What does it take for someone in science to make a difference in the world? We often seek success and validation through the rigour of our research and studies, but the key may be in our attitude.
Naturejobs career expo journalism competition winner Diane N.H. Kim
Confidence is not something we normally associate with science. In this field, grounded in facts and far from emotions, it’s no wonder we have trouble seeing how our attitudes affect our success. A confident attitude is considered much more important for an actress on the red carpet, or a politician delivering a speech. Scientists are still largely portrayed and perceived as solitary individuals with passive personalities, spurred by a media portrayal of a lone scientist in their basement lab.
But things have changed. Success in science no longer just means performing well in a lab. In order to make lasting and impactful research, scientists are bringing their expertise out of academia, and into fields like medicine and business.
The path to success, regardless of which field you choose, will require more than just knowledge and science. It requires effective communication. This can mean a variety of things: presenting at an academic conference; delivering a business pitch to an investor; stating your opinion to collaborators. As professionals in the field, it is our responsibility to bridge the gap in understanding between science and the rest of the world.
Where does confidence come in in this transition? More confident people achieve higher rates of success, because they are often more persuasive, a study by Petty et al. finds. This means that the best research results can be ruined by a lack of confidence, and even the brightest minds can be dulled by a lacklustre presentation.
So how do we take hold of this important key to success? There are two main points that are emphasised by experts:
Realise that confidence is a developable trait
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you have to be born with self-assertiveness, or that you need to have many years of experience in order to have confidence. This is not true. Even simple factors like your posture can change how you perceive yourself and how you’re perceived by others. Although nobody changes overnight, it is possible to start building confidence through positive thinking, and learning to appreciate our own abilities.
Practise your confidence
There are many things you can do to improve your confidence, once you put your mind to it. The first step is to identify where you want to grow: if you find that you have trouble speaking in front of strangers, for example, there are many different ways to practise your public speaking. Explaining your research in a detailed way to non-scientist friends and relatives or participating in journal club presentations are small, but effective, ways to build confidence. Most importantly, continuously challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone. Eventually, you’ll find that your confidence will grow the more you challenge yourself.
As we make scientific progress, we must be mindful not only of the strength of our research, but also of the strength of our delivery. Improving our communication by supplementing it with confidence is necessary to give our work the best chance in this competitive field, and in the real world. Science alone isn’t enough to convince an audience – confidence and passion, the things that compel listeners to listen, are absolute necessities. Confidence is the key to success, as it’s often said, and science is no exception.
Diane N.H. Kim is a Bioengineering PhD student and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow at University of California, Los Angeles. Her research applies bioimaging to improve cancer immunotherapy.
You can find Diane on LinkedIn.