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How PhDs Can Find Their Why

Skip ahead to:
18:10 Show Me The Data
36:32 Peter Docker
1:10:04 Mariano Cardenas, Ph.D.

Are you a PhD struggling to find your motivation? Your driving purpose? 

Peter Docker calls this your “WHY,” and he is your guide to the contemplative journey in search of that latent career passion. 

This week on the Cheeky Scientist Radio Show, we are joined by Peter Docker, co-author of Find Your Why with Simon Sinek, and part of the latter’s “Igniter” team. Peter has worked with leaders all over the world, helping them find purpose and create teams where everyone thrives. He’ll be sharing both why and how successful PhDs connect with a sense of purpose for career satisfaction and success. We are also joined by Mariano Cardenas, Ph.D., who will discuss the exciting application specialist career track.

About Our Guests

Peter Docker is a trained leadership consultant and executive coach with a passion for enabling people to be extraordinary. Peter teaches leaders and organizations how to harness the power of “WHY” to do extraordinary things. He illustrates his insights by drawing on examples from his experience with industry, military, and even piloting to explain principles that can be applied in any business.

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Simon Sinek since 2011, Peter is an Igniter and implementation specialist on the Start With Why team, helping organizations foster both extraordinary cultures and high, yet sustainable performance rates. Peter has drawn from his years of practical experience to co-author–along with Simon Sinek and David Mead–his career-energizing manifesto, Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team, a step-by-step guide on how to discover your WHY, published September 2017.

Mariano Cardenas, Ph.D., works as an application specialist at NanoTemper Technologies. After obtaining his PhD in Biochemistry in Buenos Aires, Mariano moved to the USA to conduct postdoctoral research in oncology and bioassay development. There he ultimately joined forces with NanoTemper, where he now helps scientists use microscale thermophoresis to characterize proteins with just a tiny amount of sample. This work advances research in drug discovery, oncology, targeted therapy, and more. 

 

Key Takeaways

1. Discovering your WHY (your primary cause or belief) can lead to extraordinary things.

2. Life is made up of content and context – content fills our lives, but without context, it is meaningless.

3. Discovering your WHY is a process of careful reflection on key memories and identifying the emotions that accompany them.

4. From these feelings you can derive a growing sense of purpose – your instinctive motivational philosophy.

 

How PhDs Can Find Their Why: A Conversation With Peter Docker

Isaiah: You have to have a really strong reason to keep moving forward. What was your WHY in that sense? Why did you want to write this book?

Peter: “WHY” is shorthand for “what’s your cause?” or “what’s your belief?” Why do you get out of bed each day? My WHY is to enable people to discover that they are extraordinary so that they can do extraordinary things. I believe that everybody, when they’re in “flow,” when they’re loving what they do – that can be pretty extraordinary. I get my fulfillment through helping people to discover that themselves. So it was quite a natural thing to write a book with Simon. And David’s all about finding your higher purpose. We all have one, it’s just that some of us haven’t discovered it yet. It’s a joy to know that our book is in 26 languages, so it’s reaching all corners of the world!

Isaiah: That’s fantastic. And you mentioned that you define WHY as both  a noun and a belief. We have a lot of PhDs here who might be looking at the dictionary right now for what WHY is, and I want to break it down more practically. How do you make it concrete for people so that they know exactly what WHY is and how to start finding their own?

Peter: There are only two things in this world: content and context. Content is the stuff that we do, the things we say, the work we’re engaged in, etc. But content has no meaning whatsoever without context. Context gives meaning to what it is we do. The whole thing is like a jigsaw puzzle – all those puzzle pieces on the table represent contents. But it’s only when you see the picture on the box that you get the context, and you can make sense of it all. This is what it’s like to discover your WHY –  having all the puzzle pieces on the table: your work, home life, whatever. But when you can paint the picture on the box, your WHY or reason for being just makes all those puzzle pieces come together. And also not to push the analogy too far, but sometimes it helps to realize that one piece of the jigsaw never felt quite right, and that you no longer need to focus on that piece. The WHY is the context in which you do everything; the WHY is the meaning that’s brought to the work you do or to your life.

