As the year ends and 2017 begins, it is a good time to review events over the past year and set new goals for the next year. It is time to reflect on the past, take pride in achievements, and learn from mistakes. Most importantly we should regroup with family, friends, and our support groups to enjoy the holiday season and discuss our personal and professional growth.
Scientific discoveries take a long time, and it is quite common to go a few months troubleshooting a particular experiment or technique without advancing projects much. At times like these it is worthwhile to reflect and reconsider our choices. Here are a few tips on what and how to review events in the past year:
- Advances with experimental results: As a scientist it is important to make progress in our research. At the end of the year make it a priority to think back on how much your research has grown over the year. Think back on the mistakes you made at the bench and make a note to learn from them. Understand the implications of your experimental results and set new short- and long-term goals to make the most progress with research.
- Scientific publishing: An integral career requirement for scientists is to publish their findings. The year-end is a good time to reflect on whether we have enough data for a paper and, if not, think ahead to determine the experiments that need to be done to proceed in that direction. Different laboratories work in their own ways to publish articles. Some like to wait until they publish one big story at the end of 3-4 years that comprehensively helps understand a particular phenomenon. Others publish articles more frequently and help spread the word about a smaller, yet important phenomenon. Either way it is good to progress toward this goal and make plans to do the right experiments that will help build our scientific papers.
- Talk to your advisor: Communication is important to make sure you and your mentor are on the same page about the past and the future. Regular meetings with your advisor helps you grow scientifically. As the new year begins have an honest conversation with your mentor where you lay down your intentions and expectations over the next year. If you are ready to graduate, let your advisor know what your plans are. If you are getting ready to publish an article, discuss what needs to be done to accomplish this goal. If you are ready as a postdoctoral researcher to move forward in your career, either into the academic job market or onto other careers, talk to your advisor about career options. Who knows, maybe they will have useful advice that will help.
- Career Planning: Choosing your future career is an important decision. As a graduate student or a postdoctoral researcher it is necessary to judge your current status and deliberate on the future. Decide if you want a career in scientific writing/communication, policy making, teaching, or research, or think of other careers that pique your interest. Once you decide, take the time to research your chosen career. Talk to your mentor, peers, university officials, or visit the ASCB website (http://www.ascb.org/career-development-resources/) to learn more. Gain some experience by way of internships or training that can help you understand what a field is really like. Discussing your interest with experienced people who are in the field will also give you perspective. Remember to talk to your advisor about your plans and your intention to possibly spend some time away from the bench in order to achieve your career goals. Plan to achieve these things in the coming year and systematically head toward your new chosen career.
- Improve communication skills: Most researchers have to present at department meetings or at conferences where their work is scrutinized by their peers. Communication of your work is important and the more efficient you are at it the more beneficial for you and the listeners. At these seminars you often get both positive and negative feedback about your work. At the beginning of a new year, reflect on your seminars and make a list of ways to improve your presentation and communication skills. Take the constructive feedback into account and make it a point to improve on these over the coming year.
- Grant writing /peer review of scientific journals: Researchers need funding to continue their research. If you plan to apply for scientific funding over the next year, start early and organize your strategy so that you don’t miss the deadline. If you lost funding in the last year, learn from the reviewers’ comments and plan ahead to re-apply. An additional experience that builds our academic scientific careers is to review as many scientific articles and grants as possible for journals. If you want to improve on that over the next year, contact editors of journals and request a chance to be a reviewer at the journal. Your advisor can also help forward articles for review that he/she doesn’t have the time to review. The experience of interpreting others’ articles and providing constructive feedback will also help you grow as a scientist.
These are ways to contemplate on the past and learn for the future. I hope everyone had a memorable holiday season and is motivated to continue their work. If you have other things to reflect on, please leave those in the comments below.