HPI Bootcamp in the Rockies

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Just returned from the first trainee bootcamp under our Host-Parasite Interaction programme. Two days at the University of Calgary’s Kananaskis BioGeosciences field station. The focus of the bootcamp was to offer trainees (and indeed faculty) instruction in the important, non-science parts of their research.

Kim Barrett, Dean of Graduate Studies at UCSD, kicked us off with an insight to getting through the perils of the academic career ladder. The focus was moving from graduate student to postdoc to assistant professor. My favourite slide had a 2×2 grid detailing what was important, unimportant, urgent and non-urgent. Email was, naturally, unimportant and non-urgent. I decided to have another attempt only checking my email three times in the working day. So far (11:40am) I’ve checked it once – strong start.

John Wallace, McMaster University, led us through the roller-coaster ride that is the commercialisation of ones scientific idea. “The science is the easy part,” was a frequent slide in his presentation and I don’t doubt it. As a MSc student, I attended the occasional seminar on commercialisation, but there’s clear need for better training in understanding the pit-falls and the rewards. John did a good job. He also led a team building exercise for the trainees from which the faculty were barred. They all seemed to enjoy it.

Tim Geary, Director of the Institute of Parasitology at McGill University, gave a call to arms for the trainees. He gave his perspective as someone with extensive industrial experience as both a scientist and later a manager, and then moved to an academic environment. He broke the myths that industry is a 9-to-5 job and something that failed postdocs migrate to. If the trainees don’t understand the task ahead of them as scientists after that, they never will 🙂

Brent Dixon, Research Scientist at Health Canada, provided us with the role of research in a government lab. I was amazed by the bureaucratic structure that existed. However, Brent shows that you can have a varied career within it and also be a successful research scientist. His story of interaction with media over a recent publication was particularly amusing and informative.

Finally, UofC’s very own Andre Buret told us how to “present with pizzaz.” Second time I’ve seen this presentation and I made more notes this time around.

The four guests were more than guest speakers’ they provided key feedback on the progress and direction of the HPI programme. Many excellent suggestions were made and we’ve already begun improvements.

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