“So what’s your Master’s about?”
This is probably one of the most dreaded questions a scientist hears because in the span of a few seconds they have to formulate what they’re going to say to adequately answer that inquiry. That is, it’s one of the most dreaded questions if you aren’t prepared with your “pitch.”
This question isn’t just asked by professionals, but by family, friends, and the person who overheard your conversation in a coffee shop and now wants to know your life story. In fact, “What do you do?” and “What’s your research about?” are the most asked questions of all time when being introduced or catching up with a friend. So it only makes sense to have a prepared and well-rehearsed “elevator pitch.” If these two terms- “pitch” and “elevator pitch” – are foreign to you, it’s time to be introduced.
WHAT IT IS
A pitch is where you state your name and what you do to an audience (usually just one or two people). An elevator pitch is the idea of you relaying that information in the time it takes to ride an elevator (think 30-60 seconds).
When I was taught what a pitch was, I was told to have multiple versions of your pitch- a five minute one, a minute one, a 15 second one. The reason for this being that sometimes you have a little bit more time to delve into your research, while other times you don’t.
The five minute pitch would be geared towards longer conversations with members of the science community that study similar things as you. The one minute pitch would be what you would say if you were standing in front of your poster at a conference. A 15 second pitch example is you introducing yourself before asking a question at a Q&A session (frequent at conferences).
WHY YOU SHOULD HAVE A PITCH READY TO USE
Science is all about funding and networking, in my opinion. To get funding, you need to be able to communicate why your research is important to other people. The purpose of a pitch is to get the listeners interested in learning more about your work.
MY ELEVATOR PITCH DISSECTED
I usually start out with “Hi, my name is Melissa Marquez and I work on x.” When I was working on my MSc the x = “deep sea fishery bycatch in regards to chimaeras.”
I next ask a question: “Have you heard of x?” This answer will allow me to gauge their level of understanding of my research area. How I proceed with my elevator pitch depends on their answer.
If the answer is “YES,” then I go on explaining my research. If they answer “NO,” I describe the on-going problem (with some statistics), and summarize what my research covers (broadly). I finish my pitch by describing how my research will bring the marine science world closer to an understanding x.
I’m a big proponent of using as little jargon terminology as possible in my presentations, and especially my pitches. And while these pitches seem like I came up with them rather quickly, I actually have spent years perfecting them. Like most of my work, I usually write things down and the pitches are no exception. From there, I edit and tweak until I feel confident enough to practice the pitch out on unsuspecting family and friends (thanks for listening about habitat use in sharks for what seems like forever, guys).
As mentioned above, it is good to have multiple versions of your pitch. One would rather be over prepared than underprepared and lose your listeners because you went off on a tangent. My advice? Start with a one minute pitch geared towards a more professional audience (the more common of all pitches delivered). Once that is complete, you can modify it for a more general audience and then get it down to a 15-second introduction.
The following are some good resources for getting started:
Naturejobs.com’s “Communication: Two minutes to impress” is a good resource on how to prepare a science pitch.</li>
Jeffrey Aguirre Lab’s The Elevator Pitch for Scientists has examples of a 15-second introduction and a 30-second poster pitch.
Forbe’s “The Perfect Elevator Pitch to Land a Job” by Nancy Collamer outlined 9 basic tips to keep in mind.