Outsourcing the Soft Skills?

I saw this news article on naturejobs.com the other day, about how young investigators are struggling with needing additional training in “soft skills,” beyond their years of training as scientists. With regard to communication skills:

Career counsellors say that young researchers must also be good communicators, able to explain their work to the taxpayers who often indirectly fund it. It is true that the importance of that work must be made clear; researchers should fight any perception that they are tinkerers using public money simply to satisfy inconsequential curiosities. Ideally, scientists should have public-relations skills and be able to articulate clearly and concisely to the media how their findings — however basic or fundamental — might one day make a difference to society. A little bit of salesmanship is not a bad idea.

The article goes on to suggest that researchers, rather than try to become the jack-of-all-trades or spend time training in these other areas at the expense of their research, work collaboratively with others who possess the skills that they lack.

It is clear that being able to do the science is not enough – researchers must be able to communicate their findings for it to have an impact. Certainly, researchers are facing an increasingly competitive funding and publications environment, and grant funding hinges not only on the development of a cohesive, well-developed, and compelling research plan, but the communication of that plan.

(And…this is the point where I shamelessly promote the value of a scientific editor.)

Bringing a scientific editor or editing service onto a research team can impact how data are perceived – by peers, funding agencies, future researchers, and the public. Beyond making sure that grammar, spelling, and punctuation are correct, a good science editor who understands the area of research can help you communicate the overarching research goals (especially useful for grant applications), identify the key “messages,” and ensure that the research plan or research story (ie, in a journal article) are cohesive and accessible to the intended audience.

If I sound like I work in advertising, I do. I have experience in medical education as well as healthcare advertising, which, surprisingly, has helped me become a better editor for academic researchers who need to communicate discrete and sometimes esoteric data  as part of their overall research effort.

To conclude, I would suggest that researchers might benefit from the services of a trained scientific editor, specifically one who understands the type of research that is being done, the methods, the background, and the literature. That way, the  scientists can focus on the scientific inquiry rather than spending time away from the bench, training in those pesky “soft skills” like science communication.

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