Becoming an Expert: Easy as 1, 2, 3 (Almost)
By Debbie Fetter
As part of ASN’s Scientific Sessions, the ASN Young Professional Interest Group (YPIG) organized a session called, “Establishing Yourself as an Expert.” I (virtually) sat down with the co-chairs, Eric D. Ciappio, PhD, RD and Mary N. Lesser, PhD, RD, to get more insight into the presentations.
Q. What was the purpose of the session?
A. The purpose of this session was to provide some guidance to early career professionals looking to establish themselves as experts in their specific corners of nutrition science. We heard from four respected experts in different areas of nutrition who helped young scientists understand best practices for communication and interacting with colleagues.
Q. What did it address?
A. While technical knowledge is important, another large part of being an expert in nutrition is being viewed as one by your peers in the field. This session addressed this latter point and aimed to help young professionals develop their communication skills to help them become viewed as experts in the field. We split this topic into two main themes, which we referred to as “internal communication” and “external communication.” The “external communication” bucket focused on communicating with the broader field of nutrition via academic publications and social media – both of which are demonstrated essentials for early career professionals in the modern age. The “internal communication” bucket addressed methods to improve in-person interactions with your colleagues, both in one-on-one settings as well as finding ways to guide a group of strong scientific minds to a consensus opinion.
Q. What were the main takeaways for the attendees?
A. We believe the largest takeaway was that effective communication is the most important career skill that we never think about. As scientists, we can often become so focused on increasing our technical knowledge and expertise that we forget about the human element of the profession. Nurturing working relationships with colleagues is an essential skill early career professionals need to develop to enhance and to continue to advance in their careers.
Q. What are your personal do’s and don’ts for advancing your career? Or which were your favorites from the session?
A. EC: I think taking time to establish personal connections with your colleagues is the best thing you can do for your career. Your professional network is probably the most valuable piece of portable currency you have, and growing that network benefits both your organization (regardless of whether you are in academia, industry, government, etc.) and your own career.
A. ML: Definitely taking the time to establish meaningful, personal connections with your colleagues, no matter what capacity (mentor, mentee, faculty, staff, student, etc.) is key. These are the individuals whom you will be working alongside and will be your resources or source of support in a variety of settings. Also, never underestimate the value of a good “thank you” and paying it forward.
Q. How does it seem social media will change science communications?
A. Social media offers an opportunity to be a part of the conversation on nutrition. While academic publications are a mainstay of scientific discourse among scientists, the public discussion of science – particularly nutrition science – takes place much more rapidly than the traditional academic publication model allows. Social media also engages the public in a way that traditional publications never have. With so much public interest in nutrition there is incredible value in being a credible and accurate source of information that can effectively engage the public to help educate them about the relationship between diet and health. Effectively utilizing social media offers a platform for nutrition scientists (early or more advanced in their careers) to do just that.
Q. What are some key ways to work together as a group? Is it always possible to come to a group consensus?
A. Once again, effective communication is the key. In her session, Dr. King stressed the importance of clearly outlining the goals of the group and taking time to understand each person’s stance on the issues up for discussion. Finding a way that pleases all parties with conflicting opinions may not always be possible, but respectful communication and compromise can help guide the group to remain productive and conclude with a census or working census outcome.
Q. Why is it important to have good working relationships with your colleagues? How do you manage a good working relationship with someone who has conflicting opinions from you?
A. Having strong working relationships with your colleagues is not only a way to accomplish your daily professional goals, but also the best way to move your career forward. We learn about so many opportunities – potential jobs, speaking engagements, serving on committees – from our colleagues. And while having a solid relationship with someone may not always be enough to land you that opportunity, more often than not, having a poor relationship with a colleague in a position to help you is almost certain to be a hindrance. If you have a colleague who you just cannot see eye to eye with on a work issue, do your best to keep your emotions in control and take the time to try and understand what your colleague’s goals and motivations are. Do not be afraid to seek the guidance of a mentor who can act as a sounding board to ensure that you are not overreacting to the issue and provide guidance on how to proceed forward in interacting with this particular colleague.
Q. What does being an “expert” mean to you?
A. EC: Being an expert is a combination of having both a strong technical knowledge base and an ability to engage your colleagues and community. You need to be a source of accurate information and good ideas, but putting your thoughts into action requires working with your colleagues effectively.
A. ML: Being an expert to me means having a strong knowledge base in your area of research, education, etc. but also being able to contribute to conversations/collaborations with your colleagues and the community as a whole. To echo Eric’s above comment, you do need to be a source of accurate information and ideas, but effectively communicating your knowledge and ideas into action requires working with your colleagues.
Thank you both for a wonderful recap of this session. Now we are all ready to go out in the world and establish ourselves as experts!
Thanks to DuPont Nutrition & Health and PepsiCo for educational grants in support of this session.