During my undergraduate studies I took more than 18 credits in the Social Sciences from Theories of Personality, to Sociology and Social Problems.
At the time, I wasn’t completely clear as to how taking these courses would influence my future, both at the personal and professional level, but that became evident by the time I started graduate school.
It is fair to say that by the time we finish our graduate education, we are very well prepared in many different areas, either technically or related to our discipline. Also, if you had the opportunity to work on a combined degree, a certificate program or even if you devoted time to teaching, by the time you finish your education, you will be extra prepared. If that is your case, you are probably that highly diversified candidate with the extra qualifications that most employers look for.
But, what about people or social skills? Do we get any training on those while we are on graduate school? By the time we finish, what do we know about conflict resolution, or personal communication or leadership skills? Most people might think that this type of training is not necessary or maybe not that important, but the truth is that they are immensely wrong.
Developing our social skills is something we should all be very active about and it is much like developing any of the other skill we have; it takes time and practice. Although it is true that as research scientists or even as graduate students we mostly work by ourselves, in the real world (professional and any other world that you might be considering) we are going to be required to work with others.
Does the terms “group work” or “collaborations” sound familiar to you? How do we treat or interact with those we work with? How can we let them know if we don’t agree with them? What about when a conflict arises? How do we solve it without dampening our professional relationships? How do we cultivate and nurture all those professional relationships so that our working environment is a productive and healthy one?
I don’t think there is just one way to answer any of these questions, and I know for sure that most people don’t get any training that allows them to tackle these questions either. I strongly believe that it is imperative that we develop our social skills as soon as we can and hopefully prior to when we need them. If you are still in graduate school, maybe try to enroll in a class that deals with this topic. Also, most schools have a career office that might offer seminars to help you improve your social skills, so make sure you take advantage of that.
If you are already working and your schedule is slightly compromised, try to find an online course (there are plenty of these available that are free!) Courses like Leadership, Sociology or even Management might help you develop a set of social skills that will be of great value in your current and future career. Besides, any formal training you can also learn a lot by interacting and emulating people that are very successful in this area. I always say that good mentors are key players in our careers.
Find one who has mastered the social skills and ask him or her to guide you. You will immediately recognize them when you see them. They are the people’s people, and they have a tendency to attract others to them. These are the ones that everyone wants to work with, and that is exactly what you want to achieve.
Whether you stay in academia or move to the private sector, whether you become a professor or decide to follow an alternative career, the truth is that you will always need to work with others. We humans are social beings (ones more than others) and the way we interact, treat and most importantly, the way we make others feel will have a significant impact in our future success. Good Luck!