College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences; Public Service and Agriculture

Clemson College of Agriculture inaugural graduate student research symposium teaches effective communication skills

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2022 CAFLS Student Symposium
Clemson CAFLS graduate students gain experience in relaying information about their research to non-technical audiences during inaugural CAFLS graduate research symposium held at the Pee Dee REC.
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Communication is important in today’s workforce and Clemson graduate students are getting experience and knowledge needed to become effective communicators.

A total of 90 master’s and doctoral students in the Clemson College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences (CAFLS) participated in the inaugural CAFLS Graduate Research Symposium. The event was held at the Pee Dee Research and Education Center (REC) near Florence, South Carolina, and consisted of a 3-minute thesis competition, and master’s and doctoral student poster sessions related to each participating student’s research area. Paula Agudelo, CAFLS associate dean and Clemson University Experiment Station director, said the symposium was a time to celebrate and share the students’ work.

“CAFLS graduate students are our skilled partners in research, carrying out experiments and creating new knowledge” said Paula Agudelo, CAFLS associate dean and Clemson University Experiment Station director. “Their ideas and work fuel the engine generating innovation for South Carolina and the world. They are the next generation of researchers and innovators – and the research they conduct responds to pressing state, national and world needs.”

The symposium titled, Communicating Science to Different Audiences, provided students with opportunities to learn how to adjust messages according to audience needs and understanding. Agudelo said the symposium’s format was structured so that students could learn how to relay technical information to non-technical audiences, adding plans are to hold the symposium annually.

Madeleine Bolick is a forest resources doctoral student from Greenville, South Carolina. Preparing her poster presentation, “Predicting dissolved oxygen using neural networks in Hunnicutt Creek,” helped start the writing process for a journal publication related to her research.

“This is a study I’ve been working on since the Spring 2022 semester,” Bolick said. “Creating this poster presentation was a great way for me to summarize my research and get my article ready so that it’s ready for publication.”

When preparing for the competition, Bolick reviewed her research to determine the main points, as well as create graphs and other visuals to communicate these points to a non-scientific audience. Her major professors are Christopher Post, Environmental Information Science professor and M.Z. Naser in the Glenn Department of Civil Engineering.

“Preparing for this symposium has taught me how to communicate my research to other scientists, as well as lay audiences,” Bolick said. “I learned how to take away my own assumptions making sure I’m communicating information in a way so that the broader implications of my research can be understood by anyone.”

Trisha Markus also is a forest resources doctoral student from Greenville, South Carolina. The title of her poster presentation was Invasive plants impact on fuels and implications of fire behavior.

“Preparing for today’s presentation helped me learn how to minimize my data in a format that is communicable to a broad audience,” Markus said. “This is beneficial for me as a member of the Society of American Foresters because I need to be able to talk with foresters in a way they will be able to understand my research.”

Jasmine Gill is a doctoral student in plant and environmental sciences from Punjab, India. She placed first in the 3-Minute Thesis Competition for her presentation, “Alleviating the phosphorus crisis by utilizing mycorrhizal partnership.” Her research focuses on understanding the association between beneficial fungi found in plant roots (arbuscular mycorrhizae fungi) and plant phosphorus uptake. She worked with her major professor is Vidya Suseela, assistant professor of soil ecology, to present her research.

“My goal for presenting my information was to give a brief overview of my research without going in to too much detail and people still be able to understand it,” Gill said. “Winning this competition gives me a confidence boost because I moved from my bachelor’s studies straight into my doctoral studies and here I was competing with students who had participated in a master’s program before starting their doctoral studies. And I won!

“Now I know my research is good and I can really present it well.”

Rosemarie Somers is an agricultural education doctoral student from Jamaica who placed third in 3-Minute Thesis Competition. Her presentation, “Agriscience teachers’ self-reported confidence levels in using a microscope before and after a professional development,” focuses on ensuring that teachers are confident to prepare students skills needed to enter STEM careers. She worked with her major professor, Catherine DiBenedetto, to prepare for the competition.

