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New Year, New You (Me)

11 Jan

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you enjoyed the holiday season and that 2017 will be good to you. I always enjoy a new year. It’s like a clean slate, an open field, the first day of school. And I don’t so much make resolutions as I make lists. I make lists in my new planner. (This year, I’m trying out a nice model from Baron Fig.) I list things that I might want to do, songs that I want to learn, books that I want to read, concerts that I want to attend, movies that I want to see, etc. I add to the lists throughout the year, but it’s not quite the same as starting them up on a blank page in a new calendar at the beginning of a new year. It screams, “Possibilities!”

My list-making this year also reminds me of how unsettled I feel right now. The political climate is unsettling, for sure, and there seems so much uncertainty and fear throughout the world. These things don’t particularly help me address my own anxiety, but they’re also not the only thing contributing to it. This I know. I just feel I’m ready for something new, something different, some kind of change. I think I’m ready for a new me. 

For a good while, I was finding myself frustrated with me because I kept thinking/believing that I’m not the person that I once was and I liked the person that I once was. I kept thinking/believing that if I could just go back to be my “old self,” I’d feel great – happy, fulfilled, energized. But then I started reading this book:

miller

It was recommended to me by a young woman who used to tend bar at a neighborhood pub that I frequent. It’s a young person’s bar and I’m not a young person, but I like to pop in on my way home from work once a week or so, often on Thursdays when my wife goes to yoga, and I have a pint and I read. Young people don’t go to bars until later at night, so it’s generally quiet when I’m there, conducive to reading and/or watching whatever sports show is on. 

Anyway, Taylor, the bartender, evidently noticed my habit and found it interesting. She was there last Thursday with some friends and came over to me to say “hi” and ask what I was reading. (I was reading another great book, The Lonely City.) We talked about the holidays and the new year, and somewhere along the way I must have hinted about my unsettledness. In response, she recommended Donald Miller’s book. She said she just knew that I’d like it. She said that she was re-reading it herself right now. I told her I’d get it, read it, and we could have a book club-type chat the next time we saw each other. She liked that. The bartender working last Thursday, Nate, liked the idea, too. Maybe we’ll get a book club going – early in the evening, of course, before the young people (besides these two) show up.

I’m about half-way through at the moment and so I’ll not offer up a review of “Thousand Years” just yet, but I will tell you this much – and I’ll tell you why I know Taylor told me that I’d like it. It’s a memoir – kind of, sort of – that tells the story of how the author learned to write a screenplay and in doing so, discovered it was the perfect metaphor for writing one’s life. If you want to live a good story, you have to write it. Said another way, if you’re not living the story that you want to be living, you need to write yourself a better one. The book follows along in such a way that as the author learns about how a story is structured (character construction, story arc, inciting incident, etc.), he starts writing not only the screenplay, but a whole new life story for himself. And then the reader is inspired to do the same. And I am. It’s inspiring! 

It makes sense that Taylor recommended the book, because what I was saying to her about liking the person that I once was, but maybe not so much the one that I am now, and wanting to go back to that “old me” – well I’m reminded in reading this book that we don’t ever go backwards. We only go forwards. It’s the only direction that we can go. And I also realized that the person back there in my past that I like, that person was always going forward. That me was always moving, changing, growing. That’s what I like about that me. I’ve been in a rut too long. That’s what I don’t like. That’s what’s unsettling. Change isn’t unsettling. Stagnation is.

It’s time to write some change back into my life.

Earlier during this lunch break, I read (in the chapter about inciting incident), “Without an inciting incident that disrupts their comfort, they (humans) won’t enter into a story.  … The character has to jump into the story, into the discomfort and the fear, otherwise the story will never happen.” (p. 104-105)

I think of how often people are afraid to write in a new journal or notebook, for fear of messing it up. And I always think, “How silly! What else is a journal for?” Donald Miller’s book has me thinking, “What else is life for, if not for writing a good story to live.” 

So I’ve added to my New Year’s lists the line, “Write yourself a better story.” We’ll see what happens!

What’s on your list for 2017? How will your story go? I hope you’ll share along the way.

Soundtrack for writing your story, courtesy of Catie Curtis. It’s been playing steadily during my morning commutes:

 

 

 

Here’s to a Happier New Year!

29 Dec

This will be my last post of 2016, friends. Thanks again for following along for another year – or thanks for finding me this year, if you’re new to my blog. I appreciate having a venue to share thoughts and ideas and observations and such, and appreciate even more everyone who finds something worth reading here.

