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Reviewers Provide Tips for Writing Meeting Abstracts

Posted By Connections Editor, Friday, March 25, 2016

Reviewers Provide Tips for Writing Meeting Abstracts

Ayako Nakamura-Ishizu, Heather O’Leary, Cedric Tremblay and Stephen Sykes


The madness of March is coming to a close and we are now 5 months away from the 45th annual International Society of Experimental Hematology (ISEH) meeting in San Diego, USA and the deadline for submitting abstracts is quickly approaching (April 9th, 2016). In an effort to help those of you who are preparing abstracts for this year’s meeting, we contacted a panel of investigators who have previously reviewed abstracts for ISEH as well as other entities such as the American Society of Hematology (ASH) or the European Hematology Association (EHA) and asked them what attributes make for a compelling abstract as well as those that can sink it.

‘As a reviewer, are there certain aspects or attributes that stand out for you in an abstract?’

 

Novelty & Significance

Novelty and significance are two aspects that were highlighted by several reviewers. For example, Dr. Ann Mullally from the Department of Medicine at Brigham & Women’s Hospital (Boston, USA) says: “I think the same metrics as for grant applications apply: Significance, innovation, novelty.” Mick Milsom of the HI-STEM Institute and German Cancer Research Center (Heidelberg, DE) also said: “As a reviewer, I’m trying to select work that I think will translate into a presentation that will engage and interest the conference attendees. In that context, novelty is clearly something that figures very highly on my list of desirable attributes.”

 

Andrew Elefanty of the Blood Cell Development and Disease program at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (Melbourne, AU) said that novelty and significance have the potential to separate your abstract from others: “For an oral presentation, I am looking for a story with a clear aim and outcome with sufficient supporting data. Often novelty in the approach becomes a distinguishing criterion, or new information related to a topic in which it has been difficult to make progress.” 

 

Dr. Margaret Goodell, Director of the Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine Center at the Baylor College of Medicine (Houston, USA) comments: “There are no specific attributes, but we all want to learn something new that we did not know before. So think about what is novel, and make it clear to the reader.” Another expert emphasizes: “It is very important to highlight the novelty of your findings, while putting them in the context of what is already known.”

 

Dr. Karen Keeshan of the Institute of Cancer Sciences at the University of Glasgow (Glasgow, UK) suggests that you emphasize the novelty of your abstract: “It is nice to read abstracts that clearly state the current ‘state of the art’ in the field and how the results advance current knowledge, improve an aspect of the state of the art.” When Dr. Hal Broxmeyer of the Program on Hematopoiesis, Malignant Hematology, and Immunology at the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center (Indianapolis, USA) reviews an abstract he is looking for answers to the following questions: “Are the studies Meaningful? Relevant? Significant?”

 

Dr. Goodell says: “I see abstracts as an advertisement for the work – it is something that will bring people to your poster and possibly get the reviewers to want to see more, in inviting you for a talk.”

 

Dr. Connie J. Eaves of the Terry Fox Laboratory and BC Cancer Agency (Vancouver, CA) echoes this notion saying: “In my view, the most compelling and exciting abstracts are ones that articulate an important problem or question in the field followed by the description of a strategy used to address it and some exciting results that take the field one step further or require current dogmas to be revised.”

 

Another reviewer underscores the importance of explaining your message: “Explain the unmet need or question your study answers and why we should be excited.” Dr. Steven Lane of the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute at the University of Queensland (Brisbane, AU) provides a helpful suggestion for strengthening the significance of your abstract: “Abstracts are rarely long enough to provide detailed data or statistics. However, if you can identify 2-3 key pieces of data and provide basic results including error, n and replicates, the reviewers will have confidence in your results and your scientific rigor.”

Make a Good First Impression


Dr. Claudia Scholl of the NCT Clinical and Translational Research Groups, German Cancer Research Center (Heidelberg, DE) recommends to bring the novelty and significance of your abstract to light in the title: “The title is very important, since people decide whether or not to read the abstract based on the title. It should be as short as possible and convey the key findings.” Dr. Mullally confirms this point saying: “The main thing I look at is the title. I am primarily interested if the topic is interesting and, in particular, if it is novel.” Dr. Scholl also suggests that you close your abstract the same way it begins: “The last one to two sentences should summarize the key message and the significance.”

Provide a Clear and Concise Structure

When asked if there are specific aspects or attributes of an abstract that they are looking for, many of the reviewers gave emphasis to abstract structure. As an example, one reviewer replied: “Structured and clearly written abstract. Briefly address the state of the art, then preliminary work (if applicable), hypothesis (define the specific question that you want to answer) and findings (including specific information on how the experiments were done).”

 

Dr. Lane is also looking for clear structure: “I think the composition of the abstract is more relevant than any one specific attribute. It's important to identify the problem and provide a clear, but succinct scientific rationale for pursuing this work.” In agreement, Dr. Stefan Fröhling of the NCT Clinical and Translational Research Groups, German Cancer Research Center (Heidelberg, DE) states: “Provide clear structure: specific research question, experimental approach, results, conclusions. Sufficient detail in the Results section combined with an interesting and timely research question and then using innovative and creative experimental approaches are all keys.”

 

Dr. Keeshan provides a helpful suggestion for abstract structure: “I highly recommend stating what systems (patient samples, mouse primary cells etc.) were used for the findings presented. I prefer to read this as part of the abstract rather than a separate methods section. This way, the description of method/tools is used to sell the results.” Dr. Milsom also suggests: “Try to come up with a clear narrative that runs through your abstract and then be clinical about deciding which data adds to the narrative, and therefore should be included, and which data is irrelevant and should be rejected.”
To ensure your abstract is clear and understandable, Dr. Goodell provides another helpful suggestion: “Clear writing will set your abstract apart. As a trainee, have graduate students from other labs, not working in the field, read the abstract. Ask them: Is it clear why this is important? Is it clear what we have accomplished?”

‘Are there red flags/things that bother you as a reviewer (i.e. pet-peeves)?’


Avoid Being Vague

Many of the responses that we received to this question revolved around abstracts being too vague. Dr. Milsom said: “I’m always a bit concerned when abstracts propose an interesting idea, but are extremely vague about describing their experimental work. I’d always be quite reluctant to award such an abstract an oral presentation slot as I would be worried that they might not actually have much substance to speak about.” Another reviewer expressed concerns with the: “lack of specific information such as properly introducing mouse models; specific information on cell populations investigated such as which population was used for next-generation sequencing (NGS) or global gene-expression profiling (GEP)”. Dr. Eaves also commented on vagueness being a negative: “failure to articulate the question being addressed or its significance and/or an absence of results because experiments have not yet been done or completed.” Dr. Elefanty explains his frustration with a lack of details: “Insufficient data do not enable me to judge the quality and/or the significance of the work.”

 

Drs. Keeshan and Fröhling both advised to clearly state the results of large experiments such as screens. Dr. Keeshan specifically said: “Expression analyses or big screens that concludes “a difference” but don’t actually state what the difference is or its importance is very disappointing.” Dr. Fröhling’s example was: “Vague description of results: we performed a screen and looked for this and that and will tell you at the meeting what we found.” In line with this, Dr. Lane said: “I also dislike a generic "additional data will be presented" statement. If you have the data, present it.”

 

Dr. Julie-Aurore Losman of Medical Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (Boston, US) also warns not to spare on details about controls: “Frequently, in the interest of space, controls that were done to establish the specificity and robustness of the findings are left out. I think this is a bad idea. Including a description of the controls (especially negative controls) can really elevate the level of the abstract.”

The Happy Medium
Although you want to avoid being too vague, Dr. Goodell points out that you can also provide too much detail: “as scientists, we want details and hard core results. So, there is really a “Goldilocks” place where you don’t want so much detail that reviewers get lost, but you want enough for reviewers to believe that you have good and exciting data.” This idea was also conveyed by another reviewer who recommends: “Write enough detail to make your abstract believable and relevant but not too much to bore the reader.”

 

In fact, several reviewers commented that over-detailing is a big pet-peeve. Dr. Mullally said: “The thing that bother me most is an overly detailed abstract, where you struggle to determine what is the central question the abstract addresses.” Another reviewer also said: “Too much background is another pet peeve if its not relevant enough.” To avoid over-detailing Dr. Milsom recommends: “to focus on your key experimental findings and make sure you convey their meaning in a clear manner than to try and show off the body of work that you have performed by including a (poor) description of every experiment you have ever done.”

 

Another subtlety that can annoy reviewers is abstracts that violate limits. Dr. Keisuke Ito of the Department of Cell Biology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine (Bronx, USA) says: “We sometimes see abstracts that are too long, but its length or format must conform to the guidelines.” Dr. Elefanty echoed this response saying: “Abstract word counts vary - stick within the limits!”

Let the Results Tell the Story
Another no-no that should be avoided is over-interpreting the results of the studies. Dr. Losman laments her experiences with over-interpretation: “I see far too many correlative studies that beautifully demonstrate a particular finding and then the authors make huge assumptions about the mechanistic basis for the correlation without having done any real biochemical or functional studies.” Dr. Ito also commented: “In some abstracts, it is unclear how the conclusions are supported by the findings described. It should be clarified well.” Dr. Broxmeyer is also bothered by over-interpretation and insufficient data: “Weak data; not enough replicates, misinterpretation of the results, extending conclusions beyond what the data shows.” He also adds: “Just be clear and keep the conclusions and interpretations consistent with the data obtained.”

 

Dr. Eaves also warns not to get too over-enthusiastic about certain data: “Usually, trainees who are excited about their findings will convey that excitement but over-interpreting findings should also be avoided. The possibility that the methods used and/or the data obtained do not eliminate other interpretations or conclusions is also a frequently overlooked negative.”

Watch Your Spelling and Language
Before submitting your abstract, we recommend that you have multiple colleagues review it for grammatical errors. Dr. Eaves says: “Poor English is a negative” and Dr. Mullally adds: “Obviously, spelling errors, poor grammar, tiny figures etc. are all very annoying red flags.”

 

Both Drs. Fröhling and Scholl are not impressed with bombastic language using words such as: ‘striking’, ‘tremendous’, ‘interestingly’ or phrases such as ‘we discovered for the first time’. Dr. Elefanty also recommends avoiding: “Abbreviations or jargon that render the work difficult to understand for the non expert.”

Summary
So as you are preparing/finalizing your abstracts for submission, we recommend that you consider the following factors:
1. Establish a clear and concise narrative that appropriately conveys the novelty and significance of your results.
2. Make sure the title reflects the importance of your studies.
3. A great abstract is structured: Significance (i.e. what is the outstanding question), Methods, Results and Concluding remarks that sum up the results.
4. Deliver sufficient detail/results (including controls, replicates and possibly statistics) without being excessive.
5. Do not over-interpret or embellish results.
6. Be sure to have other people review your abstract for both grammatical errors and clarity.

Hopefully, this article will be of help to those of you who are planning to submit an abstract to the upcoming ISEH meeting (submission deadline, April 9th). Good Luck!

