It’s A Math, Math World (Communication Skills I)

Welcome to the new math and stats blog titled “It’s a Math, Math World”. I plan to bring you new and exciting news and views regarding the world of math and statistics at least once a week. I will bring you mostly (I hope) some original content from my years as an undergrad math student and a graduate statistics student.

From various conversations I have had with industry professionals and college professors, I have been told, overwhelmingly, that good, solid communication skills are the most important skills in the mathematical sciences. These include a good grasp of the English language (in most countries) and the ability to clearly explain complex and sometimes abstract topics in concrete terms. Yet, these skills are often lacking in my observations of today’s students in mathematics and statistics.

As stated above, these problems can be categorized into 2 groups:

  1. Insufficient written/oral communication skills (which we will cover today),
  2. inability to explain complex and abstract concepts adequately (which will be covered in part 2 of this blog next week)

When we consider insufficient written/oral communication skills, we will look at 3 issues.

  1. The first reason is that, at least in the United States, a large portion of the mathematics and science students in university settings are foreign born and have English as a second language. Thus, some struggle in their written and verbal communication skills with English. For example, when I was at Rutgers a few years ago, I was a member of as team for a group project. Of the 6 of us, I was one of 2 people whose primary language was English. The project involved writing some computer code using the R language to analyze some US Census data and writing a report afterwards. To expedite the work flow, I suggested that if the others in the group worked on getting the R code written and running without bugs, then I would write the report. The rest of the group agreed.  Afterwards, I sent the 24+ page manuscript out (by email) for editing suggestions from the group. I tried to please everyone in the group to the best of my ability and we ended up scoring in the 90’s for our grade.
  2. Another reason is the relaxing of the rules of grammar in our casual conversation which carries over into our more formal conversation. This “colloquial diction” is a combination of slang, street talk and just lazy grammar. Add to that the horrible grammar used in email and texting which carries over into formal communication, and we have a horrible result. If you watch news interviews or god forbid, daytime TV discussions, where younger people are asked to tell a story and give an opinion, you can notice that their grammar is deplorable. Some people make up their own words. And with texting, people are going to be talking in “text shorthand” someday in real life conversation.
  3. The third reason is the lowering of academic standards in our public schools. An emphasis is not placed on writing skills anymore. Some school districts won’t even grade papers with a red pen anymore because it is too “traumatic” to the child. When I was in the 6th grade, we had a creative writing assignment to complete every week or so. I had a teacher in junior high school who was an English grammar fanatic. He would scour every word and sentence you wrote and forced me to write clearly and accurately. He was a great teacher and I thank him to this day.

Also, starting in 8th grade, we had to start writing critiques of books and simple analyses of stories we had read. This continued on through HS. When I got to college, I could write a coherent paper with well-supported ideas. From what I read in the news, that is not the rule anymore. A lot of colleges have to offer remedial work to incoming freshmen to bring them up to speed.

I know this topic is not very “math-heavy” as future posts will be, but I bring up some good points.

  • How do we increase the written and oral communication skills of our young mathematicians and scientists?
  • How do we emphasize strong coherent writing techniques in school?
  • How do we do the above with shrinking education resources and political obstacles in the education system?

I look forward to your feedback. Have a good week. Part 2 will be posted next week.

Like what you read? Get blogs delivered right to your inbox as I post them so you can start standing out in your job and career. There is not a better way to learn or review college level stats topics than by reading, It’s A Math, Math World

30 Responses to “It’s A Math, Math World (Communication Skills I)”

  • In regards to people communicating in “txt speak” in everyday life, I think your statement is a bit bold and without real substance. Have you read or heard Stephen Fry’s comments on the subject? I believe his talk centered more on Twitter, but the point is still relevant. Think back to the telegraph. Shortened forms of communication have existed for much longer before texting became the fashion. People had the same fears with the rise of instant messaging. If anything, I believe their may be more evidence for just more concise formulation of thought. The real problem I see is a loss of vocabulary and a love of words. People used to play with language and now it just seems that the masses simply do no care about creative word use. They’d rather just have information hand fed to them at a third grade reading level.

  • admin says:

    I agree with you that people have lost the art of language skills and the love of words. We have”dumbed down” even the most common of documents. I used to work in a clinical trials facility and our informed consents were written on a 4th or 5th grade reading level according to regulatory requirements.

    Gone are the days of the classic novel also! It is a shame.

    I disagree on the idea that texting and instant messaging is making our oral communications more concise. I think I was not off base by making an assumption that bad written grammer can translate into bad spoken grammar if we are not careful. It is an opinion based on observation, as I said in my introduction. It is not a scientific study by any means!

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