Making Mistakes

15 Jan

The button has been pushed and our proposal for a Clinical Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health is out of our hands. Let the review process begin! 

My part of the writing and work has been done for a few days now, so I’ve been spending much of the past week doing many things that I likely would have done when I started this new job, if only I hadn’t jumped into the grant writing fire. I’ve read all of the Center’s newsletters for the past few years, I’ve taken lots of notes and done a bunch of documentation related to who’s who for each of our core components. I’d drawn a lot of pictures and graphs and maps to help me understand the landscape. My informationist role in the Library prepared me well for these latter tasks, as I’d been embedded in projects and made it my job to know what was going on around the University. Still, it’s a lot of putting names to faces to departments to projects. It’s a lot to learn.

I also need to learn a lot about the role of an evaluator. I knew enough to get the job, but now that I have it, I know that I need to learn a great deal more before I’m proficient in the task(s). I’ve been reading a lot of articles from evaluation journals. I tracked down several good books on program evaluation, and a couple on evaluating biomedical and health research, in particular. I’ve subscribed to professional listservs, been reading daily blog posts by evaluators, and joined a professional organization to have access to needed resources. Lastly, I’ve been working through a few self-guided mini-courses to make sure I’ve got the basics down pat and that I understand the terminology that I’m reading elsewhere. So far, so good.

And I’m planning. It’s true that I worked with the section writers and leadership of the CCTS to develop evaluation plans for the different components of our proposal. In other words, I’ve already written a whole bunch of plans stating what I’m going to do over the next few years. That said though, there’s planning and then there’s PLANNING. The all-caps version is where I am now. I have plans to collect and track certain metrics to answer certain evaluation questions, but now I really need to plan out how I’m going to do all of that. The logistics. It’s a great challenge. It’s interesting and I’m learning a lot. I cannot complain.

A torn page from a book. I found this on the sidewalk one day during a walk. It's hung over my desk ever since.

A torn page from a book. I found this on the sidewalk one day during a walk. It’s hung over my desk ever since.

One clear thing that I’ve read – and thus learned – over and over in my study ’til now is that the practices of measuring and evaluating are continuous. You need to plan for them from the beginning and, depending upon your goal, assess at different points along the way. It’s pretty much like life in general. If you make that New Year’s Resolution to lose weight, you need to make a plan and part of that plan involves devising a means to track your progress along the way. If you want to go on a trip to Europe, you need a plan to save the money and a way to keep track of what you’ve saved, so you’ll know when you’re ready to pack your bags. 

I am a reflective person by nature. I majored in philosophy during my first time through college. I went to seminary where you hone your spiritual reflection skills well. I’ve spent time with therapists, here and there in life. I’ve been writing this blog for the past few years as a way to reflect upon and keep track of my changing roles as a librarian. For me, it’s a really helpful practice because it keeps my awareness of where I am and what I’m doing and what I’m learning at the forefront. Annual evaluations (and/or quarterly reports) don’t work for me without keeping track of things along the way. This blog helps with that.

I recently re-read something that I wrote last fall for a different blog, Hack Library School. I was interviewed, along with several other medical librarians, about our work. One of the questions asked was what advice I’d give to current students studying library science and my answer, in part, was:

Sell yourself! One of the things that I see happening in settings like mine (an academic medical school and research center) is that there is never a shortage of work for a person who can match his/her skill set to existing needs. And there are LOTS of existing needs. The key is to really know what you know how to do, know what you need to learn how to do (and learn it – ESPECIALLY if you’re weak in the sciences), and then know how to show people that what you bring is uniquely useful to them. I don’t necessarily think that this means you wait around and look for job openings in medical libraries, but that you also keep your eye on other parts of the health care system or biomedical research where what you can do fits. People looking for help often don’t think of a librarian as one who could do the job for them, but I think that’s mostly because we haven’t done the best job of selling ourselves. Know yourself, have confidence (even if you have to fake it at first), and put yourself in places that offer you opportunity.

