Jason McSheene

An Outlet for Thoughts, Ideas, and Discussion


Ideas, suggestions, and tools to improve your self-development and leadership

American Society for Artificial Internal Organs- June 18-21, 2014

This a follow up to my entry from last month entitled “Conference Networking”.

ASAIOLast month I took my first steps into the industry in which I plan on spending my career. To do this, I joined the American Society for Artificial Internal Organs (ASAIO) and attended its annual conference. I had been to a couple of academic biology conferences alone before, so I was not very concerned with being by myself. And as I outlined in the previous post, I had my clear goals for learning and networking:

  1. Identify current research
  2. Introduce myself to everyone
  3. Investigate the companies/institutions doing the work

I am happy to say that I made great progress on each of those points! Not only did I walk away from the conference knowing much more about the work being discussed, but I made a few contacts and I scouted out a few companies.

Additionally, Richard Wampler, MD, Associate Prof Surgery at Oregon Health Sciences University gave such a fantastic and inspiring keynote speech which felt like it was aimed directly at me. The morning before, Kurt Dasse, PhD, President & CEO, GeNO LLC gave an overview of the society that was both welcoming and motivating. ASAIO just felt right as an organization to which I can contribute.

This motivation was essential to my enjoyment of the conference due to the lack of tissue engineering. I was surprised to see that most of the talks were about mechanical heart pumps. Sure, there was a good amount of work being done with artificial kidneys but the meeting as a whole was quite bioengineering heavy. Thankfully the talks were all pretty good and I picked up the engineering problems and solutions quickly.

However, not everything was as expected. First, this conference was a large mix of engineers, business leaders, researchers, and physicians. Being used to a broadly academic crowd, this new group of people felt a bit more closed off, guarded. There are definitely differences in the cultures of all those groups. I made it a point to introduce myself to as many people as possible, including groups. Some groups, like a small group of Yale medical students was friendly while others were very dismissive.

Another unexpected point was the lack of diversity. Biomedical research, speaking broadly, felt very diverse when compared to the ASAIO membership. I immediately felt how helpful it is to have someone who merely looks like you in a position of power or authority. Perhaps it was a lack of familiarity with the field, but I felt a bit less secure when a vast majority of the talks were given by white males over 45.

Thankfully, ASAIO facilitates a subgroup called fyi (for young innovators, under 35). This group is amazingly diverse and was a true fresh breath. The students, postdocs, and leaders I met in this group were very interesting and passionate. I hope to interact with them further. The ASAIOfyi group held a couple of luncheons to help the new generation interact with those who were more experienced. This definitely helped!


In summary, while the meeting did not help me directly find a job or a very helpful lead, it did lay the groundwork for my career path. I learned that there is a ton of room in the tissue engineering field and that the companies out there (as a whole) really have been focusing only on mechanical solutions. I believe hybrid biological-mechanical devices will produce the best results in long-term replacement artificial organs and therapeutics.

If I met you at the meeting, thanks for stopping by the site!

Conference Networking

I am not naturally a very outgoing person. However, that does not negate one important thing I learned: it is important to put on a good game face, be social, and talk with as many people as possible (i.e. NETWORK!).Ep009_card

This week I will step out of my comfort zone by attending the American Society of Artificial Internal Organs (ASAIO) conference in Washington D.C. I will not know anybody there and the field of artificial internal organs is brand new to me, as I have no direct experience in it . So why even go? 

  1. Comfort is the enemy of progress. This is a perfect opportunity to push those boundaries and grow. As mentioned before, going to the ASAIO meeting will force me out of my comfort zone. It is easy to go to a meeting with a bunch of your co-workers and close yourself off to new experiences. Instead of doing this, I encourage everyone to keep themselves open to communication.Go to the talks that might not directly relate to your work but sound interesting to you. Ask a “stupid” question. Talk to that person who seems intimidating.
  2. The meeting is the perfect opportunity to learn! What is the current state of various technologies? Where is research and production being performed? Who is on the cutting edge? How can I position myself for entry into the field?
  3. Networking. If you listened to Episode 9 of the PhD in Progress podcast, you understand the importance of networking. Because I’m in the process of career exploration, meeting new people and learning about their career paths is vital. It will help me understand what some companies expect and how I can better augment my skills and experience.

