Last week we tried something new in the lab, Career Development Week. The goal was for everyone to consider and prioritize career development activities. I also wanted to give them ideas for practical things they could do on a daily/weekly basis to move them closer to their career goals. To incentivize, we gave points for individual career development activities and I offered a reward to the person who accumulated the most points over the week. We have a weekly lab meeting on Wednesdays so we kicked off the week at one lab meeting explaining the idea and agreeing on point totals. The following week, we tallied the points and selected a winner (though everyone got surprise donuts). I’m happy to say it was a resounding success! Here are some things that happened and that I learned from doing this.

1. One of the most informative things was actually setting point totals (scale 1-10) for activities with the lab. You can really see what is a challenge for people by the points they suggest. The lab quickly and unanimously wanted 10 points for volunteering for a talk. Fear of public speaking? Check. The thing I would do differently with this is set points based on the value of those activities rather than their difficulty. For example, we only gave 2 points for preparing an elevator pitch and no one chose to do that. I think this is extremely important and the entire lab should have prepared one. We should have given it more points. I also should have been more explicit about each individual item. For example, I should have provided more guidance on contacting outside scientists as some contacted people they already knew.

2. The people in the lab were quite enthusiastic about this and some REALLY got into it. Our undergraduate student, Brittany Jack (@bmichellej87) ran away with the victory. She made a website, submitted a CV to be workshopped, completed an individual development plan, completed a self assessment, volunteered for a talk, wrote two blog posts and gave a tour of the lab to a friend. Wow!

3. The lab came up with some awesomely creative ideas. Research assistant Ashley Tetlow has a friend that started a science magazine, Signal to Noise. One of the article types on this site is called Across the Bench in which scientists interview other scientists. Her plan was to participate in this by interviewing a scientist at a neighboring institution. She also submitted a CV to be workshopped and made a new public Twitter account (@MsAshleyTetlow).

4. Ashley said at one point said that she wished it was career development month instead of career development week so that she had time to complete the above idea. I said it’s “career development forever!” and that the point of this exercise was to get them thinking about the activities they could do all the time to promote their career goals. This point really hit home for everyone and I hope that she and others follow through with plans they didn’t have time to complete this week.

5. Postdocs Soumita Dutta and Shengping Huang, who already had Research Gate or Linked In profiles, both joined Twitter as @dutta_soumita and @shengping_huang. I hope they learn and benefit as much from Twitter as I have.

6. Research Assistant David Mueller has been working on a series of essays for medical school applications that he plans to share publicly soon. I’ll post the links when they become available. David had some outstanding ideas as well about ways we can promote the lab as a whole by sending in photos of us at upcoming conferences to get them highlighted on the university’s institutional website.

7. Many people decided to do a self assessment (which I will go over with them individually in the next week). I think this is going to be among the more useful activities that will help me remove roadblocks for them and also boost their productivity.

8. I was thrilled to hear about other labs that were also interested in Career Development Week! The Greene Lab did their own version which you can read about here. If anyone else participated, please let me know and I’ll update this post including your stories as well.

Overall, this was a fantastic activity for the lab to shine a spotlight on career development! I’d also like to emphasize that this was not a distraction from lab work but rather helped everyone renew focus on their true motivations for being here. It was also a ton of fun and a great lab strengthening exercise that demonstrated how invested we all are in each others’ success.

Categories: Lab IdeasPro-tips