Developing communication skills is one of the most important investments for STEM students in Bangladesh. This article will feature advice from promising STEM students who are using their communication skills to get closer to their dreams in various career paths for STEM graduates.
What is STEM?
In education, the acronym STEM stands for the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
The myth about developing communication skills in Bangladesh
Having spoken to multiple teachers and students of STEM over the past few years, I realised that in Bangladeshi, STEM students aren’t encouraged to invest in developing communication skills by their academic curriculum. A typical STEM student in Bangladesh is imagined to be coding in a dark room wearing round glasses and a hoodie or holding a test tube close to her eyes with a purple liquid on it.
Developing communication skills is usually associated with business students (think charismatic individuals wearing bespoke suits giving PowerPoint presentations in front of a panel of Unilever executives).
It is believed, academic success is the only important goal a STEM student should set to do well in the future.
Debunking the myth
During my 3 semesters at Harvard so far, I have had the privilege of meeting some of the most successful and promising STEM personalities in the world such as Nobel laureates, top tech entrepreneurs, famous professors, promising graduate students, etc. I have noticed one thing in common. They are all amazing communicators, be it written or oral and in many cases, both.
The fault in our STEM curriculum
The academic curriculum in Bangladesh doesn’t realise that as soon as a STEM student graduates with a bachelor’s degree, her career success will depend on one or some of the following: research internship applications, higher educational degree applications, research grant applications/ venture fundraising pitches, research finding presentations/ business product presentations and authored books.
Apart from her academic grades, previous work experience and idea quality, the thing that will separate her from other candidates and give her a strong fighting chance in getting any one of these opportunities will either be the email she writes or her presentations.
Yes, her communication skills will determine her success to a certain extent. And that is why you should invest in developing it, especially if you are a STEM major.
Interviewing Shamir Montazid
Shamir Montazid is doing his PhD at Oxford University after graduating from Dhaka University. Apart from his academic achievements, he is famous for having served as the Chief Operating Officer of 10 Minute School, the largest online educational platform in Bangladesh. His book, “Heisenberg-er Golpo”, was one of the recent Rokomari best sellers, the biggest online book shop of the country.
How important of a role did your communication skills play in your academic success so far?
The “best” scientists are mostly great communicators. Doing laboratory science can be very expensive. Scientists often reach out to corporations, business tycoons, politicians and even mass crowd to raise fund for their research. To speak for myself, my PhD is funded by the Bangladesh Government. Apart from my high CGPA and research experiences, my role at 10 Minute School as a science educator also caught their eyes. I am sure that helped me win that fellowship to some extent.
In another perspective, the “most famous” scientists are also the ones with outreaching capabilities. Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawkins, Richard Dawins— all made their public appearances and brought their science out of the laboratories and placed it into the hearts of people. Without these effective communications, the world of science could barely finance their exciting and revolutionary endeavors.
Interviewing Mubtaseem Zaman
Mubtaseem Zaman is the first Bangladeshi Lester Pearson Scholar at the University of Toronto, studying Computer Engineering. Recently, he led his team to win first place at the Mac Design League Designathon 2019, hosted at McMaster University in January, against 243 other students with a design for shielding cameras on surveillance aircraft.
Is communication skill essential for leading any engineering team?
We, with our engineering/ STEM background, often suffer from the curse of knowledge, thinking everyone has the same technical knowledge as we do. Most of the time, making your audience understand the idea clearly and giving them a big picture is enough. It is unlikely that they will remember any of the technicalities you mention during your presentation. So, learning how to put yourself in the shoes of average Joe and convincing him with your idea is the key to get ahead. Put it this way - if you cannot make a five-year old understand, then something is very wrong with the vision of your idea..
Interviewing Adib Nur
Adib Nur is the champion of FameLab and will be representing Bangladesh among 30 other countries at Cheltenham Science Festival 2019 in UK, an international competition for science communicators.
How do you start becoming a great communicator?
Great communication, in any field, needs two characteristics in my opinion – people keep listening, and the message sticks.
In order to keep people listening, I always structure my message around one of these ideas – start with a mystery and slowly solve the puzzle by introducing interesting new ideas to the listeners, or tell the audience a story that they will enjoy, and by the time I’ve finished, they’ve already learned what I wanted to communicate. An example would be a speech I did on fire, where I started by asking the audience if they know what fire was made of. Once the audience realised they didn’t know much about it, I had their attention. And by the time I got to the answer at the end, the audience had already learned to appreciate the subtle science behind our everyday activities.
The skill needs time and practice. A great book I would like to suggest that helped me develop myself as a communicator is “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.
Seeam Shahid Noor is a 2nd year student at Harvard University studying Applied Mathematics and is passionate about inspiring professional development in communities around him. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org to express opinions, requests and compliments.