Purpose: Scientific communication, both written and oral, is the cornerstone of success in biomedical research, yet formal instruction is rarely provided. Trainees with little exposure to standard academic English may find developing scientific communication skills challenging. In this exploratory, hypothesis-generating qualitative study, the authors examined the process by which mentored junior researchers learn scientific communication skills, their feelings about the challenges, and their mentor’s role in the process.
Method: In 2010, the authors conducted semistructured focus groups and interviews to explore research trainees’ and faculty mentors’ perceptions and practices regarding scientific communication skills development, as part of the development phase of a larger quantitative study. The facilitator took detailed notes and verified their accuracy with participants during the sessions; a second member of the research team observed and verified the recorded notes. Three coders performed a thematic analysis, and the other authors reviewed it.
Results: Forty-three trainees and 50 mentors participated. Trainees and mentors had diverging views on the role of mentoring in fostering communication skills development. Trainees expressed varying levels of self-confidence but considerable angst. Mentors felt that most trainees have low self-confidence. Trainees expressed interest in learning scientific communication skills, but mentors reported that some trainees were insufficiently motivated and seemed resistant to guidance. Both groups agreed that trainees found mentors’ feedback difficult to accept.
Conclusions: The degree of distress, dissatisfaction, and lack of mutual understanding between mentors and trainees was striking. These themes have important implications for best practices and resource development.