Category Archives: PROspective

Year In Review

Category : PROspective

2019 was the inaugural year for PROspective – one that has been full of wisdom and insights from both faculty and alumni. This week we take a walk down memory lane to review our top 5 most-read articles from 2019 (in no particular order):

 

#EpiTwitter: Professional engagement in the 21st century

In our very first article (ever!), Dr. Cecile Janssens introduced us to #EpiTwitter and the wealth of value that comes from having access to an online community of students, teachers, and professionals at your fingertips. 

The quote:

“Over time, I connected with many people who have similar interests but who I would never have met in person because we attend different conferences. Physicians, statisticians, policy experts, patient advocates, and journalists. Slowly but steadily, I expanded my network across disciplines. Twitter is now my favorite ‘annual’ conference, every day.”  

 

Public Speaking

Science is hard for a lot of reasons, but at the top of that list is that science involves a lot of scrutiny – of data, of methods, and… of presentation. In one of our favorite articles of 2019, Dr. Jodie Guest told us about her experience grappling with the challenges of public speaking

The quote:

“”Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” The best speakers are really storytellers even if they are talking about science or a mathematical model.  This is what connects to people and will help them remember what you have presented.”

 

Get to ‘Yes’

In sports, it has been said (maybe a few too many times) that “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. In the professional world, things aren’t so different. In Get to ‘Yes’, Dr. Timothy Lash gave us a strategy for nailing that shot – making use of our innate human tendencies, like the desire for reciprocity.

The quote:

“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.”

 

Setbacks (not Failures)

Did I mention that science is hard? Let me reiterate: it’s hard – and that means that consistent success is never guaranteed. In Setbacks (not Failures), Dr. Lauren Christiansen-Lindquist helps us reframe the personal and professional challenges inherent in our work, taking a larger view of our journey as scientists. 

The quote:

“The word “failure” sounds so final and evokes imagery of a dead end, where there’s little hope to move forward. It helps me to think of these setbacks as speed bumps, rather than closed roads. Sure, they’ve slowed me down, but they have not, and will not, halt my progress.”

 

Professional Feedback

While the days of primary school report cards are long gone, evaluation and feedback are still a crucial part of our personal and professional development. Nowadays, that probably comes in the form of monthly check-ins or formal bi-annual reviews. Last, but certainly not least, we heard from Elizabeth Hannapel, MPH (Alum, 2012) about the value of professional feedback and how to incorporate both the good and the bad with tact and grace.

The quote:

“On-the-job training, and the corresponding evaluation processes, should reflect not only job-specific tasks but also the interpersonal skills that enable staff to navigate complex professional environments. “


From all of us at the Confounder – thanks for reading, and we hope to share a lot more insight and PROspective in the new year!

 


New Year’s Resolutions

Category : PROspective

A new decade. A new year. A new you. 

This year, countless people will set their resolutions for the year.1,2 Motivated and fueled with the energy a new year brings, they will rely on their willpower and determination to actualize these goals. Yet, the majority of these best intentions will have flickered by February.3

So how can this year be different for you?

The refrain of countless self-help professionals has been that it takes “21 days to make a change.” By this, they mean that by following a given practice for 21 days, say to set the alarm every morning for a two-mile morning run, that by day 22 you will automatically wake up in the morning ready to run. This prescription for a new you, however, has been widely misinterpreted.4

In the 1950s, the surgeon Maxwell Maltz observed it would take a minimum of 21 days for his patients to mentally accept their new appendage, that is, to form and accept a new mental image of themselves. In his book, Psycho-Cybernetics, he delved deeper into his own period of adjustment to new behaviors and concluded that it took a minimum of 21 days before he would adapt to change. However, the “minimum” that Dr. Maltz recorded was lost as pundits hung on to the “21-day change” mantra. 

Now, just how long does it actually take for a new habit to form?

It turns out, it takes an average of 66 days5 for new habits to become automatic.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

– Will Durant

You are your habits. Habits are cognitive associations that are formed when we repeat an action in a given scenario and are then rewarded for having done so.6 According to researchers at Duke, habits account for about 40% of our behaviors on any given day.7

Knowing this, how do we make this year be the one that allows us to make habits not daily decisions?

