University of Technology Sydney

68109 Advanced Communication Skills in Science

Warning: The information on this page is indicative. The subject outline for a particular session, location and mode of offering is the authoritative source of all information about the subject for that offering. Required texts, recommended texts and references in particular are likely to change. Students will be provided with a subject outline once they enrol in the subject.

Subject handbook information prior to 2022 is available in the Archives.

UTS: Science
Credit points: 6 cp
Result type: Grade and marks

There are course requisites for this subject. See access conditions.

Description

Scientists of the 21st century must communicate effectively with other scientists and with members of the public. This requires them to consider the background of recipients so that the knowledge they are sharing with their target audience or readers is clearly understood. This includes an understanding of the different models of science communication. Acknowledging the potency of Indigenous Knowledge systems, different to the Western system of empirical, lab-based science, but equally valid and productive, is part of ensuring effective science communication.

Scientists work in teams and need to explain complex concepts to those who have different scientific backgrounds. Scientists also need to request funding for their programs, equipment or staff or promote their findings to the public via media interviews, generalist publications or blogs. To be effective in these activities, scientists need communication skills: to speak directly, concisely and informatively about their work to colleagues and supervisors, conference audiences or specialist panels or the general public; to write reports, memos, academic papers, reviews and online material to promote their workplace; to apply for jobs or promotion and to communicate within their workplace with their supervisors and work colleagues. All of these activities require effective written and oral communication skills.

This subject aims to provide postgraduate science students with integrated professional language skills in both written and oral communication and text-based research skills. Students are encouraged to take a critical and analytical approach to evaluating and producing written and spoken texts appropriate for different professional purposes. This subject focuses on critical reading skills; effective paraphrasing and summarising to avoid plagiarism; selecting and evaluating reliable information sources and their correct acknowledgement; developing a clear and convincing writing style to promulgate arguments; and presentation skills. Cover letters, resumes and interview skills are also addressed, given their importance to career development.

Subject learning objectives (SLOs)

Upon successful completion of this subject students should be able to:

1.. Use the different types of communication modes used by professional scientists and apply them appropriately in your own field.
2.. Practise a critical approach in your reading of scientific information and evaluate it for the presence of bias and lack of scientific evidence.
3.. Use a clear and effective written and spoken style of communication that always acknowledges the background knowledge of your target readers and audience, be they scientists or the public.
4.. Avoid committing plagiarism as part of your professional and ethical approach in science communication to other scientists and the public.
5.. Reflect on your learning process and use feedback to improve your professional communication skills.
6.. Employ effective workplace communication skills to enhance your career development.
7.. Effectively manage your time to enable you to comply with deadlines set for your assignments and in your workplace.

Course intended learning outcomes (CILOs)

This subject also contributes specifically to the development of following course intended learning outcomes:

  • Analyse: Critically evaluate information such as scientific literature in the investigation of complex medical biotechnology problems. (2.1)
  • Analyse: Engage in work practices that demonstrate an understanding of health and safety requirements, ethical conduct, risk management, and organisation and collaborative skills, record keeping in the context of medical biotechnology. (3.1)
  • Synthesise: Self-reflect on the processes used to acquire and apply knowledge and skills with a high level of personal autonomy and accountability. (4.2)
  • Analyse: Identify appropriate communication approaches from a variety of methods (oral, written, visual) to communicate with medical experts, scientists, industry, and the general public. (5.1)
  • Synthesise: Present and Communicate complex ideas and justifications in a rigorous, effective and professional manner across all mediums to a range of audiences using appropriate media. (5.2)
  • Analyse: Demonstrate an appreciation of historical and contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Knowledges relevant to Medical Biotechnology. (6.1)
  • Evaluate: Integrate appropriate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges, as both experience and analysis, into professional practice. (6.3)

Contribution to the development of graduate attributes

Graduate Attributes addressed

There are six graduate attributes that are expected to be gained by students on completion of their studies in the Faculty of Science. This subject focuses on developing five of these attributes, as detailed below.

