Writing and Communication Icon Writing and Communication

Strong skills in professional writing, oral communication, and digital media are fundamental to succeeding in nearly every career. Some opportunities for developing these skills are built into your graduate program, but many additional opportunities and resources are available to you as a graduate student. This competency introduces key resources, opportunities, and guidance for developing new abilities in writing and communication. By intentionally developing these skills, you will be more prepared to succeed both as a graduate student and in diverse work settings. It is also important to consider how to communicate these transferable skills to prospective employers, which you can learn more about in the Career Preparation and Exploration competency of this guide.


Develop Writing and Communication Skills *

Oral Communication Skills

Oral communication skills are vital for your success in a wide variety of academic and professional careers. Whether through research presentations in seminars, lab group meetings, or professional conferences, or through explaining concepts while teaching, graduate school provides many opportunities for you to develop your oral communication skills.

Steps You Can Take

Cultivate Public Speaking and Interpersonal Skills

Public speaking is a significant part of most careers, whether this is speaking up while working in a team, giving presentations, or teaching. Like all skills, public speaking does not come naturally for many, and will take time to develop. Berkeley offers diverse resources for helping students cultivate self-confidence, clarity, and efficacy in public speaking. CAL Toastmasters meets weekly to help students, educators, and professionals develop confident and effective public speaking techniques. Toast of Berkeley is part of Toastmasters International, a world leader in communication and leadership development.

Many people experience some anxiety with public speaking. To learn more about managing anxiety related to speaking in a group or in class, see “Learning to Live With Public-Speaking Anxiety,”Chronicle of Higher Education (2001), or to learn more about anxiety with giving presentations, see “Public speaking and graduate school: How to cope with and master your anxiety,” American Psychological Association (2014).


Develop Your Research “Elevator Pitch” and Participate in Grad Slam

In academia, the elevator pitch is a succinct summary of your dissertation or thesis research for academics or professionals in other fields. The ability to clearly explain complicated concepts in a short time period, and to people previously unfamiliar with the material, translates well to any number of professional careers. In fact, you may wish to develop multiple versions of your elevator pitch; depending on the type of question asked (What is your topic? How did you develop your topic? Why does your topic matter?), you may need a range of “elevator” explanations. See “Mastering the Elevator Speech,” University of California, Santa Barbara Career Services.

Consider participating in Grad Slam, a UC systemwide competition in which graduate students present their research in a three-minute presentation for a general audience. Competing gives you an opportunity to get feedback on your public presentation skills, and also a chance to win cash prizes. Information sessions held in conjunction with the Grad Slam competition provide resources on effective public speaking and designing slides to communicate your message.


Give a Guest Lecture or Teach as a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) and Receive Feedback

Teaching as a GSI is a required component of many graduate programs at Berkeley, but it also provides an excellent opportunity to cultivate the widely utilized academic and professional skills of oral presentation and communication. You may find it valuable to work with a consultant from the GSI Teaching & Resource Center to be recorded in the classroom and receive feedback on your oral communication skills. Learn more about opportunities to work as a GSI in the Teaching and Mentoring Competency of this guide.

Many opportunities exist at Berkeley to give guest lectures—you just have to find the right situation and make your interest and expertise known. Consult course catalogs in your department or related fields to find lecture courses being offered in your area of specialization. Contact the professor to ask if they would be willing to let you offer a guest lecture in one of their course sessions that semester—many are happy to let graduate students gain lecturing experience and will offer subsequent feedback. You can also record your lecture and get feedback on your oral communication skills from the GSI Teaching & Resource Center.

For tips on improving your presentation and communication skills in the classroom, see these two articles on “Public Speaking for Teachers” from the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning at Yale: “Lecturing Without Fear” and “The Mechanics of Speaking.”


Present a Poster or Paper at a Professional Conference

Conference experience can be important not only in academic employment, but in other careers where the ability to analyze information, synthesize concepts, convey and exchange ideas, and receive and respond to feedback is valued. Annual campus, state, national, and international conferences provide regular opportunities to practice these skills. You can learn more about the importance of getting involved with conferences in the Career Preparation and Exploration Competency of this guide.

For advice on presenting at conferences, see “Conference Rules: How to Present a Scholarly Paper,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2008) and “A TED Speaker Coach Shares 11 Tips For Right Before You Go On Stage,” TED Blog (2016).


Present Research to Academic, Professional, or Community Groups

Fostering interest in your research both within and beyond academia can generate career possibilities. Identify groups for whom your research is relevant and seek out opportunities to speak about your research in public venues such as local libraries, schools, museums, and relevant professional or community institutions. You may find that stepping outside the academic setting affords a fresh perspective on your research and provides invaluable practice in speaking to a wide variety of audiences. As one example, the Office of Resources for International and Area Studies (ORIAS) provides opportunities for graduate students in area studies to present their research in local schools.


