Fostering Effective Oral Communication Skills for STEM Graduate Students

By Shannon Willoughby, PI

Graduate education in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) rigorously prepares students to innovate in their fields, yet it often does not include formal training in how to effectively communicate those innovations to others. To ensure we live in a just and vibrant society, it is vital that scientists are able to share their research findings with scientists in other fields, non-science experts, and the public. Using knowledge from the performing arts, this project will implement a novel pilot training program to teach oral communication to STEM graduate students, facilitating a deeper understanding of communication and providing practice in public speaking, improvisational techniques, and reading body language.

Montana State University-Bozeman modernized STEM graduate education by pinpointing aspects of oral communication training that positively impact students’ abilities to communicate orally to a wide variety of audiences, and increase the public’s understanding of and engagement with science. Three recruited cohorts of eight STEM graduate students practiced and refined their oral communication skills by creating podcasts and speaking at community events in which they explain their research to the public. The team who worked on this project included domain experts in physics, biology, mathematics, and engineering, as well as experts in public speaking, acting, education research, and library sciences. This broad expertise ensured that disciplinarily diverse STEM students were recruited into the program, provided interdisciplinary perspectives and instruction and facilitated the success of this pilot graduate training program.


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