As a science-based PhD student in the UK one of the main messages which is constantly filtering down to me is that being a scientist and a good communicator is a difficult thing to do. There are constant efforts to give science students communication skills training where the starting point is often that it is difficult to make science understandable to the general public, but it is something we should aspire to.
If you think scientists are bad communicators go to an English conference or one on history of art.
As a PhD student working between the arts/humanities and science this rang so true with me! It is often quite easy to spot someone from the arts/humanities from a mile away at conferences or other meetings. As Andrea wrote, they tend to read from a prepared text, rather than expected to be talk their way through the presentation – and this is expected not just accepted sometimes. In fact even people ‘higher up’ in academia do this (as evidenced during the 2 lunch hour lectures I attended at UCL this month, one by a chemist and one by a humanities lecturer).
Over my time here I have spoken to a few arts/humanities students. What I have gathered from them is that the issue of communication skills is not something which comes up quite often in their training/personal development. Nevertheless, presentations in these fields can be just as technical as scientific ones. I am not sure what to think about this, especially since my experience of academic institutions abroad does not really follow this very apparent dichotomy in presentation styles. The one ‘reason’ I have been given is that English has so many nuanced words that it is essential that you use the exact word you mean. But wouldn’t this also be true for people in the sciences?