Author: Susan Miller, UA Biosciences Toastmasters (club 1340288)
Speaking My Science: What I Enjoy Most About Biosciences Toastmasters
The University of Arizona Biosciences Toastmasters club has a motto: “Speak Your Science.”
I’ve been a member of this club since it chartered in 2009. One thing that has kept me actively
involved is that I learn something amazing at just about every meeting! Some memorable
moments include learning about desert horned lizards squirting blood out of their eyes in self-
defense, encounters with desert wildlife such as javelinas, and the danger of extinction of our
favorite variety of bananas.
Since we are a group of scientists and science lovers, there is always exciting research to hear
about, and our members do a fantastic job of explaining how this research will benefit the
general public. We’ve learned about cancer detection, artificial heart devices and advances in
medical transport, new transmissible diseases that are on the rise, fire and building safety, and
what supercomputers can do for us. New members continue to bring us exciting and unfamiliar
topics, so our knowledge is ever expanding.
Not all of the speeches are hard-core science, though. We’ve learned about entrepreneurship
for scientists, about birdwatching, and a few of our members have shared their thrill-seeking
pastimes. Our club has enjoyed presentations on using yoga or power posing to promote
calmness and confidence while speaking in front of an audience. We’ve even been entertained
by hearing about family planning during a Zombie apocalypse, the history of jigsaw puzzles, and
the benefits of learning some Yiddish phrases! Some of the most moving presentations have
been first-hand accounts of the challenges of life as a transgender person, and commentaries
on the importance of being ecological stewards for our planet. These types of speeches often
push us to think differently and change our behaviors, and to share our new knowledge and
awareness with others. It’s a good feeling to recognize the “aha” moments in the faces of your
audience when you’ve prompted them to consider points of view they may not have previously
been exposed to.
Our meetings are lively, and the impromptu speaking portions of our meetings (known as “Table
Topics”) are always varied and enjoyable. Some of our members belong to multiple clubs, and
they share creative Table Topics themes from the other clubs. Practice in speaking off the cuff
can help prepare us to excel in job interviews when faced with curveball questions, to express
ourselves effectively in meetings, or even to improve our interpersonal relationships with friends,
family, and loved ones. It’s a good feeling to know how to handle situations in which we may
have felt caught off guard, and being able to practice these skills regularly is challenging,
gratifying, and fun!
Club participants support each other in ways that extend outside of our meetings as well. We
help members prepare for Masters or PhD defense talks and speaking competitions, and often
attend these presentations to lend moral support. We occasionally edit each other’s writings,
participate in charity fundraisers, volunteer to take newcomers to Tucson on hikes, and even
offer meals to members facing health challenges in their families.
The diversity of our club members ensures that we will all continue to learn and grow. Our
members come from around the globe, with different cultural, professional, and scientific
backgrounds, and range in age from 20s to 70s. Students, staff, faculty, and individuals
interested in science are equally welcome in the club and struggle with the same aspects of
public speaking and leadership: developing confidence, improving effectiveness and eloquence,
clearly communicating science, and becoming more competent leaders. Having a level playing
field for all club members helps us to truly support each other’s efforts to become better
speakers and leaders.
I’m so glad that Biosciences Toastmasters has continued to meet virtually during the pandemic.
Our club officers didn’t miss a beat in arranging online sessions. With all of the uncertainty of
the past year, having regular Toastmasters meetings as a touchstone has helped ensure that
we haven’t lost the communication skills we’ve worked so hard to master. The social connection
has also been quite welcome.
Not only has Toastmasters helped me become a better and more self-assured speaker, it has
greatly increased my overall confidence and helped me to achieve career goals I would not
have previously imagined possible. As an introverted computer programmer, I never thought I’d
one day become Deputy Director of the UArizona Data Science Institute. Toastmasters was
definitely with me on the day I gave my interview talk for that position.
Most of us don't learn effective communication skills when we cut our teeth in a laboratory or
using supercomputers, but these skills are important if we are to become confident presenters
and effective leaders. I highly encourage anyone to give Toastmasters a try.
If you want to see just how creative and fun Speaking Your Science can be, email officers-
firstname.lastname@example.org to get a Zoom link to visit UA Biosciences Toastmasters. We
currently meet on Fridays from 1-2 p.m. and guests are always welcome.