Communication skills key for scholars of all fields
August 29, 2023
Dan Sui and Ben Franklin might not see eye to eye on this topic.
“The conventional wisdom is often, ‘Well done is better than well said,’” Sui, senior vice president and chief research and innovation officer, said, citing the famous Franklin quote. “But not anymore. We need to do both. We need to get the job well done, but also communicate it well to both the professional research community and the general public.”
Sui, who joined Virginia Tech in 2020, said he believes the most effective leadership comes from leading by example. For him, that includes staying active as a researcher, educator, and communicator. During the past several months, his efforts toward the latter have been on display via keynote speeches during prestigious events at other higher education institutions.
“Deep in my heart, I’m still very much a scholar first,” said Sui, an internationally renowned researcher in the area of global information systems (GIS)-based spatial analysis and modeling. “Part of the gratifying thing about doing these talks is that I get to bring my own research and represent all our great Virginia Tech research to a broad audience in ways that can influence and shape the overall research community.”
Sui’s most recent speaking engagements provided insights on the status and future of research, innovation, and policy at critical intersections that align with the university’s Research Frontiers. The events and topics included the following:
- American University, Invitational Workshop on the Future of AI Governance: In March, Sui spoke about the future of artificial intelligence (AI), including its potential impact on society and current efforts to govern it.
- Yale University, the U.S. University Consortium for Geographic Information Science Summer Symposium: In June, Sui shared insights about the future of GIS related to the quantum age, including the challenges of shifting into an increasingly hybrid physical-virtual world.
- Harvard University, Symposium on Spatiotemporal Data Science: In July, Sui addressed concerns related to reproducibility and replicability in spatiotemporal data — data that relate to both space and time — science in light of the rise of AI and quantum computing. He urged the audience to take a balanced approach appropriate to the discipline and to not let fear constrain their creative thinking.
“Rapidly evolving technological tools and frameworks are changing the way we think about and approach research, scholarship, and innovation. This is as true in my field of geographic information science as it is in cancer research, semiconductors, or logistics,” said Sui, who is also a professor of geography with courtesy faculty appointments in the School of Public and International Affairs and Department of Science, Technology, and Society. “It is important to have conversations about how technology and policy can drive the next revolution in our understanding of the world around us, and can help us improve the human condition. And it’s a privilege to play a role in leading them.”
Sui offered three pieces of advice for other scholars communicating their research:
- Know your audience. “Before you speak about your research at any event, research whom you’re speaking to.”
- Contextualize your work. “Put what you do in terms that are significant for your audience and make it meaningful to them. That’s really the key for people to understand, remember, or even be influenced by your work.”
- Get training. “These days getting training in the technical field is not enough. Scholars need to get some sort of training in science communication. By that I mean in terms of both writing for and speaking to different audiences. That’s a skill set that cuts across all fields.”
To that end, Sui suggests students and researchers alike explore Virginia Tech’s Center for Communicating Science. The center will be hosting its first ever Faculty Nutshell Talks at the Moss Arts Center on Sept. 7 at 5:30 p.m.
Written by Travis Williams