Let’s Talk About Research- Effectively

Sharing your research can feel difficult for a myriad of reasons such as fear of miscommunication, worry over your audience understanding your project and finding it interesting, imposter syndrome, and putting your hard work into a position to be critiqued. Learning some strategies to effectively communicate my research has made the task of sharing it with others feel significantly less daunting.

When talking or writing about my research in general, I like to ask myself a few main questions, and then use the answers to more effectively portray my research. The first is “who is my audience?” Unless discussing your research with someone well-versed in your field, it is smart to keep your language nontechnical and clear. This means avoiding jargon, acronyms, and statistics. This is especially important in my field of astronomy and physics because astronomers love acronyms, and physics is full of jargon. For my research, this means changing a sentence like “Type Ia Supernovae can be used as standard candles” to something along the lines of “the subgroup of supernovae called Type Ia Supernovae can be used to measure distances in space.” I also aim to focus on the conclusions and applications of my research that will be most interesting to the audience. For example, if I were writing about my research in hopes of securing a grant or scholarship, I would want to emphasize what makes my research worth money and what it adds to academia. On the other hand, if I were speaking to a general audience interested in my research, like at a conference or talk, I would focus on maintaining interest and understanding. In both cases and most others, this means clearly stating my project’s goals and conclusions. 

This leads to another main question I like to ask myself, which is “what does my project encompass?” In other words, what questions do I want to ask and answer, what goals do I have, and what do I hope to add to your field? The most effective way to do this when talking about research is to make short and pointed statements such as “I plan to explore…”, “I want to understand…”, or “I want to answer the question…” A declarative sentence I might use when discussing my own research could be “I want to better understand the nature and cause of variation in Type Ia Supernovae.”

The final question that I find especially helpful to ask myself is “what initially piqued my own interest in this field and what did I find confusing when I began my research?” Reminding yourself of what pulled you toward the research you are doing in the beginning is a good way to determine what about your project will hook your audience and keep them engaged. It is also helpful to remember what concepts or terms you were confused by when first entering your field, so you can steer clear of them or define them as needed. 

There are many audiences I will interact with outside of my field that I will have to be prepared to discuss my research with in the future. I may have to talk naturally and casually with peers and connections about my research in academic settings such as the classroom, interdisciplinary groups, conferences, and other research groups. I may have to give presentations and talks about my research. I may need to discuss it further into my academic career when pursuing grants, scholarships, study abroad programs, internships, or graduate schools. I may have to discuss my research in a job interview. I am still unsure where my academic and professional path will take me, but I am certain about the fact that, wherever it does, I will need to be able to effectively communicate my research. Thanks to the Brackenridge Program, I have learned these strategies and feel much more comfortable in my abilities.

My research partner/friend Ella Kane and I preparing to give a No-Jargon Talk about our research at UCSC (which you can find here!)

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