by Sanae Ferreira
This trio of four-letter words, though they seem small, packs a punch:
They imply a sense of ownership, a worthy evaluation, and an in-depth knowledge of who you are as an individual. All three of these are areas that continually evolve as you do.
Graduate school is, in some ways, a giant Laboratory where the subjects are not only people in clinic, human samples in vials, or cell preparations, but us – the students and aspiring experts and professionals in our respective niches. We subject ourselves to tests of intellect, challenges to our confidence, and contests in our ability to respond to an ever-changing environment of demands. Sometimes, these trials also tax not only intellectual resources, but also physical and emotional ones.
In other words, participant burden in graduate school can be quite a handful. But, as in any experiment we conduct as research scientists, though the participant burden is potentially great, we continue onwards because there is a chance that the experimental conditions will result in greater benefit for the subject than in not participating at all and there are no major dangers to deter the studies. The rest of the difficulties along the way are akin to side effects, and are to be expected, but will help us reevaluate the journey along the way.
The overarching research question for this battery of experiments is if by participating, we will emerge from these experiences equipped with a well-stocked tool kit of skills that will both make us competitive in the work force and continue to advance the greater medical knowledge with interesting and important findings.
Yes, indeed – we want to hone the best research skills– but there is a balance of other attributes, that when developed will make you an outstanding individual. These include being attentive to detail, an innovator, a keeper of excellent documentation, a dependable character, a mentor to junior students, and a helpful hand assisting wherever there is a lack.
Take a moment to think about the people who you enjoy working with. What are they like? This profile obviously differs for everyone to some extent, but these people likely have spent some time to reflect and come to the decision that they want to be, and be known for, their most authentic selves. They may have taken some steps to work towards becoming the best version themselves possible by acquiring many types of useful skills to convey their message – a composite of research + researcher – to others most effectively.
Part of these skills also includes what are sometimes known as “soft skills” in areas such as communication and leadership. These are killer skills – without them, though your research findings could be dynamic and pivotal to every person listening, a less than dynamic delivery could stifle the impact. Taking time to consider the following two things can go a long way in helping you prepare for any kind of presentation.
- Know your goal.
- Know your audience.
You may know that you have a lot to offer, but the impact is limited until you find the best way to communicate your gifts to others. Whether you just started in your first year of graduate school, or you’re near the end of your term in this giant laboratory, it isn’t too late to evaluate how you connect with others. Try new ways, and adapt as you go based on the responses you get back. Just as in an experiment – if something isn’t working, try another method.
You want to communicate your best self to others at the same time as you convey those important research findings. Do you rarely look at people as you speak to them? Do you fall back on reading from the slides due to nerves? Do your slides lack visual organization and do not really guide the audience along? Addressing these aspects of a presentation will help your audience stick with you. Instead of getting hung up on issues with the delivery, they will remember the clear, organized, and polished manner with which you presented the work, hopefully along with some of your awesome conclusions.
For the next lab meeting when you’re up, tell a story. Storytelling is an age-old pastime and mode of communication. Historically, it has been a way to warn people of danger, to inspire others, and to keep a record to learn from and appreciate. Your job as a researcher is also to tell a story.
When you do so, use all the modes of communication you can employ. Voice deftly seasoned with emotion, visual aides, tone, eye contact, and gestures can all assist you with the task of presenting the important facts – which, incidentally, are also the most difficult to remember for your listeners. All the “seasonings” help make the message palatable to a variety of consumers. This way, when you get to a conference where you’re speaking in front of complete strangers, you will have practiced communicating more effectively and it won’t be so hard.
While you’re here, why not use a percent of this laboratory time to gauge where you stand in the process of developing you as a whole, dynamic and impactful researcher? With the vision of sharing Your Best Self with others, you can definitely make graduate school work for you.