Strong communication skills during graduate school can help you prepare for scholarly publications and presentations, be a contributor in your field, persuade grant reviewers, and engage the public with your work. At Iowa, graduate students have a wide range of resources to support the development of strong communication skills and a series of platform through which they can practice them.

Accordion Items: 
Develop Your Skills

You can strengthen your communication skills starting early in graduate school through the collective support of mentors, colleagues and staff.  Here are some example strategies:

  • Join a writing or reading working group in your program or develop one with your colleagues
  • Visit the Writing CenterSpeaking Center, or Conversation Center
  • Take a graduate level communication course
  • Practice writing across different genres (e.g., course papers, funding applications, presenting at a conference)
  • Get advice about speaking in a teaching setting from the Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology
  • Speak about your research to different scholarly audiences (conferences, journal clubs, department seminars)
    • Always consider your audience! Not all scholarly audiences will be experts on your specific topic.  A good approach is to think of the people attending the talk who do work most different from yours; they are the best standard for what is or isn’t common knowledge (how much background is needed, what terms must be defined, how/why you’re using the methods you chose, how direct you must be in stating the implications/significance of your work, etc.).
  • Attend conferences and actively communicate with other attendees
    • Have a research-oriented "elevator pitch" (30-60 second summary of what you do)
    • Look up posters/talks you want to attend in advance to plan questions
    • Engage in both "small talk" (brief, casual conversations) and extended research discussions
Public Communication

Communicating your research with the public is an essential skill for 21st century graduate students. During graduate school, strong public communication skills can help your research process. Regularly communicating with the public can help you find ways to refine research questions, develop new ideas, and garner support for your projects.  From the perspective of the public, communicating with researchers offers a rare view of cutting-edge developments, new techniques, and valuable ideas.  Finally, nearly all careers require the ability to meaningfully connect work goals with the public good; individuals who are well practiced in this skill can leverage it across career sectors.  


Tips on how to frame your research for different audiences include: 

  • Adapting what persuasive approach(es) you use—logic, emotion, and shared values can each appeal to different audiences  

  • Learning about what your specific audience cares about from their perspectives (not relying on stereotypes or assumptions), then connecting your work to those topics  

  • Recognizing when there may be cultural differences that impact the way you engage with the audience 

  • Adjusting to the communication medium—e.g., having visual aids for in-person or video talks, writing in a way that can be easily and clearly used as an excerpt if the work will go through another person’s editing (TV, radio, etc.) 


Ways to develop this skill include: 

Thesis and Dissertation

For many graduate students, the thesis or dissertation is the largest project you have undertaken as a student (or in other settings!) thus far. These large projects can be broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces. Work with your mentors to develop a plan that meets your goals. Find where you like to write and when; many graduate students progress faster with short bouts of daily writing rather than sessions.

The Writing Center’s Dissertation Writing Summer Camp or other dissertation support groups can boost productivity with support and accountability. See the Thesis & Dissertation page for help on formatting, dissemination, and more writing support resources.

Digital Skills

Digital communication skills can help you gain readership as an academic, learn about new opportunities, and reinforce your networks.

Develop your skills with the help of the Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio from UI Libraries.

Widely used platforms to talk about your research and engage with the public and scientific community include:

Interpersonal Skills and Professionalism

Almost everything you do involves interacting with other people in some amount—teaching students, talking research at conferences, getting assistance from administrative staff, collaborating with teammates, interacting with potential customers and clients, and more.   Whether you interact with people constantly or intermittently, what you do makes an impression that others will remember.  While you don’t have to micromanage your every action or word, there are some good practices you should know about. 

  • Recognize the differences between assertive, passive (or nonassertive), and aggressive behavior; assertive communication is usually the most appropriate in professional situations so that you neither alienate other people nor downplay your own perspectives. 

  • Many specific verbal and nonverbal behaviors contribute to other people’s overall impression of your interpersonal skills.  Here are summaries of relevant common practicesverbal cues, and nonverbal cues (particularly in USA settings.) 