1) See yourself the way you want to be:

Maltz also observed that change begins within. The most powerful tool you can employ is your own imagination. Picture yourself the way you want to be and change your mental picture. See yourself as the researcher, community activist, fitness buff, you aspire to be. The internal picture you carry of yourself is a powerful tool. Use it. Your current behavior is a reflection of your current identity. Change your identity and begin the change process in yourself.

2) Form Associations:

Add the new behavior to a habit you have already established. Brushing your teeth is a no brainer… so add 10 pushups, a 30 second plank, or drink a glass of water, each time you brush to create association, and link the behaviors. Determine a specific time and space for your desired behavior to live in your world.8,9

3) Use Physics:

Reduce the amount of friction to achieve the habit and set yourself up for success. Make the action as effortless as possible – sleep in your running gear, or have it laid out by your bed, surround yourself with healthy foods, block out time to write every morning before the day gets away from you. Eliminate as much of the decision making as possible, to make the behavior automatic.

Add friction to dismantle the behavior. According to Wendy Wood, “if you add thought to the behavior, you make people attend to it, and more likely stop”. Place the bowl of fruit on your desk and put the bag of chips on the top shelf of the pantry. Find ways to add friction to the behaviors you no longer want to engage in.

4) Rebound:

You are going to miss a day, skip a run, not follow-through – the key here is to get back on track as quickly as possible. Do not fall for an all or nothing mindset. Put your scientific training to work and treat your “failures” as data points; opportunities to learn what works and how to change your course to achieve your goals.

5) Be patient:

Remember the tortoise and hare fable? This is a key step in the process. “Slow and steady wins the race.” Remain steadfast in your resolve and pacing. Change is difficult. Some behaviors will take longer than others to become habits, but if you are persistent (and are kind with yourself) – you can manifest your inner vision of yourself.10

So, set your intent. Decide on the person you want to be, and the characteristics you aspire to embody.

Happy New Year!


1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0899328988800166?via%3Dihub

2. https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2015-12-29/why-80-percent-of-new-years-resolutions-fail

3. https://www.businessinsider.com/new-years-resolutions-courses-2016-12

4. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonselk/2013/04/15/habit-formation-the-21-day-myth/#e37c81ddebc4

5. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ejsp.674

6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26361052/

7.  Neal, T. D., Wood, W., Quinn M. J. (2006). Habits- A Repeat Performance. Association for Psychological Science, 15, 198-202

8. Milne, S., Orbell, S., Paschal Sheeran, P., (2002). Combining Motivational and Volitional Interventions to Promote Exercise Participation: Protection Motivation Theory and Implementation Intentions, British Journal of Health Psychology, 7 163–184.

9. Gollwitzer, P., Sheeran, P., (2006). Implementation Intentions and Goal Achievement: A Meta‐Analysis of Effects and Processes, Advances in Experimental Social Psychology ,38, 69–119

10. Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 1087-1101.


“No, those are dermatologists…”

Category : PROspective

As the semester is winding down, we will all head out in different directions over the coming weeks. Many of us will find ourselves sitting across the table from family and friends – some of whom have never even heard about epidemiology, much less know what it is. We’re a passionate (and nerdy!) bunch – and often feel most comfortable rattling off the nitty gritty details of the exciting work that we’re doing. Unfortunately, not all grandparents or college friends care to learn about the awesome macro we wrote, or how we’re working through several methods to quantify potential bias in our results. The holidays present a great opportunity for us to practice our soft skills of communicating our work and its value in a way that is accessible to a broad audience. 
 

“We use math and critical thinking to figure out who gets sick and why”

 
When talking to people outside of our field, my go-to way to describe what epidemiologists do is that we use math and critical thinking to figure out who gets sick and why (and no, we don’t study skin – those are dermatologists). I’ll often follow-up with a few classic examples of things that we’ve learned through the hard work of the epidemiologists who have come before us (the link between smoking and lung cancer is always a good one!).
 