My wish for 2017 is a more peaceful world for us all to inhabit. For any number of reasons, 2016 seems like it’s been an extraordinarily rough time. People are fractured and societies around the globe fractioned. One of the very things that makes us our best, diversity, is frightening to so many. I only hope that in 2017, we can begin to mend the deep, deep wounds that have festered for too long.

I woke early this morning – too early to get up – and couldn’t get back to sleep. Instead of lying there letting my mind run on and on, I decided to practice a body scan meditation that I learned at the Center for Mindfulness here at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Founded by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979, the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program has reached countless many, helping bring the science of mindfulness practice to the healing art of medicine. If you’re fortunate enough to live in Central Massachusetts, you can take advantage of the many programs offered by the Center, but even if you live on the other side of the country or the globe, there are lots of resources available to help you learn how to incorporate mindfulness into your life. I dare say, if ever there was a time for everyone to be more mindful of ourselves and others, it’s now. 

So this morning, I put my earbuds in and followed along through the guided meditation and sure enough, I felt my heart rate lower, my mind quiet, and my soul get a little break from all of its worries. It was great. And I hope I remember it later today and tonight and tomorrow morning and tomorrow afternoon and … well, you get it. 

But should I forget – or should you not be into meditation – I share this gift from the people at the social media management tool, Hootsuite, with you. Truly, I think watching it for 45 minutes is akin to meditating. Enjoy!

Happy New Year to everyone! May peace find us all.

 

Iterations on a Profession

6 Apr

PencilsI’m currently taking a 4-week course, Fundamentals of Graphic Design, via the online learning platform, Coursera. In pulling together the content for the Data Visualization course that I’m developing for a local college, I realized that I need to include a crash course, i.e. one week in the basics of design, thus I thought taking this online course would give me some ideas for how to cover the topic myself. Plus, I could learn some things and improve my own skills. The first week we covered the image and the assignment was to create at least 10 iterations on an everyday, common object. You can see here my takes on a pencil.

Creating these images reminded me of my professional journey and in particular some of the struggles I’ve been feeling of late regarding where I fit in professionally. Since I started my career in librarianship, I’ve belonged to several related professional organizations – the Medical Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries, the American Library Association, the Special Libraries Association, plus regional chapters and state organizations associated with each of these. I’ve tried different groups at different times, looking for the best fit as my work changed. Among these, the one organization that I’ve invested the most time and effort (and felt the most a part of) for the past dozen years has been the Medical Library Association. It makes since, since I worked the first decade of my career in an academic medical library (and even today still work at the same medical school). Regardless of how many times that my job title and/or role changed within the Library, I still worked in a medical library and thus, MLA worked for me.

One of the things I’ve most enjoyed about being a member of MLA is attending the annual meeting. It’s where I get to see so many of my friends and colleagues, where I’m always renewed and energized by the sessions and speakers and topics, where I get to share some of my own work with colleagues, and where I remember where I belong professionally. It’s such a highlight of my professional life.

Last week, I withdrew my accepted posters from this year’s meeting and accepted the decision that I’d not be attending MLA 2016 in Toronto. I’d be lying if I didn’t say how sad the choice makes me. But it’s the choice that I had to make. As I looked through the content of the meeting this year, there simply wasn’t enough related to the work that I do as an evaluator for the UMCCTS. There aren’t any sessions devoted to librarians working with and/or as part of their CTSA offices. There aren’t enough talks about measuring research impact and evaluating programs (outside of evaluating library programs). Given that I’d be paying to travel and attend out of my own pocket, and knowing without enough related content offered I’d have to take personal vacation time to attend, I just couldn’t justify the expenses. And it makes me really sad.

Since I left the physical library to use all of the very same skills that I possess as a librarian, it’s become harder and harder to face the fact (or is it “harder and harder to ignore the fact”?) that most folks, even many I consider colleagues, don’t think of me as a librarian anymore. What makes it all the more difficult is my “new” professional home, the American Evaluation Association, hardly feels like home either. Despite the fact that our skill sets overlap in so many areas, despite the fact that I got the job I have today because I have the skill set of a librarian, it seems like evaluators are evaluators and librarians are librarians, and a librarian who happens be an evaluator is an odd duck, alone in the pond. 

I don’t wish to turn this post into a pity party. I enjoy what I do, I’m very proud to be a librarian, and I know that despite the inability (or at least difficulty) of our professional pigeon holes to expand, those of us willing to seek out new and different opportunities will find them. It’s not always easy, but it’s okay. Yes, I’m sad about the particulars of this year’s MLA annual meeting and I’m grieving a little, knowing I’ll not be having fun with friends in Toronto, but more than anything, the situation has caused me to think a great deal about the benefits, the purpose, and the future of our professional organizations. Why do we have them? What do they provide? Why do we belong? I’ve been part of executive boards of these very groups, asking these very questions for awhile. It isn’t new, but it did hit me differently this go ’round.

