Thursday, November 28, 2013

A random walk through how I run my lab: Item 1 on Annual Events

Academics often scoff at business types for all the seemingly fluffy stuff they do that we don't have time for. Chief among these might be group-bonding or group-building exercises that are meant to teach people how to collaborate and be flexible in the roles that they play. Yet we academics do undertake all sorts or socializing activities, and most of them aren't geeky at all. Invariably, we celebrate annual holiday parties. (These are meant to be nondenominational and inclusive, but the timing of them in mid to late December obviously coincides better with some traditions than others.) My department arranges biannual lunch-time picnics, and attempts to schedule an annual student verses the faculty soccer friendly. (To make the latter fair, some students are recruited to the faculty side.) I hear that Virginia Tech's chemistry department has a student verses faculty cooking competition. Cookies before seminars, and larger buffets around bigger functions also serve to socialize us. Evidently food serves as an aggregating catalyst almost as good as a chemistry seminar. This may not be so surprising when you realize how varied chemistry is across any given department. Equally evident is the fact that collaboration is just as important for us as it is in industry. The difference is that we don't have mad money to go to ropes courses or off-campus retreats...

Nevertheless, most research groups have some kind of annual ritual. Mine is an all-out group bash staged in the club room of my condo from 4:00PM to past midnight. I try to schedule it around the summer so that the pool is literally in play. I also avoid the holiday season during which everyone is overly saturated with parties as it is. (As we face Thanksgiving+Hanukkah, this year's compressed holiday period seems all the more daunting.) Families are also encouraged to attend. and I supply all the food and drink. It's the least that I can do to give back to my group by insisting that they simply come as themselves bringing only what they need to wear for the pool and such. It's a low key event, and brings the group together. It's followed up by other low-key interactions such as our weekly group brown bag lunch. Together this helps create what I hope is an accommodating group culture for all my students, and one in which they can readily learn with each other and me. I like to think that this will make them better leaders and team members in whatever position their career path will take. That's a lot to expect from an annual group party... Or is it?

Happy Thanksgiving and Hag Someach!

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