  • Professional behavior standards can vary by setting—some workplace cultures are formal, others are casual.  However, basic standards of professionalism across all settings include: respect for other people, responding to e-mails in a reasonably prompt timeframe, not harassing or sexually harassing people, and following through on commitments you have made (or maintaining communication if you need to cancel or reschedule).

Campus Resources


Digital Communication 

  • Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio 
    The UI Libraries’ Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio works with graduate students and faculty on any number of digital scholarship projects.  See example projectsresearch blogs, and more on their website
  • One Button Studios 
    Recording a great video is a lot harder than it looks. Through a partnership between the UI Libraries and ITS Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology, the UI campus now offers a new solution called the One Button Studio. Visit the ONE BUTTON STUDIO site to learn more, sign up for a tour, or reserve a studio. 

The Writing Center

The Writing Center provides free services to anyone in the University of Iowa community through assistance with all writing projects, including multimedia presentations, at any stage of development.


  • Speaking Center — The Speaking Center offers quality, one-on-one and small group tutoring and consultation to students and instructors who would like to work on any aspect of oral communication.
  • 3 Minute Thesis (3MT)3MT is an academic competition in which students share their dissertation research to a general audience in an oral presentation lasting at most … three minutes. Interested? View more information on participating.

English as a Second Language (ESL) Classes & Resources

  • ESL Credit Program — ESL credit classes are available to UI students whose first language is not English. Course are offered in oral skills, pronunciation, grammar, reading, writing, and listening. Classes are designed to improve students’ language skills to enable them to successfully complete academic coursework. View course policies and course descriptions for more information.
  • Non-Credit — The Iowa Intensive English Program provides English instruction that emphasizes spoken and written English. Grammar, writing, reading, listening, comprehension, pronunciation, and conversation skills are taught.
  • Campus Conversation PartnersCampus Conversation Partners pairs non-native, English-speaking students, scholars, and staff with native or near-native, English-speaking members of the University faculty and staff for one-on-one, information conversation in English. The program promotes cultural awareness, understanding, and the opportunity to see the world from another perspective.
  • ESL Tutoring — The ESL Program Office maintains a list of tutors who are specifically certified to teach English as a second language.
Accordion Items: 
I get really nervous talking in front of people. What can I do?

Communication improves with practice. Take advantage of departmental and cross-campus opportunities to present your work. To prepare, we suggest the Iowa branch of Toastmasters, communication-focused courses, and the Writing and Conversation Centers (see resources tab). Teacher training and professional development are also excellent ways to improve your oral communication skills. Starting with smaller goals (e.g., asking a single question—prepared in advance—from the audience at a seminar) can help you gradually build your confidence as you eventually work toward larger goals (e.g., spontaneous conversations at a conference poster session.) Tips from the UCS website also can help manage speaking anxiety.

I just want to do research for a career. Do I still need to learn how to communicate?

Yes! Industry jobs will have coworkers, supervisors, and clients/customers. Faculty jobs will have colleagues, students, and mentees.  Whether you are writing grants, summarizing results, or delivering a conference presentation, other people need to be able to understand the expertise that you bring from your research.

I’m an introvert. All this talk about communicating with other people makes me tired and stressed just thinking about it. Are there ways I can still develop this skill?

Yes! All of these activities can be done in small portions. The biggest concept is learning how to adapt your message for different audiences.

How can I improve my English skills?

Consider enrolling in specific academic writing and speaking courses (see “Overview” section and course listings in “Resources”). We also recommend working with International Student and Scholar Services as well as the Conversation Center to improve communication and intercultural awareness.

Request a Workshop

The Graduate College offers workshops that can be requested by student groups (formal organizations or informal groups of students), faculty, departments, or other campus organizations. You can review the offerings below. To request a workshop, complete the Workshop Request Form.

Please note all workshops:

  • are 60-90 minutes in length,
  • require at least 5 students to attend, and
  • room accommodations must be reserved by the requester

Networking Strategies for Graduate Students (no preparation required)

This workshop focuses on strategies for building effective professional relationships during graduate school. Using a multiple mentor approach, we focus on setting the tone for relationships that offer mentoring, training advice, and professional opportunities. Tools and strategies for on and offline networking will be discussed. Students should bring a smart phone, tablet, or laptop to the session.


    Please check back for future events