The annual retreat of the Boston University Bioinformatics program held this year at the Marine Biological Laboratory, gave me an opportunity to return home. Home to two research sites that have played a role in my own professional development. The MBL Physiology Course with Tom Pollard, Andrew Murray and others laid the foundation for many friendships and future collaborations. And the Bioinformatics program, founded by Charles De Lisi, employed me in my first official role to develop a diverse workforce in computational biology, i.e. bioinformatics.
Tom Tullius, chair of the graduate program, opened the annual retreat saying that the retreats for this pioneering program focused on students building relationships with each other and the faculty. Innovative groups recognize that fueling creativity involves fueling human interactions and groups that foster new thoughts and directions. Yet, too rarely do we provide the time and space for our scientists (young or old) to foster these relationships independent of talking about work.
Of course, the happy hour, the drink at the bar and the golf course, are still cultural settings that can play a role in fostering some relationships. And yet, they rely heavily on the existing social skills of individuals to navigate and connect successfully. Retreats focused on social time and, of course, the improvisation for STEM professionals workshops create opportunities for students and faculty to get to know each others in ways that can improve their working relationships and their overall science. As Tom noted, "We know you'll talk about your work and we have plenty of opportunity for that. We want to be sure to seed time for you to get to know one another and maybe you'll forge new collaborations."
I was quite pleased to follow Tom's opening and lead the group through the practice of stretching our social and creative muscles. From past participants and observers I heard that the retreat was more interactive than usual. The students voiced more of what they wanted in and from the program; asked for more opportunities to develop group projects, skills in presenting and interviewing. Fortunately for these students, they have a program willing to invest in their professional, creative growth. First year and senior students will receive professional presentations workshops. The first from the Alan Alda Communicating Science Center, the latter from my colleague Mia and myself. I say, with no straight face, it's not clear who's will be more awesome. Yet, I am increasingly comfortable with being in the same circle with the Alan Alda group.
So. going home in October was great. And we'll be seeing more of these students and the bioinformatics program.