16 April 2012

Master of all trades

As a professor, I'm expected to excel at a lot of tasks, each one of which can be a full-time job of its own.

For instance, researcher are expected to master techniques to gather data. But then there's the statistical analysis, creation of charts, and writing it all up.

With teaching, the skill set required here is expanding, too, with the increase of online teaching. Lecturing and online are rather different skill sets.

Both teaching and research require presentation skills. And I daresay the standards may well be increasing.

I've read a lot of people who talk about the desire to have had more training in management of a lab: inventory, accounting, personnel management, project management. I certainly felt the difference between being a postdoctoral research

With the second round of SciFund, I found myself working to make YouTube videos. Now I need to understand storytelling, editing, and sound mixing.

The ever-increasing power of computers has opened up the ability for a single person to do more of these tasks. Going digital has put what was once expensive tools of pros into the hands of many more people, like video editing. And it's easy to make the mistake that because those tools are fairly readily available, that everyone should learn to use them. I'm guilty of this myself, advocating that people learn how to use a dedicated graphics program.

All of this brings two questions to mind.

  • Just how many things can one person be excellent at?
  • How do we train students for all of these things?

1 comment:

thecancergeek said...

I agree that as researchers nowadays we need to be good at lots of things, but excellence in everything isn't exactly a realistic goal for all, depending on individual's career aspirations. I know for example for me, my goal is to be primarily a translational-clinical investigator in an acacdemic-heath science environment, where all this stuff about making youtube videos, and teaching undergrads wouldn't be as important for me as just focusing on my research and what is needed for me to be competitive for a pathway-to-independence grant in 2015...

I'm also thinking that perhaps the need to be both more well-rounded (interdisciplinary and skill-wise) yet master an ever-expanding scholarly area may be a decent rationale for the lengthening of training periods - certainly for me, I want to get as much as I can done now before I have all the responsibilities of a faculty position (grants grants grants!) making learning new things like complex data analysis more difficult. The longer a trainee is in grad school and to a certain extent, postdoc, the more chance there is to learn communication skills not only from direct feedback from peers and mentors, but subconsciously from attending good and bad seminars etc.

Finally - I agree on the need to learn a graphics software other than Powerpoint. I couldn't believe in grad school how much more polished my paper figures looked when I did them over again in Illustrator versus the PPT first submission.