are fundamental to a successful graduate degree experience and the foundation of successful research proposal.

At Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, it is one of our main educational goals that our students leave us as better communicators than when they arrived for their programs. It is through the development of your research proposals and the support of your advisory committee that you will achieve this goal.

I hope that many of you are beginning to think seriously about putting together your proposals and have set up your proposal advisory committee meetings. Putting together a successful project will take a lot of planning, discussion and hard work.

This is your preparation for when you take on a thesis later in your program. And while it has never been viewed as the most enjoyable part of the graduate student experience, it is a necessity.

I know a lot of “big” discoveries arise from serendipity, but your research proposal will provide the plan and support the execution to ensure that one moment wasn’t really a “fluke”. Your proposal crafts a vision for your research plan. That is why we require every thesis graduate student to prepare a research proposal and, if you are a PhD student, also a grant proposal. The ability to write well is incredibly useful not only for now, but also throughout your entire career.

There is an Aristotelian “triptych” that I think forms the basis for all good scientific presentations, whether they are oral or written. The guidelines are:

- Tell your audience what you’re going to tell them (introduction, background, rationale);
- Tell them (hypothesis, objectives, methods, results);
- Tell them why you told them (discussion, summary, conclusions).

Here are a few other tips for successful communications\:

- Always read and follow the required guidelines;
- Only fill the requested time for oral presentations — never go over time, and always leave time for questions;
- For written reports, extra space is never granted and deadlines are deadlines — they are never extended in the real world;
- Expect it to take time to get things right — many drafts are required, especially when you are learning;
- Expect criticism and heed constructive criticism — learn from others whom you feel are good at this.

Good luck with your presentations, committee meetings and on mastering the art of communicating science.

Cheers,

Andrew J. Watson, PhD
Associate Dean, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies