STEM + Liberal Arts = Innovation

"Our culture has drawn an artificial line between art and science, one that did not exist for innovators like Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs." We don’t need more STEM majors. We need more STEM majors with liberal arts training. by Dr. Loretta Jackson-Hayes, The Washington Post
 Equip your science students to be able to clearly communicate their findings.

Equip your science students to be able to clearly communicate their findings.

Science and technology courses are currently all the rage, and rightly so. But while you are pushing STEM courses toward your budding geeks and nerds,  don't forget to help them develop their communication skills. 

Reading, writing, and speaking clearly is absolutely essential for pursuing a career in science and technology.

We may not be conscious of how much science and technology affect our daily lives, but there are few things we do these days that aren't touched by them. Medicine, communications, travel, manufacturing, finance. . . you can't even watch television or program your thermostat without digital technology.

However, there has been a huge gap between what the general public understand about the sciences, and what scientists would like citizens to know about their work. 

The conversation about immunizations is a case-in-point. Medical professionals dismiss about parental concerns, as if their status as 'medical professionals' should automatically trump all doubt. Parents can't set aside their fears long enough to consider the research about vaccines. What makes this worse is that research is seldom phrased for the general public. It's difficult for a parent to figure out how the jargon-filled, statistic-packed article they just read applies to them and their child.

Certain that they are right, struggling to find ways to get their message across, public health officials are exasperated by their inability to persuade more U.S. parents to vaccinate their children.
"I think we're all kind of frustrated," said Stephen Morse, a Columbia University infectious disease expert. "As scientists, we're probably the least equipped to know how to do this."

This lack of communication contributes to the public mistrust of scientists and researchers. 

The study of writing and analyses of texts equip science students to communicate their findings as professionals in the field. - Dr. Loretta Jackson-Hayes,  The Washington Post

Scientists are highly trained in analysis, research, and communicating with others in their field, and the increase in specialization creates an even more exclusive environment for scientists. However, it is the general public that eventually makes use of most scientific discoveries. The general public also affects research with their spending habits, and even by how they vote in elections.  

The bottom line -- there is more to scientific progress than working in a laboratory. Innovation will not take place without public support, and public support hinges on the scientist's ability to effectively communicate their theories and conclusions. This means scientists must be able to write and speak clearly and concisely in language appropriate for their audience.  

These are just a few reasons why it is important to help your STEM students hone their communications skills.  

You can accomplish this by integrating language skills into your science program: 

  • Students present their science studies and experiments in written reports, research papers, PowerPoint presentations, and speeches.
  • Require them to translate technical jargon into every day vocabulary.
  • Have them practice by teaching younger siblings or students at your local co-op.
  • Use question-and-answer sessions to help them find ways to improve their communication skills. 
scientists in a lab black and white

Here at Every Day of Education I often emphasize the problems our students face when we compartmentalize subjects in ways that make them seem disconnected. It's clear that the use of language is essential to success in a science related career, so make Language Arts part of your child's science courses. 

How do you help your STEM students improve their communications skills? Share in the comments below-