You are on page 1of 12

1 Sara Fildes Professor Suzanne Wendell Intermediate English Composition 2089 December 6, 2013 Communications in the Biomedical Research

Community A scientist “spends his days doing experiments,” and his work is “uninteresting, dull, monotonous, […] and though he works for years […] he is likely to receive neither adequate recompense nor recognition.” Science is lonely, and a scientist is “so involved in his work that he doesn’t know what is going on in the world.” He “has no social life,” and no friends because he uses “incessant talk that no one can understand” (Mead and Metraux 387). These are the cumulative impressions of scientists that high school students held during a survey done in 1957. Fifty six years later, many of these stereotypes still exist. Behind these stereotypes, however, is a robust, diverse, and dynamic community of passionate scientists making important discoveries. Through research of publications by and about biomedical researchers, along with personal interaction and experiences with researchers at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, one can determine that biomedical researchers are far more than their stereotypes. Biomedical researchers are a community of people with unique interests and daily tasks who work together for recognition and impact of achievement, both within and without the community. Biomedical researchers play a very important role in the scientific community. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, researchers in the biomedical sciences “bridge the gap between the basic sciences and medicine” (“Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences”). The AAMC describes biomedical scientists as creative and critical thinkers who enjoy scientific discovery

2 and want to use their work to help people (“Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences”). Scientific researchers generally hold a medical degree or a doctoral degree in a biological science (“What Does a Medical”), and they form a community because of their educational and career choices. Many biomedical researchers work on several research projects at a time, often in conjunction with their colleagues. Biomedical scientists may work alone or contribute their knowledge to a team of scientists working to find answers to health and disease problems (“Career Paths for PhD Graduates”). Dr. James Eliassen, the Associate Director of the Neuroscience Graduate Program at the University of Cincinnati, is currently working on four different research projects, one as a principal investigator, and three as a co-investigator (“UCNI.NND Pilot Research Program”). In his personal statement of research interests, rather than focusing solely on his personal work, he indirectly mentions his colleagues using inclusive pronouns in phrases such as: “We are investigating a revised associative learning model of addiction” (“James Eliassen, PhD”). Biomedical researchers like Dr. Eliassen spend much of their time collaborating with other researchers. For all the research that scientists do, they have ample opportunities for dissemination. According to the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine Office of Graduate Education, “the heart of scientific research is communication” (“Graduate Education: Poster Printing”). The biomedical research community has a rich vocabulary of specialized jargon, and it depends heavily on the reading and writing skills of its members. In addition to distributing research results among their colleagues in the biomedical research community, researchers share “findings with the public and thus must have solid communication skills” (“What Does a Medical”). Some of the opportunities for communication include lectures and presentations, posters, and published papers or articles.

3 An important part of the profession is explaining results of research through presentations at meetings within one’s own organization or at conferences across the industry (“What Does a Medical”). My personal observation and research has revealed that throughout the College of Medicine, various departments host presentations by faculty researchers, graduate and undergraduate student researchers, or researchers from other universities and organizations. These presentations focus on the investigations and results of projects being done throughout the University of Cincinnati and the greater scientific community, and they share developments in techniques and knowledge. For ordinary presentations given by faculty or student researchers, posters are the most common form of audience notification. Posters noting the time, date, location, and subject of a presentation hang around the College of Medicine for students, faculty, and staff to see. Presentations given by scientists at external universities and organizations are often publicized not only with posters, but also through emails to members of the College of Medicine by the UC Academic Health Center (UC Academic Health Center Public Relations). An important kind of research dissemination presentation is poster presentation events. The University of Cincinnati College of Medicine Office of Graduate Education states that, for scientific communication, “printing posters is a key activity, whether for national meetings or our local poster sessions” (“Graduate Education: Poster Printing”). Posters are so important for communicating the findings of scientific research that the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine has a printer used exclusively for the printing of posters related to academic, scientific research (“Graduate Education: Poster Printing”). In addition to other departments throughout the College of Medicine, the Office of Graduate Education holds several annual events for student poster presentations. One such event is the Graduate Student Research Forum.

4 I observed the planning and preparation for the 2013 Graduate Student Research Forum, which is time-consuming, detailed, and demonstrates well the importance that the biomedical research community places on presentations of posters. At the Graduate Student Research Forum, students and researchers bring together written and oral communications. Students create posters for their presentations, which make heavy use of written explanations detailing their research and results. Students display their posters as a visual, and experienced researchers act as judges, asking questions about projects, and adding a verbal component to the presentation. The Graduate Student Research Forum also incorporates a predominantly spoken presentation by a special keynote speaker, creating a layer of pure verbal presentation to the communication forms used during that event (“Graduate Student Research Forum”). Another common form of communication within the scientific community is paper writing. Papers are a very writing- and reading-intensive form of communication. According to the Department of Biology at George Mason University, the purpose of scientific papers “is to inform an audience of other scientists about an important issue and to document the particular approach they used to investigate that issue” ("A Guide to Writing"). Other scientists use these papers to find ways to further research already being done (“What Does a Medical”). To provide this benefit, scientific papers explain the reason the scientist performed a particular experiment, the way the experiment was completed, the results obtained, and their meaning ("A Guide to Writing"). Throughout a successful career, a biomedical researcher will write or co-author many published research papers. While research papers are important to the scientific community as a whole, publishing papers is also important for individual researchers and for medical organizations. Writing papers is important to scientists because published papers help individuals secure promotions, funding

