Learning Through Research

Helping the Student Develop Presentation Skills

Diana_TallySince science or engineering not communicated is essentially science or engineering not done, communication is a critical aspect of the undergraduate research experience. Mentors can encourage students to develop excellent written and oral presentation skills by giving them opportunities to present their work not only to their peers within their disciplines, but also to colleagues in other fields, and to the public. These can be oral presentations, posters with ample time to discuss with colleagues, abstracts, reports, or longer papers. 

Having students give their "final presentations" a full week before the end of their summer research provides a couple of positive outcomes. First, they must organize their thoughts and data, and this step is very useful in both getting the students to think critically about their data and in ensuring the continuation of the project after they leave. Second, they often can develop and perform a meaningful set of experiments that they otherwise may not have considered without the data analysis involved in preparing the talk.

Working with students on their oral presentations also provides opportunity and incentive to teach the students to think about their data objectively without placing a value judgment on it. "The results of my experiment were difficult to interpret…" (rather than "I got horrible data") and "The approach I tried this summer shows that water cannot be used as a solvent for this reaction, even if it would result in less organic waste" (rather than "My project bombed"). This approach focuses the student on what they actually learned, rather than their perceived inability to do science. The effort will be a key in their development as professionals. 

The Council on Undergraduate Research will offer USRP students an opportunity to participate in the "Posters on the Hill" annual session held in Washington, DC each spring. Students who are chosen will have a chance to present a poster outlining their research to members of Congress and their staff members on Capitol Hill.

Students are required to submit a technical report at the conclusion of their projects. Program guidelines for the paper may be found in the section on NASA-USRP Requirements. Mentors can foster technical writing skills as they coach students in writing the final paper. Mentors might require students periodically to write summaries of the progress of their projects and use the progress reports as a tool to help students step back from the details of the work and evaluate progress toward the research goals. Also, a number of resources exist through the American Chemical Society or the American Physical Society for guiding students in preparing talks, papers, and posters.