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Does a Ph.D. program really prepare you to be a good scientist?

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Communication Skills Improvement

Postby John_Mastro » Tue Jan 25, 2005 1:33 pm

Keep in mind that communications training will be as varied as the individual graduate programs. There are hundreds of organizations running graduate programs,, and there are no standards beyond their guilt.
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Communication Skills Improvement

Postby John Fetzer » Tue Jan 25, 2005 10:59 pm

Unfortunately most programs have little or no training in communications, oral or written. There are even fewer that teach people skills. The vast majority think that requiring a student to give a seminar or two will force some sort of miraculous self-taught skill. Many research advisors are not much better in teaching speaking to students. They aim for a rehearsed talk for a conference in most cases.

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Communication Skills Improvement

Postby CHARLES NWAMBA » Wed Jan 26, 2005 9:26 am

Please, how do one communicate effectively with the inherence nature of shyness which is a sort of inborn in some of us. Moreover, the issue of been shy leads to stage fright for a while on stage. What are the skills needed to conquer this problem.
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Communication Skills Improvement

Postby Kevin Foley » Wed Jan 26, 2005 10:19 am

RE: "Please, how do one communicate effectively with the inherence nature of shyness which is a sort of inborn in some of us."

I was very shy and nervous (literally shaking in my boots, as they say!) when I first began public speaking in grad school. Eventually I got over it, and now you can?t shut me up!

In my case, the key was realizing that I really did know more about the subject I was talking about than anyone else in the room, even my thesis advisor. After all, it was my project and I?d spent years working on it and knew the literature inside and out. How could anyone possibly ask a question that I hadn?t already considered?

If you don?t know more than anyone else in the room, maybe you shouldn't be giving a talk, or at least not to such an audience. So make sure you know your stuff. If you are confident that you do, then there is absolutely no reason for being nervous.

Obviously, when you are just starting out in grad school, there is no way you can know more than your audience. So you need to work hard at getting to the point where you do.

There are lots of other approaches to overcoming shyness and becoming a good public speaker. But I find that just being confident in what you know is the most important thing.

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Communication Skills Improvement

Postby Carlysle Tancha » Wed Jan 26, 2005 10:21 am

John
You are right about the whole "rehearsed thing." In fact, this is what many PIs tell their students-- just keep going over it until you know it 'by heart.' To me, that is not communication. This kind of rote learning can lead to disaster, especially if the speaker is interrupted midway through the talk.

For overcoming shyness/stage fright...
The best thing is to get practice. The more experience you have speaking in front of people, the less frightening it becomes. In my case, I learned to speak in front of people as I read passages out of a book and made eye contact with them. Then, you can graduate to a place where the text is no longer in front of you and you are asked to speak on a subject (that you know about) in front of a group of people (that you don't know too well--the best would be a class like this), off the cuff. Then you can work these two experiences into a talk where you are comfortable speaking on practically anything, but you are focused with a particular subject (your research) in mind. But, experience in front of the mirror and rote sentence-memorizing does little for your goal of becoming a good speaker.
This kind of strategy (working with eye contact and speaking spontaneously on a topic) was also used by a friend of mine, whom came to the US not knowing the English language. He enrolled in acting classes and then eventually became a minister--being able to use his skills that he honed from acting and being able to deliver sermons in his native tongue, as well as in English.
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Communication Skills Improvement

Postby John Fetzer » Wed Jan 26, 2005 11:21 pm

Shyness, stage fright, and so on are natural, but manageable. It gets stronger from internal reenforcement. If you can talk to two or three peers, imagine doing that....but every so often two or three more quietly stop in to listen. Soon you are speaking the same to a large group of twenty or more. The speaking mechanics are the same, but your mindset changes for no valid reason when talking to many.

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Communication Skills Improvement

Postby Doug » Thu Jan 27, 2005 3:51 pm

Charles,
I concur with what's been said thus far, but add to it that at least once before you give a talk, PRACTICE it. Doing so will tell you where you may have problems with knowing what to say. I also make it a habit to essentially memorize verbatim the first three or four sentences to allow me to ease into a talk. Obviously, you don't want to memorize the whole thing, since it often shows in an unnatural speaking cadence. But, as said by others, being familiar with your topic/data is the most important thing.
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Communication Skills Improvement

Postby John Fetzer » Thu Jan 27, 2005 10:34 pm

In the longer term, another important thing is its length. The program chair will think of you favorably if you stick to the schedule. This might lead to an invited talk at another conference, for instance. Since most programs run later because most speakers do not do this you, will stand out.

Even better is to be able to excise a few bits of descriptive detail to shorten your talk to under its allotted time. If you tell a chair that you plan to do this in order to help get back on schedule and you actually do, then you have an ally for your career.

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Communication Skills Improvement

Postby TF » Fri Jan 28, 2005 9:47 am

Charles,

I can totally empathize with your situation. I am VERY shy in public. I hate being the center of attention, and would rather hear someone else talk before myself. BUT, in science spoken and written word is really the best avenue we have to convey ideas.

Now, I was extremely shy the first few oral presentations I gave. I would stutter, pause, and just get all mixed up half way through a sentence. I would have a sentence in my head but as I started ato actually say it, 8 other versions of this sentence would come into my head and they all sounded good at that particular moment. Then I decided to use small index card to help me out, well I ended up just reading from them. That was just as bad, as it sounded like I was narrating a badly written book!

I think what the others have said is spot on! You need experience. The more you talk in public the more comfortable you will become. Preparation for such talks will consist of basically memorizing your talk. Now as alluded to by another poster, this isn't the most eloquent way to give a presentation, but when you are first starting out, it is the best way to get your ideas out. This is what I did the first few decent presentations I gave. I rehearsed my presentation once or twice per day for a week before a given talk. I had every slide memorized and knew what I was going to say. Sure it sounded rehearsed, but you know what? Eveything I needed to say was said and there was very little stuttering or stoping mid sentence. I was like a tape deck in play mode!

This type of exercise will serve to likely make a presentation rather boring to the audience, BUT, it is excellent for you. As you give presentations, you will start to feel that the amount of rehearsal you need will go down exponentially, and eventually you will find yourself giving more off the cuff comments and explanations, and they will be clear, concise, and keep the audience interested!

Though I will say that the memorization thing isn't all bad for another reason. It actually saved my master's degree thesis defense! None of the figures I made actually displayed on the screen when I went to give my talk. Instead, since I memorized the talk so well, I actually drew out all the data figures from my memory, on the spot!

Good luck!
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Does a Ph.D. program really prepare you to be a good scientist?

Postby MS » Mon Jan 31, 2005 1:43 pm

In response to Sam. I think that you are wrong about the graduate students. The students who go to pursue a Ph.D. are not the scam of the earth; they are NOT worse that those that go to Law school, med school, vet school etc. In fact, grad students going for Ph.D. are usually trully interested in science, excited about doing the hands-on research, want to publish in journals and make a contribution to the world of science. They are NOT going ot grad-school of money, they are going for pure learning and discovery. Most of them want to help people (cure diseases etc) and also invent new methods. Ofcourse they are hoping ot make money in the future, but that is not the prime motivation originally. However, students who go to professional school, usually are motivated by money, they also want to be "sure" that their education makes them capable of getting Big Bucks! Also most of these students hate doing bench work, if they ever tried working in a lab, they hated it, and thus they go to med school. Also most every college student always has an option to apply to law school, why do you think there are so many lawyers in the US?
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