Imagine that you are a good researcher who just got his PhD and made some highly cited publications. You tell yourself “Okay, I am very ready to get a tenure track position in a reputable university”. You apply for such a position and eventually you get the position. Preparing for the semester, you make brochures for the course you will teach, the class is full and many students still want to register the course, every thing seems to be perfect till now. However, after two lectures, the number of students who attend decreases and by the course drop deadline, you find only one fourth of students who registered the course will continue it.
A nightmare scenario for a new professor. What’s happened I believe I can understand multiples of the information I give in class. I avoided tough topics, why students left my class?! A lot of questions hit your mind, but let conclude all these in just one question:
Is a good researcher a good teacher ?
The answer is not always true. One of the pioneer in noticing this was Alan Alda an actor, director and writer, and a six-time Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award winner. He has had a lifelong interest in science. In 1990, he began his TV program “Scientific American Frontiers“. The program continued until 2005 and mainly focused on informing the public about new technologies and discoveries in science and medicine. After interviewing hundreds of scientists, Mr. Alda became convinced that many researchers have wonderful stories to tell, but some need help in telling them.
This gave the idea to Mr. Alda to establish Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. The center aims to enhance understanding of science by helping train the next generation of scientists and health professionals to communicate more effectively with the public, the media, and others outside their own discipline. The message of Mr. Alda can be concluded in making a good communication with your audience, rehearse on the best way to deliver the same piece of information to different audience. For example, old people, young children, people very far from your field. By doing this, you ensure that you get the simplest way of illustrating something. There is a well known quote that says “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
Other advice from Mr. Alda is to be always able to improvise. This comes by a lot of training and practicing. It is not good to memorize every word you will say in your lecture in advance, but you need to arrange your thoughts in a way that makes you cover everything in a timely and effective manner while ensuring that your audience are understanding what you say.
I think this specific way of science communication should be used by professors/ teachers in their classrooms. It is not hard but only requires training and preparation.