We thank all of our interviewees for their input and help.

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Scientific leaders discuss emerging trends and technologies in experimental hematology

Posted By Connections Editor, Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Scientific leaders discuss emerging trends and technologies in experimental hematology 

 

With each passing year, the number and magnitude of scientific breakthroughs in hematological research seem to increase. 2015 was no exception as numerous outstanding studies were published, so many that to only name a few would be unjust. These advances have not only paved the way for developing future therapies and technologies but they will also shape the scientific trends and avenues of investigation for the coming years. As members of the ISEH New Investigator Committee, we wondered what scientific themes and technologies will become vogue in the fields of normal and malignant hematopoiesis in the near future. We therefore asked leaders from our field what topics they foresee will emerge in 2016 and beyond.


Many of the experts that we spoke with emphasized that exciting developments are expected on several fronts. Past ISEH president Paul Frenette (The Ruth L. and David S. Gottesman Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Research, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, USA) replied: "I don’t think there is a single area but many areas that are being transformed. Our understanding is in constant evolution and the pace is very exciting with the rapid technological innovations (genetic engineering, sequencing, imaging, etc.).”


Dr. Iannis Aifantis (Langone Medical Center, New York University, USA) also displayed excitement saying: “This is the best time in blood research and obviously the most exciting time to be a hematologist. We have witnessed astonishing development in the treatment and understanding of blood malignancy.” Dr. Aifantis went on to emphasize that multiple areas are emerging in malignant hematopoiesis: “Obviously, immunotherapy is becoming one of the most exciting fields. We should not forget that CAR T cells were introduced first in blood tumors with amazing outcomes. Targeted therapies are also here to stay with a huge amount of studies testing compounds that can target the epigenome in blood malignancies, including BET, DOT1L, DNMT inhibitors to mention just a few. As we enter the “metagenomic” era we will see novel areas to open, including the study of 3D genome topology and the role of long non coding RNAs in blood cancer initiation, progression and treatment.” Dr. Jonas Larsson (Division of Molecular Medicine and Gene Therapy, Lund University, SWE) also hinted to the emergence of ncRNAs: "A fundamentally new mechanism of gene regulation mediated by non-coding RNAs."

Gene Editing
A major contributor to the acceleration of any scientific field is technology and one technology that is revolutionizing biology is gene editing. Dr. Margaret Goodell (Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center, Baylor College of Medicine, USA) remarks: "CRISPR will transform hematology research. I think even for primary cells, it is just around the corner and it will change the way we do a lot of things.” Dr. Louise Purton (St. Vincent’s Institute for Medical Research, University of Melbourne, AUS) also agrees that the application of gene editing technology will continue to move hematological research forward: “A focus on CRISPR/Cas9 technology and getting it to work properly in human cells and thus leading to gene therapy in future”. Dr. Keith Humphries (Terry Fox Laboratory, University of British Columbia, CAN) also predicts that gene editing will play a large role in the development of new models for normal and malignant hematological research: “I think even a fairly cloudy crystal ball will accurately predict that "next generation" gene editing will revolutionize much of experimental hematology. "Simple" gene insertion using lentiviral vectors and traditional gene knockout/knockin methods will seem so old school compared to accurately placing a gene of interest into a safe harbour or engineering a specific mutation or knockout/knockin using CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing. And all of this will be possible in primary cells, such as hematopoietic stem cells, and open up unprecedented ways to create disease models, study gene function and carry out complex screens.”

While it is clear that gene editing will have huge impacts on both hematological research and therapy, Dr. David Scadden (Center for Regenerative Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, USA) anticipates that: “new solutions to old problems of efficient mobilization, engraftment and conditioning will emerge and help deliver on the promise of gene editing technologies." This sentiment was also echoed by Dr. Derrick Rossi (Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology Department, Harvard University, USA) who offered that: “In order to fully realize the therapeutic potential offered by gene therapy and gene editing, methodologies for preparing patients for transplantation that don’t rely on chemotherapy or irradiation — that are associated with significant collateral damage — need to be developed."

Single cell analysis
Several experts emphasized the need for techniques for improving our ability to carry out single cell analysis. Dr. Hartmut Geiger (Institute for Molecular Medicine, University of Ulm, DEU) comments: “Will there be a post-omics time? A lot of mid- and high throughput data collecting approaches that we currently apply are weak with respect to taking dynamics and spatial distribution into consideration. We urgently need novel post-omics approaches that will allow us to address regulatory mechanisms in space and time, which will comprise exciting novel developments in single cell stem cell biology.” Dr. Marella de Bruijn (Radcliffe Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, GBR) adds: “The increasing sophistication with which molecular processes can be analyzed at the single cell level will greatly facilitate our understanding of cell fate decisions during the birth of the hematopoietic system.”

Dr. Ravi Majeti (Division of Hematology & Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, Stanford School of Medicine, USA) also commented on the importance of single cell analytic tools: “I think one of the next hot/big topics or technologies that will emerge in malignant and normal hematopoiesis is the investigation of subclonal epigenetic heterogeneity. The concept of subclonal genetic heterogeneity has been extensively investigated over the last few years using next generation sequencing and genomic technologies. The use of single cell RNA-seq has advanced studies of single cells and revealed a great amount of heterogeneity within functionally-defined cell populations. The development of low cell/single cell methodologies to characterize epigenetic features will enable the investigation of subclonal epigenetic heterogeneity over the next few years. This will allow the field to examine the role such heterogeneity plays in hematopoiesis and hematologic malignancies.” Dr. Atsushi Iwama (Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Chiba University, JPN) adds: “Although already noticed, application of single cell RNA sequencing to the hematological malignancies without specific selection markers is a really powerful approach to unravel the whole picture of the diseases.”

Dr. Cristina Lo Celso (Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London, GBR) predicts: “In the next few years I expect that we will start making sense of the heterogeneity we observe and especially of the 'noise' that single cell analyses invariably bring up to light. This will no doubt exponentially increase our understanding of the haematopoietic system and inform the development of novel and more successful curative and preventative therapies.”

The contribution of HSCs to long-term and clonal hematopoiesis
In 2015, several publications shed new insights into clonal hematopoiesis and the contribution of HSCs and MPPs to long-term hematopoiesis in mice, which have provoked interest from some of our experts. Dr. Len Zon (Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology Department, Harvard University, USA) remarks: "I think that understanding clonal hematopoiesis (including establishment of long term progenitors) is a new area that is really developing." Dr. Purton predicts: “We will revisit the concept of HSC and MPPs and what really are the cells that are most useful in steady-state and therapeutically- both in mouse and human. I think the Sun and Busch Nature papers from 2015 are starting to challenge our concepts of these cells.” Dr. Toshio Suda (The Cancer Science Institute Singapore, National University of Singapore, SPG) points out that: “Steady state hematopoiesis is different from hematopoiesis in emergency under the stress such as BMT [bone marrow transplant] and inflammation. Thus, BMT might be not a real functional HSC assay. We should clarify the difference of [these two states] from the various aspects of cell cycle, niche and cytokines.”

Dr. Scadden also highlights that, “Defining how heterogeneous populations of stem and progenitor cells respond to physiologic challenges and change with age will give us new insight into how the system produces what we see as the hematopoietic response.” Dr. Scadden continues: “Clonal diversity in hematopoiesis will emerge as a basis for declining immune function and increased inflammation related disease with age. This will become a topic of therapeutic interest.”

The HSC Niche
The hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) niche has been a hot topic since Richard Schofield first put forth his hypothesis in 1978 that HSCs are influenced by their surrounding cellular microenviroment. However, there has been a recent explosion of papers redefining the HSC niche and based on the responses from several experts this trend will continue. Dr. Frenette believes that: “a greater understanding of the microenvironment will be transformative.” In agreement, Dr. Hartmut Geiger (Institute for Molecular Medicine, University of Ulm, DEU) points out that: “HSCs and stem cell niches are like Siamese Twins. We will, over the next decade, better understand the regulatory networks of interactions [between HSCs and the niche] and how they influence each other reciprocally in health and disease, in addition to novel information on localization of niches and stem cells. This will start a new paradigm for stem cell biology in general, and hematopoietic stem cells will be again at the forefront.” Hartmut Geiger also hints: “Maybe there will be also a focus on HSCs niches outside bone marrow.”

Dr. Scadden indicates that a clearer definition of the HSC niche will also contribute to the development of novel therapeutics: “Heterogeneity in hematopoietic cells is likely to be paralleled by heterogeneity in cells comprising the niche and matching those populations will help us understand how blood production is governed and may be manipulated for therapy or corrupted by disease. Dr. Purton also discusses the relationship between the HSC niche and therapy: “A better understanding of how haematopoiesis is regulated by microenvironment cells will lead to new therapies to manipulate haematopoiesis in vivo - we are getting there but still have a lot to learn.”

HSC Aging and Disease
The observation that HSC-derived hematological malignancies commonly arise in older individuals has fueled the study of aging HSCs. This trend will continue in the near future according to Dr. Gerald de Haan (Department of Stem Cell Biology, University Medical Center Groningen, NLD): “We will see the emergence of multiple papers delineating the epigenetic changes that occur in hematopoietic stem cells as they develop and age, and will witness how these changes are brought about and how they may contribute to clonal dominance. In addition, the relevance, or irrelevance, of assessing clonal hematopoiesis in aged mice or humans will become apparent.” Dr. Iwama also mentioned that: “Epigenomic alterations in aged HSCs could be a hot topic in association with the pathogenesis of age-related hematological malignancies.”
In addition to epigenetics in aging HSCs, Dr. Geiger suggests that models for studying aging hematopoiesis in disease will emerge in the next few years: “Diseases in Hematology are usually diseases of older adults. Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) for example is a classical HSC-driven disease and most patients are 70 years and older. An emerging innovative trend we will see in the next couple of years is the development of disease models in aged model organisms.”

The Progression of Pre-leukemia to Overt Leukemia
The advent of next-generation sequencing has resulted in a surge of newly identified mutations in hematological malignancies such as myelodyplastic syndrome (MDS), acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and many others. Dr. Benjamin Ebert (Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, USA) comments that we are on the verge of understanding how these mutations contribute to the leukemogenic process: “Large-scale genetic studies have identified many mutations that are associated with hematologic diseases, but the molecular consequences of most of these lesions are poorly understood. In the coming years, mechanistic insights into the activity of human disease genes will inform the basic biology of hematopoiesis and lead to the development of novel therapeutics.”

The emergence of pre-leukemic clones have provided new insights into leukemogenesis and Dr. Ross Levine (Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, USA) says that now it is time to take it to the next level: “New studies into the factors, which govern progression from pre-leukemic states to overt hematologic malignancies, and the development of therapies, which might be used to target pre-leukemic states which can be tested pre-clinically and then subsequently in the clinic, as a first example of true preventative medicine in hematology.” Dr. Suda provides his insight into factors that could contribute to the development of frank leukemia: “Age-related diseases such as MDS and CLL should be analyzed by the accumulation of DNA damage in HSCs. It will be interesting to see how pre-leukemic clones will develop to overt leukemia.

