Critical Communication Skills for PhD Trainees

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences has provided funding to the Genetics Regulation and Training Grant to develop a pilot course for 3rd year trainees, focusing on the various forms of oral communication that you encounter –and must master– during your scientific training. The course is broadly organized into ‘scholarly’ and ‘interpersonal’ communications, and will be presented by a team of faculty members and career development professionals from myCHOICE and UChicagoGRAD.

Attendance at all sessions is required. Communication about the course with your academic mentor is suggested, due to the weekly course meetings throughout the Spring Quarter. This is an exceptional opportunity to learn best practices in oral communication from some of our community’s most respected communicators. All sessions will be accompanied by either lunch or dinner.

Course capacity: 16*
*This course is only available to 3rd year graduate students on a strictly first-come, first-served basis

Dates & Times

Baseline taping session
April 1st, Noon – 1:30 pm
Bring a 3-minute, 3-slide talk on your own research. Be prepared and ready for taping.

Structuring Your Talk
Monday April 8th, Noon – 1:30 pm
Instructors: Lucia Rothman-Denes and Allan Drummond
We will discuss how to build an effective short scientific talk, including basic principles (such as focusing on your audience, defining your question, telling a story) and tactical considerations (such as how to balance background with results).

Making Yourself Understood
Monday April 15th, Noon – 1:30 pm
Instructor: Ben Glick
By applying a few simple principles, you can communicate ideas effectively even if the audience is unfamiliar with your topic. The discussion will explore some of these principles in the context of oral presentations and scientific writing.

Navigating Conversations with Peers
Tuesday April 23rd, Noon – 1:30 pm
Instructors: Briana Konnick and Abby Stayart
From managing the FPLC calendar to dealing with the person who (frequently) leaves reagents open in the weigh room, there are plenty of opportunities to practice conflict management in your day-to-day life. This session will provide some strategies for how to navigate and de-escalate those interpersonal hot buttons and approach difficult conversations related to rigor and reproducibility.

Don’t Lose Your Audience: Slide Design and Content
Monday April 29th, Noon – 1:30 pm
Instructors: Phoebe Rice and Tobin Sosnick
Preparing slides for an oral presentation is a surprisingly different art from preparing figures for a manuscript. We will discuss strategies for keeping the audience engaged and interested, and what does and doesn’t “work” on a slide.

Principles and Pitfalls in Poster Design & Presentation
Tuesday May 7th, Noon – 1:30 pm
Instructor: Joe Piccirilli & Briana Konnick
Your poster is an advertisement of your hard work and presenting it is one of the best ways to network in the academic community. We will discuss basic principles of poster design, suggest a few ways to keep it simple, and identify common mistakes that drive everyone crazy.

Finding Your Stride in Front of an Audience
Tuesday May 14th, Noon – 1:30 pm
Instructors: Briana Konnick and Abby Stayart
Grad school is characterized by talking in front of groups, many of whom hold seniority and the ability to derail your content. Be it lab meeting, work-in-progress talks, journal club, your annual thesis committee meeting, poster presentations, or at a national conference, there are a few simple tricks that we’ll share to help you prepare for the event, stay on-message, and close strongly.

Navigating Conversations with Mentors
Tuesday May 21st, Noon – 1:30 pm
Instructors: Briana Konnick and Abby Stayart
From discussing the latest hiccup of your experiment, broaching the topic of career aspirations, or getting buy-in to do an internship, there are a variety of instances during your academic experience where you may have challenging conversations with faculty mentors. This session will provide effective strategies, and a framework for how to navigate these conversations.

Practicing Peer Critique
Wednesday May 29th & Thursday May 30th, 5:30 – 7:30 pm (8 people assigned to each section)
Instructor: Chip Ferguson
The session will incorporate the previous instructions in scientific communication with real-time feedback from peers. Each student will present their three-minute talk, followed by peer critique. By both giving and receiving comments on presentations spanning a variety of biological disciplines, students will learn how to concisely communicate their research to a general audience.

Final Taping Session
Monday June 3rd, Noon – 1:30 pm
Coordinator: Abby Stayart
The whole quarter has prepared you for this moment. Come with your revised 3-minute, 3-slide presentation.

Communications Moving Forward
Tuesday June 11th, Noon – 1 pm
Instructors: Lucia Rothman-Denes, Briana Konnick, Abby Stayart
In this wrap-up session we will open the floor to your feedback on the course and recommendations for moving forward.

Course Instructors

Allan Drummond, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Edwin ‘Chip’ Ferguson, PhD, Professor, Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology
Ben Glick, PhD, Professor, Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology
Briana Konnick, PhD, Associate Director of Graduate Career Development, UChicagoGRAD
Joe Piccirilli, PhD, Professor, Department of Chemistry
*Lucia Rothman-Denes, PhD, Professor, Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology
Phoebe Rice, PhD, Professor, Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics
Tobin Sosnick, PhD, Chair, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
*Abby Stayart, PhD, myCHOICE Program Director

*Course Leader

Please contact Abby Stayart with any questions regarding enrollment in this course.

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