The instructor for my graphic design course said that when you do iterations, you need to push the boundaries; work with the image until you get right up to the point where it falls apart – where it no longer resembles the object you started with. I’ve been thinking a good bit if that’s not the perfect metaphor for my professional journey as a librarian. I’ve pushed many boundaries of the profession and now I wonder if I’ve pushed to the point that the image of me as a librarian has fallen apart.

Waxing Philosophical

17 Sep
Old Friends

(l-r) The Reverend Donna S. Mote, PhD, The Reverend Kelley Milstead Woggon, yours truly, and The Reverend Dina Carroll

I spent last weekend with old friends; old in the sense that we’ve known each other for a long time, not that we’re old. None of us are ready to admit that (though we did laugh a good bit at some of our creakiness and memory loss). The four of us met 29 years ago when we arrived in Louisville, KY to go to seminary. Four+ years of finding one’s way in that environment can make for long-lasting relationships. That said, we’d not seen one another in forever and thus the weekend was filled with catching up and sharing memories and as mentioned previously, lots and lots of laughs.

While I moved on vocationally to a career in libraries, my three friends have all remained working in ministry. One is a hospital chaplain and administrator, another a hospice chaplain, and the third is an Episcopal priest who works for the diocese of Atlanta in, of all places you might say, the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The Vicar of ATL, my friend, Donna, calls herself. (And a reminder to all of my readers, should you ever find yourself in need of a friendly face or helping hand in that airport, look her up.)

Throughout the weekend, as we shared about the work that we each do, I couldn’t help but notice some similarities. I also can’t help but notice that this happens to me often. I have a tendency to look for shared experiences and common ground. I prefer it over differences and, personally, think that while we focus an awful lot in our day-to-day world about our differences and uniqueness, we actually have much more alike with one another than we ever have different. Regardless of what we do or what we believe or how we dress or the color of our skin or the languages that we speak or the … the list goes on, of course.

The Vicar had a tendency to say, “Jesus has left the church,” in reference to her ministry at the airport. The same could be said for my friends who provide comfort at the bedside of sick or dying patients, and their families and loved ones. Each time Donna made this statement, I thought to myself, “How often have I heard, ‘Librarians need to get out of the library’ over the past years?” No matter what you may think of god or religion or Jesus or librarians, the point is the same; when you work with something as ubiquitous as either spirituality or information, or even more, the human needs around such, your ability to do your work becomes pretty limited when you confine it to a particular space.

I’ve written before in this blog about how the conversations and discussions within different labs, research teams, committees, and such that I sit in on around campus so often focus on the same topic – communication. Better put, they focus upon issues related to the difficulties around communication and connectedness. “Nobody knows what we do.” “We need a better website so that people can learn about us.” “We offer so much, yet people don’t know it.” “I need help with (fill in the blank), but don’t know where to begin to figure out how to find the person or place to help me with it.”

Growing up, both of my parents taught school; my mom at the elementary school level, my dad, high school. Since I also went to school and I had teachers, I pretty much knew what my parents did. Yet, whenever I watched television and the TV dads went to the office, I didn’t have a clue what that meant. They put on their suits, picked up their briefcases, and headed out to do something all day. But what? What did “going to the office” mean? It was a big mystery.

And I think it remains that way for a lot of us who work and live in a very silo-ed world, be it academia or research or medicine. We live in our small worlds, often unaware of what’s happening down the hall or on the third floor. But the trend that I see over and over, is that the mystery isn’t very mysterious at all. The basic needs that arise in much of our work are the same for everyone. They’re common ground.

I see this because I’ve been a librarian outside of a library for a bunch of years now. Just like church, people used to bring their troubles to the library. Both were quite central places in people’s lives. But it’s less the case today and while both the library and churches, as places, still have a place in our worlds, the needs that they used to fulfill within their walls are now often (not always, but often) found outside of them. And more, those of us who work to serve and/or meet those needs… we often (not always, but often) will find our patrons or our parishioners beyond them, too.

Out we go!

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

13 Aug

Granted, it was only a week, but I got a lot done during my summer vacation.

Family visited. (That was fun.) We had the memorial service for my mother-in-law who passed away last January. (It was a meaningful and special time. I know she’d approve.) We went to Cape Cod for a couple of days. (Can’t beat that.) I built a patio in our backyard. (Yes I did.) And I read a book. (Of course I did.)