One thing I could add to this is that developing a practice of self-reflection, evaluation, and/or tracking yourself – however you do it – will put you in a much better position to sell yourself and/or match your abilities to opportunities as they arrive. This is exactly what happened to me last November and it landed me in a great new role. My CV didn’t say a thing about being an evaluator, but I was able to map pretty much every aspect of it to the qualifications needed for the person in this post. The discipline of weekly reflection via this blog made that task easy.

We always encounter times in our lives where evaluation is forced upon us, whether it’s that mandatory annual review or a major life event. My mother-in-law is in hospice care now and nearing the end of her life. It’s a time of reflection for her and everyone in the family. “Did I live a good life?” is likely the ultimate evaluation question. You hope for the answer, “Yes” and you hope for lots of reasons to be sure of your answer, since it’s basically too late to change much. Driving home last night after visiting with her, I thought a lot about how all of these things fit together. There’s no need to wait until the program is over, until a career is over, or until a life is over to ask, “Did I do a good job?” When we plan to track, measure, reflect, and evaluate along the way, I’m fairly certain we’re better off in the end. 

January 9th – ALREADY?!

9 Jan

It’s a good thing that I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions related to my personal writing, because I’d have to report a failure already. That said, the CTSA grant proposal that everyone has been working ’round the clock on for weeks now is very close … oh so very close … to being put to bed, which in this case means submitted. And then I’ll be able to start focusing on how to approach doing the new job that I’ve been hired to do. Up until now, I’ve only been writing what I’ll do. Next stop, figure out how to do what I said I’d do. I’ve already joined the American Evaluation Association and signed up for one of their upcoming coffee break webcasts.

An aside… I think the idea of coffee break webcasts – 30-minute weekly sessions that focus on a particular topic, led by different members of the organization – is a TERRIFIC idea. I know that I belong to a few organizations that are struggling to define and/or create the real benefits of membership and such a simple thing as a regular, free, short-and-sweet-yet-interesting webcast is just that sort of thing.

For today, I at least wanted to send up a post with a few fun things I’ve come across over the past couple days/weeks – some delayed candy canes, if you will:

  • The Spudd – it’s The Onion of medical and pharma news. Hilarious. I discovered it just this very morning, thanks to a hilarious post shared on Twitter by my friend, Dean Hendrix. 
  • How Reddit Created the World’s Largest Dialogue between Scientists and the General Public is a very good blog post by Simon Owens. I’m fascinated with scientific communication and, in particular, efforts to bring the scientific community together with the general public. We are a scientifically illiterate culture at our own peril. I love what’s happening on this online community and so I’ve set up a Reddit account and plan to follow along for awhile. 
  • Finally, for anyone curious about public health and/or epidemiology and NOT interested in returning to school ever again <hand raised>, I came across an on-demand course from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I confess that I’ve signed-up and failed at several MOOC’s, mostly because of timing. I’m really happy to find a relevant, on-demand one and hope to work through it soon. I have a feeling that doing a course on my own, at my own pace, and at my own convenience will work well for me, especially now as I juggle all of the new tasks of a new job.

Back to the grindstone here. Happy New Year to all of my readers and followers! You make blogging fun.

My 3 New Year's Resolutions for 2015. No progress yet!

My 3 New Year’s Resolutions for 2015. No progress yet!

The Great Candy Cane Caper

29 Dec

There I was merrily absorbed in the holiday spirit, running my daily Jingle Bell 5K and sharing a candy cane a day with my dear blog readers, when all of the sudden …

SCREECH!!!

It may be more appropriate to say that my two feet hit the gas pedal - VAROOOOOOM!!! - than the brakes, but regardless of how you see it, my holiday streaks were tossed off the rooftops and my blog posting has been MIA for 2+ weeks now. That said, I refuse to let 2014 close without one final post, so here goes:

If you read my last post (12/15), you know that as of that date I began a new job as a Research Evaluation Analyst for the University of Massachusetts Center for Clinical and Translational Science. I still work at the UMass Medical School campus (right down the hall from the Library), still enjoying all of the relationships I’ve built over the years. In fact, it’s those very relationships – both around the campus and in the larger academic medical library world – that helped me land this job. And while it’s immensely different in so many ways from the work that I’ve been doing for the past years as an embedded research librarian and informationist, it’s also a position that will allow me to expand on many of the skills I honed during that time.

