Richard G. Jones, Jr.
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Speaking and Communicating in Science and Math

Feb 28, 2013

Speaking in science and math usually focuses on using established methods and logic to find and report objective results. Science includes subjects such as biology, physics, and chemistry, and math includes subjects such as statistics, calculus, and math theory. You may not think that communication and public speaking are as central to these courses as they are in the humanities and social sciences—and you are right, at least in terms of public perception. The straightforwardness and objectivity of these fields make some people believe that skilled communication is unnecessary, since the process and results speak for themselves. This is not the case, however, as scientists are increasingly being expected to interact with various stakeholders, including funding sources, oversight agencies, and the public.

The ability to edit and discern what information is relevant for a presentation is very important in these fields. Scientists and mathematicians are often considered competent communicators when they are concise but cover the material in enough detail to be understood.[i]

Poster presentations are common methods of public communication in science and math and are an excellent example of when editing skills are valuable. Posters should be professional looking and visually appealing and concisely present how the information being presented conforms to expected scientific or logical methods. It is difficult, for example, to decide what details from each step of the scientific method should be included on the poster.

The same difficulties emerge in oral scientific research reports, which also require a speaker to distill complex information within a limited time frame. Research shows that common critiques by biology instructors of student presentations include going over the time limit and rambling.[ii]

Some presentations may focus more on results while others focus more on a method or procedure, so it’s important to know what the expectations for the presentation are. Scientists also engage in persuasive speaking. Scientists’ work is funded through a variety of sources, so knowing how to propose a research project using primary-source scientific data in a persuasive way is important.


[i] Deanna P. Dannels, “Time to Speak Up: A Theoretical Framework of Situated Pedagogy and Practice for Communication Across the Curriculum,” Communication Education 50, no. 2 (2001): 151.

[ii] Trudy Bayer, Karen Curto, and Charity Kriley, “Acquiring Expertise in Discipline-Specific Discourse: An Interdisciplinary Exercise in Learning to Speak Biology,” Across the Disciplines: A Journal of Language, Learning, and Academic Writing 2 (2005), accessed March 15, 2012, http://wac.colostate.edu/atd/articles/bayer_curto_kriley2005.cfm.