“I had extensive help from Dr. DiBenedetto,” Somers said. “We discussed a lot of previous research, and we conducted a professional development workshop for agriscience teachers. We analyzed the data gathered from the teachers who participated in the workshop and we wrote an abstract. Then, I wrote my script and practiced and here I am today presenting.”

Just as her study focuses on helping teachers gain confidence to learn skills to use in their classrooms, Somers said participating in the symposium helped improve her own self confidence.

“This event is beneficial to me as a Ph.D. student in that it helps me build my confidence for public speaking and for communicating my research with a non-scientific audience,” Somers said. “It’s very exciting to take what we’re doing in research that may seem complicated and very scientific and breakdown that information so that others can understand what we’re doing by using our findings and recommendations to help them improve in areas applicable to them.”

Habibunnisa Begum is a Marion High School science teacher who attended the symposium to learn how to motivate students to pursue careers in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). She has experience teaching in India and the United States. She is interested in obtaining her doctoral degree and said she found Somers’ presentation informative.

“Providing all children with a good education requires major cooperation and resources,” Begum said. “My role is to coordinate all factors and create learning strategies and programs to deliver good learning experiences for and results from students. Attending events such as this gives me ideas about how I can help my students learn about more about science, engineering, technology and math so that they can learn what is involved in working in these fields.”

Award recipients

Students receiving awards for their work are:

  • 3-Minute Thesis
    • 1st Place – Jasmine Gill, plant and environmental sciences. Advisor is Vidya Suseela.
    • 2nd Place – Zachary Jones, plant and environmental sciences. Advisor is Sachin Rustgi.
    • Third:  Rose Marie Somers, agricultural education. Advisor is Catherine DiBenedetto.
  • Master’s Student Posters
    • 1st Place – William Gura, plant and environmental sciences. Advisor is  Guido Schnabel.
    • 2nd Place – Kyle Smith, plant and environmental sciences. Advisor is Michael Plumblee.
    • 3rd Place – Swabir Alhassan Musah, plant and environmental sciences. Advisor is Rongzhong Ye.
  • Doctoral Student Posters
    • 1st Place – Sarah Holladay, plant and environmental sciences. Advisor is Michael Plumblee.
    • 2nd Place – Joshua Holbrook, wildlife and fisheries biology. Advisor is Kyle Barrett.
    • 3rd Place Ricardo St. Aime, plant and environmental sciences. Advisor is Sruthi Narayanan.

Effective communication skills important in today’s world

Joe Mari Maja, an assistant professor and research sensor engineer housed at the Edisto REC in Blackville, South Carolina, believes this event is important for students to learn how to adapt presenting their research so that everyone can benefit. He worked with master’s student Jyoti Neupane from Nepal to prepare her poster presentation, “Development of a vertical spraying system for cotton defoliation using an unmanned ground vehicle,” and doctoral student Mohd Fazly Mail for his presentation, “Cotton Harvesting Autonomous Platform: a new CHAPter.”

“This type of activity prepares students and helps them learn how to present their research during international conferences,” Maja said. “It also gives them an opportunity to interact with their peers and other Clemson faculty members.”

Maja requires each of his students to submit a conference paper while studying under him. He said participating in future symposiums will be beneficial for his students in two ways.

“First of all, it will help them learn how to communicate their research to their peers as well as researchers in other institutions,” he said. “It also will help them open their network and meet others – perhaps their new employer – in their field.

An article in Forbes magazine shows hiring managers and executives consistently rank good communication as one of the most important skills for employees to have. The Clemson College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences has several opportunities for students and South Carolina youth to learn how to effectively communicate. The Clemson Cooperative Extension Service’s 4-H program has programs available to help youth gain confidence to communicate in a variety of situations.

Clemson CAFLS’s students are required to take courses in the humanities, social sciences, English composition and public speaking. For more information, go to https://www.clemson.edu/cafls/.

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