What I’ve Learned in My First Two Years as URBEST Executive Director
News Article by Tracey Baas, PhD, Executive Director of URBEST
Many people are surprised when I tell them that I’ve only been at University of Rochester (UR) and with URBEST (Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training) for two years and my “unofficial” anniversary is Halloween. My initiation into the NIH BEST program occurred in Bethesda at the first annual NIH BEST meeting, October 29-31, 2014. In fact, my first interaction with URBEST co-PI Sarah Peyre, Assistant Dean of Interprofessional Education, was on a plane flying to the meeting. Even though I’ve only been here two years at UR, I’ve learned a lot. I believe that what I’ve learned will not only benefit me, but can also benefit you. Many of these points were reinforced by experiences with organizing the recent URBEST Retreat and Career Workshop.
(Next year’s URBEST Retreat is Thursday Sept 14, 2017 if you’d like to mark your calendar.)
(1) People are super helpful. You just need to ask.
If there’s someone you want to meet or a task you’d like someone to help you with, ask them. Eight speakers were asked to join the retreat, and six said yes right away. One “no” was from an introvert that is afraid of public speaking. One “no” was from a somewhat well known “celebrity” scientist that doesn’t present without an honorarium of at least $5,000 and travel expenses. I sent out an email for volunteers to help guide the retreat speakers around UR and had a guide assigned to everyone in less than a day. We couldn’t have done it without the introducers: Danielle Benoit, Jacques Robert, Joan Adamo, Scott Steele, Steve Dewhurst, and Zachary Murphy and the guides: Adam Danz, Brenda Knorr, Derek Crowe, Jennifer Colquhoun, Joyce Price, Jules Rhoo, Marian Ackun-Farmmer, Rebecca Lowery, and Zachary Murphy. Thank you for all you do!
(2) Some people need structure; provide optional structure. Mind the platinum rule.
I’m one of those people who don’t need very much guidance or structure to feel comfortable, but to others, a lack of structure makes them feel very uncomfortable. At the URBEST Retreat, I printed round-table groupings but failed to provide program schedules. (Note to self: handouts, handouts, handouts.) Different people need different options. For people that don’t need a hard copy of the schedule, they can follow the program itinerary on their smartphones. By treating others the way you would want to be treated (aka the golden rule), you may actually miss the opportunity to show others that they are important and help them function at their full potential. Rather than the golden rule, try the platinum rule. Try to treat people the way they would want to be treated.
(3) No matter how hard you try, you sometimes miss the mark of what is needed. Ask for opinions and get feedback.
We’ve had Randy Ribaudo of SciPhD present the URBEST Retreat Workshop portion of our event two years in a row now. The first year, Randy focused on resumes, cover letters and networking skills. UR students and postdocs loved the event and told me so. I invited Randy back for 2017 and listened to his interactive presentations on Project Management for Scientists and Developing Your People. While he was just as engaging this year, I couldn’t help but wonder if people hadn’t heard these ideas before. I was also worried that some of the concepts were too advanced for trainees to use in their current position. Rather than spend too much time wondering or worrying, I sent out a survey to have people provide me with feedback on the event. The responses for Project Management for Scientists and Developing Your People were overwhelmingly positive and many trainees were excited to try to implement some of the ideas in their life now. While I almost missed the mark with what students and postdocs need, URBEST trainees moved me back in the right direction with data.
(4) When making decisions, explore your options first and then make your decision.
Fortunately, the survey data also showed that most URBEST Retreat attendees enjoyed the brown bag lunches. Full disclosure: I was not one of the people that enjoyed the lunches. I requested “box lunches” and was surprised when lunch came in a bag rather than a box. I also ordered sandwiches (not wraps) and side salads (picture green rather than pasta). Could this have been avoided? Yes. I was basing the food reputation on two individuals that told me they liked the brick-and-mortar restaurant. Looking back, I should have gone in for a face-to-face discussion and possible tasting of the catered food. One of URBEST’s favorite words is “exploration.” Duly noted. With all the option available in Rochester, there’s no excuse for mediocre food.
(5) Problems will arise. Adapt and do the best you can. Sometimes it will surprise you.
I had a number of glitches organizing the URBEST Retreat. I’ll share two problems and my silver linings.
One: As some of you know, Ana Goyos from Amgen made her appearance at the URBEST Retreat via Skype and Telecom. What many don’t know: one week before the retreat, Ana experienced some events that would not allow her to fly and wanted to cancel. We quickly worked through how we could get her in Class of 62 Auditorium and at the round tables. Not only did we have to figure out technologies, but also Amgen securities. As some of you know, Ana participated in the first round table while on her cell phone in her car before she had to go inside a building and participate in an Amgen meeting. Jennifer Colquhoun had been assigned as Ana’s guide and had no idea how the round table session was going to work, but Jen did indeed make it work and helped to facilitate discussion. If I had to guess, Jen is an individual that thrives with limited structure. For Class of 62, none of this would have been possible without Education Media Specialist Jon Yates assistance. He was not even officially assigned to our event, but when he saw my distress, he stepped in and made sure the connection ran as smoothly as possible. Silver linings: Jen Colquhoun and Jon Yates.
Two: When I first printed the URBEST Retreat Posters, an ice cream truck was included for the afternoon break. I planned on reserving the same ice cream truck for 2017 that I reserved for 2016 – fail. They were already reserved for other events. Luckily, I remembered Steve Dewhurst, URBEST co-PI and Senior Associate Dean for Basic Research, telling me about local ice cream artisans Eat Me Ice Cream and, more importantly, I had already eaten their ice cream myself (see # 4). URBEST arranged for them to join the event on their tricycles, complete with coolers and ready-to-go ice cream. I thought their treats were the perfect reminder to trainees that they should consider opportunities that are a little less traditional or standard. Jalapeno-raspberry or sweet corn ice cream anyone? Silver linings: Amber Odhner and Catelyn Augustine of Eat Me Ice Cream.
(6) I'm understanding more and more that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.
I wish I had said that, but really it was Nelson Mandela. While I don’t deal with a lot of things to “fear”, I use the quote – probably on a daily basis – to deal with things that make me nervous or that I don’t feel qualified to undertake. At the URBEST event, I met with one participant who I see as a unique role model. I was super excited that the person could join us, but also wondering “what have I done?” In my head, I’m battling my nervousness but outwardly, I’m holding a conversation, introducing students, dealing with parking passes and thanking the speaker for joining the URBEST Retreat. The whole experience was great. So remember, don’t shut down when you feel that edge of nervousness, push through it. And based on the interactions I saw at the round tables with the various speakers, it looks like trainees are getting better and better at doing just that – triumphing. Hopefully, URBEST has had a small influential role in that!
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