Isaiah: I love that. So let me put this in the context of the PhDs here. Most of them feel like they’ve lost their WHY because they thought they were going to be a professor – things were going to go one way in academia, and now they’re realizing the jobs are outside academia. You’re saying that they’ve lost their WHY, but their WHAT is changing. How can they discover that WHY – whether it’s new or has always been there? 

Peter: Mark Twain said that the two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you figure out why. We all have one WHY–and one WHY only–although we may have many different WHATs in our life! When I speak to mothers, they often say, “My WHY is clear: it’s my kids.” But that’s actually just a very important WHAT. You were a person before you had children, and you will be a person after your children have left home. And for those of us who have been very focused on one particular specialized area for many years, it’s difficult to figure out what else we can do –  all of our energy has been in that particular sphere. But when we hear people say, “I’ve lost my WHY,” they’ve probably just lost their way a little bit, and they need to be reminded of their WHY. This discovery is a retrospective process of reflection. 

Our book is a step by step guide because we wanted to share this. The book asks you to identify key moments in your life, going back perhaps to things in early memory – things that you’ll never forget because they changed the course of your life or were otherwise very meaningful. But they need to be specific memories. When we reconnect to a specific memory, it reignites the emotions that we felt at that time. Those emotions are there because the experience either resonated with us or challenged the values that we instinctively hold. And when we look at those memories, themes start to emerge. Those themes pointing toward what’s really important to us. The first amongst them becomes our Why, and the rest become what we call our HOWs – our guiding principles…

 

Application Specialist Career Track: A Conversation With Mariano Cardenas, Ph.D.

Isaiah: As an application scientist, your home office is often a Starbucks or anywhere else that has wifi, right? Let’s get your perspective!  What do you do on a day-to-day basis as an application scientist? 

Mariano: I do tons of things, but I didn’t know what those things were when I joined the company! Basically, it’s like I’m a scientific advisor for all the people that have the instruments. I’ll set up development and set up the assays. If prospective clients have doubts, then I meet with them and demonstrate our technology. I do webinars, seminars, and workshops too. So it’s a little bit of everything. One day, I’m teaching in California – the next, I need to go to Boston for an instrument demo. I’m not doing a single thing every day. I need to give presentations and meet people at a certain time, especially those from different pharma companies and universities. It’s amazing – I’m really happy with this job!

Isaiah: Yeah, I can tell you love it! It’s great if you enjoy a lot of variety – if you’re self-organized, a self-starter with a lot of autonomy. But on a broader scale, can you tell us in one sentence what you do? If there is one overarching thing that you do as an application scientist, what is it?

Mariano: I help researchers succeed with their research. I love it! That’s basically what I do. It’s a mix of everything because you want clients to succeed with your instruments and to use those instruments to do the best research possible.

Isaiah: So you’re taking information from the company and communicating it to the client. You’re also taking information and feedback from the client back to the company. What departments do you work with? How does that flow of communication work?

Mariano: I work with many departments, so it’s a very interactive job. Basically, it’s one team working toward the same purpose: improving science and human health. My team communicates with production teams, R&D, sales teams, and order management. We need to know what’s going on in the company and then gather the information. Let’s say an instrument has been purchased. The sales team will tell order management that an instrument that has been bought. Then order management tells production, and production tells them when the instrument will be ready. Then we need to organize a visit to the customer to install the system, and I usually deliver a seminar and conduct some training…

 

** for the full interviews check out the video above

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Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.

Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.

Isaiah is a Ph.D. in Anatomy & Cell Biology and internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant. He is an expert in the biotechnology industry and specializes in helping people transition into cutting-edge career tracks.

Isaiah believes that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life right now, you should 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 Hankel Ph.D.