Tag Archives: Teams

Getting Cut from the Team

3 Jan
Doing the "Shark Attack" cheer.

Doing the “Shark Attack” cheer.

I love ice hockey. Ever since I was a kid and used to tag along with my season ticket-holder dad to the Richmond (VA) Robins games, I’ve loved it. I wish I could have played it. I wish I could put on all of those pads and fly around the ice, smashing into other people and the boards. I love the rough and tumble, blue collar nature of the sport. I love its northern roots. I love the cold, winter, snow, ice, and ice hockey. I live in the right place.

I grew up to be a season ticket holder myself; a fan of my hometown team, the Worcester Sharks, the AHL affiliate of the San Jose Sharks (baseball fans, think Triple-A; football fans think University of Miami). Early in December, I went on the season ticket holder bus trip to Manchester, NH, to cheer for the Sharks as they took on the Manchester Monarchs. On the ride up, we watched the movie, “Miracle.” Arguably the greatest American sports story, the movie tells of the 1980 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team – at that time, a group of amateur and college players – who, against great odds, defeated one of the best hockey teams in history, the Soviet Union national team. It’s a movie and a story that makes me cry every time I see it. It’s a story that’s symbolic of so much that is the best in us in sports and in life. 

In the movie, there’s a particularly emotional scene where Coach Herb Brooks has to cut one last player in order to get the final roster to 20. He carried 21 players as long as he could, but when it came time for the Olympics to begin, he could only carry 20 guys on the team. The last player cut from the squad was Ralph Cox. Brooks himself had once been the last player cut from an Olympic squad (1960), so he knew a particular truth about the decision; (1) it was terribly difficult to make and (2) it wasn’t to be the crushing end of Cox’s hockey career. Both men went on to play hockey after this shared life event and both had success. But in 1960 and in 1980, neither would make their respective teams. They were each the last ones cut.

I got word last week that I’ve been cut from one of the research teams/projects that I’ve been working on for awhile. After a year of feeling like I was rolling right along in my new(ish) role as an embedded librarian and informationist, snaring opportunities and having  lot of success, I got cut. And I admit, it was a little bit of a blow. There’s not enough money on the grant to keep me, I haven’t been able to carve out the time necessary to do my best work, and there’s someone else who can do what I was doing for the team. I’ve been cut. 

By far, the hardest part of doing this embedded role is the feeling of being pulled in multiple directions, or perhaps better stated, having your foot in multiple doors. It’s hard to balance it all. I’ve tried to learn a lot about project management, prioritizing, organizing time and tasks, and the like, but at the end of the day, I still have a long way to go to be better at doing this. I don’t think I’m alone in my struggle, either. I think that we all have a bit of a hard time juggling multiple roles and projects, particularly as we continue to do more with less. Lots of people work in such an environment. And as it doesn’t appear that there’s any relief and/or change in this situation in the future, I need to do my best to get better at doing my best in this setting. It’s a goal for the new year.

So while the sting of being cut is still there, I’m also reminding myself that Herb Brooks and Ralph Cox went on to do good, even great, things in their lives. Getting cut from the team isn’t the end of the world. It’s not even the end of the season.

A clean desk for 2014. A clean "ice rink" for my Sharks bobbleheads!

A clean desk for 2014. A clean “ice rink” for my Sharks bobbleheads!

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

6 Jun

I’ve been away from work for almost a week, spending time with my father and doing those things that make people say, “Oh, you are such a good daughter,” despite the fact that I wasn’t feeling like one. Watching your parents age, as well as helping with things that come along with the aging process, is difficult. It can bring out both the best and the worst in you.

outofficeThe time away also made me miss my Librarian Hats blog. I missed time with my teams and I missed time in the library. I missed my projects and the work that I’m doing and the weekly sharing of that with all of you. It’s great to get away. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m hardly one to shy away from a break from work and I’ll never turn down a good vacation, but it’s also a really nice feeling to know that I’ve come to a place where I enjoy my work so much that I miss it when I’m away. Fortunately, I know a lot of people in this profession who feel similarly. It’s a nice bonus for being a librarian.

