Each year, seniors are excited to use and showcase the skills they have developed over the last four years of college. Their eagerness boils as graduation becomes closer, and the sights of careers become more and more clear. The UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication (LSC) offers two capstone courses where seniors bring together everything they have learned in the major to solve science communication challenges and prepare them for their careers. This spring semester, one of the capstone options is LSC 640: Case Studies in the Communication of Science and Technology, which combines a cumulative strategic science communication analysis project and professional development activities to prepare students for the next steps after graduation.
A significant component of LSC 640 requires students to conduct a semester-long SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis of a business or organization using everything they learned in the major. They choose organizations based on their interests, says academic advising manager Tera Holtz Wagner, “The breadth of organizations is representative of the breadth of areas our students are interested in and studying. This ranges from non-profits to large and small companies in industry and governmental agencies.” For example, a student studying environmental science may choose to analyze the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and a student studying genetics may analyze 23andMe. Students use publicly available information like social media, websites, and annual reports to analyze the organization in areas of visual communication, brand identity, application of science communication theory, and identification of and appropriate messaging to their target audience(s).
Faculty from the department present in the course to provide refreshers for many of these topics and help students think about how they would analyze their organization’s performance in these areas. Throughout the semester, the class works as a think tank to support each other’s analysis helping identify gaps, new areas for research, and industry data sources that may be helpful. As a result, students hone critical analysis skills that they can apply to their careers in health, digital marketing, environmental communication, research, etc.
Another major component of the class is career development. Graduating seniors often feel overwhelmed by the job search process and figuring out how to apply their college experiences to the workforce and graduate/professional school. To address this need, LSC dedicated portions of this course to activities like informational interviews with LSC alumni, resume and cover letter workshops, building a professional portfolio, and mock interviews. A senior studying LSC and Environmental Studies, Emma Schatz, took the course last fall and said, “LSC 640 was extremely helpful as a career development course and left me feeling more confident and prepared to transition out of college. The SWOT Analysis allowed me to create a piece of work that I can now use in my own portfolio to showcase my creative and analytical skills.”
At the end of the semester, students will have a detailed analysis report on the organization’s communication strategies, a professional online presence, and other helpful tips and tricks for success in the job market. “LSC 640 helps students with diverse interests practice their skills in a broad range of fields, which helps them succeed in the job market after graduation. Students in LSC 640 benefit from having significant portions of their classwork dedicated to developing and polishing their job application materials,” says Professor Mike Xenos, who is teaching LSC 640 this spring. In turn, this class helps students with diverse interests practice their skills in a broad range of fields, which helps them succeed in the job market after graduation. “LSC is constantly adapting its curriculum to meet the challenges of an evolving workplace for our seniors,” says Dominique Brossard, Professor and Chair of the department. “LSC 640, which evolves every year to include the latest trends in the industry, is a perfect example of this.”
Story by Sarah Kubiak, LSC B.S. ’22 and LSC’s 2021-2022 Lenore Landry Scholar