Teaching communication skills

A letter from our July edition.

While the British Psychological Society stipulates that graduates should be able to ‘communicate ideas and research findings by written, oral and visual means’, I have noticed the absence of any form of specialised writing or communication classes in curricula. In the US, by contrast, writing classes in particular are commonly included in undergraduate courses, and that could well be one of the key differences between the two countries’ programmes.

So, maybe one thing we could work on as a discipline is imparting how to do what it takes to be a psychologist. As it is, from my own experience I think British institutions are great for giving students the opportunities to do the practical things needed to practise the things necessary to become psychologists. We write essays, conduct experiments, give presentations, and so on. That’s great because we get experience of what we need to do to take up roles as practitioner-scientists.

Of course, that is why students go to university to learn these things, but why not add an optional extra year to undergraduate programmes with courses that deal explicitly with the nitty gritty of communicating in science (and other study skills)? Writing classes, presentation workshops, experiment design lab sessions… It might seem below some of the more ‘able’ students, but then it’s not aimed at them, and American institutions (like those in many other countries) have four-year undergraduate programmes so that’s a whole extra year more than the UK anyway. It would be for developing students’ language skills and allow them to focus on investigating phenomena – if they can spend less time on writing, then they can spend more time on research, which will hopefully improve the quality of their work (and make markers’ lives easier).

David Poole MBPsS
Osaka, Japan

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