Passion for science? Better than sex?
I’ll never forget the day when Jane, my boss at that time, called me into her corner office for one of her famous “professional development discussions”. Perhaps because I was a young manager Jane felt compelled to offer me extra career advice and guidance whenever she felt I had gotten off-track. Usually it was good advice, but this day was different.
Even though it has been more than 10 years, I still remember her exact words, “Lisa, you are TOO passionate. You’re too involved and intense about work.” She went on, but I didn’t hear much of her words after that.
I distinctly remember thinking to myself…that’s impossible, no one can ever be TOO passionate! It was an “ah-ha’ moment for me; I knew that very minute that I was in the wrong place. In fact, I left that job to start this business. For me embracing passion is fundamental to professional and personal success.
Why am I telling you this?
Because I recognize this same feeling of intensity in the clients that I have worked with over the years. Most
scientists that I have met have a passion for their work, a passion for discovery, a passion for science.
I was reminded of that today when I stumbled upon this interesting article by Jane Koretz, a biophysicist, titled “Work as Meaning: A Passion for Science“. In the article she retells a conversation she had with her colleague, John.
“There’s something else here, John, and that’s the high involved in getting results and seeing, maybe for thefirst time, what is really going on, and then thinking about how it fits in with other things that we know, and then seeing a new way of approaching the whole problem.” And then her friend responds, “Yeah, it’s better than sex and lasts a hell of lot longer.”
Unfortunately, what I have also noticed is that while scientists, in general, are a passionate group, they also seem somewhat uncomfortable and reluctant to share this passion in a public setting. In fact, in the article Koretz describes the same thing.
“The stereotype of a scientist is the cold and disinterested seeker after truth (whatever that is!), wearing a lab coat and heavy glasses and tending to be personally untidy and absent-minded, thanks in large part to photos of Albert Einstein. There is, unfortunately, more than a grain of truth to this, as is so often the case with stereotypes. Scientists must at least give the appearance of objectivity in their work, and this is expressed as a detachment and coolness that the conversation above actually belies”.
This describes very much my own experience. When talking one-on-one with a scientist most are happy to share their enthusiasm for the work. Often I can hear the excitement of their recent discovery in their voice. Their words tell the story of their discovery process and they share their emotions and reactions. Even though I am not a scientist myself, I am riveted. Yet, when making a “formal presentation” of this same work these very same scientists transform into cold, dispassionate speakers of facts and figures.
The Koretz’s article was interesting to me because she shares her science as a story. She uses emotional words and very descriptively describes her process. Notice the emotion: “I was appalled by experimental difficulties…” , I was very excited, and also very certain. The idea made sense of all the different observations – often mutually contradictory – in the scientific literature; it was beautiful; it could be tested”.
Also notice how she weaves in the discovery process: “the only conclusion that I could reach was that the current model was definitely wrong”. “It was somewhere at this point that I stopped really thinking about the problem, at least consciously”, “So I cannot explain why or how, while taking a shower one evening, I suddenly KNEW that a-crystallin aggregates were micellar.”
It is the passion, emotion and excitement of the discovery process that all scientists share and can relate to. That is why talking in the form of “scientific story telling” is compelling.
I do understand that by definition science needs to be objective, cold and dispassionate. When performing and documenting the work for formal publication this is, of course, a necessary requirement. However, do not make the mistake of presenting your work in the same way. Please, do NOT “give a paper” when you have been asked to talk about your work. (You have no idea how much I cringe when I hear someone say “I am going to give my paper next week”).
When talking or presenting your work, particularly at a conference, your goal is to SHARE your PASSION. It is to talk about the work in way that is sexy, interesting, and so exciting that your audience feels compelled to read your paper to learn more about YOUR passion! The way to do that is to tell your story. Use emotion words and tell about your discovery process, like Koretz, does in the article.
Like I eventually told my boss Jane, it is impossible to be TOO passionate. Sharing my passion for effective communication has been fundamental to my success as a professional speaker. Just like your ability to share your passion is fundamental to your success as scientific professional and as a scientific speaker.
Do you want to learn more? Sign up for the next small group presentation skills workshop, consider one-on-one coaching, or ask your organization to sponsor a large group seminar. After all, you didn’t learn to ride a bike by reading a book–you needed an expert coach (your Dad) to show you how to do it and then you needed lots of encouragement and practice, right? That’s what I can offer.
Don’t agree with me? As always, I am interested in your feedback. Please leave a comment here or feel free to call our listener line to leave a recorded comment. Oh and be sure to let me know if it’s OK to use your voice on an upcoming podcast or your words and a name on blog posting.