Last week, before leaving town, I had the chance to speak at a staff development day for the librarians at Tufts University in Boston. I always like getting to meet colleagues outside of the health sciences and/or medical library world. While Tufts Medical School librarians were present at the event, so were others from their different libraries, making the meeting a great chance to hear about some ideas, projects, innovations and tools that I don’t usually stay up to date on. Discovery tools and on-demand purchasing are the kind of topics that don’t make their way across my radar, so it was a nice opportunity to hear about them.

Two librarians shared their experiences being embedded in different programs and projects. Regina Raboin, Data Management Services Coordinator and Science Research & Instruction Librarian for the Tisch Library at Tufts described her work as part of the faculty teams for 4 different undergraduate courses. A couple of things that Regina said that really struck me, (1) “I was part of the team” and (2) the courses that she was embedded in were all multi-disciplinary in nature. A couple were in environmental studies and the other two were seminar courses. In other words, the classes involve bringing together faculty from different parts of the campus – different schools, different disciplines. This reminds me of what I’ve experienced in my work as an informationist, i.e. all of the studies and projects that I work on require a lot of different kinds of people with different skill sets in order to be successful. I wonder if this isn’t an important key to librarians finding a home on research teams. When the team is made up of people from lots of backgrounds, no one discipline and/or skill set dominates. Team members naturally look to the expertise of the different members, making the skills of the embedded librarian and/or informationist not stand out as such a foreign thing, different from everyone else.

Jane Ichord, a clinical librarian for the Hirsch Library of Tufts Medical School shared her experience being embedded one day each week, attending rounds and working with the pediatricians and other providers at one of their hospitals. Jane also mentioned a few things that I wrote “blog” next to in my notes, my reminder to myself to expand on the thought in one of my posts here. First, she said that when she was first asked to take on this role it was several years ago and while she really wanted to do it, the administration and structure of her library at the time were not in the right place for it to happen. More recently though, things changed and she was given the okay to pursue the role. One cannot stress enough how important this is in the success of embedded librarian programs. Library administration has to be supportive in time, structure, direction, and mission for these programs to work. Librarians wanting to become embedded have to feel empowered to make a lot of decisions on their own. They have to know that it’s okay to be away from the library. They have to be assured that their bosses trust them to build relationships. I feel really fortunate in my current position that this is true, but like Jane, it wasn’t always the case. We weren’t always ready for me (or others) to take on this role. However, when I heard my director say that she would give me the role of informationist on the mammography study whether we got the NIH grant or not, I knew that she was fully supportive of the work. It’s that kind of attitude that gives a librarian the feeling of autonomy necessary to become fully embedded in a team.

Lastly, Jane said regarding her Mondays at the Floating Hospital, “It’s changed my life. Well, it’s changed my work life.” When it comes to my own experiences as an informationist, I can’t say it any better. I have the job today that I always wanted in a library, even when I didn’t know it existed. Heck, even before it did exist! And I’m happy to be back at it today.

There is no “I” in TEAM (But is there a “U”?)

23 Apr

Last Tuesday morning, during the research team’s weekly meeting, a small group of us gathered and joked about how no one had a printout of the agenda. Mary Jo White, our Project Manager, always takes care of this. Mary Jo schedules the meetings, sets the agenda, organizes everything that needs to be organized. With a graduate degree in public health and years of research experience, she knows all of the ins and outs of managing a multi-discipline, multi-person, multi-site team. She keeps everyone on track and moving forward. When my Library Director and I first approached the team to ask if they’d be interested in putting together what ultimately became our successful grant application for an informationist, Mary Jo was integral in making sure everyone completed their part of the application correctly and on time, and she managed all of the communication between the different parties as we tried to make it sound just right.

