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Engineering Communications

Engineering Communications is the place for conversation and discussion about communicating effectively at work.

Brain Science of Is and Es

Posted August 25, 2016 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

It wasn’t at all surprising to learn that I was considered an extrovert when I took the Myers-Briggs in college. I’ve always loved to be with people and to go to social activities. But it wasn’t until I took a class on Myers-Briggs that I learned that being an introvert or extrovert is more than just liking people and being social.

The way I describe introversion versus extroversion to people is by asking “where do you get your energy from?”

Extroverts get their energy from other people. That’s because in social settings an extrovert’s brain is stimulated with dopamine. Their brains view social interaction as a reward so they seek opportunities for that reward. Extroverts have a more active dopamine-reward network than introverts – meaning extroverts need more dopamine to feel pleasure.

An introvert feels overwhelmed, in addition to excitement, when their brain is flooded with dopamine. They feel overstimulated. Introverts are also more responsive to the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, which makes us feel good when we turn inward. Acetylcholine powers our abilities to think deeply, reflect, and focus intensely on just one thing for a long period of time.

Introverts thrive when they are operating in parasympathetic mode. In this mode our body is calm, muscles relax, energy is stored and our heart rate slows. This is one of the reasons that introverts crave alone time – they desire to engage in quiet, thoughtful activities. Image Credit

When extroverts are not in their preferred environment they can experience fatigue, inability to concentrate, increased anxiety, and depression.

No one is a full introvert or extrovert. “Ambiversion” is the middle area and it’s where the most people fall on the spectrum.

Where do you fall on the introvert – extrovert spectrum?

8 comments; last comment on 11/14/2016
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Dynamic Data Visualization

Posted January 14, 2016 7:00 PM by cheme_wordsmithy

Sometimes it's difficult to present large sets of data in a meaningful way. Numbers and percentages which make sense to us, the holders of the data, may not resonate with those unfamiliar with the concepts or those who are more visual learners. So we create the pie charts, graphs, and other standard visuals that we learned in grade school computer class. These fixed snapshots have been the standard in the world of data visualizations. But lately we've seen technology and computing power open the door to more dynamic presentations that allow us to see and process information in new ways.

Take for example this data visualization created on The data set: daily activities of 1,000 Americans representative of the population from the American Time Use Survey from 2014. The setup: A clock, 17 activity categories (color coded), and 1,000 dots (one for each person). The experiment: Run the clock minute-by-minute and move each dot based on what the individual in the survey is doing at that time. The result: Awesomeness.

What this program accomplishes is a means to see both big picture and individually at the same time. I can see that at 5:06 PM 28% of Americans are enjoying leisure, 2% are sleeping, and 14% are still working. I can also track one individual's entire day by following one dot across the 24 hour timeline. I can also (and this is probably the most beneficial) easily see the trends and times which are most notably transition times for different activities.

The author also notes some other unique ways the data was presented, such as plug and play charts that give the user the ability to compare themselves to the data set, or plug a time, gender, and age in to see the activity percentages for that profile. All of these provide cool and interactive ways to understand (in this case) how the average American day is spent.

While this particular model may be more useful for a sociologist than an engineer or physicist, the fact remains that these types of dynamic visuals are becoming increasingly helpful and important in science and engineering, especially as we try to tackle the many challenges and opportunities of "big data". The better we can visualize and understand the information we capture, the more we will be able to share it and use it powerful ways.

3 comments; last comment on 01/04/2017
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The Ideal Office Plan

Posted June 25, 2015 7:00 AM by cheme_wordsmithy

Since I graduated college and began my professional career, I've worked in two office environments, and both of them mainly utilized high-walled cubicles. My previous workplace did have some office spaces for management, but where I currently work the only physical "rooms" are conference rooms and bathrooms.

But the cubicle is actually a minority as far as workplaces go - around 70% of U.S. companies currently employ an open office plan for their workspace. Where we used to have halls of offices or cubicle walls, we now have no walls at all. This is the case with many big-name entities like Google, Facebook, and eBay, and because of their business success and innovation they have become icons in this trend.

And though office layout comparison is not a new thing, I thought I'd offer a quick look at three different models to discuss what advantages they tout:

The office design, where many or most employees have shared or individual offices, provides maximum privacy, a quieter workspace, little visual distraction, and (often) more workspace for the employee. Unfortunately, it also decreases accountability and can encourage isolation, since oral and visual contact with the supervisor and other employees requires getting up and moving. The biggest reason the true office is a dying breed, however, is that offices are not as efficient or flexible in terms of space, so it doesn't suit companies that are tight on real-estate.

The cubicle design was meant to make up for the vices of offices. Cubicles are more cost-efficient and space-efficient, and are more flexible because cubicle walls can be moved and adjusted as needed to accommodate changes in personnel. Cubicles provide some visual privacy, but are more inviting and less isolating than offices, encouraging employee interaction. This added communication comes at the cost of reduced privacy and increased potential for noise and distraction. And while I have gotten used to listening to my coworkers conversations and phones ringing, it certainly hasn't aided my productivity.

