What I wish I knew sooner.
This is a strange and very worrying time. It is also a time for reflection. So I decided to think about “what I wish I knew sooner”. This was a concept introduced by Neal Kravitz in this great blog post. He wrote that he sometimes wished that he could go back in time to his younger self and provide advice. Here is my version of “what I wish I knew sooner”. This is, of course, from a recently retired clinical academic orthodontist.
Be a clinician
It is evident that if you are going to research into clinical care, you need to do the clinical practice. But you need to get the balance right. Throughout my career, I spent half of my time treating patients. This was vital to understand and formulate clinical research questions. You also need to “walk the walk”. There were times that I was tempted to reduce my clinical commitments so that I could concentrate on research, but I resisted this temptation. It was only in the last few years of my career that I realised that I was having to work harder to satisfy my clinical standards. This informed my decision to stop clinical work. So, remember to be a clinician but also realise when you have to stop.
Be as good a teacher as you can
You must be able to teach. This is not merely lecturing and putting a talk together. As a good teacher, you need to be able to teach everyone from student dentists to experienced specialists. This requires the adoption and development of several relevant teaching styles. You should also not be surprised to be challenged on your teaching. Always have time for student dentists, they are our future, and we need to put all our energy into their development. Never stop teaching, it will leave a massive hole in your life (but see below).
Work at presentations
You cannot do enough lecture preparation. It is essential to prepare well for the small seminar to the sizeable international keynote lecture. There are no shortcuts. Occasionally, I have thought that I could “wing it”. This never worked.
Avoid the “show and tell “and masses of data. You should try to keep it simple. No one is interested in fancy graphics, slide transitions that impress no-one, pictures of your vacation home and your pets. There is also no need to manically pace backwards and forwards on the stage. Only a few people can pull this off, and most people doing this just look strange.
Finally, know when to stop. You do not want to be remembered as a rambling, uncoordinated person stumbling through their presentation.
This can be difficult. There are times when discussions become heated. This is particularly true for social media and email. I have been guilty of some dreadful emails and exchanges. I have apologised for most of these indiscretions, I hope.
My best advice is to take your time before replying. Do not send the email/social media reply immediately. Just write it out and have a look at tomorrow. Then delete it.
In fact, I do wonder if it is best to not engage in social medial arguments. While you think that you may be making good points, there will always be people who disagree with you. In addition, some people are just plain insulting. This simply causes too much angst and wastes time.
You are not a master of the Universe.
When your career goes well, and you are a successful academic/clinician/practice owner. Remember that you have worked hard, but you also struck lucky. You are not a Master of the Universe, and you need to have humility. When I was a newly appointed Chair of Orthodontics, I had grant income, published widely and was starting on the international lecture circuit. I went through a period of arrogance which I now regret. So remember to be humble and grateful for any success that you may have.
Discover mindfulness early.
This is straightforward but easily forgotten. Always try to have fun in your own way. You will make the differences that you want to make.
Emeritus Professor of Orthodontics, University of Manchester, UK.