Communicating Neuroscience Research

In the rest of my time in college, in graduate school, in work, and beyond, I will always need to be able to present my research to others. This may take the form of poster presentations, papers for school, interviews, conferences, and publishing. Whether talking to researchers in other fields or friends and family, it is important to effectively communicate your work. All the hours that you spend designing, carrying out, and refining a research project will be undercut if you cannot explain it properly.

When talking to people unfamiliar with your work, we’ve learned to simplify and explain things in understandable terms. To prevent people from tuning you out after the first sentence, try to limit jargon and unnecessary details, use metaphors if applicable, and make sure to give appropriate background information. For example, I could describe my project as such: “I am investigating the effects of unilateral naris occlusion and odor enrichment on the survival of immature olfactory sensory neurons in the mouse olfactory epithelium. I extract epithelia following seven days of treatment and analyze the expression of neuronal markers for mature, immature, and birth-dated olfactory sensory neurons using immunohistochemistry.” Some people would understand this, but a better way to go about saying the same thing could be: “In the nose, olfactory sensory neurons responsible for smell are constantly generated. I am testing the effects of activity on the survival of these newborn neurons.” Some details have been swapped for others, and I think this version is more likely to spark curiosity in the average person.

Equally important to someone understanding you is them actually caring about it. Every research project is being done for a reason. We have learned to emphasize the significance of our work and the place it has in larger contexts because very rarely does health science research boil down to knowledge for knowledge’s sake alone. A gap in medical knowledge, when filled, could have implications for treatments, preventative measures, etc. To add on to my short project description, I could say, “Understanding this rare, naturally-occurring regeneration in the nervous system is important to developing treatments for neurodegenerative diseases.”

Finally, we have thought about the need for succinctness in this communication. Whoever we may be talking to does not have all day to listen to long rants about protocol. The principles of succinct, understandable content which conveys the significance of your work are not just for when you get caught in the elevator with a potential funder. Written material, like a translational abstract, is useful for the media, sharing online, and grabbing the attention of someone reading a journal.

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