Preface: In the first article of our new series talking to companies that provide innovative support for researchers, we asked Daniel Mertens; scientist, trainer, and founder of ScientistsNeedMore, about how he has developed research skills coaching and workshops to help us succeed in our scientific careers. We asked Daniel to share how he approaches guiding researchers, and learned that we should think broadly about our opportunities and skills, as well as the importance of finding your own leadership style, prioritizing, and making mistakes in research!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what led to creating ScientistsNeedMore?
My colleague Alexander Schiller and I met at a soft skill workshop for junior professional management. We both had been doing acting during our studies of natural sciences and wanted to go back on stage. The first workshop we thought of was actually bringing scientists onto stages of theaters we would rent, and we even got a prize from the large German newspaper “Die Zeit” for that idea. But nobody booked this workshop: Scientists thought we were crazy! (of course). But then they asked us: “Why not do a normal workshop on presentation / teaching?”. And that is how we kicked off ScientistsNeedMore 12 years ago.
How does ScientistsNeedMore help make science better for scientists?
Scientists strive to be effective. We all want to learn quickly and gain access to information that is immediately applicable in our everyday lives. This desire for efficiency has been the driving force behind ScientistsNeedMore since 2011. We designed a toolbox of essential resources with the scientists’ needs in mind. Our participants come away from these courses armed with skillsets ready for application in their research!
The number of complementary skills scientists need to be competitive in research seems to keep increasing, can ScientistsNeedMore help us with these?
We don’t think the number of required soft skills is increasing, we would argue the required soft skills stay the same. It is just that scientists become more and more aware of the advantages of these skills and also become aware that it is possible to learn soft skills from literature, protocols, peers and from workshops.
Research project management is an area you offer support with, what is involved in this?
Project management really is people management. And that involves the most difficult person to manage: ourselves. We therefore not only train classical project management tools but also self- and time-management which really is skill in prioritizing. A major change in my career was to turn from a victim of my task list into a pro-active prioritizer, and that is what I like to share in my workshops. 😉
Are there any misconceptions or myths that researchers believe about leadership or how to be a good team leader?
The largest myth I would argue is the existence of a trait-based leader, i.e. that you are born to be a leader. Another myth is that there is only one type of leadership, usually the assertive / charismatic type leadership. We tell participants in our workshops that there is actually a wide range of leadership types (Northouse lists 10 in addition to trait-based and that list is non-exhaustive). So you just have to find the leadership style that fits you, your team and the situation.
How do you approach coaching junior researchers to be prepared for an academic career or scientific career outside of academia?
In career development workshops, the question we usually get is “Should I stay in academia or should I go to industry?”. What we would like to get across is that career decisions usually are not binary. Instead, there are a wide spectrum of options. Academics in public research are usually only advised by the other academics in public research that surround them, which can result in a more limited perspective of the options out there. Another topic we discuss is that you can find out what career suits you best by introspection and feedback, but ultimately by trying (and making mistakes).
From your wealth of experience, can you share a top tip for new researchers just entering their Master’s or PhD?
Take charge, work hard as you want, and don’t forget to recharge! Take risks, and most importantly don’t be afraid to make mistakes: you need mistakes to learn from and move forward.
Can you tell us about your vision for the future of ScientistsNeedMore?
The most precious resource of science is people. We want to make science a better place – for people! To this end, we are currently developing additional channels in addition to the workshops we deliver: podcasting, blended and asynchronous learning platforms, social media posts and blogs. Maybe a book … let’s see how good our prioritizing will work out.
We would like to thank Daniel for sharing his insight on research skills for scientists, and invite you to sign up for an upcoming webinar from scientifyRESEARCH and ScientistsNeedMore: getting funded with good grant writing!