I think that one of the biggest misconceptions about scientists–including food scientists–is those that are on the research side of the industry don’t need or desire to develop good communication skills.
This issue comes up a lot in academia as my fellow undergrads and I discuss what area of food science we’d like to go into. I’ve heard people who don’t want to go into research say things like, “I just can’t be in a lab for eight hours a day.” On the other hand, I’ve also heard people who do want to go into research excited about the fact that they’ll get to spend hours a day doing independent work.
If you think its all Lab Work, you’re wrong
While it’s true that research can sometimes be like this, when it comes to becoming a research and development scientist in the food industry, describing work as eight straight hours a day in the lab is far from the truth.
I recently started a summer-long research and development internship in the food industry. I’m very fortunate to be with a company that encourages me to participate in the business as an equal member. I’ve gotten the chance to see all kinds of different “typical days” for someone working in the research and development department.
Not a day goes by where I don’t see the immense value of having good communication skills as a food scientist. Communication between the R&D team is extremely important. As with any team, being able to effectively communicate your goals, progress, and setbacks makes for better quality work.
The same can be said when it comes to communicating to other departments within the company. R&D scientists must work with the quality lab, plant managers, marketing, and a plethora of different people in order to make a successful product.
Communication skills will set you apart
An important area of communication that I feel is often forgotten is the communication that occurs between the scientist and company or customer who they are doing research for. The company I am with works with many different customers to make their products better.
Often times, this means the scientist, who are so often seen as people glued to their lab bench, must participate in lengthy phone calls, write well-thought out emails, and meet with people who want to ask them about their research. If they’re lucky, these people will have a science background and be able to understand the unique parameters of the project. If not, it’s up to the scientist to explain the project in a way that makes sense to someone who might not understand the exact work that they’re doing.
One member of the R&D team I’m a part of for the summer recently stressed how important this is to me. Before going into a meeting with multiple people from a company who was on-site for a visit and project discussion, he talked to me about the importance of communication in food science. You’ve got to have good people skills to engage people in the research that you’re doing. Good communication goes outside of being able to explain your science well; you must know the ins and outs of workplace communication.
The Benefits of Working on your Communication Skills
Seeing the benefits of good communication in the R&D world has shown me many misconceptions about research scientists. I wouldn’t describe anyone in my department as a loner who enjoys doing lab work by themselves for hours a day. While this can still be part of the job, every day involves taking calls, participating in meetings, and engaging customers about their research.
This issue is close to me because I’m passionate about communication in science. My hope is that people begin to see the true value of good communication in the food science industry and work to better themselves by developing their own communication skills.
So far, my experience this summer as shown me that having this sort of skill set can certainly set one scientist apart from another.
Author: Elena Batoili