Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Communication 101 -A must read for future professionals.

  1. Dec 13, 2007 #1
    I had to do a senior design project this semester to fulfill my requirements for graduation. We were working with a corporate sponsor who shall remain nameless. The sponsor was a very nice guy, and a very smart guy (PhD at MIT). We had team meetings with him every week to go over our progress and what he would like to see revised or improved. Every time we had a team meeting he would give us some advice, but it would be soft spoken, and without any enthusiasm. If we asked him if he liked or disliked something, he would just go “…….yeahhh…….I …..guess its O…..kay…..” Im sorry, but that’s not an answer to the question we posed. We went through two months of this, and in the process had to redo work countless times because we were interpreting the problem incorrectly because we could not get straight answers. Please, learn how to WRITE and TALK in a professional matter. Being smart is NOT ENOUGH in the workplace. I see lots of threads in here about “How do I talk to this girl, how do I contact an employer, etc”. LEARN these things as fast as you possibly can if you are not good at it. If you are good at it, get better at it. I have seen people like him at other places I have worked. All smarts, no social skills and let me tell you what happens to those people, they get shoved into an office and slave away all day long with almost no interaction. Become well rounded physicists, engineers, or mathematicians if you want to go somewhere in your career, and in life.

    Edit: Another thing I have noticed is that whenever people come to school to see whats going on from industry, they get eager students who love to yap on and on about what they are doing. You can see their eyes start to wander around the room as the person is explaining something to them on and on and on in every boring detail. The point is, these are people who have technical backgrounds and are sharp; but, even they want you to get to the point and be concise and precise. Basically, you HAVE to communicate effectively if you want to go anywhere.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2007
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 13, 2007 #2
    "If you want to go anywhere"

    I suppose some folks in these fields don't care about success, but rather are focused on things they love like problem solving for instance.

    The idea is, since social norms are induced by the general population of average intelligence, why should someone of higher intelligence want to conform?
  4. Dec 13, 2007 #3
    This has nothing to do with problem solving. We were doing a very techincal problem, with HORRIBLE communication. My point still stands. Sorry, but your above post is very, very wrong. NOTHING in science is done alone.
  5. Dec 13, 2007 #4
    Have you ever used a textbook that had great examples and hit home on the subject? Have you ever used a textbook that lacked key examples and failed to emphasize fundamentals?
    Whatever the form of communication, quality is key. Spelling, grammar, pronounciation and thesis are important and should never be undermined or neglected.
    Rome was not built in one day and it certainly was not built by one man.
  6. Dec 13, 2007 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    On the flip side of that, Cyrus, if you're going into engineering, YOU'RE going to need to figure out how to get straight answers out of clients who don't give them. It works both ways. You have to deal with clients who may not be sure what they want, have moving targets, don't know how to explain what they mean when they have some idea loosely defined in their mind, don't know the technical terminology to be clear in what they want, etc. You actually got a really great experience there on what the real working world is like when you have to deal with clients, whether it was intentional or not.

    It's a good time to reflect on how you could have improved that situation as well. When you got non-committal answers and just dropped it, what did you need to ask to get a clearer response?

    You're right, it worsens it if it happens on both ends, but ultimately, the person being hired to do the job is the one who has to take responsibility for ensuring communication is happening.

    Just take a look at some of Ivan's and Evo's threads about dealing with clients and you'll get an appreciation of how common these types of situations are.
  7. Dec 13, 2007 #6
    Thanks, you always have good advice-I love you :biggrin:. In this case, he was our 'boss', as opposed to a client. But what you said is still true. We knew it was hard to get information out of him, so I explicitly asked him one time before the meeting was over, 'is there anything you dont like about what we have done, or think we should change for our next meeting?', and got another vague 'yeahhh....sure........no' answers. Appart from that, I dont of any other way to get a direct answer. It was like pulling teeth. Thank god its over now. I would expect more from someone from MIT. If I had someone working for me like that, they would be fired on the spot.
  8. Dec 14, 2007 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    What you say is true, but it's more an indication of how rampant the problem is.

    Maybe a customer looking for a new computer or a new blender could be excused for only having a vague understanding of what they need, but it's unbelievable that a company would put someone in charge of buying something when that person can't explain what the company wants (either because of poor communications skills or because they just don't have a clue what their company actually does).

    I can only conclude that actually being able to communicate is a pretty rare skill, in which case, Cyrus is right. If you have some technical expertise and can actually explain that expertise to the average person, you have a big advantage over the extroverted engineer that looks at your shoes when he talks to you.

    Cyrus would do okay in the military with that attitude. You want to get chewed out in public by colonels or generals, just waste their time during briefings. Falling asleep while the general's talking? No problem. Rambling pointlessly in the front of the room in a briefing? You're toast.
  9. Dec 14, 2007 #8


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    There is no opposition.
  10. Dec 14, 2007 #9


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    God I hate people who can't do this. Sometimes I get calls from customers and I can't figure out what they're even asking.

    edit: By customers I mean pharmacists. They'll call and ask stupid questions, then get upset when I answer what they've asked as opposed to what they haven't asked. Ideally there would be some part of university where presentations, interviews, and general talking to people would be a requirement.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2007
  11. Dec 14, 2007 #10

    jim mcnamara

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    It appears to me the "expert" was phoning it in. He did not give a doo-doo whether you succeeded or not. Unless your project affected his paycheck or job projects or his CV, your project was off his radar.

    The I do not care manifested itself as the mumbles or the "um er, okay I guess'"
  12. Dec 14, 2007 #11
    wouldn't having a PhD from MIT mean a person has the ability to communicate technical information vary well? im wondering if this corporate sponsor was taking his responsibilities to convey his experience to the student body vary unprofoundly.

    a person who isn't pursuing the highest standard of work from those under him will give reviews like "its good enough", "not bad", "its alright", "it'll work".
  13. Dec 14, 2007 #12


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Having a PhD doesn't mean he's capable of doing anything special. My boss has a PhD and he's incredibly hard to talk to. The guy across the hall has a PhD and he's hard to talk to. My previous boss had a PhD and he reminded me of my 4 year old nephew who would try really hard to get his thoughts out but would get excited and start mumbling, studdering, or just using the wrong words.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook