Welcome to a new series of posts on how to build an online audience. As a reader of this blog, you surely have a message and a vision that you would like to share with the world.
How do you do this?
You need to develop a network of tools to provide value to your audience. You think the internet has everything covered and you have nothing to add in terms of relevant content. Wrong. There is shockingly little independent information presented in a user-friendly way. Your opportunity is to find your unique voice and provide content that nobody else can provide, your voice!
To help you build your audience, I am taking you on an 8-week tour of how I approach this. Few months ago, I deleted my personal Twitter Account @FlavioFrohlich in order to regain my sanity. I have now activated a new account with the same handle, which has already accumulated a mind-boggling 20 followers! We will use this account to try out and demonstrate a set of different strategies to find your voice and build an audience online.
You may wonder why you would want to endeavor on such a project that can be misunderstood as a vanity project. My answer to this question is that the internet is full of regurgitated, often incorrect, often extreme content. The world will be a better place if we succeed in adding more perspectives, more diversity, more nuances, and more thought to the online conversation. In other words, I am saying the world is waiting to hear from you!
Here is our 8-week playbook. We are starting on August 19th:
Week 1: Getting the tools ready.
Week 2: The power of email.
Week 3: Stepping up online engagement.
Week 4: Videos > Pictures > Words ?
Week 5: Being real online without oversharing.
Week 6: Mindfulness (online)
Week 7: Amplifying your voice with $
Week 8: Reflections: Lessons learned.
I hope you will join me for this exciting adventure!
In the last post, I explored some of the underlying dynamics that are a likely culprit / source of our trouble with email. Today, I will further develop this theme and offer a set of practical solutions that have worked for me.
One important angle to the email trap is that promptly answering (all?!) emails feels good for a quick moment because we take it as a sign of how kind and engaged we are. Unfortunately, by replying to all emails (for many years my Sunday afternoon activity), you are soliciting the next volley of emails. You can get easily swept up by those dynamics. All humans crave in one or the other way for a feeling of belonging and of purpose. Creating an internal model in which we are inundated with emails that require our attention gives us the feeling that we are important and thus live a life of purpose. Replying to every message as fast as possible is giving us the feeling that we are connected and part of a social network. Yet, these positive emotions are not sustained in this process. Rather we increasingly loose our internal agency by replacing it with an external agency. We rely on what others drop into our inbox and pay with a lack of time and focus for the important priorities in our lives. As a result, we are getting more stressed and less happy, with the consequence that we are even less like to succeed with a more rational approach that requires more of our prefrontal cortex.
Somebody must stop this. Here is the system that I have developed. Give it a try and let me know how it goes by leaving a comment below.
When I went to college, email was brand new for me. I remember checking my email inbox multiple times a day in the hope that I would find an exciting message there. In many ways, this was a continuation of how I felt about my family’s (physical) mailbox when I was growing up. Every day, I was eager to get the mail to see if there is something interesting there. Rarely every was there mail for me (why should there!), so I started to write letters to an organization that was dedicated to the protection of birds, my favorite animals when I was a child. With my dad’s electric typewriter, I would write formal letters to ask questions about birds. It usually took a week or so to get a thick envelope back with an encouraging letter and some interesting booklets and copies of research publications. What a joy! With emails it was a bit different since as a student I did not find the time to engage people by email and thus the inbox was often empty.
Today, twenty years later, things are very different. For sure you will never hear me complain about a lack of emails that I receive. Quite the contrary, I am no exception in terms of the flood of (work) emails that I get every day. What might have stayed is the same is the thrill of opening the inbox to see if something magic has happened. Perhaps a paper we have submitted got accepted?! Perhaps I receive an invitation to give a keynote address at an international meeting?! This is one of the many reasons why most of us want to get email alerts and monitor our inbox(es) throughout the day, often also at night, on weekends, and during vacations. Yet, this attitude is bound to make us unhappy and unproductive.
It is hard to overstate how much email has changed our lives. The main point is that I can put something into your inbox in seconds that may take you hours to resolve. I can write “Please provide feedback”, attach a twenty-page draft and send it to ten people, creating a situation where I am stealing multiple hours from ten people, without any cost to me. This is grotesque but how this game works. Yet, most of us struggle to escape this game and find a healthy approach to email.
