If only… grad school taught this stuff too!

As I went through the online course on Negotiation Skills on the Nelson Croom website using my Institute of Physics membership my

mind wandered a bit, and this post is the result.

Grad school taught me about science, research, patience (PhD comics got it right!), writing papers,   and to some extent for the transition from PhD student to member of the workforce: preparing my CV, covering letters for jobs and making presentatiSoft skills diagramons. So when I joined my job as a lecturer, I felt that my training at grad school and subsequent experience as a post-doc had prepared me for professional life as an academic.

And was I misinformed!

The skills I now have to call upon were not taught to me, and I find that at times I am blindsided when professional life rudely makes demands on me that my carefully scripted student career did not anticipate.

In the grownup world (and I talk more of academia here)  a big part of the job is about winning friends and influencing people. One has to:

– Persuade and influence people: Managers/Heads/Deans to allocate lab space for you, give you funds to pay PhD studentships, money to attend conferences, paid training courses, budgets to publish in Open Access journals, buy equipment… and these people holding the purse-strings are always besieged with demands from many others like us.

– Negotiate with people: about teaching loads, administration workload, salary increases, promotions

–  Manage complex work relationships at many levels: with colleagues, students, peers, superiors, suppliers, vendors, administrative staff, and many more. People are rarely identical to oneself and as a typical geek I had no idea (what something like the MBTI meant and) how to manage successful working relationships with people who initially drove me mad because their behaviour was so unfathomable to me.

– Manage my lab: in hiring people suddenly I needed to know about Equality and Diversity regulations, about Health and Safety regulations, how to carry out risk assessment, how to appraise my staff, in fact how to function as though I had run a lab for years and years!

–  Balance more than one demanding job: I could as a post-doc work on several research projects and even throw in a little bit of teaching. But now added to the mix were administrative work in the department and loads of related meetings, mountains of paperwork, responsibility for all the people in my lab (post-docs and PhD students);  financial considerations to keep my lab running, reviewing papers for journals, getting involved with more colleagues and contributing at the bigger level of the University and not just my individual PhD/research.

– Say no without offending: as a person I find it hard to say no to people and as a result I take on more and more till I drive myself into the ground. Some people can take advantage of this, others see it as poor assertive skills on my part. Apparently one can even learn to deal with such situations and say no without always causing hurt or offence. It simplifies life a lot when it works!Cartoon on best employee

These skills are obviously not confined to a single profession or even professional life alone. We need them in every sphere of life.

Everyone knows those people who never seem to get cross or argue and whom everyone seems to listen to, while we struggle to make people understand something so logical anyone can and should be able to see it. While these people network effortlessly and happily, we struggle to introduce ourselves to people. While they seem to get lower workloads than us we get told off for not working as hard as them!

How do they do it?

Apart from some innate talent, I think a lot of it is learning. We can learn many of these skills or at least gain some modicum through practice.

Which is why I am investing the time in myself to try and learn from different sources, the skills that are part of daily life that did not fit my curriculum in school all those years ago!

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