Tell me what you do in one sentence

if not in one then surely in less than in five sentences.

Exchanging pleasantries with new people generally involves giving names and current occupation. That is fine in a brief encounter but if conversation is to continue further, more information needs to be exchanged. It is then when we are asked that tricky question:

So what exactly do you do? or what is research all about?

At this point, it is very important to be able to comprehensively explain your work in as few sentences as possible and at the same time make sure that the excitement you have about what you do comes across in those few words.

It is a tricky one because we have to be able to place ourselves in someone else’s shoes and speak by assuming the right amount of knowledge. If you were given 30 minutes, you would be able to get your point across but to ensure that a conversation remains interesting, you have to be able to answer in only a few sentences.

Just think about the many people who you’ve met and found them to be unimpressive within the first few minutes of conversation. They might be people at good positions or with good companies but if they are not able to tell you how exciting their work is, they will not be able to leave a lasting impression.

Interestingly though, this exercise of forcing yourself to think about describing what exactly you do, has double benefits. It does not only manage to get your point across but also helps you to streamline your own thoughts about what you do.

It is not often that you sit and think about how best to describe your job. But when you do, you realise that it is a valuable exercise. You observe yourself from a third person’s perspective and consider the many things that you affect while you work. Many of those may not seem obvious to you and some may have easily skipped your attention previously. It can be a rewarding experience and can help motivate you further.

But more importantly, if you do manage to explain what you do in just a few sentences and are able to show that excitement you harbour about your work then the person will have no choice but to be impressed.

It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you believe you do something worthwhile and are able to get that point across.


7 thoughts on “Tell me what you do in one sentence”

  1. very well Ph.D. supervisor used to tell me that you must be able to tell about your work ( and progre ss thereof) in 2,5,10, 15, 30, 60 minutes any time you are asked to do. This exerecise helped me later in corporate life.

  2. I agree :).. The trick is not just to understand what is the expected knowledge level of the listener but also what are his/her interests and then wrap your conversation around his interests leading to your research, so that he/she can relate better.

  3. it’s both painful and necessary to realize that not everyone thinks your research topic is the most important/awesome thing ever. glad you wrote this piece. hope all is well, my friend 🙂

  4. Very true. Also important to quickly figure out how best to get your message across to the person you just met. If I had two minutes to explain my work to a computer science PhD student I would do it differently than if I had two minutes with a venture capitalist, or a hair-dresser.

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