“No matter what we study, there are always individuals who are sick, suffering, or dying – and we’re all trying to do our part to reduce the frequency of those negative outcomes”

 
When I first started studying stillbirth, I always struggled with the question “so, what’s your research about?” because it was always sure to put a quick damper on the conversation. As I thought about it, I realized that nearly all of the work that we do in public health is difficult – no matter what we study, there are always individuals who are sick, suffering, or dying – and we’re all trying to do our part to reduce the frequency of those negative outcomes. Over time, I found a good lead-in to help describe what I do, and put it in context: “My research focuses on maternal and child health, and specifically stillbirth. Stillbirth is far more common in the US than most people think – in fact, it is 17 times more common than Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.” This helps to start a conversation, and eases the tension when talking about a difficult and sensitive topic. 
 
No matter where your passion lies – whether it’s vaccination, genetics, cancer, or diarrhea – I encourage you to think about why that topic matters to you, and how you can talk about it with those who might be less familiar and convince them of its importance, too. One additional piece of advice that I’ll leave here is to think carefully about which of these topics are best left to discuss until after your holiday dinner!
 

“The work that we do can take its toll on us, and it’s important that we don’t forget to take care of ourselves when we’re off trying to save the world”

 
Whatever you do this holiday season, I hope that you will find some time to relax and recharge. The work that we do can take its toll on us, and it’s important that we don’t forget to take care of ourselves when we’re off trying to save the world. We look forward to seeing you back in January – ready to tackle all that the new semester and decade (!!) have to offer. 

Compassion & Community

Category : PROspective

This week has been tough for the Department of Epidemiology. We are mourning the loss of a student and friend of ours. Some knew he was sick and some did not; all of us are shocked and saddened by his passing.

I have seen faculty, staff, and student colleagues struggling to understand, wondering how best to remember him. I have seen loss and sorrow and hurt. And I have also seen compassion and grace.

This week I have witnessed some beautiful moments in between tears and questions. I have listened to a faculty member care for a student who was particularly close with the one we lost. This conversation was filled with moments allowing for grief and offerings of comfort.

I have seen the leaders of our department quickly provide space and support for our students to process and grieve together. They have publicly shared their emotions allowing others to feel safe to share theirs. I watched our Dean hug a student overcome with emotion and was deeply touched when a former faculty advisor spoke of rereading a letter of recommendation written for the student we have lost.

The loss of a young and talented person is hard to process. And while there is nothing about this loss that feels right, these moments have been another reminder for me that I am surrounded by really good people. I believe people are drawn to public health because they are deeply compassionate and have a desire to make the lives and experiences of everyone better. We have bold visions of a world filled with justice, equality, and health. Ambition is a core value of our department—we are used to thinking big. This week, the Epidemiology Department has paused to remember and to band together while we take extra moments to care for our own.

Instead of offering my PROspective on some aspect of your future career, I offer a hope instead. I hope that in the places you will work, you will find this level of commitment to both the big challenges in our world and the connection to those who travel our days with us. It is a special combination indeed.

 


Featured Image from: https://www.inc.com/wanda-thibodeaux/3-things-self-compassionate-people-always-do-and-3-things-they-dont.html


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.


Featured image from: https://fee.org/articles/how-to-crush-your-first-conference/


Digital Technology in Public Health

Category : PROspective

From Alexa Morse, MPH (alum, 2017): 

When you think of technology startups, public health probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. However, due to the need for innovation, digital technology has become a larger focus in the public health realm over the past couple years.

The intersection of public health and digital technology is one of the most exciting places to be right now. Technology enables public health programs to reach more consumers, therefore impact health outcomes on a broader scale, and with the rise of the digital age, programs such as these are able to meet patients where they are. 81% of Americans own a smartphone and are able to access information at their fingertips without having to leave the convenience of their own home. As healthcare spend in the US is rising (nearly $3.7B in 2018!), companies are trying to find creative ways to scale interventions, impact care, and improve health outcomes outside of the traditional healthcare office visit. 

Digital health, e-health and health IT (HIT), are some of the terms used to describe digital technology in the healthcare space. All relatively mean the same thing and their definitions are blending further together with the convergence of patient care and consumer wellness.

According to StartUp Health’s 2019 Q3 Report, $10.4 billion has been invested in digital health companies this year to date—with very important public health issues nearing the top of those investments. Public health startups include those focused on social determinants of health, access to care, cancer care, women’s health, and many other topics.

