Earlier this month, I attended the Voices networking and professional development conference for the first time. The conference is held annually in early to mid-February at the Atherton Hotel by the Graduate Women in Science (GWIS) group – a wonderful group on campus that is not solely for female scientists. This year’s theme was ‘Teamwork.’
The all-day event was wonderfully organized – transitioning smoothly from a full talk schedule to abundant built-in time to network with other attendees and the speakers. First, we heard the opening talk on teamwork from Penn State Laureate Rebecca Strzelec, followed by remarks on transboundary and transdisciplinary science by Dr. Robert Swap (University of Virginia). A professional panel including Dr. Moses Davis (Penn State), Emily Campbell (Bucknell University), and Scott Woods (President, West Arete) followed these talks. After lunch, the keynote speaker Dr. Donna Nelson (University of Oklahoma) inspired us by chronicling her experience as the science adviser for the hit TV show Breaking Bad. Finally, we had breakout sessions with Dr. Carolee Bull (Penn State) on self-mentorship and Valerie Bayes (Monsato) about teamwork in industry.
I will share a few of my favorite take-away points from the talks:
- Make sure to pick up your head from your research and look around you – you might make new connections in your science and with others. Make sure you are not doing science in a vacuum.
- Find common denominators among team members and appreciate different understandings of ‘need’
- Be able to take an asset-based approach, define the capital in your group (in all its forms – not just monetary), and enhance recognition of this capital
- Develop your own answer to “How do you define success?”
- Demonstrate resilience thinking
- Be bold enough to not worry about being exposed intellectually (e.g. if you don’t know something)
- Are you developing professional relationships that are extractive, transactional, or transformative?
- Learn how to deal with conflict and controversy while in grad school when the stakes are lower…even the best groups can underperform 30% + if there is conflict in the group from ‘bad apples’
- “Good teams don’t just work” – they socialize and develop personal connections
- Be flexible and adaptable when you are entering a new community with its own culture and vocabulary
- Dream big, be persistent, and be ready
This event was such a great opportunity to take stock of where I currently am and where I am going. I found myself thinking, “How often do we as graduate students make time to focus on professional development skills for my future work in academia, government, or industry?” With all the day-to-day tasks of research, sometimes it seems that the answer to that question is “Not often enough!” This conference was a great way to change my focus for a day.