Doctoral Directions: Learning to Lead in Biomedicine (day 1)

Doctoral Directions: Learning to Lead in Biomedicine (day 1)

I’m really excited to be live tweeting this year’s Doctoral Directions conference.  Follow the conference at #DocDirections!

Doctoral Directions is a local conference hosted annually in Pittsburgh that focuses on career development for graduate students, medical students, and postdocs.  It’s a two day conference, this year including a Thursday evening dinner session (which this recap is about) and a full day of speakers and breakout sessions on Friday.  This year, the focus of Doctoral Directions is on leadership.  Thursday’s speakers were Joanne Kamens, Chip Souba, and a panel of professors from Pitt and Carnegie Mellon, who all spoke on different areas related to facilitating a successful career in biomedicine.

I was particularly excited to hear from Joanne Kamens. She’s the executive director at Addgene, but I’m more familiar with her from following her on Twitter! She gave an excellent, interactive session on networking. In particular, she gave some actionable tips regarding how individuals with different personalities can network successfully. As an introvert, I especially liked her acknowledgement that it’s okay for introverts to practice conversations and introductions before entering into a situation where they’ll actually need to talk to others.  I often hear people talk about networking from such an extroverted perspective, with tips that essentially boil down to talking to and trying to remember conversations with as many people as possible in a limited period of time.  As an introvert, that doesn’t work for me!  It was refreshing to hear the perspective that though introverts and extroverts clearly get their energy from different activities, both can be effective networkers in different ways:  either by being great listeners, or by facilitating connections between others.

Dr. Souba talked about how to embrace being an leader in a world where those of us who are able to pursue our intellectual goals are a large minority.  He commented on our responsibilities to the population to disseminate knowledge while also remaining true to our own desires.  His keynote started off with two questions that framed the talk:  “What do I want to do with my life?” and “Who am I?”.  Not only every scientist, but every person, should ask themselves those two questions in order to determine how they can be an ‘effective human’ and make a mark on the world.  However, my favorite quote from this talk was this: “You can’t make something meaningful for yourself by just deciding it’s going to be meaningful.”  Instead, it takes looking inside yourself to decide what matters to you and then carving out a path that allows you to do that work.  And when you’ve finally figured out what that is, it requires little forced effort to get done- the work just flows out of you because it’s what you are meant to be doing.  Of course, being able to do that type of work is the goal of most individuals; those of us lucky enough to be able to make a career of it are rare, but lucky.  It’s definitely something that hit home for me, and I know that I will be keeping that idea in mind as my idea of what I want my career to look like continues to evolve.

Finally, a panel of biomedical thought leaders from Pitt and Carnegie Mellon spoke about work life balance and how to negotiate that throughout your career.  The general consensus of the panel was that a few specific things are key to having a successful work-life balance throughout your career.  The key ideas that they threw out were to prioritize; maintain a support network (including family); empower others; and manage your time well.  In particular, time management was a key theme throughout this discussion- and as it’s something that I struggle with (case in point:  it’s 12:30 am and I’m writing this recap instead of sleeping!) I was happy to hear it discussed so candidly.  The overarching advice that arose for managing time better was twofold.  One, set boundaries.  Give yourself time off to care for those around you as well as for yourself.  Whether it’s leaving work at a certain time every evening, or giving yourself one scheduled day off every week, find what works for you and make sure to preserve that time.  Two, work efficiently, not more.  Being more productive does not automatically mean that you need to spend more time working.  Instead, you may need to find better uses of the time that you already work in order to increase productivity then.  That way (tying back into point number 1), you can also spend time away from work to cultivate other areas of your life.  The best way to achieve the work-life balance that is appropriate for you and your situation is to put effort into things that are important to you, both at work and in the rest of your life.

So there you have it:  a quick-and-dirty recap of day 1 of Doctoral Directions.  I’ll be live tweeting throughout the morning and afternoon tomorrow, so follow me on Twitter and follow #DocDirections to keep up with the event!  I’ll also be posting a recap of tomorrow’s sessions soon after the conference ends.


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