5 grants for future projects, and respect and recognition from peers and professional organizations (Shapiro, Wenger, and Shapiro 438). Published research papers are a marker of success in the biomedical research community. Like members of most other communities, biomedical researchers want to advertise their success, so recently published works of a researcher can often be found on his or her personal webpage (“SURF | Searching for a Research”). In addition to promoting an individual’s success, research papers published in professional journals also help to promote a research organization as a whole (“What Does a Medical”). Having published a scientific research paper is considered a sign of success at least in part because of how challenging publishing a paper can be. According to Mary Kemper, some scientific journals may reject up to 96% of the works that are sent to them (Kemper). Brian Budgell addresses the difficulty of submitting a scientific paper to a journal in his book Writing a Biomedical Research Paper. He states that “the process of composing a manuscript can be quite exhausting. […] However, […] all of our work is wasted unless we can convince a journal to publish our paper” (Budgell 55). Scientific papers have very specific style requirements. In his book, Budgell notes that proper and convincing English is almost as important to a paper’s ability to be published as the concrete scientific findings are (Budgell 59). The George Mason University Department of Biology urges writers to consider their English as a critical component of scientific writing, saying, “please do not think that good English is not critical in scientific writing” ("A Guide to Writing"). The style of a biomedical research paper goes beyond the basic requirements of standard English with an emphasis on clear and concise writing, noting that the standard format typically used for research papers lends itself to this style of presentation ("A Guide to Writing"). Budgell also mentions clarity and concision in scientific writing when he specifically considers

6 the use of passive voice in research papers, which is “appropriate and effective in conveying meaning with clarity” (Budgell 34). In addition to the passive voice, another important convention of the genre of scientific literature is that a reference to the author is uncommon (Budgell 34). Together “these conventions render biomedical writing more engaging and convincing to a scientific readership” (Budgell 34). These scientific papers are very technical in nature and describe in detail the research performed. Examining a single sentence from a published research paper easily details these characteristics of scientific writing. In a paper entitled “Analysts of Drosophilia Chromatin Structure in Vivo,” the authors state: “Most of our analyses have been performed using potassium permanganate; this reagent [emphasis added] has allowed us to monitor the interaction of TFIID [emphasis added] at the TATA element [emphasis added] and of RNA polymerase II [emphasis added] at the transcription start site [emphasis added] of the hsp70 gene [emphasis added]” (Cartwright et al. 480-481). The emphasized terms in this excerpt demonstrate the frequency with which technical terms are used in scientific writing. Though an inexperienced person could study individual terms as he reads a scientific paper, an understanding of these terms together requires a great amount of expertise. This paper and most like it are written essentially exclusively for the use of other biomedical researchers, who would have the technical knowledge necessary to understand the writing. Though research papers published in scientific journals are intended for a scientific readership, biomedical research frequently has significant importance to the general public. The Association of American Medical Colleges notes that biomedical scientists “want to improve the human condition through their work” and “see the power of biomedical research to change the world” (“Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences”). In order to communicate their work and its importance

7 effectively with a less technical audience, scientific researchers must master not only the craft of publishing work for other researchers, but also must mind the understanding of the public and be able to explain their work and its broader implications in a simple manner. When scientific work is published that is important to greater society, the work may be released for the general public in several different mediums. One popular medium at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center is the UC Academic Health Center Public Relations and Communications website. Among many articles posted on this site is one recent article explaining research done by scientists at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center that was published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, regarding the relationship between obesity and early onset puberty in girls (Miller). This article leaves out most of the technical terminology that would have been included in the Pediatrics article, and instead describes in layman’s terms what the study discovered and how it affects larger society on an immediate or almost-immediate basis. Similar articles detailing this study were found on the USA Today website (Healy) and the Columbus Dispatch website (Crane). These media outlets are meant for a broad audience and their articles form a bridge between technical research and the general public. Though newspapers and university press offices eliminate a large part of the gap between researchers and non-researchers, biomedical scientists themselves are also skilled at making this connection. Organizations like the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center employ large numbers of non-scientists and have many students. The biomedical researchers at places like UC work daily with these individuals outside the biomedical research community, and despite researchers’ skill at technical communication, they are still able to communicate and work effectively with non-researchers. Scientists like Dr.

