Sunday, December 7, 2014

Communicating the Science

Perhaps as important as conducting good science itself is the ability to communicate it to others. Whether that is by way of research papers, oral presentations, or Vulcan mind meld1, it is essential to share research and breakthroughs to make scientific progress. At the beginning of this semester, I wasn’t too sure what to expect from 20.109; after all, it was my first CI-M (Communication Intensive in the Major) class. Although I’ve participated in a variety of research projects, I’ve only formally presented my work to others twice: once in the Siemens Competition on neurogenesis and once in Singapore on water filtration. Little did I know, 20.109 contained a slew of both writing assignments and oral presentations that would push me to think critically and communicate effectively.

As the semester progressed, I noticed improvement particularly in writing the materials and methods section of papers. I started off being too wordy and including extensive details that weren’t appropriate to the section. My instructors kept telling me that the materials and methods section should only contain as much information as is required for someone else to conduct the experiment. I learned to evaluate and sieve through what was considered “necessary” information and could be omitted. For the reproduction and verification of the validity of any experiment, it’s important to have a well-written methods section. However, I still struggle to convey thoughtful big picture insights in my discussions section. I find that I often only report the results, but insufficiently express the importance of these results to the research. What’s the story? What’s exciting and cool about this research? Why should anyone care? These are leading questions that could help me when discussing results in the future. The same applies to orally presenting research to a curious audience. To engage and captivate interest, a story must shine through that compels people to continue listening.

It was helpful having Writing, Rhetoric, and Professional Communication (WRAP) staff members work closely with us throughout the semester. Continuous feedback and availability of the teaching staff as a resource was integral to a successful semester.

1. Spock performing the Vulcan mind meld on Dr. Simon Van Gelder 

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