Developing leadership is awkward and appreciated

On July 29, 2012 future and current junior scientists gathered in Arlington, VA for their first interactive leadership development workshop. For many scientists in areas of computational science, it’s rare to receive the invitation to explicitly develop their leadership skills as part of their graduate and early career training. In this case, leadership development was at the fore of their workshop on Communication, Collaboration and Creativity.

“I could tell it was something different from its description…we’re use to talks and listening…We’re not often invited to interact with one another,” said Curtis Hamman of Stanford, a computational fluid dynamics researcher in his fourth year of the Computational Science Graduate Fellowship program.

The C3  leadership workshop was held after 2 days of scientific talks and key note addresses from such notables as the Director of the Office of Science for the Department of Energy and the Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu.  Dr. Chu stressed the importance of not only being able to communicate well but to communicate the excitement and passion that we have about our research. The workshop was created to address both issues of communication and the Fellowship program’s mission to build a community of leaders in computational science and engineering research.

The room of ~100 young scientists and handful of lab managers sat patiently despite a possible increasing sense of dread as they listened in the newly configured room to Dr. Holmes talk about the importance of groups, play and performance in innovative communities and collaboration. Whether it’s the NY times, creativity or educational research, it is becoming clear that 1) creativity comes from groups and 2) groups who learn are inherently improvisational and 3) support for risk taking and failures are critical to discovery and innovation. Holmes’ brief slide based introduction was followed by researchers standing up and practicing professional performances. Improvisational theater based exercises were used to seed relationships among our countries future energy researchers, to deepen their understanding of collaboration and to strengthen their abilities to make use of the wealth of resources available to them.

“It’s great to have a session that is so intentional about our developing as leaders. I hope we continue to have them.” Ashlee N. Ford Versypt, alumnae of CSGF and current postdoctoral associate at MIT. “The goal,” Holmes said, “is not for me to tell you use this tool to fix a problem in your setting, but rather to have you develop the skills and way of seeing that lets you create the tools and solutions you need in each setting.”