Scientific Communication for Natural Resource Professionals

Chapter 14: Professional Communications for Scientists: Impromptu Comments, Telephones, E-mail, and Memos

Brooks C. Mendell


Effective and successful natural resource scientists display skills beyond the technical ones. They inspire others, create cooperation between and among colleagues, advocate ideas and proposals, and educate students and members of the community. In all of these endeavors, success depends on the ability of natural resource professionals to communicate what they know to others.

Recent research highlights the importance of interactive skills among forestry and natural resource graduates and professionals. Thompson et al. (2003) specified the demand for graduates with the abilities to work in teams and to understand and respond to public questions. Survey work by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that employers across all industries rank interpersonal skills first, followed by the ability to work in teams, and verbal communications skills as the most preferred traits for new employees (NACE 2001).

However, cross-industry research indicates that opportunities exist for enhancing communication skills training within collegiate programs. Peterson (1997), in surveying personnel interviewers at businesses in a Midwestern city, found that although 90% of respondents emphasized the importance of communication skills for success, only 60% agreed that current job applicants demonstrated adequate communication skills. Interview personnel identified the five most prevalent oral and nonverbal communication skill inadequacies as (1) eye contact, (2) topic relevance, (3) response organization, (4) listening skills, and (5) response clarity.

A 1998 survey of forestry and natural resources employers highlighted the desire for new employees with strong skills in ethics, and written and oral communication, in addition to the requisite technical field skills (Sample et al. 1999). Employers also identified the importance of the abilities to work in teams and to listen to and address public questions. Sample et al. (1999) identified gaps, specific areas for improvement for forestry and natural resource graduates, in teamwork, communication skills, and managerial skills.