Round-Up & Top Ten Q&A Highlights from #LabLifeCon22
Our very first Hello Bio LabLife Conference took place online last month and was a truly inspiring event! A virtual audience of viewers from around the world were treated to a selection of expert talks and panel discussions from experienced life scientists who shared their knowledge and advice on a variety of topics. From STEM career paths to funding applications, mental health to mentoring, our guests shared valuable tips and answered questions from viewers throughout the half-day event.
Here’s our round-up of the talks and discussions, including our top ten highlights from the Q&A sessions…
A global audience
The event was opened by Hello Bio co-founder and marketing director Dr. Sam Roome who welcomed our global audience which included delegates from the UK, USA, Finland, Belgium, India, Portugal, Germany, Israel, France and even New Zealand!
Advice on the mentor-mentee relationship
Our first guest speaker was Professor Stuart Maudsley of the Receptor Biology Lab, University of Antwerp, Belgium, who delivered our opening keynote talk on Getting The Most from Your Mentors. As an experienced mentor himself, Stuart was able to provide a real insight into the mentoring process, the importance of two-way feedback, and owning up to mistakes. He used a brilliant collection of stills from his favourite movies and TV shows to illustrate his points, including this classic scene from Star Wars to emphasise the importance of celebrating your successes!
Stuart also shared the concept of the ‘mentor tree’ from academictree.org which shows how knowledge is passed down through generations of scientists and allows users to trace mentoring relationships back through history while marking their own place in an ever-expanding science research network.
“It's quite remarkable to think that this mentoring process glues people together and connects people over hundreds of years as part of one organisation, part of one structure. So when you become a scientist you're joining this tree and you should feel very proud and interested in where it might take you.” - Stuart Maudsley
In a fascinating Q&A session, Stuart tackled some great questions on mentoring, including whether approaching a mentor needs to be a formal process or whether it should be done in a much more informal way:
1. Is finding a mentor a formal or informal process?
Another of our Q&A highlights with Stuart was his answer to a question about big-name scientists and whether it’s ever ok to approach them for mentoring or advice. He explained how even Nobel laureates are just a small part of a much bigger science network and that you should never be afraid to reach out:
2. Is it ok to approach big-name scientists for advice?
Writing tips from the experts
Next on the schedule was the first of our two panel discussions in which expert scientists shared their advice on specific subjects. Our first topic for discussion was Writing, Peer-Reviewing & Publishing Papers and was chaired by Dr James Quinn of Massachusetts General Hospital, USA. James was joined by panellists Dr Bronwen Martin and Dr Matthew Lloyd who both have considerable experience in peer-reviewing and the publication process.
The panel began by sharing their top 3 tips for writing great scientific papers:
- Think about who you want your audience to be
- Think about how you want your audience to use your publication
- Be sure to write a complete and compelling story
- Ensure your paper has a coherent structure by packaging your data well
- Think carefully about your title and abstract in terms of keywords
- Always have a good summary and explanation of your data in your discussion
Next the panel considered the best places for early career scientists to get their papers published and how to go about it, followed by a further discussion around getting started in peer-reviewing and the importance of having an online presence as an author.
“A good way of getting started is to register as an author with various journals and make sure that you add clear descriptions and keywords regarding your area of expertise. One of the main ways in which journal editors find reviewers is to search their bank of authors by keyword.” - Matthew Lloyd
In the Q&A session the panel fielded some great questions from our online audience on a number of writing and publishing topics, including this one on the next steps to take when facing rejection from a journal. Bronwen and James shared their advice on reaching out to editors and aiming high:
3. What are your next steps if you get a paper rejected?
Another great question followed from an audience member who asked about the significant increase in the use of preprint servers and open publishing as a way of making your work public. The panel discussed the pros and cons:
4. Are preprint servers the way of the future?
Learning how to build resilience in academia
Our next guest speaker was Dr Matthew Caley of Queen Mary University of London, who shared a frank and honest discussion on Failure, Resiliency and Overcoming Imposter Syndrome. Despite his many years of academic and industry experience, Matthew opened by telling us he felt entirely unqualified to talk about this subject, which of course is absolutely appropriate for a discussion on imposter syndrome!
He shared his own career journey, including some of the unexpected setbacks he faced along the way that led him to become a skin researcher and lecturer in cell biology, rather than the pirate he aspired to be as a child! He also shared some great advice on failure and resilience including the importance of having multiple back-up plans and being able to ask for help when you need it.
On the topic of imposter syndrome, Matthew shared an incredible statistic that up to 82% of academics suffer from feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy and fraud within their positions, and that these numbers are probably even higher amongst minority groups.