With all of this, it’s also important to set goals and expectations. It would be a huge mistake to wander around for a few days just expecting to get the most out of the experience. So here is what I hope to accomplish at this meeting:

  1. Identify current research. Obviously, I will going to each talk session and poster session in order to learn more about the field. It is entirely possible that my future work will be related to something I hear at the conference.I will learn about 20 technologies in-depth and develop follow-up questions for each.
  2. Introduce myself to everyone. Alright, not every single person, but I should not be sitting quietly by myself for more than a few minutes. This, without a doubt, will be the most beneficial yet draining goal. I want to hear about what people think, what they do, and what their own goals are. By initiating conversation, I’ll create opportunities for learning, teaching, and helping. Plus I might have a few new friends to enjoy a drink with at the end of the night.Besides, interacting with hardly anyone for 3-5 days is never fun. I did that at a meeting in Montreal once. Never again!I will start a conversation within the first 2 minutes of down time.
  3. Investigate the companies/institutions doing the work. At the end of the week, I want to know the major players involved in bioengineering of biological tissues. I should be familiar with the companies, understand their products and/or services, and have the contact information people who work in R&D there. While I am doing this for my own career search, it should be a goal of anyone trying to improve their position within a field of choice.I will be very active at poster sessions and networking events by asking about the research itself, the employees, and the companies.

The key for me is that people universally want to feel valued, helpful, and interesting. Additionally, people do not want to be bored, unimportant, or invisible. By initiating conversation, you give someone the chance to fulfill all of those needs and quench those concerns.


Claiming My Life

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI spent the previous year training: training to find best practices, training to myself to make connections, and training myself to be better overall.

In preparing for my big job push, I’m flooded with all the advice I obtained… and it is a lot. There is such a thing as being “over prepared” but I do not think this is the case. Instead of being completely nervous, I’m actually quite excited.

From the world of academia I learned:

  • Patience
  • Teamwork
  • Humility

Through independent reading and listening to the materials of business leaders, I learned:

  • Value
  • Fulfillment
  • Strategy
  • Understanding

It is important to constantly self-assess and make corrections, so I have become very intimate with some of my weaknesses and continue to work on them. I’m not perfect (and I do not strive to be ‘perfect’, as it is an enemy to progress). However, in synthesis of many life lessons over the past 5 or 6 years, I did assemble this undeniably corny and oddly motivational acronym: CLAIM.

  • Contribute a healthy body of work to the human race by focusing on my strengths.
  • Leave a legacy for my decedents: Financially, ethically, philosophically, emotionally, intellectually, physically…
  • Appreciate the brief time I have and was granted; Do not waste time I did nothing to deserve.
  • Integrate my body and mind as fully as possible: exercise, meditation, self-awareness
  • Mend as many as possible by helping everyone defeat their struggles.

I think if I struggle in at least one of those themes in everything I do, I can die happy. Not everything will be a clear success, but as long as I incorporate CLAIM into each action, nothing shall be a complete failure. I will claim my life and help others in the process. Let’s see how it goes!

Podcasting Mini Milestone


EP005_card_aPhD (in Progress) Podcast Episode 5

Episode 5! A small but important milestone for me. They say “You haven’t made it until episode 10”, so we’re halfway there!
Also, this continues a major theme in our show, which is the important of self-direction and self-management.

There are plenty of resources out in the world geared towards professional development outside academia/grad school, and even a few focused on grad student issues. However, I think we provide the best show that captures the spirit of the (at least our collective) grad school experience. Sure Nikhil, Abigail, and I are a bit more STEM-centered, but we really do hope to reach out to others along the way.

It has been a lot of work and much fun putting together this show, so I’ll continue to work on it as much as I can in my “free” time. Episode 6 is already recorded and about to do part of 7 tomorrow. Keep pushing!

