Category Archives: Leadership

Ways and means to contribute

6 Month Review of the Scrum Method

The Allen Lab has using the Scrum method for 6 months. It is been remarkably productive. With two graduate students and three undergrads, we produced the data for two papers. One paper was submitted and provisionally accepted. The other is in preparation. We also produced a grant application.

The Allen Lab Scrum BoradThe Allen Lab Scrum Board

I give a lot of the credit for this to the Scrum method. I am new to lab management. My graduate students are very young and my undergraduates are just getting started. They have done amazingly and deserve the rest of the credit. I was not as productive in graduate school or in my postdoctoral work. I produced one paper per year (which is not bad) but this has been eye-opening.

It’s actually very difficult not to try to “convert” people. I feel almost like Scrum is a religion or something. I keep thinking about promoting this to other people in the department. I really don’t think that’s appropriate, so I keep my mouth shut. I’m the new kid and I am not a management consultant by any means. Every lab is different. I recognize all of this. Even so, I rather wish that I had trained in Scrum when I was a graduate student.

Maybe it would not have made much of a difference: there wasn’t a lot of “team science” when I was in graduate school. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. Maybe graduate students need more practice in team management. On the other hand, maybe it’s better to learn to do everything yourself. I don’t have a good answer for that, but I know what’s productive in my lab.

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Robotics is better for America than football

According to this story which was covered by reddit not too long ago:

Current members of the first Portland area high school robotics club — chartered as “Team 1432” by FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) — ponder the club’s future as they sit with their only asset — last year’s robot — in the dank basement of an aging fraternal organization’s clubhouse

There is a high school in Oregon that is disbanding its robotics team on a technicality and pocketing the money that the team raised for its competition. I have nothing against football, but it strikes me as unfair that this would never happen to a football team.

This got me thinking that Football,a s an industry, is probably smaller than Robotics. And, indeed, I was pretty close. Both American Football and Robotics are about $6 billion businesses annually. In the next few years, toys and domestic service robots like the Roomba will likely reach about $6 billion., according to The Robot Report.

There is no reason to think that a person has a better chance of getting a job in football than in robotics. Now, to some people, football is entertaining. But shouldn’t school be a place where students are encouraged to do more than entertain themselves?

-Peter

Healthcare Debate – Future Doctors Beware: this is part of your job.

At some risk of politicizing the Big Upshot, I’d like to draw the readers’ attention to two little articles:

The first is in the New England Journal of Medicine. It was written by Senator Max Baucus from Montanna, and I think the following quote sums it up:

“As patients’ greatest advocates, providers play a vital role in helping to achieve reform. The stakes are high, and now is the time to fight against the misinformation that threatens the promise of reform. Together, we can take the first steps toward lowering costs, improving quality, and expanding access to high-quality, affordable coverage. At the end of the day, Americans are counting on us to end the status quo and bring our health care system in line with the principles and character of this great nation.” [emphasis mine]

This was a plea to doctors to advocate change. Doctors, of course, are firmly in the upper-middle class and thus people who had a lot to lose in a socialized medicine scenario. On the other hand, nobody knows the problems with the system as it stands as well as physicians. So, it behooves someone who is in the healthcare (and biotechnology) fields to know something about the issue. All I can do to help you out, I’m afraid, is to tell you It’s complicated. And in some ways, that’s enough. If someone tries to explain it and makes it sound simple, they are leaving something out.

This from Reason.com did a nice job of summing up the only simple truth in the whole mess:

The problem is that the critics seem to imagine that once we crack down on insurance companies or go to a single-payer government health insurance plan, future patients like Nataline will get anything their doctors recommend.

They won’t. No matter how we “reform” health insurance, there will still be close calls, where it’s not clear that a costly procedure will actually do any good. There will have to be someone, either in government or in the private sector, to decide which operations and treatments should be covered and which should not. And there will be patients who will die after being refused … as long as someone else has to pay for those decisions, someone other than doctors and patients is going to make decisions about what treatments are worth the cost.

Good luck on your search for education on this issue. The Times has been doing pretty well in my estimation. Stay away from cable news. Did you know you can get the Times (and many other newspapers) on your Kindle every morning? It’s really cool.

-Peter

the Now Habit for Grad Students: Stop Procrastinating

This is a continuation of last week’s post.