There are many examples of companies doing incredible things in public health, enabled by technology. Here are just a few:

Omada Health: Chronic disease therapeutics

Lyft: Transportation to doctor’s visits

Curatio Social Network for Health

Bodyport: Heart Disease prevention and management

HealthTap: Telemedicine

If you’re looking to start your own company in the public health space (or any space), I highly encourage you to focus on the following areas:

  • Team: Make sure you have the right team working with you. Bring in experts that believe in your mission and have strengths that mitigate your weaknesses.
  • Product: How is your product differentiated from existing products on the market? What makes it unique?
  • Market: how big is the market? Is there a need for your product in the market?

If you have these three areas covered and are creating something you are passionate about, you will be on a good path forward.

Plugging into the ecosystem and understanding the available resources is also an important piece of building any company. These are good places to start getting connected:


 

Alexa Morse is the Accelerator Portfolio Manager at the Global Center for Medical Innovation. She graduated from Rollins in 2017 with an MPH in Behavioral Sciences and Health Education. During her time at Rollins, she focused on the scalability of health programs, in addition to the intersection of technology and public health.


Featured image from: https://medicalfuturist.com/digital-health/


Professional Feedback

Category : PROspective

From Elizabeth Hannapel, MPH (Alum, 2012): 


Workplace feedback looks, sounds, and feels different from school feedback. Classroom feedback tends to come by way of test scores, comments on papers, and final grades. These methods of feedback revolve almost entirely around the accuracy and content of your work product. Workplace feedback can (and should!) include the content and quality of your work products, as well as your attributes as an employee. The latter is something that many young professionals struggle with. It can be uncomfortable and is often only reluctantly engaged with by employees and employers.  Providing candid feedback on soft skills is difficult; employers may not feel confident in their own soft skills and it is a challenge to provide soft skill feedback that is actionable.

“It was impossible not to feel hurt (“Why don’t they like me?”) and defensive (“I’m getting my work done; if they don’t like it that’s their problem.”)”

I still remember the first time I received feedback about my approach to work. I was used to tackling my job duties and offering to help others. While that approach was beneficial for group projects in school, a colleague pointed out that it was creating friction with a group of colleagues with very different work styles. It was impossible not to feel hurt (“Why don’t they like me?”) and defensive (“I’m getting my work done; if they don’t like it that’s their problem.”) Neither of those helped me navigate my workplace or become a better team member.

“Only one of my ultimate objectives depended on the skills that were graded in school.”

What did help me was to step back and think about the feedback as an opportunity for improvement (rather than a critique of my identity.) I thought about my ultimate objectives: complete my job duties, foster collaboration, maintain open communication with colleagues, and have that communication be pleasant whenever possible. Notably, only one of those depended on the skills that were graded in school. I was able to realign my actions with those goals in mind, develop friendly workplace relationships, and was better able to recruit those same folks for support in other endeavors.


I graduated from Rollins with a MPH in Epidemiology in 2012. I now work for the Georgia Department of Public Health, and I interact with current Rollins students and recent alumni. Rollins students are well equipped for local and state public health job duties through their coursework. What Rollins students, and young professionals in general, could benefit from is openness to and active engagement with feedback.

“Often it is a gift we may not want, but a gift nonetheless.”

It is fundamentally harder to hear feedback on soft skills than on hard skills. It is particularly hard to remember that feedback is a gift.  Often it is a gift we may not want, but a gift nonetheless. Soft skills are often heavily weighted in decisions on advancement.  An employee may be technically brilliant, but without the soft skills to help drive the organization forward, their career goals may be stymied. Being open to improving both hard and soft skills helps to build a solid path for continued advancement.

As a potential employer, I can work to establish and improve mechanisms for feedback. Often in academic and government settings there isn’t much emphasis on feedback for soft skills.

“If you find yourself in a workplace without a formal feedback process, ask for one!”

This is a disservice to both the employee and the company. On-the-job training, and the corresponding evaluation processes, should reflect not only job-specific tasks but also the interpersonal skills that enable staff to navigate complex professional environments. Our team does not have a formal process for providing feedback to current students, and I’m working with others to establish one.

If you find yourself in a workplace without a formal feedback process, as either a student volunteer or a full-time-employee, ask for one! Reach out to your supervisor and establish regularly scheduled meetings where you can review not only your quantifiable job performance but also your soft skills. Your employer may have performance reviews, but they may not include feedback for professional skills.

