As an engineering director, I must annually review my employees for performance relative to the standards of their assigned job categories. If an employee is performing above or below their assigned standards, their job category may need to be changed. This task is important to an employee because it affects their pay. All corporations that I know of pay their employees based upon the job category that the employees are assigned to.
My tale today involves defining the word “expert.” The rubric for one of our job categories requires it members to be a “recognized expert in their field.” I have been mulling over what it means to be an expert. My own imprecise definition is someone who is a master of their field and who is recognized by others as such. Let’s see if I can put a finer edge on my definition.
Since I know others have had these questions before me, I started my research with a Google search. After a bit of time, I saw a very interesting reference on this blog — by the way, a great blog on teaching statistics and design of experiments. It makes sense that educators would be thinking about the definition of an expert.
The reference is named “How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School.” They define an expert as having the following characteristics. I agree with each characteristic listed.
- Experts notice features and meaningful patterns of information that are not noticed by novices.
- Experts have acquired a great deal of content knowledge that is organized in ways that reflect a deep understanding of their subject matter.
- Experts’ knowledge cannot be reduced to sets of isolated facts or propositions but, instead, reflects contexts of applicability: that is, the knowledge is “conditionalized” on a set of circumstances.
- Experts are able to flexibly retrieve important aspects of their knowledge with little attentional effort.
- Though experts know their disciplines thoroughly, this does not guarantee that they are able to teach others.
- Experts have varying levels of flexibility in their approach to new situations.
Since there are people who wish to advance into the job category that requires them to be an expert, I need to give them some guidance on how to become an expert. After some additional web searching, I saw a quotation from Willy Sansen, whose original work was titled ‘”Solid-state circuits and a career for life.” His work was quoted on this blog. He was answering the question — What advice can be given to students who want to build up a career in solid-state circuits? His advice is struck me as being true for every profession at some level.
- To be successful in a career, maintain a very specific field of expertise.
Too often a designer runs through many designs, to find himself in a corner where he knows a little bit about everything. He must, instead, strive to be number one in the world in a specific field of expertise as if it were a hobby, to keep himself wanted on the market.
- Be known as an expert.
Present papers at conferences or workshops, or publish papers or abstracts. Nobody is an expert unless he is accepted as an expert.
- Become an expert on an international level.
The time is gone when an expert could be an expert in his little corner; globalization has flattened this world. The competition may be close by, but could also be on the other side of the earth. The designer must thus be accepted by experts everywhere.
- Give presentations to colleagues, to your boss, to students.
Transferring knowledge from one person to another is an art. Only by doing so regularly, can a designer be efficient in making clear why he is an expert.
There is some gold to be mined here. As far as item (1) goes, I am afraid that most technical fields today are so rich in content that an engineer must focus their energy in order to develop an significant level of expertise. My field, electronics, is so broad today that I have had to focus on analog electronics and optics.
Notice how items (2)-(4) are all about technical communications. From my standpoint, you do not have to be internationally recognized to be an expert — Susan Boyle was an expert singer before she was internationally recognized. An expert cannot give the title to themselves, they must earn the title with the respect of their peers. However, many engineers do not understand that some level of career marketing is necessary in order to advance. I have known many fine engineers who felt that their expertise should be recognized without any communications effort from them. They never got anywhere.
I think I understand how to become a recognized expert:
- Develop deep knowledge in an area that is broad enough to be of interest to your peers, but narrow enough that you can actually master it.
- Learn how to communicate your knowledge to others.
- Take advantage of opportunities to become an advocate for your chosen area of study — participate in trade associations, shows, conferences, and workshops.
I think this is the approach I will recommend to the folks in my group.