Grant Award from the NSF!

Posted on Jul 13, 2017

An NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) grant was just funded! The team (Shannon Willoughby (Principal Investigator), Chris Organ (Co-Principal Investigator), Jennifer Green (Co-Principal Investigator), and Brock LaMeres (Co-Principal Investigator) will help graduate students present and discuss their science and research. Here’s the abstract:

NRT-IGE: Fostering Effective Oral Communication Skills for STEM Graduate Students

Graduate education in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) rigorously prepares students to innovate in their fields, yet it often does not include formal training in how to effectively communicate those innovations to others. To ensure we live in a just and vibrant society, it is vital that scientists are able to share their research findings with scientists in other fields, non-science experts, and the public. Using knowledge from the performing arts, this project will implement a novel pilot training program to teach oral communication to STEM graduate students, facilitating a deeper understanding of communication and providing practice in public speaking, improvisational techniques, and reading body language. This National Science Foundation Research Traineeship award in the Innovations in Graduate Education (IGE) track to Montana State University-Bozeman will modernize STEM graduate education by pinpointing aspects of oral communication training that positively impact students’ abilities to communicate orally to a wide variety of audiences, and increase the public’s understanding of and engagement with science. Three recruited cohorts of eight STEM graduate students will practice and refine their oral communication skills by creating podcasts and speaking at community events in which they explain their research to the public. The team working on this project includes domain experts in physics, biology, mathematics, and engineering, as well as experts in public speaking, acting, education research, and library sciences. This broad expertise will ensure that disciplinarily diverse STEM students are recruited into the program, providing interdisciplinary perspectives and instruction and facilitating the success of this pilot graduate training program.

This research will investigate whether targeted intervention in oral communication skills for STEM graduate students improves their ability to effectively convey their research to a broad audience. The project will use formative, summative, and longitudinal assessments to determine how various portions of the intervention are successful in developing students’ oral communication skills in the following realms: avoiding the use of jargon, public speaking skills, and non-verbal delivery skills. Assessment data for year-long longitudinal studies of each cohort will include survey data related to three areas of oral communication, self-reports from students, and interviews with students and their mentors. To assess competencies such as reducing jargon for communicating with the public, this project will create, modify and use rubrics for effective public speaking. Pre- and post-intervention data will be compared among students and cohorts to determine the effects of each aspect of the training. Results and successes will be shared nationwide with other STEM experts at domain-specific conferences as well as at American Association for the Advancement of Sciences National Conferences.

The NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) Program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new, potentially transformative models for STEM graduate education training. The Innovations in Graduate Education Track is dedicated solely to piloting, testing, and evaluating novel, innovative, and potentially transformative approaches to graduate education.