Branching Out

branchesSo, as I start my new little venture, trying to make a fortune bringing science to the people (wish me luck on that) I’ve been continuing my work schmoozing and boozing. I’m volunteering for a conference here in Calgary at the end of May, called Pathways 2 Sustainability, and if you’re in the Calgary area May 29th to 31st I highly recommend it. This is a forum to talk about sustainability, resilient communities, and the new economy.

But I digress. My foray into the world of business has been educational, to say the least. I am really struck by the personal promotional skills that I lack and have to struggle for. I just negotiated my first contract, which had me sleepless for nights. I have gone to umpteen networking socials and emailed strangers. And the whole time I am reminding myself that I’m not a student, not an idiot, and though may be new to business, know what I’m talking about and have something to offer. There’s a place for scientific caution, but selling yourself isn’t it.

At the same time I am still involved with my old lab at the university, and it’s been a rough week as one of my favorite graduate students left the program. She felt that her career path was leading her out of academic research, and as such, it didn’t make much sense to finish. My academic career path is taking a sharp dog leg out of academia, did I waste those years to get my degree? As grueling as it was I never once felt it was wasted time, and if I had it all to do over I would do the same again. There are intangible skills that grad school teaches; I think we need to take some time to recognize what they are.

Days later I had a chat with my other favorite graduate student. She’s volunteering as the grad rep on a search and selection committee (universities are still searching and selecting? Huh.) This is the conversation we had:

J: I hate meeting days. I have no idea what I’m doing!
M: That’s how I spend most of my life. Get used to it!
J: Lol I’m starting to get used to it. Grad school is weird like that.
M: Best skill it teaches you.
J: For real?
M: Yup. I mean it.
J: Why?
M: Teaches you to think on your feet, gives you confidence in your ability to think and the ability to recognize that in others. Also the experience of being adrift in something new and finding your way. They’re underrated skills but basically everything you need in life to be successful.
J: I do not feel like I can think on my feet.
M: I never thought I could either, until I realized I was thinking on my feet, but just not speaking it. That’s different. And I know you can think on your feet.
J: It doesn’t feel like it comes across
M: Ever read Contact?
J: Nope
M: There’s a part in the beginning when it’s describing how she became an astronomer in the 80s when the physicists were all men. And she had to develop her science voice – because she’d start out saying something and they’d just talk over her.
J: Yeah I can imagine.
M: So she got used to talking a little bit loud to start till she had their attention, and picking things that she was absolutely right about and getting in there forcefully and on purpose. I don’t think it’s as bad now, but I loved that concept of really consciously working on how she communicated to make sure she got noticed.
J: Yeah that’s a big part of why I agree to these committees. It forces me to talk to a group of profs
M: yer a rock star. I’m excited to see how as your degree goes on you’ll grow into it and take on the world.
J: I am not! I’m mostly fumbling around and everyone is really patient with it!
M: Perspective’s everything! Science IS bumbling around.
J: Haha the further in I get the more I realize that. It also makes me more comfortable challenging people on their stuff, because if everyone is bumbling this much then I might as well question them!
M: Exactly.

Funny, how what you know becomes clearer when you’re convincing someone else of what they know.

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