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Scientific Communication

  1. Jun 2, 2005 #1

    DocToxyn

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    Peer-reviewed journal articles are probably the most well known medium for scientific communication, but oral and/or graphically presented material can be just as important. How much importance was put on sound oral communication skills in your undergraduate or graduate careers? Were there specific courses to teach public speaking, poster presentation, etc? Were you required to regularly speak/present in front of large groups of people? Did you find this type of training worthwhile/necessary, do you wish you had more? Does your current job require good presentation skills? I'm looking for some serious comments on any or all of these issues (well a few jokes would be OK :biggrin: ).
     
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  3. Jun 2, 2005 #2

    Monique

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    As an undergraduate I had to work on a research project for 8 months. During that time I seriously learned how to present journal club meetings, the most important thing is to watch other people do it and just copy all the aspects that you like from them. My boss actually wrote me a certificate stating how great my first presentation was, which I thought was cool. Then I had to make a poster presentation for a retreat and won a first prize for that, yeah I think presentation is very important and I love it :biggrin:

    I never really had a course or anything, the only time we had a 'course' the teacher picked at the whole presentation saying how bad it was :tongue2:

    The best teachers are the ones who interact with the students and ask them how much them know, I've had teachers who just lecture and that is boooring.
     
  4. Jun 2, 2005 #3

    Monique

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  5. Jun 2, 2005 #4

    PerennialII

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    .. had to take one specific course as an undergrad, after landing my Msc and current post have attended a couple of courses which supposedly should've been good, but didn't really find them useful ... do however think all ought to participate in something in order to gain knowledge about own weaknesses / strengths and come up your own 'style' which suits you. I'd put a lot of emphasis on practical learning, sweating in front of large knowledgeable crowds dying to "give you a punch" gives you motivation to improve and I see as the best way to hone yourself. Also, it seems that whether you're studying, working or whatever most jobs (even though you try to isolate yourself to your chamber as much as possible) do require you to keep presentations quite a bit, so being able to get the message through is important. I do however think that the best way to approach this is to jump at it and not be afraid of screwing up, learn it by doing it and keeping improving, for many presentations are a far greater stress than need be.
     
  6. Jun 2, 2005 #5

    Danger

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    Is there a typo in that address, by chance? I got a URL not found message.
     
  7. Jun 2, 2005 #6

    Ivan Seeking

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    I did a lot of public speaking in HS and college and have used this frequently in many settings, including many professional functions of various sorts. But more than than perhaps, as opposed to some of my posts :tongue2: the need to write well about technical subjects has proven crucial. As information moves through a company - round and round in many cases - and as the politics get in the way, clear, factual statments that are easily understood by everyone are as good as gold. It happens that by nature I am a fanatic about my rerports. I probably spend two or three times as much time as most people; making sure that every word and sentence is perfect. But in one case I found that my reports actually helped to get me new work...almost as if the reports were more important than the job done...as if... :wink:
     
  8. Jun 2, 2005 #7

    Moonbear

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    I didn't have any formal training in public speaking until it was time to start presenting departmental seminars as a grad student, but I had a lot of informal training as an undergrad. I got involved in a number of campus activities, such as our orientation committee, where we'd prepare workshops for freshman on various things that would help them with college life or other aspects of life (these varied from things like basic car maintenance for the commuters to time management or organizational skills). While running those workshops, I got a lot of practice with public speaking, though they probably would have gone better had I had more experience at the time.

    In grad school, the biology teaching assistants were given quite a lot of training about how to teach, which of course includes speaking to groups. We also had department seminars and all grad students were required to present their research once a year (not just after you passed qualifiers like many places, but from year one...in your first year, it was expected you'd present a proposal of your research ideas if you didn't have data yet). Most of our grad level courses required some form of presentation as well, either presenting a paper as a journal club format or presenting a proposal based on a topic we'd been studying. In one class, we had to write exam questions for each other and were graded both on the questions we asked and how we answered those asked of us...talk about a true challenge, there was no way to predict based on what a professor emphasized just what question you would get, and we each had two questions to answer orally for our final exam. We were all nervous about the idea, but it turned out pretty fun.

