Mindfulness in Science? That’s MENTAL!

(Yes it is, indeed: Happy Mental Health Day, everyone!)

Mindfulness and stress management trainer Sonja Noss, PHOTO: Sonja Noss

Can you believe it? What’s mindfulness got to do with a scientific conference? I am here to discuss excellent science, not to sit there cross-legged in front of a scented candle, to chant mantras or hug my colleagues”.

Fair point, because what you are talking about is not mindfulness. And yet, as a professional mindfulness facilitator working in a scientific high-performance environment, I encounter this type of statement fairly frequently. It used to upset me, now I usually respond with a smile: “Oh that’s not all. When you come in we will shave your head, put you in a yellow robe and hang a handmade flower garland around your neck”. (Which usually kicks off a more reasonable discussion).

Mindfulness? What is that exactly?!

Mindfulness, to me and in a nutshell, is shutting out the background noise of everyday life and focusing on what you would like to focus on – and being fully aware of what you are doing. Put bluntly, the practice of mindfulness entails a lot of sitting on your bottom / lying on your back / walking around and simply “shutting up”. Without being distracted. In fact, it’s very simple, and yet, not at all easy – otherwise it would not be called a PRACTICE.

Why is this relevant in a scientific surrounding?

In my opinion it is essential, since being able to pay and hold your attention on a certain matter practically equals having a superpower at work – or at a conference for that matter, for example during the last session at 8pm, in a lecture room with no natural light. Many would argue that time is the most limited resource in our working days, but I would argue that it is attention – which a myriad of beeping devices, colleagues, social media, new publications, methods and technological developments, as well as the publication of the daily lunch menu are constantly competing for.

In addition to that, according to the American Psychological Association and the National Health Services (UK) mindfulness can also have a variety of other positive effects on practitioners’ mental health, as the below figure shows.

Figure by Sonja Noss

 

Mental health has long been a taboo subject in science, with increasingly frequent articles in magazines like Nature and Science slowly starting to deconstruct the stereotype: the myth of the “Demi-God in White” doesn’t leave much room for suffering an anxiety attack before your PhD defence, for fear of speaking in public (hello, conference presenters!), for depression caused by glum career perspectives, or any other mental-health challenge. Mindfulness, and especially programmes like the well-studied MBSR programme, can make an important contribution to keeping sane in the pressure cooker that modern science has become. I see them as one pillar in mental health prevention, alongside other aspects such as physical exercise, getting enough sleep, a balanced diet, nourishing social interactions/feeling connected, a sense of purpose, as well as personal interests and hobbies (i.e. having FUN!).

Some simple (mindful) examples of what you could start trying to do in the workplace or at conferences if it is all getting a bit much:

  • In general: learn what your personal stress reactions are. How do you even know you are stressed? What are your personal stress symptoms? Do you get easily agitated or frustrated? Do you tend to suffer from headaches more when you are stressed? Do you suffer from insomnia? Attention to these details is the first step – and that’s already mindfulness.
  • As soon as you notice these symptoms – if you can- take a break. This does not have to be a long break. There are fantastic quick focusing and grounding practices such as this one from Prof. Mark Williams (Oxford Mindfulness Center). See if that makes a difference.
  • Move! Get up and take a walk around the block, if only for five minutes! Any wild animal just having sprinted for its life in the jungle will have broken down the stress hormones floating around its body by the physical exercise. As would the creature which has just fought for their lives. What do humans do? We go and sit down at our desks or stand at the bench… Get enough movement, fresh air, light (not in that lecture room, I guess!), and oxygen.
  • Establish a regular mindfulness practice. The easiest way to do this is with the help of an experienced teacher. Maybe you can contact your organisation’s HR Department or the Staff Association and ask for support in having a training on site?
  • If you have been feeling unwell for a long time (weather vs. climate), please seek professional help. Many organisations have options for coaching or therapeutic interventions available. If not, speak to a person you trust and ask them for help in finding a private coach or therapist. Asking for help is often the hardest thing – and you want to be a tough guy/gal/…, right?

I have been teaching mindfulness and stress management at EMBL for over 3 years, and the initiative has been a great success. Once set up and piloted with the support of the Administrative Director and other departments, the 8-week programme quickly made a great entrance into EMBL General Training Programme. It has become one of the organisation’s most popular courses, with sessions running in parallel to meet the demand.

If you are interested in my Coaching services or would like to bring mindfulness to your organisation, get in touch via www.sonjanoss.com.

