Every Monday in my division at the NOAA Earth Science Research Laboratory a group of scientists in the first few years after getting their PhDs get together and present our work to each other. This idea was the brain-child of two of my colleagues who joined the lab shortly before me. They wanted to foster communication between researchers working on different topics, and provide a safe space in which people near the start of their academic careers could test-out their presentation skills, ask questions without worrying whether they sound smart or not and use each other as resources to help in our work. We sign up to present, two people per week for under 30 mins each, on anything from what we did in grad school, to a problem we have on our desk right now, to a practice talk for a conference. It works brilliantly – no one feels too shy to ask questions or present something unfinished, we all learn a lot about each other’s subjects and provide new perspectives on problems.
As an example: a colleague presented recently about a new modelling study she’s starting, and mentioned the need to learn R, a different programming language from what she’s used up until now, for the project. This is not a common language in our lab, but it just so happens to be my favorite language for complex analyses and one I’ve used since my undergrad years. Now she can just pop over to my office when she gets stuck with something instead of spending hours on forums, and I get to feel less of an odd-ball for my programming language preferences.
The lunches also serve to introduce new researchers to other people near their age and stage in the lab. NOAA’s very dynamic, with lots of researchers joining all the time, especially those coming straight from grad-school. It used to take a while for us to find each other, but now within a week their introduced to a lot of young researchers in the division, making work more social for everyone and helping people who’ve often just moved across the country, if not the world, settle in easier.