I often make the case that PhD students should prepare early for their post-academic career. One sign that lack of planning is a problem: the rise of a growing business in post-postdoctoral career training. Here I’ll show the different ways career coaching and other services can help graduates, and list resources specifically for PhD scientists. Continue reading
What’s your story?
As a scientist, your ability to tell a story is as important to your career as knowing how to design experiments. Of all the skills needed to successfully move from academia to industry, good storytelling may be the one that takes the most effort. If good science is the process of obtaining meaningful data, good science communication is using that data to tell a story. This story may be as simple as one chart that clearly shows a cause and effect relationship, or as complex as a scientific journal publication. Continue reading
Let’s bury the Powerpoint Murder Mystery
Jean-Luc Doumont has described some research presentations as mystery stories: The presenter has a result they want to share, but they don’t want to spoil it by telling the audience up front. After a brief introduction to the topic, most of the presentation is spent on methods, experimental details, and data. Finally at the end, they surprise the audience with the results, and wait for the expressions of awe. Consistently, this is never as intriguing as the speaker hoped. While there is growing awareness that scientists need to communicate better, the research presentation is remarkably resistant to change. I’d like to report that among many scientists, the Powerpoint Murder Mystery is alive and well. Continue reading
Who cares about standard operating procedures?
Scientists from academia are often puzzled by the emphasis on standard operating procedures (SOPs) in industry. In one of my early R&D jobs, it felt like an obsession – as soon as I got a new result, my managers wanted to know about the process, and whether I had standardized it. I thought it must be due to their background in manufacturing, where everything has to be replicated from one factory to another. But with more experience, I’ve seen this interest in standardized procedures everywhere – manufacturing, R&D, medical devices, pharmaceuticals… everywhere, that is, except the university research lab. For scientists trained to answer questions by designing new experiments, question of process might not make sense, and even seem a waste of time: If standard procedures are so important, how do we explain the many successful research groups that never bother with them?
Communication: the most important thing you learned to do badly
Most students would be surprised that the term “academic” can have a negative tone in industry. But it’s true – and one place it often gets used is in describing research presentations. For people trained in academia who want to apply their skills to industry, finding a good way to describe their academic experience can be hard. I’m not talking about slide layout or presentation style – I’m talking about the message. The general rule in communication, accepted everywhere outside research institutions, is KISS, for “keep it simple, stupid.” That’s harder than it sounds when you’re surrounded by people who have made their careers by studying complex fields in great detail. One consequence is that you get credibility by describing your work in all its complexity, it great detail. Continue reading