Communication And Building Consensus For PhDs (Cheeky Scientist Radio)
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7:17 – TOP TIP: How To Give An Industry Interview Presentation
12:38 – Show Me the Data
28:08 – Communication And Building Consensus For PhDs w/ Crystal Dilworth, Ph.D.
49:26 – Careers In Sales & Business Development w/ Jack O’Sullivan Ph.D.
Are you highlighting your communication skills throughout your job search?
Interested in consulting, sales or business development?
In this episode of Cheeky Scientist Radio, Crystal Dilworth, Ph.D. talks to us about how she leveraged her STEM PhD background to do a very interesting type of consulting that relies on her communication and transferable skills. Then Jack O’Sullivan comes on to discuss how PhDs can excel in sales role and how communication plays a key role in sales and business development.
About Our Guests
Crystal Dilworth has a Ph.D. in molecular neuroscience from Caltech. She is co-founder of The Nerd Brigade, an organization of award winning science communicators and edutainers working to diversify the face of science in mainstream media worldwide. Crystal’s career in science communication was launched with the delivery of a TEDxYouth talk titled “The Myth of the Scientist” and her casting in The PHD Movie & The PHD Movie2: Still In Grad School. These projects provided a visible platform from which she continues to be a vocal advocate for STEM literacy and gender equity & inclusion.
As a consultant Crystal works with clients across all fields to break down barriers presented by technical jargon. She especially enjoys working with early stage startup founders to facilitate dialogue, build consensus, and ultimately create accurate and effective communication strategies involving science technology engineering and math (STEM).
Dr. Dilworth is a violinist, former nationally ranked Rhythmic Gymnast, former professional modern dancer and choreographer. While she left this career path to focus on science, she applies the skills she developed in these roles to her work in consulting.
Jack O’Sullivan completed his PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at University College Dublin. Jack’s career in sales and business development began with his role as Training and Sales Specialist in the non profit sector. Since then he transitioned to an Area Sales Manager position for Triple Red and even was a Sales Executive for Team Cheeky. He has worn a number of hats from Sales Executive to Training Specialist and Business Development Executive.
In addition to rock climbing, Jack’s passions include connecting with people and getting his customers the right cutting edge products to support their research goals. He is currently the Sales Manager for Stratech Scientific Ltd., one of the leading suppliers of antibodies and reagents the UK.
1. Jobs that require high communication skills are in higher demand and make more money than jobs that don’t require these skills.
2. Your PhD will get you in the door, it will get an employers attention, but what you say will earn you the job.
3. Number one skill for pursuing a career in sales is active listening.
Your Ability To Communication Effectively Influences Your Hirability
A survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers asked about the key attributes employers seek on students resumes. Employers rated what they found most valuable on a resume. The number one item on that list, problem solving, where 82.9% of respondents said that showing problem solving skills was valuable on a resume.
Employers want to know if you can work through a problem from beginning to end without help. Getting a PhD is like getting a degree in troubleshooting, that is what you know how do better than anyone else, and that’s what problem solving is.
The survey also found that 80.3% of employers said that written communication is very valuable to have on your resume and 67.5% of employers said that that demonstrating your ability to communicate verbally was very valuable on a resume.
The final thing to note about this survey was that technical skills were valued less than: problem solving, working with a team, communication, leadership, work ethic, initiative, detail oriented, flexibility. So, if you’re thinking your technical skills are what are going to get you hired, no. Don’t forget those other 10 or so items that are above it. They are crucial.
A study published in Quarterly Journal of Economics found that not only is the demand for communication skills increasing but jobs that require these skills earn a higher salary. The study found that the number of jobs that require math and communication skills rose by 7.2% while those jobs that require math skills but not communication actually decreased by 3.3%. And those jobs that combine math and communication have seen a steady 26% increase in salary, while comparable jobs that don’t require as much communication have only seen a 5.9% increase in salary.
Communication And Building Consensus As a PhD: A Conversation With Crystal Dilworth, Ph.D.
Isaiah: I do want to hear about what do you do now, Crystal? What is consulting? It seems elusive, can you elaborate?
Crystal: I started choreographing musicals [during grad school] at Caltech. So scientists and engineers that have never danced, probably don’t sing, some of them who never have been on stage before and the come to do this thing because it’s completely different from their daily work.
I could talk to both sides. I have the really artsy actor/director on one side. He speaks in word clouds, there’s no structure, it’s very conceptual and woo-woo and you have Caltech and NASA scientists and engineers on the other side who respond to that lack of structure with fear, with anger, and with panic. So even though I was the choreographer, my real role was to take the crazy, translate it in to structure and give it to scientists and engineers and then to take their concerns back and mold it in to a more fluid, experimental language that our actor/director could say “Oh, they’re engaging with me on the creative process.”
This is exactly what I do in consulting.
Isaiah: How would you train PhDs to deal with this nonsense word cloud or how would you help them understand it. How would you bridge that gap?
Crystal: Part of it is reframing the problem. Because they come to rehearsal thinking you’re the director, you know what’s going on. I’m learning and you’re gonna tell me what to do. That’s not what the arts is. It’s a collaborative and creative process.
Upscaling really quickly to a point where they’re able to contribute collaboratively, they understand the space. So helping them map the space. This is what the director is thinking about in the things that he’s managing.