    I also taught a workshop on public speaking and communication skills to the students in the dorm I worked in when I was a grad student (they were all math and science majors and of all the workshops offered, mine was one of the more popular ones).

    I'm quite glad of all the public speaking experience I have. Last year I gave a talk at a conference and had numerous people come up to me after the talk was over just to comment on how much they enjoyed my talk. I know it's always what clinched the deal of me getting the post-doc position I had (I was told later that the program director had commented after my talk that he wished more people gave such good talks).

    More than just content, style counts for a LOT in public speaking. Body language, using a pointer in a way that's helpful and not distracting, facing your audience, speaking loudly and clearly and enunciating every word, using visual aids that are meaningful to the audience, being sure there's a theme to your talk and that it's organized, looking relaxed but not too casual, being conversational rather than "preachy," etc.

    In our own program, I see a lot of variation among the students giving seminars because much of the public speaking aspect of their training is left up to their individual mentors. There are a number of students who really could benefit from a more formalized approach.
     
  9. Jun 3, 2005 #8
    pics.bbzzdd.com/users/Niek/

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  10. Jun 3, 2005 #9

    Monique

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    Just copy and past it. I can't wait to get to work again, actually I've sent out a whole bunch of applications yesterday :cool:

    One thing I've noticed in education that needs a lot of work is students being critical. Normally as a student you have to listen to the lecturer and take in everything he says, no point is made for the students to feedback. For me it was very hard to stand up and ask questions at a seminar, since I would fear the question was stupid or not relevant. Some people in the department would always have many questions ready, I never got how they managed to be so critical.

    Then there was a course for which my background was very weak, but the grade depended on your participation in discussions. I saw that many students had problems with being vocal, because they're shy, feel insecure about the subject, or are not critical enough. I think forcing students to speak up in such situations will help them overcome that barrier, so that they can speak up and be critical in other scientific communications.
     
  11. Jun 3, 2005 #10

    DocToxyn

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    I have to agree. I did an exercise with a group of first year graduate students as part of a training session in presentation skills. I asked them to think about the best presentation they had ever seen, it could be from a class, a seminar, an "infomercial", whatever, just as long as they thought it was good. Then I had them list the words that came to mind when they thought about that talk. I listed them on the board and then gave my seminar. We then went back and checked the words off if I covered them in the talk. Then as we looked at them it was easy to see that 75%+ were related to how the person gave the talk and not about what the talk was about or how it was structured. It really made it apparent that the way a person relays the information can be just as important, if not more so, than the content of the talk itself. You can be presenting the most interesting topic in the world, but if you come off as unethusiastic and boring, you'll lose the audience within minutes.
     
  12. Jun 3, 2005 #11
    I went to one lecture were I spent the entire time dodging the mans green laser light. He did a lot of articulating with his hands and would forget he had the thing on.
    Also, people should not use a laser pointer unless they have a steady hand.

    I enjoy speakers with a sly sense of humor that appears natural, Carl Sagan was good for that.
     
  13. Jun 3, 2005 #12

    Moonbear

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    Very good point. In grad school, our dept handled that by requiring students to ask questions at seminar as part of our grade (it's not like much else goes into a grade for a seminar class). It wasn't a lot of pressure; two students were assigned to ask questions at every seminar, and it actually made it easier knowing that everyone there knew you were required to ask a question. Once we started being required to ask questions, and started to realize our questions weren't dumb questions (some of the best questions asked came from the students rather than faculty; though sometimes the problem was that we became too critical/cynical, which can happen too).

    But, even harder than learning to ask questions in a seminar, where you know most of the audience, is learning to ask questions in a conference. To get an idea of how nervous that can make you feel, I actually still remember the first time I dared to ask a question at a conference. It was a workshop format session, and all the big-wigs in the field were doing a Q&A thing, and it seemed like the only people asking questions were the senior investigators (one of those deals where the session chair was calling upon these folks by name because he already knew who they all were). But, I had my one question that nobody had asked and I decided was really important to ask, so I worked my way to the microphone wondering if my voice was going to give out before I got there. It seems a whole group of people were thinking the same question and were too intimidated to get up and ask given the group of people who were asking most of the questions; I've never since been approached at the end of a session by so many people to thank me for asking the question they really wanted to ask. It was a rather weird experience. Obviously, the concept of a workshop format had not worked well in that session when I realized I wasn't the only one intimidated to ask questions by the way the session chair was recognizing people in the audience who had questions. I've chaired a few sessions at conferences since then, and try to make sure if I see a hand timidly raised by a student or new face in the crowd, I give them their chance to ask before they chicken out.
     
