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Telling the research story

Julie McCarthy, right, participates in a team-building and communication exercise as part of the Science Leadership Program

Julie McCarthy, associate professor in the Department of Management at UTSC, stood in front of a group of U of T science researchers, telling the story of a trip to a academic conference that went horribly wrong.

As the laughter died down, Nancy Houfek, a voice and drama coach from the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard University, had some pointers: make the story shorter, use some hand gestures and slow down when you talk.

McCarthy ran through the tale again, incorporating Houfek’s suggestions, and the result was a livelier, more engaging tale that had her fellow researchers laughing. She had just discovered the power of a good narrative delivered well, thanks to a workshop on presentation that was part of the Science Leadership Program. The program is a two-day “boot camp” that helps select mid-career academic scientists to improve their communications and leadership skills.

“It’s really important to share and disseminate our research with a broader population and bridge the gap between research and practice,” said McCarthy, who teaches management science and is immersed in research on resilience in business. “It’s one of my core goals as a researcher.”

A session on presentation skills offered lessons that were immediately applicable.

“There’s a distinct art to communication and this session was enormously valuable,” she said. “I’ll be implementing the techniques immediately in my lectures: verbal expression, eye contact, pacing and thinking about the best way to tell my story. I’ve seen the difference it can make.”

McCarthy also appreciated the chance to meet other engaged faculty was a highlight of the boot camp. “Knowing that other faculty are on the same page in the effort to bridge the science communication gap is terrific.”

© University of Toronto Scarborough