Rebanks

I read the book, “The Shepherd’s Life,” by James Rebanks. It’s a beautiful story, beautiful writing by a contemporary shepherd; a story of people who straddle the line between a long, deep history and an ever-encroaching modern world. I loved it. I also read it for fun and thus wasn’t thinking much about work or libraries or evaluation or any such stuff that feeds my blog posts as I turned the pages. But along about page 58, I found the need to fold over a dog-ear edge to remind myself of a paragraph that was a good one for this space:

My grandfather worked hard and turned that run-down farm around. He supplemented his farm income by working on other neighboring farms. He was a good horseman. He dealt in livestock. Was an opportunist, like so many of his peers: If pigs paid, breed or fatten pigs. If Christmas turkeys paid, fatten turkeys. If selling eggs paid, get hens. If wool was wanted, grow wool. If milk paid, milk cows. If fattening bullocks paid, buy bullocks. Adjust. Adapt. Change. Do whatever you needed to – because you stood on your own two feet, there was no one to pick you up if you fell down. The geographic constraints of the farm are permanent, but within them we are always looking for an angle.

As I read these words, my mind went to the the “geographic constraints” of the library and librarianship. Traditionally, the physical library has been a boundary for librarians. It’s been a constraint. Even the professional title of “librarian,” a derivation of “library,” has dictated where and how and what librarians do. But this, of course, has changed of late. Why else do people like me do librarian work in other places and under other titles? Like Rebanks’ grandfather, we’ve adjusted, adapted, and changed. We’ve done what we needed to do in order to keep going.

I’m not really sure which profession is older, librarianship or shepherding, but they’ve surely both been around since the dawn of time. We’re surviving professions; ones that survive by being opportunistic. When we refuse to take advantage of opportunities, when we refuse to adjust and adapt and change, when we trust too heavily on some larger entity to make us relevant and/or keep us going, we die. When we can no longer figure out how or lose our desire to do these things, family farms cease and libraries close. It’s a fact of life for both.

I took a lot away from this book. I was inspired by the landscape, awed by the amount of work that goes into this livelihood, and stirred to make my own life (both at work and at home) to be a bit more honest. By this, I mean having something to show for my day at the end of each day. I find it’s too easy for me to slip into a cycle of doing a whole bunch of tasks, e.g. answering a hundred emails, going to meetings, taking notes on this and that, watching television, running on a treadmill, noodling around on my guitar or mandolin; things that, when I reflect upon them at the end of the day, I’m not sure have led me to accomplish a whole lot. Thus, I built a patio. And I returned to my office this week with a goal to be a bit more aware of how I’m working and how I’m spending my hours behind my desk or in front of my computer.

It was only a week of vacation, but I believe that these type of renewals are exactly why we need them. I hope you’ve found some time for vacation this summer, too. If not, it’s still not too late!

Translating “Translational”

16 Jun

UMCCTS LogoYesterday marked my six month anniversary working for the UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science. It’s been six months of challenges and opportunities, lots of learning and adjustments, and many experiences that I both expected and didn’t. All in all, a good, positive change.

Since moving from the UMass Med School’s library to the UMCCTS, lots of people have asked me, “What are you doing now?” Truth be told, many of these same people had no idea what I was doing before, but at least they think that they know what librarians do and I let it go at that. But since becoming an evaluator for the UMCCTS, I find I have to explain two concepts; (1) the role of an evaluator and (2) translational science.

Last night, I attended Science Cafe Woo, a monthly gathering of folks in Worcester where local scientists can talk to the public about what they research. I’ve written about Science Cafe Woo here a couple of times before (An Infectious Dialogue; Sustainability: It Mean’s More than “Tit for Tat”) because it’s always a highlight of my month in terms of learning interesting science, plus I’m a strong advocate for science communication and the promotion of scientific literacy. As noted in an excellent article by Boston Globe reporter, Sacha Pfeiffer, over the past decades, government funding for scientific research and development has steadily fallen from 9.1% in the late 1960s to a paltry 3.6% today. Efforts like Science Cafe Woo, the Science Cafe movement overall, and programs like the one at my own institution that help scientists deliver a comprehensible message to different stakeholders, from corporate donors to the public tax payer, are essential if we are to be successful in our efforts to advance science, eradicate diseases, and reach our fullest potential as human beings.

