Author Archives: Timothy L Lash

Keep Calm and …

Category : PROspective

The two most important things I learned as an undergraduate were: (a) I can do a lot in 24 hours, far more than I had realized and far more than many people ever realize, and (b) I can only do a lot in 24 hours if I keep calm while doing it. The ability to work well under pressure is critical to career success, and can be learned. Today’s PROspective article provides ten concrete suggestions for how to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure, which has a direct link to your wellbeing and to the quality of your performance.

There are a few aspects of this reading that resonate most strongly with me. First is the idea that some stress is normative. As the article states: “Our brains are wired such that it’s difficult to take action until we feel at least some level of this emotional state.” Accepting the feelings that come with intermittent moderate stress as motivational is a first step in turning it to your advantage.

Second, it is important to develop a reliable and healthy coping strategy that you can turn to when stress rises. Knowing that you have a solution provides relief from the aspects of stress that might prevent you from performing, and allows you to channel the stress towards achievement.

For me, the advice to disconnect rings true. I do not work well in the evening, so very seldom even try. I look forward to that time at home with my family, or to play guitar, or to read and watch TV (music documentaries are my latest guilty pleasure). I always have work I could be doing; not doing it reminds me that I am in control, and feeling in control is an important defense against stress.

Learning to use stress to your advantage is healthy and will give you a competitive edge. Like many career skills, it requires introspection and a commitment to being intentional about the goal. This week’s reading will give you some foundational knowledge as a place to start.

Professional Organizations

Category : PROspective

I have attended almost every annual meeting of the Society for Epidemiologic Research (SER) each June since 1998. The meeting begins with pre-conference workshops, and the agenda from there includes two and a half days of plenary sessions, symposia, and poster sessions.

In 1998, I hardly knew anyone and spent the meeting in awe of the speakers whose papers and textbooks I had been reading. I mostly sat alone, and did not have much to do outside of the scheduled meeting hours. By attending every year, and making an effort to participate, SER eventually became my professional home. Now when I attend, I return home happy and exhausted – seemingly every minute filled with meeting content, coffees, lunches, and late night drinks. I have worked at four academic institutions; SER has been one constant throughout. The meeting provides an opportunity to keep up on new methods and research findings, and to catch up with friends and colleagues, many of whom I would otherwise never see.

I have worked at four academic institutions; SER has been one constant throughout.

Joining a professional society offers opportunities for continuing education, networking, and professional development. There are many societies for epidemiologists to choose from. I always attend SER because I like the size and length of the meeting—about 1,200 attendees over only a few days. I also like the focus on just epidemiology, on methods, and on all epidemiologic topic areas. There are smaller generalist meetings—such as the meeting hosted by the American College of Epidemiology (ACE), larger meetings—such as the meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA), and more applied meetings—such as the meeting of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE).

I always attend SER because I like the size and length of the meeting—about 1,200 attendees over only a few days.

There are also meetings focused on topic areas: cancer, cardiovascular disease, infectious diseases, environmental epidemiology, reproductive epidemiology, pharmacoepidemiology, and so on. Some are held at international destinations and others are always domestic. Most meetings are held at about the same calendar time each year, and have standard annual due dates for abstract submissions.

Membership in a society and participation in its annual meeting is an investment that pays long-term dividends. Like most investments, the returns are evident only over the long run and accrue only with regular contributions. An important consideration is what the society offers beyond its meeting: journal subscriptions or discounts on publication fees are typical, and many societies also offer access to professional and continuing education resources at their website.

Membership in a society and participation in its annual meeting is an investment that pays long-term dividends.

In today’s connected world, it is easy to undervalue the benefit of membership in a professional organization and attendance at its annual meeting. No social media interaction will ever match the exchange of smiles and handshakes between RSPH classmates who only see each other once a year. It’s worth it.

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Get to ‘Yes’

Category : PROspective

A lot has been written about the importance of saying “no.” The idea is to protect one’s professional time to be sure that it is mostly spent on the work most important to one’s self. Although there is merit in this mindset, taking it to its limit would make for a pretty miserable existence. How would it feel to work in a setting where no one ever agreed to help anyone else?


This weeks’ PROspective article offers suggestions for how to improve the chances a coworker will say “yes” when you ask for help. The first two suggestions are probably most relevant, especially early in a career: ask in person, and offer something in return. These two principles rest on fundamentals of human interactions. People are more likely to agree to help when asked in person, not by text, email, or telephone. In addition, offering something in return shows respect for the other person’s time and effort.


If you click through to one of the article’s links, you will find that humans feel a universal tendency “to repay or reciprocate when given a gift whether it has come in the form of a material object, a kind deed, or an act of generosity.” Its especially true when this interaction takes place in person. Taking too much advantage of this tendency can lead to unwarranted manipulation, so also a pretty miserable existence. Getting right this “dance of reciprocal giving and receiving” is important for all highly successful relationships, including those in the workplace.

Voicing Dissent

Category : PROspective

Most public health workplaces involve teamwork, and no team always reaches unanimous consensus on every topic. In fact, one of the strengths of teamwork is the integration of a variety of points of view. On occasion, you might be the only member of the team who sees things differently than the others.

This week’s PROspective offers guidance on whether and how you should speak up. I especially like that the article encourages you to think about whether the group is asking you to compromise your values. If so, speak up!

For example, if the group is taking a shortcut in an analysis that compromises the rigor of the work, and so also the integrity of your part in it, speak up!

But then how do you speak up in a way that maximizes the chances that your view will be influential? Start by showing empathy for the views you don’t hold – that actually opens the group to hearing your views.

Second, separate the topic from the people; your team members need to know you value them, even if you don’t agree with them about the topic.

I encourage you to click through to this short article, which provides strategies for when and how to be the voice of dissent, a valuable skill in the workplace.


Have you struggled to speak up in a professional setting when your opinion was unpopular? Share your stories and ideas in the comments!

First Impressions

Category : PROspective

from Dr. Timothy Lash: 

Everyone feels more or less comfortable talking one-to-one or in small groups, sometimes depending on how well you already know the group. Early in my career, I tended to keep to myself, or to talk with only one or two people already familiar to me. Even today, that’s my comfort zone.

Also early in my career, I had a chance to see two ends of the spectrum. The woman who owned the small company where I worked was always at ease; she could talk with anyone and win them over. A senior colleague in the same company had a much harder time; he came across as aloof and distant. Once I got to know him, I learned that he was warm and funny and knew a lot about a lot, even outside of our work area. All the same, I could see that in most professional settings, where people did not know one another well, she was having much more influence than him.

I realized that I would never be like her, but that I could take advantage of my strengths to be more like her. I prepared. I practiced having conversation starter questions (not weather, sports, or “how are you”), I learned what I could about the people I would meet in advance, and I made an effort to get better.

This article has some of the same themes. The founder of Ritz Carlton says that people make a decision about you in the first nine seconds after they meet you. They may eventually change their mind, but it’s hard to overcome a poor first impression.

You can influence that first impression by being prepared. Smile, say hello, and ask one or two slightly different questions, which you have prepared in advance so they will come easily to you. Most importantly, practice. Put yourself in situations that stretch your comfort zone now, early in your career or as a student, and hone a skill that will be useful throughout your career.