Let’s start with probing a bit deeper how many urgent and important messages I have received in my time as an academic so far. It is worth noting that email communication is a key pillar of the academic research environment. OK, let’s count. (1) The email telling me that I was admitted into graduate school. (2) The email telling me that I was hired as a postdoctoral fellow. (3) The finalized offer letter for my faculty position. One – two – three. These are important (and rather urgent) emails since they were of big impact for me and required a prompt response (1) Accepted – thanks. (2) Accepted – thanks. (3) Accepted – thanks. To be clear, I have received numerous emails that were urgent and not important. My favorite example: please review this document (only 10 pages!) by tomorrow. It is urgent since the sender has been procrastinating for weeks. Also, there are numerous important but not urgent messages (“We would like to invite you to give a keynote talk at [fill in fancy meeting] this fall”). See? The problem thus with treating emails (without discrimination) as urgent and, we are missing the chance to work on items that are truly important for reaching our goals.
Dealing with emails is often more than just work that does not advance you towards the realization of your visions and big goals. Rather, it can become a source of stress. I used to make the distinction between “looking at my emails” and “answering my emails.” I would open my inbox to quickly check if there is something that I felt like dealing with on the spot. Often, I would do that on my smartphone. Very few emails did get resolved when I looked at them. First, I did not have the right software tools and files available to truly process a message such that I could consider it to be resolved (and archived). Instead of forgetting the message until I found time to sit down at a computer, rather the message was playing games in my head and I would remember it and think about it multiple times until I finally sat down to deal with it properly. Just picture this. Anyone in the world with an internet account can easily find my work email address online and send me a wonderful but perhaps slightly lengthy email that includes requests that will get stuck in my head and ultimately rob me of a substantial amount of focused time. This gets compounded by the fact that many (including me for a long time) use their inbox as a never empty, stress inducing inbox. With this, anyone in the world can plant something directly onto my to-do list. Maintaining your own priorities that advance you and your work is very tough this way.
In the next post, I will provide you with a complete and practical strategy how to improve your life by dealing with email in a new way. Stay tuned.
How we feel is a mostly a function of if and how we feel connected to the people around us. Building, maintaining, and growing relationships is thus key to how we feel and also how successful we are. Academia is in many ways an unusual place since careers are enabled by scientific publications and discoveries, and not by people skills. However, it is never too late to learn. Here are my top three ways how to become more successful by improving your relationships at work.
It has been a while since I have last posted here. I have spent the last few months furiously writing grant applications to raise funds to continue our exciting research in the Frohlich Lab. I take great pride in how lean and efficient our lab is, but still, research costs real dollars. Also, I have started to think in earnest about how to reach a broader audience with our message about the brain. #scicomm As a result, I have launched two new initiatives that I invite you to check out and provide feedback on. Both have a brand new website that will be enriched with more content over time.
Yes, this is an actual web address taking you to a website to inform that public in a balanced way about transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS), which our Carolina Center for Neurostimulation actively investigates as a potential treatment for psychiatric illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia. The goal was to write about something very technical in a way that the non-expert can understand. I would like to give credit to the book "Don't be such a scientist" that has truly opened my eyes. A book worth reading!
Again, yes, this is an actual web address (recognize a theme?) that takes you to a brand new site that will provide insights about how the brain works as an inspiration for all of us to learn, grown, transform.
More news to follow. I wish you all the best with your own (new) projects. Remember, whatever your dream is, start TODAY to make a step towards realizing that dream.
Reminder: This site uses affiliate links.
Science is highly competitive. We compete for positions, grants, awards, and recognition. Science is also very personal. Most of us identify very strongly with our work and are not able or willing to make a distinction between our work and our own existence as a person. Together, this makes a toxic mix. I am writing this to advocate for a different mindset that is healthier and perhaps will also create the better science. Here are my proposed 12 rules for making science a less stressful yet more productive enterprise.
What rules do you have? What am I missing? I am looking forward to reading yours in the comment section below.
I know it has been a while since I posted here - lots of great things are under development. I will catch you up over the next few weeks. For now, I wanted to share with you a (random) list of concerns that have cropped up over and over again in grant review of my own work. I am hoping this list can serve as a checklist as you are working on your applications:
..our just published paper of tACS for the treatment of chronic pain (abstract here). Today, I would like to share with you how we got started with this exciting new research direction and how things came together for that study.
Origin of the Idea
Before we initiated this work, we had not studied chronic pain. A graduate student approached me with the desire to develop a new treatment for chronic pain and I sensed a great opportunity to support her idea and initiative. The principal investigator for this study was Dr. Karen McCulloch, faculty at the UNC School of Medicine. The first step was a review of the literature and what we found was that there are only very few (perhaps less than 10) scientific publications on how brain activity is altered in chronic pain. To my surprise, the vast majority of research is focused on acute pain, which we hypothesized to be very different from chronic pain, which is persisting pain even if the original cause of the pain is long gone.
