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Don't want to feel like I'm always bragging


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I'm uncomfortable with your assertion that factory workers, teachers, and stay at home moms don't have anything "interesting" to talk about. Perhaps you need to dig a little deeper? You didn't actuall

NPR and high-quality newspapers/magazines (New Yorker, etc) are always a good reserve of small-talk fuel, especially in response to what people are telling you about themselves ("oh, you teach kinderg

I cannot disagree with this statement enough. If you cannot explain something to a non-specialist you have not really learned it. For many NSF grants there is a public abstract (one for the general ta

The moment you decide to prepare a 30-second "elevator speech" to tell non-academics what you do, you're already overthinking it. If someone asks you what you do, tell them. Don't recite a 30-second summary that you wrote up and rehearsed.

 

I don't memorize things word for word but I definitely decide ahead of time what I want to say in the 30 seconds. When I actually say it, it's modified based on what the audience is actually interested in.

 

By the way, I don't do this only for non-academics. When I meet with visiting scholars, or when I go to an academic conference, I prepare ahead of time what main points I want people to come away with when they are finished speaking with me. 

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@bsharpe269, the dilemma you face is that you are on the cutting edge of knowledge in a highly specialized field of expertise. As you learn more, you will be less able to communicate effectively what you know and why it is important to non-specialists. 

 

Is that your excuse?

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The moment you decide to prepare a 30-second "elevator speech" to tell non-academics what you do, you're already overthinking it. If someone asks you what you do, tell them. Don't recite a 30-second summary that you wrote up and rehearsed.

 

An elevator speech is useful for all sorts of different audiences. At a conference or with a visiting scholar, as TakeruK said. But, seriously, when you're on the market, you'll meet with all sorts of people that just want a quick synopsis of what you do. For example, a dean or a grad student asks what you do and you want that to be brief but also convey the main points of what you research and why. That dean could have an English degree while you're studying astrophysics, so you'll need to explain in non-technical terms. You are telling them what you do but in a way that they can understand. That's the point we're all trying to convey here.

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If you don't have an elevator pitch it is hard to take you seriously as a researcher. It means you aren't thinking enough about how to communicate your findings. No one cares if you do great research if you don't tell anyone. 

 

As many people would put it: It isn't science until you publish it. And that elevator pitch is part of publishing, indirectly (getting money/contacts). 

Edited by GeoDUDE!
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If you don't have an elevator pitch it is hard to take you seriously as a researcher. It means you aren't thinking enough about how to communicate your findings. No one cares if you do great research if you don't tell anyone. 

 

As many people would put it: It isn't science until you publish it. And that elevator pitch is part of publishing, indirectly (getting money/contacts). 

 

The idea that you're not going to be taken seriously as a researcher and will be less likely to get grants because you don't have a rehearsed 30-second elevator pitch is crazy. How on earth would this affect your chances of getting grant money?

 

If you're a normal person, you can briefly tell people what you do when they ask.

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The idea that you're not going to be taken seriously as a researcher and will be less likely to get grants because you don't have a rehearsed 30-second elevator pitch is crazy. How on earth would this affect your chances of getting grant money?

 

If you're a normal person, you can briefly tell people what you do when they ask.

 

Again, I think you are interpreting what GeoDUDE! and I are saying in a way that lets you best present our statements as ridiculous statements. Or maybe it's just because we are not saying things very clearly. So I will try again:

 

1. I don't mean that all scientists should literally memorize and rehearse an exact 30 second elevator pitch.

 

2. I don't mean that if you do not do exactly this, your chances of getting grants is severely decreased.

 

3. What I do mean is that we should take the time to think about what parts of our research is important and/or interesting to each specific audience. For some people, it really might mean memorizing an exact 30 second pitch because they are the type of people that do that well. For others, like me, it means preparing myself for every scientific conversation (with scientists, since now we're talking about grants and career stuff rather than small talk at a party) by outlining a few key points that I want to make sure I get out in 30 seconds or so. I like the not-memorizing part because I am bad at memorizing and I also feel that this method gives me more room to customize to each audience.

 

4. When people evaluate your grants, they are not going to call you up and say "Give me a 30 second pitch, NOW!". The sentiment behind our statements was simply that researchers should take some care to think about how they are communicating, not just what they are communicating. If you don't take time to think about this, it will reflect poorly in other ways when it comes to grant proposals. Off the top of my head, it can hurt your grant proposal because i) your proposal (with strict word/page limits) may not be the tuned well enough to convince the judges, ii) proposals in my field are NOT blind, so the better you communicate your work at conferences or other presentations, the more people already know about your research and your ability prior to judging your proposal, and this helps, and iii) good communication ability will help you supplement your scientific ability by showcasing what you know and can do in the best possible light; this will indirectly help you do things that are good for your career and getting grants (e.g. getting oral presentations instead of posters, being invited to give talks at conferences or seminars, etc.)