Human HSC biology
For years the mouse has provided a stellar model for studying HSC biology, whereas comparable assays in human HSCs has lagged. However, Dr. Stefan Karlsson (Division of Molecular Medicine and Gene Therapy, Lund University, SWE) suggests that advances in human HSC biology are coming on strong: “One area that could be important in the coming years is human hematopoiesis. John Dick’s recent work, improves substantially the possibility to purify/enrich human HSC and progenitors and this may make it possible to perform better molecular studies and even functional studies of human HSC.”

Paul Frenette also commented: “I hope to see in my lifetime the development of protocols to make expandable and functional HSC from ES cells. Dr. Hal Broxmeyer (Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Indiana University School of Medicine, USA) suggests that: “Generation of human engrafting HSCs from pluripotent cells (such as ESC and iPSC) in numbers and functional capacity so that they can be used clinically for transplantation” is on the horizon as well as a “means to expand HSCs without expansion of other cell types and more in depth understanding of HSC self-renewal, proliferation, and migration at a molecular level”.

Between the novel insights that have resulted from recent publications to the emerging trends/technologies that have been discussed here, echoing Dr. Aifantis it is indeed an exciting time to be a hematologist. In fact, Dr. Humphries exclaimed: “I wish I were starting my career today!” While we consulted expert hematologists to identify emerging scientific trends Dr. Suda emphasizes that: “Trends should be cultivated and made by the strong interest of young investigators!! When you just ride on the apparent trend, it may be too late.”

We would like to thank all of the experts who participated in this article – we are deeply appreciative.
Written by: Stephen Sykes & Peter Van Galen
Edited by: Mick Milsom & Sofie Singbrant Söderberg
Quotes obtained by: All NIC members

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Using Social Media in Science: Are you plugged in?

Posted By Connections Editor, Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Using Social Media in Science: Are you plugged in? 

Stephen Sykes and the NIC members

If you have ever used a computer, tablet, mobile phone or any device that connects to the Internet you are undoubtedly familiar with the term “social media” and moreover, you have probably participated in some form of social media. The term social media, which is now found in many major English dictionaries, encompasses any virtual community that allows members to share information, ideas and other electronic content. I personally associate the words social media with Internet sites such as Facebook and Twitter or with meaningless celebrity comments.
In truth though, I am what you might call a social media troglodyte. For example, I have a Facebook page that I just opened for the first time in months and then promptly closed upon seeing a message that told me I have some ungodly number of new notifications. I have a LinkedIn page that I check once a month (at best) and I have a ResearchGate account for which I lost the password just days after joining. Though my minimalist approach to social media could be construed as curmudgeon it is more a result of not knowing what or how to maximize the benefits of social media, particularly those related to academic science. Therefore, I sought out my fellow NIC comrades and other colleagues to learn more about how social media can benefit the Academic Scientist and pass it on to you, the ISEH Connections readership.

Do you use Social Media outlets in your Research Life?
Every single person I interviewed participated in at least one form of social media in a professional capacity, however, the degree of use varied widely. Dr. Mick Milsom of the HI-STEM institute at the German Cancer Research Center (Heidelberg, Germany) states “it is good to have some kind of presence on social media to improve the exposure of the work of my group, to help with recruiting, and to advertise scientific events”. However, Dr. Milsom is reluctant to invest too much time in social media because “I don’t really have any solid evidence that this works very well and that it is any more effective than my laboratory web sites.” Though Dr. Daniel Lucas of the Department of Cell & Developmental Biology at the University of Michigan Medical School (Ann Arbor, US) maintains ResearchGate and LinkedIn accounts, he rarely uses them citing “social media takes a huge amount of time”. At the other end of the spectrum, Dr. Edna Cukierman of the Cancer Biology Program at the Fox Chase Cancer Center (Philadelphia, US) uses “ResearchGate, LinkedIn, Facebook (very little), Twitter, Academia.edu and Biowebspin” for a variety of purposes ranging from networking to technical advice.

What types of outlets do you use?
Almost everyone I corresponded with mentioned using Facebook, LinkedIn and/or ResearchGate. Other sites that came up in conversation were Twitter, Biowebspin, Academia.edu, ScienceAlert and IFLS (this is a PG-rated publication so you’ll have to translate the acronym yourself). Though all of these sites fall under the umbrella of social media there are subtle nuances that distinguish them. For example, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Biowebspin are primarily networking sites aimed at getting users/members to connect, however, LinkedIn and Biowebspin are more business-oriented whereas Facebook and Twitter are largely social networking sites.
ResearchGate and Academia.edu are both venues for sharing scientific publications, however, ResearchGate is also a virtual gathering for asking questions and finding collaborators. Finally, ScienceAlert and IFLS are social media websites that discuss exciting and sometimes unusual and under-the-radar scientific studies and allow subscribers to interact through other social media venues such as Facebook and Twitter.

What types of activities do you use each of these social media outlets for?
1. Networking
Many of those who I corresponded with use sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn in their purest form: Networking. In addition to Dr. Cukierman, Dr. Konstantinos Kokkaliaris of the Cell Systems Dynamics Research Group at ETH Zürich (Basel, Switzerland) primarily uses sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and ResearchGate for networking. Dr. Tiago Luis of the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine and John Radcliffe Hospital at the University of Oxford (Oxford, UK) prefers using LinkedIn to stay connected with other researchers. Though Dr. Milsom does not consider himself an avid social media-lite, he does “definitely find [social media] useful for keeping in contact with colleagues”. Dr. Sofie Singbrant-Söderberg of the Department of Molecular Medicine and Gene Therapy at the Lund Stem Cell Center of Lund University (Lund, Sweden) also uses “LinkedIn and to a certain degree Facebook to stay in touch with international colleagues and collaborators”.
2. Follow Trending Science
Dr. Singbrant-Söderberg also utilizes Facebook to get a scientific pulse: “Through different scientific Facebook groups I also share and get updated on the latest articles and other science related things that are happening.” Dr. Peter Van Galen of the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard (Boston, US) utilizes Facebook to stay in touch with the experimental hematology community: “The ISEH Facebook group is great to keep in touch with the ISEH community, share recent papers of interest, participate in journal clubs, read interviews with experts etc.” Dr. Van Galen added: “I also follow Facebook pages like the LLS [Leukemia Lymphoma Society], Science Alert and IFLS, which frequently post interesting stories that I might not encounter otherwise”.
3. Technical Advice
Social media sites are also great arenas for asking and answering technical questions. For example, Dr. Cukierman uses sites such as ResearchGate “to ask and provide technical information”. Dr. Luis uses Google Group forums to learn about emerging technologies: “A good example is the CRISPR group where I have found many answers that helped me in my work. When CRISPR appeared as a new tool for gene targeting everybody got very excited but very few people really knew how to use it. I was very impressed with the collaborative environment I found there with many people willing to help, share experiences and provide guidance on the projects of other researchers they did not even know.”
4. Metrics
Sites such as ResearchGate and Academia.edu are also useful for tracking the impact of manuscripts you have published or to follow researchers whose work interests you. Dr. Singbrant-Söderberg says she uses ResearchGate for several purposes: “to spread and keep track on what happens to my own publications, as well as answer scientific questions within my field of expertise.” Dr. Cukierman also uses such sites to “highlight papers (or authors) of interest; identify investigators that have similar scientific interest (even if they are not in my field); promote scientific points of view that are being discussed in the field”. Dr. Luis also uses ResearchGate “to get updated on publications from researchers whose work I like to follow”.
5. Conferencing.
One area where I have actually witnessed the social media merging with science is at conferences. While I had heard of other scientific meetings using social media the first time I saw it in action was at the 2014 ISEH meeting in Montreal where audience members used Twitter to ask questions of the speakers. Drs. Van Galen and Cukierman also mentioned using Twitter and other social media outlets at conferences for questioning but also to highlight interesting oral and poster abstracts.
Social media can also be used as a mechanism for organizing meetings. Dr. Luis recalls a recent success he had organizing a meeting via social media: “I have been previously involved in the organization of a conference and the advertising was entirely done using social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Eventbrite). The approach was very successful, in the end we managed to bring over 100 people together coming from all over the UK.”
6. Advertising.
A possible application for social media that I had not previously considered was advertising. Dr. Cukierman points out that social media outlets can be great venues for promoting your lab/institution, advertise or search for job openings, as well as learning more about potential job candidates. In retrospect, I realized that LinkedIn allows companies/academic institutes to post job openings. Esteban Martinez of Fox Chase Cancer Center also points out “You could also think of this as a good venue to bridge the gap between science and the laymen, such as potential donors”.
The feedback I received from the interviewees provided me with a new perspective on the numerous benefits of social media: networking/touching base with collaborators, keeping up with the scientific Jones’, forums of new technologies and technical advice, understanding the impact of mine and others’ work, as well as tools for organizing conferences and meetings. While I will not become a social media maven any day soon, I am now more inclined to dabble in the world of social media. I hope that this segment was useful and I encourage readers to let us know about alternative social media sites/uses that were not discussed.

Acknowledgements:
The NIC would like to thank all those interviewees for their participation.

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The Inexact Science of being a Parent Scientist

Posted By Connections Editor, Friday, November 6, 2015
Updated: Monday, November 2, 2015

The Inexact Science of being a Parent Scientist

Stephen Sykes and the NIC members

 

If you have children, are about to, or have ever thought about doing so, you have probably come across some type of article or book that aims to dissect and solve the daunting task of balancing work and family. These pieces often raise several important hurdles accompanied by numerous helpful suggestions, however, they rarely touch upon the challenges that are unique to being the “Parent Scientist”. In addition to the variables that all potential parents must contemplate – such as money, what school district to live in, arranging daycare, how close should they live to parents, et cetera – those of us in the academic science realm also need to contend with factors such as the unusual work hours, the current instability of scientific funding, lengthy training periods and the possibility of frequently changing residencies (domestically or internationally). We here at the new investigator committee (NIC) are by no means certified family advisers, but we thought that having a few Parent Scientists from different parts of the world to answer a few standard questions on being a parent and an academic scientist might be of interest to those of you who are about to become or who have internally debated becoming and even possibly those of you who are already Parent Scientists.

Has your career path in academic science impacted your decision whether or not to have children?
During my out-of-lab experiences with other scientists (e.g. dinners, drinks, etc.) the topic of children often comes up and I am always interested to learn whether their career in science has impacted their philosophy on parenthood. In my experience, people fall into one of three categories: The All-In (always wanted to have children), the All-out (never wanted children) and the most common, the oscillators (those who are not yet sure).

 

Dr. Mick Milsom of the HI-STEM institute at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg was All-in: “My wife and I knew that we wanted to have kids regardless of where our careers took us and we ended up having three boys born in three different countries.” Dr. Simona Lodato of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute at Harvard University and her husband were also All-in: “As a couple of scientists that always wanted children we did not plan to have our kids around our careers.” Dr. Lodato also added: “from a practical perspective, it would have been impossible to synch our career paths, publications and deadlines with the plan of building our family”.

Dr. Kena Flores-Figueroa of the Oncological Research Unit at the Mexican Institute of Social Health was an All-out that defected to an All-in: “I thought I had decided not to have children until my "maternity gene" betrayed me. I just woke up one day wanting to have kids. I can't explained why I suddenly changed, it just happened.” I was an oscillator. Prior to entering a PhD program, I remember feeling that I wanted to have children, however, once I had reached my 2nd or 3rd year this feeling was challenged by my career aspirations to become an academic scientist. I would mentally debate variables such as the lengthy training period of academic scientists (and the low income that comes along with it), the mental distractions that come with parenthood, spending less time in lab and questioning whether my passion for science would diminish. However, somewhere close to the end of my PhD my perspective changed again, I began to think “I can do this Science “thing” and I DO want kids” – a little over a year later I was changing diapers.

As a former oscillator I always envy those who are All-in or All-out because they just know without question! For other oscillators out there, I would recommend pondering the advice of Dr. Flores-Figueroa who suggests: “I would say that in my experience it is more important to decide whether or not you want to be a parent than to think what will happen to your career; because you can't predict that until it happens. You can be a great scientist with kids or without them.”

Has having children impacted your research life?
The uncommon schedule of the common scientist
No matter what industry you work in, children are life-changing events. Having children alters the way you perceive and live in the world, how you plan your finances, daily life and work schedule. After polling numerous scientists, the aspect of the academic science life-style that is most commonly impacted by parenthood seems to be the lab schedule. Let’s face it, as Scientists we keep some pretty unconventional – some may even say bizarre – work hours. The terms 9 – 5 or TGIF (Thank goodness it’s Friday) do not really apply to us. As I touched upon earlier, prior to being a parent I thought to myself “how could I possibly accomplish all that I need to get done in lab and still have time to take care of a child?”

If you have ever felt the same way, take some solace in the fact that the independence that we have as academic scientists can be an advantage. Take the example of Dr. Ayako Nakamura-Ishizu of the Cancer Science Institute at the National University of Singapore: “After having kids I shifted my schedule earlier by about 2 hours. This was to avoid the morning traffic to take my kids to childcare and also be able to make some time in the evening to be with them.” Dr. Flores-Figueroa took a similar approach where she also shifted her hours and developed an efficient, regimented schedule where she divides her lab day into dedicated blocks for thinking/writing, meetings and experiments. Dr. Sofie Singbrant-Söderberg echoed the importance of scheduling efficiency “Having children forces you to prioritize your time differently – not being able to spend (as many) late nights in the lab makes you very efficient, and I get much more done during a day now than I used to when time was not an issue.”

The schedule for most academic scientists is extremely malleable compared to those who are required to work specific hours/shifts. This flexibility can be a huge asset when you have children, because as noted by Dr. Nakamura-Ishizu “A lot of unpredictable things happen while raising kids. They get spontaneous fevers, injuries; you have to cancel whatever experiment and rush home. Once they reach elementary school, they don't get sick so often but you have to contribute to school events during the day, go to parent teacher meetings or arrange play dates.”

The ballad of the travelling scientist
One of the many great aspects of our industry is that we are afforded the opportunity and often encouraged to train in different cities, both domestic and international. These opportunities provide us the ability to absorb and immerse into the novel perspectives of a new scientific community. However, leaving the comforts of a home city means passing up the supportive network of family members, such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, which can be of great assistance to new parents.

However, most have their partner and it is also possible to build a new non-relative support network. Dr. Singbrant-Söderberg emphasizes that success as a parent scientist “requires a supportive partner, both for male and female scientists.” Reinforcing this statement, Dr. Milsom expressed that his ability to have kids while completing his post-doctoral training “was only possible because my wife took a six year break from her teaching career to stay at home and look after the kids (and me!).” Another good strategy for managing lab schedules and navigating the unpredictable nature of little ones can be to find other academic scientists who share a similar life situation – either in your lab or in another neighbourhood lab. Dr. Nakamura-Ishizu suggests “For [unpredictable child-related events], I think it may be good if you work in a team where you have someone to cover for you”. Indeed, Dr. Lodato and one of her colleagues who was also becoming a first time parent arranged to share a child caregiver (Nanny) as well as cover each other during times of child-related emergencies. While this symbiotic arrangement not only provided stability to their respective lab schedules, Dr. Lodato also emphasized that sharing a caregiver “was a great opportunity to save money and also a fantastic bonding experience for the kids and the [four parents]!”
If you are considering having children but are also experiencing anxiety about the impact children can have on you career, seeking the advice or simply observing those who have been a successful parent scientist can be reassuring. Dr. Singbrant-Söderberg emphasizes that this may be particularly applicable to female scientists: “I think it is very important to have more female role models in science showing that it is possible to combine a scientific career with having a family”. My PhD advisor and his wife, also an academic scientist, had two children during the end of their fellowships/beginning of their assistant professorships. I found watching them balance their careers and kids reassuring, especially towards the end of my PhD when I began considering parenthood again.

The fiscal cliff of parenthood
A major concern of almost all new parents is how to cope with the child-related costs. In many countries, the primary financial hit comes from daily childcare. My son was born in Boston, Massachusetts where daycare costs commonly run in the ballpark of $2000 (after tax dollars) per month for one child – a figure that when I first discovered nearly gave me a stroke. In fact, for families with multiple children it is often more affordable for one parent to be a stay-at-home parent. While this strategy is more affordable it does not necessarily alleviate the financial stress as highlighted by Dr. Milsom: “At times, it was pretty tough getting by on one postdoc salary and, even now my wife has been back at work for over 3 years, I still don’t think we have fully recovered financially compared to my peers who stayed in one place. In general, the lack of provision of cheap childcare spaces is definitely something that negatively impacts on the retention of talented scientists within academia”. One possible solution to high childcare costs is to split the cost of dedicated caregivers as I had mentioned above.

Alternatively, if you are interested in having children and working abroad there are countries that provide a financially supportive environment for new parents. Take the example of Dr. Nakamura-Ishizu who relocated to Singapore for her post-doctoral training: “Singapore allows you to employ live-in helpers (Nannies) at a low cost. It works pretty well; you don't have to do household work (no cooking, no laundry, no cleaning the house) and you can reallocate this time toward quality time with your children after you return home from work. So I guess, searching for research jobs in Asia may be one good option for working women researchers.” Dr. Singbrant-Söderberg provides another example of a supportive country: “I had our first child during my PhD, which is relatively easy in Sweden. We have a very generous parental leave system where the parents can share more than a year of paid leave, hence called parental instead of maternal leave. But more importantly, Sweden has a heavily subsidized childcare making it possible for a not so wealthy PhD student to pay for childcare.”

Coping with parental leave
I have had several colleagues, both women and men, who have expressed anxiety about being out of lab for maternity and in some cases paternity leave. While this is a common concern, here is some great advice for coping and negotiating paternal leave. Dr. Singbrant-Söderberg advocates trying “not to lose too much time in the lab. During my first parental leave I still came into the lab a few days per month to transplant and bleed mice and keep the projects going.” Expanding on her experience, Dr. Singbrant-Söderberg also shared that “During my second period of parental leave I didn’t have any ongoing experiments, but instead used the time to write a manuscript and apply for funding”. Dr. Flores also recommends planning ahead: “Maternity leave is an important thing to consider and my advice is to build a support network before you even think on having kids. You need to hire independent students and a good technician; or spend time to strengthen your relationships with the lab manager and other students if you are a post-doc or PhD student.”

To be or not to be a Parent Scientist
This summary is by no means an all-encompassing or even extensive analysis of all the considerations that come with being a parent scientist but hopefully it helps open the conversation – both internal and external. For those academic scientists who are debating whether or not to become a parent I would like to provide one last anecdote: I remember when I first thought about being a parent, I said to myself “I need (X) amount of dollars in the bank before I want to have children”. Well, after a few years I quickly realized that if I were to wait until I had enough money to have a child then I would most likely be attending their high school graduation at some point during my eighth decade. I raise this point just to say that having children will impact your life as an academic scientist, so if you do want to be a parent scientist, try not to fret too much on aligning all the variables into a perfect orientation before doing so – because raising children in no way, shape or form is an exact science.

Acknowledgments:
We would like to thank our interviewees Dr. Kena Flores-Figueroa, Dr. Simona Lodato, Dr. Mick Milsom, Dr. Ayako Nakamura-Ishizu and Dr. Sofie Singbrant-Söderberg as well as Dr. Chun Zhou, and Esteban Martinez for their input and editing.

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“Time management, focus on the essential”

Posted By Connections Editor, Monday, August 31, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Eugenia (Kena) Flores-Figueroa. Oncological Research Unit at the Mexican Institute of Social Health, Mexico City, Mexico.

  

“… You may or may not realize it yet, but how you use or don’t use your time is going to be the best indication of where your future is going to take you.”

-Mark Cuban

 

We live in a world where we are continuously asked to do more. We have new technology that was created to make our lives easier and “optimize” our time, but we ended up full of duties and it looks like we even have less time available than 30 years ago. Time is our most valuable asset; as we master the skill of time management, the greater our success will be.

 

There are many strategies to learn how to manage our time, but in this article I will focus on one discipline called “Essentialism”. I read about this discipline in a book by Greg McKeown (1) a couple months ago. It has changed my perspective and has helped me prioritize my projects and be in control of my agenda and my life.

 

Step 1:  Prioritize

 

The first step of essentialism is to focus on the essential and to avoid the non-essential. We have to learn how to discriminate the essential from the non-essential. In order to find what is essential to you, Greg advises to audit our activities. Think which activities are essential and contributing to your career, and which ones are just noise (don´t be surprised if you find that most of your activities are noise).

It is important to note that what is essential for you right now may not be essential in a couple of months or years, so be sure to replace, not add, more activities to your essential list. When you have to give up one activity in order to do a new one, you must be sure that you are not starting a new activity that is less valuable to the ones you already have.

The author warns us about the risk of over-evaluating our activities, and offer Tomm Stafford´s advice to ask ourselves, “if I did not have this opportunity, how much would I be willing to sacrifice in order to obtain it?”.

 

In order to prioritize our activities or projects we have to analyze them, so that we can engage in activities with the most value for our actual and long-term goals. It is also important to consider the time we have to spend and the consequences if we don't do that activity or project.

