Are you your research’s champion?

If I listen to a talk about commercialization of research, there is almost a 100% guarantee I’m going to hear the speaker mention finding an industry partner to be a champion of your work. What does this mean? It means that someone who is going to stand up and praise your research. They’re going to be involved in finding people to help you out. They are going to tell everyone how wonderful things are and why they should join.

Now, I don’t actually want to talk about commercialization. Instead, I want you to think about your research for a minute, and specifically, the last time someone asked you about it. What was your response? Did you give a glowing review of what you’re doing? Did you end up focusing on what isn’t working? Did you give a pretty bland description that neither points out how wonderful your project is, but also doesn’t just dismiss it?

When I was at a recent conference, I realized that I actually seem to fall somewhere in the second two responses. I’m not great at telling people how I think whatever I’m doing is “so great” and that they should want to join in. Now, I’m not always bland, and usually positive about it. But, the glowing “my research is so awesome” tone is often missing. And, if I end up talking to another grad students, it’s quite possible I end up talking about where things are falling apart. (There’s something about conversations between grad students where it almost inevitably ends up being focused on negatives – funding problems, research problems, class problems, etc.)

know I need to change my tune. I need to be my project’s biggest champion. I need to be the one who comes across as invested and happy and excited and absolutely loving my project. Even if that is not the case at the given moment (which is likely if things are going well). I’m not saying that you need to be one of those super bubbly upbeat people (no thanks), but that you should make a concerted effort to focus on the positives of your project.

There are, of course, exceptions to this. For example, if you’re talking to someone who can help you out and provide insight, then it only makes sense to point out where things aren’t working quite as well. Or if you’re giving a presentation at a conference. Sure, you want to highlight your amazing results, but it’s also worth pointing out if there are some downsides or problems, as you have a captive audience who may be able to help out.

So, if you’re at all like me, take a moment to think about your elevator speech. Ask someone you know to listen to it and give you feedback on whether or not you sound interested in, and upbeat about, your project. What could you focus on that makes your project more appealing to a larger audience? How are you going to champion your project?

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