“Remember that if these stats are right, most of the people working around you will also have imposter syndrome. So talk with others, listen to their feedback and listen to how they're doing. You’ll realise you’re not alone.” - Matthew Caley
In the Q&A session, Matthew took some great questions from our online audience, including this one about the importance of celebrating successes when they come, being sure to thank those around you who helped you get where you are, and how social activities with colleagues can really help to build bonds and strengthen a team:
5. How do you celebrate your successes in academia?
Expert advice on funding applications
Next followed the second of our panel discussions, and this was on the subject of Writing Successful Funding Applications. Chairing the discussion was Jazmine I Benjamin of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, USA, and she was joined by an impressive panel which included Dr Enitome Bafor, Dr Patrícia Maciel and Dr Bronwen Martin who all have considerable experience in winning grants and funding, and helping their students and mentees to do the same.
They began with a discussion about the difference between a successful and unsuccessful funding application, with all three panellists agreeing that clarity and having a focussed approach when writing is essential in order to ensure that your goals are clearly defined.
“One mistake that people make is that they are too ambitious. A reviewer will know if you are trying to achieve too much. It’s best to define a couple of very specific goals and be able to accomplish those goals, rather than promising the world.” - Bronwen Martin
Next they shared their thoughts on what steps to take when a funding application is rejected. Advice included reflecting on the reviewer comments, considering applying to alternative funding bodies, and reaching out to colleagues or mentors for additional feedback in order to help you try again.
The Q&A session included some fantastic questions from our online audience who were keen to find out more about the funding application process. The first question was about how much time should be allocated to grant writing, and whether it should be considered a one-off event or a continuous process:
6. How much of your time should be spent applying for funding?
Another useful audience question was around how to find new calls for funding applications, and the best places to look for new opportunities when they arise. Here, Bronwen shares particular advice about checking with your institution who may have specific funding teams and databases available to help you:
7. Where can you look to find calls for funding applications?
The burnout cycle and how to avoid it
Our next guest speaker was Dr Olya Vvedenskaya of Dragonfly Mental Health, Germany, who delivered an incredibly valuable talk on Identifying & Dealing with Burnout. She talked through the dangers of burnout in academia, and how to identify and manage the symptoms in yourself and your colleagues before they take hold.
She began by considering the mental health spectrum and the symptoms of burnout which can include irritability, withdrawal, cynicism and sleep problems. She also emphasised how burnout is ‘situational’ and can sometimes occur in only certain areas of your life, eg. you are experiencing burnout at work but your personal life is unaffected.
“People suffering from burnout may be able to contain, manage or hide their symptoms… and we might call these people ‘high functioning’ but it’s often more likely that the environment they are in doesn’t allow them to open up and show that they are struggling.” - Olya Vvedenskaya
She went on to describe the burnout cycle and how easy it is to fall into patterns of behaviour which when left unaddressed will worsen over time and lead to more serious problems.
- Exhaustion - when we are overtired we reach a point where we don’t care any more >
- Cynicism - when we stop caring we take ourselves out of community discussions >
- Social withdrawal - lack of social interaction adds to our inability to concentrate >
- Lack of concentration - when we are not focussed we become less efficient >
- Inefficiency - poor productivity leads to an increase in backlog or workload >
- Work extension - increased workload causes physical and mental exhaustion >
The Q&A session with Olya covered some really valuable advice on where to find resources for staff and institutions to help with mental health, and this particularly great question on how to approach a colleague who you think may be suffering from burnout:
8. How can you support a colleague who is displaying signs of burnout?
Finding your own STEM career path
Our final keynote guest talk of the day came from Dr Joanne Kamens of The Impact Seat who shared some insightful advice on STEM Career Paths For Life Scientists. Joanne is an experienced scientist who has had a varied career in academia, pharma, biotech and nonprofit, so was perfectly positioned to offer advice on charting your own course for a long and happy career in life science.
She opened with a great discussion on ‘changing the script’ around leaving academia and how it shouldn’t be seen as a ‘failure’ or a ‘waste’ of your science training if you choose to move to an industry setting. She shared some fascinating data about the competitive nature of jobs within academia and how the number of PhDs awarded hugely outweighs the number of faculty positions available in both the US and the UK.
She also discussed the important issue of gender bias in science, and how sexual harrassment can be a major problem in preventing women from progressing in STEM careers. Joanne also stressed the importance of not letting your career prevent you from doing what you want to do in life when it comes to family and personal decisions, especially having children and enjoying a healthy work-life balance. She emphasised that too often scientists will put off starting a family until they have reached certain career milestones which can have a negative affect on their health and the health of that future child.
“It is a huge problem that we defer our lives for our careers. We should not be sacrificing our mental health, our wellness, our mindfulness… we need to be choosing labs that make space for life.” - Joanne Kamens
Our final Q&A session of the day covered some interesting topics around STEM careers, including a more frank discussion around the previously mentioned subject of leaving academia:
9. How can we stop perceiving leaving academia as a failure?
And finally Joanne answered a great question on the importance of doing a PhD, specifically if you are hoping to transition between academia and industry later in your career:
10. How important is it to do a postdoc after your PhD?
A huge thank you
We cannot thank our guest speakers and panellists enough for their wonderful contributions on what turned out to be a truly inspiring day. We couldn’t have done it without them, or the engaged and dedicated audience who posed such valuable questions. We look forward to doing it all again next year!
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