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Soft Skills

Register now: Soft Skills Week 2017
July 31st - August 4th, MPI-INF 024
Full schedule

Monday and Tuesday: Creativity Techniques
Wednesday: Reading and Note-taking Techniques
Thursday and Friday afternoon: Presentation Skills
Friday morning: Poster

Pre-registration by e-mail to imprs@mpi-inf.mpg.de
Preliminary discussion and final registration: June 30th, 2017

The IMPRS for Computer Science offers seminars on various subjects in the area of soft skills. The seminars are targeted at our students and aim at deepening their knowledge, as well as at providing them an opportunity for practical exercise.

The various seminars usually consist of some form of lecture or presentation on the subject, as well as a practical part in which the students analyze and correct their own work and that of others. In this way, the newly acquired knowledge becomes experience.

This module helps students to improve their personal presentation skills. This session is a lecture followed by a practical part with exercises which turn the acquired knowledge into personal experience. Topics are, among others: how to structure a presentation so that the audience can follow it easily, designing slides, making the best possible use of visual aids and technical equipment, dealing with interruptions, handling questions, keeping an eye on the time and the best way of finishing in a hurry, common mistakes, what to do when nervous, how to give proper feedback, etc. Furthermore, non-native speakers of English are offered a number of phrases they can use e.g. for transition. Exercises deal with posture, breathing, voice and body language.

Finally, and most importantly, each seminar students holds a presentation which is video-taped by the staff. The students are given individual feedback and have the chance to watch themselves on tape. The same presentations are then repeated and again recorded. Experience shows that the vast majority of students improves significantly from the first to the second round, and has fewer problems with nervousness.

Scientists quite often have to present their work graphically. This is common practice, e.g. at scientific conferences. This module is a thorough introduction to poster design. It covers the planning phase, as well as the actual realisation, explaining in great detail a variety of issues such as generally accepted rules for content and layout, things that are well received by a target audience, colour symbolism, the use of illustrations and graphics, recommended fonts and other rules for text formatting, as well as special requirements of the print medium as opposed to on-screen presentations. Common mistakes are discussed and a checklist for poster-review is handed out. The students are shown numerous examples of posters made by their fellow scientists as well as from other sources. Finally, they are asked to analyze, correct, and hand in a poster of their choice.

When students are confronted with having to write a scientific paper, be it their thesis or a piece of work for a journal or conference later in their career, they are often insecure as to what would be the best way to go about this. Profound knowledge of the rules that are relevant for scientific writing can help prevent many mistakes and promote the project’s success.

This module consists of a detailed lecture as well as practical exercises. The following issues are dealt with: how to adjust your work to a specific target group (audience), general structure of a paper with detailed explanations as to the purpose of each element and its realisation, i.e. title, abstract, keywords, introduction, related works, body of the paper, style, fonts and layout, results, discussion, conclusion, acknowledgements, and tables.

The final lecture session deals with the process of publishing a paper: rules for submitting a manuscript, dealing with the reviewers’ comments etc.

This module is tailored to the needs of students; it provides them with valuable information as well as practical training in the field of job application. The seminar deals first with issues like self-assessment and sources of information on orientation and career planning before moving on to the actual application process. The students learn the best techniques and which approach to take when applying for a job, including some less wide-spread tips that enhance success. The essential elements of a written application, CV and cover letter, are discussed in detail as regards their layout and content, and also with consideration of variations in different countries (e.g. the United States). The seminar then offers advice on job interviews: the usual structure of the interview, general rules and tips concerning proper conduct, appearance and body language. Finally, a sample assessment centre is introduced.

The students choose a real job ad suitable to them, write a CV and a cover letter and then use these for realistic role play sessions in which the participants go through job interviews and an assessment centre. Students are expected to dress accordingly for their roles as interviewer and interviewee. Everyone assumes each role at least once, allowing the students to change perspectives. The role plays are followed by discussion and specific suggestions for improvement.

Whatever they do professionally, students will have to deal with many different projects during their careers – a successful Ph.D. thesis being but one example. There are not only the projects at work, but also in private life; moving house, for example, is definitely a project that benefits from thorough planning. In this module, we first of all define what characteristics constitute a project as such, and then find out why project management is important for guiding a project from start to finish.

The following topics are dealt with: the different planning phases, identifying possible problems, communicating with the right people in the right way, defining targets, turning vague ideas into specific parts of the plan, finding the right level of detail, making network diagrams and Gantt charts, the right way to delegate work, avoiding and dealing with mistakes, how to guide a team, risk management, bringing the project to a close, and post-project evaluation.

The course also includes a practical exercise.

When it comes to organizing their work, students face the same problems as, for example, people working in management. In this module they are provided with an introduction to different approaches to time and self-management. These include analyzing one’s personal effectiveness by identifying time wasters and learning how to keep an activity log. Students learn rules for effective scheduling and find out how to overcome the time wasters identified at the beginning of the course.

