Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine

Fall 2018

Editor's Note

William Sieber, PhD
William J. Sieber, PhD


How do you obtain/apply for a leadership position in SBM?

  • SBM leaders have an open door policy----feel free to reach out to any committee, council, or SIG chair and ask how you can be involved. If you join a committee, council, or SIG, my advice is to be an active participant. This means not just attending calls but volunteering to take on projects. Having been in numerous roles, I have observed that volunteers who participate in meaningful ways and go above and beyond just showing up are the ones who end up getting nominated for leadership roles.

As a graduate student or postdoc, how do you establish mentorships, either formally or informally? Do you have strategies for those of us who are more introverted? What are you looking for in a mentee?

  • It is important to approach mentorship as a two-way street. This is especially the case for informal mentorship---faculty have to prioritize their primary mentees---adding new mentees stretches their time. Consider what you can offer to help make that commitment work for them. For example, could you offer to analyze some data or draft manuscripts? As much as I would love to take on every person who approaches me, I only have so much time. If someone offers to help out on projects though, it creates time for me to put into mentoring them. When somebody approaches me only asking for my help but not offering to contribute to my lab in any way, it is far more difficult for me to take them. It is also a red flag from a team science perspective---good team players are always thinking about how they can contribute to the team mission, not just how the team can help move their personal mission forward. I always ask prospective mentees what they are hoping for in a position. I get concerned if they share a long list of things they hope to get with no mention of how they would like to contribute.
  • Establishing mentors is a key activity at every career stage, and there are several methods to establish formal and informal mentors during graduate school and as a post-doctoral fellow. There are several mentoring opportunities available through the Society of Behavioral Medicine, including:
    • Participating in in-person mentoring opportunities at the annual meeting, such as “Meet the Professors” and other mentoring sessions offered by the Special Interest Groups (SIGs).
    • Online opportunities, including the career development and training webinar series or contacting an SBM consultant.
    • For introverted individuals, some good strategies to establish strong mentoring relationships could include seeking out 1:1 time with potential mentors to have conversations. As introverts often prefer time to process ideas in advance of discussion, it is useful to incorporate this into how you work with your mentor. For example, let your primary mentor know that you tend to be introverted, and offer advice on how you could work best together. For example, you might note that introverts often need time to reflect on new information before forming an opinion, and you could note this means you may need to digest their advice in between mentor visits before determining the best course of action. In addition, trying to engage with potential mentors in a more informal setting may be useful, such as the group mentoring opportunities offered at the annual SBM meeting.
    • Our council members also discussed some of the following characteristics we are looking for in a mentee: enthusiastic, organized and able to follow through with tasks, not afraid to ask questions, curious, able to manage stress well, and emotional maturity.

If you could go back and tell yourself as a postdoc (or graduate student) one piece of wisdom you wish you knew then, what would you say?

  • It’s all going to work out.
  • This is a great question – the ETCD council has previously discussed how it is key to “keep the long game in mind”, as one’s career spans a long trajectory and the short-term challenges should not keep you from losing sight of your overarching progress and goals. In addition, in the ETCD Corner article in the Spring issue of Outlook we posed a similar question to several members of SBM’s consultation program, and these are some of the quotes that they provided:
    • “Do a few things well”
    • “Get a good mentor and nurture that relationship”
    • "Take a deep breath" - this is a paraphrase of an experience I had with my graduate advisor after I went to her in a panic about a dissertation data collection issue. Challenges are common in academia and it's important to remember to take a deep breath and focus rather than constantly react from event to event
    • "Breathe and persist" — keeping calm and carrying on are the keys to maintaining your momentum in your career
    • “Do what you love to do with people that you enjoy working alongside.” Both parts of the advice are valuable since working with a great team inspires so much more creativity in the area that you are passionate about and can make you excited to go into work every day.

How do you establish independence as a very early-career researcher (e.g., postdoc) while working primarily on projects and datasets that you do not own? 

  • I would suggest getting mentorship on writing your own grant. I got my start with a K award and it was invaluable for making that transition. Small seed grants can be useful too. Any independent researcher will need their own funding. Getting mentorship on grant writing is a must for a post doc if you want to have an independently funded research career. It may be the last opportunity to get intense mentorship on this skill.
  • It is indeed very common to be working on projects and data sets that you do not own when you are early in your career, and it is helpful to work with your mentor to identify a unique research question that you can ask and answer with secondary data that will provide pilot data for your own grants that will fund you to pursue this independent area of research. Another opportunity is to compete for a small seed grant to add on a key measure to an existing project that would allow you to obtain critical pilot data. One mechanism for this is to apply for an SBM Distinguished Student Award for Excellence in Research.

Thank you to SBM President Sherry Pagoto and the ETCD Council for their answers to Outlook readers’ questions.

-- William J. Sieber, PhD