Incorporating Communication Skills into Science Curriculum

For many scientists, answering the question “What do you do?” can be difficult. Not that they don’t know the answer, but because most academic science programs don’t do much in the way of science communication training. National and global surveys have shown that employers of recent graduate value communication skills more than discipline-specific knowledge. Furthermore, when students consider language and subject matter in parallel, an exchange occurs between the two cognitive spaces so that science is clarified through language and language stimulates reflection on scientific content.

Therefore, I designed, implemented, and evaluated a science-writing curriculum that can be easily absorbed into established science classes. In-class instruction is limited to <15 minutes per week. Each unit scaffolds the teaching of one or more skills essential to effective communication and is approached with multiple learning strategies: group discussion, individual reading, and regular practice. The units provide students with a conceptual, rather than context-specific, skill set that they can apply in a wide variety of contexts, including professional and casual communication within and across scientific disciplines.

Evaluation results indicate that this curriculum does improve student writing skills when compared to a control group. The curriculum was found to be most effective for students earlier in the career program, illustrating the importance of introducing this training early in an academic program.

Access the teaching materials: Science-Writing Syllabus

Access the preprint: McLachlan, R.L. Constructively Aligning Writing Skills with Scientific Content in University-Level Curricula.

Can we empower science students with communication skills by eliminating the barriers of time and expertise? – Project Campaign on