ADAPT to Thrive

Adapt to Thrive

My day job is based at the WEISS Center (Wellcome / EPSRC Centre for Interventional and Surgical Sciences) at University College London. I was naturally intrigued to attend UCL’s own embrace of failure programme called “Adapt to Thrive”:

UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering (IHE) have partnered with the Academic Careers Office to bring you another ADAPT to Thrive event – part of an event series for ECRs where their peers and senior researchers share their experiences on how they failed and lived to tell the story. Taking risks and failing is an integral part of building a research career. By sharing the experiences of researchers at different career stages the ADAPT event series provides early career researchers with support by showcasing how failure and success walk hand in hand.

ADAPT to Thrive will:

  • Normalise speaking out about failure and reducing stigma.
  • Help build a more resilient academic community by facilitating conversations and allowing early and mid-career researchers to find support networks.
  • Shift the perception of risk and encourage early and mid-career researchers to take new approaches to their careers and pursue unconventional ideas.

The session I attended featured speakers from the UCL faculty (Matt and Clare I have worked with):

  • Dr Matt Clarkson, Centre for Medical Image Computing (CMIC) and Wellcome/EPSRC Centre for Interventional and Surgical Sciences (WEISS)
  • Prof Clare Elwell, UCL Department of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering
  • Prof Anna David, UCL Institute of Women’s Health and UCLH


Great to see in higher education not just the practice but also the pedagogy of embracing failure.


Embracing Failure for the Misses

Girl failure

The stereotype that boys should be toughened by hard knocks, while little girls should be cossetted might be setting them up for a lifetime are hardships. Rachael Simmons piece “Why Failure Hits Girls So Hard” examines the challenges that young women have with embracing failure and their debilitating effects:

  • “Girls respond to failure differently than boys. When girls make mistakes, they’re more likely to interpret the setback as a sign they lack ability — a factor much harder for girls to change. Boys, on the other hand, tend to attribute failure to more controllable circumstances. The phenomenon has been traced in part to how teachers talk to students. In observational studies, teachers corrected girls for mistakes related to ability, while boys tended to get more behavioral interventions (‘Pipe down!’, ‘Stop throwing that paper airplane’; and so on). Other studies have found that girls are more likely to give up in the face of a stressful academic situation…Less known is how stereotype threat makes failure more bruising for girls. It works like this: when girls buy into the stereotype that they’re bad at math, they don’t see a missed problem or poor grade as a correctible issue. Instead, it confirms what everyone else knows — that they simply have less ability.”

Embracing the Miss


Grand Finale to Premier League football last weekend (congrats Liverpool), but the grand failure embrace goes to Galatasaray Under 14 team for deliberately missing a penalty shot mistakenly given (thanks Mike). With the Premiership a notorious drama stage for simulation (and a bit of controversy over marginal “hand balls”), it seems like they could use a few tips on embracing failure from this impressive junior role model.

Embracing Uncomfortable Fit

Uncomfortable fit

Work interviews are a form of professional courtship between employer and candidate. It might seem like it is the company assessing the prospective employee, but ideally it is just as much that prospect assessing the company (which is why you should always have good questions lined up for the inevitable question of “Do you have any questions for us?”). The process can sometimes seem like a quest for the perfect match, when really it should be looking for the imperfect match.

The candidate should be an imperfect match for the reasons described by Marc Miller’s piece “Are You a Perfect Fit for the Job? Then You Won’t Get It”:

  • “You say to yourself, ‘I am a perfect fit. I can do this job. Who would be better?’…The hiring manager is sitting in the interview saying to him or herself, wow this is one impressive candidate. Will they get bored in six or more months and then leave? Would I rather have a less qualified candidate who can grow into the role, possibly pay them less, and have them stick around for two or three years? If you are a perfect fit, there is no room for growth! Why would you want to take a job that does not stretch your skills?…If you really are a perfect fit for a position, then you will not get the job!”

And the company should be an imperfect fit for the candidate as Seth Godin describes in his post Galvanized:

  • “Often, our best work happens when we’re in a situation we wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves. The hard part is choosing to be in that sort of situation in the first place, the uncomfortable one where we have no choice but to do better work.”

Seth Godin elaborates in his post Godin On feeling incompetent:

  • “At some point, grown ups get tired of the feeling that accompanies growth and learning. We start calling that feeling, “incompetence.” We’re not good at the new software, we resist a brainstorming session for a new way to solve a problem, we never did bother to learn to juggle…First we realize something can be done. Then we realize we can’t do it. And finally, we get better at it. It’s the second step that messes with us. If you care enough to make a difference, if you care enough to get better–you should care enough to experience incompetence again.”


