Not sure what book to get for the academic in your life this holiday season? With the huge amount of literature available, it’s often hard to decide what material would be the most beneficial to up-and-coming scientists. Fortunately, I’ve done the hard work for you this week at The American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) Annual Meeting in San Diego. I took to vendor booths, career development workshops, networking happy hours, one-on-one conversations and Twitter to ask career development experts to assemble a list of gift ideas for emerging scholars. Take a look at the reading and resources recommended below, and feel free to add any of your own suggestions in the comments!

Gifts for the budding science communicator 

In the early minutes of the “Delivering Science: Effective Communication Skills to Become a Successful Scientist” workshop, Dr. Sarah Goodwin (@ssgoodwin), Director of iBiology, stressed the importance of storytelling. By describing our science as a narrative, we can not only elicit more engagement and enthusiasm from our audience, but we can also improve comprehension and retention of the material. Sarah’s introduction to the effective power of storytelling led to a quick discussion about the book Houston, We Have a Narrative: Why Science Needs Story. In this book, Dr. Randy Olson, a working scientist turned filmmaker, discusses how scientists could learn a thing or two from Hollywood. By establishing momentum, conflict and resolution in scientific narrative, audiences of all disciplines become more captivated in the topic. Randy Olson’s other works also came highly suggested, including Don’t Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style.

I next turned to Twitter to ask our science communication experts for any suggested reading material to add to our holiday gift guide. Our fearless workshop leader Dr. Mónica Feliú-Mójer (@moefeliu) provided me with a link to a great post that contains her recommended reads, found here. One of my favorite suggestions from the list is Escape from the Ivory Tower: A Guide to Making Your Science Matter by Nancy Baron, a practical guide to communicating science effectively to any audience.

Gifts for the introverted scientist

Professional networking doesn’t come easy to most people. In fact, it can require some mental preparation from even the most exuberant extrovert. You can imagine that for introverts, networking can be downright exhausting and intimidating. During a workshop on how to get the most out of the ASCB annual meeting, Natalie Lundsteen (@NLundsteen), Director of Graduate Career Development at UTSW, pointed out that networking often takes a bit of extra courage. Instead of becoming discouraged by the enormity of a meeting or the fame of a particular professor, set small attainable networking goals and work your way up to bigger and more extensive connections.

Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, understanding how to network effectively without completely depleting your batteries is an important skill. During the workshop, Natalie suggested two books: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain and Networking for Nerds by Alaina G. Levine. Susan Cain’s book is a great gift for any introvert (or extrovert, really!) and explores introversion from a physiological and biological perspective. Networking for Nerds provides practical advice to scientists and engineers for creating and cultivating a successful professional network.

Gifts for the scientist focused on career development

Many graduate students and post-docs are unaware of the variety of career development resources available to them at their home institution. Professional Development Coordinators are there to help you succeed in creating a successful and rewarding career. During an informational career panel on university administration, we heard from Dr. Ginger Hazen, a Professional Development Coordinator for post-docs at UC San Diego. In her presentation, Ginger plugged the Association for Women in Science as an excellent career development resource for scientists pursuing a wide range of careers. A membership to this organization would make a fabulous gift for any scientist. An AWIS membership provides access to a wide variety of programs, including AWIS’s leadership and talent development program, advocacy efforts, and AWIS-sponsored literature. I also would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t point out that AWIS has a ridiculously awesome gift shop on their website, with everything from coffee mugs to flip flops to t-shirts for your dog. Even your dog can support women in science this holiday season!

If you are contemplating a professional membership as a holiday gift, I also recommend ASCB, the host organization of this week’s meeting. Annual memberships provide access to training courses, travel grants, networking opportunities, career advice, and job postings. Additionally, ASCB’s Committee for Postdocs and Students (COMPASS) provides a forum for emerging scientists, creating opportunities for advocacy, outreach and community building.

Gifts for the gift-giver on a budget

If you are a graduate student or a post-doc yourself, it’s understandable if you don’t have a large budget for gifts this holiday season. So as an alternative to the gifts listed above, here are a few free ideas I picked up at ASCB 15 that will help any scholar improve their networking, communication, and career development skills.

  • Is your scholar wary of using social media for science networking? Help them set up a professional Twitter or LinkedIn account and donate a block of your time to give them a quick tour of the site.
  • Commit to accompanying your scholar to the next networking activity hosted by your institution’s career center. Be the extra encouragement they need to expand their professional network and hone their job talks.
  • Offer to help edit their CV/job talks/grant applications. You can also be a great sounding board for practicing elevator speeches.

Happy holidays from #ASCB15!

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