Presenting the Science

In this section, Professor McLaughlin discusses how 1.74 Land, Water, Food, and Climate offers students an opportunity to refine their science communication skills.

The course is designed such that one of the students presents each paper throughout the semester. It’s a challenge to ensure that their presentations keep the attention of the other students. Sometimes they have trouble getting to the core of the point in the paper for the other students. In the first year or two that I taught the course, I had many students who would just prepare some transparencies and review the paper. That was a disaster. So I’ve learned to say, “You just have a minute or two, and you should pose some questions for the class, or some issues, and make them as controversial as possible.”

Some of the best presentations I've had have been from non-science students.

— Dennis McLaughlin

In this way, the course is partly about science communication and helping students learn how to communicate the science to a wider audience. It's very interesting—some of the best presentations I've had have been from non-science students, MBA students especially. They seem to be intrinsically good at getting to the point in a presentation. And even though most of them don't have the same science and engineering backgrounds as other students, they’ve been trained to make very clear presentations.

The scientists and engineers that I teach tend to be very good at the techniques of the presentation. But communicating to a diverse audience is quite tricky, and the engineering students do learn from some of the other students, especially those whose career goals give communications a higher priority.