 

Overall, I hate it when I go to a conference and I meet someone at the poster session or coffee break and I ask "what do you work on?" and then they spend 10 minutes boring me (and I'm too polite to just walk away) or they have clearly not thought about what they wanted to say to me, so the narrative is convoluted and I don't remember it as well as they could have. This means I probably will not talk to them again in the future and will know less about their awesomeness. Similarly, some people give incredibly poor oral presentations at conferences and this not only causes me to tune out (and not learn what awesomeness they are doing) but I will also remember this person in a bad light. In a field where there is a lot of interesting work going on, when I have to pick what talk I attend in the future, there's no way I'm going to waste more of my time listening to someone I know is bad at communicating when there are tons of other people that do it so much better.

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The idea that you're not going to be taken seriously as a researcher and will be less likely to get grants because you don't have a rehearsed 30-second elevator pitch is crazy. How on earth would this affect your chances of getting grant money?

 

If you're a normal person, you can briefly tell people what you do when they ask.

Dude, marketers think of a 30 second pitch to sell toilet paper, and everyone knows exactly what that does.  Networking is done at conferences, and yes, in elevators.  Sometimes that 30 seconds may be all you get to say, you don't get to have full conversation, but it may lead to a connection that is useful in your career.

Some of us aren't blessed with the ability to describe our research interests succinctly and in a clear manner without effort.  It is important to not sound like a stammering mess, or require the listener to use a dictionary in order to understand us. Also, thinking of a 30 second pitch can help clarify your research ideas and goals to yourself.  It is a good exercise.

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I think the best way to make someone else comfortable in a conversation is to be comfortable and at ease with yourself. What I’ve noticed about people with very diverse social circles is that they tend to be open and comfortable sharing their experiences, and they are not self-conscious about whether they are different from the people around them. When someone is willing be vulnerable and share their stories, those stories become relatable even if they’re very different from our own sets of experiences. That, plus genuine curiosity about other people and willingness to look beyond surface qualities for commonalities.

 

As an introvert without much pop culture knowledge, I understand the frustration of trying to connect with people with whom you don’t have a lot in obvious similarities. It’s difficult for anyone to make meaningful connections without having some common ground. If you’re really stumbling, I think it’s always helpful to remember your common humanity - everyone has felt like they didn’t fit in before. You won’t click with everyone you meet, but a little momentary discomfort isn’t such a bad thing, and you can always find something to ask someone about for ten or fifteen minutes at least. Ask where they’re from, what their favorite part of what they do is, what their go-to karaoke song is, how they got into their profession (for example, I just asked a bartender this and learned that he’d previously been a marketing analyst until he realized he loved bartending, which opened up many more things I could have asked him), what their favorite place they’ve been is, what their favorite thing to do is in the area (you never know what cool suggestions you might get, even if you’ve lived somewhere for years), etc.   

 

My two cents is that you should own and be proud of your successes -- just don’t try to work them into every conversation. If you go to Harvard don’t bring it up constantly (think Twofer from 30 Rock…), but I agree that it’s better to say you go to Harvard than to say “a school in the Boston area” or “on the east coast” (I used to work with two Harvard alumna who did this, by the way). If someone says, “Oh my gosh, you must be so smart!”, why not say something like, “Well, I’m pretty good at X, but I still count on my fingers/have the worst sense of direction you’ve ever seen/can’t figure out how to make rice without burning it.” My field is very esoteric, but I still give people a several-sentence pitch of my interests if they ask, and explain that I want to teach, etc. When people tell me that they hated school and can’t imagine being a student for so long, I tell them that I get that because I hated school until I got to college too. I try to be honest, share my excitement when appropriate, and then shift the conversation back to the other person.

 

Another thought: For those of us who don’t love small talk, I strongly recommend structuring social events around interactive activities like a game night, bowling, karaoke, or something similar that allows people to have something outside themselves to talk about.  

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  • 2 weeks later...

Interesting thread, parts of it reminded me of the Einstein quote: "If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself." On the other hand, some jargon is difficult to replace in a way that is understandable to lay persons while also not making your work sound overly simplified like anyone could do it. 

 

In terms of not wanting to sound like I'm bragging, I don't often bring up my educational / academic achievements because I feel like many individuals don't view them in a good way. My friends an family view it like I must be highly intelligent, a model citizen and better than others who have not gotten degrees but chose to work and have families. In reality it's a combination of amazing opportunities I've had and hard work; some of my friends are more intelligent but just haven't applied themselves yet. For me it was the same with sports awards; the trophies and certifications hang on my wall to encourage me to keep working hard but are never brought up in conversation.  

