Category: Career

Posts by Jano Klimas about the academic career and the long and harrowing journeys of academics.

Writing Together: Do Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth?

July 29: Nurse Liz Charalambous has shown how a Facebook group can really help boost writing (careers, June 3). We would like to take this idea one step further and argue that, contrary to a commonly held notion, ‘too many cooks do not spoil the broth’ when it comes to group writing. Instead, this approach fosters collaboration between writers, as Ms Charalambous suggests, and which has also been our experience.
Nursing Standard is the UK’s best selling nursing journal and the ultimate resource for students and fully qualified nurses.

The University of Limerick and University College Dublin primary mental healthcare research writing group recently skyped bimonthly to discuss a short piece of research written by one of four post-doctoral members.
The group read the sample in advance and discussed it with the author, facilitating her to think through her ideas in a supportive environment. Once the group reviewed and discussed the text, the author revised it, combined it with the rest of the article, and emailed it to the principal investigator.
The principal investigator and the author then finished the paper and emailed it out for review to all named co-authors. This way, the authorship was clearly defined, managed and assigned as per the necessary guidelines. The broth was ready and we had all helped to cook it.
J Klimas, D Swan, G McCombe and AM Henihan, University of Limerick, University College Dublin, Kings College London and University of British Columbia 

Read the article in the Nursing Standard Volume 29, Issue 48, 29 July 2015 at: 

Survival of the bitterest: Why dancers are good role models for scientists


What do dance and science have in common? What makes a successful choreographer or scientist? In this post, I speculate about the bitterness of the academic dance for survival. The academic competition is cruel and uneven. The fittest may not survive, but the bitterest thrive.

Read the full story in my recent post at Academia Obscura

Getting the most out of the Conference of the College on Problems of Drugs Dependence #CPDD2015

June 15, 2015 – The conference of the College of Problems on Drugs Dependence took place in Phoenix, Arizona. When I learned that my paper was accepted, I decided to make the most out of the conference. I wanted to network. I found a blog by NICOLA KOPER especially helpful. She described how networking at conferences has resulted in more than one seminal and persistent research collaboration, and in joint publications. Koper also offered four tips on how you can make the most of conferences and use them to elevate the quality of your research programme. Here’s how I used them to make the most out of my conference.


Make the rounds at meals

Talk to the person before and after you in the coffee line. Talk to people you don’t know, make photos with them. But remember that some conferences have a policy of no photography of presentations or data allowed.
Lunch early and create more time for standing by your poster. But stay out late, people will remember you.

Go on the field trips

Field trips are gold mines for networking, if you can do them. Re-discover your interest. Engage playfulness. Enjoy the process. Connect with your curiosity.

Spend time with your students

They’ll appreciate it. This tip is more applicable for senior investigators. Other senior tasks are to attend steering committee meetings and to prepare talks or presentations.

Go to lots of talks

Talk to the speakers after their talks. Before the conference, prepare a list of people + match ideas or questions that you can ask.

Remember to balance the talks with quality networking time.  How to (create the opportunities for) meeting people? Dance, don’t fight it.
Hang around; position yourself strategically so that you get a maximum exposure to random bystanders. Leave your bag in your room. Retreat and be quiet. Tiredness as well as weather affects us all. Take time to rest. If the climate differs from your home-country greatly, come early, adapt, adjust and fly.
Aim for at least one quality conversation per day. You can’t talk to 1000 attendees every day, but you can probably manage to talk to one of them every day. Pre-conference meetings are good for this too. Smaller audiences create more opportunities for mingling.
Go mall. You will meet more people than if you rush through the hotel. Opportunistic networking is equally helpful as targeted networking for creating new relationships.
Use discussions with your friends as spring boards for approaching new people and groups.
Three things are certain in life: Death, Taxes and Late-comers.
Stand by your poster for as long as possible. The late-comers have typically more time to talk to you.
If giving a talk yourself, remember how you present yourself. What words do you use to describe your samples? Scientists are people too; they used stigmatizing language, such as, alcoholics, in their award speeches.
Also, check out Jennifer Polk’s recent blog on UniversityAffairs: Conferences are for networking (@fromphdtolife).

Random thoughts on academic mobility

What if you decide to take root, but discover a quicksand instead of a firm ground? Serendipitously, I have stumbled upon an essay about dislocation and walked into an exhibition about uprootedness on the same day.
As I wrote earlier, mobility is part of thejob description of early career academics.  A boost to the local university, economy and science are the promised trade-offs for the temporary relocation.  Few have considered the tremendous impacts that mobility has on people’s lives.

Bruce Alexander, a retired Psychology professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC, theorizes that dislocation causes addiction. Free markets force people to move where the work is and leave their connections behind.

Walter Scottinspired visitors of the Stride gallery in Calgary, Alberta, to think about the fragile links that tie oneself to the place where they are born. They are nourished over the lifetime, consciously or unconsciously. One may not realise how frail they are, until they become stretched to a point of breaking.
Finally, in the Letters to Grandchildren (Greystone Books, 2015), David Suzuki offers grandfatherly advice to his five grandchildren, including this story about the horrendous journey of his Japanese ancestors to Canada:

Health care research is untidy – what does it mean for postdocs? #CochraneCalgary2015

Why do we study health? Because we want to help patients. It’s no rocket science. And yet, most clinical trials do not measure outcomes that are important for patients. Besides, researchers don’t agree on what the core set of outcomes should be. “Health care research is untidy.” — Mike Clarke. In this post, I write about my experience of a conference about outcomes for clinical research and how it relates to postdoc training.

Systematic reviews are often required as part of a PhD or a postdoc training. Over 30,000 authors produce Cochranesystematic reviews of literature for the Cochrane library worldwide. The Canadian Cochrane centre hosted about a hundred of them at a recent joint conference, together with the COMET initiative (Core Outcome Measures in Trials), in Calgary, Canada (#CochraneCalgary2015).

Many junior postdocs who were at the conference struggled to publish papers. Yet, the number of publications is considered a core outcome of a postdoc training. Is it enough? What’s a core outcome set for a postdoc fellowship? “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” — Albert Einstein.

 Ultimately, the fellowship should result in a faculty position. But we know that there aren’t enough positions for all PhD’s and postdocs. The truth is that we don’t need so many PhDs. “PhD ‘overproduction’ is not new and faculty retirements won’t solve it,” writes Melonie Fullick in her speculative diction at University Affairs (March 25, 2015): “Yet somehow no matter how many PhDs enrol and graduate, academic careers are the goal.”

What lessons can postdocs take from the Cochrane collaboration to improve their career prospects? All Cochrane reviews must have a protocol. Cochrane protocols get published in the Cochrane library. However, protocols for non-Cochrane systematic reviews are difficult to publish in journals. Nevertheless, postdocs who decide to do a systematic review and can upload the review protocol on to their open-access universities’ depositories. They get picked up by the google.scholar and can be counted in the H-index. This way, junior postdocs can improve one of their core outcome measures – the track record. Although it’s probably not the best measure of a successful training, it’s the currency of science.