Category: Writing

Posts on writing by a writer Jano Klimas, primarily on books, poetry, slams and science writing.

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. 

Four years post doctorate

Being a senior postdoc brings many opportunities. I wrote about them in my blog last year. Now, I’d like to revisit them, see what’s new and what has changed.
CREDIT: Hal Mayforth

 Three years post doctorate, I wanted:

-To keep writing a lot.
In the third year post doctorate, I wrote a lot about these topics:
 How doctors sweat to discover traditions of the first nations; What to look for in mentoring? Finding the Evidence for Talking Therapies; My First Week in the Addiction Research Paradise; How to go about getting a postdoc position?; How mentoring can help transitions in academia; The best time for writing; Postdoctoral Fellowship Awards for Irish researchers; How to addess a Training Gap through Addiction Research Education for Medical Students; Mobility is part of research job description;Different styles of research supervision; How attractive are you for postgraduate students? How to build research leaders and supervisors; Working and holidays; The Annual Symposium of the Society for the Study of Addiction 2013; Re-entry shock; Saying bye slowly makes parting easier; A decade in the addictions field.

-To stay true to myself.
This was difficult. At times, I honestly have not been honest. I’ll keep at it.

-To reach a position of independence by:

a) conducting a randomized controlled trial
The pilot trial is finished. First, we wrote down our plan, a cook book for making this trial. Second, we developed and pilot tested a workshop which was later used as part of the experimental intervention. The controls received the intervention with a delay. Third, we measured the status at baselineto set up our starting point. Watch this space for more about the trial results.

b) supervising work of junior investigators.
My junior colleagues from the pilot trial helped me to learn how to be a better team player.

-To pass the accumulated knowledge and skills on other:

c) Doctors and helping professions, by helping them become more competent and confident in addiction medicine research
d) Medical students, by helping them discover and master addiction medicine research.
I had the honour to co-supervise a group of three gifted postdocs and several medical students. Two of them moved for work or study to UK. I’m grateful for the learning that workingwith them brought me.

-To maintain a happy work-life balance.
At the time when I wrote that, I realised that I took on too much. In the past year, life and family brought new challenges and I needed to split my time between them. Integrating my scientist and artist careers was another chance to learn the balancing act.

In the fourth, post-doctoral year, I’ve extended my research to addiction medicine education. This is new to me. This expansion challenged my time management skills. I wish to be able to see which of my ideas and projects need more attention and which should be put to sleep.

How Do We Make Tracks? Meeting of The Society for Technical Communication

January 31, 2015– The STC Canada West Coast chapter hosted a day for technical communicators, both new and those more seasoned, which included tips for finding writing jobs, successful grant proposals, benefits of career coaching and many more. In this post, I focus on two sessions that I attended about mistakes made by non-native users of English and informational interviews.
“Everybody makes mistakes; non-native users just add one more layer to the mistakes ecosystem.” Matsuno
Non-native users of English: who they are
Mark Matsuno is a technical writer with more than 12 years of experience as a technical translator specializing in Japanese-to-English translations of engineering and manufacturing documents.
 Despite the disadvantage inherent in being born in a non-English speaking country, the Non-native users of English have much strength. They are SMEs, i.e., subject matter experts. Her engineering-ese is her first language. His accent is terrible, but he writes almost flawlessly. Some cultures may be afraid of speaking, but may be great writers. Their fluency equals how well you they trick someone to think that they’re fluent
Lost in translation
There’s nothing really wrong with their writing, but it sounds awkward. The questions are how much energy do you put into the piece as an editor? How do you see yourself? As a champion of the end user; A defender of the English language; A teacher; someone trying to get on top of their workload
Common mistakes in non-native users of English
Adjective order; Plurals; Articles are something that gives Asian people a lot of problems;
Prepositions; Tense; Direct translation; Dated English (for example, I was once stung by a bumble-bee); Mixed formality.
How to stay sane
Learn another language. In Japanese you can improve quickly, because people in Japan laugh at you; the feedback on errors is instant. Use machine translations. Read plenty of well-written English.
Write lots. Engage in English conversation.
Informational interviews and networking
Wendy Hollingshead and Autumn Jonssen discussed how powerful networking and informational interviews job search tools can be.
Network. Become a member of writing organisations. Meet up. Decide what your industry of interest is and go to the industry specific events. Volunteer; get your email and your work out there. Not just random things but more focussed work that will help your career and the organisation that you volunteer for. Your goal for networking events should be to make at least one quality conversation and one quality connection. Do at least one event p/week. The more work you put in, the better results you’re going to get.
101 Informational interviews: Let them know your goal
The informational interviews can help you to figure out what you want. Find out how your interviewees got to where they are and get some advice from them. A good output from an II is a referral to someone who can bring you closer to your dream job. Always send a thank you note after the interview.

Finally, check out Michelle Vinci’s article on the STC website about using social media for your jobsearch:

50 Shades of Grey Rejection

How does one give specific feedback: what format to follow, which rules to abandon; what are the grave dangers of inflation and how to deal with the fear of criticism? The information is available, but the courage seems lacking – I conclude in my latest post for University Affairs.

Bitter like lemon, the feeling of rejection lingers in your mouth for days – weeks, if you are not used to it. People who write a lot get many rejections and the most prolific writers hardly notice – they simply move on. This is where we all want to be, and I thought I was there, until… 
Vague like grey ash, a recent rejection kicked me out of this sweet acceptance back into the darkness and bitterness. What follows is a condemnation of hazy rejection letters in academia, my way to purge the poison from my system and to provoke discussion about how rejection should (not) be done.

 Read the full post here.

Writing Battle and New Year’s Social Night

January 29, inspired by Vancouver’s popular ‘Art Battle’, Vancouver writers kick started the year with the first ‘Writing Battle’, a chance for one writer to emerge victorious from a live writing competition.

Even if you’re not competing, this was a fantastic chance to socialize and meet other writers in a relaxed and fun-filled environment of the Railway Club.  

Ten bold and versatile writers competed live at the Railway club, and of course, were also supported by 20 others in the audience who chose the winner of the night, John Friesen.
The contestants were writing from writing prompts and the winner got a small prize, as well as the chance to share one of his pieces on a weekly radio show on Co-op Radio, Writing Life.

Over 600 members of the Vancouver Writers Group describe themselves as people who live in Greater Vancouver and love to write. We share our work, challenge and encourage each other, and read from our own writings to our fellow members. We argue over commas and colons, whether words in other languages should be translated or not, all things poetry, and anything else that happens to have words in it.

We usually have a few different meetings every month, mostly in coffee-shops around town, where we do writing activities and have discussions about different writing topics. Quite often we have social nights at a bar in Vancouver, and occasionally we hold writing competitions and one-off events. We welcome writers at all levels, whether you are just starting on your first story or are already published.

We also have a weekly radio show on Co-op Radio, Writing Life, which is live on Vancouver 100.5 FM on Tuesdays between 2pm and 2.30pm. Earlier editions of the show can be found here.