Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine

Winter 2017-18

Editor's Note

William Sieber, PhD
William J. Sieber, PhD

Some terrifically informative articles this time around, including some very valuable experiences shared by seniors in the field in "Ask the Experts".  Thanks to the “experts” who helped in these replies:  Jim Sallis, Sherry Pagato, Amy Huebschmann, Rachel Shelton, and Heather Cole-Lewis.

  1. What leadership roles should a mid-career faculty member pursue for career development and advancement? How does one decide if asked by a senior colleague to take on a leadership role in an activity in which one does not see value (e.g., improving work-life balance for faculty)?

    Leadership roles that provide national visibility and leadership potential, and involve other senior leaders for support/advice would be seen as good opportunities. Examples might include opportunities at professional societies (e.g. SIG chair), Associate Editor at a journal, and associate director at a center. I think it depends on the timing and opportunity as to whether to take it, and the type of setting-- e.g. in going up for tenure at that time point, will you benefit more from grant-writing/pubs or national visibility. And recommend taking 1-2 leadership opportunities at a time.

    SBM provides a number of leadership roles that I believe provide much value to career development and advancement. Examples include chairing a SIG or Committee, running for Member Delegate or other elected positions. Within an institution, I would look for roles that add value to your work. I co-led a K award writing group when I was midcareer and it was instrumental to my receiving a midcareer K24 mentoring award.

    If asked by a senior person to take on a role where the value isn’t apparent to you, the first step may be in asking them what they see as the value for you. When I was junior, I didn’t always understand the value of certain roles until I participated or asked for more information. In cases where it is clear that there is no value, politely declining is best.

    These can be challenging professional situations— it is important to avoid taking on more responsibilities than you can fulfill.  To avoid that problem, keep in mind that you don’t need to accept these types of requests immediately.  Instead, ask for more information about the opportunity so that you know better whether you can and should pursue it.  Our ETCD council suggests you consider multiple factors in these decisions.  First, who is asking you to take on this role?  If it is your Dean or boss, it is much more difficult to say “no” than if it is a senior colleague who is not in your direct chain of command.  Second, how much time commitment is required?  Can you add that commitment to your existing workload or do you need to offload something else to others in order to take this on.  Third, how does it align with your professional interests?  In academics, we are all expected to provide some service to the university, and if you can carve that out as an area that you personally value that is ideal.  In this specific instance, you note that you do not see value in the activity, so that should influence your decision. Fourth, if you take this on, is there a service activity you are already doing that you could pass on to others?  In certain circumstances, you may be able to negotiate the ability to give up a separate commitment that you are now doing in exchange for doing this new opportunity.   Another important factor is that if you’re going to say no, you should ideally offer some assistance such as finding another person who is interested and available, or offering to help “behind the scenes”. 

    Consult with your department chair because you need to make sure you are investing your time in ways that will be valued and appreciated for promotion purposes. If you don’t see value in the activity, just say no. Life is too short to take on meaningless work. Our jobs involve enough distress from rejections, funding rates, etc. – you need to enjoy what you are doing to survive, so politely decline uninteresting opportunities.
  2. When you have met a colleague at a meeting who has research interests that align with yours, how do you decide whether or not to develop a research collaboration together?

    One consideration is whether the relationship will be mutually beneficial. I am particularly keen to connect with potential collaborators that add a unique expertise that is lacking on my team. Another consideration is whether the individual has similar goals and work styles. For example, when I’m asked to collaborate on a grant proposal that is due in a couple of weeks, I often have to decline because I find that I’m the type who has to plan way ahead for grants and spend a lot of time thinking about the project in advance. Other folks thrive on the pressure of last minute, but that just stresses me out. Neither work style is right or wrong, but I find the best projects come out of compatible work styles. How much time is available factors in as well. I have some phases where I’m just buried and cannot jump into anything new. In this case I politely decline and mention possibly connecting at a later date. There is no sense in jumping into something when you are spread too thin already.

    I usually start with something small (brief report, abstract for conference, lit review) to get a sense of whether the collaboration is worthwhile. I also have a discussion about timeline and goals, since those are critical considerations to make sure we are aligned on.
    To collaborate or not to collaborate – that is the question.  Professional networking is important to be aware of others in our field, but it is yet another step in a professional relationship to start collaborating with a new colleague.  A good rule of thumb is that a collaboration will work well when all parties benefit.  For example, if you have a research program you have only tested in a population of undergraduate students and you meet a colleague who works with a clinically diseased population, it may be advantageous to work together to test this method in a new population.  One way to identify potential areas of mutual benefit can be looking at their curriculum vitae for the areas where they have published and the method expertise they identify. Even if there is the potential for mutual benefit, this may not be a good time for you or your colleague to collaborate in terms of your current research priorities – that is also important to consider.  In addition to clarifying the potential for mutual benefit from collaboration, it is important to determine if your respective work styles fit well together.  This latter issue can be one of the most challenging to determine.  One way to go forward can be setting up some “professional first dates”, so to speak.  For example, ask them to consult on a small aspect of a current grant with regard to their methodologic expertise, and use those interactions to determine if bigger collaborations are going to be mutually worthwhile.  You can also “phone a friend” – if they have published with a close colleague of yours, you can ask that colleague for input on their collaborative experiences together.  Yet another “professional first date” option would be to develop a paper idea together and see how your interactions are on that writing project.  Another opportunity is to simply meet with them to identify areas of shared interest and to decide if there are any simple ways to collaborate.   If this is a potential mentoring relationship, it is important to identify whether the mentor has enough time to take on the mentee, whether the area of mentoring is strategically important to both the mentor’s/mentee’s main area of research, and what are the time commitments required for this mentorship.  

    I love meeting colleagues with similar interests, but there is a danger of getting caught in an echo chamber if you’re too like-minded. One of my first department heads advised me to collaborate with people who are different and to avoid redundancy. Collaborations that bring together members of different communities lead to more intellectual cross-pollination and can help to create more impact. So, to answer your question, if a colleague shares a general research interest, I look for differences that could make a collaboration interesting and rewarding for both of us.
  3. How does one go about finding job opportunities outside academic medicine?

    Networking and conferences like SBM are great places to start. Introductions through people who have taken non-traditional paths, Linked In, etc. and asking for informal interviews are good avenues.

    I think a first step is to reach out to colleagues who have jobs outside of academic medicine and find out what experiences and skills are necessary and which conferences are great for networking with industry. A number of SBM members have positions outside of academic medicine---reaching out to them will be valuable. I find that having a social media presence (e.g., LinkedIn, Twitter) that showcases your skills can help with career networking---industry folks regularly use social tools for networking. LinkedIn will also send emails with job announcements that fit your profile so keep it up to date!

    When I have had opportunities outside of academia come up (typically for consulting), they have generally come up because somebody read a piece in the popular press about my work. 

-- William J.Sieber, PhD