The Now Habit has a few gems worth passing along. The book is full of psychological explanations for procrastination that are pretty well laid out. The first thing I got from it was the fact that low-level “motivational techniques” result in more procrastination. Second, and more importantly, is that “guilt-free play,” is an important aspect of Habit 7, Sharpening the Saw.

In terms of low-level motivational techniques, I mentioned a while back that there are not too many ways to motivate others. Bullying and financial reward are common, but not very high-minded. They can be as easily applied to oneself as to others. But they don’t work any better on oneself than they do on others. If procrastinators could inspire personal motivation through mental flagellation and self-bullying, then there wouldn’t be any procrastinators. The Now Habit suggests that this might be due to an increased perception of risk. Negative mental self-talk reinforces the idea that only perfect performance is adequate. This makes procrastination seem more attractive. It’s easier to deal with a self administered lecture than actually risking failure by taking action.

The book devotes some pages to discussing “peak performers.” One example that hit close to home was that of PhD students. The range of time to completion of a PhD is wide – it can take anywhere from 4 to 10 years. People who avoid procrastination finish sooner (obviously). What Fiore points out is that those people who successfully avoid procrastination (sounterintuitively) include many “distractions.” They don’t cut out all of the play from their lives to make more time for research.

In terms of completing a dissertation, there are benefits for people who are engaged in some form of extracurricular, guilt-free play. They finish their “real work” sooner, procrastinate less, and complain less of the difficulty and lack of reward that come with graduate student life. Treating play as an important (if not urgent) part of life seems to be critical in overcoming procrastination. It’s not just a reward for getting things done, but rather play is an enjoyable part of the overall habit of proactivity. Indeed, play is part of the “productivity” that makes up an effective and healthy life.

-Peter

Change your paradigm, change your habits: review of The Now Habit

The big impediment to getting things done is procrastination. Procrastination is a habit. The most effective way to break habits is to change the mental stimulus that causes the habitual action. The easiest way to change the stimulus is not to change the environment (though that can help) but rather to change the interpretation of the environment; that is to say that the best way to change a habit is to change the underlying paradigm. The word “paradigm” is often overused and even misused. It doesn’t just mean “point of view.” It goes deeper than that. It’s not a thing you can change over the course of a conversation, and it is a concept that deserves more respect that boar-room buzz words. In general, people are not aware of their paradigm. It is the subconscious value system that filters what we see. Today I’ll discuss that in general terms.

A person’s paradigm is sometimes compared to eyeglasses, but a paradigm is not something you can just take off. I would compare it to a person’s eyes rather than their glasses. Lots of people have bad vision without realizing it. They assume everyone sees the world the way they do – blurred. They don’t know it’s blurred. That’s how the world has has always been. There are mental tricks that are like “corrective lenses,” in that they slowly affect your “eyes” until you don’t need to wear them any more. When a person truly has adopted a new paradigm, they have “new eyes.” It takes a while. What’s more, it’s hard to even remember how the world looked before it changed.

Habitual actions stem from paradigms. It’s easy to see in that analogy: someone with blurred vision might habitually feel and smell objects to identify them. That’s a habit. And it would be foolish to tell someone with bad eyesight “you don’t need to smell that – it says ‘milk’ right on the bottle.” That fact is not accessible from their reality. But then, once their eyesight has improved, the smelling/feeling habit disappears naturally. That’s the power of paradigm. New paradigm yields new stimulus which produces new action, even in the same physical environment.

How does that relate to procrastination? I’m reading The Now Habit by Niel Fiore, which does a great job of explaining the procrastinator’s paradigm. Procrastinators have a paradigm of risk and coercion (I’m generalizing and paraphrasing, so forgive my imprecision). Procrastination is a habit that is a resultof the following stimulus: “I have to do X, and I must do it perfectly, or it will be terrible”

Saying “I have to…” implies a lack of freedom; it implies coercion. Whether it’s self-imposed or externally imposed coercion is irrelevant; the easiest way to rebel against coercion is to do nothing.

Saying “… and I must do it perfectly, or it will be terrible” is the perception of risk. The easiest way to avoid risk is to do nothing.

Hence, procrastination.

If I change the paradigm of coercion and risk, then the perception of how hard it is to do something will change. With that change of perception, Getting things Done will happen far more naturally.

More on The Now Habit next week.

Cheers,
Peter

P.S. I continue this article further in next week’s post.