Scientific Computing Research Associate John Burkardt created a new course for the summer, entitled Scientific Communication. The course is designed to help students communicate their research in any medium, in any venue.
When did you begin to think about introducing a communication series for the students?
"The motivation for this class came from one of the graduate students, who said he needed a two-credit seminar course to complete his requirements. Then a friend of his said he would take the class, but suggested turning it into a writing class, so he would be motivated to finish a paper. With two students who seemed highly motivated to get something done over the summer, I agreed to set something up."
What did you hope to accomplish?
"I started out with the idea that each student who signed up for the course would be asked to write an article suitable for submission to a journal. I felt that students tend to concentrate on coursework, and may not realize the importance of being able to communicate their research work in a clear, sustained, formal document. Also, I thought students might not be familiar with the amount of work it takes to write an article, the expected structure of an article, and the process of trying to get something published. Finally, I thought that I could convince the students to work harder if I told them that they would write three drafts of their document, and that while I would read the first and third drafts, their second draft would be submitted to a pair of anonymous reviewers.
The goal of writing a document soon expanded; I decided I wanted to cover a range of issues that I began to describe as ‘Scientific Communication’. In particular, I wanted to include information on writing grants and proposals, on plagiarism, on writing an abstract, a resume or a curriculum vitae, a personal web page. Some of these topics naturally suggested covering the job market, the differences in academic, lab and industrial environments, and the interview process. As the list of appropriate topics firmed up, I realized that this course could be regarded as a first draft of the ‘Professional Preparation’ class that our departmental review board urged us to develop several years ago."
Who is involved? What campus resources are you using to inform the students and increase their skills?
"The FSU Career Center has supplied me with documents that I have used for my presentations, our most recent class was devoted to a presentation on interviews, conducted by Amanda Sargent of the Center, and our students will shortly have an exercise that requires them to write a resume and have it reviewed by the center. Professor Max Gunzburger spoke on the publication process, based on his experiences as an article writer and journal editor, and will speak again on grants. Professor Gordon Erlebacher, and Priya Pai of Datamaxx have volunteered to conduct mock interviews with the students. Our postdoctoral researcher Hans-Werner van Wyk spoke to the class about his own recent job search experience, including his strategies for going to conferences, conducting phone interviews, and dealing with an all-day on-campus interview. But I must also mention the participation of 18 anonymous reviewers, many outside the FSU community, who have agreed to review the second draft of a student paper and provide suggestions and criticisms, somewhat like the referees of a journal will do."
What are the remaining topics for the summer?
"We will look at the art of writing a resume for a specific job, the process of writing proposals and grants, we will have mock interviews, and then our final class will involve oral presentations by the students, as they turn in the third and final drafts of their papers."
What has been the feedback so far? How will you change the seminar/workshop in the future?
"I am pleased that attendance has been excellent, and that all the students have been working hard on documents that mean something to them. During lectures, I have been happy that the students are quite willing to participate, to ask questions, to argue with me and even correct me. On occasions when I thought the class topic merited it, I have announced it to the entire department, and have often had three or four people sit in on such days. In a future version of the class, I might try to find a way to have students present portions of their work-in-progress to the class."John Burkardt