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How to use Twitter at a scientific event

PHOTO: Massimo del Prete/EMBL

Mariana R. P. Alves, 3rd year PhD Student in the Crocker Lab, Developmental Biology, EMBL Twitter @Mariana_RPAlves

When I was a 19-year old biochemistry undergrad, I had heard of Twitter but it was Facebook and Instagram that dominated my social media usage at the time. When I attended my first international conference, the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in 2014, I noticed everyone was using Twitter and – not wanting to be left out- I created my account. Never would I have imagined that 5 years later it would be the only social media account I still have active, and that I would use it so much for work. This article is about my personal experience on the benefits of being active on Twitter,      particularly during scientific events, as well as some tips on how best to use Twitter to your (scientific) advantage!

Spread the knowledge

Sharing is caring! And scientists should share. Being at a conference is truly a privilege for scientific exchange. Some scientists might not be able to attend the event you are in because of personal commitments, lack of funding, or even to reduce their carbon footprint. I’m sure almost everyone has taken notes of talks to share with their lab colleagues – now you can share what you learn with a bigger scientific community! If you share the highlights of the event you are attending, you are making the new exciting information available to those who would otherwise not have access to it. Isn’t this a good enough reason to start your Twitter account?

Minimise missed opportunities

Conferences can be overwhelming and you want to maximise your networking and scientific exchange. If you tweet about the scientific event and use its hashtag, other people in the conference can find you and you might find people with common interests that you wouldn’t have bumped into in the crowd. It was on Twitter also that I found people inside and outside my institute who wrote interesting things – you can always DM them for a coffee, and you might find a new friend!

Exposure

This is again about networking. Not only do you minimise the missed matches you could have with scientific minds at an event, but you also maximise your exposure and that can bring you unexpected opportunities. Opportunities could be someone advertising a job directly to you, a journal editor becoming interested in your paper, or someone from the press at that event wanting to feature you.

Fun

It can be super fun to act as a reporter of a conference. In 2018, the Social Media Manager of the time at EMBL gave me the challenge of taking over EMBL’s official Twitter account to post about the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. It was a wild ride, I was super scared at the beginning but it was a lot of fun, and definitely fulfilled the 3 previous benefits I wrote. It also caught the eye of the conference organisers, who thought it was really cool of EMBL to do this.

-> Check out the social media report from my Lindau EMBL Twitter Takeover!

Win prizes

If the sensible reasons above are not enough to convince you, maybe you will be interested to know that some scientific conferences and courses have competitions over Twitter where you can win prizes. I once won a brand-new multi-dispenser pipette in a CamBioScience Course in Cambridge, because I had the most likes on my Twitter posts. Moreover, I did not even have that many likes, but there was not much competition around. Now I am very proud of my pipette and brought it with me from the UK to Germany. With EMBL Events, you can also win prizes – see more in the how-to bullet points below.

10 Tips on how to use Twitter

These are just some tips I have written down from the top of my head, but you can find a lot of useful info online, and on Twitter itself. In addition, several institutes have guidelines on their intranets about how to use social media for work. Finally, get advice from your institute’s Social Media Manager or Communications Department – they are the experts!

  1. Check the hashtag and handle of the scientific event you are attending and use it to check other people’s posts and always include it in your tweets.
  2. Follow the scientists and institutes you are interested in and admire.
  3. Don’t know what to tweet about? You can start by the highlights of your favourite talks.
  4. Make sure you follow a diverse group of tweeters, this way your timeline will definitely be richer.
  5. You do not need to tweet just about data and new scientific findings, you can share interesting anecdotes from the conference, highlight some conference features that should be replicated such as accessibility logistics, diversity or environmentally friendly upgrades.
  6. Debates and discussions are also very good content for live-tweeting.
  7. You can group several tweets about the same subject in what is called a “thread”. You just need to make your first tweet and write the others as comments below it. Frequently people indicate how many tweets will be in the thread by adding something like “1/5” at the end of the tweet.
  8. If your institute is open to it, you can propose to them that you take over their Twitter account for that conference – it could be a very interesting experience for all!
  9. Do not start a tweet with a handle because it will not show on your timeline. You can add a dot before it. For example, instead of “@emblevents I had an amazing time” you can write “. @emblevents…”.
  10. Have you attended an @emblevents conference or course? Don’t forget to post a picture of the EMBL or EMBO bag in any location around the world using the hashtag #EMBLbag and @emblevents to enter the competition

Furthermore, Twitter can be a great tool to find new papers, share your new paper, ask questions (it would be interesting to compare the effectiveness of asking on Twitter vs ResearchGate), learn about other conferences and about scientific community topics – from struggles to healthy changes (great hashtag for that is #eLifeAmbassador) – support other scientists, find job ads, and more…

So, what are you waiting for?!

