Monday, November 16, 2015

The Engineering Ph.D. That Says: What’s In A Pitch?

Explaining engineering research to a layman is a lot like using Auto-Tune. Yes I said Auto-Tune! The same thing that T-Pain, Kanye West, and secretly every pop band in the world uses to put their voice at the correct pitch. It is a great piece of software that makes anyone a great singer.

Now imagine someone puts headphones on you, and asks you to sing into a microphone Journey’s hit-single “Don’t Stop Believing” at karaoke. In the headphones all that you hear is your beautifully Auto-Tune-corrected voice flowing on top of the music. You are auto-magically singing on key and every single note hits perfectly.

Guess what everyone next to you hears? Pure unadulterated: awfulness.

You see, as Ph.D. students, we have to write a lot of papers. Unknowingly, writing technical papers all the time can condition us to speak like we write. I find this is a major flaw that many of us Ph.D. students make when transitioning to the marketplace. When we speak about our work, our logic and technical expertise is secretly auto-correcting our speech so that our logical understanding is satisfied to be in perfect “technical-pitch.” But the market doesn’t care about technical correctness!

Reflecting over my first year in TI:GER, most of my team’s meetings discussed more about what the technology is, rather than what to do with it.  Working together and getting feedback from my wife (Praise the LORD I live with a GT MBA’15!), helped tremendously to work out what to say and how to say it. After a year, we finally realized how to communicate what it is our technology does, and why it is awesome. It took many iterations of speaking about the technology in a sense that everyone can grasp, and it paid off with a win at the TI:GER Alumni Student Pitch Competition this past Fall 2015 (thank you TI:GERs for your vote!).  

My advice to other engineers exposing themselves to the marketplace is to change the key you sing in. Get out of paper mode, and talk to non-technical professionals about what your research is. Start to develop your ear to communicate effectively to the marketplace, and you too could deliver the perfect pitch.

Billy Kihei, All glory to God for the success you just read about!

You can track Billy’s Thesis Writing process at:

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