 

                                             GATING STRATEGY

 


 

 

The “gating strategy” can be visualized as a plot (similar to a flow cytometry dot plot). In graph A the x-axis represents the value of the project (less valuable projects are at the left and most valuable projects far right) and the y-axis represents the contribution to your long-term goals (projects with less contribution will be plot closer to the x-axis). After plotting your projects, choose “Gate A” projects, which offer the most value and the most contribution to your long term goals. From the projects that fall in that category, analyze the time and effort you have to spend in order to finish them, and the consequences of not doing those projects. In this analogy, projects selected from Gate E will have the highest priority as they are projects with the most value and contribution to your long term goals, you have to invest less time, and will have the greater consequences if you don't do them. Therefore they will be essential projects or activities. Try to avoid projects gated on D and H, as they will have the lowest value and will consume most of your time. It is easy to fall for those projects, because they may look attractive or because it is hard to say NO to a colleague. My personal advice is to “forgive” yourself for “being mortal” and not to do every project.

 

Remember, as Greg warns: if you do not prioritize you time, someone will do it for you.

                                                  

Step 2: Focus

 

Once you have mastered the skill of choosing your projects (and activities), you have to stay focused in order to complete them. There are many distractions in our daily lives. Those can be external, like noise (from colleagues, doors opening and closing, loud music), or “internal”, when the source of the distraction is within our minds, like reading e-mail, checking social media, or disperse thoughts.

 

According to Greg´s book of Essentialism, in order to focus, we need to escape, and to make ourselves unavailable.  For those who are lucky enough to have a quiet office, you need to avoid internal distractions; so analyze what is distracting you and try to avoid it, from shutting down the internet or silence your phone, to resting and having a snack, as an empty stomach could also be a distraction. When you do not have a space to “retreat” inside the lab, the library is always a guaranteed “sanctuary”. A coffee shop (if you are not too distracted by others), or working at home can work for some, especially when you do not have children or if you work after they go to bed. If you have to work and there is no option but work at your bench, try listening to music. Researchers have found that sounds of nature can enhance cognitive function (http://www.sciencealert.com/the-best-music-to-listen-to-for-optimal-productivity-according-to-science). Also by wearing your headphones people may not interrupt you.

 

These strategies can work for short term activities, like finishing a paper or writing a proposal. But sometimes it is also necessary to escape in order to be creative and to plan. So book in your calendar some time to think and plan, even in the busiest months.

 

Step 3: Create a plan of action

 

Escape and think about your priorities, and identify the essential projects and activities for your career. Greg advises to start immediately, and to “write down your top six priorities for tomorrow on a post-it note before you leave the office. Then, cross off the bottom five. Write down your top priority on a post-it note and put it on your computer. Schedule a 90-minute window to work on your top priority – preferably the first thing of the day. Every time you are about to check email, Facebook, Twitter, etc., write down what you are about to do (so you realize that you are about to engage on a non essential activity).” I will add to his advice to categorize all your projects and activities into the eight gates (A-H), and write down all your daily activities for a week, according to your gates. Then you can analyze the time you spend on each activity and the category of that activity. And when you find yourself spending too much time on activities outside gate A and E, re-double your efforts to focus on the essentials.

 

Finally, you will have to learn to say no. The consequence of prioritizing what is essential is that you will be more effective and be in control of your career and life. Unfortunately there is a small inconvenience, and that is that you will have to say NO and reject many projects and invitations. Greg McKeon also offers his advice on how to say no. He says that when rejecting an invitation, we first need to affirm the relationship, then thank the person sincerely for the opportunity and then decline firmly and politely. He also warns that saying NO is an ability we need to master with time.

 

Time is our most valuable asset and we have to be in control of it. The way we use our time will not only have repercussions on our work but also on our life. In order to be more productive and effective we need to value the time we spend at work but also, our personal time. Time we spend on a hobby and with the family. Our telomeres are getting shorter daily, and unless our colleagues find the secret for immortality we must value and care for our time.

 

Acknowledgments,

 

I want to thank Peter van Galen and Konstantinos Kokkaliaris for their advice and the editing of this article; Ayako Nakamura and Michael Milson for sharing their experiences and advice. I also want to thank Dr. José María Zas who gave the Essentialism book to my husband, and that I stole from his drawer. When you buy a book for someone, you are not just giving a gift, you may be changing someone else's life.

 

Reference and resources

1.- McKeown Greg. Essentialism, the disciplined pursuit of less. First edition. 2014. Crown publishing Group. United States. ISBN 978-0-8041-3738-6.

2.- http://gregmckeown.com

3.- http://www.time-management-guide.com/prioritizing.html

4.- http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20120717-why-we-love-to-hoard

5.- http://healthland.time.com/2012/07/23/13-ways-to-beat-distractions-and-stay-focused-at-work/

6.- http://genius.com/Mark-cuban-dont-follow-your-passion-follow-your-effort-annotated#

 

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Getting Around the Globe - Meeting by Meeting - Next Stop: Kyoto, Japan

Posted By Connections Editor, Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Updated: Monday, June 29, 2015

Ayako Nakamura1, Eugenia (Kena) Flores-Figueroa2, Stephen Sykes3
1. National University of Singapore, Cancer Science Institute. 2. Oncological Research Unit at the Mexican Institute of Social Health, Mexico City, Mexico, 3. Fox Chase Cancer Center Blood Cell Development and Function, Philadelphia, USA.

“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” – Unknown

Each year, ISEH meetings give us the opportunity to be in touch with the best science on our field, to reunite with colleagues and established collaborations. It also lets us be close to local research groups - not only to their science, but to their culture. Since 1971, when our society was formally established, we have been on a scientific journey around the globe. We have visited - and for some us, for the first time- cities like Vienna, Montreal, Melbourne, Hamburg and Amsterdam, to name a few.

This year, ISEH is going back to Japan. Most of our New Investigators were in high school or in their early years of college and may not know that in 2001, the 30th Annual Meeting of ISEH was held in Tokyo. At the inauguration, many of the attendees were surprised by the appearance of a royal Family member, His majesty the Emperor, who thanked the society for their contributions on radiation-related disorders. This year, although we won’t expect the Japanese emperor´s visit, ISEH meeting has come back to Japan, this time to Kyoto, the once ancient capital of the country, which will offer a different travel experience from Tokyo.

There is something exotic and magic about Japan, the ancient culture, the language, the value of honor and respect, the unique architecture and culture. The truth is that even in our “global times”, some Japanese customs and culture may still surprise you.

In order to be prepared and start enjoying the journey, here are some tips on things we should know about Japan:

Manners and politeness:
(1) You don't need to bow at a perfect 90 degree angle to show your respect.
(2) People will usually address colleagues with their family name. So not getting called by your first name doesn’t necessarily mean that people are being unfriendly.
(3) Professors and PIs are addressed as “~ sensei” meaning teacher.
(4) “Gaijin” means foreigner. People may call you Gaijin but don’t worry, there is nothing negative of it.

Eating out:
(1) There is no need to tip. If you leave tip on the table the waiters/waitresses might run after you thinking that you forgot the money at your table.
(2) Usually water is free in a restaurant.
(3) Usually there are no service charges at restaurants (excluding those that are very prestigious.)
(4) Tap water is drinkable.
(5) People make slurping noises when eating noodles. It is not considered rude.

Transportation:
(1) Riding trains: usually people are aligned in rows to wait for trains. This can be confusing in rush hours. It would be polite to wait for the passengers getting off before you enter the train.
(2) Getting on the escalator: if you are going to wait, let other people pass to your left, if you are in western Japan (Kyoto, Osaka), and to your right if you are in eastern Japan (Tokyo). We don't know the reason why it differs from region to region, but it is just so.
(3) Taxi doors open automatically. So you don't have to shut them yourself when you get off a taxi. You also don't have to tip a taxi driver. In Kyoto, many of the taxi drivers can actually guide you and explain to you about the historical temples and places.

What to do when there is an earthquake:
Earthquakes are quite common in Japan. In fact, about 400 earthquakes, including small ones that are not sensed, occur in a day. During your stay you might experience earthquakes. When you do, don’t panic, try to find shelter (perhaps under a table). Here is a link that advises you on how to act if you do experience an earthquake in Japan.
http://www.tokyo-icc.jp/guide_eng/kinkyu/05.html

Other useful sites:
http://kyoto.travel/en/traveller_kit/accessinfo
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2158.html
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/japan/kansai/kyoto

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Research: The Science of Overcoming Failure

Posted By Connections Editor, Friday, May 1, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, April 28, 2015
By: Eugenia (Kena) Flores-Figueroa1 and Stephen Sykes2

1.Oncological Research Unit at the Mexican Institute of Social Health, Mexico City, Mexico. 2. Fox Chase Cancer Center Blood Cell Development and Function, Philadelphia, USA.

"Perceived failure can become the catalyst of profound re-invention"
Conan O'Brien

On a cold Spring Sunday morning in western New Hampshire, Conan O’Brien, a Harvard alumnus, stood in front of 1,700 Dartmouth students for a commencement address. After initially teasing them about having an inferiority complex (as part of the Ivy League Colleges), he then said something that was as unexpected as it was wise, “Whether your fear it or not, true disappointment will come, but with disappointment comes clarity, conviction and true originality.” For those who are not familiar with O’Brien’s work, he is not a scientist, although his speech seemed to be tailor-made for research. He is a very famous comedian that experienced failure shortly after reaching his lifetime goal (O’Brien became the host of the Tonight Show, but was fired soon thereafter).

Scientists face disappointment and/or failure on a daily basis; a failed experiment, a rejected paper or grant. However, failure does not naturally lead to clarity, conviction and true originality; you have to make it happen. For young students, failure can sometimes lead to the premature departure from graduate programs, changing careers or even depression. Those who have walked the scientific path long enough have learned that failure is just part of success and that overcoming failure is an essential part of your training. So as a young scientist, try to embrace your failures and, as Dr. Peter van Galen, suggests, revel in the brief successes to get you through the low points, “It is pretty rare for an experiment to confirm your hypothesis, so you have to savor the times that it happens. The percentage of experiments that yield 'publication quality' data is probably less than 10%, and it’s these rare events that have to keep you going for months of disappointments."

Dr. Hector Mayani, remembers that as a student and a young investigator, failure was depressing, but after 20+ years as an independent scientist he learned how to manage it. As he stated, “failure still knocks at my door every now and then. I still do not like it, but the difference is that I have learned how to handle it.” We should not fear failure, but change our paradigm about it; for Dr. Sean Morrison, failure is an opportunity, he recognized that “You learn more from the failures than from the successes. Failures aren't fun but the experiences can make you a better scientist.”

It’s not personal, it’s…. science

Being positive about facing failure does not mean that failure or rejection will not affect you, but the advice of Dr Fernando Camargo, is to not take it personal, which he admits “it is very difficult." Dr Hal Broxmeyer, agrees that “No one appreciates or likes to receive a rejection, be it a submitted manuscript or grant application. I doubt that there is anyone, regardless of status or position, who at one time or another has not had a rejection letter," he continued, “the key is to move on and to try deal with and learn from the process."

