SPIE an international society focused on all things light-based is having their big photonics conference in San Francisco this week. I had the opportunity to sit in the professional development speaker series and thought I would share some of the speakers’ insights.
Andrea Armani a 2nd year assistant professor at USC in chemical engineering spoke on Leading a Well-Adjusted Research Group. She stated that she gives her students Fridays off from their main research endeavor and allows them to tackle any question they want; which is a very new generation Google-esque approach to student mentoring. She also explicitly establishes that a particular older graduate student will mentor a younger graduate student in the lab, so that the younger student will always have someone to answer their questions. The most interesting story told was how she deftly managed to diffuse the amorous advances of a student, a very awkward position indeed, and a situation not covered in the manual.
Thomas Tongue gave a talk on Peaks and Pitfalls of Professional Communication, but it mainly focused on how to deliver what he calls The Elevator Pitch. He says that in scenarios where you would like to collaborate with an other scientist, or a scenario where you feel you could contribute to a team in the company if only you were placed on it, that you essentially have 60-90 s with that collaborator or vice-president to make your best pitch. The pitch has to be clear, compelling, conceptual (not bogged down in technical jargon), concrete (a specific quantifiable metric should be given), consistent (story should flow well), customized for the the target audience, and always given in a conversational tone. His advice is similar in nature to what Peggy Klaus advocates in her book The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn without Blowing It but she terms them brag-a-logs. Peggy Klaus’s book is a good read for those interested in professional development and especially for those that have problems vocalizing their contributions.
The chair of the session was Dirk Fabian from SPIE Student Services and I’m glad they were able to put together a good mix of speakers; as this type of information can be hard to extract from PIs.