“Request feedback and be open to it.”

Ask your supervisor “How do you think I’m performing with respect to interpersonal relationships and office dynamics? What can I do to improve my listening and communication skills? What areas should I further develop, and do you know of any resources or trainings that might be helpful?”

Request feedback and be open to it. Although difficult, this is a crucial component of continued development and a competitive advantage. Rollins offers many opportunities to prepare for public health work; Use this time to increase your technical knowledge AND your interpersonal skills that will help you succeed as a professional.

 

Additional Resources:

Ladders: How to Handle Negative Feedback Without Taking it Personally

Purdue CCO Blog: Receiving Feedback

MBO Partners: How to Identify and Improve Soft Skills

WikiJob UK: Soft Skills

Training Industry: Expert Perspectives on Soft Skills

Elizabeth Hannapel graduated from Rollins in 2012 with a MPH in Epidemiology. While at Rollins, her interests included Infectious Diseases and Public Health Emergency Preparedness. Now, Liz serves as the state coordinator for legionellosis and shigellosis, and leads infectious disease outbreak investigations for the Georgia Department of Public Health. Follow Liz on Twitter @LizBitler.


Self-Advocacy

Category : PROspective

Advocating for yourself is a skill we rarely talk about or teach and yet you need to do just that when you negotiate a job contract, ask for a promotion, or get the appropriate placement in authorship for a paper or poster. 

Self-advocacy is a dance between being appropriately confident and respectful. It requires a thoughtful amount of introspection about the gifts you bring to the situation and what you do not have to offer (perhaps yet)  as well as a very clear sense of why you want what you are advocating for in each situation. While self-advocacy makes many of us cringe, there are some standard preparations that can ease the conversations.

Advocating for a promotion or new position demands that we are able to clearly and cogently champion our accomplishments while not being braggadocios. This can be particularly difficult for women. While not promoting stereotypical gender traits, research has consistently found that women do not self-promote well and that when they do, they are not seen as favorably as men who do.

Actually, it turns out that most of us are often much better advocates for others. When I was in graduate school, I applied for a teaching scholarship and was competing against a good friend of mine. Our department chair asked us to write our own drafts for the letters of recommendation. Due to a family emergency, my friend was not able to write hers in time, so I offered to write it for her rather than have her not apply. After she was awarded the scholarship, my chair met with me and said her letter of support had sealed the deal. By giving him a substantially more explicit draft letter of why she was a great teacher, I had advocated for her in a way I did not advocate for myself. It was a tough lesson to learn and one that data supports. We are often better at “other-advocating” than self-advocating – in part because we often tend to over-value other people’s achievements. Supporting others is a fabulous, but we must also learn to negotiate and promote our own accomplishments and needs.

Much of the self-advocacy in job negotiations is about salary, and while that can feel awkward, research will help you find the range of salary opportunities and then you should advocate for where your list of accomplishments fit in that range (be sure to fight the gender gap!). I also urge my mentees to consider negotiating for conference attendance, authorship opportunities, and other non-salary forms of compensation. In my research group, we set up authorship guidelines in advance for every study and work within these guidelines. While academia has been legendary for younger colleagues doing the work and getting minimal or no credit, this is slowly becoming a thing of the past. Clear conversations in advance can ease hard conversations later.

There are a few keys that go a long way towards a successful conversation when you are advocating for a promotion, new position, authorship, raise, etc., as found in this article.

  1. The first is being very reflective about why you think you should be given this opportunity. What do you want to contribute and what have you already done that makes you a good choice?  
  2. Then, set up a meeting to speak directly with the person who can best assist you and be sure to make your reason for the meeting known. You are going to come to the meeting prepared and you want them to be as well.
  3. Clearly express your ask and provide examples of your work that supports this ask. 
  4. And then, here is the part most articles don’t dwell on, listen. Listen to the feedback you are being given.

Ultimately, the answer might be ‘no’ and more self-advocacy won’t change that. However, this is not necessarily an indication of failure. First, the reality of budgets, organizational structures, and professional conventions might not fall in your favor – and these might be simply out of your control. Secondly, the act of prioritizing your goals and asking for them directly (and appropriately!) will give you a lot of credibility with your superiors. The next time an opportunity presents itself, they’ll have your priorities in mind and they’ll understand that you’re motivated and ambitious. 