Practice and Get Feedback on Your Job Talk and Prepare for Interviews

A key opportunity to demonstrate your verbal communication skills is the job interview. For detailed guidance on job interview preparation see “Prepare for Interviews” in the Career Preparation and Exploration Competency of this guide.

Before presenting your research to potential employers (academic or professional), you should practice in front of multiple audiences, in a timed setting, to understand the mechanics of a good presentation. Learning to tailor your talk to different audiences is an invaluable communication skill in any employment setting. Invite friends—whether academically trained or not—to observe your presentation and ask questions. You may wish to provide them with sample questions, or suggestions on types of questions to ask. Afterward, ask for feedback on various aspects of the talk: how clear it was, whether you spoke quickly or slowly, if you engaged the audience, etc.

For advice on how to prepare an academic job talk, attend the Berkeley Career Center’s workshop  “Nailing the Job Talk.” This recurring workshop usually takes place in the fall, so check the Handshake for scheduled workshops. For additional resources, see “The Job Market: The Campus Interview,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2017); “Talking the Good Talk,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2012); “Giving a Job Talk in the Sciences,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2001).

Visual and Digital Communication Skills

Whether you are pursuing a career in academia, government, industry, or the nonprofit sector, knowing how to use digital media is increasingly important. Digital media can help you to widely disseminate and publicize your research. Additionally, creating an online professional presence is beneficial for building your professional identity, networking with others in careers that are of interest to you, and creating visibility of your work that can support you in finding jobs within and beyond the academy.

Steps You Can Take

Develop New Skills with Digital and Visual Communication

Building new technical skills and proficiency in digital tools can help you effectively communicate across different types of media. Search the UC Berkeley Class Schedule for courses on digital video production, digital photography, and more. Berkeley students can freely download Adobe Creative Cloud, which includes desktop and mobile applications like Photoshop and Illustrator, used for designing and editing media including photography, video, and graphics. 

To communicate with broad audiences, it can also be useful to use digital tools to present your research and ideas in a visually compelling form. You can post videos on YouTube and publicize them through Twitter or on blogs. To learn more about visual communication, see “Scholarship Beyond the Word,” (Educause Review 2015). 


Contribute to Blogs and Social Media

Don’t wait for others to discover your research and understand its potential applications. Consider contributing to group blogs or using Twitter to share your expert opinions on current issues and start your own web presence. At the same time, remember that material published online is hard to erase—so think carefully about what and how much to share. See the webinar “Twitter: How to Win Followers and Influence People” from the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity (2019) for more on using Twitter as an academic.


Establish Professional Profiles on LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Academia.edu, and Discipline-Specific Forums

As you explore different career options, be sure to refine your online presence. This can help ensure that you are recognized as a subject-matter expert by potential employers, colleagues looking for participants in projects and conferences, people conducting research across disciplines, or members of the media.

You can participate in events hosted by the Career Center and Beyond Academia to help you develop your professional profiles on websites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, ResearchGate, and Academia.edu. Beyond Academia often holds a professional profile clinic in the Fall semester, where you can receive feedback on your LinkedIn profile and get professional photos taken. Also see “How to Curate Your Digital Identity as an Academic,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2015) and “How to Overcome What Scares Us About Our Online Identities,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2014).

LinkedIn is a powerful tool not only for the job-search, but also for networking and effectively communicating your skills. For example, by posting examples of computer code you have written, a video of you teaching, or a short article, you are demonstrating your skills to your LinkedIn networks. Consider following this comprehensive guide to LinkedIn for PhD grads as you develop your profile and see the Berkeley Career Center site on “Using LinkedIn.”

You may also wish to consider establishing a personal website, an arena in which your sphere of control over content is greatest. For a primer for graduate students on creating your own professional website, see “Where to Begin With Building a Website,”Inside Higher Ed (2018). For advice on how to use search engine optimization (SEO) to improve the ability of digital audiences to locate your work, see “Intentional Web Presence: 10 SEO Strategies Every Academic Needs to Know,” Educause Review (2012).

* Some skills serve in the development of more than one competency. Some skills may apply more to one discipline than to another. Keep in mind that the list of skills and steps you can take to develop these competencies is not exhaustive.


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This guide was created by GradPro: The Graduate Student Professional Development Resource Hub. Visit our website to learn more about what resources, service, and programs are offered by GradPro and other campus partners.