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"If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself." 

 

In terms of not wanting to sound like I'm bragging, I don't often bring up my educational / academic achievements because I feel like many individuals don't view them in a good way. My friends an family view it like I must be highly intelligent, a model citizen and better than others who have not gotten degrees but chose to work and have families. In reality it's a combination of amazing opportunities I've had and hard work; some of my friends are more intelligent but just haven't applied themselves yet. For me it was the same with sports awards; the trophies and certifications hang on my wall to encourage me to keep working hard but are never brought up in conversation.

Love the quote, and, as a developmental psychologist, I actually do literally explain my work to a six-year old quite often... (Note to self: the quote is maybe something to use in my office or for RA training...)

I agree with all of that. I don't like to bring up my academic achievements in conversation because I don't really want to brag about something I work very hard in but because of that just seem to be good at. I think if this was true for some other nonacademic career I'd be like that too but with, some people's views of academic achievement, I'm even more so.

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Thanks for all of the advice on here! I particularly like the comment that feeling at ease while talking about it makes a big difference. I think that is definitely true. I don't think that I need to downplay it as much as just need to 1) Not be so conscious of it since that makes others feel awkward in itself and 2) find a way for others to connect with it. I had a very successful conversation about it with a nurse the other day. She asked what I do and I told her that I am in grad school, studying biophysics. She gave your typical "wow you must be really smart" comment. I responded that I was lucky to have such an awesome job... after all, in how many other jobs can you do something you are really interested in from your couch in your PJs! (I do computational work). She apparently used to work from home and that sparked another conversation about the pros and cons of working from home. Anyway, I think it is less of an issue of the job itself and more of an issue of finding ways to relate what I do back to what other people relate to.

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  • 6 months later...
On ‎5‎/‎2‎/‎2015 at 7:33 PM, bsharpe269 said:

. Most people say that they teach or are a stay at home mom or something though and outside of asking what grade, there isn't much to talk about there. I know nothing about sports or celebrities, the topics of conversation last night. I always end up not knowing what to say to people and am left feeling like the small bit of conversation we had just makes me sound full of myself.

If you think that "there isn't much to talk about" to teachers and stay at home moms, chances are that you in fact are really full of yourself. What do you think teachers and stay at home moms do all day, rot their brains??? They're working their butts off and chances are that you got to be the bio-expert or whatever that you are because of some teacher or stay at home mom. Maybe you should focus on asking other people questions and assuming that you have something interesting to learn from everyone, even a lowly teacher or stay at home mom can teach you something. To each of those people you could ask the following questions:

1. What's your educational pedagogy or parenting philosophy? Why? What did it used to be? Did it change?
2. What's the biggest challenge about being a ______?
3. How did you get into being a ________? Is that always what you wanted to be?
4. It's amazing that you take care of others all the time. How do you cope? What have you learned about yourself from that?
5. Tell me about a moment when you really connected with your child/student that left a lasting effect on you.
6. How has being a ______ shaped your values?

etc. etc.

Sincerely,

A stay at home mom

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10 hours ago, stillconfused said:

If you think that "there isn't much to talk about" to teachers and stay at home moms, chances are that you in fact are really full of yourself. What do you think teachers and stay at home moms do all day, rot their brains??? They're working their butts off and chances are that you got to be the bio-expert or whatever that you are because of some teacher or stay at home mom. Maybe you should focus on asking other people questions and assuming that you have something interesting to learn from everyone, even a lowly teacher or stay at home mom can teach you something. To each of those people you could ask the following questions:

1. What's your educational pedagogy or parenting philosophy? Why? What did it used to be? Did it change?
2. What's the biggest challenge about being a ______?
3. How did you get into being a ________? Is that always what you wanted to be?
4. It's amazing that you take care of others all the time. How do you cope? What have you learned about yourself from that?
5. Tell me about a moment when you really connected with your child/student that left a lasting effect on you.
6. How has being a ______ shaped your values?

etc. etc.

Sincerely,

A stay at home mom

I certainly agree with your sentiment! And I think the original poster got a lot out of the 3 pages of conversation here.

I am addressing the example questions here though: personally, I feel they are way too intense for casual conversation. I mean, these sound like they are interview questions! If a stranger asked me these questions, I would not want to answer them. I would feel really uncomfortable to have to think this deeply about myself and my values when I'm supposedly at a party wanting to have a good time! So, this was interesting for me to read. 

