Earning a PhD requires a high level of specialization. First, you pick a program of study, then a special area of research, then a tiny slice of that research becomes the basis of your dissertation. In all that specialization, it’s easy to lose sight of anything and anyone outside of the lab and the library. But communicating with the wider world about new ideas is an essential part of academic life. GSAS graduates will need outstanding communications skills whether they go on to a career in teaching, research, the public sector, or industry.

Watch the Harvard Horizons Symposium below:


This year, eight Harvard Horizons scholars were challenged to become better communicators – and at Sanders Theatre on April 11, they used their newfound skills to maximum effect.

Now in its sixth year, Harvard Horizons is a program that provides in-depth, personalized mentoring and coaching designed to enhance their presentation skills. The eight scholars were selected by a panel of Faculty Fellows and had just ten weeks to develop their final five-minute presentations.

The event opened with a welcome from GSAS Interim Dean Emma Dench. “Welcome to the highlight of the year and prepared to be wowed by the eight extraordinary Harvard Horizons Scholars,” said Dench, “who will achieve the incredible feat of sharing their research in five minutes.”

Harvard Horizons, a joint program between the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, was first envisioned by Shigehisa Kuriyama, Reischauer Institute Professor of Cultural History, and Xiao-Li Meng, Dean of GSAS and Whipple V. Jones Professor of Statistics. The program made possible in part by Stephen Blyth, PhD ’90, who established a dean’s innovation fund to support it. “It is important for students to share complex ideas in a clear and compelling way,” said Blyth. “That ability is so important in academy and even more important outside of academia, where scholars need to communicate the impact of their research to those outside their field.”

The Harvard Horizons Scholars were introduced by two Harvard Horizons alumni, Charrise Barron, PhD ’17, and David Roberson, PhD ’16. “Harvard Horizons taught me to communicate my science in a way that can be digested and understood by a broad audience,” shared Roberson. “The small business grants that funded my company and the way I communicate with investors, all of that can be traced back to what I learned in Harvard Horizons.”

Barron, who remained in academia as a postdoctoral student at Yale, found the experience equally gratifying. “I am constantly using what I learned in Harvard Horizons to succinctly describe my research to others,” she said. “The benefits last for years and years throughout one’s career.”

A Stage, An Idea, and Just Five Minutes: Harvard Horizons 2018

Photo by Tony Rinaldo