  14. Jun 3, 2005 #13

    Moonbear

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    :rofl: I know what you mean! (And I'm always the speaker after them when the laser pointer battery is dead because they never took their finger off the button once; I carry my own pointer now.) There are even tricks to be learned for steadying a nervous hand, as well as for using any pointing device properly. I really get annoyed when a speaker is just waving the pointer in wild circles on the screen. It's not only unhelpful, it's downright distracting; to me, it's even worse than if they just stand there and never remember to use the pointer at all. People seem to forget they can just stop pointing in between. Wildly waving at a graph doesn't help explain it. Pointing at each axis as you define it and at each bar as you talk about it and the experimental group it represents does.

    I've seen a LOT of seminars where the speaker could have used more training in public speaking. Everything from someone who speaks too softly to be heard, to the wild gesticulating with the pointer, to the person who talks to the screen instead of the audience, to the ones who stand stock-still and emotionless for the entire talk (you know, the ones who look like they've been Botoxed), to talking in a drone, to adding in joke slides that aren't funny, or use hideously painful color combinations in their slides, or put blue text on a black background or yellow text on a white background so you can't read any of it, or cram 16 bullet points into one slide. Oh, and I also tell my students to leave a margin along the edges of their slides to account for the inevitable projector that is set up improperly and portions of the slides wind up displayed off the screen.

    Actually, one of our students did a good job yesterday handling a seminar where the projector kept turning off. It was good it was one of our more senior students, so she was able to keep talking without the slides and just show the data slides when the projector would cooperate. Smoothly handling technical glitches is a really difficult skill to learn. Students are more spoiled nowadays by computer presentations where everyone waits for someone to come fix the computer or projector if there's a problem, but I learned to give talks when we still used slide projectors, and it was normal that a slide would jam halfway through a talk, or an inexperienced projectionist would forget to put the cap on the carousel and would drop the whole set of slides on the floor just as the talk was about to begin, or the bulb would burn out, etc. So, you always went to a talk expecting something might go wrong, and prepared to use a chalkboard if necessary.
     
  15. Jun 3, 2005 #14

    cronxeh

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    eh.. so its true what they say about scientists :tongue:

    well for engineering undergrad they put you an introductory course into engineering - which not only goes over the basic stuff you'll be learning in next 4 years, but also teaches you how to properly make presentations and convey your ideas logically

    as i recall, we were required to talk about our experiment in front of a class, using the powerpoint presentation and you couldnt be shy about things - a lot of newbie freshmen were broken into the whole college lifestyle that way and eventually everybody was at ease on talking in front of large audiences

    i think its a very good experience that makes you relax, and pretend you are talking to yourself and only answering all the voices in your head.
     
  16. Jun 3, 2005 #15

    Monique

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    That is a really nice story, it's good to realize that you're probably not the only one in the audience intimidated to ask questions :smile:

    I'm interested in what your first experience with teaching was like, and that of others. I've never lectured a group of students before, I imagine it is a very difficult thing to do; grabbing their attention and having them actually answer to your inquiries would seem like a daunting task :tongue: ofcourse it depends on the level on the students and the actual reason why they signed up for the course (out of interest or just to fill up their curriculum).

    And WHOHOO! I just got back my first interview invitation :tongue2:
     
  17. Jun 4, 2005 #16

    Monique

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    quote: "I'm interested in what your first experience with teaching was like"


    Anyone?
     
  18. Jun 5, 2005 #17

    Moonbear

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    Sorry, just got back to this thread for the first time since my last post.

