You have /5 articles left.
Sign up for a free account or log in.

zubada/istock via getty images plus

Through their scholarship, early-career researchers, such as graduate students and postdocs, attempt to solve some of the most pressing problems in society. Gradually, they become experts in their fields and are strongly encouraged to present their research at disciplinary conferences and meetings. But I’ve found it is just as important to develop skills to talk, share and present your research findings and results to a much broader audience.

Speaking to a wide audience is a skill you can use to build support for your research ideas, grants and projects. It demonstrates your passion for pursuing research, offers you a chance to explain why your research question is significant and helps you develop strong connections with your audience. Presenting your research to a general audience also allows you to provide context for your individual project within the larger body of scholarship in that discipline or area, as well as reduces the barrier in acquiring any new information or insights from the public.

What’s more, funding agencies are recognizing efforts by researchers to engage the public. The National Science Foundation invites the researchers they support to share examples of the broader impacts of their research with their respective program managers. Thus, informal presentations of scientific and other types of research not only can facilitate conversations and build trust between experts and generalists but also attract more financial support for research.

While participating in activities to communicate your research, it is imperative to understand your audience, reduce or avoid jargon, and include your research’s significance and impact.

In fact, organizations that offer fellowships and grants often specifically ask you to enumerate the broader significance of the research you are proposing and how it benefits society. In addition, during academic job interviews, some faculty members you meet with will be very experienced but from a different field or area than yours. Knowing how to explain important aspects of your research and how it expands the body of knowledge and influences society is vital. The academic administrators who are interviewing you will also want to know about key aspects of your research and how it generally meshes with the priorities of the department or unit and fits with the overall mission of the institution.

Similarly, for nonacademic positions, interviews commonly involve talking to people who work in different units. Knowing that they have a short time to spend, you have to be able to quickly describe your research, the importance of what you are doing and the fundability of what you are proposing to do.

Some universities, associations and conferences are providing more opportunities to share research in nontraditional formats. Among them are what people refer to as lighting talks. These super-short presentations train participants to boil down their research to a specific time limit and share it in a way that those outside their expertise can understand

Recently, the University of Queensland initiated a three-minute thesis (3MT) competition that several hundred colleges and universities across the world have adopted. It provides opportunities for students to explain their thesis to a nonspecialist audience in three minutes flat. Another creative outlet to communicate your Ph.D. thesis research is American Association for the Advancement of Science and Science magazine’s Dance Your Thesis Out competition, which allows participants to interpret their science-related research through any dance form and offers prizes.

As an early-career scholar, you can begin this journey by preparing to answer questions such as “Tell us about your research” or “What motivates you to do this project?” in ways that a nonscientist friend understands. You can improve this form of communication skill by engaging in opportunities offered through your department, graduate school, postdoc offices, graduate student or postdoc associations, and professional societies that have created platforms to share research to diverse audiences. If needed, participate beforehand in related professional development -- whether offered through your institution’s media offices, your specific department or unit, or an outside organization -- that can help train you to present your research in such forums. Some well-known national programs are COMPASS and the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, which help scientists in particular to communicate their research.

In sum, be it for a Science Café, a competition or a job or media interview, learning to talk about your research and findings with a broad, diverse audience will prove to be a valuable skill for life.

Next Story

Written By

More from Carpe Careers