And thus, there I was at last night’s Science Cafe Woo, ready to learn about the work of Glenn Gaudette, PhD, from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Dr. Gaudette’s talk entitled, How Science Can Mend a Broken Heart, was a fascinating mini-lecture on the anatomy of the heart, cardiology, pluripotent stem cells, and … TRANSLATIONAL SCIENCE. It’s the latter that made me say to my spouse when I got home, “I wish everyone who wonders what that term, translational science, means had been at Science Cafe tonight.”

Dr. Gaudette talked about his research in the Myocardial Regeneration Lab at WPI. There, he and his students discover ways to get stem cells to become myocardial (heart) cells and then how to implant these cells into damaged heart muscle, encouraging new growth and healing that without such a treatment, is impossible. In other words, when a person suffers a heart attack, some portion of their heart muscle is damaged. It eventually scars over and the heart as a whole is less efficient in its business of pumping blood throughout the body. Myocardial muscle cells don’t regenerate on their own, thus the damage remains. The theory behind Dr. Gaudette’s work, then, is if we can learn how to induce the growth of new cells in the heart, we can help a damaged heart heal, not just scar.

The exercise physiologist in me LOVED this talk. I’ve studied the heart and cardiac rehabilitation enough to understand how monumental such a new treatment could be for the millions of Americans who suffer from heart disease. It’s such a cool idea and if/when it reaches its fullest potential, becoming a clinical procedure, it will be truly amazing.

And this, in a nutshell, is translational science:

  • Dr. Gaudette and his colleagues have an idea; if we can get stem cells to become myocardial cells and deliver them into damaged heart muscle, they’ll grow into new, healthy heart muscle.
  • They work in their respective labs to figure out the problems; growing the cells, delivering the cells to the tissue, seeing if the delivered cells actually grow into new cells.
  • They come up with a novel concept to more effectively get the cells to the heart muscle; the VitaSuture.
  • They go out and talk about their ideas and findings to investors, funding agencies, and the like, trying to secure the money needed to manufacture and test this product. (There is no money in academia.)
  • They talk to regulatory agencies like the FDA about their idea, about their product, and about how to actually test it in human beings.
  • They get squashed. Stem cells are SUCH a red flag, they’re told, especially when you’re talking about putting them on a person’s heart.
  • They get back up. They think of ways to lower the risk. They make other proposals. How about regenerating ligaments?
  • They test this idea out on animals and find some success.
  • They go back to the regulatory agency with their new proposal.
  • Squashed again.
  • They get back up again. Other ideas. Even less risky.
  • And on it goes… (Read a TERRIFIC piece on this process in WPI’s spring issue of Research.)

That, my readers, is translational science. It’s getting from an idea, to success in non-human models, to successful testing in humans, to what ultimately becomes clinical practice. Translational science centers, like UMCCTS, exist to help identify and remove the barriers in this lengthy, winding, often inefficient process.

And my job … it’s to evaluate the different programs and core research centers we sponsor, so that we can determine how well we’re doing towards bringing down some of those barriers and hurdles. It’s also to disseminate the findings and the work of translational scientists at UMMS, so that our stakeholders better know and understand what we’re doing.

This morning when I came into work and told my boss all about last night’s talk, he immediately asked, “Is he working with anyone here?” and we began to talk about clinical researchers doing science here that might collaborate really well with Dr. Gaudette and his colleagues across town. Surely, there’s some follow-up to be done.

To me, these are the most interesting, exciting, and fulfilling aspects about working in a scientific research environment. There are just so many fascinating stories and I get to hear them, share them, and sometimes be part of them. Translating translation. Everyone should be so fortunate in his or her work.

Thanks to Science Cafe Woo for continuing to encourage scientists to talk to the public about their work, to Dr. Gaudette and his colleagues and students at WPI for the work they’re doing, and to the UMCCTS and all of our members who keep striving to bring the breakthroughs of science and medicine to the world.

Austin Or Bust!

15 May

It’s one of my FAVORITE times of the year, the time to attend the Annual Meeting of the Medical Library Association. This year’s meeting is in Austin, Texas and its theme is “Librarians Without Limits.” I can’t wait to visit Austin and I love the theme. As a music lover, particularly Western Swing music, and a librarian who no longer works in a library or even goes by any job title close to “librarian,” the meeting seems to have been made for me! I’ve got a schedule planned out that’s filled with interesting sessions about non-traditional roles, plus a different music venue picked out for each night. Oh, it’s gonna be goooood!!

I’ll be tweeting throughout the meeting (follow along at #mlanet15 and/or @mandosally) and will also be sure to share more than a couple of thoughts and nuggets of inspiration that I experience next week. Until then …

… let’s get to Texas!!