Archive for: September, 2016

How to create a culture of openness in a team?

I'm currently involved in 2 different projects, and without sharing any more detail about what they entail, I've noticed that the teams differ a lot in terms of openness of the team members. With that, I mean to what extend people dare to voice their concern and be critical towards each other and towards the project. To me, this is not very different from the situation in academic labs, where sometimes there is more room to be critical and share new ideas than in other cases. For example, how do you deal with results that don't fit the story that the lab is building?

But how do you create such a culture of openness? If I compare these two teams that I work in, I see this as the main difference: In the open team, a lot of the tasks are shared, even if it may seem unnecessary to share this much. Meetings are larger, because more people are included. Sometimes people join who don't seem experts on the topic, but this also means that they can think out-of-the-box compared to people who have been working on something for a while. In the not-so-open team, people tend to get their own little assignment from the team leader, that they then need to report back on once finished. Sometimes the different team members aren't aware of what the others are working on, or where they are in the process. In the open team, the way of working leads to the feeling that we are all working on something together, whereas in the not-so-open team it sometimes even leads to an us vs. them kind of feeling.

When I read the piece on Theranos in Vanity Fair recently, I realized that this was almost an exaggerated description of the not-so-open team that I work in:

Holmes [Theranos' CEO] had learned a lot from [Steve] Jobs. Like Apple, Theranos was secretive, even internally. Just as Jobs had famously insisted at 1 Infinite Loop, 10 minutes away, that departments were generally siloed, Holmes largely forbade her employees from communicating with one another about what they were working on—a culture that resulted in a rare form of executive omniscience. At Theranos, Holmes was founder, C.E.O., and chairwoman. There wasn’t a decision—from the number of American flags framed in the company’s hallway (they are ubiquitous) to the compensation of each new hire—that didn’t cross her desk.

And the end of the Theranos story warns what can happen when you create a culture like this. Just to add: the team that I work in is by far not as siloed as the situation at Theranos, but reading this and comparing the two teams that I work in makes me realize the value of being open and being able to share your opinion and ideas.

And then to end: what can you do as a team member? Personally, I try to continue to share my opinion in the not-so-open team, even if that is often not met with enthusiasm from the team leader. I try to catch up with other team members and share what we are working on - sometimes outside the scheduled team meetings. But working in these different teams also makes me realize how difficult it is to change the culture within a team - as a team member at least.

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I did it! I ran a half marathon!

Sep 29 2016 Published by under personal posts, running

For years I have run, mostly as training for other sports, and almost never in races. A couple years ago I ran 10 miles in a race and on the one hand I thought it was awesome, but on the other hand, I had clearly not trained enough because I seriously injured my IT band during that race. I kept running, also when pregnant, but hadn't done a race except a 5k for years. Until my friend texted me - while I was out on a run - if I wanted to do a half marathon. I found it such a funny coincidence that she texted this during my run, that I said yes and increased my weekly mileage a bit to prepare*.

Last Sunday was d-day and as I said before, I was kind of nervous to run further than I had ever run before (18 km was my furthest training) but the atmosphere was great and so was the weather (although maybe a bit hot). I learned the following things:

  1. When I ran on the beach a couple months ago and thought to myself: this is something I need to train for, as this half marathon has nearly 5 km on the beach, I should have actually done that. Now, I trained mostly on roads and that is certainly VERY different from a sandy beach. Also, the water covered that nice hard sand so you could really only run on the soft sand. Unless you took your shoes off and ran in the sea, which some people did.
  2. To get off the beach, there was a dune the size of Mt Everest that made every single person walk instead of run.
  3. I get why people bring their own water and/or sports drink: I spend a lot of time worrying about being too thirsty, too hungry and worried to drink too much not to upset my stomach. I can see now that carrying your own in a race definitely has its advantages.
  4. I was not very fast, but I finished and did not injure myself. The only pain was being VERY sore the days after.
  5. I think I can be faster if I make a better training plan so my mouse hovers over the subscribe button of another half marathon early next spring...

*I ran 2-3 times a week for a total of 10-20 km a week. Not a lot, but just to show that it is do-able to finish a half marathon with little kids and work and everything else that takes up time.

