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The soft skills needed to bolster your scientific career

Oct 14, 2019 Guest Contributor

The soft skills needed to bolster your scientific career

A career in a scientific field has never been a more exciting prospect. We live in an era wherein advancements in technology, greater diversity among the workforce, and newly emerging disciplines ensure that there are amazing opportunities to make a difference in the world. Whether you’re headed for patient-facing healthcare services, laboratory-based research, or technological development, it’s an interesting time to explore your career options.   

One significant development in these industries is the sense that more is required of employees than simply excellent technical knowledge and practice. Disciplines are cross-pollinating in order to make cutting edge discoveries, and departments are no longer as isolated as they may have been in the past. As a result, industry leaders are keen to invest in workers who exhibit and utilize emotional intelligence alongside their scientific acumen.

This demand for soft skills is driving the direction of HR departments’ talent searches in all industries, and the science sector is no exception. Educational institutions are beginning to include tasks designed to develop these abilities as part of their curriculum. The message is clear: science workers also need diverse personal abilities.

Become an effective communicator

Perhaps chief among the soft skills valued by leadership figures in scientific industries is excellent communication. This is an ability that is essential for workers at all levels of any project or business. Wherever you fall within the pipeline, you need to be able to communicate succinctly and efficiently.

Professionals in scientific fields work with some complex ideas, which they’ve come to understand through years of education and experience. While you may be able to discuss your work easily with your peers, it’s worth bearing in mind that these aren’t the only people you’ll need to communicate ideas to. You must develop skills to patiently and effectively translate the idiosyncrasies of your work.

It is also pertinent that you learn to understand how to receive communication effectively — whether this is praise, instruction, or criticism — and react appropriately. Discuss others’ concerns and ideas, acknowledge priorities that may differ to your own. Learn to speak up when you don’t understand, or you disagree; be candid, but be respectful.

Adaptability can take you far

The medical and scientific industries are competitive, fast-paced environments that will test the limits of your ability to cope with change. Particularly where healthcare is concerned, the unpredictable human element can lead to the best-laid plans of your team falling into disarray. Only those who adapt well to changes with little to no notice can hope to thrive. 

From industry leaders’ perspectives, those candidates who understand how to approach unexpected changes are invaluable to the development of their business in the long term. Obtaining the skills to maneuver yourself and your work amidst shifts in company structure, overhauls in industry or legal requirements, and advances in technology might sound daunting, but they are a reality of the industry. The earlier you learn how to use change to your advantage, the better prepared you’ll be. 

It’s worth remembering that adapting to change isn’t just about undertaking damage control in the face of the unexpected. It’s just as important to approach change from a positive perspective. Develop the creative thinking skills necessary to convert uncomfortable change into a valuable advantage for your company, and you’re on your way to being a leader in your field.

Hone your interpersonal skills

No matter what advances are made within the healthcare industry, the care, and treatment of patients will always be a central factor. The end-user of any service you contribute to is a human, and along the way, you’ll interact with people from all walks of life. This isn’t really an industry for those who can’t become a people person. 

It’s not just about bedside manner and being polite, although those traits have their place. You’ll find the day-to-day aspects of a career in healthcare affect people at what can be a very challenging time in their life. As a result, you’ll be faced with the gamut of human emotions — not just from patients and their families, but your colleagues too. 

Developing your interpersonal skills is largely a matter of experience; learn from your mistakes and observe the approaches of others. Make it your business to obtain an understanding of different cultures, and how to treat members of each with appropriate respect and sensitivity. People are your business; so learn as much as you can from them.

Be a positive and supportive collaborator

We all have ambitions, and there’s no shame in striving to be a key figure in your industry. That doesn’t mean to say that you should make the mistake of thinking you can get there by individual effort alone. In any scientific or healthcare setting, you are a collaborator with a collection of talented individuals, and you need to understand how to be an effective contributor to that structure. 

Your ability to work well within a team will utilize and, when done well, enhance many of the other soft skills that industry leaders find valuable. It’s well worth considering that the best collaborations are the result of using each member’s personal perspective and expertise in order to create solutions that would likely not have been considered by one person alone. Competition has its place, but you have the best opportunity for innovation by working with others. 

It would be naive to suggest that you won’t come across difficult or ineffective collaborators, at times you may even be the difficult cog in the machine. These are learning opportunities; when you can recognize what is holding a collaborative effort back, you’ve gained another valuable skill in the art of thriving as a team. Find opportunities to work with others, and you’ll profit from the experiences of others too.

About the Author:
Jori Hamilton is a writer from the Pacific Northwest who has a particular interest in social justice, politics, education, healthcare, technology, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @ HamiltonJori.

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