The Research Communication Training Program (RCTP) began as Ready, Set, Go (RSG), one of several professional development programs made possible by a National Science Foundation (NSF) GK-12 Reach for the Stars Grant (DGE-0948017) submitted by the Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA) with Dr. Vicky Kalogera as the principal investigator and Michelle Paulsen as co-principal investigator.
RSG continued for several years with Michelle Paulsen as the founding director and Alex Adler as the co-founder through funding provided by Dr. Kalogera’s subsequent IDEAS NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) grant. Due to its continued success, RSG was later expanded into RCTP, which is now open to all graduate students and postdoctoral fellows of The Graduate School and continues every year.
RCTP is currently sponsored by The Graduate School, Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, and CIERA.
Great research does not speak for itself. We equip our students with skills to tell the story behind their work.
Northwestern’s graduate programs stand at the forefront of their respective research fields. With so much groundbreaking research taking place here at Northwestern, it is increasingly important to convey the results of that research clearly and concisely to a broad variety of audiences–from expert to general. Not only are such communication skills a vital component of conveying one’s message, they require diligent practice in order to become second-nature. With this in mind, the Research Communication Training Program (RCTP)—formerly Ready Set Go (RSG)—was founded in 2012.
The goals of the program are to increase awareness for the urgent need for excellent research communicators and to coach graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to improve their own presentation skills. The program focuses on three important and basic components of communication: building confidence in all communication roles, enhancing the clarity of the message, and forming a connection with any audience.
Great research does not speak for itself. Conveying the scope and importance of one’s research is the only way to generate significant impact. As researchers, we tend towards data-centered presentations told in the language of our expertise. This jargon tends to alienate those outside our fields and can obscure the goals and progress of our work from a broader audience. By placing the audience’s needs first, we can build our presentations with the appropriate level of detail. By considering the story behind the research, data and graphs transform from stand-alone cameos into a supporting cast of characters. By emphasizing communication, those who conduct great research can share their stories with anyone, regardless of scientific background.
RCTP is a 10-week workshop series for TGS graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, designed to enhance communication skills across disciplines and backgrounds. The curriculum starts by enhancing confidence in public speaking through improvisation and theater skills. Next, students learn how to focus on the details that improve the clarity of their message. Finally, through a series of presentation-based workshops and rehearsals, RCTP fellows learn how best to form a meaningful connection with their audience to deliver their message. Towards the end of the program students will choose a final project – presenting at a symposium or editing and producing a 2-3 minute video. The symposium calls for researchers to share their research stories in a seven-minute presentation. The presentation is recorded, edited to include slides, and posted on the RCTP website. The videos are also recorded, but the editing is left to the students. Both projects are designed to inform an intelligent audience of the variety of research projects going on at Northwestern.
Upon completion of the RCTP program, participants will be able to:
- Tailor presentation content to an appropriate level based on audience expertise
- Deliver a research message in a clear and engaging manner
- Design presentation visuals that are effective in reinforcing a central message
Introduction and Evaluation: Students will meet classmates, and be able to summarize course expectations and goals, identify characteristics of effective presentations, and evaluate presentation content and delivery effectiveness using a rubric.
Readiness and Relaxation: Students will use the PRES model to align the use of voice, body, energy, and emotion for more effective delivery of complex scientific concepts.
Speaking with Purpose: Students will utilize theatre techniques to help when making a connection with words, and deliberate movement.
Journalism and Storytelling: Students will be able to form an initial research story that: (a) establishes the problem, (b) relates it to an audience, and (c) sets up a call to action.
Planning and Connecting: Students will define audience/research/self to connect with the audience. They will apply different methods to brainstorm and integrate ideas, facts, and stories into a presentation.
Interviews: Students will be able to compare and contrast the components of an effective research paper and an effective research story/presentation. They will learn and practice employing bridging strategies, hooking, and flagging to tie interview questions and answers to their message. Students will be able to identify characteristics of an effective media interview.
In the Studio: Students will support their central message during an on-camera interview. They will examine on-screen footage for areas of strength and weakness.
Connections to Conference and Research Talks: Students will transfer elements of what they have learned so far and apply it to scientific audience (e.g., conference talks)
Graphic Design and Flow: Students will apply the principles of graphic design to improve the effectiveness and visual appeal of a PowerPoint Slide. Students will be introduced to the Visuals section of the RCTP Rubric
Stage Presence and Personality and Presentations with Feedback: Symposium students will gain comfort in speaking and reacting spontaneously, allowing their authentic personalities and enthusiasm to show as they do.
Video Editing: Video students will be introduced to Adobe Premiere Pro and should feel comfortable exploring the basics of the interface. The class will develop a shared visual vocabulary to discuss each other's work and will understand the role of editor as storytellers and creators of meaning. Students will learn the basics of script formatting.
Rehearsal 1: Symposium students will practice their presentations with slides.
Video Editing and Planning: Video students will learn how to create a new project, setup a timeline, sync/add sound, and export a short project. Students will understand when different transitions and edits should be utilized. Students will also begin to connect the design and planning needs of a successful RCTP video with the production/editing requirements.
Rehearsal 2 and Seven Minutes of Scholarship Symposium: Symposium students will practice and then deliver their final presentation
Video Editing: Video students will learn how to use/incorporate titles, songs, graphics into their videos. Students will continue to grow comfortable and confident with Premiere's interface. We will take one-on-one time to teach the particular editing techniques each student wanted to incorporate into their videos.
On Camera Performance and filming: Video students will learn techniques for maintaining energy, connecting with the camera, and other strategies for on-camera performances.
Video Editing: Video students will finish editing their own work. Students will have the confidence to continue working on their projects outside of class. Students are now video editors.
RCTP will be held in person this spring with cohorts in Evanston and Chicago. Applications for Spring 2023 are now closed. Participants will be notified of the acceptance results by March 3.