Start Recording: The PhD (in Progress) Podcast


Well friends,

I made a decision with my friend to start a podcast. After feeling left behind when I was not accepted into a certain program I was hoping to, I felt so down. Actually, I was angry. I never get angry but I was. I truly felt that I was an amazingly strong candidate who would return the investment 10-fold. This anger, however, turned into a new energy… an energy which reinforced my ambition, which had been lost in the day I was rejected.

As a life-long radio listener (well, close to 20 of 28 years) I was a quick podcast-adopter. After listening to such inspirational people like Dan Miller, Pat Flynn, and members of more “entertainment” style shows like IGN’s Game Scoop! and NPR’s Car Talk, I chose to start a podcast. What surprised me the most was how quickly this turned around.

I received the “bad news” March 17th.

I resolved to produce a podcast on March 20th.

I assembled a trio (including myself) of hosts, outlined a first episode, and came up with the name on March 30th. Purchased the domain two days later.

By April 8th, our first episode was published on iTunes! PhD (in Progress) Podcast aims to help former/current/future grad students improve their educations, careers, and lives. Grad students, PhD’s in particular, encounter somewhat unique experiences and obstacles, therefore our goal is to provide guidance and education.

I want to thank everyone who has been inspirational. I’m glad I got a mad. I’m glad I now have a podcast. When I was a young kid, I would have DIED to work on a radio show. Now I can make one in a room with my friends and I have spent under $200 doing so.

More importantly, this is a platform to help others. Nikhil, Abigail, and I can now reach out beyond our university, beyond our friends, and even beyond our continent. From April 8th to May 8th, we have had over 500 downloads across 4 episodes and each new installment increases the audience. I’m so happy to have the support of my friends and family to help hundreds of others.

As the three of us examine our graduate school experiences, we’ve seen that there are endless topics to discuss and countless stories to hear. Let’s try to collect some of those in our show!

My goals for the PhD (in Progress) Podcast:

  • Improve the PhD experience for everyone
  • Relate interesting stories
  • Discuss issues that are maybe a bit taboo or hushed
  • Help reform the idea of what being a grad student means


As I continue this project, I wish you luck in your pursuits. Keep rocking it.

Format Change, But Don’t Worry

I have not updated in a bit but I am definitely not sorry about it! There have been great triumphs in the last couple of months that I’d love to discuss:

1) I began wrapping up experiments and have since had my final committee meeting. The committee (i.e. the professors who help me throughout my grad school experience) have agreed that I can defend my thesis and graduate at some point in early September! As such, I’ve been running around scheming how to finish collecting and analyzing the

photo 1

data I need to in order to submit my first-authored paper.

2) I launched a podcast and associated website called PhDinProgress.com . This has personally been very challenging for me. I have been a life-long radio fan and it’s almost mind blowing that I can now record an episode each day from my own apartment. Podcasting has made this possible. What is the most challenging is putting together formats for each episode and practicing my public speaking. I am in no way a natural speaker: I stumble over my words often and am not the most eloquent. However, this venture outside of my comfort zone has already proven very helpful in my personal growth.

3) Finally, I have seriously begun my career search. Part of this has been chronicled in the PhD (in Progress) Podcast but much of it will remain private until the search is done. Regardless, I look forward to what my life has in store for me. I’ve spent 22+ years in school, so I’m very ready for the next chapter. I am also ready for this new job to be yet another opportunity for me to grow professionally and personally.


Because of all of these factors, I decided that this blog will become more of personal blog for my friends, family, and those who share my mindset or are interested in my views. The professional/career growth material will be shared on PhDinProgress.com , where you can also find my podcast. The contents of this blog will likely be migrated to JasonMcSheene.com as a dedicated site to my thoughts and interests of all sorts. There I will keep track of my personal PhD experience, personal anecdotes, and commentary on different religions/faiths which I am learning about (one of my favorite topics)! I’m excited, so pardon the dust as things begin to move around and migrate. It’ll be worth it.




