Communication Tip: Don’t say “next Friday”. Say “Friday of next week”.

Today is Monday, September 24, 2018.  Suppose that my co-worker Jessica asks me, “Can we meet on next Friday to talk about our report?”.  Does she mean

  • Friday, September 28, 2018?
  • Friday, October 5, 2018?

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The word “next” is tricky to interpret in this situation.  By definition, “next” denotes the instance immediately after the present.  Thus, “next Friday” should mean Friday, September 28, 2018.

However, most Anglophones would interpret this phrase to mean the Friday of the next week, which is Friday, October 5, 2018.  This is not logical, but it is the dominant interpretation.

To prevent this confusion, I avoid saying “next Friday”.  Instead, I say

  • “the upcoming Friday” to denote Friday, September 28, 2018
  • “Friday of next week” to denote Friday, October 5, 2018

These approaches are clear and unequivocal, and they eliminate any chance for confusion.

If this is communicated in an email, then I suggest confirming the correct “Friday” by adding the calendar date.  Thus, I would write, “Let’s meet on Friday of next week, October 5, 2018”.  This method helps the reader to know if we will meet during this week or next week, and it adds another way to confirm the date.

 

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Communication Tip: Write both the day of the week and the calendar date when organizing meetings or planning events

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When proposing a meeting or planning an event in writing, I strongly suggest stating both the day of the week and the calendar date.  For example, I would email my co-worker Mark, “Shall we visit our client on next Tuesday, September 25?”.

Note the contrast between my proposed approach and the following 2 alternatives:

  • “Shall we visit our client on next Tuesday?”
  • “Shall we visit our client on September 25?”

Some careful comparisons will reveal 3 advantages:

  • It forces me to check that I wrote the correct pair between the day of the week and the calendar date.  This is an extra layer of quality control.
  • If I simply write “Shall we visit our client on September 25?”, then I implicitly force Mark to check what day of the week that is.  If I send that email to 10 people, then I’m multiplying this hassle by 10.  I can save all parties a lot of headache by taking the initiative to write “Tuesday, September 25”.
  • Knowing both are very helpful, but often for different reasons.
    • Knowing the specific calendar date eliminates any source of ambiguity about which day it is.  Instead of relying on words/phrases like “tomorrow”, “next Tuesday”, or “the day after”, stating “September 25” is perfectly clear to Mark.
    • If I propose a meeting on a Wednesday afternoon, Mark may immediately know that it is a bad time, because he needs to coach his daughter’s basketball team on Wednesday afternoons.  This illustrates how the day of the week is helpful for coordinating one-time events with events that recur weekly.

In the above example, I have omitted the year, because the working context between me and Mark would imply that meeting in September of next year would be rather strange and unrealistic.  However, stating the year may be helpful or even necessary for certain situations, especially if legal formality is involved.

 

Communication and Email Tip: Propose meeting times in both time zones

When I arrange a phone call with someone in a different time zone, I propose the time in both my time zone and their time zone.

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This has 2 benefits:

1) I save the recipient’s time and headache from determining what the correct time is for their time zone.

2) The recipient can check if my conversion is correct.

On at least 2 occasions, this practice has helped me to identify a mistake in the proposed time of a meeting.

Arranging a teleconference via an online calendar invitation solves this problem, because the online calendar will automatically do the conversion. However, not all meetings are arranged this way, so this is still a good practice to adopt.

Write a personal message when inviting people to connect on LinkedIn

Strangers send requests to join my network on LinkedIn every week, sometimes every day.  When I get such a request, the enclosing message is usually

“Hi Eric, I’d like to join your LinkedIn network.”

This is the default message, which means that the sender did not take the time to write a personalized invitation.  This is very disappointing, especially because LinkedIn suggests you to write a personal note before sending every request.

When you don’t write a personal message, it shows a lack of effort to engage with that person and develop a rapport in this new connection.  In this age of social media, it is easy and common to add new contacts just for the sake of increasing the size of one’s network, whether it’s “Friends” on Facebook, “Followers” on Twitter, or “Connections” on LinkedIn.  Although social networking is virtual, connecting with people is still a human endeavour, and your effort level in that endeavour will reap proportional returns in the long term.

In your personal note, here are possible things to mention:

  • how you met that person
  • what you valued in your past professional encounter(s) with that person
  • what you hope to learn from that person

 

If you accept a thoughtful invitation from someone on LinkedIn, then write a personal message in return to thank them.  Either way, read their profiles carefully, and ask insightful questions based on what you learn from their profiles.  Your new connections will recognize your efforts in noticing their work/education and trying to learn from them, and they will likely appreciate your initiative.

Communication Tip – Write the message of the email BEFORE the subject and the recipients’ email addresses

In every email service that I have used so far,

1) the address fields are on the top

2) the subject field is in the middle

3) and then the text editor for the message is at the end.

However, when I write most emails, I usually write these 3 things in reverse.  This has several important advantages.

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Forgot a new co-worker’s name? This could be an opportunity to establish a positive relationship.

Meeting new people is a constant part of my life, whether it is through new jobs, social events, or networking events.  The first task in establishing rapport with a new acquaintance is to learn their name, yet I sometimes forget it after our first conversation.

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Forgetting new names is very common and forgivable, especially if you are meeting many new people at once.  However, I notice that most people are afraid to admit this.  Perhaps they are embarrassed or worried that their new acquaintances will feel offended.  Thus, they often greet them many times without referencing their name, and this could continue for days, weeks, or even months!

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A Comprehensive Guide for Public Speaking at Scientific Conferences

Introduction

I served as a judge for some of the student presentations at the 2016 Canadian Statistics Student Conference (CSSC).  The conference was both a learning opportunity and a networking opportunity for statistics students in Canada.  The presentations allowed the students to share their research and course projects with their peers, and it was a chance for them to get feedback about their work and learn new ideas from other students.

Unfortunately, I found most of the presentations to be very bad – not necessarily in terms of the content, but because of the delivery.  Although the students showed much earnestness and eagerness in sharing their work with others, most of them demonstrated poor competence in public speaking.

Public speaking is an important skill in knowledge-based industries, so these opportunities are valuable experiences for anybody to strengthen this skill.  You can learn it only by doing it many times, making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes.  Having delivered many presentations, learned from my share of mistakes, and received much praise for my seminars, I hope that the following tips will help anyone who presents at scientific conferences to improve their public-speaking skills.  In fact, most of these tips apply to public speaking in general.

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I spoke at the 2016 Canadian Statistics Student Conference on career advice for students and new graduates in statistics.

Image courtesy of Peter Macdonald on Flickr.

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How to Find a Job in Statistics – Advice for Students and Recent Graduates

Introduction

A graduate student in statistics recently asked me for advice on how to find a job in our industry.  I’m happy to share my advice about this, and I hope that my advice can help you to find a satisfying job and develop an enjoyable career.  My perspectives would be most useful to students and recent graduates because of my similar but unique background; I graduated only 1.5 years ago from my Master’s degree in statistics at the University of Toronto, and I volunteered as a career advisor at Simon Fraser University during my Bachelor’s degree.  My advice will reflect my experience in finding a job in Toronto, but you can probably find parallels in your own city.

Most of this post focuses on soft skills that are needed to find any job; I dive specifically into advice for statisticians in the last section.  Although the soft skills are general and not specific to statisticians, many employers, veteran statisticians, and professors have told me that students and recent graduates would benefit from the focus on soft skills.  Thus, I discuss them first and leave the statistics-specific advice till the end.

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