Miguel Panao | Professor and Author

Finding ways to improve scientific writing and academic productivity.

Vulnerability: is it meaningful in any sense to you?

Whenever you’re in a scientific meeting and top researchers, ask you something. What do you feel? Vulnerable. At least most of us think that way. So I wonder if experiencing vulnerability in science is as bad as it seems. I was surprised with what I found.

Vulnerability in front of audience

When I was doing my Ph.D. and presented articles at conferences, if someone asked me a question, I trembled with the possibility of being embarrassed by giving a silly answer. Every time I do a presentation I get nervous. It’s the fear of public speaking. I was thinking about this because I’m supposed to present two articles in a few days.


Fear when exposing

I know public speaking is always a challenge and your inner critic speaks a lot when it shouldn’t. And search for a word that could express what I felt. That word is “vulnerability.”

There are lots of myths about vulnerability, and you can find an interesting and succinct synthesis in David Williams article. In it, he mentions Brené Brown and her public TED talk about the power of vulnerability. I saw the presentation and loved it.


An unexpected way to understand vulnerability

Vulnerability is not a weakness as I thought or a choice, but a consequence and sign of strength. It is a natural condition, a sign of courage to show up and be seen. And it leads toward an unprecedented level of trust and respect between you and others around you.

Brown says it is the heartbeat of innovation and creativity.

When you’re vulnerable and realize you don’t have anything to lose but yourself, you experience an unexpected sense of freedom. You are capable of pursuing goals, wants and intentions because you’re vulnerable, thus, free from the judging eyes of others.

Vulnerability combines uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. It means being alive because you experience feelings. And feelings are real.


What does vulnerability mean for a scientist

But I wonder what all this means to me, and others like me who will present their work at the conference mentioned above.

And this is what popped up in my mind.

Failure is the scientist’s route to success.

Ignorance is the scientist’s driver for doing science in the first place.

And maybe…

More important than the explanations we give, is our belief in what we do and the possibility of doing better.

Every time.

I still don’t know why, but I feel there’s a lot more to learn about this… vulnerability.

Question: Have you ever felt vulnerable when sharing your work with others? Have you found any value in that vulnerability?

About Miguel Panao

I am a Professor at the University of Coimbra in Mechanical Engineering. I am also author of books in the fields of environmental ethics and Science and Religion. From the several research projects, this site is personal and dedicated to the search for the best approaches, tools, techniques to improve scientific productivity.

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