Communication Skills in Science: On Speaking and Listening


The long period of studying and working on my own has come to an end and this week is the first week I have courses since May. To come back from my hermit-life to a routine with courses and people is exciting. It brings new views on thoughts which grew in my mind in the previous time. This «growing jungle in a jar» (or thoughts in a single head) needs to be opened, watered, and branches need to be cut.


The course starting now is «Topics in Applied Ecology». We will meet to discuss and criticize contemporary scientific papers. We discuss what we would suggest the authors of those papers to do better. Like this, we train to one day be a referee in the scientific process of writing and peer-reviewing.

During my Master in Applied Ecology at HINN Evenstad, I learned to enjoy developing my point of view in discussions. Because all students in my class have different backgrounds, our views developed on different paths and discussions are usually manifold, intense, controversial and productive.

While reading papers critically, we discover: Those authors, even though they are publishing papers, are also people. As a student it is easy to look up to them like «Wow, he / she published a paper! That is a real scientist!» and suppress critical thoughts because of that. But those people also make mistakes.

We train now, not to make the mistake «ad hominem«: To think something is wrong or right, because of the someone, who said it. This is an important lesson for science, and nonetheless for life. We are all a little bit stupid sometimes: We forget, we simplify, we overlook, we have a bad day. Everyone.

While working with other people’s work, we have another directive beside being critical:  Be also constructive! It is too easy to say, «it’s just bad«. In the scientific community we are here to help each others to contribute together to science.

There is no perfection, and this is one of the ideas of science, or? Therefore we follow the principle of hypothesis. They can’t be «true» and untouchable, but they can always be falsified and improved. We do not work alone, we review, criticize and correct each other.

Sometimes one might not be really happy about a question that brings an «earthquake to his constructions», because it makes life difficult and uncomfortable. But we should be happy every time. About every question that makes our constructs shake. Those earthquakes keep us awake, but likewise they keep our thoughts connected to the outer world, they cultivate the jungle in the jar.

And in the best case, one day, when some of us might be «those researchers», we will be honestly happy if someone criticizes our work and still helps us to learn. And hopefully then we will know that it is completely okay to make mistakes, as long as there are critical minds out there, to let us know about them. And hopefully we will be constructive, productive, critical, and open-minded. And encourage others to be like this, by simply being thankful for their critics to our work.

So let’s get back to class, there is still so much to learn… 🙂



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