Embracing Your Dirty Work

Gapingvoid - glamorous jobs


  • · To get deep, get digging….Feeling inspired by your work comes from feeling connected to your work, and feeling connected to your work comes from working hard.” – Hugh MacLeod

May Day (aka International Workers Day) today celebrates the contributions to society of the workers of the world. As well as to maybe embrace the dividends of your own grind and grunt work.

Embracing Germs

Muddy plan

Earth Day today. A time to appreciate the goodness the Earth bestows on us. Right down to the lowest microbial bacteria wriggling around in the earthen grime.

Antibiotics have been one of the top innovations of mankind saving countless lives and even more pain and misery. And yet this windfall might be slipping away from us with the scourge of microbial resistance. It may be that not using antibiotics is the key to us being able to use them. And exposing ourselves to more bacteria and antibacterial agents could make us healthier.

  • The government’s list of the greatest threats facing the country. Adding antibiotic resistance is being actively considered. Pandemic influenza – This remains the most significant civil emergency risk. Three worldwide influenza pandemics occurred in the 20th century (1918, 1957 and 1968)…70 per cent of the world’s bacteria have now developed a resistance to antibiotics. We have used – or are using – the drugs of last resort. Antibiotics are no longer effective. The drugs that have transformed life and longevity and saved countless millions since penicillin was discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming in 1928 now saturate every corner of our environment. We stuff them into ourselves and our animals; we spray them on crops, dump them in rivers, and even – as emerged at a meeting of science ministers from the G8 last year – paint them on the hulls of boats to keep off barnacles. As a result an invisible army of super-resistant bacteria has evolved, one that is increasingly claiming lives – currently more than 25,000 a year in Europe alone, around as many as die on the continent’s roads. Many leading scientists and doctors and politicians are freely adopting the language of global catastrophe. Infections such as tuberculosis and septicaemia – the scourge of earlier centuries – are once again killing us at frightening rates. We have used, or are using, our so-called drugs of last resort. There is nothing left in the armoury and new drugs are not being developed. Welcome to the post-antibiotic age.” (Telegraph)

What can you do? Well, go out and wallow around in some good, old grimy Earth. As the Wall Street Journal describes in its piece “Get Your Children Good and Dirty”:

  • “The practical upshot of all this research is clear: Our health depends to a large degree on maintaining a robust and diverse community of microorganisms in our bodies—and establishing good gut-health as children is especially important… From the moment we are born, we begin getting colonized by bacteria, which kick-start a series of fundamental biological processes, including the development of our immune system. Before birth, the lining of our gut is full of immature immune cells. When bacteria move in, the immune cells react to them, changing and multiplying. They even move to other parts of the body to train other cells with the information they have acquired from these intruders. If deprived of this interaction, the immune system remains sloppy and immature, unable to fight off diseases properly… Such discoveries have led scientists to call our microbiota a ‘new organ,’ perhaps the last human organ to be discovered by modern medicine…Knowing what we do now about the role of the microbiota, it is not surprising that these diseases are being diagnosed in more children. They are, to a great extent, a consequence of relatively recent changes in our lifestyle—modern diet, oversanitization, excessive use of antibiotics—that have altered the specific microbes that affect our metabolism early on. We urgently need to find ways to modify our behavior so that our microbes can function properly. Never before in human history have babies and children grown up so cleanly, and our diets have lost many of the elements most crucial to the health of our guts. We have become very bad hosts to our microbes.”

Embracing Easter

Easter embrace

  • “Imagine that acceptable of vulnerability and ignorance is a precondition for growth. Imagine that confrontation with the terrible unknown, with its paralysing manifestations of tragedy and malevolence, is necessary to catalyse both wisdom and maturity…Even a small leaven of humility and courage engenders development and growth.”

Happy Easter! As I discussed before, Easter celebrates the principles behind embracing failure by exalting the glory of rebirth after one of the most horrific losses ever recounter. Psychologist Jordan Peterson elaborates on that perspective in his article “The bestselling author and clinical psychologist on why there’s still power in the Easter story

  • “If you face a crisis in your life brought about by a catastrophic failure, the new information that confronts you cannot be incorporates without the painful death of your previous conceptions, and all the awful realisations thus entailed. When something new emerges to confront you, what is old and anachronistic within must burn and die. It is very rare to learn something profound without suffering the unbearable catastrophe of dashed dreams and the soul-shaking terror of uncertainty and doubt…Things change, and each of us of must run as fast as we can, as Alice’s Red Queen has it, just to stay in the same place.”

May all your failures bring you lessons as sweet as a marshmallow chick and new beginnings as colourful as an Easter egg.