Communicating Our Science: URI’s Graduate Certificate in Science Writing and Rhetoric

A student experience shared by Felicia Woods, GWC Tutor 

URI has a new Certificate in Science Writing and Rhetoric, and it is a game changer for anyone in a STEM field.

As a part of the second cohort of the SciWrite pilot program at URI, I am one of the students who tested the structure (classes, internship, etc.) of the proposed certificate program prior to its approval by the university. So, as someone who has gone through the hoops, so to speak, I would like to spread the word because I wholeheartedly believe that the skills gained through the program will be invaluable to anyone planning to apply to a competitive STEM job (i.e. everyone in STEM).

Training for the Certificate in Science Writing and Rhetoric has been designed to give us the tools we need to improve our science communication skills. Strong communication is instrumental to the success of all scientists but is usually only developed through extensive experience or targeted training, training that has been lacking or non-existent at universities for far too long. The certificate program trains us to successfully communicate complex information to scientific and non-scientific audiences, inside and outside of our disciplines.

A driving question we often neglect when proposing research topics, or communicating our results, is why our audiences should care about what we are doing. Using rhetoric, the art of persuasive communication, we can target that information to either communicate these points or persuade them to care. Through the certificate program, we learn to focus on understanding the importance of knowing our audiences, framing our messages to reach those audiences, and telling a story with the information we are sharing.

It can be intimidating talking to public audiences about our research, but it has become a critical part of our work.  This is the main reason I chose to participate in the SciWrite pilot program. If you’ve given a presentation, you probably know the sinking feeling or the ice-cold panic that washes over you when you look into the audience and only see blank stares. Those looks aren’t because they have failed to pay attention to the information; it’s because information has not been communicated well!

The training also helps us build confidence as science communicators, something I have personally struggled with, and inspires us to be more creative. My research focuses on conservation, which requires constant communication with collaborators and program volunteers. Not only has the SciWrite program (and resulting certificate) improved my written communication skills, but it has also improved my ability to communicate using multimedia, which really helps liven up those presentations.

I haven’t met a scientist who isn’t passionate about what they do, and it is exhilarating when we see that flame ignite in the eyes of the people we are talking to. Science communication is more than just talking to people about our research; it is persuading them to care about it or trust the information we are giving them. The Certificate in Science Writing and Rhetoric is designed to target the powerhouse of skills we need to do this.

For more information on the Certificate in Science Writing and Rhetoric and how to apply, click here and here!