Houston voices

How researchers can cultivate patience, according to University of Houston expert

Usually, research takes time and patience — here are some tips for cultivating patience. Graphic by Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Aristotle, one of the most famous philosophers and scientists of all time, once said, "Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet."

What the phrase conveys is all too familiar to those in the scientific community. Patience needs to be cultivated by researchers who wait for the outcome of their studies. History is full of success stories of the science community showing both patience and persistence.

Quitters never prosper

Patience is essentially the ability to stay relatively unruffled in the face of adversity. Earning a Ph.D. takes time, writing grants and getting funding takes time, and experiments – some of them never yield results or take a long time to do so.

For example, there is the story of the two scientists who discovered the HPV virology, which eventually led to routine tests that check for cervical cancer in women. They were studying and researching the bacteria that causes the HPV virus for nearly 13 years before their findings were accepted. "In January 1928, Dr. George N. Papanicolaou first announced his findings at the Third Race Betterment Conference in Battle Creek, Michigan, but these were met with skepticism and resistance from the scientific community. This rejection did not deter Dr. Papanicolaou from continuing his research in this field in 1939, until eventually his findings were published on March 11, 1941," wrote Ioannis N. Mammas and Demetrios A. Spandidos in Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine.

This is by no means the only example – many researchers face setbacks and long experimentation periods that seemingly go nowhere, making any outcome at all even more sacred.

A marshmallow now…

A new study by Adrianna Jenkins, a UC Berkeley postdoctoral researcher, and Ming Hsu, an associate professor of marketing and neuroscience at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, is making headway in determining whether willpower is actually the way one overcomes adversity or if patience is born of something else. We know the famous marshmallow test, where young children were told they could have one marshmallow right away or two marshmallows if they waited a short time. Thirty years later, the children with better impulse control were more successful than their counterparts who had little self-control.

The newer study works like this: "The actual reward outcomes were identical, but the way they were framed differed. For example, under an "independent" frame, a participant could receive $100 tomorrow or $120 in 30 days. Under a "sequence" frame, a participant had to decide whether to receive $100 tomorrow and no money in 30 days or no money tomorrow and $120 in 30 days." More on this later.

As one might guess, the ones who showed delayed gratification were the ones using their imaginations the most: "Participants in the sequence frame reported imagining the consequences of their choices more than those in the independent frame. One participant wrote, 'It would be nice to have the $100 now, but $20 more at the end of the month is probably worth it because this is like one week's gas money.''

Willing yourself patient?

So how does willpower play into the equation? "Whereas willpower might enable people to override impulses, imagining the consequences of their choices might change the impulses," Jenkins says. "People tend to pay attention to what is in their immediate vicinity, but there are benefits to imagining the possible consequences of their choices."

Researchers may not think of themselves as particularly creative, but an imagination is definitely needed to frame hypotheses and conduct experiments, so one could argue that scientists are perhaps some of the most creative, imaginative people around.

The Big Idea

Waiting is still a drag, right?

In The Greater Good, a University of California – Berkeley science magazine, there were three concrete steps to help your research become even more fulfilling and make you more patient as an investigator: mindfulness, reframing the situation and being grateful.

First, mindfulness. Mindfulness techniques include things as simple as acknowledging you are overwhelmed or frustrated with a co-PI. It lets you deal better and leads to the second step, which is reframing the situation in a positive light. And, remember the $120 scenario? Those who were grateful for the amount of money they were receiving did better at delaying gratification, according to the study.

So, when you're working on your latest research, don't forget to practice patience. The fruits will taste even sweeter once the obstacles are endured, one by one.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Sarah Hill, the author of this piece, is the communications manager for the UH Division of Research.

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Building Houston

 
 

Four climatetech-focused individuals have been named to Greentown Lab's board. Photo via greentownlabs.com

Greentown Labs, a Massachusetts-based climatetech startup incubator with its secondary location in Houston, has appointed four new board members.

Of the new appointees, two community board members have been named in order to act as liaisons between startups and Greentown Labs. Greentown Houston's appointed representation is Nisha Desai, founder and CEO of Intention, and community member. The other new board members are Gilda A. Barabino, president of Olin College of Engineering and professor of biomedical and chemical engineering; Nidhi Thakar, senior director of resource and regulatory strategy and external engagement for Portland General Electric; and Leah Ellis, co-founder and CEO of Sublime Systems, who is the Sommerville location's community board member).

"It is important for a startup incubator to have leadership and insight from stakeholders including the public and private sector, academic and university communities," says Greentown Labs CEO Dr. Emily Reichert in a news release. "These leaders bring a wealth of knowledge relevant to not only climatetech but to our continued growth as an organization. Their voices will be important to have at the table as Greentown charts its course for the next decade of climate action."

Desai's current startup, Intention, is climate impact platform for retail investors, and she has previously worked at six energy-related startups including Ridge Energy Storage, Tessera Solar, and ActualSun, where she was co-founder and CEO. She's also worked in a leadership role at NRG Energy and spent several years as a management consultant with the energy practice of Booz Allen Hamilton — now Strategy&, a PWC company.

"I'm honored to join the board of Greentown Labs as a representative of the startup community," she says in the release. "This is a pivotal time for climate and energy transition. I look forward to working with the rest of the board to expand the collective impact of the Greentown Labs ecosystem."

The four new appointees join seven existing board members:

  • Alicia Barton, CEO of FirstLight Power (Board Chair)
  • Katherine Hamilton, Chair of 38 North Solutions
  • Dawn James, Director of US Sustainability Strategy and Environmental Science at Microsoft
  • Matthew Nordan, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Prime Impact Fund and General Partner at Azolla Ventures
  • Kathleen Theoharides, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
  • Mitch Tyson, Principal at Tyson Associates and Co-Founder of the Northeast Clean Energy Council
  • Dr. Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs

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