    I didn't have to fly solo on my first teaching experience, so it was a lot easier. I started out just assisting with labs and then worked my way up to proctoring exams (all I had to do was stand up and tell them the instructions and then wander around until I stood up again and told them "time's up"). Then, I moved on to TAing bio labs, where you fly solo in the lab, but we had extensive preparation beforehand to make sure we knew what should go into the lecture material, what might go wrong, what the students would get on the exam that we should emphasize, etc. Then I moved up to being the head bio TA, so I was the one prepping the other TAs to teach their classes. I started giving my very own custom-made lectures as a post-doc, but still used my mentor's previous year's notes as a guide.

    Honestly, it's been a long time since setting foot in front of that first classroom, so I really don't remember it that well (perhaps I've blocked it from my memory). I'm sure I was nervous and excited, and I don't think I was the best teacher at all...far from it. But with practice and by having people sit in on my classes to give me feedback, I developed my teaching style much better.

    What makes it simultaneously fun and nerve-wracking at times is that you never know what questions you'll get. Sometimes students ask the most bizarre questions from left-field, and other times you'll get a really astute student who asks questions that really challenge you.

    Though, I'm not nearly as fond of lecturing as I am of teaching in small groups where you can get a discussion going. Students learn so much more when they are active participants than just sitting trying to absorb what you say.
     
  19. Jun 5, 2005 #18

    DocToxyn

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    I've been teaching in one aspect or another for many years. I started out teaching swimming lessons to mostly kids, but some adults. That was alot of fun and the rewards of seeing those kids pick up a new skill was priceless. I then moved to TA'ing the forensic science lab at my undergrad institution. The was more challenging since many of the students were senior public justice majors and they hadn't been in a lab since freshman year. Trying to get them to use a simple things like pipettors was hard enough, let alone a gas chromatograph :bugeye: . I TA'd that class for at least four semesters, it really was fun.

    I then did a stint as a research scientist in an environmental analysis lab and trained undergrads and graduates in PCB chemistry, extraction, env. toxicology, etc. It wasn't so much a classroom setting, but they were really motivated to learn because they had to compete for positions in our lab. As a grad student I did similar training, although not as much and most of my time was spent doing my own research, it wasn't a teaching assistantship.

    My current Postdoc position affords me more time/opportunity to teach. As mentioned before, I am leading a workshop for the first year grads on preparation for their qualifying exam. It includes both a written proposal and an oral presentation. I did this last year and it was a lot of fun. You can style a presentation like this a little looser than a normal scientific seminar or class session, so it not quite a hardcore science/serious tone as I typically get. It gives me chance to stretch my presenting skills and hopefully impart some of that to the students. I also have taught a section of the Principles of Toxicology course on Endocrine-Mediated Neurotoxicity. That was obviously more serious and required a different type of presentation. I also had to submit and grade a test question (essay type). That was what I found the most difficult, both what to ask and how hard to grade, it was my first real (adult) student assessment situation. It was funny because on some of the paper I wrote more back in comments than they wrote in answers :biggrin: . The interaction with students is fun and comes pretty easy for me, its the testing that's difficult.
     
  20. Jun 5, 2005 #19

    jma2001

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    One suggestion, for those who do not have the opportunity to take a class in public speaking, is to join a speaking club like Toastmasters International. I have been a member of a Toastmasters club for about three years and it has been a rewarding experience. A typical club is a group of 30-40 people with a wide variety of ages, backgrounds, educational levels, and speaking experience. Basically the meetings consist in members standing up in front of the group to deliver brief (7-10 minute) speeches, followed by an evaluation session during which the other members give feedback. A lot of the issues raised in this thread, like proper use of hand gestures, visual aids, pointing devices, and speaking volume, are covered during the evaluations. It is not a formal training program like Zig Ziglar or Dale Carnegie, so you cannot go there expecting to be spoonfed. Rather, it is a supportive environment where people can practice their presenting skills and get feedback, and those members who put in the most effort and preparation get the most out of the club. The Toastmasters club that I attend meets in Princeton, New Jersey, across the street from the Princeton University campus. One of our members is a grad student at Princeton, and she has mentioned that the club experience has given her a new perspective on the presenting styles she sees at academic conferences, and what makes them more or less effective.
     
  21. Aug 7, 2008 #20
    Communication skills

    that's improtant for me too
     
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