Personally, I would find it really impolite for someone to ask me these questions at a casual social setting, so I would never ask this to anyone else. But, it sounds like these are questions you would enjoy answering. I'm curious to learn more: what is it about these questions do you enjoy? Do you feel comfortable answering these Qs at a casual social event? I mean, I know that each person is different and I'm not asking you to speak for all stay-at-home moms, for example; but I'm just curious to know what about these questions that you like, personally. If you don't mind? :)

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17 minutes ago, TakeruK said:

I certainly agree with your sentiment! And I think the original poster got a lot out of the 3 pages of conversation here.

I am addressing the example questions here though: personally, I feel they are way too intense for casual conversation. I mean, these sound like they are interview questions! If a stranger asked me these questions, I would not want to answer them. I would feel really uncomfortable to have to think this deeply about myself and my values when I'm supposedly at a party wanting to have a good time! So, this was interesting for me to read. 

Personally, I would find it really impolite for someone to ask me these questions at a casual social setting, so I would never ask this to anyone else. But, it sounds like these are questions you would enjoy answering. I'm curious to learn more: what is it about these questions do you enjoy? Do you feel comfortable answering these Qs at a casual social event? I mean, I know that each person is different and I'm not asking you to speak for all stay-at-home moms, for example; but I'm just curious to know what about these questions that you like, personally. If you don't mind? :)

Thanks for the reply. Obviously you wouldn't ask all these questions at once. Just one would start a cool conversation. Personally, as a stay at home mom I would be honored if my PhD friend asked me about my parenting philosophy or what I've learned from the experience. The type of question implies that the questioner assigns great worth to the role of being a stay at home mom (or teacher etc.), whereas someone who doesn't have a deep question like this is going to reveal that they think you are "just a stay at home mom". What else are you going to ask -- what's your favorite way of making mac and cheese? How many diapers have you changed? What's your laundry routine? These are the mundane realities that many moms do every day, but they are so incredibly important and necessary. There's something deeper behind all that stuff.

The worst thing is when someone in higher ed becomes elitist, knowingly or unknowingly. I think that's what the original poster was trying to avoid, so I totally respect the intent. All I'm saying is, a human being has depth to them whether they're a trash collector or president of a think tank, whatever. They have consciousness during their waking hours in which they ponder their existence just like you do yours! Their challenges may not be tricky math problems, but their tremendous experiences have left them with wisdom in a different way. To think based on someone's role that there's "not much there" to talk about totally misses the insights that every person has to offer in a conversation regardless of their profession.

You could always ask her, "What was it like to spend 28 hours in labor trying to push another human being out of your body?" or "How did you manage to breastfeed every 2-3 hours for almost 2 years straight?" Of course, no one would ask this question. But remember it inside yourself and approach her with some great reverence and respect, for heavens sake. This is the real stuff of life. In my opinion it makes a PhD in any field look like a piece of cake.

 

Edited by stillconfused
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I think (although I am not the original poster) that the point was not that SAHM's or teachers are lazy and don't do anything... which the poster never said... rather, that he doesn't have a lot of casual question for someone he just met, concerning those career choices due to the fact that most of us understand the basics of what a teacher and SAHM do. If he is just learning their career, he obviously doesn't know them well enough to ask such personal questions such as " Tell me about a moment when you really connected with your child/student that left a lasting effect on you. "

 

Now the "how did you get into that" question is valid... but I think you are being kind of defensive in your previous post. The poster doesn't actually know these people like your PhD friend knows you.

 

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@stillconfused: Thanks for answering my questions :) I agree that all humans have depth, and it doesn't matter whether they are a PhD student, a stay at home parent, a Starbucks barista, whatever. I don't like it when people define me by what I "do" so I try hard to not do the same to others. I'm glad to learn that these questions are a good way to show/imply that I value the other person as a human and that I take interest in their thinking! As you said though, I'll probably have to reserve these questions for someone I know a little more since I don't think I can pull this off with a stranger (even if it's just one of the questions) without being awkward. But this is more of a reflection on me than the other person :P

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48 minutes ago, stillconfused said:

Thanks, I appreciate the perspective @TakeruK. So....how'd you get into your field? ;)

I don't want to derail the thread too much but also don't want to just ignore your question, so here's a short answer:

As a sophomore, saw a talk by a senior presenting her honours thesis (about asteroids) --> emailed that senior's advisor to ask about working with him (on asteroids)--> a few years later, did my own honours thesis on asteroids --> found out that asteroids are just a small part of a big field of planetary science --> went to a big conference all about planetary science --> decided to do PhD in this field --> learned that planets-around-other-stars are a really exciting part of planetary science!

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