With the help of specific techniques and an orderly work place, life will become so much easier because it is organized. Learn about “Pomodoro” and other time management techniques and simplify your working environment, reduce stressors and be more creative.

By means of a combination of lecture and practical exercises, students learn about the meaning of communication in their every day professional and private lives. The module begins with an introduction to communication theory, including the subject of body language and the ratio of verbal, non-verbal and vocal aspects of communication, followed by several practical exercises. The exercises deal with various issues, such as body language, voice sound, modulation, and communication in a team. The analysis of the exercises demonstrates the need for proper communication, as well as the massive influence that right (or wrong) communication exerts on all spheres of human interaction. Furthermore, the students receive practical advice concerning the use of communication techniques (e.g. 5-sentences-training, small talk) and learn about how to avoid conflicts or deal with them, respectively.

The importance of cross-cultural knowledge in professional life is often underestimated. However, as soon as people from different cultural backgrounds have to work together, cultural differences become an issue. When subtle differences are overlooked, problems may arise. This lecture provides a quick introduction to cross-cultural knowledge with respect to professional relationships. The seminar deals with business communication as well as different ways of organization and leadership. Furthermore, proper German and international business manners are explained. The aim of this module is mainly to sensitize the students to the importance of cultural differences in a multi-national working environment.

Developing and maintaining a relationship with the press and the external presentation of an organization are the two main topics covered in this seminar. The students learn how to satisfy the media's demand for professionalism and how to organize their press work. Finally, practical exercises will include writing press releases.

Students and scientists often have to absorb and internalize enormous amounts of information. This may cost them more time than necessary. In this module, participants learn how to apply special reading techniques in order to be able to read a lot faster (around 70% increase in speed) but also more thoroughly, without compromising comprehension. The module consists of lots of active practice with many reading exercises and tests, enabling participants to learn and use speed reading techniques in class, so as to be able to successfully apply them for themselves in the future.

Good leaders should be good managers, and vice versa, but it is first important to understand the difference between the two.  Leaders deal with people (staff, skills, style, and shared values) and focus on the long-term growth, change and development of an organization; they build trust, energize and motivate people in a team.  Managers must deal with things or technology now (strategy, structure, and systems) and are occupied with bureaucratic stuff like measuring, maintaining, looking at past statistics, assessing and making urgent decisions.  Students in this seminar will work with fundamental questions on leadership and management:  What are the performance objectives?  What resources are available?  Who should you interact with?  What viable authority do you have? Especially on the job, people are required to influence people every day – win their support, inspire them, engage their imagination, create a relationship with them.  This seminar teaches the fundamental techniques in handling people.  Can you really make people like you and, more importantly, do what you want by avoiding criticism, showing them sincere appreciation and arousing their will to agree with you.  Students in this seminar will learn simple rules of thumb to change people and win them over to their own way of thinking.  Techniques they will practice in class involve a combination of interpersonal, communication, presentation and assertiveness skills. Learn why people follow a leader and how your leadership role in a workgroup can maximize that group's ultimate productivity.

What is stress? What causes it? How can you relieve yourself of negative stress?  Whatever stresses you — a conflict at home, bad feedback at work or poor time management, to name only a few causes – this stress will make you sick.  Students in this seminar learn how to identify their stressors and practice proven techniques in stress management and relief.

This seminar aims at raising the awareness that it is every scientist´s responsibility to prevent scientific misconduct.  Of course, a “true scientist” alleges that he works 24/7 at the computer or in the lab to uncover the truth, not to invent it.  However, this ideal is sometimes challenged by scientists seeking glory, recognition and money. 
The degree of trust and respect awarded to colleagues in academia is very high and an important basis of the intellectual world… Science needs openness, free exchange of ideas, sincerity and fairness… Forgers and swindlers in the ranks would lead to distrust, and distrust would be answered with distrust, a scenario that would destroy any scientific or intellectual climate and would do away with the joy of science. 
(Text in italics from Georg W. Kreutzberg, The Rules of Good Science). 

Especially on the job, people are required to influence people every day – win their support, inspire them, engage their imagination, create a relationship with them.  This seminar teaches the fundamental techniques in handling people.  Can you really make people like you and, more importantly, do what you want by avoiding criticism, showing them sincere appreciation and arousing their will to agree with you.  Students in this seminar will learn simple rules of thumb to change people and win them over to their own way of thinking.  Techniques they will practice in class involve a combination of interpersonal, communication, presentation and assertiveness skills.

“Diversity management is the ‘recognition and valorization of individual differences’. The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs or other ideologies. It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. Moreover, it is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity in each individual.” [Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multicultural_and_diversity_management (June 17, 2014)]

In this module, students will participate in a role play exercise in order to learn what it means to be different and how to cope with it. Although the topic is complex and difficult to grasp, the exercises are effective preparation for working with different cultures.