College of Engineering offers new leadership communications boot camp for PhDs

By Jessie Ying

A new two-day boot camp on leadership communications will be offered in April 2019 to engineering PhDs in the College of Engineering (COE) at UC Berkeley. COE currently offers programs in eight fields where PhDs are working on research in areas ranging from Bioengineering to Computer Sciences. This boot camp aims to give engineering PhDs the tools they need to communicate their researches both within and beyond the engineering community.

“We know they are doing a lot of fascinating research that could have significant real-world impact. We think that marrying their technical skills with strong communication skills will help them promote this amazing research and bolster their impact,” said Thomas Fitzpatrick, one of the instructors for the boot camp.

Dean of COE Tsu-Jae King Liu has made improving communication both internally and externally as one of her goals after she took office in June 2018. She attended a pilot of the boot camp and spoke highly of it.

“The session was very interactive, with personal attention to each student. The group oral exercises were stimulating, requiring active and energetic participation,” Tsu-Jae said.

Tsu-Jae King Liu at an event (Credit: HKUST)

This boot camp will be co-taught by Thomas and Susan Houlihan, both of whom teach communication courses at Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership and the Haas School of Business.

“We welcome students of all levels whether you are an experienced communicator and presenter, or you need to build skills and confidence — we will meet you where you are at. This is a laboratory, a boot camp to help you get to the next level!” Susan said.

Susan (left) and Thomas (right) teaching E295 classes.

Thomas has had a long career working in the high-tech industry, having held roles in Operations, Business Development, Product Management as well as Strategic Partnerships. His experience working along technical people has taught him about problems they might face when communicating their work.

“The challenge for them is distilling subjects that they know inside out into bite-size chunks that various audiences are able to absorb and then bringing excitement into the way they share their research with others,” he explained.

Susan, an electrical engineer, has also spent over 15 years working in engineering and operations roles at Fortune 500 companies in the high-tech sector. Her experience working for large corporations has given her insights into how to transform technical innovations into impacts in the real world.

“In order to have real-world impact, you need to be able to communicate to a wide range of people — policymakers, people in the industry, audience at conferences that are technical-savvy but don’t know their area of research, and in some cases, the general public. We want to help PhDs bridge that gap between them and the audience that they want to reach,” she said.

Susan working with a student one-on-one.

The boot camp will be made up of lectures that cover topics ranging from leadership communications to storytelling, and breakout sessions where students can get one-on-one coaching with one of the instructors, practice their presentations and get real-time feedback. At the end of the boot camp, each student will make a presentation on a topic of their choice to showcase the skills that they have learned. The boot camp will take place on April 12th from 9am-6pm and 26th from 9am-4pm. Enroll here.

Thomas giving students personal feedback.

The methodology of the boot camp is based on the work of Dr. Mark Rittenberg, a professor at the Haas Business School, who has extensive experience teaching about communication. He developed the Active Communicating methodology — which draws upon the actor’s discipline of engaging, creative and effective communication. This method has been used around the globe, across cultures and across industries. It has been proven effective in teacher training workshops in South Africa to the UNESCO middle East Peace Process forum.

Dr. Mark Rittenberg (Image source:

A pilot of the boot camp has been conducted with about 20 PhDs by Susan, Thomas and Ingrid Gavshon, another lecturer at the Haas Business School, and it was well received.

“This was fantastic and I learned so much; how to be effective in being a leader and also how to communicate your thoughts and ideas in a way that others understand — through logic and also emotions,” one student wrote in the post-class survey.

“The feedback I received during the coaching session was most valuable. The subsequent brainstorming was useful for figuring out how to improve my presentation,” another student commented.

If you have any question about this boot camp, please contact Beth Leven, Director of Academics Affairs at the Fung Institute, at



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