Last Tuesday, Mary Jo was on vacation. We thought she was on the West Coast, enjoying time with college friends. We laughed at ourselves, for our dependence upon her to manage us. Roger, one of the principal investigators on the study, then took out his iPhone and read overtop of his glasses at the email she’d sent us before leaving; the email that gave us the agenda for the hour.

We’d no sooner begun the meeting when Mary, the other PI, received a voicemail message on her phone. It was from Mary Jo’s youngest son. Mary said, “Oh my god,” and left the room to listen to the message again. When she returned, she told us that the call was from Andy and he’d said that he was in the Emergency Room with Mary Jo. As it turned out, she was not in Oregon, but had been at the finish line of the Boston Marathon the day before.

By now, I’m sure all of my readers know the events that took place in my state last week. It’s been a world news story; a shocking event that the city of Boston, despite being stubborn and strong as nails, is still reeling from. In a world filled with violence, it is still not even fathomable that someone would set off bombs at the Boston Marathon. At least it was until last Monday.

Mary was unable to reach Andy and so we sat in the meeting, somewhat in shock, and tried to accomplish the tasks that Mary Jo had listed for us. Personally, I simply felt sick.

Later in the day, and in the days that followed, we learned that Mary Jo, her husband Bill, and their oldest son, Kevin, had all been standing within several feet of where one of the bombs exploded. They had each been severely injured. Mary Jo’s arm and wrist were shattered and she endured surgery to remove shrapnel. Kevin had a concussion, busted eardrum, and shrapnel. Bill was in ICU. His leg was damaged beyond repair and had to be amputated.

I resisted sharing this story on my blog for fear of sensationalizing what is already a sensational event, but it has been told in the news already and as I thought of it in the context of work, I realized that in it – even at this very early stage – there’s something to be learned and shared. Before I share that though, I want to say that this morning, as we gathered for our weekly meeting (again with no handouts and a sketchy agenda), the mood lightened considerably when we heard Mary Jo’s voice on the conference call. She’d called in simply to say hi and tell us how grateful she was for all of the thoughts and prayers (and food) sent their way. I surprised myself when I felt a tear well up in my eye. Hearing her voice was the best thing and though we did have other items to cover, none were as significant. She is healing, Kevin is healing, and Bill is healing. They each have a road of recovery ahead, but I’m so grateful that they are with us to travel it.

One of the goals for my being on the research team is to examine how an informationist fits in this environment. As such, I’ve read and thought a lot about how teams work and how individuals fit in them. A lot of what I’ve written over the past months is evidence of this. Anyone who’s visited the business section of a Barnes & Noble (or your local library) knows that there is no shortage of interest in and writing on this topic. There are countless gurus willing to give you a step-by-step approach to either building a successful team or dismantling a dysfunctional one. You can spend a lot of money on common sense packaged in a snazzy cover with a spiffy title. You could make a lot of money if you have the style and flair and hutzpah to pontificate on the subject. But when it comes to learning, the day-to-day experience of being on and working with a team will give you perhaps the greatest insight.

Baseballpositions copy“Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” so the saying goes. Of course, it’s a saying about love between two people, but it’s true of any sort of relationship. Teams are relationships and, nine times out of ten, well-functioning teams are a sign of healthy relationships. When someone is missing in the relationship, it shows.

I’m a big sports fan and as the sports teams of Boston rally around the city, maybe it’s not so out of place for me to think of my research team in the same way. Going with baseball, Mary Jo is on the disabled list right now. We’re without her. Just as the Yankees are without Derek Jeter, our team is without it’s anchor.

Yes, I know that it borders on anathema to use Jeter and/or the Yankees as my example here, but they DID sing “Sweet Caroline” at their game after the bombings, a display of sportsmanship and humanity that, quite frankly, made me fear the end of the world is near!

