Archive for the 'training' category

On word crafting

For the  past 3,5 month, I have been working in medical affairs* for two days a week, picking up some of the tasks from somebody who is on maternity leave and learning a ton about what happens in this area of the company. In this company, R&D is in one location and all of the commercial functions are together in a different location, which leads my R&D colleagues to make all sorts of comments about me "moving to the dark side". In medical affairs - at least with some of the tasks - you're the intermediate between R&D and marketing.

At R&D, we generally joke about how we do all the serious stuff and marketing is adding some frivolities in order to sell more of the stuff that we make. But now that I'm experiencing life on the dark side, I get more insight in the things that marketeers are really good at. And one of those things is -as the marketeers call it- word crafting. It turns out that making materials together with a marketeer is like next level twitter: how can you use the least amount of words to convey the most impactful message? In reality, this means going over the words 10 or more times, going back and forth with new ideas on how to change a word or how to rewrite the whole sentence.

And learning better how to do this and how important this is, I look with new eyes at my own sloppy, barely edited writing. Is this the reason I've been blogging less the past couple of weeks? Because I see how I throw stuff online without properly making sure every sentence is at the right place and in the right order? And I wonder if it would do more scientists good to do a short internship in marketing to learn more about the art of word crafting?

 

*I realize my pseud is getting thin, but in order to write about what I'm learning here, it is important to reveal what I'm actually doing.

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The difference between a supportive and unsupportive manager/PI

I'm beginning to realize more and more that whether your manager or PI is helpful and goes the extra mile for you can make a HUGE difference for your everyday happiness and the advancement of your career. The other day I heard the following story of an industry scientist (paraphrased by me and changed some details to ensure anonymity):

"I recently received the feedback that I need to be more visible and impactful within the company in order to be able to keep my job and be eligible for any type of promotion. I want to be impactful, but I feel that I rarely get the opportunity: when I make slides for a presentation, my manager is the person who presents them. And when I ask them about this, they replied that they also need to work on being impactful to those higher up. On the other hand, my manager says that they want to help me, but I don't see how they do this. What can I do?"

I think that this is a clear example of having a manager who does not have much space to give you the things that you need to advance your career. I've been in that situation when I did a short post-doc with a PI who was only a few years more senior than me. While I saw PIs around me give their post-docs the option of co-supervision of PhD students or a co-PI position on grants*, or even 'just' the opportunity to meet collaborators and give talks, this person did not seem to have the ability or willingness to do that, or was still very busy getting those things for themselves. Perhaps it sounds entitled to want these things from a manager or PI, but I've seen around me how these seemingly little things can have a big effect on where you take your career.

It seems like this industry scientist is in the same situation: the manager and the scientist are not very far apart in seniority and the fact that the manager is busy getting the same things as the industry scientist within the same company makes it difficult for them to help the scientist advance.

So what can this industry scientist do? In the situation where they asked for advice, the following suggestions were given: find a mentor/coach other than your manager to help you with certain aspects, be more vocal about what you've accomplished and ask your manager to present your own work instead of having them present it for you.

 

*I can hear my US-readers think: you're supposed to show independence from your PI, which is true, but here it seems inevitable to have a period as senior post-doc when you're trying to become independent but here there is often no funding nor TT positions to be able to do that.

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A song about alternatives to animal testing

Jun 22 2016 Published by under science, training

Everyone who is involved in animal research has heard about the 3Rs: Replacement, Reduction and Refinement. They are the key items scientists need to address in order to argue that what they want to test is not possible in any other model system than an intact animal, but that all care will be taken to reduce the number of animals and refine the way the animals are treated.

The 3Rs were first described by Russell and Burch in 1959 but what I did not know is that Bill Russell much later wrote a brilliant song describing the 3Rs:

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How interacting with people at work is a lot like interacting with toddlers

The other day I was in a training that talked about effectiveness and it made me realize that being effective is really tested the most when dealing with toddlers. The trainer talked about how being effective is not only about the quality of the outcome but also about the acceptance of everyone involved. This made me think about getting a toddler to put their shoes on. When it would be only about quality, I can put those shoes on in about 5 seconds. However, when effectiveness is about getting out of the door with a toddler with their shoes on, I've found that often the only way to get this done is by having the toddler put their own shoes on, however testing for my patience that might be. The alternative would be that the toddler has shoes on, but is laying on the ground yelling that they want to do it themselves for much longer than it would have taken them to put them on themselves...

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I'm trying to remind myself of this example, because I've found that my initial reaction very often is to figuratively speaking put the shoes on the toddler myself and run out of the door, while this might not be the best way to interact with people (collaborators for example) in the long run.

