Brooke Stephens STEM Summer Research Brisbane, Australia


July 18, 2018

Tomorrow I am presenting my final project and it seems like this whole experience has gone by so fast. It’s hard to believe that when I signed up for this project, I had very little knowledge on what I would actually be doing. The research topic that I selected was: “Tell me a story: your biggest learning experience around communicating science in the workplace.” As a biomedical engineering major, this may seem like an odd choice; but, I wanted to be challenged with something that will get me out of my comfort zone. I took a public speaking class in my freshman year of college and really enjoyed learning about the art of communication. I thought that this project in Australia would be a continuation of the communication class with a scientific, exploratory twist.

I was fully thrown into this research right from the get-go. During the first week, I wrote my initial 2000-word proposal, which was quite a challenge due to my little experience with scientific communication studies. I had to be brought up to speed with all that had been done in the field—in one week—in order to complete my proposal paper. I read a lot of journal articles and realized just how important science communication is to employability and the lack of communication skills of recent STEM graduates. These findings really surprised me, but as students in science we never are taught communication, we are just expected to be proficient. My project focused on a gap in the literature. Most studies focused on what transferable skills STEM students were lacking, but none of them looked at what skills were gained once they entered the workplace. In order to take a unique perspective on this, I wanted to interview post-doc fellows to hear their stories.

During the second week of the project, I interviewed 7 post-docs at the University of Queensland. Each interview lasted about an hour and every interviewee had such a unique story. To start each interview, I asked, “Tell me a story about a time when you learned something important about communication in the science workplace.” I heard stories about post-docs giving talks, confronting a supervisor about a misunderstanding, and dealing with failure publicly. We recorded the interviews and then transcribed them. Afterward, I rearranged the interviews to get them into complete chronological stories. I finally was able to do a thematic analysis on them. This whole process took about 3 weeks. I couldn’t believe just how time-consuming it was to transcribe 7 hour-long interviews.

I learned some valuable information from this set of interviews and hopefully, this will be useful to other students too. Segments from some of the interviews will eventually go up on the CLIPS website that my team at UQ has been working on for a few years ( Students at the university use this site to help them develop their communication skills for presenting and writing in the classroom. Now, people can visit this site to learn communication skills related to career development as well. The main takeaway from the interviews was that communication is the basis of science culture in the workplace. Some aspects of this science culture include talking about failure, addressing cultural differences, meeting face-to-face, and communicating within hierarchies.

This whole experience has been completely different than my biomedical bench research at home, but I really enjoyed it. I must say, it was a lot more relaxed. I still have to submit my final paper, which isn’t due for another month, and then I just have to present tomorrow. Hopefully it all goes well :). Talk to you soon!



Australia STEM Summer