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Why You Should waste time chatting at work

Sometimes, you just need to put your head down and get some work done.  But if you spend 100% of your work time in that intensely focused state that most people only find when under the threat of a deadline, you could be shooting yourself in the foot.

That’s because although everyone needs to be productive to succeed, since you are a scientist, you also need to be creative. Your job is not simply to produce experimental results and make nice figures; you need to generate hypotheses, choose experimental strategies, troubleshoot problems, interpret data and generate still more hypotheses. This is where being social comes in.

The scientists that study how other scientists make discoveries have shown that not many new insights arrive through the ‘eureka’ moments of a lone scientist at their bench. Instead, they are wrangled from the nitpicking and debate of lab meeting.  The truth is that no matter how low an opinion you might have of your co-workers’ intellectual abilities (or your boss’s), being forced to talk about your work with others is vital.

But lab meeting is not the only time we engage in productive conversations about our work. We have these conversations all day ­– whether waiting in line for a phosphorimager, complaining about our experiments over coffee, or arguing about how best to run a gel. And those useful conversations are most common between people that feel comfortable around each other because they regularly waste time chatting.

In addition to helping you right now, maintaining such relationships can also help you in the future. There is no professional contact more likely to stick their neck out for you, or think of you when opportunities arise, than someone that you have bonded with in the trenches of experimental science.

So, although you may need that tunnel-vision focus to get your work done efficiently, don’t forget to leave a little leeway in your schedule to maintain good relations with the people around you.

4 Comments

  1. Cristy Gelling on October 9, 2011 at 2:18 am

    Hi Carl, for some reason your comment ended up on the wrong article, so I’ve pasted it in here. I look forward to the day when managing all the contacts in my network is a difficult task – I’m not there yet, though!
    ————–
    I totally agree with what you are saying Cristy. I am a constant chatter at work and have always been that way and I think that by being chatty has helped me forge a decent set of networks. I think there should definitely be a balance between being overly chatty and being 100% focused on the task. However, I will warn that the more contacts and networks you have comes the difficult task of managing those contacts both at the time and in the future!

  2. Cristy Gelling on October 9, 2011 at 2:11 am

    Hi Matthew,
    Sorry about all that weirdness with the comments going to the wrong article! I’ve pasted your comment in here because things seem to be working better now…

    I think the kind of peer support you’re talking about is a great idea. For instance, I’ve always thought that students who find themselves in very small labs don’t have the same kind of technical and vocational support as students in large labs. I’ve definitely benefited from always working in the same room as lots of other struggling scientists (and squabbling with them over access to equipment!). I can imagine a structured peer network would really help – as long as the students themselves got to drive the structure and the topics.

    Good luck with it, and feel free to let us know how it all goes.
    ——————-

    I agree with you Cristy. A recent review conducted by a UK research council highlighted the influence of communication with other PhD students and postdocs to the success of PhDs. With this in mind I’ve recently been involved in establishing a peer support network for new PhD students at my University. The idea is to give students a safe space to share their experiences, knowledge and expertise through small group discussions and activities that are facilitated by trained students from further through their PhDs. (If anyone has any thoughts on this I’d love to hear them.)

    I think this is also the benefit of using social media like Twitter and sites such as this to increase your scientific network.

  3. Cristy Gelling on October 9, 2011 at 2:01 am

    Just testing the comments

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