Ashley Cass and I founded and organized the Bioinformatics Graduate Student Retreat in order to help graduate students in our program level the soft skills of science. While it is important to do good research, for that research to have any impact, it must also be effectively communicated!
At the retreat we give every student, including first years, five to fifteen minutes to present their research. After each presentation time is allotted to give feedback, partly on the science, but mainly on the presentation itself. For many graduate students, this is the first opportunity that they have to speak in front of a large audience and is valuable training for future presentations.
We also get to do fun social activities where people in different labs and years get to better know each other. These unstructured times are important as well because conversations invariably turn back to science and interesting ideas and collaborations have formed.
Often at the retreat is where we discuss structural changes we would like seen in the Bioinformatics Program. Through these discussions we have started weekly student meetings, revised classes to better fit our needs and identified a need for quarterly meetings where we hold training seminars about topics such as funding, qualifying exams and planning for life after grad school.
Ashley and I no longer run or organize the retreat, but we are thrilled to see new graduate students step up every year to keep the tradition going!