Many people believe science communication (scicomm) is important. But one university professor decided to incorporate scicomm training into an advanced biochemistry course, with interesting results.
Scicomm is important for securing research funding, boosting citations and encouraging future generations of scientists. But it’s also an important part of helping people find work.
One study found that 90 percent of hiring managers felt “communication skills are essential for success” (Peterson, 1997). But, the study found, only 60 percent of job applicants had “effective communication skills.”
A similar study of employers in Silicon Valley found that employers were dissatisfied with the communication skills of employees who were fresh out of college (Stevens, 2005).
If employers value communication skills, and you’re training to become a scientist, science communication training is probably important to you. But where can that training take place? Ricky Cox of Murray State University thought a good place to start would be in the science classroom.
Cox decided to incorporate scicomm training into an upper level biochem course of 10 students. In a paper that stemmed from this project, Cox notes that his goal was to prepare students to communicate effectively about science in contexts that he felt would be relevant to their future work experiences: long and short presentations, formal and informal interviews, and teaching or tutoring students (Whittington, et al., 2014).
During the course, students were given access to scicomm training materials and spent class time discussing science communication techniques and strategies. Students were also asked to give oral presentations making use of scicomm techniques over the course of the class.
Students responded favorably to the scicomm elements of the course, noting in the paper that they felt it better prepared them for their future careers. One student even noted that she drew on her scicomm training repeatedly during a subsequent internship.
In short, the scicomm training appeared to have real value for the students.
But there’s a big question here: does it make sense to incorporate scicomm training into a science class when that means taking time away from the science training itself? It’s not ideal. As Cox notes in the paper, “a stand-alone science communication course may be best, [but] instructors and students need other options if this type of course is not available.”
What do you think, readers? Are you aware of other professors who have incorporated scicomm into science courses? Or do you know of faculty who create scicomm training opportunities for students outside of the classroom?
“Personnel interviewers’ perceptions of the importance and adequacy of applicants’ communication skills,” Communication Education, Marshalita Sims Peterson, DOI: 10.1080/03634529709379102
“What communication skills do employers want? Silicon Valley recruiters respond,” Journal of Employment Counseling, Betsy Stevens, DOI: 10.1002/j.2161-1920.2005.tb00893.x
“Combining content and elements of communication into an upper-level biochemistry course,” Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, Whittington, et al., DOI: 10.1002/bmb.20770