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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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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10 ways to get your scientific course application accepted

 

Rejection.

We have all experienced it in one way or another. Scientists perhaps more than others – rejected papers, job applications, fellowships, grants or training applications. But what can we do when it happens again and again and again?

In the EMBL Course and Conference Office we see it all – our scientific courses are way oversubscribed, and competition is tough! We’ve taken a look at the most common mistakes that will lead to your application being rejected. These 10 tips will help you to be among the minority of successful course applicants, and while we can’t promise that every application you submit will be accepted, following these tips will ensure that you stay towards the top of the pile!

  1. Apply on time!

It sounds simple, but we have so many requests from late applicants to submit after the deadline. Newsflash – you won’t be considered! The application deadlines are part of a well-planned process, and we stick to it. So plan in advance and don’t leave things until the last minute!

  1. Complete ALL questions directly and clearly

Again – sounds simple, right? It’s amazing how many applicants think some questions are optional. Organisers have to select participants from a highly qualified pool of applicants, and if they have no comparison, you will be put straight on the “no” pile.

  1. Submit all requested documentation

Take the time to collate all requested documentation before submitting your application. If you make it past the first round, these will be vital in securing your spot in the final selection.

  1. Read the guidelines…and follow them!

Generally course guidelines will be provided. Take the time to read through them and make sure you follow them – they are there for a reason!

  1. Be sure that it is the right course for you

Make sure the course WILL actually be of benefit to you. Check that you have the required pre-requisites, and that the learning outcomes are the same as your learning desires.

  1. The motivation LETTER – not the motivation THESIS

Most likely you will be provided with a word limit. Stick to it. If you don’t have a word limit, don’t take this to mean you can write a thesis. The scientific organisers have a lot of applications to go through and limited time to do it. Yours needs to catch their eye from the onset, so make sure the important stuff stands out! 

  1. The motivation letter – the important stuff!

This is perhaps the most important part of your course application, so take it seriously! There is a lot of competition, so show that you have put some effort into it. Things that you should definitely include:

  • Why would you like to attend?
  • What do you expect to learn?
  • How will you benefit from what you learn?
  • How and when will you use the skills learned on the course?
  • A brief description of your current research and future plans
  • Any relevant skills, experience and qualifications
  • Your scientific career and training
  • Relevance in the lab – is the knowledge lacking and can you pass it on?
  1. Show academic curiosity

Make it clear that you have done your research and are actually interested in the topic. If it is clear that you are only applying for the course because your PI told you to, chances that you’ll be considered are slim.

  1. Make sure you can spare the time and, if necessary, get a visa on time

If you have other commitments or think it won’t be possible to get a visa on time to enter the country where the course is taking place, please reconsider and apply for a course taking place at a later date. Otherwise you will take the spot of someone else who would be able to attend.

  1. Show your application to your supervisor

Ask your supervisor to check over your application before submitting. They will have much more experience in submitting successful applications and can give you advice on what to change and adapt to increase your chances of getting accepted.

 

So it’s over to you now! And if you’re not sure where to start looking for your next scientific training course, take a look at our upcoming events under www.embl.org/events.

Check out our video for some more tips on successfully applying for practical courses!

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5 tips to drive more traffic to your exhibition booth

 

Sponsoring and exhibiting at events is still one of the major ways for companies to showcase their products and technology to relevant audiences. Companies spend a lot of time choosing the events they go to every year, but once they decide comes the big question – “How do we stand out from the crowd?”

There are various articles and ideas out there on how to effectively drive traffic to your booth, but from what we have seen, the methods you choose largely depend on the size of the audience, the competition onsite and the creativity of your booth personnel.

Here are 5 tips that have proven effective for life science conferences of 100-450 participants.

  1. Forget the flyers!

People have not flown thousands of kilometers to take your flyer back home. Companies love to produce promotional flyers that don’t say much and are destined to land in the bin. Rather, bring free samples and loads of free goodies. If you are marketing an instrument, bring it onsite and offer free demos.

  1. Bring in some colour!

In a previous post, we put together the logos of all of our supporters from last year, and one thing we noticed was that the predominant colour of choice for most of the companies was blue. Although you may not be able to change the corporate colours of your company, you could try to bring some bright colours to your booth – e.g. goodies in rainbow colours. You would be surprised what the effect of such a small thing would be.

  1. Spark joy!

When at a conference, people are usually suffering from jet lag, sleep deprivation and dehydration. And while you cannot make all of this go away, offering a good cup of coffee, tea, hot chocolate or ice cream can make you the hero of the day.

  1. Unleash your creativity!

When choosing your goodies, try to think outside of the box. People don’t need another pen or notepad. Try to put yourself in their shoes and think what you would like to keep as a giveaway. If you have to go with a standard giveaway, then at least try to integrate more than one function in it, e.g. I still carry around a pen/screwdriver I got at a conference 10 years ago and have since used it on many occasions. You may also want to consider offering some giveaways for children, such as colouring books, stuffed toys (e.g. shaped as bacteria or cells) or games.

Another great way to engage your audience is to offer interactive activities at your booth, such as short fun games, puzzles, quizzes, fun facts about your products, or virtual reality glasses.

  1. Be an active participant!

Try to attend as many lectures as possible during the conference. The scientific lectures will not only bring you up-to-date to the latest research in the field, but will also help you put your company in the context of this research when talking to participants onsite.

Don’t forget the poster sessions. By understanding the research of your potential customers you can more readily identify their needs and bring suitable solutions to their attention.

Last but not least, social events are always a great platform to meet people in a more informal atmosphere and break the ice.

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