Crafting the Perfect Presentation: A Failure

Getting pied in the face for charity. (It's a lot like getting pied in the face for not-charity)

Getting pied in the face for charity. (It’s a lot like getting pied in the face for not-charity)

Not long ago, a former colleague who is currently teaching at another university in NJ invited me to give a guest lecture. At first, I was incredibly honored then instantly scared. Who am I, a lowly graduate student, to give a talk to a university genetics class? I struggled to frame the type of talk I would give, never having given an hour-long lecture before. Iteration after iteration of my outlines then slides yielded the perfectly sculpted talk. It put into context human genetics, human disease, and transitioned beautifully into my specific field of study, which is left-right patterning in the zebrafish model. All my hard work on this presentation gave me the confidence to be that super smart scientist in the front of the room, defeating all the 40-layer deep Imposter Syndrome I typically suffer. Skillfully I summarize my talk and thank my colleagues. “Questions, anyone?”

“NO!” screamed the silence of the room, composed of 2 or 3 biology professors, fewer than a dozen students, and a math professor who had an hour to kill. The content went way over their heads. The students hadn’t quite learned about transcription (how RNA is made from a DNA template) yet when my whole talk displayed data in the form of photos marking where RNA was in my multitude of normal and mutant embryos. The professors asked a couple of helpful questions but I had failed. I thought my content was perfect but what the audience could have really used was a presentation discussing the basics I take for granted.
Science nerds like me need to remember that the knowledge of which we are exploring the frontier is not always the science we need to communicate. I know, I know, it’s so cool and interesting and there is hardly anything else in the world worth studying. However, after all the education we’ve gained, we have so much worth sharing. Try to be there for the audience, not yourself.
It really wasn’t a huge disaster or anything, but it did help shape my expectations for myself and my audience. As they say, don’t worry about making mistakes but don’t make the same one twice.

Do you have any particularly memorable fails or awkward moments that you thought were going to be your time to shine?

Be Your Own Top Priority (And Why It’s Not Selfish)

When asked “What is most important in your life?” your answer might sound like this list: my family, my friends, my work, or my religion (to just name the most common answers). But understood in each of those is that you are there to contribute to your family, your friends, your work, or your religion. If there is no you, your experience with all of those goes out the window. So it’s vital that you first take care of yourself.

Michael Hyatt commonly uses the air plane emergency procedure metaphor: In the event of an emergency, oxygen masks may be released from the ceiling. Properly place the mask on your face then help others with their masks. In other words, if you don’t take care of yourself, you cannot take care of anyone else adequately. I would argue that if you are unable to take of yourself, you will not even know what “helping others” truly means.
The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs From ''The Æsop for Children'', by Æsop Project Gutenberg etext 19994 http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/19994 ==Used on== *w:en:The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs ==License== {{PD-Gutenberg}

The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs From ”The Æsop for Children”, by Æsop Project Gutenberg etext 19994 http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/19994 ==Used on== *w:en:The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs ==License== {{PD-Gutenberg}

Self care involves physical, intellectual, social, and emotional aspects, all of which become stronger when we allow ourselves to be interdependent. There are so many topics to discuss concerning the practical steps of growth in each of these areas but I’ll focus on the overall effect. I believe empathy is the most important ruler of morality and goodness. However, we often want so badly to help those around us by sacrificing resources (emotional, financial, physical, etc.) that we do not have to give. This is killing the Golden Goose for her precious eggs instead of nurturing her and allowing her lay them naturally and often. In other words, giving what you are not prepared to give is hurting yourself and damaging your ability to give later.

So how do we place ourselves first without becoming overly selfish? I’m not perfect at all, but I do try to actively infuse an attitude of service into most of what I do, even if it is for myself. All it takes is to ask “Why am I doing _______ ?”
Example: “Why am I exercising?” – “I want to live a healthy, long life to help set a good example and to reap the beneficial effects in my work to better provide for my family.”
This mentality applies to activities that may be purely seen as recreation to someone who is not sharing your point of view. For a personal example, I love playing a strategy game called Starcraft (which will be featured in a future post). To an outsider, hearing that I sat down for an hour on a Sunday night to play this game might sound wasteful when I could be working on various projects. However, I know I must set aside some time during the week to relax while using my brain, especially after a long week of working in the lab. This is a way I recharge intellectually, emotionally, and socially (since I am an introvert).
Example: “Why am I playing Starcraft?” “I need this recreation time in order to restore balance between work and play. If I do not feel this balance, I do my worst work and I am emotionally/socially unavailable to my girlfriend, family, and friends.”
With a service mentality, you can assign meaning to tasks you feel might be pointless, profoundly important, or just plain fun. Never forget to perform the bulk of your activities with those people/things/purposes you are servicing in mind.Do you feel too overburdened by outside factors, people, or responsibilities to be able to put yourself first? Leave a comment for discussion! Thanks -J

