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Home » Discover Rackham » An Alumnus Says Asking for Help and Collaborating Is a Sign of Strength

Towards the end of finishing my doctoral work I needed to complete a thermal analysis to help validate my research results. With my degree being in computational electromagnetics, this was far from easy. I had to learn how to use new software in addition to learning a new subject; however my thesis was on the line. After successfully completing the modeling and my dissertation defense, I was very proud of myself. My advisor commented on how proud he was of my efforts in making my dissertation cross-discipline. I felt like I could conquer anything on my own. My entire research experience had revolved around figuring everything out myself without much help from anyone. Typical to any research group, my group talked through problems with one another, but at the end of the day you were responsible for solving your own problems. It was considered a badge of honor.

As I entered the business world, I started with effectively a chip on my shoulder. I was a new guy with a Ph.D. and I was going to figure out any and every thing on my own. After all, people were now calling me Dr. Brown so I couldn’t disappoint right? In my mind, asking for help was for wimps or people who weren’t quite smart enough to figure things out on their own. I was quickly educated on the error of my thinking and quite frankly how myopic it was. In a profit making work world, spending time figuring out something that someone else has already solved is a waste of time and money. Leveraging the expertise and skills of others to solve problems is the preferred approach. In fact collaboration for my company was the standard culture and it took me some time to get used to it. However, as time continued I learned how to be much more productive and effective in my job. I sought others’ advice for things I didn’t understand or for problems I didn’t have an immediate solution for. I found myself being able to handle more projects simultaneously, giving me exposure opportunities in addition to helping me get promoted faster.

For those students still working towards finishing their doctoral degree, I would emphatically recommend frequent collaboration with their peers. They will grow faster professionally, and they will be better acclimated to a professional career. In the changing world of today, being a one person show isn’t really desired. Companies are looking for smart people who understand the value of collaboration and working together to solve tough and complex problems. I’m glad I threw in the trash my ‘wimp’ philosophy and realized that collaborators are the real problem solving Hulks.