Minimizing our chances for failure

As a student and new investigator, your first “failure” is at the bench, and no matter what you do, you will eventually have to face failure, but it is also true that you can “minimize” your chances by following Dr. Toshio Suda, advice:

(1) Re-read your protocol again and create a checklist before experiments.
(2) Remember that preservation of samples are always a part of the experiment protocol and label them accurately.
(3) Simulate your experiment like a surgeon before conducting it.
(4) Write a detailed record on your lab notebook; maybe even jotting down the weather or events of that day may help reviewing the record in the future.
After overcoming and conquering your bench work, the next step is to publish it and we asked Dr. Hal Broxmeyer for advice on this matter, “My advice to young investigators in my lab or who I have mentored is not to send a piece of work out until it is ready to go. If rejected, fix it perhaps with advice and help from others, and send it out again to another journal. I would hope that the new investigators won’t have too many rejections, but rejections are inevitable."

Tips on how to overcome failure

Dr. Margaret Goodell shared her five tips on how to overcome failure:
1) Wallow in self-pity for 24 hours if it is an R01, or a whole weekend (not more) if it is a bigger grant. Similar when your papers get rejected. Keep your chin up and use your humor for your trainees who are feeling even worse.
2) Don’t take it personally - take the high road and try to forgive your Luddite reviewers (even when you are “certain" you know who they are). Even the most successful investigators have been dragged through the mud on numerous occasions, so take comfort that you are in great company.
3) Don’t over-analyze the reviews. If you can address the problems and get the grant or paper accepted, then do so. Otherwise, move on, submit elsewhere or write another grant. Don’t let any single event have too much importance.
4) Success in science is a marathon, not a sprint. So continuing to move forward in the face of little setbacks will win the game in the end.
5) Make sure there are other things in your life to make you happy when you are miserable with your science!
After receiving the notice of a rejected paper, Dr. Hal Broxmeyer’s advice is “to read the critique to see why the paper or grant was rejected, and then put the critique away for a few days and try not to think about it. Once you have “cooled off”, try to re-read the critique with an open mind. Usually, but not always, the critique will contain constructive comments that may help you to revise the paper or grant to make your body of work better. This may take extensive additional thought and experiments and many months of work but it is usually worth the effort. Then, send it out again to another journal or granting agency, unless the journal or agency that rejected it seems to be willing to see a revised work, I know a number of investigators who have fought rejections, but this has not worked well for me."

Don’t fight your data

When you feel you reach an “ending point” with you data, Dr. John Dick, mentioned on an interview2 that “ You have to go forward” and that you should have to be careful about your results and what is “an experiment telling you and what it isn’t." You have to analyze your results and be honest with your findings. Dr. John Dick advices to analyze and think, “This is the result that I found, and this is how I did my assay, and this is what I think I can interpret, and this is what I think I can't." Peter van Galen adds “Although endurance is very important, it is also crucial to know when to quit. If your project is not going anywhere, don’t hang on to it for too long."

Conclusions

Your scientific career will be built in failures and in successes. As scientists, we overlook failure and even try to avoid it at any cost, when we should be trying to learn from it and accept it as “part of the job”. Science is not an easy path to walk, and no matter how much experience you may have, you will continually have to battle failure throughout your career. So you always have to remember why you are doing science, as Dr. John Dick mentioned on an interview2, “You should be doing experiments because you want the answer. You shouldn't be doing it looking over your shoulder that someone might beat you to the answer," sometimes that answer will not lead you to success, or may contradict your hypothesis, “but if an experiment is worth doing, it's worth doing even if there are a number of people also trying to get the answer. If someone else gets there first, it just means that you can go on faster to the next question."


Acknowledgments

We want to thank all our interviewees that shared their advice for the elaboration of this article (in alphabetical order);
Dr Hal Broxmeyer, Distinguished Professor, Mary Margaret Walther Professor Emeritus, Professor of Microbiology/Immunology, Program Leader, NCI-Designated Indiana University Simon Cancer Center, Program on Hematopoiesis, Heme Malignancies, and Immunology;
Dr. Fernando Camargo, Associate Professor at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard University Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology;
Dr. John Dick, Canada Research Chair in Stem Cell Biology and Senior Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network , Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto Director and Program in Cancer Stem Cells, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR);
Dr. Margaret Goodell, Professor and Director of the Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine Center at Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston, Texas;
Dr. Hector Mayani, Professor and Head of the Oncological Research Unit at the Mexican Institute of Social Health, Mexico City;
Dr. Sean Morrison, Director of the Children's Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern, the Mary McDermott Cook Chair in Pediatric Genetics and Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute;
Dr. Toshio Suda, Professor, Department of Cell Differentiation, Graduate School of Medicine, Keio University;
Dr. Peter van Galen, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital.


References
1. Connan O´Brien video in youtube
https://video.search.yahoo.com/video/play;_ylt=A2KLqIX_Oy9VgFsAqscsnIlQ;_ylu=X3oDMTByZ2N0cmxpBHNlYwNzcgRzbGsDdmlkBHZ0aWQDBGdwb3MDMg--?p=conan+o%27brien+commencement+speech&vid=4cf37c08ee8010d282c2397eb79c9c7b&l=23%3A45&turl=http%3A%2F%2Fts1.mm.bing.net%2Fth%3Fid%3DWN.fMc7j1VRFgo2QjfGSHUl8w%26pid%3D15.1&rurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DKmDYXaaT9sA&tit=Conan+O%26%2339%3BBrien%26%2339%3Bs+2011+Dartmouth+College+Commencement+Address&c=0&sigr=11bqrjnsd&sigt=123qq4li5&sigi=11vmpsdlq&age=1307912866&fr2=p%3As%2Cv%3Av&hsimp=yhs-002&hspart=mozilla&tt=b
2. Nature Reports Stem Cells
Published online: 26 March 2009 | doi:10.1038/stemcells.2009.47
http://www.nature.com/stemcells/2009/0903/090326/full/stemcells.2009.47.html

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Early Career Grant Writing, the true "Scientific" rite of passage?

Posted By Connections Editor, Friday, February 27, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Eugenia (Kena) Flores-Figueroa1, Karin Klauke2, Stephen Sykes3

1.Oncological Research Unit at the Mexican Institute of Social Health, Mexico City, Mexico. 2. European Institute for the Biology of Ageing (ERIBA), Section Ageing Biology and Stem Cells, University Medical Centre Groningen, University of Groningen, Groningen 9700 AD, the Netherlands. 3. Fox Chase Cancer Center Blood Cell Development and Function, Philadelphia, USA.



Whether it is killing their first lion, surviving in the wild or simply reaching a certain age, the “rite of passage” symbolizes the defining moment where the younger members of society shed their dependence and transition into adulthood. In science, the transition from student to researcher is certainly not reached by age, but is only attained upon completing the rigors of a PhD program, where the publications made during this time represent our “rite of passage”.

OK, so now we can design and carry out well-controlled science that we bundle up into nice publications. BUT are we actually prepared to face the “true rite of passage” that all academic scientists, young and old, must meet…getting funded?

Writing grants is a skill that does not come natural to most and often requires a lengthy fostering process. Therefore, the sooner you start the better chance you have of mastering it.

For those of you who are early in your career, our goal here is to provide you with some key starting points for writing concise, solid and well-assembled grants. In order to do so, we have polled several of our expert ISEH members for advice on grant writing and summarized some of the main funding sources for junior researchers from around the world. Read and learn!


1. Start early in your career

Dr. Hind Medyouf, Georg-Speyer-Haus (Institute for Tumor Biology and Experimental Therapy), advises to “start by applying for fellowships during your postdoctoral training. When writing an early career grant as a post-doc, clearly formulate your aims and how this grant will help you move forward to a more independent position”. Even if the grant does not get funded, just the experience of writing will be beneficial. According to Dr. Mary Dinauer, (Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University and Director of the Children’s Discovery Institute), “the process of writing a grant is a good learning experience and also good for critical thinking and planning of a research project”. In the beginning, many young investigators experience hesitation in submitting grants. Echoing this point, Dr. Teresa V Bowman (Assistant Professor, Department of Developmental and Molecular Biology and Department of Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine) says, “Many are often discouraged feeling their story is not ready and that chances of getting funded are low. A well thought out grant on an interesting topic can be funded, but only if it is submitted”. Reinforcing this point, every grant writer must embrace the mantra “Do not fear rejection”, as stated by Dr. Bowman.

2. Plan ahead

Once you have chosen a funding source to apply to, you should “start planning your grant application early so that you give yourself plenty of time to get valuable feedback on your proposal from experienced faculties in your division and/or mentors. What you might think is a perfect proposal might well have obvious deficiencies that can be easily spotted by others.” advises Dr. Michael Milsom (Junior Group Leader, Heidelberg Institute for Stem Cell Technology and Experimental Medicine). Dr. Louise Purton (Associate Director, St. Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research) also recommends that you ask your mentor(s) or more senior colleagues for copies of their grants to use as guidelines. “This is very useful, especially if you do not have much experience in writing a grant”. Planning ahead also provides you with a time buffer to protect against unforeseen problems. “Unexpected things (such as illness) can arise at any time and the more prepared you are in advance the more you can cope with anything that is unexpected”, Dr. Purton commented. Remember to “Start [early], because writing a good proposal takes time” added Dr. Sofie Singrant Söderberg (Dept. Molecular Medicine and Gene Therapy, Lund Stem Cell Center).


3. Write your own grant

Another great practice that can help you prior to writing your first grant is to help others, such as post-docs or students, with their grant proposals. This will give you a taste of the grant writing process without the full-blown time and intellectual pressures that come with writing your own grant. However, when it does come time to write your own grant, Dr. Louise Purton encourages young scientists to write it by yourself, and “don't let your supervisors write it for you. You can let them read it and come with suggestions, but try and write it yourself!” You will never learn how to write a grant if you don't practice.

When outlining your initial proposal, Dr. Teresa Bowman advises to focus on the key elements of a grant: logic, topic and data. “Grants must be logical and easy to follow for reviewers who are not always experts in your field. The topic is important to ensure your subject is appropriate and interesting for the review panel. Lastly, but definitely not least, is preliminary data. Combined with a cogent argument, preliminary data establish feasibility for the project you have proposed”.

Once you have finished your grant, Dr. Hind Medyouf suggests that you read your proposal as unbiased as possible and ask yourself the following questions: are my objectives realistic? Is my proposal feasible within the grant period and with the resources at your disposal (models, primary samples, equipment, expertise)? If you cannot adequately evaluate these aspects, you are unlikely to be expert enough to carry on the project successfully, she added.

4. Built a solid CV

Consider that reviewers will also look on your accomplishments, Dr. Gerald de Haan (Scientific co Director, Group Leader of Ageing Biology and Stem Cells, European Research Institute for the Biology of Ageing) urges, “you have to make sure you have ended you PhD with (several) good papers”. Dr. Hind Medyouf, also reminds us, that “you also have to convince your reviewers that you have the scientific maturity it takes to successfully lead a project. So don’t hesitate to put forward any mentoring experience, corresponding authorship, prizes/awards you had in the past, etc”.
One common assumption made by junior researchers is that you need to have experience abroad in order to apply for an early career grant (and that may be the case for some specific grant agencies) but as Dr. Mary Dinauer, highlighted, “good training/experience can be found in many places, so ‘abroad’ per se is not relevant”, so do not be discouraged if you do not have it, just look for grant opportunities that do not require “abroad experiences”.

