As I begin my second month as a Brackenridge Fellow, I am amazed when I think about how much I have learned in such a short time span. Aspects of my research that initially gave me so much trouble are now second nature. I am becoming independent and I am able to make more significant contributions to the research I am doing in collaboration with my mentors Dr. Melissa Libertus and Shirley Duong.
However, what has become straightforward for me is not common knowledge for most people who are interested in my project. I have to remind myself that the more esoteric aspects of my research that now come so easily to me are completely foreign to others. Therefore, I must make sure that when I describe my research to others, I put it in terms that will not only make sense to them, but will also resonate with aspects of their own lives so they can appreciate the various practical applications
There are various strategies that can be utilized to explain the importance of a research project to an unfamiliar general audience. You can use an analogy, metaphor, personal anecdote, mental visualization, or describe the potential next steps that could come to fruition as a result of your research. Regardless of which path I choose to use, for my audience to invest in me as a researcher, they need to become invested in my research focus.
Unlike some of my Brackenridge cohorts whose research is focused on the hard sciences, my research setting is more familiar to a general audience and therefore easier to comprehend: a home environment where a parent interacts with a child in a naturalistic, unstructured manner while working on a home learning activity, such as a completing a puzzle, playing grocery, or reading a book. I believe that asking my audience to imagine this scenario in their minds will be an effective way for them to understand what I am studying. I can ask them to assume the role of the child and describe how during this interaction, the parent may praise them for their inherent positive qualities or abilities (e.g. “you’re so smart”) or for their efforts, actions, or strategies (e.g. “you tried really hard”). I can then tell my audience members to imagine how malleable they believe their abilities to be, what their primary motivation would be for completing the task, and how they might respond in the face of adversity. By asking my audience to put themselves in the shoes of the child, they can understand how praise impacts mindset as well as what it feels like to have the two different mindsets. Thus, when I go on to explain the link between mindset and academic abilities, they will have a better understanding of how one’s mindset has a substantial impact on whether you can fulfill your potential in various areas of life.
Once I explain the research problem that I am aiming to solve and how I plan to do that, I can propose various ways in which the results of my research can be implemented for the benefit of society as a whole. If my audience is comprised of Pitt faculty and students, I could refer to the June 2017 Pitt Student Success Projects Report, in which one of the proposed projects outlined the potential incorporation of a growth mindset intervention that could improve undergraduate academic success. I could then explain how my research can support Pitt in their proposed endeavor by examining how to encourage a growth mindset in the next generation of college students long before they enroll for college. I could also discuss how my research has the potential to inform public policy interventions that can be implemented in the preschool or community settings aimed at increasing beneficial parent-child interactions to stimulate a growth mindset and subsequently improve academic outcomes in the next generation of children before they enter formal schooling.
Being able to communicate your work is a skill that I will carry with me for the rest of my undergraduate career, into graduate school, and ultimately into the workforce. As an aspiring pediatric dentist, I will need to have strong written and verbal communication skills in order to fulfill my job requirements. I will need to describe my diagnoses and treatment plans to my patients, as well as pitch my services to potential patients. I have to assume that the families who come through my door have no background in dentistry, so when I communicate with them, I will have to use some of the same tactics I mentioned above to make sure that they understand what I am asking of them and why it is necessary in order to achieve the best patient outcomes possible.
The ability to make your work accessible to others outside of your discipline is so important, and I am grateful to the Honors College for allowing me to further hone my abilities in this area to become a better researcher and ultimately a better medical professional.