Science Communication Lab supports Brandeis community

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December 7, 2018

For students on the science track, it is possible to overlook the importance of communication skills when handling so many rigorous classes. With a writing intensive credit coming from Biology Lab, a lot of science students struggle to succeed in writing, something that most science students despise. Luckily, there is a resource on campus that can benefit science students, both undergraduate and graduate.

The Brandeis Science Communication Lab (CommLab) was created last year by Dr. Anique Olivier-Mason and physics graduate student Joia Miller after attending a summer institute from the Communication Lab at MIT. After MIT, Brandeis is the second school to have a CommLab, and many other universities around the country have followed suit.

The CommLab is located in the biology building, Bassine 122, and was made as a resource for students in the Division of Science for science communication support. Since Brandeis doesn’t have an engineering school, Olivier-Mason expanded the scope of the lab beyond the single department to encompass the entire Brandeis Division of Science, which includes biochemistry, biological physics, biology, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, neuroscience, physics and psychology, according to their website.

Besides being the program director of CommLab, Olivier-Mason is also the Director of Education, Outreach and Diversity of the Brandeis Material Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC). “She believes in the power of peer-coaching as a method of improving an entire community’s ability to communicate effectively,” according to the website.

All students, staff and faculty, regardless of their placement at the university, are able to utilize this resource. Olivier-Mason and her team also created a fellow-training resource that help their sessions to be more goal-specific.

Communication Fellows are trained to help coach students on projects like resumes, applying for fellowships, research posters and scientific talks. Similar to the Writing Center in the library, the CommLab helps students with writing that is specifically science-focused. There are currently 11 different fellows who are all either Ph.D candidates or postdoctoral fellows and part of different sectors of the Division of Science.

The CommLab meshes many resources into one that acts as a strong tool for science students. The web page for the CommLab offers students initial tips to get them started on their projects as well. To make an appointment, there are multiple options. Students can go online and access the online scheduling system, contact the director or contact a fellow directly to find a time that works for them.

The sessions are completely confidential to protect the privacy of the clients and cannot be longer than 60 minutes. They also must take place in public locations and if a client misses more than three appointments, they will not be able to utilize the CommLab for four months.

Since the sessions are limited to 60 minutes, the fellows are limited in the amount of work that they are able to assist in. A tip from the website is to “think in advance about which specific sections or elements would be most helpful for you to focus on during your session.”

The website also contains testimonies of different students who have utilized the CommLab and found them extremely helpful. “The fellow helped me organize my thoughts, to come up with strategies to write it better and to have a plan on how to structure every essay,” according to an anonymous graduate student. “I just submitted my fellowship, and I have never been so proud of my scientific writing. Now as I am applying for something else, I am using similar tools I learned, and I am more confident in my scientific writing skills.”

An undergraduate also found the CommLab to be extremely helpful for essays for internships. “The reason that I like the CommLab is because the post-doctoral fellows and graduate students structure each session so that the most can be done in a span of 30 minutes or an hour,” said the student. “Each session is a collaborative effort. The fellows are supportive of my ideas and help me think differently about how to approach my research program personal statements and upcoming interviews.”

The student went on to highly recommend the CommLab to students that want to take advantage of a program where students are advised by “senior scientists and graduate students” in a space that “provides an informed perspective,” according to the website.

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