Advice to My Younger Self – 5 Tips for Early Career Researchers from Professor Gwyn Gould
PeerJ Communities Presents ‘Advice to My Younger Self – 5 Tips for Early Career Researchers’ an ongoing series to share advice and life lessons for Early Career Researchers from fellow researchers.
We invited Professor Gwyn Gould to share his thoughts. Gwyn is a PeerJ Silver Contributor and Section Editor for Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology.
Gwyn is Professor of Cell Biology at the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences in Scotland. His undergraduate degree was Biochemistry, and his PhD was on lipid protein interactions. He then worked at Dartmouth College with Gus Lienhard on the regulation of glucose transport. He set up his own lab at the University of Glasgow in 1989 working on glucose transport and membrane trafficking, before moving across Glasgow in 2019 to join the University of Strathclyde. He moved to Strathclyde to join forces with groups using advanced imaging methods, and is using a combination of super-resolution imaging and fluorescence correlation spectroscopy to understand glucose transporter regulation and Raman imaging to study single cell metabolism. Outside of the lab, he is an avid – but slow – runner, enjoys reading and watching rugby and cricket.
Focus on your happiness and fulfilment, and not just in the lab.
As scientists we can readily become goal-driven obsessives focussed on the next experiment, paper or grant proposal and it’s easy to lose touch with what drives our actions. Add to that heady brew a mix of other duties (reviewing, admin, teaching preparation, marking…) and it is all too easy to lose touch with the bigger picture and with our own emotional well-being.
Take time (regularly) to define your goals (short term and long term) and think about how you intend to get there. Consider whether you are paying enough attention to your own emotional well-being (and by association that of your loved ones, and indeed your lab members and colleagues). Take time to do things you enjoy away from work and to connect with people. Learn to switch off and not to catastrophise about what’s going on in the lab or in the grant panel.
To paraphrase: no one is going to lie on their death bed thinking, “darn I wish I’d written more grants.”
Remember that doing research and teaching is a privilege.
I’ve been an academic for nearly 34 years and every year the arrival of new students on campus is an energising time. If you are lucky enough to end up in an academic role, remember that providing an educational opportunity to willing minds is a privilege. Remember too that we influence by our actions and not only by our pedagogy, and that our ability to perform research is underpinned by the educational establishment in which we work. Foster it, engage with it, broadcast it. And never forget that sometimes a bare minimum passing grade is the culmination of achievement for an individual. Respect attainment, whatever the level.
Find good mentors (and be one too).
At every stage of my career, I have had the advantage of wise counsel. From my PhD and postdoctoral advisors (who advocated, pushed, cajoled, and nurtured), my first Head of Department (who was willing to take a chance and helped me learn the system) and my trusted colleagues and collaborators who read my grants and papers, and are willing to be a good critical friend. These individuals are at the heart of anything positive I have achieved. Find your mentors and work with them. Recognise their skills and continue to seek guidance no matter how long-in-the-tooth you become.
And when the time comes, give it back. Karma.
Learn to switch off.
Quite early on in my independent career, I found myself worrying about progress on a particular project. Gradually I realised that this was counterproductive: things seldom go according to plan. People make mistakes, and everyone is motivated by different things – not necessarily the same as you! – and sometimes people ask too much or deliver too little. So instead of worrying about ‘progress’, establish a good environment where people enjoy working and are willing to share their mistakes, recognise what motivates your students and postdocs. Realise that sh*t happens and remember that maybe your colleague is having a bad day.
And more than anything when you leave the building, learn to switch off – or at the very least, learn to filter out the noise.
Learn to say no.
For many of us, saying ‘no’ is challenging. As new academics, there is a tendency to try to do everything asked of you, and then some. As in all aspects of life, learn to prioritise and learn to say no. As a course coordinator I would much rather a colleague say ‘I haven’t time to do this job well’ than have them deliver a rushed contribution or even worse not deliver at all. Clearly, you will need to balance – you most definitely cannot decline every task. Nor should you judge the tasks you do select based on how visible they may be.Instead seek to be a good colleague – take on a fair share and do everything you take on to the best of your ability. And as a senior colleague of my wife once said: remember, it is a privilege to help a colleague.