From the President: Soft Skills

February 19, 2018

Stuart CooperSigma Xi’s emphasis on honoring excellence in science and technology and promoting policies that ensure the health of the scientific enterprise is important, but that is not the sole emphasis of our mission. Nomination and election to membership in Sigma Xi is an important distinction for an individual who is off to a promising start in a scientific career. Looking more closely at what we have emphasized as an honor society, one can find resources focused on at least two other topics that are important to one’s career: the importance of research communication and ethics in the scientific and engineering workplace.

Communication with others in one’s own profession as well as with society in general are equally important. Research communication, however, is often considered an optional activity to engage in if that is one’s proclivity or if it leads to a desired professional destination, such as a career as a science journalist. Regardless of whether you are in an academic institution, a corporation, a government laboratory, or are an entrepreneur, the ability to write well, speak persuasively, and prepare content for internal talks or outside meetings is essential for success in your career. Now more than ever, those who have advanced to some recognition in their scientific endeavors should feel an obligation to communicate some of their knowledge to the general public. This includes interacting with students along the K–12 pipeline and reaching out to senior citizens who would appreciate your insights into the world around us. Sigma Xi regularly has workshops on research communication at its Annual Meetings and is also exploring a new initiative, Grants-in-Aid of Research Communications, to support the “science of science communications.” 

Individuals must also adhere to ethical responsibilities to avoid devastating consequences: Falsifying a curriculum vitae, plagiarizing part of a scientific article, or publishing fabricated or doctored data will derail a career.  Sigma Xi has published several monographs about ethics in science that are available in electronic format. Most of our members likely belong to scientific or engineering societies or institutes that have published codes of ethics. Significant ethical violations can result in job loss. How we treat others in the workplace is also an important contemporary topic. Sexual harassment and attention to diversity and opportunity are important issues to which one must be sensitive to as one’s career advances. 

Beyond what one learns in the classroom, there are norms that correlate to success in the real world. Research communication and ethics are among those that you and Sigma Xi should care about.

Stuart L. Cooper is president of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society. 

More About Sigma Xi: Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society is the world’s largest multidisciplinary honor society for scientists and engineers. Its mission is to enhance the health of the research enterprise, foster integrity in science and engineering, and promote the public understanding of science for the purpose of improving the human condition. Sigma Xi chapters can be found at colleges and universities, government laboratories, and industry research centers around the world. More than 200 Nobel Prize winners have been members. The Society is based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. On Twitter: @SigmaXiSociety