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Top 10 Nonscientific Skills Scientists Often Lack That Can Derail Their Careers



11/18/2016 3:56:37 PM

December 1, 2016
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

Recruiting the right candidate for a scientific research team is something similar to putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Recruiters need to make sure candidates with the right skills become part of their team.

Many researchers share similar skills and knowledge when it comes to the actual scientific research and the laboratory work that needs to be done. So what other skills should researchers possess to set themselves apart from the pack and land that all-important position?

Lucila Ohno-Machado, chair of the of the Department of Biomedical Informatics at theUniversity of California, San Diego, told Science magazine that not only do researchers need their basic science skills, but they also need to develop some basic business skills. Ohno-Machedo said the roles scientists find themselves in often require skills in “accounting, resource management and organizational development.”

Additionally, there were a few skills highlighted by the Science team as necessary to stand out from the crowd.

1. Role Playing.

Through role playing exercises, scientists can gain skills in mediation, negotiation, and conflict resolution, which can then save time and energy, Science said. The magazine cited the success rate of a workshop developed at MIT specifically for engineers. The workshop’s exercises helped participants mitigate workplace mistakes. Charles Leiserson, professor of computer science and engineering at MIT and one of the program creators, said using the training in fields beyond engineering, including scientists, provides greater awareness and understanding of “communication, relationships and building a work culture,” things he told Science are often “conspicuous weaknesses for many scientists.”

In addition, these genes are not single entities, they interact with each other and the environment. And how they are turned on and off is another complicated variable.

2. Marketing.

In this day and age, good science alone may not be strong enough to sell itself. Good marketing skills will allow scientists to turn their presentations into storytelling tools, which will keep audiences focused on the topic at hand. Not only will this help drive key points home with the audience, it will also keep them engaged, which is a matter of courtesy to people attending a presentation.

The Harvard Public School of Health used data science to identify about 350 of the most important organisms, and using DNA sequencing, analyzed 3.5 terabytes of genomic data to pinpoint genetic “name tags,” that can identify where and how those markers behave in a healthy population.

3. Finance Management.

Science suggested that researchers should bone up on basic business skills through online courses or even reading the plethora of books on the subjects. “Skills in finance, management and teaching especially benefit team-based interdisciplinary science,” Jeffrey Engler, a former virologist who now teaches at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Graduate School, told Science. It’s important to understand costs of scientific research and it helps to have data-driven information to justify any expenses as well. It should go without saying that it’s important to have impeccable accounting of every penny spent on a project.

4. Project/Time Management.

It’s important for researchers to establish priorities for a project and to plan a project timeline. This will ensure a focused approach to the project that will not only save time resources, but also financial resources as well. Project managers will have a step-by-step plan on how the research should be conducted in order to hit important milestones that can trigger additional funding.

5. Data Management.

This is the world of big data and it’s important for scientists to understand the role big data plays in a project. It’s key to be able to handle large amounts of data efficiently in order to develop a strong analysis. Data management requires good organizational skills, which are attractive to any recruiter.

Not only are the hard business skills important, but there are also soft skills that are necessary as well. Last year, research scientists noted several necessary soft skills on the website Quora, a Q&A site where users can find answers from members of the online community. The skills outlined are by no means an exhaustive list, but something for job seekers to think about as they prepare for job interviews.

6. Cooperation.

In April 2015, Adriana Heguy, a professor of pathology at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, touted a “spirit of cooperation” as an important soft skill. She said it may be counterintuitive to the hyper-competitive scientific community, but it’s key to remember that in group projects, individual credit doesn’t stand out, but team credit does.

7. Conflict Resolution.

Heguy said this goes hand-in-hand with cooperation. Because scientists and researchers tend to be so competitive, she said understanding how to resolve any conflicts is key to being an effective leader and team member.

8. Communication.

This should go without saying, but sometimes it’s important to remind people. Maryse Lapierre-Landry, a biomedical engineering Ph.D. candidate, said it’s important for a researcher to clearly communicate what it is they are researching. “Good communicators can address specialists and non-specialists with any time constraint, while still being professional, eloquent, approachable and easily understood,” Lapierre-Landry said on the site. Part of communication includes a clear and concise writing style that will help across all facets of a project – from grant applications to publishing.

9. Goal Setting.

Scientists should set goals and stick to them in a focused manner.

10. Presentation Skills.

While this goes hand-in-hand with communication, it’s important for scientists to be able to present their work to peers, review groups and more. Poor presentations can take away from good research, the scientists said.

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