2.0 Research, Inquiry and Critical Thinking

In this subject, you will be encouraged to improve your critical analysis skills when reading scientific documents. Both the Oral Presentation Skills Task and the Topic Outline for the Critical Review will require you to evaluate published material by using the criteria of reliability of sources and the rigour of the scientific method. You will continue to use this approach in writing your Critical Review.

3.0 Professional, Ethical and Social Responsibility

The learning and teaching activities in this subject will enable you to gain a number of generic professional skills that are essential in your future workplace. They include a superior level of comprehension and analysis, time management skills, the ability to work effectively in groups, interest in topics of current scientific interest and ethical professionalism.

As a professional scientist, you are expected to communicate using many different communication modes. You are likely to address a wide range of target groups of different backgrounds who may not understand the jargon that is unique to your discipline. You will gain an insight into current communication modes and how to apply them successfully for a target audience in the assessment tasks. As students in this class come from a range of science backgrounds, you will be encouraged to share your experiences in class discussions in order to appreciate different points of view that arise from different scientific disciplines.

Because scientists mostly work in groups, you will undertake collaborative peer review in class in this subject. You will be provided with advice on how to make peer review successful when working in class to prepare your Critical Review, Workplace Skils Task and Oral Presentation.

Plagiarism is unacceptable at any level of science communication and it must not be committed by an ethical scientist – the ethical attitude in your professional roles is strongly emphasised in this subject. You will practise how to paraphrase and summarise texts without committing inadvertent plagiarism and will have an opportunity to check your writing using turnitin software that detects plagiarism.

4.0 Reflection, Innovation, Creativity

The extensive feedback you receive on your work is typical of professional scientific practice and aims to motivate you to continuously improve your communication skills. This ‘doing and improving’ approach will enable you to use the feedback you receive on your Critical Review, Workplace Skills Task and Oral Presentation in order to learn how to improve your communication skills.

Self-reflection allows you to critically evaluate your process of learning new skills and doing new tasks so that you can apply this self-knowledge to future learning processes at university and in the workplace. You will be able to practise this through your submission of a completed checklist evaluating your performance in relation to the assessment criteria for the Critical Review.

5.0 Communication

To enhance your written and oral communication skills as a postgraduate student in science you will examine a range of styles used in professional scientific writing. You will also explore the various forms of communication with peers, supervisors and other professionals and the reporting of science in the media. Your assessment tasks focus on practising the various communication modes.

In writing the Critical Review you will practise writing in a disciplined and concise language used by scientists to communicate with one another across different disciplines. Your Oral Presentation based on the Critical Review will be aimed at a different target audience, the public interested in science. In preparing the Oral Presentation and the Workplace Skills Task you will be addressing a person who may not be a scientist, but is likely to be science-literate.

Tutorial exercises will also build your competence in academic English expression appropriate for a professional scientist so that you write and speak clearly, grammatically correctly and effectively for the target reader or audience.

6.0 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Knowledges and Connection with Country

As a professional scientist, you will work with people from various backgrounds and with different levels of scientific knowledge. An awareness and appreciation of other ways of developing understandings of the natural world, especially of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Knowledges and people, will enhance your ability to understand the role of science communication in the modern world.

Teaching and learning strategies

Organisation

There are a minimum of three-hour face-to-face teaching and learning (T&L) sessions each week comprising of a one-hour lecture to introduce the topic and a two-hour tutorial session in which the class is split into smaller groups. The tutorials are designed for intensive learning and practising of skills with focused exercises and individual feedback provided by the tutor. All sessions involve a variety of learning and teaching modes including short lectures, student presentations, class discussions and class exercises. In general, you will have numerous opportunities to practise writing and speaking, and you will get feedback for further improvement. It is of benefit to you to attend every session to maximise your learning potential in this subject.

Preparation for classes

Each week there will be online material for you to prepare for the next class session to provide background in the topic of the week; this may include accessing video clips and readings or answering online questions. You are expected to spend at least two hours preparing for each class so that you will be able to make use of this preparation in class sessions to learn new skills that will help you with successful completion of assessment tasks. These activities include pair work to discuss the questions from the pre-work or the reading activities and content from the online modules; social media exercises; and peer review of each others' writing.

