In a previous post, I mentioned that my journey away from the bench evolved from my daily walk by the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley to my joining their Management of Technology Program to learn about commercialization. In one of my classes there, a Haas professor who used to be a NASA scientist said, “if you can teach scientists thermodynamics, you can teach them the language of business.
”If you are contemplating transitioning from science to business, you must first take baby steps to familiarize your with business lingo. In this post, I am going to share ways to help you get started. It will take some time at the beginning, so don’t get overwhelmed. If you come across terms that you don’t understand, just having seen or heard them used in context will help.
1. Read The Wall Street Journal and Forbes Magazine. They are not only excellent sources for the most updated business news, their videos can save you time. If you have 30 minutes of down time during your experiments each day, you can easily watch six of them a day, a hundred and eighty a month.
2. Podcasts: The WSJ also produces short podcasts in a number of categories. The easiest one for me to get started on was its Tech News Briefing. It doesn’t necessarily teach you business terms, but touches upon the entailed competition among tech products and companies. The NPR’s Planet Money podcast, my personal favorite, does a great job in breaking economic topics into digestible wisdoms.
3. Case in Point: Complete Case Interview Preparation by Marc P. Cosentino is a book written for intensive management consulting case interview preparation. Even if you are not considering going into management consulting, this book gives you a quick dive into the essential vocabulary used in day-to-day business discussions as well as frameworks that help you organize and apply strategic thinking to various business situations.
4. Financial Statements: Both science and business require the skill of understanding and interpreting numbers. Being able to understand a company’s financial statement helps you understand what matters to the business and its shareholders. For public companies, you can access their financial statements under the “Investor Relations” section of their websites.
5. Company reports: Even if you are not pursuing business functions, a company’s reports (usually also under “Investor Relations”) can shed lights to the near-term and long-term focus of their products. If you ask why that matters, imagine this. You are searching for an R&D position to work on a particular technology, and you really want to work for company A. If that technology is no longer a focus for company A, the security and resource allocated for the position you are seeking may be in jeopardy. If you are job searching, it will give you more topics of conversation during your interview which will show that you are ahead of other candidates.
Now, if you are still in school, you can start practicing by applying them to your science research. One simple exercise is to cost your research project, from materials and labor to overheads. Break them down into fixed and variable costs. Look for ways to cut cost (e.g. are there cheaper alternative materials or vendors that I can use?), improve efficiency (e.g. through better tools to reduce labor), and ask the big question – who will be my target customers. There are no right or wrong answers. The numbers are simply there to show you the facts. It is up to you to take action upon these facts.
In closing, I will leave you with the song New Slang by The Shins. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. Until next post, keep on learning!