16Every Sunday, I share a list of inspiring books that I’m reading this week.

Here’s what I’m reading this week:

Don’t be such a scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style | Randy Olson [Science, Communication]

Randy Olson was a marine biologist with a Harvard PhD and a tenured professor at the University of New Hampshire. Then he quit to become a filmmaker. In Don’t Be Such a Scientist, Olson shares his story about leaving academics for the lure of Hollywood. It’s a quirky and amusing story… but the real reason I love this book, is that I think we might be kindred spirits. OK, he’s bolder than me and is way more comfortable cursing to make his point (he must not have kids under 10 listening in…), but we both believe in the power of story and the need for scientists to become better communicators. We do compelling work and too often, that work never reaches anyone outside of academia. He argues that this is our own fault. The onus is not on the general public to learn to ‘speak geek’ but is on us – the scientists – to get out of our own heads. We need to use “straight talk” that speaks to the heart, the gut and even ‘the lower organs”. This is not easy for scientists, who are more comfortable speaking to the head. We are trained to be skeptical, question assumptions and demand evidence. And because this is how we think, this is how we talk about our work, our ideas. But this doesn’t resonate. It falls on deaf ears. To really reach our audience, to grab their attention, we need to tell stories, because everyone likes a good story (even nerdy scientists) – and if they become interested, they’re more likely to listen, engage, and remember what you said.

Favourite Takeaway:

“Last week I sat through a day of environmental talks. You know what I remember from that entire day? Only one thing – the story a guy told about how he was sitting on an airplane and the lady next to him asked for cream for her coffee, but when they brought her the small plastic containers of cream, she said, “No thanks; the plastic isn’t biodegradable.” And he thought to himself, “I can hardly hear her over the jet engines that are burning up fifty gazillion barrels of fuel a minute, and she’s worried about a thimble-sized piece of plastic?” That’s all I remember from that day. Why is that? It’s the power of a well-told story that is also very specific. Stories that are full of vague generalizations are weak. Specifics give them strength.” ~ Randy Olson.


Grit to Great: How Perseverance, Passion, and Pluck Take You from Ordinary to Extraordinary | Linda Kaplan Thaler & Robin Koval [Self-help, Leadership]

Filled with inspiriting stories and the latest research, this is a fantastic self-help book that sheds light on what the authors describe as the ‘secret to success in your career’ – finding your GRIT. It is a quick read, but one I’ll keep in active rotation to remind myself of the power of Guts, Resilience, Industriousness and Tenacity. One of the most interesting sections of this book was on rejection and how learning to be comfortable with rejection can build success. As a scientist, I deal with lots of rejection – especially when seeking funding, sharing ideas, and publishing my findings. Rejection doesn’t have to be personal. And when you separate the emotion from rejection, there are powerful lessons to take away – including that rejection is just an “opinion” not a “truth”. It says more about the rejector than it does about you. By being ‘gritty’, and developing a ‘stick-to-it-tiveness’ mindset, suddenly obstacles and challenges seem to virtually disappear in front of you.

Favourite Takeaway:

GRIT is “Guts, Resilience, Industriousness and Tenacity“. GRIT is the ability to focus, stay determined, stay optimistic in the face of a challenge, and simply work harder than the next guy or gal.


And that’s what I’m reading this week. What are you reading to find your spark?