Core Competency III- Communication Skills

The National Postdoctoral Association has issued core competency skills that are to be used as guidelines for institutions’ Individual Development Plans (IDPs). Item III, Communication Skills, includes the following “Communication is more than preparing and sending a message; it is making every effort to be sure that the message is heard and understood by the appropriate audience. Postdoctoral scholars are expected to demonstrate interpersonal and other communication skills that enable them to communicate effectively with colleagues at all levels. They must also be prepared to communicate with students, media, and society at large.” (retrieved from on 4/6/2017)

In our work, we find that most institutions look to Intensive English programs or second language educators to fulfill the communication needs of their international scientists and colleagues. Additionally, many institutions are addressing the written requirements of the researchers in terms of resumes, grant writing, and cover letters. However, from our conversations and workshops, the approach of these highly trained professionals seems to miss the mark as for the speaking needs of the proficient postdoc researcher and busy science professional. Writing is one form of communication, usually with prescribed rules, time to plan, specific grammar functions, and organization protocols. Speaking, on the other hand, is a moving target. For one, the many cultures of the international workplace can interfere with what we call ‘uptake’ - that is, what did the listener hear? How did they hear it? How did it affect their emotional/cultural understanding of the message? Which in turn can affect the ‘output’ - how a speaker chooses words and phrases in order to send a message. When and how does a speaker decide to interrupt or ask for a clarification? These invisible factors in conversation and interpersonal relationships encompass a speaker’s Cultural Intelligence.

When a researcher who is working in a field where the default language is English, and this researcher is highly skilled, busy, and proficient in English, the approach of an Applied Linguist can help. With our trainees, we start with their needs. Where are they? What do they need? What is their immediate purpose for joining our workshop? From there, we then look at Item III, Communication Skills from the National Postdoctoral Association. We consider that our trainees can fluently communicate with their peers and PI in the lab, but can they take their research and science and bring it to a general audience? Can they describe what they do at the next happy hour? Make small talk with an industry professional who is recruiting at a national conference? Ensure that their funding pitch is understood by the granting agency? “Read” cultural signals and cues to fully and effectively navigate the multicultural setting? Send and receive messages in the way they were intended?

Applied Linguists study language that solves real world problems. By focusing on the oral/aural aspect of communication, we are uniquely qualified to assist those who use English as the language of their professional communication to address these speaking needs to solve immediate problems. Focusing on behavioral outcomes, we bring our expertise to our workshops in order to empower individuals to take their careers wherever they want to go, with confidence. Let us know what your institution is doing to address the specific spoken communication needs of your international scientists.