William J. Sieber, PhD
Other than the qualifications that we know are important (e.g. grants, publications), what makes a postdoc candidate stand out to you?
- Inquisitiveness, energetic, clear career and scholarly directions, goes beyond the minimum.
- Curiosity and being well-read – those seem to be a great foundation for learning; interpersonal skill; fluency with technology.
- Initiative and perseverance, and interests outside the field of behavioral medicine (e.g., art, music).
- I look for someone who brings something unique to the lab so we can learn from each other. I also value a candidate who has a lot of energy and enthusiasm for the work happening in the lab. Other qualities are an interest in mentoring students, being a team player, and being intellectually curious. Ultimately I want someone who I could see collaborating with in the future. I gauge this by how much they convey an interest in being a contributing part of a team.
What are your best tips for increasing productivity?
- Set specific goals, work in teams, bring undergraduate students on board to assist (good for you both), identify your best environment for thinking/writing and use it.
- Set aside regular protected time for writing and stand firm against scheduling meetings during that time.
- Pursue a mixed portfolio of small, short-term projects with minimal collaboration (to give yourself more control over the pace of work) and larger, long-term projects with teams of collaborators (these will often pay off in the long run with multiple publications on which you are a contributing author but don’t need to spearhead the work).
- Manage your time well. The people who are more productive than me do that in the same time I do. Sure, their work-life context may have different constraints and supports but they still have the same time. So delegate things that others can do within your team, and focus on the things that only you can do to keep things moving forward. Hire help for routine tasks unless they bring you pleasure (e.g., housecleaning, gardening).
- Be clear about what is important to you and avoid getting sucked into meetings/events/initiatives that don’t contribute to your success on those things. Be good to others but not so good that they take advantage of your goodwill and go to you for all the tasks nobody else wants to do. Become comfortable declining opportunities that don’t help you get where you want to go but apply relentlessly for interesting opportunities that can help you get where you want to go.
- Don’t fear that most opportunities are "once in a lifetime" as you can often create more.
- At the early career level I recommend forming writing groups with others at the early career level since you will be matched in motivation to get data published.
What are your best tips for maintaining health, mental health, and family life while still being productive at work?
- Good time management, build activity/exercise into the work day – one way is to have a walking treadmill in the office so it is possible to do e-mail, read, revise papers, grade papers, etc. while walking.
- Practice saying “no” to projects that are beyond your bandwidth. You will do a better job with the projects you do take on, will avoid missing deadlines, and will reduce your stress. By the same token, if you find that you are missing deadlines or passing up on family time, that is your signal that maybe you should cut back on your professional obligations.
- Be a good friend to others not in our field. Surround yourself with those who appear to have a balanced life.
- I have found exercise to be vital for maintaining physical health, relieving stress, and improving sleep quality. It helps ward off (or reduces) those middle-of-the-night panic attacks you get when you are approaching a grant deadline or just received your less than favorable summary statements. I am too exhausted to care! I joined a group fitness class, which also provides some much needed socialization outside of my traditional academic environment. The class is in the evenings, which forces me to be productive during the day, so that I can leave the office on time to make it to my class. This also ensures I get home on time to make dinner and enjoy time with my family. I am a firm believer in work-life flow (versus balance), and love that I can use physical activity to achieve it!
What are your best tips for managing large, multi-site research projects, and/or large research teams?
- Communicate regularly. Be open and honest. Roll up your sleeves and do your part. If in doubt, give your collaborators the benefit of the doubt.
- A good project director, distribution and delegation of specific responsibilities, regular meetings (video conference or in person) to review progress and solve problems, regular review of consistency in processes including measurement and intervention delivery.
- Realize communication is essential yet often made secondary. Well-run meetings, phone calls, good emails should not be under-estimated for their ability to maintain (not create) good teamwork and productivity.
- Don’t select collaborators lightly and get training in team science.
Thank you to those SBM leaders who replied to questions from readers in this issue: Drs. Jackie Dunbar-Jacob, Sherry Pagoto, Margaret Schneider, Scher Mama, and David Conroy.
-- William J. Sieber, PhD