Recently, a postdoc in my research group asked for my help in preparing an oral presentation. Because we worked on similar projects, I was happy to send him slides from my previous presentation as a resource for ideas. And I also coached him in some of the potential questions he may receive from the audience.
I attended his presentation and saw that he used several of my slides, with a slight edit of the background color. I was astounded that he gave me no credit for those slides and did not even mention me in his “Acknowledgements” section.
While I couldn’t help but feel miffed about this situation, I also realized that this was a learning experience for me. Have I thanked the people who have helped me? Have I given credit where credit is due?
Doing scientific research is oftentimes a thankless job. Your mentor takes your data to write her next big grant without so much as a glance of appreciation. Your dissertation results published in a top-tier journal make headlines in the popular press, but health policy makers don’t understand the potential implications. Rather than choosing the private sector or Wall Street, you chose a public service career that contributes to the betterment of society’s health, and society pays you back with low pay and sometimes even contempt.
Therefore, it’s important to thank the people around us who teach us, guide us, coach us, challenge us, and give us opportunities. It’s even more important to thank the people who help us with our experiments, who feed our experimental animals, who keep our lab environments safe, who stock the lab with proper equipment, who write our recommendation letters, and who try their hardest to keep us funded so that we can do what we love to do.
It doesn’t take much to let people know that they are appreciated. Acknowledge their help both publically (in your presentations and publications) and personally (take them out to lunch or send a sincerely written note).
In an email I recently received from one of my mentors, he had written, “Did I ever tell you how enjoyable it is to work with you? … Keep up the good work!” I printed out the email for my refrigerator simply because of the rarity of this type of recognition and gratitude. It made my week!
Earlier this year in April, those of us in the federal government had a huge sigh of relief when a budget was finally agreed upon by lawmakers so that the government could stay open. We received a letter in our inboxes from the White House. President Barack Obama wrote:
“You do your jobs without complaint or much recognition. But it is men and women like you who help make America all it is, by responding to the needs of our people, and keeping our country safe and secure. And so, I want to thank you not only for your forbearance in recent weeks, but for the service you render each and every day to the United States of America.”
So, if Obama can say “thank you,” then we shouldn’t forget to say it too.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Government.
Wenny Lin, PhD, MPH, is a fellow in the Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program at the National Cancer Institute. Prior to joining the Nutritional Epidemiology Branch in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics, Wenny earned her MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2009 and her PhD in Cell & Molecular Biology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2008.