8 Robert Brackenbury and Dr. Iain Cartwright, my coworkers whom I have observed for the purposes of this ethnography, speak fluently in lay terms, and when they occasionally slip into technical language, they are very effective at explaining or correcting themselves. Researchers are also used to communicating with students. An important responsibility of biomedical scientists who work in higher education is to teach and mentor students in addition to their own research (“What Does a Medical”). Biomedical researchers at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center are often successful professors of undergraduate and graduate students, so they have experience teaching biomedical science to less experienced and less educated individuals. The scientists at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center do far more than just research and teach. These men and women fill a typical day with many different activities. Dr. Robert Brackenbury of the Cancer and Cell Biology Department teaches graduate and undergraduate students, recruits students to the University of Cincinnati Graduate Programs in the biomedical sciences, helps coordinate student activities, lectures, and presentations, and meets with other researchers and program assistants to further these activities. All of these daily tasks are included above and beyond his lab research. Many people believe that scientists are boring, disconnected, or stuck in a lonely career without recognition, but these stereotypes are inaccurate. Biomedical researchers are an important segment of the scientific community, and their work affects the lives of all people. Literacy and language are necessary skills for success in the biomedical research field, so researchers are experienced in both verbal and written communications. Through poster and lecture presentations, biomedical researchers share their results with colleagues in a dynamic

9 environment, while published papers are a more lasting environment for research dissemination. The literature on crafting biomedical research papers is rich, reflecting the importance of written communications in the field. While published papers and most verbal presentations are technical and intended for a professional audience, these scientists are also skilled in communicating with audiences outside their personal expertise. By teaching students and working daily with their non-scientist colleagues, biomedical researchers retain their abilities to communicate using lay terms. The scientific community is very prosperous, its members are passionate, and together, biomedical researchers work with support of one another for the goal of improving the overall human condition through their work.

10 Works Cited Budgell, Brian Stephen. Writing a Biomedical Research Paper: A Guide to Structure and Style. New York: Springer, 2009. OhioLINK. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <http://ebooks.ohiolink.edu/xtfebc/view?docId=tei/sv/9784431880370/9784431880370.xml&query=&brand=default>. "Career Paths for PhD Graduates." Association of American Medical Colleges. N.p., 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <https://www.aamc.org/students/research/phd/career_paths/>. Cartwright, Iain L., et al. "Analysis of Drosophila Chromatin Structure In Vivo." 1999. Methods in Enzymology. Vol. 304. N.p.: Academic Press, 1999. 462-96. ScienceDirect. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0076687999040288>. Crane, Misti. "Girls' Early Puberty May Be Linked to Their Weight." The Columbus Dispatch. Dispatch Printing Company, 4 Nov. 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2013/11/04/girls-early-puberty-may-belinked-to-their-weight.html>. "Graduate Education: Poster Printing." College of Medicine. U of Cincinnati, 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <http://med.research.uc.edu/GraduateEd/PosterPrinting.aspx>. "Graduate Student Research Forum." College of Medicine. U of Cincinnati, 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <http://med.research.uc.edu/GraduateEd/GSRF.aspx>. "A Guide to Writing in the Biological Sciences." Department of Biology. George Mason University, n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <http://classweb.gmu.edu/biologyresources/writingguide/ScientificPaper.htm>. Healy, Michelle. "More Evidence Links Girls' Obesity with Earlier Puberty." USA Today. Gannett, 4 Nov. 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.

11 <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/11/04/obesity-earlypuberty/3330179/>. "James Eliassen, PhD." College of Medicine. U of Cincinnati, 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <http://med.uc.edu/Neuroscience/people/Faculty/FacultyProfile.aspx?epersonID=eliassjc >. Kemper, Mary. “Tips on Writing Your Biomedical Research Paper and New Journal Policies to Know About.” Microsoft Power Point file. 12 Nov. 2013. Mead, Margaret, and Rhoda Metraux. "Image of the Scientist among High-School Students." Science 126.3270 (1957): 384-90. JSTOR. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1752140>. Miller, Nick. "Earlier Onset of Puberty in Girls Linked to Obesity." HealthNEWS. U of Cincinnati Academic Health Center Public Relations and Communications, 4 Nov. 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <http://healthnews.uc.edu/news/?/23409/>. "Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences." Association of American Medical Colleges. N.p., 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <https://www.aamc.org/students/research/phd/>. Shapiro, David W., Neil S. Wenger, and Martin F. Shapiro. "The Contributions of Authors to Multiauthored Biomedical Research Papers." JAMA 271.6 (1999): 438-42. The Journal of the American Medical Association. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=364449>. "SURF | Searching for a Research Mentor." College of Medicine. U of Cincinnati, 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <http://med.research.uc.edu/SURF/SearchMentor.aspx>. UC Academic Health Center Public Relations. “Save-the-Date: Nobel Laureate Phillip A. Sharp, PhD.” Message to the author. 11 Oct. 2013. E-mail.

12 “UCNI.NND Pilot Research Program.” Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. 12 Nov. 2013. "What Does a Medical Researcher Do?" WiseGEEK. Conjecture, 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <http://www.wisegeek.com/what-does-a-medical-researcher-do.htm>.