CID Summer 2005 Convening: Developing Researchers and Scholars

Topic 3: Sharing findings and communicating results

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Summary Description

The doctoral training program of the Center for Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh (CNUP) is designed to develop research-focused and scholarly neuroscientists. We acknowledge that research is not complete until it is communicated, that research funding cannot be obtained without effectively communicating ones' ideas, and that scientists often need to serve as educators in the classroom and in the community. Therefore, our training program strives to train students in scientific communication, both oral and written. We have incorporated into our training program a variety of mechanisms for students to further develop their oral and written communication skills, and we seek to add more opportunities for students to practice oral presentation of their research. However, the role of the mentor in training students is essential, and therefore we must also explore ways to insure that our training faculty can effectively train students in this dimension.

Tools and Resources

Oral Communication

Our program is designed to have several elements in place to help students become comfortable and adept at presenting and critically evaluating research findings. The training includes:

  • One-on-one mentoring
  • Conferences during the 1st year core courses
  • Mandatory journal club for the first 3 years
  • Additional speciality journal clubs
  • Opportunities for senior students to give research presentations outside of committee meetings is an area we hope to expand. We do not give formal training regarding poster presentations or research presentations, but instead rely on the strong one-on-one interactions between students and their mentors.

    While we do not give training on presentation contact or style, we encourage our students to take advantage of the Survival Skills and Ethics Program which is run at the University of Pittsburgh (see link for more details). Also, almost every scientific organization has useful guidelines for preparing effective presentations (for example see SfN Presentation Tips).

    Throughout their graduate career most students will present their research findings at:

  • Annual CNUP retreat poster session
  • Large annual conferences, such as the Society for Neuroscience Meeting
  • Smaller annual conferences (i.e. Gordon Conference, Winter Brain, etc.)
  • Journal Club Guidelines
    An excerpt from our student guidelines detailing the requirements of journal club.

    An image of the poster session floor during the 2004 annual SfN conference in San Diego, CA (over 31,000  attendees)
    An image of the poster session floor during the 2004 annual SfN conference in San Diego, CA (over 31,000 attendees)

    Goals for Students

    We believe that training in research is the most critical component of graduate education. However, outstanding research is lost without effective communication. Thus our program strives to train our students to develop a general professional competence in oral and written expression. This aim is explicitly stated in the objectives of our graduate program.

    Upon completion of their degree, students should be comfortable in sharing their research findings in a variety of settings and formats, including:

  • Publications in peer reviewed journals
  • Poster sessions
  • Research seminars to focused or diverse audiences

  • Tools and Resources

    Written Communication

    Despite the importance of clear and concise writing, little formal training is ever given regarding this topic. No classes are solely devoted to teaching students how to write. Instead, students gain most of their guidance and feedback regarding writing style directly from their mentor. As with oral communication some formal training is available through the Survival Skills and Ethics program, which hosts a series of Saturday workshops at the University of Pittsburgh.

    Like most things, writing is something that becomes better with practice. Throughout their graduate career students will have many opportunities to write, which include:

  • Writing and submitting manuscripts
  • Various assessments, including annual review reports
  • Applying for funding (such as NRSA applications)
  • Assisting their mentor with grant writing, requested reviews, and book chapters

  • Survival Skills and Ethics Program
    A training program at the University of Pittsburgh aimed at assisting professionals in the development of the skills needed for success in research such as "Writing Research Articles" and "Making Oral Presentations".

    Unanswered Questions

    We have identified several key topics that we will be discussing in the near future:

  • How do we create opportunities for students to present their own research findings without eating into their lab time?
  • How do we provide useful feedback for a student on their presentation skills?
  • Should we teach students how to write, or does our model in which most instruction regarding writing and presentations comes directly from the mentor work well?
  • Are we providing students with vastly different levels of training because we rely so heavily on one-on-one interactions between the student and the mentor?

  • How Do We Know?

    Several formal assessments by faculty committees occur at various stages in a student's graduate training. These assessments include both an oral and written component:

  • 1st year "Reprint Exam" (Presentation of primary literature)
  • 2nd year Research Report (Presentation of their own data)
  • Cumulative, or Qualifying, Exam (Practice grant application)
  • Ph.D. Thesis
  • During the first 3 years every student does participate in a program-wide journal club in which they present once a semester. Following their presentation they receive two forms of feedback:

  • Anonymous feedback from their fellow students
  • Discussions with two faculty members who attend the presentation
  • Outside of our program every student should gain feedback through:

  • Publishing peer-reviewed articles
  • Presentations at scientific meetings (both slide and poster)

  • Contact Information

    Convening Participants:

    Alan Sved (

    Richard Clarke (

    Useful Links:

    University of Pittsburgh

    Center for Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh (CNUP)

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