I was reading this article, Is a Science Ph.D. a Waste of Time?: Don’t feel too sorry for graduate students. It’s worth it, by Daniel Lametti, and this grabbed my attention:
Even the Economist, despite its disdain for “pointless” Ph.D.s, likes to hire scientists. As the ad for their science-writing internship reads, “Our aim is more to discover writing talent in a science student or scientist than scientific aptitude in a budding journalist.”
Notice the formula: expertise 1st, then writing talent.
This says two things. Good communication skills without genuine expertise is just a little too short on substance. Genuine expertise without good communication skills is just a little too incomprehensible. Thus, the formula:
Expertise + Soft Skills (especially Communication Skills) = Path to Success.
Karl Krayer and I present training on Writing Skills and Presentation Skills (actually, we both provide the Presentation Skills sessions; Karl leads the Writing Skills sessions) for all kinds of professionals. Companies with engineers and scientists and “techies” hire us to help these folks become a little more “understandable.” The reason is obvious. Expertise that cannot be communicated is expertise that is not fully utilized.
I have no doubt that expertise is truly critical. But there is a reason that Literature and Speech are “required courses” in practically every college degree program. To be able to write clearly, and then to speak clearly, really is a job requirement, a “core competency,” in this hungry-for-good-information world. The problem is that most students promptly forget what they learned in these classes, when they are immersed in their “real jobs.” They tend to view their real jobs as the “work” they do, and they consider communicating their insight and findings as something of a “step-child,” kind of necessary “busy work,” but not critical to their job.
This is a mistake! Communicating well is part of every job. A failure to communicate leads to ripple effects that cause lost productivity, confusion… something close to “failure.”
Have you taken an inventory of your own skills? If you have genuine expertise, do you write clearly? Do you speak clearly? If not, it’s time to work on these “soft,” but absolutely necessary, skills.