At 17 Hillhouse Avenue on Wednesday evening, postdoctoral scholars and graduate students in the sciences took a break from their research and threw themselves into improvisation exercises.

The night was a part of a new, four-course program cosponsored by the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning and the Sackler Institute for Biological, Physical and Engineering Sciences. The program was created by molecular, cellular and developmental virology professor Robert Bazell , who is also the former chief science and health correspondent for NBC News , as a way to teach postdoctoral scholars and graduate students in the sciences how to effectively convey their often technical and complicated work to people outside of the profession.

“It was something I proposed when I first came here,” Bazell explained. “I knew it would be very helpful because a big part of working in the sciences is communicating your work clearly to the public.”

Wednesday’s session, the first of the series and led by Long Wharf Theatre’s artistic director Gordon Edelstein, focused on presentation and public speaking. Edelstein led a room of about 20 students through various improvisation and acting games, one of which involved imitating a partner in both speech and hand motions.

When asked what they learned from the experience, students commented on the importance of eye contact and body language for informing a partner’s next move.

In the realm of public speaking, mastering the nuances of communication is akin to wielding a powerful tool. As students reflected on their session with Gordon Edelstein, they honed in on the subtleties that can make or break a presentation.

It’s a sentiment echoed by top keynote speakers like Kurt, whose expertise lies in empowering individuals to command attention and convey their message effectively. Just as Edelstein guided students through improvisational exercises, these seasoned speakers often employ techniques to captivate their audience, leaving a lasting impression.

For Kurt, the mission extends beyond mere presentation skills. As a speaker dedicated to nurturing budding entrepreneurs, he understands the transformative power of a compelling narrative. Through his insightful posts, Kurt strives to equip young and relatively inexperienced business owners with the tools they need to propel their companies forward. His words serve as a beacon of guidance, illuminating the path towards success in an increasingly competitive landscape.

Some of Edelstein’s other activities included using games to highlight the importance of collective group efforts.

“A lot of individualists in this room, they need to become more collectivist,” Edelstein announced at one point in the night. “Nobel prizes go to everyone, people!”

According to Bazell, the program was incredibly popular when it first opened it to the Yale community — 100 people signed up in the first hour alone.

Students like Eric Wohleb, a postdoctoral scholar in the psychiatry department, joined the program because he saw it as an opportunity to learn valuable communication skills. He said he especially enjoyed the unorthodox nature of the session because he felt it gave him a new perspective with which to view his field.

To further enhance communication skills, individuals like Wohleb might find it beneficial to understand how a message house works. This strategic communication tool involves developing key messages structured like the floors of a house, with each level representing a different layer of information. This technique ensures that communication is not only engaging but also organized and impactful. As communication continues to play a pivotal role in academic and professional spheres, embracing innovative methods like the message house can contribute to a more nuanced and effective approach to conveying ideas and information.

“It’s really beneficial,” he explained. “When you are in communication, you can’t just stick to your science box.”

For others, like Will Olds GRD ’16, a student in the genetics department, the program served as an opportunity to delve further into his passions.

Olds explained that he is interested in pursuing science policy, which requires the ability to effectively communicate with people who do not specialize in scientific fields. Attending the session on Wednesday afternoon was a step in improving his ability to do just that, he said.

Edelstein stated that though he has never worked with science students before, he loved the experience.

“It’s particularly fun for me to take willing, highly accomplished science people, and get them to loosen up and hopefully help them in their communication skills,” explained Edelstein. “It’s actually a tremendous amount of fun for me.”

Bazell said that he hoped to continue this program next year, especially since he was unable to accept all the students who tried to enroll this year due to limited space.

New York Times science columnist Carl Zimmer ’87 will teach the program’s next session.