Kwadwo Owusu-Ofori, Ph.D. (Guest Blogger)
PharmTalk - A Blog for Young Scientists is a new ASPET blog primarily written by postdocs Joanna Sandilos Rega (Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, PA) and Uyen Chu (University of Wisconsin-Madison). The primary objective of this blog is to engage postdocs and graduate students in topics helpful to your experience as a young scientist, focusing on but not limited to communication skills and core competencies of leadership and management as defined by the National Postdoctoral Association's set of "core competencies." Our hope is that this blog will be a valuable source for pointers on how to enrich your experience as a young scientist.
Kwadwo Owusu-Ofori, PhD is the Operations Manager for the Milwaukee Health Department, Public Health Laboratory and a Founder at Satori Labs, LLC.
Don’t think follow the data. Think lead the field.
In academia you are praised when you display a lot of knowledge about your field, and are allowed to talk about it for hours on end as long as you’re the expert in the room. But outside of academia, it's better to wear your education like a pocket watch. Bring it out when you need it, not to show it off.
Have you ever had an IT guy explain why your printer isn’t letting you print out that ground breaking paper you’ve been hearing about since you got back from the national ASPET conference? How did you react when he started explaining network connections and i.p. addresses using all of those big juicy words? Honestly, how did that make you feel? Well that’s how you make people feel when you talk to them about your research. Stop the jargon. Stop the big words. And definitely stop using bigger words to explain those big words.
Like Dale Carnegie said in his book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” - a must read for all who venture from the lab bench - people worry more about the pimple on their nose than all they do all of the starving children in Africa. So if you think that your research is so profound that everyone has to hear it, you’re not only wasting your time, you’re wasting theirs. That upsets people. More importantly, it makes Bill Nye the science guy cry. He’s a nice guy, please don’t make him cry.
Say what you need to say and get on with it.
As an expert scientist, the first thing that you want to convey when you walk in a room is authority. But as a leader in a budding field of science, the first thing that you want is to do is build rapport. Nobody will listen to a know-it-all no matter how small their error bars are. You're already being introduced as doctor, trust me, that's enough. And although everyone in academia is a doctor, once you step off the college campus, you're among the top 1% of educated people. It's kind of a big deal. Your goal is to be likeable, that's it.
Your audience will tell you what’s important about your research and how to convey it, not you - you’re too close to it! People outside of the scientific community only care about one thing - how can I use this information to look smart at the late-night conference hotel party. Make it simple for them. Give them something they can remember.
"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." - Albert Einstein
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. How should you practice? Start small. And here’s a start:
- Talk to your mom about your research. You probably need to call her anyway. When she gets it, she will tell you what’s important about your research. Use her words. That’s your stump speech
- Read more grocery store magazines. There’s a lot of good science in those. Usually the science is terribly misinterpreted, but like I said, it’s a start.
When I was in grad school a friend of mine wrote several grant applications to the NIH with his advisor. After one of his many rejections he asked his advisor why they were never funded. His advisor responded; “We didn’t get funded because the study section wasn’t sophisticated enough to understand our research.” Wrong answer. The problem was that he was so caught up in proving his expertise that he dragged his audience into the alphabet soup of his field and drowned them. What’s the takeaway message? Don’t drown your audience.
In conclusion, I would like you to go on a thought exercise with me.
Think about the Director of the CDC, Tom Frieden, on CNN discussing the Ebola Outbreak, or Neil Degrasse-Tyson explaining how planets move throughout the universe. They speak slowly. They are well put together. They are charming, articulate, and in control. Do that. Master that. Be that. Don’t think follow the data. Think lead the field.