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14 tips for a smooth conference experience

The date of your first EMBL conference in Heidelberg is fast approaching. You are excited, have already bookmarked interesting abstracts in the conference app and are ready to make your travel arrangements. Here are 14 tips that will help you stay out of trouble and focus on the science.

1. Don’t try to book a flight to Heidelberg

Although it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Germany, Heidelberg does not have an airport. The closest airports are Frankfurt International Airport, Stuttgart Airport and Airport Karlsruhe/Baden-Baden. More information on how to reach Heidelberg is available here.

2. Make sure you read the final logistical email (FLE) we send you

The information provided in this email is vital for your travel plans and conference schedule and will be your bible for the days you spend at the conference. It provides important attachments such as the programme, the onsite handout and the poster listing.

3. Try not to miss the shuttle bus

The EMBL campus is located on a hill outside of Heidelberg which makes it a beautiful and inspiring place to visit, away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Heidelberg. However, it also makes it more difficult to reach by public transport. Although efforts have been made to improve the public transport connection to the campus, there is still the need of conference shuttle busses that operate on a strict schedule (included in the FLE). So if you miss the shuttle bus, your only way up the hill may be by taxi. Please note that there are no UBER services in Heidelberg.

Our team has prepared an onsite handout with pictures of all bus stops so that you don’t miss the bus because you don’t know where the correct stop is. This information is provided in the FLE.

4. Get the app instead of the abstract book

When you register online, you will be asked if you would like to receive a printed copy of the abstract book. If you click yes, you will get your copy onsite, but make sure that you don’t lose it as this is the only copy you will get. Many participants diligently take notes in the abstract book during the sessions, only to go home one day realising they have lost their copy.

One way to avoid that is by using the app instead. It includes everything contained in the printed abstract book and more, and it also allows you to review the abstracts ahead of the conference and offers the option to export your notes directly to your email.

5. Share your dietary requirements

The EMBL canteen makes a special effort to cater to everyone’s needs by providing fresh food every day and appropriate substitutes for participants on vegetarian, vegan, lactose-free or gluten-free diets. In our registration system you have the option to indicate your preferences, but should you have special requirements based on food allergies or intolerances, please do not hesitate to reach out to us, so we can ensure you are well fed.

6. Send your flash talk slides well in advance

If you are presenting a flash talk, make sure to send us your slides well in advance to make sure they are looped on the screen in time. You will have only 2 minutes to present your poster in the flash talk, so you don’t want to waste any second with technical difficulties.

For some more tips on how to give a flash talk, watch this video.

7. Avoid asking for a certificate of participation during the registration

As much as we’d like to help you out, registration is not the best time to ask for a certificate of participation. These are normally sent out after the end of the event via email.

8. Hold on to your badge

Your badge is your access card to the conference venue and your coupon for the lunch and dinner buffets, so make sure you don’t lose it or leave it in your hotel room.

9. No cash policy on the EMBL Campus

If you arrive on campus outside of the conference times and you would like to get something to eat or drink, it might not be possible. EMBL has a no cash policy on its campus and the only way to purchase something from the cafeteria or canteen is via a special guest credit card. Therefore, it would be a good idea to grab something to eat on your way to the campus, especially for breakfast as we normally only have coffee available in the mornings.

10. Do not ask us for medicine

As much as we would like to help you with your headache or cold symptoms, we are not authorised to hand out any medicine. However, we have a list of pharmacies that are close to the conference venue which we are happy to share with you.

11. When you sign up for a social event, show up!

Most conference social events like dinners, lunches, parties take place in the EMBL Advanced Training Centre (ATC) and are open to all conference participants without prior registration. In the case that there are organised social events taking place outside of the conference venue such as tours or downtown dinners, these are usually restricted to a limited number of participants, and prior registration is necessary.

All the logistics are meticulously coordinated with the service providers and very often there are waiting lists for these events, so if you are unable to attend, please inform us, so that we can give your spot to someone who can.

12. Stay on the paths in the woods

The EMBL Heidelberg Campus is surrounded by a beautiful forest which offers a great opportunity for lunch-time walks or runs. However, before you set on exploring the woods, please familiarise yourself with the paths so that you easily find your way back. In the app you will find 4 different walking routes of various lengths.

