White woman, Black man in science class with lab goggles, listening to teacher

How to Improve These Must-Have Skills for Science Majors

There are a lot of refined skills you'll need working in a science field, but here are four of the top skills you should start working on today!

Students in STEM majors face demanding fields that require certain skills to be successful in future careers. Having strong writing and research skills comes with the territory of wanting to work in a science field. I use these skills in my current position every day, which has helped me be more successful. In addition to having proper research and writing skills, science majors must be able to communicate effectively and be good at math too. Start working on your writing, research, communication, and math skills today to give you an advantage in internships, volunteer opportunities, and your future career.

Your research skills

You’ll find in your college courses that research is a major part of understanding the concepts you use as you work toward your future career. The ability to conduct research, determine the results, and be able to communicate your findings to others are essential for success in your field. You can take the following steps to improve this skill:

  • Become very familiar with the library and staff: Depending on the subject, you may be unsure of how to start a research project. Don’t hesitate to ask the librarians for assistance. They’ve been trained in finding information and can give you ideas for how to organize your research.
  • Stay on topic: You may be overwhelmed with all the information you find about your research topic. You’ll need to figure out a method to get rid of the data points that aren’t important to your central ideas.
  • Use more than one source for your research: Don’t rely on one source for a project. Be sure to check online sources, books, interviews, and audio recordings, for example. Most importantly, you want to confirm that your sources are reliable and accurate.

Your writing skills

You‘ll be required to write reports or articles in any STEM career—and you’ll receive many chances to practice your writing skills in your college courses. You must be able to communicate information using the appropriate words in a way that’s understandable to the reader. Good writing skills help you organize your thoughts so the reader has a good grasp of the information you presented by the end of it. Here's what you need to do:

  • Organize your thoughts: It’s very important to spend at least 15 minutes organizing your thoughts before you start any paper. Try writing an outline or putting a short paragraph together of all the topics and points you want to cover.
  • Practice: Find ways to get more practice at developing your writing skills such as joining the school newspaper, starting a blog, or keeping a journal.
  • Keep your reader’s interest: No one wants to read a boring paper. Keep things interesting by using synonyms to cut down on repetition and vary the length of your sentences.
  • Read your paper out loud: While you’re writing, you may not notice your grammar or spelling mistakes. When you’re finished, read your paper out loud so you can catch mistakes and make changes, if necessary. Have a friend or parent read your paper to catch any corrections or clarifications as well.
  • Avoid plagiarism in your research writing: If the information didn’t originate from you, you must cite the source of that data. If you don’t cite the source, this is considered plagiarism and can have serious consequences such as failing grades and suspension. 

Related: 7 Tips to Boost Your Writing for Homework and Essays

Your communication skills

I remember several assignments in my undergraduate science courses that involved presenting an experiment or concept. Many colleges make this a requirement because you’ll have to make presentations in your future career. Your employer will expect you to know how to discuss your findings in a way that connects with your audience. Here are a few tips: 

  • Keep it simple: When you're preparing your presentation, consider your audience. You want to give adequate information but not overwhelm them.
  • Use appropriate language: Make sure your choice of words is suitable for the audience. The goal is to make sure that you share information in a way with the audience that’s attainable.
  • Speak clearly and slowly: Practice speaking clearly so you hold your audience’s attention the entire time.
  • Be prepared for questions: Someone in the audience may have questions, so prepare ones you think someone may ask you. However, if you don’t know something, it’s better to admit you don’t have the information than to lie or make something up.

Your math skills

Math can cause anxiety for many students pursuing STEM majors due to gaps in learning or a bad experience with a teacher in high school math courses. But you’ll be expected to use formulas and equations in your future careers; I use math every day to assess the safety of consumer products. Here are a few steps to strengthen your math skills:

  • Keep practicing: When a teacher or professor assigns homework, do the work. They'll often pull test or quiz questions from the homework or create very similar problems. Don’t wait until the night before to study; instead, practice a few problems every day.
  • Ask for help: As soon as you notice you’re having a hard time keeping up with the work, ask for help. Your teachers are there for a reason. Also, you could hire a tutor or study with other people in your class if you feel more comfortable with that option.
  • Focus on the approach to calculating math problems: Understanding why you must use a certain formula is more helpful than just writing an answer down on a test. This is helpful for when you get stuck. Thinking through the process of the problem will give you a better chance of getting the problem right.
  • Get organized: For math classes, feel free to write out pictures, graphs, or diagrams to help you solve problems and organize your notes well. Once you know what pieces of information you have, you can begin to figure out what you need to solve the problem.

Related: Math in the Real World: Different Careers You Could Pursue

A lot of these skills are required for a variety of majors, but it's important to remember how much they'll help you as a science student. Start practicing in high school and putting in the effort beyond your assigned studies to help you thrive in your future science career. Good luck in your skill-building endeavors!

Looking for more expertise to help strengthen your skills as a STEM student? Find specific advice for your future career in our Science and Engineering section, plus general soft skill tips in our Internships and Careers section.

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About Ashley Hill

Ashley Hill

Ashley Hill is a scholarship search strategist, author, and professional speaker who formerly worked at College Prep Ready. She assists families who don't qualify for financial aid and feel overwhelmed paying for college by helping students win merit scholarships (not based on income level) and gain peace of mind!

 

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