Communicating your research: the complex language of science (Ebony Monson)

PAM HDR Student Society at their ICF funded ‘Showcase Symposium’

[Back row, L to R] Keaton Crosse, Troy Raglus, Ellyse Noy & Stephanie Lynch
[Front row, L to R] Jemma Gasperoni, Ella Johnston, Louise Pham, Jordyn Thomas & Ebony Monson

Not only is it important to ask questions and find the answers, as a scientist I felt obligated to communicate with the world what we were learning.” ― Stephen Hawking
As a PhD researcher, you’re often focused on a very niche research area with loads of technical jargon, complex ideas and concepts that can be difficult to communicate to researchers from different fields.

Why is it important to be able to communicate your research?

While your main focus as a graduate researcher might be to write your thesis, you need to be able to communicate effectively in writing and orally for a range of audiences (academic journals, media, industry and the community).

The idea of translating our academic interests into simpler, more engaging words can seem daunting, but it all helps share our work, widen the range of potential collaborations, and create new opportunities.

In research, the ability to succinctly convey your ideas to other researchers and to the public is one of the most important skills you can gain, yet the opportunities to build these skills are often scarce.

That’s why, at the end of 2017, a group of graduate researchers (including me) founded the Physiology, Anatomy and Microbiology (PAM) HDR Student Society with the aim of nurturing social relationships, promote networking and provide platforms to enhance educational experiences, and therefore promote positive outcomes for individuals within the department.

Since then, we have held professional development events as well as networking and social activities for the PhD researchers in the department, which has really helped shape our local intellectual climate.

When I heard about the Graduate Research School’s Intellectual Climate Fund (ICF), it seemed like a great opportunity to further build this momentum, particularly between graduate researchers and academic staff. Our committee got together and came up with the idea of organising a ‘Showcase Symposium’, where all of our department's PhD researchers would present their work to staff, students, collaborators and other interested parties within the research community.

This is an event we had been wanting to organise for some time, given our department is quite large in size and diverse in its scientific disciplines. We thought it would be the perfect opportunity to practice these skills of communicating our research to peers in a conference-style day. We hoped it would allow PhD researchers to gain fundamental skills, particularly in public speaking and networking in order to foster collaboration and peer support.

We planned the day as a series of 10-minute talks, 3-minute talks and scientific posters, as these are common presentation formats at the conferences we'd be attending. Students submitted abstracts to be considered for these talks and were chosen based on scientific merit. On the day, we ended up having 25 oral presentations and 34 poster presentations, which was fantastic!

Break time! Panoramic shot of the conference venue, the John Scott Meeting House Chamber, lined with posters, and participants buzzing after some great talks. Photo by Ella Johnston (on Twitter).
This environment allowed new PhD researchers, or those wanting to further develop their skills, to do so in a comfortable environment surrounded by supportive and understanding peers. This event helped graduate researchers build their confidence, which we hope will better prepare them for presenting at the larger, more confronting national and international conferences.

I was delighted to hear that the attendees of the symposium, both students and departmental staff, greatly enjoyed the day and felt that it achieved its intended aims.  Hopefully, we will have the opportunity to run this event every year to continue fostering an exemplary research culture within our department.

This symposium allowed me to reflect on the 'bigger picture' of my research and how I could gain interest from multiple disciplines. It would be naïve to assume that everyone is equally intrigued by your research. However, the skills we gain from being able to interest people outside our field are invaluable ones that will stand us in good stead in our careers.

These skills become especially important when communicating our research to a broader, non-academic audience (e.g. newspaper articles, TV shows and radio broadcasting). The majority of the general public, though potentially interested in our topics, will not understand the complex language of academia. Being able to simplify the 'bigger picture' and relay our research using lay terminology invites interest and collaboration not only from people within academia and research organisations, but also from those in the wider community.

If you are able to effectively communicate the key ideas of your research, they will be the keys that unlock endless opportunities.

If you would like to see more of the action from this event, check out the hashtag #PAMHDRSymp18 on Twitter.


Ebony Monson is a PhD student in the School of Life Sciences, La Trobe University. Her research focuses on looking for novel mechanisms that drive an immune response to viral infections, with the hope that teasing apart the complexity of an effective immune response will allow the creation of novel anti-viral treatments to combat in-curable viral infections.

When Ebony is not in the lab, she is busy helping organise different activities for the department as part of the Physiology, Anatomy and Microbiology (PAM) HDR student Society and La Trobe Microbiology Society. 

She is on Twitter at @ebony_monson, and her lab is @HelbigLab.