Recently, communication has become something of a buzzword in academic circles. And rightly so. As researchers, it’s important that we are able to communicate our work effectively to the general public. But we also need to communicate competently with each other, if we’re going to make any progress.
As I recently learned on The Postgraduate Leadership Programme (PGLP), an exact definition of communication isn’t easy to pin down. It extends beyond simply telling people about research: it’s the conversations that we have, the emails we send, the body language we use and a whole host of other things that we rarely think about. It comes in many forms: from that important email you forgot about, to the dreaded ‘Cleaning in Progress’ cone blocking the bathroom door (after three coffees and a 40 minute commute). It’s not always a conscious process but it is an important one.
As someone who works with lasers, chemicals and power tools on a routine basis, I still consider email to be one of the most dangerous tools in my arsenal: in just a few short sentences, an email can ruin working relationships for ever. However, I recently learned about the Meta Model, which helps us interpret the language people use by defining specific patterns. Listening out for these patterns allows us to develop a better understanding of the message being conveyed, which also lets us ask refined questions and communicate more effectively. I’ll never send another email without using it.
I learned about this model on the PGLP but, if you want to hone your own skills, there are lots of opportunities to work on communication through the Researcher Development Programmes offered by the UofG. First off, I would have a look at PG Essentials: Strategies for a Successful Start to Your PhD. This online course covers everything from getting organised to understanding the roles and responsibilities of you and your supervisor. The latter part being essential for effective two way communication.
Further to that, the following courses and workshops are ones that I have personally attended and found useful for advancing some aspect of my communication. I’d recommend signing up for them all.
- Presenting with Impact covers a wide range of methods for getting your message across vocally and – importantly – it’s fun.
- The Introduction to Public Engagement workshop covers a variety of techniques for public conversations about science. It asks questions like: who is your audience? what do you have to say? why do they care about it? And a whole lot more. Answering these questions allows you to tailor your communication strategy effectively.
- Not only is the Myers Briggs (Personality) Type Indicator Workshop a mouthful to say, it’s also a great way to learn about how other people prefer to communicate: everyone is different and understanding these differences helps make communication easier across personality boundaries.
- Finally, The Postgraduate Leadership Programme is a four day course that I’m currently halfway through. The focus is on making the participants better leaders but a large part of the process is dedicated to improving communication techniques.
The colleges of Arts, MVLS, Science and Engineering, and Social Sciences all have slightly different training opportunities so, if you want to become a more competent communicator, it’s best to browse through the catalogue that applies to you.
Have you been on a course that you found useful for developing your communication? Let us know in the comments or over on Twitter.