|T H E N I H C A T A L Y S T||S E P T E M B E R O C T O B E R 1999|
|F R O M||T H E||D E P U T Y||D I R E C T O R||F O R||I N T R A M U R A L||R E S E A R C H|
FROM THE PICNIC TABLE TO THE LAB BENCH:
FOSTERING COMMUNITY AT NIH
I KNOW ONLY TOO WELL HOW EASY IT IS TO BECOME LOST IN ONE'S OWN RESEARCH WORKING THROUGH LUNCH AND DINNER ON AN ABSORBING PROJECT, FORGETTING THAT THERE IS ANYONE ELSE IN THE LAB, MUCH LESS THE FASCINATINGLECTURES, INTEREST GROUPS, AND CONCERT SERIES OUT THERE. . . BUILDING COMMUNITY IS ONE VITAL WAY TO IMPROVE MORALE AND SUPPORT THE MISSION OF NIH.
As summer draws to a close, many of us are returning from relaxing and perhaps even productive vacations. From this agreeable state of mind, I ask you to consider a pleasant aspect of life at NIH: community, camaraderie, fellowship. Call it what you will, we are all part of a vital, interactive community of people, and this can make our work especially rewarding. Elements of this community begin in the laboratories and clinics of NIH and extend throughout our campus and outward to our neighbors and scientific colleagues.
At the laboratory level, we create small communities by encouraging group meetings to discuss science and other matters related to the functioning of a laboratory. Socially, individuals within labs have interactions (lunches in the cafeteria; dinners in Bethesda; pick-up games of soccer or group runs; help with housing and recruiting), and labs themselves have picnics and other get-togethers to welcome new lab members, to recognize achievements, and to say farewell to friends and colleagues whose careers are taking them elsewhere.
All of these activities build esprit de corps and strong ties of friendship and should be encouraged. It is sometimes easy to overlook these kinds of social occasions in the excitement of scientific discovery, but they are an important component of building the teamwork needed to succeed in any enterprise.
The community that is NIH itself has created several venues to encourage social, cultural, and scientific interactions. Following this years Wednesday Afternoon Lectures (see schedule, this issue), NIHs component institutes will again be sponsoring informal receptions featuring poster displays by the recipients of this years Fellows Awards for Research Excellence.
Students and postdocs at NIH have worked hard to develop their own venues for socializing and helping their peers get the most out of their NIH experience. Their groups include the Fellows Committee and a postbaccalaureate gathering. Activities of these groups are generally announced via electronic bulletin boards. We especially hope to see improving connections among graduate students over the next few years as we focus on how we can better coordinate and improve what NIH has to offer predoctoral students.
But students are not the only ones who can benefit from social, cultural, and scientific interactions. For example, Recreation and Welfare (R & W)-sponsored clubs and activitiesincluding the NIH choral groups, the lunchtime concert series, sailing and photography clubs, and our musical theater groupwelcome all NIHers. The Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences (FAES) sponsors a bookstore, continuing education courses, and a chamber music concert seriesamong the best in the Washington, D.C., area.
We also have some very active interinstitute scientific interest groups that support scientific meetings and seminars where valuable networking takes place before or after formal presentations (see the Interest Group Directory in the July-August 1999 issue of The NIH Catalyst for a complete list). In addition, the Bethesda Chapter of the Association for Women in Science (see "AWIS in Action"), the Black Scientists Association, NIH Hispanic Employee Organization, the NIH-FDA Chinese American Association, and other similar groups provide additional forums for mutual support, assistance, and fellowship.
In the last several years, the NIH community has extended its hand to the wider Washington, D.C., area by hosting events designed to attract friends and neighbors. These include two movie series (Science in the Cinema and the very popular outdoor summer movie series on the lawns of NIH), Medicine for the Layman, and our Mini-Med School. Each of these events allows us to share special expertise and the excitement of the science we do with our neighbors in a way that encourages creation of a larger community and informs people about the work that we do. Our community liaison, Janyce Hedetniemi, highlights many of these opportunities in her newsletter to our Bethesda neighbors.
I know only too well how easy it is to become lost in ones own research, working through lunch and dinner on an absorbing project, forgetting that there is anyone else in the lab, much less the fascinating lectures, interest groups, and concert series out there. Sometimes such intense focus is exactly what is necessary to move research past a critical hurdle. But I also encourage all of you at NIH to look up occasionally from the desk or lab bench and reach out to your colleagues. It wouldnt hurt if we all brought back a bit of the relaxed and sociable spirit of our summer vacations to the NIH campus. Building community is one vital way to improve morale and support the mission of NIH.
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