So what am I doing now? That’s a question pretty much everyone, with the exception of my new colleagues in the UMCCTS, has asked. Right now, I’m working madly with the rest of the grant writing team, pulling everything together before the January 15th proposal deadline. The UMCCTS is funded through a Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health, a 5-year grant that expires this year. As you can imagine, I came on board at one heckuva time to come on board. I’ve been playing catch up and keep up at the same time; reading accepted, past proposals from other universities, reading articles on the state of evaluation of the CTSA program as a whole, reading articles on different evaluation research from individual CTSA awardees, and reading the many different components of our own proposal in their many different iterations. 

And I’ve been writing; writing a section on the measurement and evaluation program for our Center as a whole, writing annotated versions of the evaluation pieces for the individual components, writing tables and charts, and writing my list of all the people that I’ll send Christmas presents and/or cards to after the middle of January. What I’ll be doing after the grant goes in (and, fingers crossed, gets awarded) is working on all of the evaluation pieces and projects that I’ve spent these weeks describing. I’ll also be working actively with other CTSA award sites, in particular their evaluation teams, on collaborative research projects that will help us determine the effectiveness of the program on a national level. It’s in this latter part that I’ll get to maintain a number of librarian connections, as well as build some new networks of colleagues (and, if evaluators are like librarians, friends).

Do I like it? That’s the other question I get of late. Honestly, I don’t know yet. I like the subject of evaluation and measuring the impact of research. I like the bits that I was able to dabble in while working in the Library. I like research. I like reading and learning new things. I like seeing UMMS from a different perspective. I like the people. I even like the change of pace, even in its whirlwind form. I’m glad that I followed-up on an opportunity and that it’s come to be what it is right now, but it’s still awfully early in the change; too early to give a definitive “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” 

My highlighted, coffee-stained notebook from that year of hard study. Despite the years, I've never been able to throw it out.

My highlighted, coffee-stained notebook from that year of hard study. Despite the years, I’ve never been able to throw it out.

However, what this early experience reminds me most of is being in graduate school. In particular, it reminds me of the amount of time and effort and work that was involved in learning all of the systemic and cellular physiological mechanisms of exercise for the two courses I took on that subject. I can clearly remember one very bright, sunny, Saturday afternoon in late fall, sitting at the conference table in the room on the 2nd floor of the health sciences building (outside the grad students’ office) with my good friend and classmate, Suzanne Connolly (say it with an Irish accent), working our way through every little step and every confounded enzyme and every change in positive or negative ions to open this or that Calcium channel … all to make one heart beat happen. I can remember talking it through over and over, drawing pictures on the white board, trying to get it, to understand the process, to put all of the pieces together in my head until finally …  BLING!! … the lightbulb went on. And I remember feeling REALLY satisfied. Because it was hard. It was hard, but I’d stuck with it until I got it. And I think that’s why this study day memory stands out so clearly in my memory bank.

I’ve felt that way at other times, too; learning a particular riff on the mandolin or learning to cross-country ski. It takes focus and effort. And it’s about learning, not necessarily about competence. I was (am) a very competent librarian. There was certainly a period of time, early in my career, when I had to put forth a good bit of focus and effort to learn something new, but whenever you’ve been doing something for a good while, the amount of effort you have to expend towards the work decreases. You may still spend the same amount of time and you may still have the same amount (or even more) tasks to attend to, but the amount of effort is different. You’re efficient at what you do. You may not be completely on auto-pilot, but you can probably get to and from work without always remembering the drive.

My first couple of weeks (less a 2-day Christmas break) have been about learning. I’m a long way from being a competent evaluator. The learning curve is steep and challenging, but when I feel overwhelmed, I remember that study day and I remember piano recitals and I remember cruising along on the successes that came from the hard work of learning to be a good librarian. I remember the satisfaction that came with those experiences and I trust that in time, I’ll enjoy the same in my new role. 

Between here and there, I’ll keep sharing the journey. After all, a librarian by any other name is … still a librarian.

