This weekend I went to Santa Barbara. The first day we stayed primarily in downtown Santa Barbara. We hailed a taxi to bring us closer to the coast where we could visit the innumerable wine tasting rooms dotting the lively coast.
The second day, we all pitched in to rent a vineyard chauffeur to allow for us all to have fun and drink responsibly. Upon entering the chauffeur’s, car we were all handed bottles of cold water. Our driver had a grandfather’s touch. Our driver beguiled us with his local vineyard knowledge, as he slalomed through the grapevine laden hillside to our first destination on our tour. I know very little about wine, so this was quite an educational car ride for me. In the course of our conversation with our driver, we learned more about our driver’s personal life. Pete was originally from the Midwest, and was once a stressed and prosperous consultant/analyst. A chance encounter with a native Californian drew him to Santa Barbara as a younger man, at this time he contemplated returning to California for retirement. A chance quadruple by-pass heart surgery prompted him to give up his stressful “salary man” life in the Midwest for the Santa Barbara wine country dream he once had. Pete only drove the car to give him something to do in retirement — in the end everything worked out for Pete. It was a succinct and entertaining explanation, it lasted maybe only 2-3 minutes, yet somehow he captured the distilled essence of his 70+ years on earth.
He then asked, as most people probably would, for his passengers to reciprocate this friendly gesture and volunteer information about themselves. We each introduced ourselves, in a similar way, trying to be quick but at the same time not misinform our new friend. It’s an odd tangent, but this reminds me of medical school interview day. You meet a lot of interesting people (other applicants), and you end up explaining yourself several hundred times (hopefully in a rather consistently well behaved way). In the “speech” world, I believe they call these situations: elevator speeches. I first became familiar with this term during a scholars’ workshop, where we each had to deliver a 1-minute elevator speech about ourselves. The term is mean to conjure up a hypothetical time pressure situation, for example being able to succinctly introduce yourself in an elevator with the director of amyloid research (i.e. scientific rubbing of elbows). It’s very hard to get ahead if you can’t explain yourself and your purpose. I came from the land of bench research, I can’t explain to you all how much I’ve seen good graduate students lack the ability to explain not only what they do, but why they’re doing it, and what they will do with it — premeds are not an exception.
It’s useful to develop an elevator speech, especially if you have socially awkward moments from time to time (raises hand). This way, you have something to reliably say to break the ice. Though, I suggest you develop more than one elevator speech: 1) a (technical) version, 2) a professional version, and 3) a casual version. All three would probably say the same stuff overall: I currently work in research administration and I’m going to medical school. The only difference between the versions is how detailed I am about what I do, did and will do. so I almost never explain my past research because most don’t care to hear about physiological chloride conductance measurements.
My Elevator Speech Structure *order may vary depending on the circumstances
– Introduce Self (10-15 secs)
– Introduce Current Activity (20-25 secs)
– Connect Past Events (optional) (15-20 secs)
– Future Goals/ Point of What I’m Doing (15-20 secs)
Because I already have a distilled story of myself, I didn’t really have to panic during my interviews because I always had “talking points”. Next week I’ll be speaking with a panel of professors to discuss IRB research compliance for about 20-minutes, I’ll probably use the professional version of my elevator speech to introduce myself. And in the car ride, I could easily see that our driver Pete too had mastered this technique — and he was probably giving us the “casual version” of his elevator speech.
Don’t ever be stuck not being able to explain who you are, just a word of advice.
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