Effective communication of your ideas is just as critical as your research. It is the cornerstone of an academic research lab. We need to be able to convince our colleagues and funding agencies that our ideas are interesting and worthy of funding, and we need to be able to explain to the general public why our research is worthy of their tax dollars. This communication takes many forms, including a manuscript, conference presentation, fellowship application, or community outreach. In each case, the message and delivery will need to be tailored to the different audiences. But one over arching principle applies to all: Keep It Simple. The goal is not to demonstrate how smart you are, but to make your audience feel smart.
Effective communication skills are particularly important in undergraduate and graduate school where your academic success hinges on convincing others of the integrity of your ideas. Style and confidence can go a long way in convincing others to believe in your ideas. A well written application or paper that is simple to understand and pleasure to read will cover many flaws. Conversely, a poorly rehearsed presentation filled with stutters and hesitation lacks confidence and loses your audience before you’ve finished your first slide. Style matters.
While some students seem born with the ability to communicate, effective communication skills are not genetic traits. They are skills that can be learned and improved upon with practice.
Below are some resources for specific communication mediums.
Writing a Scientific Manuscript
- Keep to your time. Use the rule of thumb of 1 minute per slide
- Make slides legible from the back of the room (16 point font, minimum)
- The audience can either read or listen. They cant do both. Keep words to a minimum on slides unless you plan to be silent and let them read.
Conference poster (made in Adobe In design)
Fellowship & Grant Applications
- Know your audience. Is it a general audience or one highly knowledgable in the area. Adjust your language accordingly.
- Avoid excessive jargon/abbreviations. Do this even for highly knowledgable audience. Err on the side of simple.
- White space conveys confidence. And its easier on the eyes. Don’t fill every piece of white space up to your page limit. More information is not necessarily better. Only say what needs to be said in the least amount of space as possible.
- Keep figures legible. Watch font size on axes and legends.
CIHR Graduate Student Fellowship