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International Journal of Translational ScienceJournal discontinued 2017

Editors-in-Chief:

Pranela Rameshwar, Rutgers University, USA
Nicholas M. Ponzio, Rutgers University, USA


ISSN: 2246-8765 (Print Version),

ISSN: 2246-8765 (Online Version)
Vol: 2016   Issue: 1

Published In:   January 2016

Publication Frequency: Continuous Article Publication


Search Available Volume and Issue for International Journal of Translational ScienceJournal discontinued 2017


Editorial: Communicating Your Science

Nicholas M. Ponzio

Scientists are respected and ranked very highly by the public as leaders whose opinions can be trusted and relied upon (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/in-science-we-trust-poll/; October 2010 Vol. 303 pp. 56–59). As such, scientists are in a desirable position to convey the significance and value of important scientific information and new discoveries. Therefore, it is essential~that science professionals are able to communicate complex ideas and concepts clearly, accurately, and understandably to diverse audiences.

Acceptance and understanding of science (or lack thereof) by the public and government leaders can influence decision making with regard to the creation of science policy, as well as its regulation and funding. As technology advances, it is imperative for scientists to be capable and comfortable explaining complex concepts in easily understandable language not only to their scientific peers, but also to non-scientists. Contemporary examples for better public understanding of important biomedical discoveries include therapeutic use of stem cells, the increasing appearance and use of genetically modified organisms, development of personalized medicine based on genetic sequencing, and the importance of vaccination for protection against disease, just to name a few.

In some cases, authors in the popular press and media, bloggers, and social media users exaggerate either the curative impact or the dangers of new biomedical discoveries due to their incomplete understanding of the underlying concepts of disease. Fortunately, good communication skills can be learned, and we must begin to integrate new methods of learning these skills into the curriculum for students pursuing advanced scientific degrees. Such training will make them better communicators, improve their competitiveness for job opportunities, and enhance their professional development and growth in their chosen disciplines. Moreover, it will also give them the confidence to speak out beyond their scientific audience, and embrace the responsibility to explain their science to the public, the media, politicians, and potential donors that support biomedical research. Biopharmaceutical hiring managers repeatedly comment that communication skills are one of the main deficits in the current crop of job applicants. Therefore, by integrating training of these skills into their curriculum, our graduates will be better prepared for the job market.

However, there are multiple barriers to teaching effective communication skills to Ph.D. trainees in the biomedical sciences. First, students lack an appreciation for the need and/or opportunities to learn methods of effective communication. They don't learn how to present scientific concepts and discoveries to different audiences; that is, the ability to communicate their findings clearly and accurately, using language that is easily understood, and with minimal use of discipline-specific jargon. Second, many students don't possess adequate listening skills and the ability to recognize non-verbal cues from audiences Ὰ two important criteria for effective communication. There also is a lack of adequate opportunities for students to practice communicating their science to diverse audiences in real-life scenarios.

Fortunately, an increasing number of colleges and universities are beginning to offer courses to help students overcome these barriers. The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University in New~York has been a leader in developing a comprehensive program that uses both classroom instruction and improvisational methods to help students communicate more effectively. At Rutgers Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in New Jersey, we are bringing together a multidisciplinary faculty of scientists, educators, communication experts, and theater arts professionals from academe and industry to develop a course designed to teach, improve, and assess advanced communication skills in Ph.D. trainees. This course, called Communicating Science, will provide advanced methods of instruction and improvisation to our trainees, and will be the cornerstone for developing a more extensive program for communicating science.

Communication skills are essential because people have more confidence in, and are more apt to be influenced by, those who exemplify such competencies. These same skills are also vital for effective interpersonal collaboration in professional and social environments. Good communicators inspire people to take action, and they provide role models that reinforce desired behaviors. Regardless of who among a professional team gathers and provides information to other team members about proposed plans, the direction and implementation of such plans require effective listening, clear presentation, and well-developed communication skills. Likewise, team members are more likely to be motivated to act on directions from leaders who exhibit effective communication skills.

Our Ph.D. students acquire their abilities to perform cutting edge research from talented and experienced faculty mentors, and they spend large amounts of time learning and honing their research skills to become outstanding scientists. In a perfect world, we expect our graduates also to be able to speak and write about their research accurately and clearly to their colleagues in science, as well as non-scientific audiences. Unfortunately, the amount of time spent learning and practicing how to communicate their research pales in comparison to time spent learning how to perform and conduct it. According to results of a study by the Pew Research Center, a national sample of adults chose communication as the most important skill for children to have in order to get ahead in the today's world (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/02/19/skills-for-success/). In a recent on-line article for Forbes Magazine Technology, author Greg Satell maintains that communication is the most important of all life skills, yet ``schools don't teach communication, and give very little guidance on how to express ideas clearly.'' (http://www.forbes.com/sites/gregsatell/2015/02/06/why-communication-is-todays-most-important-skill/#c6caabd36388)

The course we are creating will enhance the career readiness of our graduating Ph.D. trainees. Numerous employer surveys reveal that communication skills are among those most desired in potential employees across a wide range of occupations. (http://burning-glass.com/wp-content/uploads/Human_Factor_Baseline_Skills_FINAL.pdf) Regardless of the profession our graduates choose, good communication skills are essential, and while the ability to communicate well doesn't guarantee success, it makes it considerably more attainable. We will provide training in methods for communicating science, as well as ample opportunity to practice these newly learned skills in real life scenarios. Such training will better prepare our doctoral graduates to be highly competitive for the academic and private sector jobs they seek. Developing skills in these critical areas will better prepare our students to interact with their scientific colleagues and the public. It will also provide the necessary tools and confidence to explain the significance and value of their research more clearly and effectively, and help them achieve greater success in their professional careers.

Nicholas M. Ponzio, Ph.D.
Professor and Master Educator
Rutgers University
New Jersey Medical School
Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences
Newark, NJ 07101

River Publishers: International Journal of Translational Science<sup><font color=#f91b02>Journal discontinued 2017</font></sup>