5. Avoid common mistakes

When writing a proposal you should also pay attention to avoid common mistakes, six of which our experts have warned us on below:

1. Risky proposals

Often the proposal is written with a progressive research plan, which relies on the early specific aims being successful in order for the latter work program to be meaningful or attainable. Always try to build in a fall back plan in the case that early steps in the work program are risky. Or, alternatively, use plenty of solid preliminary data to convince the reviewers that your work program will not fall at the first hurdle.
Dr. Michael Milsom

2. Diffuse Proposals

Avoid diffuse aims. Clearly state the hypothesis and provide the rationale that supports you hypothesis. Then proceed to describe the experiments that you will conduct to address the hypothesis. Finally and extremely important is to always state how the results will be interpreted and what scientific insights will be gained.
Dr. Mary Dinauer

3. Over-ambitious aims

One of the most common criticisms that young grant applicants receive is “This proposal is overambitious”. Of the many grant proposals that I have reviewed, the aims are often far too ambitious. Researchers want too much in too short of a time period. Try to avoid this, and be realistic.
Dr. Gerald de Haan.

4. Poorly structured applications

Lengthy and poorly structured applications are every reviewer’s nightmare. Therefore I recommend you stick to the guidelines, abide by every rule of length and format and make every effort to highlight the most innovative aspects of your proposal. Reviewers are requested to evaluate many applications and often have little time to do so. So try to make their job as easy as possible.
Dr. Hind Medyouf

5. Not knowing your “audience”

Not knowing the scientific background of the people is an often-made mistake. Are the reviewers going to be experts in the haematopoietic field? Or are your assessors more broad in scientific range, such as a group of researchers that each has expertise in different cancers? It is important to write your grant proposal in a manner that suits all audience members. If your audience is not specialized in your field, make your grant proposal more simplified so that someone who is not an expert in the field can read it, understand your hypothesis and aims and what you are aiming to achieve. If the assessors cannot understand the importance of your research they are unlikely to fund you.
Dr. Louise Purton

6. Fatal flaws.

“Fatal flaws” can be tricky to detect. The most common fatal flaw is when a proposal has two or more specific aims and the aims are dependent upon one another. Meaning that if Specific Aim 1 fails then all other aims are rendered irrelevant. This “house of cards” scenario can be the kiss of death in the realm of grant writing. Discussing the Specific Aims of your proposal with colleagues as well as having more experienced grant writers read your proposal often prevents the submission of grants with fatal flaws.

“On the shoulder of Titans”, final thoughts

Invest the time during your post-doctoral training and write a grant; take any opportunity to practice and build on your proposal with the help of colleagues and your mentor. Work on your CV, plan ahead and start early, be realistic and not over-ambitious, know your audience, and structure your application well are the main things to keep in mind when you write an early career grant.
As you have now (almost) completed your ‘rite of passage’ and finished your PhD, we hope that this ‘connections in hematology’ might help you to stand on your own feet (as an independent, funded, young scientist) but also “on the shoulders of Titans” to conquer your “true rite of passage”.
Good luck with writing your first early career grant!
Acknowledgments

We want to thank our interviewees, Dr. Teresa V Bowman, Dr. Mary Dinauer, Dr. Gerald de Haan, Dr. Hind Medyouf, Dr. Michael Milsom, Dr. Louise Purton, Dr. Sofie Singrant Söderberg, and  ISEH members that shared their time and knowledge. Special thanks to the New Investigator members that assisted with  interviews and with the grants information for the table.
Country Type Agency Eligibility Areas Proposal Preparation Budget Preparation Proposal submission Grant amount Time Option to renew
Europe Early career ERC starting grant Researches of any nationality working in the European Union or an Associated Country. Between two and seven years of post-doc experience. All areas of science Requires proven track record of excellence plus an innovative project. 100% direct costs and 25% indirect. once a year (for 2015 this is 3rd Feb) €1.5 to 2 million 5 years No
Europe Postdoc EMBO Postdocs with European nationality that are in international exchange. Molecular biology 1500 words None Twice a year 2x ~ USD 52,000 Up to 2 years No
Japan Early career JSPS(government) Researchers under 39yrs of age (excluding students) working in goverment accredited institutes in Japan Any area of science Same requirements as any proposal. Usually 25% of indirect costs once a year (September-October) (A) 5million yen to 30milion yen or (B) under 5 million yen (1million yen is roughly 9000USD) 2-5years No but can get accepted twice until age limit
Japan Very Early career JSPS(government) For researchers just graduated and starting up as post-doc or just returned from a long maternity leave Any area of science Requires track record but the assessment is more lenient Usually 25% of indirect costs once a year (May) 1.5 million yen 2 years No
Mexico Early carreer Conacyt Reserachers working in Mexico who are younger than 40 years old. Any The same requirements as any proposal, but better if the proposal focus on an area that is a priority for the funding agency it does not allow to pay posdocs or technitians, the money for equimpent should up to 30% of the total once a year on a specific date ( by mid august) 14,000 USD 3 years No
Netherlands Early(VENI), Mid (VIDI) and Late carreer(VICI) NWO (government) Researchers of any nationality, working on that particular grant (at least for a few years ) in the netherlands any Requires proven track record of excellence plus an innovative project, professional experience abroad is a BIG plus depends on what grant, VENI VIDI VICI once a year 0.25-1.5 million 4+ years Yes
Netherlands Postdoc Rubicon PhDs from a Dutch university (within 12 months of graduation), preferably performing postdoctoral research abroad. Alpha/Beta/Gamma/Life sciences 1700 words Very basic Three times a year 2x ~ USD 78,000 2 years No
Singapore Early career NMRC (national) New investigators working in medical institute in Singapore (CS-NIG for Clincian scientists, CBRG-NIG for researchers in basic science) Medical Requires track record but no substantial reseach experience. Must not hold other national grants. 20% indirect costs Once a year (December) Up to 200K SGD 2 years No
Sweden Early career VR (government), SSMF, Wallenberg, Söderberg Researchers of any nationality setting up their own research group at a Swedish university (a bit variable, but normally within 7 yrs of getting your PhD) Some are all areas of science, some are medical Requires proven track record of excellence plus an innovative project, postdoctoral experience abroad is a plus Variable, but generally around 20% Once a year (April-May) Up to 2 miljon SEK per year 3-5 yrs No
US Postdoc Helen Hay Whitney Postdocs with <1 year experience. No nationalilty requirements. Biomedical sciences 5 pages Very basic Once a year (July) 3x ~ USD 52,000 3 years No
US Postdoc Life Sciences Research Foundation Within 5 years of PhD graduation, postdocs at US institution Life sciences 6 pages None Once a year (October) 3x ~ USD 60,000 3 years No
US Postdoc (Fellows Scholar Award) American Scoiety of Hematology Research must be conducted in a US institute and applicants must be a citizien of US or Canada or hold a valid US visa (non-citiziens are eligible) and must have fewer than five years of post-doctoral experience. Normal and Malignant Hematopiesis 5 pages Basic Once a year (LOI: May 1st and Full Application August) USD 100,000 2 years No
US / Canada Postdoc Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Any nationality, <2 years postdoctoral experience Blood malignancies 6 pages Very basic, max indirect cost 5% Once a year (October), letter of intent (July) 3x ~ USD 55,000 3 years No

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Online education: Can it help us become better scientists?

Posted By Connections Editor, Monday, January 5, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Eugenia (Kena) Flores-Figueroa1 and Peter van Galen2

 

1) Oncological Research Unit at the Mexican Institute of Social Health, Mexico City, Mexico  2) Massachusetts General Hospital and Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, USA.

 

In 1990, before the commercial use of the World Wide Web existed, Steve Jobs referred to the computer as “the bicycle for our minds” to explain how he envisioned the use of computers as “the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with”. He explained that he invented his analogy while reading an article in Scientific American. The article was about an interspecies comparison on the efficiency of locomotion in which man was at the third lowest place. But a man riding a bicycle was at the top of the list, even above the condor (which was the most efficient species). Jobs’ vision is now a reality, personal computers are our most valuable tool in modern life- they have transformed our lives. We use them daily in our jobs, for entertainment, and most of all, as a portal to retrieve information through the internet. The paradox is that we are now facing a challenge in the quality of information we find online.

 

Eighty seven percent of internet users in the United States recognized that the Web helps them learn new things: they feel more informed about products and services to buy, news, and popular culture. Academic information was not one of the top topics on that list. Despite accelerated growth of worldwide internet usage in the past 14 years (over 700%, ref. 1), online education has been growing slowly, and it has been facing faculty resistance. According to the Babson Survey (2013), faculty acceptance of online courses in 2012 was at the same percentage (around 30%) as in 2004, and only 6% above the first poll in 2002 (2). We think online courses are a great way to increase accessibility of education and we will explain how they can be used to expand your knowledge and skillset as a scientist.

 

How can I get started?

 

If there is a topic you would like to know more about, there is bound to be a course about it. Check out the websites below and find the most appropriate course for you. You can watch lectures at your own pace and work on assignments when you have time. If you are looking for a specific subject, you can select lectures accordingly. For the first author of this paper, courses on writing in the sciences and public speaking had improved her skills as scientist.

For the second author of this article, following courses on Unix and Python on lynda.com was essential to get him started with the analysis of high-throughput sequencing data. If you are interested in getting an in-depth overview of the entire course subject, or if you draw motivation from working with peers, you should consider becoming more involved with massive open online courses (MOOCs).

 

What are MOOCs and what they have to offer?

 

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are formal online courses that offer education and training for college and graduate students. These courses not only take advantage of computer-based material methods (videos, graphics, online quizzes), but they build a community around that course and offer a new learning experience. They are offered by both non-profit and for-profit organizations. For scientists, it is a great opportunity to practice peer review, as you grade your classmates, and you get the chance to compare your work with that of others. You can choose to learn at your own pace or follow the course timeframe with weekly tasks that you can fit in your schedule at any time you choose. You are given feedback on your learning, and you have the chance to repeat a lesson until you master it. MOOCs are expanding to on and off-campus courses, as some institutions are taking advantage of this new method of learning, and they are incorporating MOOCs as part of their curricula, replacing traditional courses.

MOOCs give you the opportunity to enrich your undergraduate and graduate studies with courses from the most prestigious universities. For young investigators and PIs, the flexibility helps to fit these courses in your busy agendas, and give you the chance to keep learning and keep improving. It also provides an opportunity to acquire training through courses that are not easy to find otherwise, such as mentor and manager training which is usually not a part of a science curriculum..

With MOOCs, massive, can really mean massive? In august 2012, Coursera (one of the for-profit organizations) hit 1 million users in over 192 countries and today they have over 10 million users. You can find a variety of classes, from basic to advanced statistics, computational biology, scientific writing, public speaking, data acquisition and analysis and genetics, to mention some.

