TEACHING PHD STUDENTS EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH
1 Simula Research Laboratory (NORWAY)
2 Penn State University (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2009 Proceedings
Publication year: 2009
Conference name: 2nd International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 16-18 November, 2009
Location: Madrid, Spain
Abstract:The quality and importance of scientific research have no value, unless the scientists are able to communicate their results and describe the consequences thereof in an effective manner. It is crucial that the information is presented at the right level of detail and in a reference frame that fits the audience. Learning how to present scientific results, in writing as well as in speech, is an important part of the education of researchers.
Recognizing that the Norwegian universities have no dedicated training programs that teach PhD students how to present their scientific findings, Simula Research Laboratory (Simula) has over several years developed a close collaboration with Pennsylvania State University (PSU). The purpose of the collaboration is to teach essential communication skills to the PhD students in the laboratory. The course is based on techniques and material developed by Michael Alley, who also teaches the course.
The positive experience from the annual events at Simula has demonstrated the potential in giving a compact version of the communication course at a national level — to PhD students coming from all Norwegian universities. In 2009, we were able to attract sufficient funding, primarily from industrial partners, to arrange the national workshop Communicating Scientific Research for 68 participants. Designing this workshop, we faced three essential questions:
(1) Could a communication workshop be taught to a sizable number of graduate students?
(2) Would a sizable number of Norwegian graduate students be interested in committing the time and energy to such a workshop?
(3) Would such a workshop lead to significant improvements in communication skills of those participants?
The workshop had three main segments (1) making research presentations to technical audiences, (2) writing research documents to technical audiences, and (3) communicating research to the general public and non-technical decision makers. The first two segments were based on a workshop series that had been formally tested by PSU faculty on more than 500 engineering and science graduate students at five different universities. However, none of these test workshops had the size or depth of the Norwegian workshop that we were creating. The third segment was new and had its premiere at the 2009 workshop.
The workshop had its primary focus on presenting research to technical audiences. Each participant had to prepare a 10-12 minute talk about their research, to submit slides for review before the workshop, to attend the formal class on research presentations during the workshop, to revise his or her presentation based on that class, and then to give his or her presentation in filmed critique sessions. The effect of the teaching has been measured through a series of pre- and post-workshop surveys among the participants.
In conclusion, we have received affirmative answers to the three questions that we had posed when designing the workshop:
(1) We successfully taught a workshop on research communication skills to a sizable number of participants (68)
(2) The interest by Norwegian graduate students in such a workshop is large (232 PhD students applied within three weeks after the announcement)
(3) According to the participants’ self-report of progress, the workshop led to significant improvements of in their communication skills.
Keywords: scientific presentation, scientific writing, communication, graduate students.