Improve Your Goal Setting for 2014

When it comes to changing into the person you want to be, you have a leg up on evolution because you can be intentional. Evolution is random and messy, but you can think, plan, strategize, and succeed with an end in mind. You’ve made progress on some of your life goals this year but you’re not convinced that you were all that you could be. If you’re like me, you had work goals, health goals, life goals, relationship goals, hobby goals, etc., but only a few came to fruition. I’ve had a better than average year thanks to focus and planning, so here are some methods I encourage you to try. I hope they make your planning more effective.


    1. Write a year-end summary… from your December 31st, 2014 self.
      Who are you going to be a year from today? Make some quiet time to sit down with a pen and paper (or computer if you prefer) and think of the version of you that exists in one year. I’m sure you’re eating better, exercising more, and making final edits to your forthcoming novel. That’s all great but how did you get there? Where did you struggle along the way? Who helped you? Why are you feeling better about yourself now (future now, not now now). Remember back to the future of what made the better version of you possible. Use this frame of mind when you…
    2. Record your goals.
      People really dislike writing down their goals but it is simply a must. For best results, keep them visible or in an online document medium like Google Drive or Evernote. You should refer to them a few times a week and record progress as it happens.
    3. Make your goals detailed, measurable, and meaningful.
      The best goals are specific, can be measured objectively, and are important to some aspect of your life for a good reason. For example, a personal one of mine for 2014

      “I will read 2 books each month, one non-fiction and one fiction. This will broaden my knowledge and imagination, and will strengthen the quality of the content I produce.”

      For this example, I have already planned out each of the books I hope to read. The fewer decisions you have to make “in the moment”, the better your chances of success.

    4. Limit your goals to no more than 10.
      You know this one already. Way too many goals makes for chaos. People can remember only about a dozen things at once, so the fewer goals you have, the more likely you are to always be working towards all of them. Also, the fewer you have, the easier it is to incorporate the tasks into a routine. You will always be able to lose weight more effectively if a morning run becomes as much as your routine as that shower and cup (mug, Big Gulp, gallon, fuel frigate, whatever) of coffee is.
    5. Take a steps outside of your comfort zone.
      We learn this in science over and over again: performing the same experiments we’re used to rarely changes any result. The new, exciting findings come from being creative or having the courage to try the experiment you’re not convinced will work. Good is the enemy of great. You cannot make “being comfortable” a goal if you’re hoping for more out of your life.
    6. Find a goal buddy/accountability partner.
      What have you been afraid to do but you would if you had someone pushing you? You know there are a few action items you’ve been meaning to do but need encouragement and someone to hold you accountable. Find someone you trust: a best friend, a partner, a trusted co-worker and share some of your goals with him or her. See where your partner’s strengths and weaknesses can complement your own. Have her push you to keep you commitment; force him to write that networking e-mail he’s been dreading. If you stay honest with one another, you’ll make huge strides.
    7. Take advantage of the New Year’s energy.
      Finally, hit restart. When your inbox has 5,000 messages to be read, sometimes you just need to delete them all and start over. With the new year comes a new energy that can keep us going for a little bit but it is up to you to keep up with your future self. Don’t try to steamroll goal after goal, instead use the concept of evolution. Build upon the successes, don’t hold on to what’s not working. If you have a “tiny goal” work on that first to feel the dopamine release you deserve. Remember what that feels like? Good, now work on goal #2-10!
The sooner you establish these goals, the better you’ll feel about working towards them. But
 don’t rush! You want these to be true, obtainable goals. If you’re earning $10 an hour and are still bogged down by debt, be working towards increasing your income and getting out of debt instead of planning your month long Hawaiian vacation.
What is your top goal for 2014 and what is going to prevent you from reaching it? Let us know in the comments.
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