5 Soft Skills You Need to Develop as a Scientist
Whether you're in academia or industry, there are many soft skills you need to thrive in your job. Today’s job market requires it. As a scientist, there is an increasing need to engage the public with your research. This involves interacting with people in a way that helps them understand and relate to what you are conveying. It requires you to develop a skill set that allows you to do this most effectively.
Soft skills are also often a differentiator when it comes to hiring candidates. Often, many job applicants will have a similar level of technical expertise for the role they are applying for. Apart from cultural fit with the company, soft skills are a way of standing out amongst the crowd. With scientific concepts, we think analytically, notice the detail, and develop deep knowledge of a subject. These are great skills to have and certainly help us thrive in our technical expertise. However, when thinking about career development, we need to consider our portfolio of soft skills alongside this deeper knowledge.
Here are 5 soft skills you need to develop as a scientist:
It’s important to develop both written and verbal communication to a strong level. Regardless of our jobs or industries, we need to communicate with others to get our jobs done. This could be very formal e.g. you might have to give presentations and talks as part of your work. You may need to explain your technical knowledge to a non-technical audience. This is especially important if you want to work in Science Communication. You are likely to have started to develop communication skills as part of your scientific training, so this is definitely a transferable skill that you have some grounding in.
How about informal ways of communicating? If you enjoy engaging others with scientific concepts, you could represent your organisation at a science festival or other event. You would be having more informal conversations with visitors so need to be comfortable being more reactive to questions. Talking to friends and family about your work is a good way to practice your informal communication style. You will learn how to explain complex ideas in a simple way.
Amongst the soft skills you need to develop, and related to communication, is presenting. This is a form of communication, but in a more specific way. You want to consider your body language, tone of voice, and ideally tell a story to engage your audience. Depending on what you are presenting about, this will vary across different situations. You could be asked to give a presentation as part of an interview process for a job, so this should be something that you get comfortable doing.
See our article on how to give a confident presentation for more advice.
Organisation, prioritisation, time management, planning…..these are all terms that encompass a similar skill set. When working in industry, this is extremely important as you are likely to be working to multiple different deadlines and have many projects running in parallel. The demands on your time may be from multiple sources, so it is crucial to prioritise effectively. In any job though, we often wear multiple different hats and may be doing a lot of ‘extra-curricular’ activities on the side of our main job. We lead busy lives so even when it comes to our personal lives, effective organisation skills can pay dividends in helping us manage our often competing priorities.
Think about whether you have any existing systems in place to organise your work, such as setting goals at the start of the day. If you don’t, consider putting in place actions that will help you manager your calendar and filter through your to-do list to pull out your top priorities for your day, week or month.
Another one of the soft skills you need to develop is negotiation. This is not just in relation to salaries, although this is important too. Negotiating skills can come in handy for a variety of situations, including asking for a pay rise, requesting a flexible working arrangement, or discussing the scope of your work for a project. All of these situations require you to have the confidence and skill set to negotiate possible options with another party.
In all circumstances, you need to arrive prepared with information to support your case, and also have a flexible mindset to respond to the reaction you get. Emotional intelligence is also required here to understand what may be driving the other person’s wishes. Strong negotiation skills also link to effective prioritisation and managing your workload, as they may help you in situations when you need to re-think your priorities or work-life balance.
A better term for networking is relationship building, because networking can often bring to mind scary events or formal interactions that feel very unnatural. Building relationships is a form of networking and can be with people you already know as well as new contacts. This is a skill that is so important in today’s world because we are so interconnected at our organisations, in our society and around the world. Building relationships with others can increase the level of knowledge sharing we do with our colleagues. It can also be a means of finding out about other people’s career paths. Having a strong network can uncover opportunities for collaboration too. You can build relationships online and offline in today’s world, and it is not just a skill for people with outgoing, extroverted personalities. It is a muscle that anyone can build by small actions that nurture existing relationships, as well as being open to meeting new people and sharing your experiences with others.
The soft skills you need to develop as a scientist will differentiate you from others when you are interviewing for a new role. They will also allow you to build a wider skill set as you develop your career that will sit alongside your technical expertise. A lot of these skills may be part of your natural strengths, which you can build on. Others may be areas that you need to develop more. Either way, start with one area instead of trying to address everything!
If you are ready to take your career outside the lab and want to know how to start, book a Beyond the Lab Breakthrough Session here.