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Building Effective Communicators at the Graduate School

The ‘Ready, Set, Go’ program turns scientists into advocates, opening career doors

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July 24, 2013 | by Storer H. Rowley

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Marina Damiano looks at her transformation from a mild-mannered chemist into an award-winning communicator as partly an undercover operation and partly a carefully orchestrated Northwestern University career success story.

“The last five years of my life were a lie,” she writes in a recent essay in Prescouter Journal. “I’m like a CIA agent, and getting a Ph.D. is my covert op. Cover ID: bench chemist. Real-life ID: communicator.”

Damiano earned her B.S. in chemistry and B.A. in German from DePaul University and her Ph.D. in chemistry from Northwestern. At Northwestern she worked on biomimetic nanoparticles to treat lymphoma. 

But it was Northwestern’s Ready, Set, Go (RSG) program to turn scientists into great communicators that gave her an edge that led to her current career in scientific communications at a business-to-business life sciences marketing agency.

“Northwestern’s graduate programs stand at the forefront of their respective research fields,” said Dwight McBride, dean of The Graduate School at Northwestern. “With so much groundbreaking research taking place here at Northwestern, it is increasingly important to convey the results of that research clearly and concisely to a broad variety of audiences -- from expert to general.

“That’s precisely what RSG does. We are so proud of Marina and the other students who have gone through this program. They have turned themselves not only into more effective communicators, but also into passionate, effective advocates for the importance of their research,” he said. 

Founded in 2012, RSG aims to increase awareness of the urgent need for excellent science communicators and to coach graduate and postdoctoral researchers to improve their presentation skills. The program focuses on three important and basic components of communication: building confidence in all communication roles, enhancing the clarity of the message and forming a connection with any audience.

“At the end of 12 weeks,” Damiano wrote in her essay, “we put it all together at ‘Seven Minutes of Science,’ our final symposium, for which we gave seven-minute TED-style talks about our research to an audience of 100. Communication experts, scientists and lay people judged us on how well we executed the three C’s.” 

Damiano passed with flying colors. To hear her tell the story, go to her compelling essay in Prescouter Journal

She now helps scientists connect with their peers and the general public as a scientific communications specialist at Harris D. McKinney, a science, health care and technology advertising agency.

In her spare time she enjoys a fine espresso and playing Brazilian percussion.

Topics: University