13. Take down your poster on the last day

You have put in so much work in your poster that it is a shame to leave it with us. Make sure you take it down on the last day of the event as you may end up needing it for another conference.

14. Stay away from red push buttons on the emergency exit doors

Not all exit doors in the ATC Foyer may be opened. Look out for a silver button with a key on it to open the door without activating the emergency exit alarm.

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No more browser restrictions!

For those of you who have been coming to EMBL for scientific training over the years, you may have noticed that we recently (finally?!) have a new and improved registration and abstract submission software, with a brand new look and feel.

We have moved to an HTML5 software solution, which offers an enhanced customer experience, meaning that we now no longer have browser restrictions or preferred browsers. The interface is fully responsive for submitters and evaluators alike, and is user-friendly on all devices. YAAAAAAY!!!!

The new software is pretty self-explanatory, but just in case you get stuck, here are a couple of how-to videos for abstract and motivation letter submission.

How to submit an abstract – for EMBL conferences and symposia

 

How to submit a motivation letter – for EMBL courses

 

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10 questions to ask journal editors at conferences

From guest blogger Céline Carret
Senior Editor EMBO Molecular Medicine,
EMBO Press,  
@EMBOMolMed

 

At last! You’ve made it to the conference you’ve been waiting so long to attend. It’s going to be perfect – 4 days of great science, poster presentations, socialising and networking opportunities galore. There’s even a ‘Meet the Editors’ session – surely the editors can give you some tips on how to get that paper published that you’ve been working on?

To make sure you get the most out of the opportunity, here are 10 of the best questions I’ve been asked as an editor over the years:

  1. What do you think of my paper?

It’s true – we want to know what you’re working on! Be prepared to pitch your paper to the editor. Bring print-outs or even show them your paper on your computer. We may not be able to give you the same detailed feedback as in a normal review process, but we can definitely let you know if it’s interesting for the journal or what the missing experiment is that would make your paper stand out.

  1. Does your journal respect the request for specific referee exclusion?

If there is a conflict of interest with another scientist or you would like to exclude someone as a reviewer for personal reasons, you’ll want to make sure that your dream journal will respect your wish. Depending on the policies of the journal the editor can give you advice regarding how best to approach the issue, and what the chances are of your request being taken into account.

  1. What is your acceptance rate? 

Although the acceptance rate of a journal generally varies from month to month, it’s good to get an idea of your chances of being accepted. In general, competition is high, and perhaps you’d prefer to go for a “safer” journal with a lower impact but higher acceptance rate. The final decision, of course, is yours.

  1. Do you offer blind submissions so referees don’t see the author’s names?

The idea behind blind submissions is to reduce any chance of possible bias from a reviewer. The practice is becoming increasingly common, and rightfully so! Some journals offer this practice, and some are still to catch on, so it’s worth asking about the policies of the specific journals you’re interested in publishing in.

  1. What types of studies do you publish?

This question is quite broad, but it gives editors the chance to give you an overview of the various kinds of options you have if you want to submit to their journal, and maybe they’ll give you some new ideas that you hadn’t considered as options previously.

  1. What do you think of pre-prints and open science?

There are varying opinions on pre-prints and open science publishing, and whether these are really beneficial for the field as a whole. It’s definitely worth talking to an experienced editor to find out their views and tips on whether you should rather wait until the review process is complete or submit your article to a pre-print server at the same time.

  1. Is your journal open-access?

Theoretically you should have done your research and should know the answer to this beforehand, but perhaps there are some editors at the conference you weren’t expecting. Remember that there are several ways of getting a paper open access, so feel free to ask this to find out what your submission options are.

  1. How do you handle research integrity issues?

Unfortunately issues relating to research integrity do still exist, and it’s important to find out how the journal deals with these issues should they arise. Editors are generally quite open about this, so don’t be afraid to ask specifics!

  1. What’s the coolest paper you’ve published this year?

Although they perhaps shouldn’t admit it, editors will have a favourite paper that they are generally more than happy to go on…and on…and on about! So if you want to get them talking, this is the question to ask!

  1. How can I become an editor?

This career question is one that we are more than happy to answer! Although many editors may have taken different paths to end up where they are, we are all scientists and can provide insight into what life is really like as an editor, and how you can make your way into the field.

 

So don’t be afraid to approach the editors – we are always happy to give you some tips, and would love to talk to you to find out more!

Meet the editors at EMBL and EMBO upcoming conferences!

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