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Learning objectives

  • Learn to understand your own role in the communication process.
  • Learn to recognize how personal identity informs your communication approach.


“One’s own self is well hidden from one’s own self; of all mines of treasure, one’s own is the last to be dug up.” —Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche


When you are interacting with someone, you are the lead character. That is to say you can control your own behaviors, the messages you send, and your own reactions to others. The more you understand yourself in a communication exchange, the better you will be able to reach your objective. Recognizing your personality style, habits of thinking, emotions, what gets you stressed as well as understanding how these contribute to how others see you helps you shape the outcome of your communication. Simply put, the better you know yourself and how you interact with others the better able you will be to control and predict how successfully you engage with everyone around you—faculty, colleagues, family and friends.


I have control over_____________ in the communication process.

The best answer is “b”. You have control of what you communicate and how you present yourself, whether it is through being on time for a meeting, your commitment to the project, your careful attention to detail, or your openness to others’ ideas. Alternately, you do not have control over how the other person views you (a), what they think of your message (d) or even how they interpret your message (c). Hopefully, you see that the key here is that you have control of you, not the other person.

Your Role in the Communication Process

On this website, we view you as the most important component in the communication process. In any given communication interaction, you are the one in control of how you plan your message [see Planning The Message], how you hear what the other person is saying [see Active Listening], how you express yourself [see Expressing Yourself] and how you receive and respond to feedback [see Receiving and Responding to Feedback]. The materials we have created are written to empower you and help you communicate most effectively.

While you can and should take into consideration the perspectives of others and how they might react to you, you only have control over yourself and your own behaviors in these interactions—how you prepare for and approach the communication interaction, what you communicate, and how you react.

What Makes “You” You

The characteristics and experiences that make you unique are complex and overlapping and are often referred to as dimensions of personal identity1. The model illustrated below has been proposed to capture the dimensions of personal identity. “A” dimensions are less malleable and are often ascribed to you through birth or through family, culture, and upbringing. Your personal experiences and your interests—including your work and school interests— comprise the “B” Dimensions. The historical era or place in time ultimately shapes the “C” Dimensions of your identity. This can include how you think about the world and how you interact with and integrate new trends or technologies into the way you move through your environment.

Generally, elements of all the dimensions contribute to who you are. You, as a STEM woman, have an intersection of identities2: you are a woman, a student, and a researcher. Perhaps you also have some key identities that pertain to your racial identity, your cultural identity, your role as a partner or caretaker or some other salient identity such as a particular religious or sexual orientation. It is the unique combination of your identity characteristics that work together in a way that makes your experience as a woman in STEM different from other women’s and men’s experiences.

As you review the model, think of how each dimension and the variables within each dimension inform your own approach to communication. Learning how your personality and preferences and your personal identity influence the way you communicate is an important element in successful communication interactions.

You Are the Communicator

In any given interaction, you play the most essential role in planning the message that you wish to deliver and expressing yourself effectively. You are the communicator in the interaction, and because you are the “star performer” in any dialogue you initiate, you do have some control of the situation, regardless of how difficult the subject matter is or with whom you are discussing it. You may feel shy, intimidated, or even helpless sometimes but it’s pertinent to remember that you do indeed have a source of power and leverage.


  1. Arredondo, P., & Glauner, T. (1992). Personal Dimensions of Identity Model. Boston, MA: Empowerment Workshops.
  2. Crenshaw , K. (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6), 1241-1299. doi:10.2307/1229039

Key Elements in Good Advising
The importance of being open and honest with your advisor.

Possible and Impossible Selves
The importance of self-authorship and using graduate school as a process for self-definition.

Reflecting on "Why" and "How"
The importance of giving yourself credit and remembering why you are doing what you're doing.

Promoting Yourself to Your Family
Advises how to keep family informed about research goals and progression from student to faculty member.

Distinguishing Customs and Roles in International Relations (Part 1)
Highlights the universal customs of science.

Distinguishing Customs and Roles in International Relations (Part 2)
Elaborates on the standard practice of science despite cultural differences.

Being Comfortable as a Woman Among Men
Emphasizes positive peer relationships within her cohort.

Words of Wisdom: Dr. Barton
The importance of knowing what you want and expecting tradeoffs on the path to get it.


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