How I’m Creating a Dynamic Career as a Dual Storyteller and Scientist, Part 3 of 6: Find Collaborations In Unusual Places

 In PhD/Postdoc Blog

Imagine this: You sit alone in your dark apartment, accompanied only by the glowing green numbers on
the microwave. The numbers read 1AM, you yawn incessantly, and your eyes scratch as though steel
wool were stuck behind your eyelids. It’s long past bedtime, but your whirring, zipping mind is far from
sleep. You sit there, creature of the night, the blue light from your laptop illuminating your face like a
Jack-O-Lantern. You hope your roommates can’t hear you furiously tap-tapping and deleting over and
over again. You’re out of ideas, tired, jaded, and alone-but there are grants to write, a thesis to draft
(incrementally, or course), undergraduate papers to grade, and data to analyze. This is the Ph.D. student
I’ve been warned to NOT become. The student, who, after classes end and research/dissertation writing
begins, slowly retracts from the world to settle into mundane, repetitive solitude. ‘Don’t become this
student, they said. Grad student loneliness/burnout is real, they said.’

Fortunately, this nightmare is just that-a hypothetical scenario dredged up from the depths of
imagination, that will only become reality if I allow it. I’ll avoid this scenario by following one simple
word: Collaboration. In fact, this single word is the theme for Post #3 in my 6-part series: How I’m
Creating a Dynamic Career as a Dual Storyteller and Scientist: Find Collaborations In Unusual Places.

Now I know what you’re thinking: ‘I’m an independent, self-sufficient scientist! I’m shy! I’m doing just
fine! I don’t need help.’

That sounds great as ideological thinking…on paper. As a coach (a Registered Dietitian) I’m trained to
examine untapped potential to better ourselves, so let’s be objective:

  • Do we sometimes wish for more hours in the day? (You bet)
  • Is writing in solitude lonely? (No, Ben, Jerry, and Vino do not count as companions)
  •  Can collaborations help us generate new ideas, practice telling our story, and help make
    efficient use of our limited funds? (Yes, yes, and yes again)

Since talk is cheap, let’s turn this passive word-‘collaboration’ into action: Collaborate. Yes, you! Me! Us!
The following is a compilation of events attended and strategies I used this year to find valuable
teammates, friends, and new ideas to strengthen my research plans and storytelling endeavors. Feel
free to use my strategy to inspire your own collaborative efforts:

1. Start small: Collaborate within your department
-Lead study groups
-Attend regular lab meetings
-Join forces with other labs in the department with common interests

 

2. Push the envelope: Interdisciplinary collaborations

-Reach out to other like-minded labs across campus, especially if your campus community encourages
such efforts

3. Get out of your comfort zone: Find collaborations in unusual places:
-Apply to participate in the NIH-FUTURE Program for graduate students and post-doc scholars
-Attend a Women in STEM Conference
-Devote a weekend or two to a Science Communication workshop
-Take advantage of your university’s graduate student skill-building workshops
-Partner with your university’s business school and attend an Innovation & Entrepreneurship Academy

4. Keep science fresh and fun with extra-curriculars:
-Join Science Says (or your university’s equivalent), a graduate student group dedicated to making
science accessible for all
-Play intramural sports with fellow graduate students from all departments

While the opening scenario was entirely imaginary, this concluding segment is 100% reality. Employing
creative tactics as described will help you:

-Strengthen your science communication skills. SciComm not your thing? Then strengthen your
elevator talk
-Maintain fulfilling interpersonal relationships to avoid the aforementioned threats to mental
health and wellness
-Build your personal ‘brand’. For me, I cannot maintain my reputation as a scientist/Registered
Dietitian if nobody knows of these facts
-Get inspired/inspire others to do great science
-Delegate to avoid burn-out. Communicate where your expertise ends and another’s begins in
order to divide and conquer

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