 

Five tips to succeed with MOOC

 

1.- Commit

MOOCs have created a new way of learning, and even a new way to commit, as nobody is taking assistance, your professor will not give you a warning if you do not show up and your classmates will not judge you if you do not answer the questions correctly, but YOUR conscience will. You are your own judge and you will receive the benefits of completing the course, this is all about personal commitment.

 

2.- Follow course recommendations

Each course has specific requirements, on background knowledge and the time you need to invest. Follow those recommendations, if they are advertised as an advanced statistics course, do not enroll if you do not have that level.

 

3.- Start with one course

Once you start browsing for courses, you may feel like a kid in a candy store and be tempted by the various academic offers. Our recommendation is to start with one course and take one at a time.

 

4.- Customize to your needs

You can optimize your experience to your own preferences. If you want to learn something specific, appropriate lectures can be selected and watched individually. But if you want to get the whole experience, watch the videos, read the supplemental material (many courses give you extra references or extra quizzes), and join the forums and social media. All the materials are designed to improve your learning experience.

 

5.- Schedule it in your agenda

Choose a day and time to take your online course. The format is so open and mobile (you can watch videos and access the content on your smartphone and tablet) that you will be able to access it at any time, and if you feel that you are getting behind, you will be able to catch up at any time; however, sometimes that time never comes. So it is better to schedule it.

 

Conclusions

 

In the late 1800s, distant education was achieved through correspondence. Now, new technology has reshaped the format of distant courses to online education, but the idea of offering low cost or free education to the masses is still the same. Online education offers a win/win situation for both students and faculty. It has contributed to the improvement of the quality of the information on the internet and it is a way to market and position many institutions worldwide. It represents a new tool that comes with new rules. Some academics are still afraid of the repercussions of this new model of education, but those who embrace it stand to benefit a great deal.


Where to start

 

 

References

 

1.- http://usgovinfo.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://www.pewinternet.org/

2.- http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm

3.-http://www.babson.edu/Academics/faculty/provost/Pages/babson-survey-research-group.aspx

 

 

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Improving your public speaking skills - insights and advice

Posted By Connections Editor, Thursday, October 30, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Eugenia (Kena) Flores-Figueroa - New Investigator Committee

“All good communicators put a lot of effort into communicating clearly. I think a lot of young people make the mistake of thinking that people are born either good or bad communicators. The reality is that the good ones really work at it." Sean Morrison.

There is no doubt that we all agree on the importance of public speaking; we all enjoy a great talk and suffer and count the minutes until a bad one is over. We recognize that public speaking is one of the most important tools to communicate our science, yet, we usually do not know how or where to look for resources to improve our public speaking skills. According to Sean Morrison, Director of the Children's Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern and Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, “young people make the mistake of thinking that people are born either good or bad communicators”, he stated, “good ones really work at it”. The purpose of this article is to discuss and provide resources and tools to master good communication skills and to raise the awareness that becoming a great public speaker is in your hands.

Changing paradigms on Public speaking

Do you experience stress and anxiety before speaking in public? You can improve your performance by realizing that a modest level of stress will work for you and not against you. Jeremy Jamieson, Ph.D., assistant professor of social psychology at the University of Rochester, published in Psychology Today (1) that reframing how we think about stress improved public speaking performance, even in individuals suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). His research group asked individuals to perform a stressful public speaking task. One group was informed about the sympathetic nervous system and how acute stress responses help us perform well, to encourage them to reassess what stress meant to them. The control group did not receive any information. The experimental group performed better than the control group in both individuals with and without SAD.

Do not try to stay calm, get excited!

We often try to stay calm before a presentation. In a recent paper published by Dr. Wood Brooks in the Journal of Experimental Psychology (2), she found that individuals who reappraise their anxiety as excitement performed better at public speaking compared to individuals who attempt to calm down. His strategy was quite simple: individuals only had to say “I am excited” out loud or received messages to get excited. Her paper suggests that we have a profound control and influence over our emotions, and we can turn this to our advantage to perform better during public speaking.

The thought is that feeling excited will focus you more on your presentation and less on your fear of being judged. It is a common mistake of graduate students to worry about the questions that the audience might raise, rather than focusing on their presentation. It is not about knowing all the answers; unanswered questions may translate into a new experiment or a reinterpretation of our data.

Resources for Public Speaking


There are many resources to improve your public speaking skills. You can research ebooks or take courses. There are also instructive videos. If you recognize the importance of giving a good impression of yourself and your science during presentations, we encourage you to invest some time in exploring these resources. A few examples that can guide you where to start:

Books: Talk like TED: The 9 public speaking secrets of the World’s Top Minds. Carmine Gallo. This book from a public speaking coach will give you the secrets behind the most popular TED talk presenters.

Courses: There is a great course on Coursera.org called “Introduction to public speaking”. The instructor, Dr. Matt McGarrity, a senior lecturer at the University of Washington Department of Communication, will focus on understanding the key parts of an argument by studying the principles of argumentation and arrangement. You will have the opportunity to practice through speech assignments that are reviewed by your peers.
https://www.coursera.org/learn/publicspeaking

Videos: TED and TEDx talks. TED -which stands for technology, entertainment and design- is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, in the form of short but powerful talks (usually less than 20 minutes). TEDx talks are independently organized TED talks. This is a great way to learn from experienced speakers. We recommend starting with a TEDx talk by one our ISEH leaders, Dr. Leonard Zon, Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard Medical School.
https://pittmedwellness.com/2014/07/ted-talk-dr-leonard-zon-on-stem-cells/

Toastmasters International: Toastmasters International is a world leader in communication and leadership development, with 313,000 members worldwide. These members improve their speaking and leadership skills by attending one of the 14,650 clubs in 126 countries. You can probably find a Toastmasters club in your University or near your home. Toastmasters meeting is a learn-by-doing workshop in which participants hone their speaking and leadership skills in a no-pressure atmosphere. There is no instructor in a Toastmasters meeting. Instead, members evaluate one another’s presentations. This feedback process is a key part of the program’s success. Meeting participants also give impromptu talks on assigned topics, conduct meetings and develop skills related to timekeeping, grammar and parliamentary procedure (http://www.toastmasters.org/).

Other resources: At the 2013 ISEH Meeting held in Vienna, the New Investigator Committee hosted a session on “Effectively presenting your science and yourself”, the session was recorded and you can access it at the ISEH website (free for ISEH members). We recommend Dr. Margaret Goodell’s (Former ISEH president and Associate Professor at the Baylor College of Medicine) talk which has many good tips that will help you design your slides.
http://www.iseh.org/news/159754/2013-Annual-Meeting-Recordings-Available.htm

Advice on Public Speaking

We gathered tips and advice from the perspective of new investigators, to give situations you may relate to and describe common mistakes that you should avoid.

Plan your speech

The first step in planning your talk is to decide what message you want to convey. Remember that in any speech, three or more topics are hard to remember and follow. Your research can be described in many ways: consider different ideas, write an outline of your talk, or discuss it with a colleague. Spend some time on planning before you start gathering or creating your slides.

1. Know your audience

“Know your audience so that your talk is at the right level”, was Sofie Singbrant’s, researcher at the Lund Stem Cell Center, Lund University, Lund, Sweden, first advice. Your talk should be tailor made for each event. Consider the expertise of the audience, the formality (job position / conference / lab meeting), the cultural background and the country you are in. Try to relate to your audience by thinking of commonalities and including that information.

2. Timing is key

Keep up with your timing and plan ahead, do not try to compensate your bad planning with rushing your talk. As Michael Milssom, Group Leader, Experimental Hematology, Heidelberg Institute for Stem Cell Technology and Experimental Medicine, advices “Make a conscious effort not to rush what you are saying as you will lose the audience. If you have to talk fast to cover everything in your slides then you have too much material in them. Better to take some data out and clearly get across the key points than to cram every experiment you ever did into a talk." Running over time is disrespectful to your fellow speakers and annoys your audience.

3. Speech Flow

Start with an introduction according to your audience, “explain why your problem is important and properly frame the questions that you are asking”, Daniel Lucas-Alcaraz, Assistant Professor in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology and Organogenesis Scholar at the Center of Organogenesis at the University of Michigan School, advised. Even if you are not a native english speaker, do not read your presentation, Ayako Nakamura-Ishizu, Senior Research Scientist National University of Singapore, Cancer Science Institute, warns that “the worst mistake is only reading out your presentation on paper, power point presenter or directly whatever is on the slide. It is quite obvious when you see this from the audience and it is not really natural”.

4. Pay attention to your slides

Peter van Galen, Post doctoral fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital, highlighted the importance of the slides design and content. “Do not present too many panels per slide. Explain everything that is in the slide. The audience needs to be able to understand the rationale for the experiment, the actual results and your interpretation. Make your slides easy to read for your audience. One of the worst mistakes is to have chaotic slides and look like you haven’t seen them before. The audience will appreciate someone who is prepared to convey their message to be best of their abilities”, he commented.

5. Practice

Some of the experts advise that you have to practice your speech at least 10 times, but this may vary. Practice out loud. Use technology, you can record yourself to look back or send it to colleagues for feedback. Sofie Singbrant advices to concentrate not only on your message, but the way you send it, so it is in a clear and more relaxed way. By recording your speech you can also notice your body language. Your body language could send a massage of being confident or shy. As Ayako Nakamura remembers, Dr. Len Zon’s first advice at ISEH in Vienna was “Be confident and face the audience, don’t be shy”.

6. Be polite when you answer questions

How you answer your questions can tell a lot about you. For Teresa Bowman, Assistant Professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine), when answering questions, “don't be defensive or aggressive. Be confident, but don't put off your audience with an antagonistic tone. How you say things is as important as what you say to keep your audience engaged in your presentation." If for some questions you don’t know the answer, that is not a problem. For example, you can say “Thank you for your interest. You bring up a good point to consider for future directions, but I do not have an answer for that question yet.”


Conclusions

We asked our interviewees if they consider public speaking a skill or an art, and they all believe it is a skill that you can nurture and master through practice and hard work. There are of course gifted speakers who seem to have a natural ability for delivering enjoyable speeches, but be aware that those speakers work hard for this. Practice is key, and we mentioned starting points to use some of the many available resources and techniques that can help you. Our message for you is not resign yourself with what you have, but to work for it; do not suffer through your speech, enjoy it.

A successful speech begins with great science and results from your daily hard work , as Dr. Morrison says “"champions are made in the pre-season".


Bibliography

1. http://rochester.edu/news/show.php?id=5952
2. Wood Brooks A. Get excited: reappraising pre-performance anxiety as excitment. 2014. Journal of Experimental Psychology. 143(3): 1144-1158.


I want to thank Peter van Galen for editing this article, and Sean Morrison, Teresa Bowman, Michael Milssom, Sophie Singbrant, Ayako Nakarmura-Ishizu and Daniel Lucas-Alcaraz for their contribution and time.

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