As PhD students, we are being trained to be researchers, as well as potential professors. As such we have many different duties, such as:
- devising and carrying out a research program
- learning from other students, and forming successful collaborations
- giving talks, writing papers, and attending conferences
- writing grants to support yourself
- assisting with the instruction of courses (or instructing yourself)
At a “research first” university, tasks 1,2 and 3 are prioritized above 4 and 5. While in some cases good research is accomplished in solitude (think Swiss patent clerk), I believe that the best and most productive research arises from collaborative efforts. The basis of each and every one of these is clear and open communication; clear and persuasive writing, lucid and engaging talks.
As a result, I’m trying to improve both of these skills. Yashar Gangali and Aaron Hertzmann of the Department of CS here organize graduate student seminars to help folks like myself to build our skills, and Greg Wilson has done much to help me with my presentation skills. But I feel I’ve got a long way to go yet before I can really feel comfortable communicating my ideas.
As a final question: with succinct figures and clean slides being so crucial to presentations and papers, why don’t more labs consult with or hire a graphic designer / editor?