 

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A postdoc's circle of influence

For a training at work, I am reading "The 7 habits of highly effective people". I assume everybody in the world has already read this book, because whoever I talk to about this book says something like:"oh yes, I liked this or that advice that was given".

The first of the seven habits made me realize how I became such a disgruntled postdoc. This chapter of the book talks about proactive and reactive people, and how proactive people focus on their so-called "circle of influence": the things in life that you can influence, like problems at work that you can solve. Reactive people however, focus mostly on things in their "circle of concern": things that you cannot influence, but that do affect you, like the weather. As a postdoc it felt like my circle of concern was huge: there were so many things I felt were very difficult to influence, like circumstances in the lab, reviewers, the competitive job market, my inability to get grants funded, etc. I felt like my circle of influence was this tiny dot in a huge circle of concern.

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After reading this part of the book, I think it is important to clearly distinguish the two, and - even as a post-doc with a huge circle of concern - to work on the things that you can influence, like figuring out what you want to do next and taking steps to go there. Also: writing and submitting manuscripts, applying for grants and considering to appeal rejections (although this may be more the pro-active playing field of PIs rather than postdocs).

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Your scientific gut feeling

One of the things that seems mentioned the least in the training of PhD students and post-docs is what I would call "your scientific gut feeling": this intangible feeling for what topics will be important, which questions will lead to important answers and which unexpected results can lead to important discoveries. I actually wouldn't know how you would train this in somebody, but I think it can be very important in somebody's career and for science in general.

I seem to have the reverse scientific gut feeling: the first time I heard about LTP in the hippocampus when I was in college I had some type of unexplainable aversion against the topic. Later, I had to admit that when this was the basis of learning and memory in the brain, I guess I had to start liking it a little bit.

Similarly, the first time I heard about a project I got involved with in my post-doc lab, I was extremely skeptical about the mechanism that we were studying. So much, that I started to look up evidence to disprove my PI's hypothesis. In the end, I had to admit that perhaps they were right, and the paper about this ended up in a pretty good journal, which I honestly had never expected the first day I heard about it.

So now, when I sit in a meeting and somebody talks about a method or results that make me feel annoyed, skeptical or even almost angry, I stop myself from asking skeptical questions, but I realize that this might be a very important topic and that this feeling may actually indicate that it is important.

How is your scientific gut feeling? Or how do you identify important topics or results?

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Receiving training on interpersonal behavior

Jul 20 2015 Published by under Academia, industry, life in the office, new job, training

We just got back from vacation and during those two weeks of chilling on the beach (read: making sure our two kids didn't drown), I even had enough time to read all the books I brought and some of the internet. On the internet, we had:
#PlutoFlyby, 
lots of debate about post-doc pay, overtime, etc (start here for more background),
and a new blog here at Scientopia.

But what I want to talk about today is some of the training I receive in industry that wasn't aware of when I was a post-doc.
A lot of the reasons why I have cried in the lab are because of interpersonal relationships: what do you do when your advisor doesn't have your back in a meeting? What do you say when you receive feedback? How do you deal with complicated collaborations?

When I moved to industry, I was pleasantly surprised to see that all the newcomers received a full day of training on interpersonal behavior. Not unsurprisingly, the trainer told us a lot of things that are extremely obvious (don't be an asshole to other people basically), but I still I found it a very useful training. First, we went over the types of behaviors that are appreciated, like being open to each other, trust people and give them authority when appropriate, etc. Again, these are all things that seem very obvious, but to me it was nice to have them summarized and presented like this. Then, we did the most useful part of the training, which was to go through imaginary scenarios pf interactions between colleagues and talk about how those scenarios affect all the people involved and how people could have altered their behavior to improve the situation (i.e. give feedback to your manager when you're unsatisfied with something instead of internalize your anger and only complain to your husband about it). The trainer also challenged us to make a similar evaluation of our own interactions with people around us.

As I said, a lot of this is common sense, but it was nice to have it summarized and to see that there are simple rules for some things. Like when giving feedback when something has happened that upsets you, say: "I noticed you did xyz, which made me feel such and such, and in the future I would appreciate this and that." Simple, clean and when you say it shortly after something has upset you, it limits the necessity for crying a lot of the times. Obviously, it also helps to work in an environment where many people have followed a similar training, as opposed to an environment where a PI thinks the best way to deal with disagreement is to stop communicating altogether... And the nicest thing to follow a training like this with fellow scientists, is when a trainer describes a situation and asks if you've observed a certain behavior and someone answers:"I can't tell, because there are no available data".

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