Research Safety Blog

Can Seeing the Glass Half Full Keep Researchers Safer?

By David Costa

Positive thinking is not just for optimists anymore. Research is now beginning to show that positive thinking increases brain performance. In their book, Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life, Dr. Paul Hammerness, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist, and co-author Margaret Moore, an executive wellness coach, claim that positive thinking improves the brain’s function and focus. On the other hand, negative thinking sabotages our brains’ problem solving abilities and makes ignoring distractions difficult.

Barbara L. Fredrickson, a positive psychology researcher at the University of North Carolina, has published several manuscripts revealing the benefits of positive thinking. In What Good Are Positive Emotions? (1998), Fredrickson introduced the broaden-and-build theory. This theory outlines how positive emotions not only broaden people’s attention and thinking, but also enables them to draw on higher-level connections and gain a larger range of ideas.

Fredrickson conducted an experiment to test the impact positive emotions had on the brain. Fredrickson divided up her test subjects and showed them different films and images. Some images produced thoughts of joy, while others produced thoughts of fear and anger. Participants were then asked to imagine themselves in a situation and write down what they would do. Those who saw negative images had the fewest number of responses and ideas. Participants who saw positive images had a significantly higher number of thoughts and actions.

Could positive thinking help researchers be safer? Fredrickson’s studies suggest that researchers who saw the “glass as half full” would be equipped with clearer attention and thinking, possibly proactively avoiding mishaps or at the very least better able to deal with accidents when they happen.

Take incident reporting for example. Although incident reporting helps organizations drive proper training, getting researchers to report incidents can sometimes be a challenge. Researchers fear mishaps will make them look incompetent or that they will get in trouble for mistakes. Ian Sample, science editor of The Guardian, recently wrote, “a culture of blame makes people hide their mistakes and crucial lessons go unlearned.” If one were to flip the script and develop a “Safety Saves” system where one could report how injuries or accidents were prevented by proper procedures or protective equipment, could there be a spike in safety compliance?

Recently the National Academy of Sciences declared September to be National Biosafety Stewardship Month, encouraging organizations to focus on biosafety practices. I attended a conference where institutions gathered together and discussed their issues around safety and compliance. Everyone shared their issues and commiserated, but no one shared ideas or positive things they’ve accomplished.

What would happen if we turned our focus from being what we’re doing wrong to what we’re doing right? Would celebrating our safety practice victories rather than bemoaning our pitfalls and challenges, help develop a stronger safety culture? Could seeing the glass as “half full” actually keep researchers safer?

Just think…if we were all willing to adopt a more positive attitude, what’s the best that could happen?

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How to have it all: career and kids

Digital Science has been celebrating women in science as part of its celebration of Ada Lovelace Day. Recently, they posted an article from our own Diliny Colosquet! The second article of her two posts is reproduced here, with permission from Digital Science.


Diliny Corlosquet is the Senior Product Manager ofBioRAFT, the provider of integrated laboratory safety and research management software solutions. She holds two degrees in Chemical Engineering, BASc, MASc, and a Masters of Science specializing in regenerative medicine.  She has also worked as a Front-End Drupal Web Developer and contributed to the Drupal community as a technical editor on the widely resourced Definitive Guide to Drupal 7 and as one of the organizers for the annual Design for Drupal conference.  Diliny is also a soon to be mother of two and lives in the Greater Boston Area with her geek husband and labrador retriever.

When you are a single woman the world is your oyster.  You can work hard, enter a course of study, and climb the career ladder with very few obstacles.  For the most part, self-reliance is the key to success.

The downside is the constant harassment from people who assume you have hit the pause button on life.   When are you going to settle down and have a family?  When are you going to have children?  As a single man, would I be asked the same questions?

Add to this the notion that as an educated woman, some will perceive you as being “too smart” or worse yet, “not a homemaker.”  This makes finding a potential partner all the more complex.

When you find that partner (and you will) they will probably be as ambitious and driven as you are.  If you are as lucky as I am, they’ll take pride in your successes and support you through your failures.

However, when both spouses are career-driven there are inevitable tug-of-wars.  I discovered this early on in my marriage when my husband was offered a hard-to-refuse, highly paid position working for a start-up in Boston.  My choice was to either live apart for a time while I finished my studies or to wrap up my work and accompany him.  We decided in favor of moving together.

In a marriage, it’s important for both spouses to be mutually reliant to support and nurture each other’s careers.

Enter the Children

Most of my female role models early on in my scientific career were either single women who had chosen a life of science or women who had families and children but struggled with their work-life equilibrium.  I have witnessed both friends and mentors give up very high profile jobs when they found the position was in direct conflict with their ability to raise their children.  When it was my turn to have children, I was very aware of both sides of the coin.  Stubbornly, I believe I can have it all.

When you have kids, everything changes.

In my prior placements, I have been witness to at least one woman who hid her pregnancy as long as possible for fear of the repercussions within the laboratory setting.  There are many men and women who would believe that the ability to produce great work and long hours of research would be compromised the moment a woman gets pregnant.  Also it is common to be exposed to hazardous chemicals in the laboratory when colleagues take unreasonable risks without any regard to pregnant co-workers.  Some women don’t blink an eye and simply go on with their research.  However, others decide that the laboratory is not the place for them and look for an “out” via a desk job or a more flexible schedule.  I believe management sets the culture in our work environment and choosing a position based on a safe work environment is important.

Maintaining a career and having a young family is all about managing the guilt. Having a career means having to accept that you are often not physically present for your children.  You have to put your trust in others, whether it be a nanny, daycare, or a family member.  Although you catch the milestones as they happen, you may not be the first to witness them.  You need to work twice as hard to find the time to know whom your children are growing up to be.  Having had two parents who worked, I saw that my tough-as-nails mother could raise three children with little support so I knew it could be done.

I often say that I need to be away from my child in order to truly appreciate him.  I have heard this sentiment echoed by other working mothers and I have come to the conclusion that for some of us, it is about understanding our intellectual versus maternal needs.  Getting my intellectual needs met via my career makes me a better mother and better able to show the patient and nurturing side that may come easier for others.

Maintaining the upward momentum of your career is definitely a challenge.  You will be on-call for days your child is ill and rely heavily on any external supports that are available to meet your needs when long hours at work are necessary.  Women who previously worked for more than 40 hours a week often find they must adjust and work more efficiently in the time they are in office or lab so as to be free when they are at home.  Good employers know that the more content you are in your home life, the more successful and reliable you will be in your work life. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need in order to have that work-home equilibrium.  Having that balance is vital to maintaining success in your career.

My advice to women is to have both a supportive partner as well as a supportive work environment. It is the dependence on the people who stand behind you that helps move you forward as both a mother and a career woman… and then you can have it all.