 

 

A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Candy Store

15 Dec

If you’re curious about what happened to the daily candy canes over the past few days, here’s the scoop. Starting TODAY, I’m the new Research Evaluation Analyst for the University of Massachusetts Center for Clinical and Translational Science. Yep, I’ve left my former position in the library and venture off into a new world. Since it’s Day One (officially, though I’ve been doing some work before today, catching up), I have to put my focus here, but I’ll be back very soon (later in the week) with updates on the job and candy canes galore!!

Please stay tuned. “A Librarian by Any Other Name” remains the name of this blog for good reason. This librarian is now going by the name, “Evaluator.” :)

New Digs

New Digs

Candy Cane 11: Are we leaping (like the lords) to conclusions?

11 Dec

 December 11 - Managing Information and/or Managing Data

I admit that I struggle greatly with how easily we librarians interchangeably use the terms information and data. I believe that there are significant differences between managing information and managing data. I also think that our history, professionally, is in the former more than the latter. That said, as we move more and more into the realm of data management, we’re making the argument that we also have a history of managing data. 

In a recent post on the e-Science Community Blog (a part of the e-Science Portal for New England Librarians), Nancy Glassman, Assistant Director for Informatics at the D. Samuel Gottesman Library, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, argues that Librarians are the Original Data Managers. I’m not sure that I wholeheartedly agree with Nancy, but what I do really like about this post is how she lays out the thesis for a class of students who attended a data management workshop she led. What I like best is that she convinced them that librarians do, in fact, have a role in this area. They understood her explanation and she gained credibility not just for herself, but for other librarians these attendees might encounter in the future. 

That’s a win-win for all!

INFORMATION

Tomorrow is Friday! What will the treat be? Check in to find out.

On the 10th Day of Candy Canes…

10 Dec

 December 10 - Teaching Online

Yesterday was the last official day of classes at the University of Rhode Island, thus it marked the “official” end of my first semester as an adjunct professor. I still have grades to do, of course, but the instruction part is over. It was really a great experience and I so enjoyed putting together materials for each of the topics. And my students were fantastic.

That said, it was a lot of work – perhaps even more than I’d anticipated (and I’d anticipated a lot). Mostly this is because I’d never taught a full class and more, I’d never taught a full class online. Online education is a different animal and many of the techniques I’d come to rely upon in my traditional classroom teaching didn’t translate easily to the online environment. In short, my students learned a lot about health sciences librarianship and I learned a lot about teaching, curriculum development, and the online educational environment. It’s like I took a class, too!

I recently read a good review in the “Advice” column of The Chronicle of Higher Education on Michelle Miller’s new book, Minds Online: Teaching Effectively With TechnologyMiller is a professor at Northern Arizona University, an institution that was early to adopt the online educational environment, in part because of their location. Bad weather is common and rather than cancelling classes, the University took to the Web to provide uninterrupted learning. I haven’t read this book yet, but based on the review will likely check it out. Understanding how people learn in different environments is key to effective teaching. I think this book will offer more insight there.

If you find yourself in the situation of moving course content and/or entire classes online, you might find it of interest, too.

The treats continue tomorrow…  (And in case you’re wondering, I’m still going on my Jingle Bell 5K-a-Day challenge, too! Going for 10 today.)

Candy Cane No. 9!

9 Dec

 December 9 - Go, Libraries, Go!

I love a mobile library, a bookmobile, and biblioburros! Several years ago, my neighbor introduced me to the Mobile Library Mystery Series by the Northern Ireland author, Ian Sansom. The Case of the Missing Books got me hooked! I love the Little Free Library movement and book trading posts. I loved James Whitmore’s character in the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, as he pushed his book cart down the prison rows, stopping at each cell to ask, “Book?” Yes, I love any and all of the creative ways that libraries and librarians and plenty of plain citizens (or fictional convicts) bring books and literacy to their communities. 

Today’s Candy Cane celebrates the beauty of mobile libraries. Ebook Friendly’s list of the 10 Most Extraordinary Mobile Libraries is a real treat. As the website notes:

From donkey-drawn trolleys to huge ships, you’ll see here outstanding vehicles that are designed to carry the most important cargo in the world – wisdom.

Take a moment out of your busy day to marvel at these and celebrate the wonderful gifts of literacy and books.

More tomorrow …

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,613 other followers