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Five Pairs of Crucial Soft Skills for Researchers

The research landscape holds ‘hidden wealth’ that transcends beyond the usual: deciphering science, process improvement, and technological breakthroughs. Research Success is also contributed by ‘soft skills’ - acquired through experience, polished through practice, and earned over time to forge a customized armor, essential in confronting future challenges and empowering oneself. Here are 5 soft skill gem sets to add to your repertoire.

  1. Critical Thinking & Articulation capabilities

Critical thinking involves the ability to analyze information objectively, evaluate evidence, and form reasoned judgments. Researchers with strong critical thinking skills can identify patterns, assess the validity of data, and draw well-founded conclusions, enhancing the quality of their research. A comprehensive literature review and deep engagement with the research problem are key to honing critical thinking. It distinguishes between merely articulating information and delving into the nuances, enabling researchers to differentiate real from perceived issues. Critical thinking is incomplete without articulation, which are two sides of the coin. Armed with critical thinking and a strong literature background, the researcher can articulate clearly and effectively express thoughts, ideas, or information. It involves putting thoughts into words or conveying information in a clear and understandable manner. This avoids a lot of stumbling and fumbling in presentations when the researcher is asked to describe the problem, they want to solve in one line.

What sounds better?

Research Pitch 1: I aim to help solve the water issue by various methods by building a research plan to reduce the cost and optimize water availability to the targeted community that I want to serve.”

Research Pitch 2: My research focuses on enhancing water stewardship through the implementation of precision drip irrigation systems. By integrating advanced sensors and machine learning algorithms, we aim to optimize water usage in agriculture, ensuring maximum efficiency and sustainability. Our approach not only conserves water resources but also improves crop yields to X farming Community comprising Y People, contributing to a more resilient and eco-friendly farming future.

2. Curiosity & Problem Solving Nature

No amount of advice or motivation can help in your decision to delve into research or tackle a specific problem. While grants and incentives may influence, research students often grapple with connecting to the problems at hand. The challenge lies in the lack of personal ownership or a genuine curiosity toward the issues they are given to solve. This is why cultivating curiosity about a problem and exploring potential solutions emerges as the singular and essential driving force in research. Curiosity, though not explicitly demanded in a typical research call, is an innate quality. Researchers driven by curiosity are in a perpetual state of inquiry, actively seeking to understand, question, and explore, leading to groundbreaking discoveries and advancements. Those fueled by curiosity tend to approach questions with a mindful pursuit of the problem rather than merely following their supervisor's lead.

A robust problem-solving mindset, coupled with an inherent curiosity, becomes indispensable for researchers. This combination empowers them to navigate challenges, devise effective solutions, and overcome obstacles in their research projects. While curiosity is inherent, problem-solving is an actionable talent. Researchers equipped with adept problem-solving skills can approach intricate issues with creativity and ingenuity. Persistence in finding feasible solutions, continuous learning for innovative problem-solving, adaptability to evolving technical and knowledge landscapes, and the application of critical thinking in articulating the right problems all contribute to the intricate art of effective problem-solving.

3. Communication & Creative Skills

Scientists often use technical terms that may sound like jargon to people unfamiliar with the field. It's crucial for researchers to recognize that their work has a direct impact on people's lives and is funded by taxpayers who may not understand these technical terms. The public is interested in how research outcomes can improve life, health, and comfort without harming the environment. As researchers, we have a responsibility to communicate clearly and patiently, being transparent and ethical in our conduct. Sharing accurate information is essential, and researchers should be mindful of how they present this information. This tends to bridge the gap between science-society differences and instill curiosity and awe towards scientific discovery. Chandrayaan-3's moon landing set a recent YouTube record with over 8 million concurrent viewers during the live stream.

For instance, during a pandemic '20%' of a particular ethical group was shown affected and the communication goes "1 in every 5 individuals on earth will be affected. Miscommunication (accidental) and disinformation (deliberate) can happen when scientists use confusing language or manipulate statistics to make their work seem more important than it is. An exaggerated narrative will spread fear and panic among the public. It's important for researchers to be honest and clear in their communication to avoid spreading false narratives and causing unnecessary concern.

Creativity is also vital for researchers. It helps generate new ideas, solve problems, contribute to exciting discoveries, and present findings that are appealing to the public and various stakeholders. A recent statement by Dr. John Warner, the father of Green Chemistry, during his interaction at Somaiya Vidyavihar University greatly influenced me: "What's the fun and intelligence if the route to all solutions were easy?" It's human nature to choose the easy route, and also be fixated on the words like impossible and hard. However, researchers should not be programmed to think this way. Instead, they need an out-of-the-box mentality and a creative mind to envision possibilities and tackle challenges in innovative ways.

4. Resilience & Adaptability

If you envision (I won't use the word 'think' because you're dreaming here) that you're embarking on a journey spanning 5 years, where you adventurously identify the problem and miraculously come across a solution in 4 years, and the last year is dedicated to writing a memoir of this, please understand: research is many things, but smooth isn't one of them.

Let me break it down for you with a simple example: You start with a problem, and 2 years down the lane, you find out that somebody has already found the solution for it, and the one you had is altogether another problem. In research, adaptability and resilience mean bouncing back from setbacks, learning from failures, and persisting through challenges. Researchers with resilience keep a positive outlook and continue their pursuit of knowledge despite obstacles. Researchers who embrace adaptability can navigate uncertainties and pivot when necessary, ensuring the continuity of their work.

Many times, the first year of your PhD goes down the drain, and you have to rework the research design. Thus, it is highly imperative that the researcher delve deep into the literature and critically differentiate real from perceived problems. You are not racing against time but narrowing your focus on what is the problem?, why is it a problem?, how can solve it?, and what available solution exists now?

5. Time Management & Smart Work

When you start your research journey, you are energized and think that you are capable of doing 10 things at a time, pursuing multiple solutions for a given problem. The truth is far from reality. The utmost skill a researcher requires is prioritizing their work and managing time to finish a particular deadline. Careful planning and multiple engagements with supervisors, experts, and peers can help you narrow down the solutions that you want to pursue. A literature search and critical thinking can help you figure out the best solution to explore.

Efficient time management is crucial for researchers to meet deadlines, prioritize tasks, and maximize productivity. Researchers skilled in time management can maintain a balance between various responsibilities, ensuring the timely completion of projects. Working smart is another capacity that you need to acquire. Research cannot be polarized with only one discipline trying to solve a problem. As an aspiring researcher, you must be good in networking - connect with people of varied disciplines and be open to criticism, and be flexible to co-design solutions that will help you grow as a person.

The easiest and smart way to keep you focused on managing time and work is to identify whether the particular task that you plan to engage in is a mission creep or not. Does it allow you to reach your goal and help in attaining the deliverable? If not, avoid it altogether.



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