As an outsider, we had the freedom to not be bogged down by existing paradigms and research cultures. Our idea was straightforward. We hypothesized that there is a change in the alpha oscillations, which is a fundamental brain rhythm impaired in many disorders of the central nervous system, and that transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) can restore alpha oscillations and thus reduce pain symptoms in patients with chronic pain. More specifically, we speculated that alpha oscillations are reduced (corresponding to elevated neuronal firing) in the areas of the brain encoding touch.
With this hypothesis in mind, we planned and executed a double-blind, placebo controlled study, which is described in our new paper (NCT03243084). To my surprise, we found convincing evidence for the hypotheses. Typically, in any scientific study, about 80% of the results make sense (on a good day!) and 20% leave you more confused (next study!). In this case, it was unusual how well everything lined up.
Getting it Published
The process was very smooth (highly unusual!). As you would expect for a new idea, we first were met with an editorial rejection from one of the leading journals in the pain field. We tried another, equally established journal, made it passed the editorial pre-screen and both reviewers were enthusiastic and incredibly helpful. Paper accepted.
This was a highly synergistic collaboration between two outstanding trainees in my group Dr. Sangtae Ahn (postdoc) and Julianna Prim (graduate student, co-mentored with Dr. McCulloch). They have complementary expertise which was needed for such a new and exciting study. When I asked them why this all worked out so well, the answer I got was that I asked them to sit at neighboring desks, which facilitated their collaboration. Small details do matter!
PS While our first study looks really exciting, no single study can provide any final answer and much more work will be needed before this becomes a clinical treatment. This study was mostly a neuroscience study to understand if there are indeed brain rhythms which are impaired in chronic pain and if tACS can engage these rhythms. If you are interested in this kind of work, please consider a donation to enable this line of research. Also, you need to know that the study was performed with a device from my start-up company Pulvinar Neuro LLC. The company played no role in this study.
There are many elements that make a day a productive and meaningful day. Today, I would like to share some thoughts with you about the beginning and the ending of a work day. The following five tips reflect what I learned about how to ring in and out workdays:
Tip 1: Never look at your phone/tablet/computer for anything work related before you actually start your workday. Taking your time to prepare for the day will make you way more productive. The last thing you need is distraction in the form of many urgent but really not that important emails or (depressing) world news. Rather, I recommend you focus on a routine that nourishes your mind and body. This will give you the strength and resolve you need to succeed in your workday.
Tip 2: Always start your workday with writing down your goals and reviewing your calendar for what is coming up. I encourage you to critically ask if the scheduled activities really reflect your goals for the day. If they do not, I recommend (and yes it feels uncomfortable) you cancel the items which are not aligned. For example, if my goal is to work on an important grant proposal but my schedule is full with unrelated meetings, I will cancel these meetings. Pro Tip: Never lie about why you cancel the meeting. Simply state that you have something important that requires your full attention. If somebody asks (nobody does), explain in more detail.
Tip 3: Set an alarm for when it is time to start wrapping up your day such as 30 minutes before you want to walk out of the office. When the alarm rings, put everything down and start wrapping up.
Tip 4: Before leaving the office, clean off your real and your virtual desktop such that you are prepared for a fresh, new start the next day.
Tip 5: Make sure you get the chance to reflect on your day at the very end of the workday. Be willing to see the good and the bad, and make plans for the next day based on what that day has taught you. Be open to learn, change, and improve.
I hope these strategies help you getting your days structured and fulfilling. Please let me know how it goes by posting a comment below.
We had an indoor weekend due to the major storm passing through. Luckily we got mostly spared and our thoughts are with the ones touched by the storm. I noticed quite an uptick in tweets about how long the day is when you cannot go outside (with your kids). Here is what I did - and yes this is very nerdy:
We spent a lot of time measuring things. The idea is very simple (and very familiar if you are a scientist or in a relationship with a scientist..). In parenthesis, I am cross-linking the steps with a scientific paper.
You do not need a fancy research lab to do this. All you need is a bit of imagination and some (cheap) sensors. Also, cell phones do include a lot of sensors and there are apps that can be used. I am not including them here since I am a firm believer in limiting screen times for kids, independent of content (yes, we can argue you about this..). There is something special in terms of the learning and the entertainment when you carry around a measurement device and read from its display.
Here are some sensors that work well for such activities. Note that none of them are toys. Please stay safe and use them in an age-appropriate way. All of them are less than $25 on Amazon (except the CO2 sensor). Please see here to learn how my site uses affiliate links. Below are some sample questions that kept us entertained and curious.
Here are some basic but (too kids and adults like me who are still kids) fun questions. Always add the question "Why?"
Electricity using the plug in "KillAWatt" (only for adults, under strict adult supervision, outlets are nothing to play with)
Electricity using the multimeter
And so on. Have fun happy Monday!