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Positivity, Optimism, and Growth for 2021: Mindset Matters

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This image shows the one-word answers attendees gave when asked what word they would use to define how they felt about the year 2021. "Possibility" "grit," "progress," "promise," are all up there


On Thursday, February 18, 2021, MBS’s Industrial Advisory Board (IAB) members held their annual meeting, which—as always—was followed by the signature IAB/MBS Student Mixer: an opportunity for IAB members and MBS students to meet, mingle, and network prior to a scheduled panel discussion.

This year’s mixer was obviously much different than last February’s event, “Industry Trends and Challenges: Are You Getting Prepared?”, which was held in the CoRE building just weeks before COVID-19 changed our world.

This year's gathering, titled 90 minutes to Navigate, Collaborate, and Network, started with an enthusiastic welcome by host / emcee Kathleen Cashman-Walter, PCC, Professor of Communication and Leadership and Industrial Advisory Board liaison, who livened up the room with introductions and updates, creating a warm, convivial environment even with a large and virtual crowd. “We were able to meet others, get to know each other, and engage right from the beginning,” said Cashman-Walter, affectionately known as “Professor Kathleen,” who engaged audience members by asking what new hobbies they had acquired in the COVID-19 era and what shows they’d been binge-watching.

The ultimate point of the evening was for students and IAB members to exchange ideas, and for students to then begin reflecting on ‘how can I prepare myself to observe the trends and challenges of my own industry?’ “This is an opportunity to talk and share things that you’re seeing,” Professor Kathleen reminded the audience, “so how present are you in the workplace to be able to see these things?” She then asked each attendee to provide one word that reflected his or her feelings about the year 2021, and the meeting began in earnest. 

The robust and collective “mixer” audience separated into individual, student-selected breakout rooms where smaller groups met to discuss industry-specific trends and challenges from both an IAB / expert perspective as well as up-and-coming employee perspectives in areas including pharma, sustainability, data analytics, user experience design (UXD), life sciences consulting, and consumer care. The groups then rejoined to share what they had learned from their conversations.

While there were numerous industry-specific trends and challenges, there were also significant issues that transcended industry sectors—most driven by the increasing intersection of technology and humanity, as well as the workforce changes and labor demands driven by COVID-19—which had major impact on areas including:

Problem-solving / Virtual Collaboration:

  • Brainstorming and trouble-shooting that used to take place in person now need to happen over Zoom, etc. This is becoming less and less of a barrier as people are now adapting
  • There are challenges and miscommunications due to virtual distance / remote collaboration with colleagues


  • Onboarding has been incredibly difficult
  • It has become increasingly challenging to train new employees, especially virtually, particularly when the job requires hands-on experience such as working in a lab
  • New hires are more making their own experiences and taking care of their own onboarding (for better or worse)


  • There is a vast disconnect between those employees who are still working on-site / on the front lines vs. those who are working remotely
  • Issues with communications / miscommunications due to virtual distance / remote collaboration with colleagues
  • Zoom fatigue
  • Quick pop-in meetings that used to last less than 5 minutes now last 20 minutes or longer
  • It’s difficult to conduct and interpret interviews, re: chemistry and body language in particular

Work/life balance: “Are we working at home? Or living at work?” –Jack Levitt

  • Mental health. How do we disconnect from work while staying connected to our company and coworkers? How do we find that balance?
  • Knowing when to connect and when to disconnect
  • We need to find ways to avoid burnout and find boundaries with work and life

One universal business trend is the increasing importance of using data to tell a story—regardless of one’s industry. “This information applies to everyone,  not just those in analytics,” says IAB member and MBS alumnus Craig Moran MBS’17. “The ability to tell a story with data will be one of the most valuable skills for professionals moving forward!”

This statement was met with great enthusiasm from MBS executive director Deborah Silver, Ph.D., whose research in the areas of computer science and data visualization since the mid 1980s was recently recognized via her election to just one of six seats on the Board of Governors for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society. Moran shared some of his favorite titles on the subject of data visualization:

In the end, it seemed as if 90 minutes of discussion was nowhere near enough time to finish the many conversations that had begun—but there were many connections made, and many conversations to be continued. No doubt, 90 minutes to Navigate, Collaborate, and Network lived up to its name, and paved the way for many more occasions and opportunities to connect.

Professor Kathleen concluded, “you need to be really thinking about ‘how is this going to impact me?’” How do you need to be as you are in your role today, and the role that you want for tomorrow? All of the great questions that are triggered by the thoughts we shared here –hopefully this information gave us inspiration.”

PSM Editorial Staff
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