How to Talk about Your Research so Everyone Understands

Over the course of your career, you will probably have to explain your technical research to people who are not familiar with your field. This can be anyone from a parent, friends, or a well-meaning stranger, but sometimes explaining your research to a lay person can really impact your career.

It can be difficult to transition your very technical research to a description that anyone can understand, but it is often necessary in job interviews, consulting with other departments, and applying for grants and fellowships. If the individual does not understand your research, they may not know why it is important or why they would want to work with you in the future. As communication is key in these situations, here are some questions to consider to make sure that everyone gets the most out of your explanations.

  • What is a brief overview of your research?
    You are probably familiar with giving a quick description of your research, but can someone with no background in your field understand what you are talking about? Graduate students will often start out strong, but then give way too much detail about what they are doing. In this introduction, keep it short and sweet, and only give as much information as the person would need to know.
  • What impact does your research have on the world?
    Generally, why are you doing your research? Sometimes grad students will get caught up in talking about what they are specifically doing in the lab, and not focus as much on the big picture. You can give a great description of your research, but if the person listening doesn’t know what the research is impacting, it will not be as strong.
  • What skills do you use for your research?
    Think about broad skills that you use in your research. What do you think the person you’re speaking to would be interested in hearing? Do you use a range of communication skills talking to research participants, a supervisor, or coworkers? Do you use analytic skills working with your data? Mentioning the skills that you use will allow people to connect with your transferable skills, seeing their relevancy to multiple environments. Remember, keep it general and don’t get caught up in the details!
By Katherine Nelson
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