NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Scientific Program Analyst

July 21, 2014

Name: Lillian Kuo, PhD

Job Title & Company: Scientific Program Analyst, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS)

Location: Bethesda, MD

How long you’ve been in your current job: A little over a year.

Postdoc Advisor, IC: Eric O. Freed, NCI

What do you do as a Scientific Program Analyst?
A Program Analyst means a lot of different things across NIH. For my position, I work on the Program side of extramural research where I work under a couple of Program Directors. I perform a lot of different tasks like program administration, talking to grantees, and organizing conferences. The programs we work on are cooperative agreements, which are not the traditional R01 type grants. This means that there is substantial programmatic involvement above and beyond the normal stewardship role in awards.

What are the most important skills that you utilize in your current position?

Being flexible and being able to learn things really fast because science is always changing. Science is incredibly dynamic, so I have had to learn and adapt quickly.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I work with a lot of people – people who do very different things. Even though I am at NCATS, I work with the Common Fund which is part of NIH OD. I work with Program Directors from about a dozen different ICs. Every IC does something different so it is really interesting to me to learn about these differences. Common Fund programs are trans-NIH initiatives, so I’m really fortunate to be able to work with such a diverse group of people. People approach problems so differently based on the scientific need. Science is so dynamic and it is always changing so it is important to tailor the programs accordingly.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
I had to learn a lot of stuff really fast, and that is part of being a PhD. You are trained to learn things quickly. For example, I had to give myself a crash course in bioinformatics. In retrospect, a lot of it was not too bad like learning different kinds of software programs.

What was your job search like?
I was contacted by a recruiter, which surprised me at first. I had previously applied for another Kelly Scientific position, so I was in their database. I thought the position she described was quite interesting. She thought I would be a good fit, and she was right.

Any last bits of advice?
Informational interviews are immensely helpful. OITE has a lot of really great resources to help you with that. Informational interviews are so important though because the information that you learn talking to people first-hand is invaluable. During information interviews, I have found people are really thoughtful and they will give you good information and advice which ultimately will help steer you where you need to go. I can’t tell someone what they would like, so everyone has to determine that on their own.


Postdoc FAQs

July 14, 2014

If you are thinking about applying for a postdoc, there are quite a few points to consider before starting your search. Previous blog posts have focused on assessing whether a postdoc makes sense for your long-term career goals and on how you can find the perfect postdoc for you.

Here are some more frequently asked questions (FAQs) to bear in mind as you undertake your postdoc search:

Can I stay in the same lab, or the same institution? It is common that your first postdoc would be a short stint in the same lab as you finish up any remaining projects. Normally this does not last more than one year (and typically much less). After that you will want to diversify your experiences by finding a new lab. Staying at the same institution is a bit different. Finding a new institution gives you the ability to experience science in a new setting. But sometimes you may need to stay (family, financial, or you just really like it). In this case, it is recommended to at least find a new lab, perhaps even in a new department so you gain the independence that a postdoc needs.

Do I really need a postdoc? This depends on your chosen career path. If you want to be an academic faculty member, you will almost certainly need a postdoc. If you would like to go to industry R&D, a short postdoc might be necessary to be competitive with other applicants. If you would like a non-research position, a postdoc may be unnecessary—but—you would have needed to start preparing for this career path as a graduate student so you have the credentials to make this career switch.

If I start a postdoc and hate it, do I have to stay? This is one of the best things about being a postdoc, if you hate it you have more flexibility to move on than you did as a grad student. Since there are no degree requirements, you have the freedom to choose your own path. If you are in a postdoc you do not like seek the advice of your other mentors and the postdoc office to navigate switching research groups.

Can I get teaching experience as a postdoc? Maybe. This is something you and your advisor should discuss. Teaching experience will also be your responsibility to find opportunities by connecting with colleges and universities that will help you gain these experiences. (unless you are doing an IRACDA postdoc: http://www.nigms.nih.gov/Training/CareerDev/pages/PartInstIRACDA.aspx)

Does the institution/research group I go to make a difference? Maybe. This question really is asking: will the pedigree of my advisor make me more attractive for a future job? This depends on what you want to do next, but it could be a factor in your decision. Even if you use pedigree as one of your decision factors, we also strongly recommend that you consider the mentoring style of the advisor and how their mentoring will fit into your long-term career goals. Pedigree means nothing if it means you are going to have a miserable experience.


The Introverted Job Seeker

July 9, 2014

Do you have to be dragged to a networking event or cocktail party? When you do go to an event, do you have to spend the rest of the day recuperating? Do you need plenty of alone time during the day? If you answered yes to these questions, you might be an introvert. The level and intensity of introversion varies from person to person, so even if you haven’t taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), you probably have a general sense regarding your own preference toward extraversion or introversion. For the purpose of this post, we are going to focus on the quieter half of the population – the introverts.

In Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” she argues that U.S. work culture is often biased against introverts; their quiet, reflective and serious demeanors are often trumped by extraverted traits such as being outgoing, assertive and verbose. Now, depending on your work environment, your boss’ style, and the culture of your team, it is arguable whether extraversion or introversion could be viewed more positively.

