Communication as an Art Form

Performing research is only one aspect of being a scientist. Science is a communal discipline built upon sharing knowledge. As such, a scientist must be able to communicate his or her work. Unfortunately, a large portion of the scientific community has only been educated on the technical side of its discipline. I came to this conclusion after reading countless research papers this summer. The goal of technical writing is to convey information. A writer should focus on making his or her statements clear and concise with minimal jargon. A large component of the MARC program is practicing communication. Attending the MARC program has allowed me to hon my communication skills by giving PowerPoint presentations and attending writing courses. As I write this blog I am reminded of Craig Cotich’s writing courses. He has turned writing into an art form. I personally enjoyed his discussion on writing for emphasis and coherence. Did you know the end of the sentence is the position of emphasis? Really important words should be moved to the right of a sentence. Did you know sentences should not stand alone but complement each other? Writers should end a sentence with content they will begin the next sentence with. These examples are only a few small reminders of the writing techniques that I have learned and will employ in future publications. When I publish a paper, an intern just starting his or her research career will take comfort in being able to understand what I convey.

PowerPoints! I have become very accustomed to giving PowerPoint presentations. One disclaimer if you are planning on an internship through CSEP: you will get an ample amount of criticism, and that’s a good thing. Part of the experience is learning how to take criticism. Don’t take criticism as an insult. In fact, take criticism with gratitude and willingness. The critiques are going to make your presentation stronger and clearer. At each presentation, I bring a notebook to write down each critique and any comments that will help me improve my presentation. As I write this blog, I am also drafting my final PowerPoint presentation and I am reminded of Scott Shell’s engineering a successful talk presentation. Did you know people only retain about 5% of what is lectured to them? This is why slide design and presentation is so important. Slides should maximize the information to ink ration by using diagrams, graphs, and pictures. Even with perfect slides and lecturing to go with it, your audience will only retain 20% of the content if they are focused. To optimize the audience’s retention Dr. Shell provided us with tips such as demonstrations and having the audience participate. These techniques can increase retention up to 75%. We even got into “professional” tips. For example, if you have seen Steve Jobs give a presentation, he used slides with black backgrounds. He was able to pull it off because of how captivating he was. I am not Steve Jobs. I use white for my slides’ background so that I fill the room with light to keep the audience awake. Maybe if I become as captivating and iconic as Steve Jobs, I can use dark backgrounds. Until then, I’ll stick to white.

An internship through CSEP is a great learning experience in all aspects. The aspect I elaborated on in this blog was communication through writing and presenting, however there are many more such as elevator pitches and posters presentations. Aside from developing communication skills, the research is the largest aspect of the program and I could write another blog on only the research. If you are thinking about an internship through CSEP, I highly recommend it. Good luck, I have to go work on my slides and research abstract now. On your MARC, get set, go!

Rob Jones

Rob is a chemical engineering major in his junior year. He is interested in
computational biology that focuses on genetics and is working in the
lab of Professor Dey.