This cyclical approach is intended to encourage you, as a post-graduate student, to become motivated to learn independently and to gain skills through practice during class activities.

Tutorials

These small group tutorials will maximise your learning experience in two ways: you will get more individual attention and you will work collaboratively with your peers.

In Week 1, one tutorial whole cohort session will run with all students attending. In Week 2, tutorial classes will continue in smaller groups.

An aim of this subject is to help you develop academic and professional language and communication skills in order to succeed at university and in the workplace. To determine your current academic language proficiency, you are required to complete an online language screening task, OPELA (information available at https://www.uts.edu.au/research-and-teaching/learning-and-teaching/enhancing/language-and-learning/about-opela-students) [or a written diagnostic task]. If you receive a Basic grade for OPELA [or the written diagnostic task], you must attend additional Language Development Tutorials (each week from week [3/4] to week [11/12] in order to pass the subject. These tutorials are designed to support you to develop your language and communication skills. If you receive an Intermediate grade for OPELA (considered together with the grade of the written diagnostic task), you may be required to attend additional Language Development Tutorials. Students who do not complete the OPELA and/or do not attend 80% of the Language Development Tutorials will receive a Fail X grade.

Content (topics)

While the approach taken in this subject is not specific for any particular science discipline, opportunities will be provided to customise the components to suit your specific interests.

The teaching and learning sessions will address:

  • the importance of communication in science and for scientists and the variety and range of communication skills required of science professionals;
  • the elements of written communication that result in clear and effective communication of information to a range of readers and audiences with different backgrounds;
  • the use of library and web resources for research and application of effective communication; effective and appropriate use of references in writing texts in order to acknowledge sources of information; and the importance of avoiding plagiarism;
  • the elements of critical analysis of texts, reliability of sources and presence of biases;
  • the different styles and formats of written communications (e.g. professional reports, science journal articles, popular science articles, social media posts, job applications, and resumes) with particular emphasis on identifying how they might be made appealing to target readers;
  • the different styles and formats of oral communication reflecting the purpose and the target audience e.g. seminar presentations, media interviews and job interviews;
  • the role of professional scientists in society, including consideration of ethical issues and professional responsibilities.

The program below outlines the content of weekly sessions. For more details, please consult Canvas.

Assessment

Assessment task 1: Critical Review

Intent:

This assessment task contributes to the development of the following graduate attributes:

2.0 Research, Inquiry and Critical Thinking

3.0 Professional, Ethical and Social Responsibility

4.0 Reflection, Innovation, Creativity

5.0 Communication

Objective(s):

This assessment task addresses subject learning objective(s):

1., 2., 3. and 5.

This assessment task contributes to the development of course intended learning outcome(s):

2.1, 3.1, 4.2, 5.1 and 5.2

Type: Literature review
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 55%
Length:

Topic and Outline shoud be 2-3 pages.

Critical Review should be 2700-3500 words (not including Abstract, References, Tables and Figures).

Criteria:

The marks for the Topic and Outline (Assessment Task 1A) will be assessed on the following criteria: a stepwise development of the title of the review from the topic; and an outline that logically and critically addresses the scientific controversy. This component of the assessment is worth 10%.

The marks you receive for the Critical Review (Assessment Task 1B) will reflect how well you followed the guidelines for effective writing with respect to format, content, synthesis of information, critical appraisal of the literature, use of resources and following the conventions of presentation style and referencing. This component of the assessment is worth 40%.

As part of the writing process you are required to bring drafts to tutorial class for your peers to review and for you to receive feedback on your work. This component of the assessment is worth 5%.

This assessment will be assessed for English language proficiency. You will be directed to further language support after the completion of this subject if your language is below the required standard.

Assessment task 2: Workplace Skills

Intent:

This assessment task contributes to the development of the following graduate attributes:

3.0 Professional, Ethical and Social Responsibility

5.0 Communication

Objective(s):

This assessment task addresses subject learning objective(s):

1., 3. and 6.

