Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Handout from My Society for Neuroscience workshop: Actively Managing Your Career and Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School.

Last week, I gave a 2 1/2 hour workshop at the Society for Neuroscience's national conference: Actively Managing Your Career and Life: What They Didn’t Teach You in School.

It was attended by 450 people.

Even if your career has nothing to do with neuroscience, you may find my handout for that workshop useful. 

 Actively Managing Your Career and Life: What They Didn’t Teach You in School
SfN National Conference, Nov. 11, 2013
 Marty Nemko

I. Direction
A. Developing your personal mission statement:
1. What is/are your best skill(s)/ability(ies) that you enjoy using?  _______________________
2. What is/are the goal(s) you’re most interested in achieving/abetting? Consider prioritizing goals that aren’t already adequately addressed by others.
3. What then is your personal mission statement? For example, mine is: Write and speak to abet capable peoples' careers, improve education for the intellectually gifted, and support efforts to increase understanding of the biological basis of reasoning ability.

B.   How many degrees of pivot should you make regarding your:
   1. career: __                  Nature of pivot: ___________________________________
   2. research agenda: __  Nature of pivot: ___________________________________
   3. proposal writing: __   Nature of pivot: ___________________________________
   4. teaching: __              Nature of pivot: ___________________________________
   5. advising: __               Nature of pivot: ___________________________________
   6. service: __                 Nature of pivot: ___________________________________
   7. professional devel: __ Nature of pivot: ___________________________________
   8. relationships: __         Nature of pivot: ___________________________________
   9. avocation(s): __          Nature of pivot: ___________________________________

Put a plus or minus sign next to any of the nine you’d like to allocate more or less time to.

II . Efficiency
A.  Create a grid with the days of the week at the top and each hour you’re awake down the left side. Then write, hour-by-hour, how you spend a typical week. Anything you want to spend more or less time on? __________________________________________________
B. Is there anything  you want to do more/less thoroughly? For example, are your literature reviews too thorough or not thorough enough?  ____________________________________
C.  You likely can do most tasks better yourself but is the opportunity cost worth it? So, do you want to make more effort to delegate: get grad students, interns, a personal assistant? If so, write what you want to do: _____________________________________________
D.  When tempted to procrastinate on a project:
1. Create a “thermometer” with all the project’s milestones. If you’re not sure what those should be, ask an expert for help.
2. Be vigilant to the moment of truth: when you’re deciding, usually unconsciously, whether or not to work on that project.
2a. At that moment, remind yourself of the key benefit of getting that task done. Then identify your next one-second task on that project. 
3. Get comfortable being uncomfortable but keep looking for an enjoyable way to tackle a task.

III. Communication
A.  Especially if you’ve been called long-winded, try the traffic-light rule in both professional and personal contexts: 0-30 seconds of an utterance=green, 30-60=yellow, 60+ red. Only rarely run a red light. You’ll find it easier to be concise if you’re, ongoing, asking yourself, “Does my listener need or want this information?”
B. It’s often wise to use a lecture not to disseminate information but to generate on-the-spot interactivity. For example, in an SfN presentation on your research, instead of just describing your research, have the audience read a 1-2 page summary of your research that highlights your questions and concerns about it. Devote most of the session to getting audience input on those.
C. Many lectures fail because of the tyranny of content: cramming lots of content into the talk—Audiences usually remember little from such talks. Lectures are generally more successful when a small amount of crucial content is presented perhaps with compelling examples, followed by getting the audience to actively engage in the content, for example, using Think-Pair-Share.
D. An easy way to generate active audience engagement is to ask a question and then—to increase engagement-- wait five to ten seconds before calling on someone.

IV. Grant acquisition
A.  Should you add a prestigious collaborator to your proposal? If so, who? _____________.
B.  Funders want to invest in research that will produce a publication in a high-impact journal. To maximize the chances of that and to clarify the experiments and analyses you’ll need to write, draft the journal article before creating your grant application.
C.  Write clearly. Reading proposals is low-priority for many reviewers. They may even have a glass of wine while reading it.  If compelling, crystalline writing isn't a strength of yours, carefully choose someone to rewrite your first draft.
D.  A proposal’s most important section isn’t Approach, it’s Aims. That section must compellingly and concisely explain why your proposal deserves funding over other excellent proposals. For example, this yielded an NIH grant:
Our studies promise to significantly abet the field of human immunity to tuberculosis, as they will markedly expand our knowledge of targets of human T cells in M. tuberculosis, enable novel studies and discoveries not currently possible, and provide a pathway to more efficacious TB vaccines.
E.  To avoid unnecessary rejection, explain why you’re using any unconventional approaches.
F.  Get experts and non-experts in your field to critique your proposal before submitting.
G.  Early on, email your proposal’s abstract to a program officer and call a day or two later with questions.

V. Managing up
A. In planning how to ask a higher-up for something, consider whether s/he is persuaded more by verbal or written pitches, short or long presentations, facts or feelings. Point out any synergy with the higher-up’s priorities.
B. In making your request, should you form a coalition, if only a letter of support from an authority?
C. Do you need to apply pressure: make a demand or threat, or give frequent reminders?

VI. Minimize retrospection. Yes, learn what you can from a past negative experience, but most successful people then follow my father’s advice: Don’t look back; take the next step forward.

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