Episode 23 – Rebecca Taft (MIT Graduate Student) Reflects On Episodes 20-22

We sit down with a former MIT student to unpack the previous episodes.


Guest Starring Rebecca Taft, Software Engineer at Cockroach Labs & MIT Computer Science Ph.D. Recpient

Produced & Hosted by Adam Greenfield

Executive Produced by Patrick Yurick, Instructional Designer – MIT OGE

Executive Produced by Heather Konar, Communication Director – MIT OGE

Special thanks to the following editors who provided us invaluable feedback that aided in the development of this show:

Christopher O’Keeffe, Co-Founder of Podcation

Kristy Bennet, Manager – MIT Women’s League

Jennifer Cherone, Phd Candidate – MIT Burge Laboratory

Erik Tillman, Phd, Formerly of the Kim Lab & Currently A Fellow at Vida Ventures, LLC

The Great Communicators Podcast is a part of Gradcommx. Gradcommx, targeted at enhancing research communication, is the first offering of Gradx – a professional development project created for the graduate student population at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by the Office For Graduate Education.


“All The Best Fakers” by Nick Jaina is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License (http://freemusicarchive.org)

“Deliberate Thought” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) is Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/



Welcome to The Great Communicators Podcast presented by The MIT Office of Graduate Education, a professional development podcast expressly designed to bring lessons from the field to our graduate student researchers.

My name is Adam Greenfield and in this special episode, we’re going to get a different perspective on the things we’ve heard so far.

We asked a few MIT grad students to listen to the interviews we conducted with these great speakers, then provide feedback on what they heard.

In this episode….


My name’s Rebecca Taft. I’m a PhD student at the Computer Science Department here at MIT.


And the focus of Rebecca’s research is in databases.


So creating software for managing big data. It’s very practical, applied research so industry partners are interested in what we’re doing, which is kind of fun, and I’m hoping to go into industry when I’m done.


But perhaps once a researcher, always a researcher.


I think I’m ready to take a break from academia for now but we’ll see. I may miss the research after I leave.


In our talk with Rebecca, she brought up how each speaker she heard seemed to have goals they wanted to accomplish with their writing. She specifically pointed to things Scott Lewis referenced in his comments about his realizations while watching political debates, that while a listing of facts is an accurate view of the world, people may tune out if there’s no emotion tied to them.


I think that in any situation, an election or a church or a- if you’re sitting there just rambling through facts that you might find interesting in some deep part of your soul but you don’t actually communicate why they’re interesting, you’ve lost.


You’re trying to get across this emotional message and connect with the audience and that one struck me because he gave this example of listening to Donald Trump during the campaign and realizing that this guy could probably win the whole thing, which made me realize that he’s probably right, that the emotional message was what was really effective but also it made me think, okay, for somebody who’s doing research, which is all about facts, do facts even matter? How do we use the facts to get across the emotional message in a better way than just emotion without facts?


Rebecca did mention that the questions she just raised weren’t completely addressed. However, perhaps there really aren’t one-size-fits-all answers to those questions. People operate in many different ways, even though the general list of emotion types remains the same. Still, if you inject some of the emotional connection you have with the facts or conclusions you are presenting, your audience just may find that same connection. Successful communication achieved.

Rebecca also brought up something important that Professor Yang Shao-Horn talked about, published work and how it’s never really done.


Yeah, that was something I really liked about the first interview, was she never thinks about a research paper as a perfect work.


It is not a piece of work that is with certainty or perfection, but rather it enhances our understanding of the natural and physical world.


So I liked that idea. I mean, you always have the goal of publishing. That’s pretty much what a lot of academic program are based on. You try to publish papers and once you get through your first authored papers, then you can write your thesis and graduate. So in some ways the publication is the goal but at the same time I think the field itself is constantly changing and nobody would say that something written 50 years ago is necessarily going to be right. You know, publications that came after it built on that work but the actual theories that were discussed in that paper from 50 years ago have probably evolved over time. But in terms of thinking of things as constantly being a work in progress, I also did a lot of art growing up and I think that’s something that I thought about more with art. You can always keep on going back and painting over sections and making it better but at some point you have to just say it’s done.


And when it came to Jim Ruland, he and Rebecca seemed to have somewhat of a similar approach to writing.


So with the last one, Jim Ruland, he sort of said a little bit about the process, like you should start with the stuff that you most want to say, and I guess that’s- I definitely agree with that.


I think it’s a really good practice to always know what’s the thing you most want to say, make that your starting point, even if that’s in your headline. Then you’re free to meander.


He described this story where he started writing this book review and the introduction ended up taking up the entire word limit that he had. So I think yeah, writing the ideas that you want to get across first and then figuring out how to introduce them with the space you have left makes a lot of sense.


Thanks for listening to The Great Communicators Podcast brought to you by The MIT Office of Graduate Education. My name is Adam Greenfield, and feel free to talk amongst yourselves.