Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Importance of Communication

As graduate students and postdocs, we are rewarded when we discover new concepts. "I have invented!" I am sure most of us have "danced the happy dance" when the critical experiment goes well.

However, the innovation, the actual application of these inventions do not happen without other people. We need a peer review, a legal team, patent officers, policy makers, market analysts. One person cannot run science alone. One of my consulting jobs was for another management consultant (Dave). Dave told me he had a client who claimed he had the best thing ever since the discovery of electricity. However, Dave did not understand a thing about the biotechnology he was explaining. Dave asked me to talk to him and clarify. I am sure the scientist I talked to was genius and he had discovered something amazing. Unfortunately, I could not fully understand his details either. He spoke to me on the phone and sent documents. He did not have any publications, as he wanted to patent the idea before it became public.

This scientist could have invented the next best thing. I am not sure if he continued with it or not. However, if his ideas could not be communicated to an ivy-league trained management consultant and another PhD scientist in the same field; his invention may take a while to be innovated.

Communication is critical. A clear, concise way of transmitting your scientific thought and its applications makes all the difference. The best way to practice is explaining the basic ideas to a four year-old child, a high school student, your friend who is not in science, and then to a colleague not in your lab. If you can master these four audiences, your communication skills are developing well. With children, try to explain your science using illustrations and simple analogies to everyday processes, such as cooking and food. Think outside the box to explain your box. It will expand your thinking and communication skills.

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