Job Title: Reactor Engineer, OkloNSECommLab_John

What are you doing now?

I’m an engineer at Oklo Inc., a reactor design firm based in Sunnyvale, CA. Because we are a small but growing company I have a wide variety of responsibilities, ranging from technical work, to economic research, and grant writing. The variety is exciting, but our company motto is to “make reactors people want,” and at the end of the day everything comes back to that.

How are you using communication skills in your job?

As a company we have to convey the work we are doing to a wide variety of stakeholders, ranging from our colleagues to the general public, and from potential customers to the regulator. Each group requires a different approach, and we are always honing our communications to reach them appropriately. This means creating drawings that convey the appropriate level of detail, slides that cut out the noise and focus on what matters, and careful thought about how our messages will be received. Every day brings more opportunities to use, and improve, the communication skills I developed in school.

How did the Comm Lab prepare you for your current role?

Working as a Communication Fellow was a unique opportunity for me to improve the communication skills I use every day. But beyond just teaching me what makes a good figure, or how to structure an abstract, I found that I learned the most from regular interaction with an amazing variety of people. Working with the fellows and the lab staff taught me so much about teamwork, and gave me ample opportunities to reflect and improve my approaches. Interacting with clients taught me how to listen, and engage with their concerns, while indirectly exposing me to the outstanding research and classwork they were doing and expanding my grasp of the field.

Any advice to current students?

The most important advice I can give to students is to practice their communication skills as much as possible while in school, because they will undoubtedly need them in their careers. This doesn’t require big changes, just a shift in mindset. Take group meetings seriously, and think of them as a chance to not only share your results but to practice your communication skills. Attend conferences and prepare your talks with care. Practice them with friends and colleagues prior to the event, and strive to stand out by having a well-rehearsed, clear message. If they have the opportunity, they can augment these activities by coming to the Comm Lab for help, and if they really want to jump in with two feet they can become a fellow themselves!