Scientific New Year’s resolutions: an interactive challenge!

(Mood: hopeful)

Here we are, the last week of work before the so desired Christmas break! In Stockholm we have been blessed with a pre-Christmas week covered in white, fluffy snow! We also had our always fun lab Christmas dinner so now I am really counting my days to flying to Portugal, meeting my family and hopefully enjoying some warm and sunny weather, besides the delicious food.

In addition to the fun activities and Christmas spirit, probably like so many of you out there, I have been spending these last weeks rushing to finish experiments I want to get done, aiming to get those results that will make me feel more satisfied before leaving the lab for a while. Every year it is the same! And I wonder why we try to squeeze in more work instead of allowing us to slow down and take more time to prepare Christmas? It feels like those last weeks or days come with a magic power of saving several months of failed experiments or less productive days. We are focused and we are productive in order to end the year on a high note and feel like we set a good ground to start the New Year in a positive way. Probably it serves also for us to feel that we really deserve this break now after working so hard.

With the year ending, we usually reflect and try to make some resolutions for the New Year. We think back on the good things and on the bad things, frustrations, exciting times, dreams ever to accomplish, work-life balance ambitions, and so on. However, I dare to say most of us focus on personal aspects rather than on our “lab performance”. Certainly, improving our personal life helps to improve our professional performance. Nevertheless, I still think that it would help to stop and carefully analyse the working year and try to establish some resolutions based on that conscious reflection.  In my lab, we all valued a lot the team reflection activity we did in our recent lab retreat, which helped us to be more aware of how others see our team and what they think we should do to improve it. But we shouldn’t need a lab retreat to stop for a while and analyse what we are doing. I know, it is very easy to be always so absorbed by our deadlines, lab meeting presentations, meetings with our PI, seminars, journal clubs, the abstract we need to write for a conference, that we don’t get to stop so much to reflect on what we can do better regarding our own projects and our interactions with our colleagues. That’s why I find important to make this point.

How many of you wish they had more time to read more papers in parallel to doing experiments? How many of you would like to stop more often to discuss and understand the projects of their lab colleagues? How often do you share your small frustrations with your lab mates? How often do you take time to give them feedback on their work or on their behaviour as lab members? Is this constant rush to get data really worth it at the end? How many times have you realised you could have saved weeks of work, if you only knew earlier that this guy from the lab next to you could have helped you with that technique? Maybe just because many times you feel too busy to stop and have a coffee or lunch or just a break to share with someone how frustrated or excited you are.

Think about it.  

And now, before I leave for my Christmas break, I leave you a challenge: use a few minutes or even hours of your time and reflect. Try to dedicate a time slot for that, so that your mind is more free. You can do it alone or with lab colleagues and who knows if this does not become a regular lab activity!? Anytime that suits you is good, as long as you do it! Perhaps you can use the first days after the break when the experiments are still taking off again?

I thought of some pertinent questions that I sometimes ask myself, and others that came to my mind as I was writing this post:

– How do you feel in your current group? Can you do something, even if small, to improve the working environment?

– How has your research project been evolving? What can you improve?

– What was good, what felt less good, what felt terrible this year?

– How much have the failures or the good moments affected your productivity?

– What would you like to improve in your work routine next year?

– Is there something you would really like to do next year in your project, in your group?

– What do you commit to change or continue doing in order to achieve success and feel more fulfilled?

My aim here is to help you make you aware of how your year has been and use that to make the next one a little better. I think that, for us, young scientists, it is easy to feel more affected by failures than by small achievements. We might spend more time complaining about how our project is not moving forward or why our paper was rejected, instead of remembering that we actually made a protocol work, we helped someone achieving a good result, we gave good feedback to someone else’s presentation in the lab meeting, we got an idea for a new experiment from an inspiring talk we attended in a conference. I keep reminding myself to give more value to small achievements, and trying to use that good feeling to overcome issues in my work.

I am curious to know what you, readers, think! So I invite you to share your thoughts in a virtual whiteboard (go to www.menti.com and use the code 19 93 10) so that we can, together, inspire each other and define our “scientific new year’s resolutions”. If you like, leave your initials and country at the end of the message to give a better idea of where the readers are. And, here, I promise to discuss the results of this exercise in a future post.

Screenshot 2018-12-20 at 08.49.58

If you click here, you can check the answers that have been already submitted and see the whiteboard filling up. I look forward to reading your entries!

Good luck on those last experiments and Merry Christmas!

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