In science, it is easy to just say “I’m going to publish a paper with my results and move on to my next discovery”. However, a lot of the literature published is either hard to access either through selective access or availability to pay for access. Additionally, many people who are not formally trained in the specific field may not be able to understand the contents of the paper and might be better targeted through a presentation or a talk. Doing literature searches, I often find myself reading through a paper once, twice, four, even six times to fully understand just what the researchers did. An important point to this anecdote is that if people cannot easily understand the presentation of your research, it does not matter how good your project is. Good research needs to be well communicated for it to have meaning.
Some strategies that I personally like to employ are the PB and Q’s (not to be mistaken for a PB and J sandwich): Pictures, Breakdown, Questions.
The first strategy is pictures: include a lot of them. Often the reason it’s so hard to understand current literature is that without knowing how the procedures work, its difficult to discern what’s going on. Using as many pictures as you can to not only keep people’s attention, but to provide a different form of explanation for some people who might be visual learners is a strategy that I personally find helpful. The more pictures you have, the easier it will be for others to stay focused and comprehend what your research is about.
The second strategy is Breakdown: the key to this is understanding how much jargon you use and understanding that other people have not spent as much time on this research as you have. I like to imagine describing research to a general audience parallels explaining to a toddler how to put legos together. If you first tell them to pick up the legos without first explaining to them what legos are, or what the end picture is going to look like, then the rest of the presentation is lost. This is where it is crucial to initially describe any jargon, background knowledge, or purposes that are needed as steppingstones to understanding your research. I like to air on the side of breaking things down too much rather than too little. Additionally, if there is an easy way to go avoid using jargon, then do so.
The last strategy is questions. If you are in a setting that facilitates face to face interaction and personal conversation, it’s helpful to stop at points during your explanation to ask if anyone has any questions. I personally find that engaging with people and having a discussion gets me more interested than a monologue with a space for questions at the end. Additionally, if you can run your explanation by some friends or colleagues, see what questions tend to pop up and edit your presentation. Are there certain parts that need more clarification? Does everything make sense? Can people extract the bigger picture and meaning behind your research and why it is important? If anything is unclear its best to take these questions into consideration.
Looking at my current professional goals, going to grad school and eventually working for a research and development team for pharmaceutical companies, it is critical that I can communicate my research not only to other scientists outside my field, but to the general public as well. In grad school, the biggest implication of my ability to communicate will be exemplified in funding. I need to be able to communicate with NIH or other sources of funding and tell them why my research deserves monetary support. Competitive grants need to have a good reason to give you money, so being able to explain what I plan on doing in simple terms is key. Looking at my further professional goals, working for pharmaceutical companies requires an ability to communicate with the FDA and ethical boards for clearance, with businesspeople in the company to cooperate with its marketing side, and to the public to discuss what your discoveries can do. It is evident that communication is essential to any type of research, and I am grateful to be working in the Brackenridge program to specifically develop this skill in order to better prepare me for my future.