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Yesterday was #drugmonkeyday!

Sep 24 2016 Published by under advice, blogging, mentoring

Yesterday was #drugmonkeyday: a day to celebrate and be thankful for everything DrugMonkey has done for the online science community and beyond. However, yesterday I wrote a navel gazing post about running my first half marathon and then spent the day at the side of the playground because Friday is always my day off (I work 4 days a week like so many people (M/F) in this country). So I tweeted about it, but didn't take the time to sit down and write this post until now.

I started reading DrugMonkey's and Dr. Isis' blogs when I was a wee grad student in my homecountry. A lot of what they were writing was literally very foreign to me, even though I had spent 6 months as a research assistant in a lab in the US during undergrad. I don't really remember how I ended up reading science blogs: whether I googled something and found them or whether I found them through the early days of twitter. I only started to appreciate the usefulness of all this information when I went to interview for post-doc positions in the US and when people said things like:"I have 2 R01s from NIDA and NI triple A" that this sounded like more than a couple random letters in a row but that I actually understood the meaning.

Fast forward a couple years and I was a disgruntled postdoc (a DrugMonkey term) who just had a baby that did not sleep well. I felt alone in the lab full of people who could spend whatever time they wanted on both science and drinking, while my time was spent running experiments and trying to get my baby to sleep. I started my pseud twitter account and a blog shortly after and found other sleep deprived post-docs, among tons of other interesting people. From a long-time lurker, I started to become part of this community and DrugMonkey played a big part in helping me become part of this.

I remember riding back home from the lab and checking my blog stats (my husband was driving by the way) to see that they had suddenly exploded from 2 people a week (or month) to over a hundred in an hour. DrugMonkey had tweeted about something I had written, which caused this sudden uptick in traffic.

And aside from everything that can be learned at DrugMonkey's blog, lets not forget about all the encouragement on twitter!

...while thinking about a good way to end this post, the time for #naptimescience and blog writing seems to be over in this house. Thanks DrugMonkey and happy belated drugmonkeyday!

 

Links to many other #drugmonkeyday praise in this post.

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My first half marathon

Sep 23 2016 Published by under personal posts, running

On Sunday I'll be running my first ever half marathon and I'm really starting to get nervous about it. I think I've trained enough to be able to finish for sure and am hoping for any time below 2:30. Also, about five kilometers will be on the beach and to get on the beach there will be dunes. I've never been there so no idea how hard that part will be. But the prospect of pain and wanting to accomplish something makes me really kind of nervous. And that made me half-jokingly ask myself if this is part of the reason why I quit academia. So I'm thinking about Monday and how happy I'll be to look back on it 🙂

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How do you network for a job outside academia?

Recently, an anonymous postdoc emailed me with the following question [slightly redacted by me]:

I realize it is time for me to start taking my career switch to industry seriously. Problem is, I really haven't done anything in the networking department and I'm not even sure what type of work I'm open to. Do you have any networking tips? There are networking events for postdocs here but because the speakers have not been in the area of industry I'm interested in I haven't gone to many. But I should, right?

To which I answered: I've never really made the conscious step of thinking "now I'm going to network to get a job", but thinking back, I've definitely used my network first to figure out what types of jobs exist and also to eventually find my current job. That being said, I've never been to any official networking events. I rather try to make an appointment with someone to talk 1 to 1 than try to get to talk to someone at an event like that. Also, I get slightly intimidated thinking:"I have to network NOW!"....

When you're not yet sure exactly what type of job you're looking for, I would try to talk to as many people as you can that have jobs that you might be interested in, to ask them what the job entails and what they like about it. My experience is that people generally like talking about themselves and don't mind explaining what it is that they do. Start with people that you may already know. Don't only look at people more senior than you, also people from your grad school cohort may have positions you might be interested in or know people who do. Obviously, when you're actually looking for a job, more senior people may be able to do more for you than your peers, but peers will have more recent experience applying for jobs.

And, but this may be hard when you're in academia and don't want to share widely that you're looking for another job, tell people what you are looking for, so they may hook you up with people they know.

What is your advice regarding networking to get a job outside academia, dear readers?

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