What is on your horizon?

It is very easy to get so engrossed in all that you do day-to-day so as not to see what might being coming or moreover not see where you are going. True of many careers / jobs is that how much, or how often, you look to the work horizon is lead by the culture of the particular work place. Students, graduates and post-graduates in my experience can be very good at ignoring the horizon in favour of the exam, dissertation, or work package in front of them. It is often true to say they leave their horizon to their adviser, which can be where many go wrong.

“Should those who counsel also judge? Should those who mentor also manage?” – pretty much everyone I would like to believe would agree that anyone providing counsel to an individual should not then be the one who sits in judgement of them – a huge conflict of interest. Why then in the towers academic do so many place their mentorship with those who ultimately seek to guide them with specific projects and depend perhaps upon the them for results above all else? At this point I have to say that within the spectrum of academic managers there are those who can divorce the development needs of the ‘team’ from the needs of an individual, but sadly these are not overly numerous and not often seen as the most dynamic leaders by their peers.

The advice that I end up giving the most often is that students look up and look ahead. Recently I have come to realise that they also need to look to find the best mentoring as part of this strategy to increase their awareness. The needs of balanced and constructive careers assessment / feedback are sadly all too often not met well in academic towers.

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Well worth a read – especially for those starting out in science

With a little over a month left on my current contract I am busy trying to gather things together and finish off as much as is possible. I did though bump into something useful in an email I received…

An article in the section called “Member Spotlight” in the April edition of the AAPS news magazine, entitled “Managing Science (And Relationships)”. Follow the link to have a read of what is actually a pretty well balanced piece about the utility of mentorship and development of a leadership skill set in science. 



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Post It Audit

Today has been one of those broken days of cars that won’t start, disruption, mundane tasks to complete and lack of time for concentrated phases of work. In the end I audited my ‘to do’ lists, and culled a fair few Post-It notes along the way. Time wasted? Well actually no, I have a clearer idea of where gaps are, where I need reset a few priorities, and where things have been on the back burner for too long. Smashing a bunch of small jobs and tearing up little sticky notes have in effect created a good day out of the tatters of the original Thursday plan. Lots of things to go make and do on my new ‘to-do’ list so I’d better get on…

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2012 – New Year – resolutions?

Funny thing about New Year in general is that many people start new plans, schemes and endeavours just because of a calendar date. I recent years I have fallen out is the annual habit of pledging new habits and opted to adopt them as and when they occur. This year though I have new plans coinciding with New Year so I should call it what it is – a resolution (of sorts). My ‘resolution’ is to begin this year as the last one ended, to keep a firm eye on the horizon of opportunity and apply, apply, apply. Essentially a senior post-doc winding the clock back a (ahem) year or two and having a crack at all those avenues anew.

Last word on 2011 – the most useful up to the minute literature tool I found last year was Twitter. I signed up followed a whole swathe of scientists and science outlets, and presto in touch almost to the minute with science news in my research area/s.

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Applied application effort

I spent a large chunk of recent time getting an application together, which was duly submitted just before the festive break. The application was for a 3-yr Fellowship in a research field that for me pulled together previous and current endeavours into one theme. I am hoping of course to progress through the application process, and while undoubtedly there are a lot of researchers applying too, I am pleased that I am feeling fairly sanguine about the whole thing.

In many ways the application process in of itself so far has been very revealing. Throughout the writing I discovered (or rediscovered) a lot of latent ambition, drive and direction. It is all too easy as an experienced post-doctoral researcher to believe the window on such opportunities has all but gone when near enough every funding scheme has an explicit or implicit age criteria (there are many articles and commentaries on this subject and so I am not going to plough that field over again). The main message for me was that the will, desire and appetite are most definitely there, and that there are people around me willing to support, mentor and collaborate with me in these efforts.

A great note to move into 2012 with, and a fine line to draw under an up and down 2011.

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Productive good news

This week has been something of a good one, with two large pieces of excellent news.

Firstly, a paper that I contributed to was published online only journal Nature Communications.

Patani, R., Hollins, A.J., Wishart, T.M., Puddifoot, C.A., Alvarez, S., de Lera, A.R., Wyllie, D.J., Compston, D.A., Pedersen, R.A., Gillingwater, T.H., Hardingham, G.E., Allen, N.D., Chandran, S. (2011) “Retinoid-independent motor neurogenesis from human embryonic stem cells reveals a medial columnar ground state”. Nature Communications. 2:214.

The paper certainly cast a few ripples, I found several references to it in online outlets…




… it is very nice to see the immediacy of research that we are involved with.

A water drop Secondly, the other piece of good news was that, I received $1000 (US) in the form of a travel award to attend a conference later this year. Getting the award was something of a surprise, being new to the field and yet an experienced post-doc, I thought perhaps it would go elsewhere. It was an unexpected bonus.

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Sadness for a lost colleague

It has been something of a mixed start to 2011, with some highs, some nice surprises, some hard work, and the most unexpected and difficult of lows.  Our research team lost one of its bright flames.  A post-doc in the lab travelled to northern Europe for a nordic skiing vacation with her family, and along with her partner and parents were lost in bad weather. They were later found dead, the news filtered to her family and friends, and then to her colleagues.

During my career have experienced a great variety of situations, but never anything quite as numbing as the shock of losing an immediate colleague so suddenly. She was a sparkling, fun, and determined person who brought so much to our group of researchers. In the short time with us she positively and brightly set about her project, and made friends easily along the way. The students in the lab clearly benefited from her influence, and looked to her for guidance and advice which she freely gave. Often with colleagues it is hard to gauge who they really are as a person, this was very much not the case here. From open smiles and candid conversations it was easy to engage with and respect both the person and the scientist.

Personally I am saddened that time was so cruelly short, and that we here in Cardiff didn’t get to benefit more from working with and knowing such a very real person and very bright flame. We are all truly humbled by the thought that whatever we  as colleagues might feel those closest to her can only be so much more hurt. I only hope that the knowledge of the positive impacts and memories she left with us softens, just a little, the impact of her loss on those hurting more.

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