Student research competitions offer skills development, exposure

It’s a tough task ‘translating’ complicated research concepts into compelling language readily understood by a general audience, in addition to showing how and why the research is important.

Student researchers can get a chance to learn, and hone, their research communications skills through three research communications challenges, two of which are offered by Brock University’s major national granting agencies:

  •      The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Science, Action! video competition
  •      The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s (SSHRC) Storytellers video/written competition
  •      The Three Minute Thesis (3MT) presentation

“Science, Action! challenges students to find new ways of explaining complex research so that anyone from kids to grandparents can understand,” says Christian Riel, NSERC’s Director of Communications. “Students are often surprised at how difficult that can be and they learn very useful communication skills they then carry into their work in the lab or future careers.”

To support the development of these skills, students planning to enter the competitions can tap into two series of workshops — 3MT Coaching Sessions and Vitae Researcher Communication Skills Winter Series – within the Faculty of Graduate Studies’ professional development offerings.

“When communicating research, it’s important to be able to show why your work is relevant to a wider audience,” says Stacia Heaton, Graduate Officer in the Faculty of Graduate Studies Vitae Professional Development program.

“The coaching sessions will walk students through every element of communicating their research, from abstract writing to presentation techniques,” she says. “Students are able to work in a collaborative environment with their peers and receive feedback from a variety of perspectives.”

Heaton says the workshops offer “something for everyone” and “introduce students to a number of ways to communicate their research effectively, whether through an academic presentation, through social media, in a job interview or a funding proposal.”

SSHRC also offers communications tips on how to make entries compelling and NSERC’s website includes a Quick Tips section at the bottom of the page.

“Funders are increasingly asking researchers to make their work publicly accessible,” says Joffre Mercier, interim Vice-President, Research. “These contests are a wonderful way for us to do that, which enables us to make a difference in our community.

“We are grateful for all of the support NSERC and SSHRC have given us over the years, and we appreciate the opportunity to share our research across the country,” he says.

Interim Dean of Graduate Studies James Mandigo says his Faculty is committed to equipping students with the skills to be successful in the career of their choice.

“Communicating information to non-specialists in a clear way is becoming increasingly in demand to a world hungry for insights on everything from eradicating cancer to searching for meaning in life,” he says.


Science, Action! (NSERC): Students submit a maximum 60-second video and a 100-word written description of a research project or initiative at Brock funded by NSERC. Cash prizes range from $2,500 to $3,500. See Brock’s entries from last year. Deadline: Jan. 19, 4:59 p.m.

The Storytellers (SSHRC): Students submit a maximum three-minute video or 300-word write-up of a SSHRC-funded project they (or their supervisor, with permission) are pursuing at Brock. The top 25 submissions will receive a cash prize of $3,000 in the first round of judging and will present at Congress 2018. The final five winners will present at the 2018 SSHRC Impact Awards event. See Brock’s 2017 honourable mention. Submission period: Jan. 8 to 31 by 4:59 p.m.

Three Minute Thesis (3MT): Students give a three-minute presentation of their research and why it matters to an audience outside of their disciplines. Contestants are limited to using one static PowerPoint slide. See Brock’s 2017 finalists. Deadline for abstracts: Jan. 31, at 11:59 p.m.

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