On the other hand, if you are told you have asked for the promotion too soon or do not have the qualifications for the open position, your next decision is a fork in the road. You can use this information as a platform to ask for mentorship and guidance, or you can assume they are making a mistake. Both will get you on their radar but the first is more likely to make them your champion. 

At the end of the day, the dance of self-advocacy is tricky, but when you have done good work, you should be willing to ask for the appropriate recognition.  


Setbacks (not Failures)

Category : PROspective

Students often ask me how I found my way to public health – and while there’s a long and winding story that involves a knee injury and cigarette butts – it all comes down to a desire to use my quantitative skills to make a difference in the world.

Although I could not envision a more perfect job for myself than the one that I have, the reality is that this work isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, all the time. Among the successes of training the newest members of the public health workforce, shedding light on the importance of studying stillbirth, and breaking ground on a new stillbirth surveillance system, there are plenty of setbacks that have happened (and will continue to happen!) along the way.

It’s rare to hear about these setbacks (some might call them failures – I don’t love that term, and I’ll come back to why shortly!). I don’t know whether it’s a matter of pride, or simply wanting to avoid scaring those early in their careers or coming across as negative. But here’s the deal – no matter what field or sector you’re in, or how many years you have under your belt, we all stumble from time to time. Nothing goes perfectly for anyone 100% of the time

In the last few months, I experienced two setbacks related to funding for my stillbirth research. I knew that the application pools were competitive, and although I prepared myself for either outcome, I took the news much harder than I thought I would. As I reflected on why I was so upset, I came to realize that although I was disappointed that we wouldn’t get to do the research that we had proposed, I couldn’t help but think about all of the families that we wouldn’t be able to help this time around. I felt as though I had let them down. It all came back to why I got into public health in the first place – I wanted to make a difference – and these setbacks had gotten in the way.

I don’t like to think of setbacks as failures – first, it’s just not good for my mental health; but more importantly, the word “failure” sounds so final and evokes imagery of a dead end, where there’s little hope to move forward. It helps me to think of these setbacks as speed bumps, rather than closed roads. Sure, they’ve slowed me down, but they have not, and will not, halt my progress.

After a family trip to my favorite ice cream shop, and sitting in my disappointment for a few days, the first question I asked myself was: what can we do better next time so that we could achieve a different outcome? As I read the reviewers’ comments, I realized that there were no concerns about the science. In fact, the reviewers were convinced that the proposed work was really important. The sticking point, though, was concern about whether the results could be used to secure future funding. Truth be told, funding for stillbirth research is hard to come by, and in light of these concerns, I spent the last few weeks strategizing about how to fund the work in innovative ways. During this time, I identified a few new leads, but I have also channeled some of my frustration into an op-ed with the goal of garnering some more attention for this important topic.   

As you work through your own setbacks, or speed bumps, I would encourage you to consider the strategies outlined in this article (replacing the word failure with setback!), along with the following additions:

  • Remove the word failure from your vocabulary, and reframe those bumps in the road as setbacks – words carry weight, and how you think about these things matters

 

  • Share those setbacks! If we normalize sharing the things that don’t go as planned, we can support one another, offer suggestions for the next steps, and realize that we are not alone in this experience.

 

  • Don’t compare your “behind the scenes” to everyone else’s “highlight reel”. I don’t remember where I first heard this phrase, but it really resonates with me. Until we all get comfortable sharing our setbacks, we have to realize that we mostly only see the very best of what happens to those around us. Remember that you only have a sneak peek into someone else’s life, and you are likely unaware of many of the setbacks that they face.

 

  • Celebrate the little things. If we only celebrate when a manuscript gets accepted, or a grant is funded, those moments of celebration may be few and far between. That op-ed I mentioned before? As of this writing, it hasn’t even been submitted – but having a complete draft is something to celebrate in and of itself. I sure hope it will be published, but this is an important milestone along the way.       

 

While our work may not be constantly filled with sunshine and rainbows – remember that the rainbows only come with the rain. I hope that the rain motivates you to keep pushing forward to find those rainbows – and that you keep at it. I am certain that you, too, got into this field because you wanted to make a difference – let’s not let those setbacks, however large or small, get in our way.


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.