Research is only important insofar as it can be shared. A novel discovery or finding that cannot be communicated effectively will not make much of a difference in the world. This is why it’s important that researchers in any field learn to be good communicators as well. Especially as people advance in their field, it can be easy to fall into using complex terminology from that field, which may be beyond common knowledge and confusing to more diverse audiences. Recognizing the knowledge level of your audience is one of the most important elements in sharing research effectively. If someone knows nothing about your field, it can be helpful to start with some basic vocabulary and concepts to set the stage for what you’re about to share. In my previous research position, I was responsible for explaining clinical studies for patients in order to obtain informed consent from them to participate. At the interview for this job, I was asked to explain the concept of atoms to a 7 year-old. I remember them explaining that this was similar to the way I’d have to break down these complex studies to our patients, so that they’d have clear information when deciding whether to participate or not. This is similar to the concept of sharing research. If you can imagine explaining your project to a child or younger teenager, you should be in better shape to simplify your project in a way that makes it more approachable and understandable to the general public. Another strategy is to practice over and over. For me, it helps to rehearse my research “pitch” or presentation many times in order to lay out what I’m planning to say.
Thinking about my future goal to become a physician, the main “audience” I’d need to interact with outside my field would be my patients. Good communication with patients, including explaining complicated medical topics in a simpler way, is one of the main tenets of medicine. After going to school for many years, doctors have to turn around and be able to explain all that knowledge in a way that makes sense for the average person. Another group outside my field would be colleagues in the field of healthcare. After shadowing at the hospital, I’ve seen how an individual doctor must share information with doctors in other specialties as well as other professionals like nurses, EMTs, therapists, and more. As a future physician, I value this opportunity to work on my communication skills in an interdisciplinary manner, as I know it will serve me well in the future.