These are really smart people, they manage projects for NASA, they’ve put robots on other planets. So if you tell them all the different levers, and all of the different things that they can start thinking about, they’ll have ideas and making sure that those ideas are heard is really the first step to them feeling competent in the space and that reduces the emotional reactivity.
Isaiah: So basically you just provide clarity and you provide ownership?
Crystal: Exactly. And they know where the boundaries are and where they aren’t. So in a similar way, if I’m working with a highly technical startup founder, that’s incredibly nervous or resistant to working with a PR or marketing firm, but their major funder has told them, “Hey, you’re gonna work with this firm.” They see a bunch of slick fast-talking guys in suits that don’t know anything about their technical product. This is their baby that’s being dressed up like a clown and put out on a stage to tap dance and they’re very, very emotional about it.
Yeah so if you can define a few parameters, a few ways that they can communicate or a few flags that they can put in the sand and just be like this isn’t moving, and this isn’t moving and we respect that. Now let’s talk about this creative space in between. They feel a little more protected by the structure.
Isaiah: What are the key transferable skills that you got, especially with your stem background or your dancing background, etc, that have allowed you to switch gears? That have allowed you to jump into different realms and apply your knowledge anywhere to learn anything?
I want this answer to be really profound, but it’s going to be disappointingly plebeian. I think that one, the Phd, and the Phd from Caltech gets me in the door. When you’re talking to a CEO of one of … A major international company, Fortune 500 company, they want to know that they’re worth the attention of one of the top minds and that’s how my consulting firm would bill me. I’ve done nothing except graduate, and there’s a dollar value on that. Just keep that in mind for all of you out there.
I’m getting my project manager in the door because he can say, “I’ve got a top neuroscientist on my team.” That’s what my degree is doing. I haven’t even opened my mouth. And then, you also can get them to listen a little bit better. I’m always brought in when there’s highly technical people, CEOs, usually an engineer, and a business process mismatch. The technical people will listen to me because I’m one of them, and the suits will listen to me because I’m smarter than them. That’s what they think, and they’re afraid of that, so we have to be very careful to negotiate that.
And then you’ve got everyone’s attention, and you can start to do some real work, and you can start to get them to trust talking to each other is going to be okay. That’s in consulting, it’s really about facilitating the experts, which is not you, in finding the right answer. Sometimes they just need you to be in the room.
Careers In Sales And Business Development: A Conversation with Jack O’Sullivan, Ph.D.
Isaiah: How important has your mastery of problem solving been to getting hired in industry in your career development?
Jack: Yeah. We know that as PhDs, we’re good at troubleshooting. We say, “Oh yeah, I’m great at working through problems.” But I don’t think we really know.
I don’t think people understand that most people, who aren’t PhDs, come across the problem they go, “Oh, it’s a problem,” and they escalate it, right? Because in normal business, you escalate up, you go, “Oh, what do I do, next person in the chain?” “Oh, I don’t know, what do you do, next person in the chain?”
And they don’t know how to get in and get stuck in and really fix things. What I noticed with PhDs, and I’ve seen this because I’ve worked in sales teams with lots of … Maybe half PhDs and half not PhDs, and the PhDs always go, “Oh, when this occurs, I’ll usually do this, this, this, this and this.” The other salespeople go, “Oh, I normally just get stuck and call someone.”
Jack: Yeah, and I’d love to ask the chat a question at this point. What do you think is the number one? I actually literally just did this with the sales team. I asked them, “What do you think the number one trait of a salesperson is?”
reakiBng my heart here. One person said that the number one skill is pushiness, and it’s another really bad misconception, and actually I spend a lot of time with my sales team right now saying it’s really important to read the signs when you need to back off, right? I think pushiness is every bad salesperson you’ve ever met. If you ever feel like someone’s being pushy, it’s a bad sign.
I like trust building and customer needs, problem solving, yes, very important. Social skills, I don’t think you need social skills sometimes. I’ll tell you some stories about some salespeople who are excellent without social skills, but excellent followup, excellent technical skills.
Active listening. Active listening is massive. This is why introverts can be salespeople, because the very best salesperson, one of the best sales people I ever met or worked with, she just said nothing at meetings. What happens when you say nothing?
Isaiah: People talk. They fill the space. They tell you their problems. What you’re doing right now.
Jack: Exactly. You can’t help but talk because you want to fill this space, right? The active listening is … And being introverted, they’re all massive pros. What you should want to do, if you want to be a salesperson as you should, you have to do … Someone said drive and motivation. It is important. You do actually have to want to be in sales. You want to have to sell a product. What helps me and what I’ve always done and I think helps the most PhDs is, I say, “Choose a product that you truly, truly believe in. A product or service or company, and as long as you really believe, you can push really hard for that thing. You can do what’s needed and to make a sale because you know that this is right for the customer. You know this is the best thing.”
I think that really helped me give the conviction to know that what I’m doing has purpose because that’s always been really important to me, to have purpose, to have impact and that’s why I left academia because I felt like I couldn’t make an impact anymore.
Watch the full podcast episode above to get even more insight into how you can leverage your communication and problem solving skills to get hired into a PhD level career.
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Isaiah believes--from personal experience--that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life, it’s a clear sign that you need to make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.
Isaiah is an internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant, CEO of Cheeky Scientist, and author of the straight-talk bestsellers Black Hole Focus and The Science of Intelligent Achievement.
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