This assessment task contributes to the development of course intended learning outcome(s):

3.1, 5.1 and 5.2

Type: Portfolio
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 25%
Length:

The cover letter should be one page in length.

Your resume should be a maximum of three pages in length.

Criteria:

The marking criteria will be based on criteria given in the marking rubric and outlined in class. The text should be should be well-written, concise, relevant to the chosen advertised position, substantiated, and unique (i.e. your own original work). This component of the assessment is worth 22%.

As part of the writing process you are required to bring drafts to tutorial class for your peers to review and to obtain feedback on your work. This component of the assessment is worth 3%.

Assessment task 3: Oral Presentation Skills

Intent:

This assessment task contributes to the development of the following graduate attributes:

2.0 Research, Inquiry and Critical Thinking

5.0 Communication

6.0 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Knowledges and Connection with Country

Objective(s):

This assessment task addresses subject learning objective(s):

1., 2. and 3.

This assessment task contributes to the development of course intended learning outcome(s):

2.1, 5.1, 5.2, 6.1 and 6.3

Type: Presentation
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 20%
Length:

3 minutes and a single PowerPoint slide.

Criteria:

Your Oral Presentation will be marked on how effectively you can communicate a scientific message related to a scientific perspective of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Knowledges in the allotted time. This component of the assessment, your presentation skills and supporting slide, is worth 18%.

Part of the assessment will be by peer review. Your draft slide will be assessed by your peers, as well as your tutor. This component of the assessment is worth 2%.

Minimum requirements

In order to pass this subject, you must:

  • attempt, complete, and submit each of the assessment tasks;
  • earn an overall total of 50 marks or more for the subject;
  • receive at least 40% of the marks available for the Assessment Task 2.

NB: All submitted papers and where applicable, all online contributions making use of published materials, should be properly referenced using APA7 referencing style.

It is a requirement of this subject that all students complete OPELA [or a written diagnostic task]. Students who received a Basic grade in the OPELA [or the written diagnostic task] are required to attend 80% of the Language Development Tutorials in order to pass the subject. Students who received an Intermediate grade in the OPELA (considered together with the written diagnostic task) may be required to attend the Language Development Tutorials in order to pass the subject.

Students who do not complete the OPELA and/or do not attend 80% of the Language Development Tutorials will receive a Fail X grade.

Required texts

There is no required text for this subject.

Recommended texts

If your native language is other than English you might like to purchase:

Faigley, L., 2014, The Little Penguin Handbook: Australasian edition,(3 Ed), Pearson Australia, Frenchs Forest.

This text is available form the UTS Library:

Zeegers, P., Deller-Evans, K., Egege, S. and Klinger, C., 2011, Essential Skills for Science and Technology, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne.

References

Brake, M. L. and Weitkamp, E., (eds). 2010, Introducing Science Communication, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

Hofman, A. H., 2010, Scientific Writing and Communication, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Lindsay, D., 2013, Scientific Writing = Thinking in Words, CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood.

Mathews, J. R. and Mathews, R. W., 2008, Successful Scientific Writing, CUP, Cambridge.

McMillan, V. E., 2012, Writing Papers in the Biological Sciences, 5th Edition, Bedford/St. Martin's, Boston

Morley-Warner, T., 2010, Academic Writing is …., Association for Academic Language and Learning, Sydney.

Phillips, G. and Lindgren, M., 2006, Australian Broadcast Journalism, 2nd Ed, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Rolls, N. and Wignell, P., 2009, Communicating at University. Skills for Success, 3rd Ed. Charles Darwin University Press, Darwin.

Other resources

There are two UTS websites on communication that will also be helpful:

  • HELPS site has links to special workshops on writing reading, speaking and listening as well as self-help modules on these topics - http://www.ssu.uts.edu.au/helps/ Students who have difficulties with the English language are strongly advised to attend the workshops early in the Session
  • UTS Library (http://www.lib.uts.edu.au/ ) has a number of different web pages that offer help in communication skills. In particular, there are units on Study Guides, English Language, Study Skills and International Students under the tag of HELP