The project manager of a research team is akin to the captain. This is the person that knows what’s going on across the board. S/he is the go-between, the person that everyone communicates to and/or through in the process of the work. The project manager gets copied on every email, every memo. As mentioned earlier, s/he calls the team meetings, sets the agenda, keeps us moving in the right direction.

Principal investigators are the managers – sometimes the on-field manager, sometimes the general manager. They keep the big picture in mind, always. They know the bigger goal. They know the details of the day-to-day, too, but always within the context of the research question and how we’re getting to the answer. I’ve noticed that it’s one of our PIs who usually asks the question(s) that bring us back to why this study is being done in the first place. Like the manager of the ball club, the PI always says, “We’re here to win the World Series,” even if the World Series is about answering a question regarding the effectiveness of a particular intervention on getting women to have mammograms.

The analyst is the catcher. The analyst can look at the field and the position of the other players and say, “shift left” or “shift right”. The analyst is the one that the pitcher and the infielders look to when they wonder the history of the next batter or the next question for analysis. They know all of the variables. They know all of the holes. They know how to fix something in a hurry – on the fly – to get the next batter (or problem) out. Without a good catcher, you can get a lousy pitching staff, a bunch of passed balls, and a big ol’ mess of a defense.

On my particular research team, there are other specific players. There’s an individual who trains and manages the people who make the scheduling and intervention calls (instructor). She is like a bench coach; a one-time player who excelled at understanding the process. This skill allows her to create processes and systems that work, and then translate them clearly to the players. She does a lot of tweaking, but not enough to disrupt the mechanics of the whole motion. She works daily to solve the little problems so that none of them become big problems and a 2-game losing streak doesn’t turn into a lost season.

There are others on the team, too. There are equipment managers (IT gurus and programmers), the ones who keep the data and all of the systems that collect it up to speed. They know the nuts and bolts, and they get a lot of the blame when we bring the home uniforms for an away game. It’s a thankless job, for sure, but essential. Without them, we don’t take the field OR gather any data.

There are also several other coaches, managers, and front office staff (research directors, coordinators, and assistants) who oversee particular aspects of our team. They make sure that we have enough fans (subjects) coming through the gates. They insure quality customer service. They know all of the rules and are careful that we play by them, going back to the IRB whenever necessary. Their names are in the program, though few people know who they actually are or what they actually do. Until they aren’t there to do it.

And then there is me, the informationist. What’s my role on the team? Well, I’m still figuring that out. Am I like the designated hitter, a position introduced later in the game (actually, 40 years ago this season) that people still argue about in terms of its relevance to the game? Am I a late-season call-up, the player that gets added to an expanded roster? Maybe I get in for a pinch-hit, now and then. Maybe I get to pinch-run for the slow power hitter.

Ideally, I hope that in time I become the utility player; the invaluable player that can fill-in at multiple positions because s/he has multiple skills. The utility player is rarely an all-star, an MVP, or even a starter. But the utility player is the one who can be called on any day, in a variety of situations, to provide what is needed for the team. I like to think that a skilled informationist is one who knows the research process well enough to understand what’s going on where. S/he knows statistics well enough to understand the questions being asked and the discussion going on. S/he knows information management, information organization, information flow – s/he knows how pieces best fit together to form a knowledge base. Maybe s/he can’t throw a strike to third base from right field, but s/he knows when to cut the ball off and throw home, nailing the runner at the plate. And lastly, the informationist doesn’t mind sitting out a game. S/he doesn’t have the ego that gets bent out of shape when the team meeting goes long and s/he doesn’t get to have an at-bat, or give an update. S/he is ready next time. S/he is a supporting player, but one with a specific purpose and specific skill set, and thus, part of the team.

In all honesty, a team manages okay a lot longer without a utility player than without its captain. We’re going to flounder a little until Mary Jo gets back on the field with us, but we have a good team and we’ll stay afloat in the standings. I don’t doubt this. And as for this utility player, playing on a team with such a captain only makes me want to play harder.

Get well soon, Mary Jo!