Sunday, August 5, 2012

Play It Again Sam, Sundays {Getting Past the Engineer- Surgeon Mentality; AKA "A Successful First Date"}

This post was originally published on Feb. 21, 2012

Before I knew a lot of surgeons, I knew a ton of engineers. From my perspective, engineers and surgeons seemed to share the same traits. Both work in fields where precision is paramount, both have scientific minds, both work with teams where clear communication is imperative.

I did not work in hi-tech, nor did I grow up in a household of engineers. However, as a teenager, I began a professional ballroom and Latin dancing career which spanned (at least as a part-time, fun-time job) into my thirties. Well, guess what? Engineers like to boogie with the best of them!

I think I must have taught about every type of engineer out there. Hardware, software, gaming, mechanical, aerospace, electrical, architectural, bio-medical, mathematical, etc... There's a lot of them out there and I'm pretty sure I've taught at least one from every discipline of the science. 

The Basic Box Step
(photo credit:
These engineers have brilliant minds. They are smart, intelligent human beings with incredibly scientific minds; very linear thinking minds. They live in a world of precision, measurement, exactness, the concrete. Some of them would come to their lessons with old large tape cassette video cameras on tri-pods, others would come with a binder filled with sectional dividers (one section per dance- cha cha, rumba, swing, tango, foxtrot, waltz, quickstep, etc.) and computer generated forms which had a large square to draw a step pattern and lines to write the description of the step (much like the old Arthur Murray way).

I learned very quickly I could not use my "regular" teaching method. I could not simply explain the step pattern and gently ease them into a rotation to let them "get the feel" for it. No, for my engineers I had to talk them through the step and rotation in a very detailed manner before ever moving a foot. My teaching sounded a lot like this..
"Okay, Mr.-I-Build-One-Gazillion-Dollar-Satellites-For-A-Living, now that you are familiar with the basic box step, we are going to put some rotation into it. As you step forward on your left foot, I need you to turn your foot outwards towards the left at about 30 degrees. Once you have placed your body weight over the left foot, I need your right foot to move parallel to your left at shoulder width apart. After shifting your weight to your right foot, you will close your feet, transferring all your weight back onto your left foot."
Phew! Sounds dry and boring, right? But that's how my engineer students learned best. Due to the similarities between their chosen career paths, I think it was pretty reasonable to assume surgeons shared the same type of mentality. 

I wasn't sure if the scientific mind would be a match for my liberal arts type of mind. In fact, I was so unsure, I suggested Doc H and I meet for a simple cup of coffee at a local Starbucks on our first date. I wanted a simple, quick meeting where I could dash in thirty minutes if he began talking in a highly scientific vernacular which would be mumbo-jumbo to my ears and bore me out of my skull. 

[I would be remiss here if I didn't write a quick thank you to my mother who suggested I change out of my jeans and into a pair of slacks for our first date.]

As soon as the door opened and I saw Doc H looking handsome as ever, dressed in a shirt and tie, holding a beautiful bouquet of flowers. He announced he had made dinner reservations at a fancy restaurant. 


We had had a major breakdown in communication. There was nothing precise or clear about it... and it worked in my favor. Instantly, in that second, I knew this might just be it.

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1 comment:

  1. This made me laugh since I'm a scientist too. Sounds like a nice miscommunication!


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