Chemists to make complex simple

August 16, 1996

Heriot-Watt University is launching a "communicating science" initiative that aims to help young scientists across the country to explain their work to a broader public.

The Esso Teaching Resources Facility, funded by Pounds 15,000 from Esso, will underpin a communications skills module for the university's chemistry undergraduates, while Pounds 20,000 from the Royal Society of Chemistry will develop the programme for use in other chemistry departments throughout the country. Heriot-Watt will also investigate developing the module for other departments.

"Scientists are not always best known for their ability to communicate complex issues within their field to a wider, less specialist, audience," said Pat Bailey, head of Heriot-Watt's chemistry department.

"But when our students graduate and move out into the commercial world, it's vital that they have good communications skills, whether to make their ideas and research clear to commercial management, to work as part of a team, or to write reports that are both accurate and readable."

The communications module, for third-year students, stresses a practical approach, including presentations, interview practice, team problem solving, research and data retrieval.

Denise Rafferty, higher education development officer at the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: "All chemists need to display various communications skills in their jobs. The development of these skills should be an integral part of the overall chemistry degree course."

The Royal Society was funding the initiative to provide generic, high-quality resource materials for dissemination throughout the United Kingdom, she said.

Martin Tims, manager of education and environment programmes within Esso, said British industry needed scientists with core skills, especially communication skills, and graduates would find it hard to get a job without these.

"If we can help to provide these skills through the Heriot-Watt programme, then it must be to the long-term benefit of both students and industry," he said.

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