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Communication in the Workplace

By Dmitri 

Hello again dear readers, 

The hot vaxx summer is rolling by, I hope all of us are staying hydrated and enjoying the sunny outdoors consciously and responsibly. I’ve been continuing my grind with the internship, studying the physical systems of our world using the most atrocious varieties of math and code. 

Like many young people entering the workforce, regardless of if that workforce is a lifelong passion or just something to pay the bills, there are certain skills we kind of need to pick up as we go along that are indispensable. For many of us on the spectrum, this can present an extra layer of challenge, especially in regards to the skill I’d like to talk about today; communication in the workplace. 

In many ways, the structure of a classroom has always been a haven for my order craving mind. The syllabus they give to you at the beginning of a semester outlines the exact structure and materials of the class, you only spend one or two hours in a particular class a couple of times a week, the teacher asks if students have questions and always seem eager about their office hours. Things are relatively set in stone and there’s a routine to look forward to. But that’s just not how having an actual job works. Schedules can change from week to week, a project that was only supposed to take a day or so ends up taking two weeks, and most of the time you feel like you have no idea what you’re actually doing. Worst of all is the unfamiliar and individual dynamics a worker can have with their boss/manager/mentor. Since I’m still in an academic setting, it’s been hard for me to really grasp how I should address my mentor, who’s acted as both a boss and a professor throughout my time in college. 

Like many things in life, I’ve found that the key to communication in the workplace is a balance of honesty, a good support system, and an awareness of one’s own strengths and weaknesses. Knowing when to ask for help is a scary but essential cornerstone to this balance. It’s one I had to learn early on in my research career, being thrown into the deep end of cutting-edge condensed matter theory, I immediately felt like I was in way over my head. I almost immediately needed to be honest with my mentor and ask for resources to help me understand some of the mathematics going on in the papers we were reading, or else I wasn’t going to be able to make any progress with my own work. He appreciated my honesty and sent me a pdf of an advanced calculus textbook and recommended a few chapters for me to go over. This was the beginning of my many lessons in both communication and its necessity for a smooth work experience.

In many ways, I was really lucky with how the pandemic went, my research was the type that could easily permit itself to remote work. And like many on the spectrum, while my vocal communication skills can sometimes be lacking, I’m usually much better at articulating my thoughts and feelings through written words via texts/emails/slack messages. So for almost my first year in a professional setting, I really didn’t need to worry about all the extra hazards of in-person communication. I could easily talk to one of the grad students I’m also working with via a back and forth on slack or a quick meeting on zoom. That brings up another point in my exploration, a good support system. Rarely do people work in isolation with their higher-ups, more often than not we’re working with our co-workers or collaborators. Don’t take these people for granted, you’re here to help each other! Even though I have the least experience in research and education-wise, the other students I work with still ask me to check that they didn’t make any mistakes in the papers and programs they send my way. It’s a two-way street as it should be because that’s how work gets done. 

While my exact working situation is unique, I think components of what I’ve said should still ring true to many of my readers. Regardless of if you’re just entering the workforce, or you’ve been doing this for years, we can all benefit from reflecting on and trying to improve our ability to communicate with the people we work with. To say that any of us have it all figured out would be in err, as even I shift in nervous anticipation as I agonize over sending a single email some days. We’re all on a road to bettering ourselves, and learning good communication is an important step in the road to what can be called ‘real adulthood’. 

Till next time readers, stay cool, 

~Dmitri