The open office goes beyond the intent of cubicles, by literally tearing down the barriers to open communication. Being free of cubicle walls, open offices provide the most flexibility and freedom in terms of use of space, and the airiness can feel more relaxing. The openness allows co-workers to easily move about, communicate, and collaborate with each other. The biggest downside is, no walls means no privacy; many people (including your supervisor) will be easily able to see and hear whatever it is you're doing or working on. Also, more efficient use of space often translates to less space per employee.

Critics have had their field day with each of these floor plans over the years, saying why one is better than the other. However, the reality is that every company is sized and staffed differently, so no cookie-cutter plan is perfect. Some engineering firms, for instance, may find they have more space to utilize and find their employees solve problems best by working independently and free of distraction for large chunks of time. In this case, an office environment would be preferred. For idea-centered companies where frequent discussion and collaboration are essential, or where there are large numbers of employees all working on similar tasks, an open office might be ideal.

As an introverted engineer, I find I work best when I have a little privacy. Though I understand the advantages, I think I would be somewhat flustered and distracted doing my work in an open office space. What about you? What environment do you prefer for your workplace and workspace?

Washington Post

17 comments; last comment on 01/04/2017
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How to Translate Science Speak

Posted February 13, 2014 12:00 AM by cheme_wordsmithy

Scientists and engineers know things that laypersons don't know. This is just fine, except when the engineer/scientist has to or wants to communicate with said layperson(s) about their field. Then the "science speak" comes out. In these situations there is often a high probability that one of the two parties will either become extremely confused and frustrated, or extremely bored and sleepy. Neither of these is the desired outcome...

I often find that no matter how boring a certain topic of conversation may be, if someone has a passion for it and can communicate that passion to me, I can find it interesting. Unfortunately, even though I have an engineering background, I often am bored out of my mind when talking to scientists and engineers. Why?

Scientists and engineers know so much and (hopefully) have a love for the things they know and do, but science speak often garbles and confuses that passion. And bridging the communication gap between the technical and non-technical can be difficult. But there is one operating principle to successful science speak translation - simplify. Einstein put it well in his famous words "everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."

Here are a few pointers from Melissa Marshall (from TEDtalks) that are helpful when attempting to simplify your communication:

Be Relevant - Bridge the gap between your work and your audience. From the perspective of your audience, answer the question "So what?".

Avoid Jargon - Avoid or replace language that is specific to your field or that your audience would not understand. Don't use 'spacial' and 'temporal', use 'space' and 'time'.

Be Visual - Images, graphics, and comparisons are great tools to help your audience understand and remember what you're telling them.

Avoid bullets - Long bullet points can be a language overload to the audience. In presentations, try using a single straightforward sentence to present an idea. And link these sentences to visuals when appropriate.

Even if not in the realm of science or engineering, we've all been in situations where explaining technical things presents difficulty: just try explaining to your 95 year old grandma how to work a smartphone... But especially when trying to explain the technical aspects of our field of work, it's important that we can properly simplify our communication. Following basic principles like the ones mentioned above can help make science and engineering concepts palatable and interesting to even the most non-technically minded. And in a world so driven by media, communication, and awareness, that's a very important thing.

What about you - can you think of situations where you have had to translate your science speak?

Source: TEDTalks - Melissa Marshall "Talk Nerdy To Me"

12 comments; last comment on 03/28/2014
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Science Communication on the Rise?

Posted June 21, 2013 12:00 AM by TestUser1
Pathfinder Tags: communication science

Scientists communicate to one another at conferences, through technical papers, and on the job. But how a scientist talks to a colleague about research is quite different from communicating that same information to non-scientists.

A recent PopSci article starts off, "Before people will understand science, scientists must understand people." The article explains that because of selective perception, people may view information presented as fact through a personal lens and wind up interpreting it differently. The source of the information can impact perception, too. Can scientists share their research in a way that resonates better with people?

Carl Sagan, who was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, and author, is cited as being a good role model for scientists. He had a popular image and the ability to get people excited about science.

With today's technology, finding information should be a snap, but the real stuff is often bogged down between big chunks of misinformation.

How can scientists communicate to the public without unnecessarily frightening or misinforming?

  • Universities offer degrees in science communication. Students take typical communication coursework and learn how to explain and popularize science to non-scientists. The Centre for Science Communication offers postgraduate study in this field.
  • The National Science Foundation emphasizes grant-proposal rules that encourage sharing.
  • Scientists may present at exhibitions, in journals, and in media production. The storytelling approach is also recommended for science communicators.

How do you think scientists can best communicate with the public?


PopSci - Not Just the Facts


Wikipedia - Science communication

11 comments; last comment on 06/27/2013
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