Improving Your Non-Technical Skills as a Scientist

March 24, 2021

We’ve all been there, trying to find your first professional job before you have any experience in the field. It seems hard to make the leap into the professional world when nearly everyone would prefer to hire a candidate with experience. The coronavirus pandemic has made this transition even harder, as undergraduate and graduate students are unable to meet employers in-person to show that they have what it takes to get hired. The best way to prepare yourself for new employment, move into a new field or get a promotion is to improve your non-technical skills.
Non-technical skills can include interpersonal, management and communication skills. Some of these non-technical skills have been poorly adapted to online work, which makes refining them even more essential. This article covers some important non-technical skills and ways to improve them, to make the most out of this time during the pandemic. 

Time Management

The most important skill during the recent rapid transition to distance learning and remote work is time management. With the latest Netflix movie just a click away, dozens of notifications popping up and parents juggling childcare, our ability to focus and put in a full workday is being challenged like never before. This is where time management tools come in. Goals are great ways to keep yourself accountable and to continue working efficiently. Dividing large projects into smaller steps or checkpoints is another way to maintain motivation and make a daunting task more approachable. 
Another time management tool is to keep a schedule, with a set time to wake up and an hour or two set aside for work with no distractions. A schedule will keep you healthier, and ensure that every day, something gets done, instead of falling into the trap of procrastination. The pandemic has gone on for almost a year, so even finding one extra distraction-free hour a day of focused, quality work will add up to a very noticeable difference once in-person professional life resumes. 

Public Speaking 

With everything moving online, networking has become much harder, and that’s why it’s so important to develop skills to connect and socialize. Public speaking is crucial to connecting by projecting yourself as a leader and somebody worth listening to. Although in-person public speaking isn’t viable while the pandemic continues, the same core skills of explaining and persuading your audience apply online. To develop these, submit your abstract to be presented at online conferences, both locally and nationally. These opportunities are especially helpful for students, who can get their name out as a presenter to a larger audience than otherwise would be possible. 


This pandemic has allowed good team players to shine. This is an opportunity to reflect on how well you’ve been networking virtually with your coworkers, and to focus on how others around you learn to communicate effectively. Virtual communications are more complicated, which means that effective communication at this time will stand out, especially as you’re promoted into higher positions. These skills can translate well into leadership positions and are paramount to your work within teams for projects. 

One strategy for honing your skills includes joining online discussion groups. One great effect coming out of the pandemic is that there is most likely an online discussion group relating to your field of professional development, as well as related to discussing research papers about the pandemic and projects relating to microbiology or genetics. And there’s always the possibility of going outside of technical development and joining a book club. This is a good way to network and meet new people, and is a low-stakes environment to practice your communication skills. Other strategies include prioritizing clubs or student run organizations if you’re in college, or even the small step of reaching out to your friends and acquaintances over video chat to stay active and open instead of unintentionally isolating yourself. 
Non-technical skills have always been an important component of professional development. Now is the perfect time to take action to improve and polish them.
The Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) offers a variety of webinars for trainees and faculty members. Check them out today to improve your non-technical skills. 
View Webinars

Author: Sofia Theodoras

Sofia Theodoras
Sofia Theodoras is a student at University of California Berkeley, and is interested in helping increase equity and equality within the microbiology community.