However, there is one area which is seemingly stacked in favor of the extraverted and that is the job search. Two major aspects of a job search which are especially energy draining to introverts are networking and interviewing.

Networking

How might being introverted hold you back in terms of networking? Well, it could if it means that you find yourself avoiding social situations with possible introductions to new contacts or if you find you never quite muster the energy to take that phone call or set up that informational interview.

Introverts are often excellent networkers though because they tend to observe and analyze people and situations well. Also, introverts tend to prefer listening – a great characteristic for effective networking and an excellent means for gathering new information and new contacts. Whereas an extravert might approach networking with a hard-sell mentality, an introvert tends to go in with more of a soft-sell approach, which is often a preferable way to begin building a rapport (and a larger network of professional contacts).

Just remember to care for your introverted self throughout this process. When you have to utilize your less-preferred extravert skills, you will begin to feel your energy drain. Be sure to build in time to recharge throughout your job search timeline.

Interviewing

One particularly valuable job search trait of extraverts is that they tend to think out loud. This is especially important during an interview. Interviews by design often favor an extravert’s ease in making introductions and connections.

Interview questions, especially behavioral-based interview questions, are asked so that the employer can get a feel for your thought process and how you would approach different situations. Thinking out loud – even if it isn’t stated perfectly – helps you convey information to the employer. Reticence to disclose information, shortly phrased answers, and long silences will likely hurt your chances. Introverts often assume people can read how they are thinking or feeling. Or, if in an interview, they will assume the employer knows they are excited about the position because they are there. On the contrary, employers bring you into an interview in order to see and hear your enthusiasm. Expressing this fully can be a challenge for many introverts.

The good news is that many of these skills can be practiced. You can learn better responses to interview questions, you can role play networking successfully and you can “try on” the façade of an extraverted job-seeker. This doesn’t mean you have to go out there and be something completely different and inauthentic to you; rather, challenge yourself to do things that might not feel completely comfortable to you as an introvert. Hopefully this serves as a reminder to check in with yourself about your true preferences and make sure you are taking care of yourself throughout the job search process.


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Health Science Analyst

July 1, 2014

Name: Danielle Daee

Job Title & Organization: Health Science Analyst, Office of Science Planning and Assessment, NCI

Location: Bethesda, MD

How long you’ve been in your current job: Since August 2012, so not quite two years.

Postdoc Advisor, IC (when at NIH): Kyungjae Myung, NHGRI

What do you do as a Health Science Analyst?
In our office, we do a lot of portfolio analysis, evaluation, program coordination and strategic planning. I largely focus on program coordination, portfolio analyses, and program evaluations.

Our office responds to requests for information about the NCI portfolio, which come from various interested parties like NCI senior leadership, NIH, and Congress. For example, how much are we spending on gastric cancer? What kinds of investments do we have in that field? Often, these requests require us to contact individual programs in NCI to coordinate and consolidate a response from across the Institute. I also coordinate the annual update of the Cancer Snapshots (http://www.cancer.gov/researchandfunding/snapshots), which requires coordination across the Institute and taps into my scientific expertise and writing skills.

In addition to smaller requests, we are often asked to create more comprehensive analyses of the NCI portfolio and to evaluate aspects of NCI’s return on its investment. These efforts involve a variety of analyses of grant data, clinical trials data, and bibliometric data. Our office also consults with individual programs to help them assess and/or evaluate their own portfolios.

What are the most important skills that you utilize in your current position?

Organizational skills are extremely important because there are a lot of meetings (so many!) and you have to juggle multiple projects that progress in parallel. On top of that, I do many activities that require scientific expertise and data analysis expertise using Excel.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I get to touch a lot of different types of activities. I do a lot of portfolio analysis and I also do quite a bit of science writing. Our office is within the Office of the Director, so we get a broad view of what NCI is doing and I appreciate that big picture perspective.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career? What are some of the challenges you face?
I would say that the hardest part was finding the best way to organize myself and stay organized. It took me a while to get there. Also, there’s a lot of institutional knowledge that you need in order to perform well in this position. It’s something that you develop over time, but coming out of the lab it was frustrating that I couldn’t just read bunch of papers to get up to date on this field. NCI is a huge Institute and I needed to be involved in multiple projects, go to a lot of different events, and listen to a lot of folks to get a feel for what is happening across the Institute. I’m nearly two years in and I’m still learning new information every day.

How did you come to choose this as your next step?
I did a detail in the NIH Office of Extramural Research. At the time, I was just interested in getting any experience outside of the lab. In my detail, I got a taste of how things function outside the lab (meetings, meetings, meetings!) and became familiar with the systems that are used to analyze and track applications and applicants. When I saw this posting on USAJobs, I recognized a lot of the things that they were asking for, so it seemed like an obvious fit.

What was your job search like?
I set up some canned searches on USAJobs, Idealist, and Science Jobs. Each day I would get an email with a list of jobs that had opened up. I also periodically checked contractor sites like Kelly Services or other companies that I thought would be a good fit (like HHMI). I searched for maybe a year before I found something. I applied to anything of interest. In all, I applied to 21 federal jobs and several non-federal jobs before I got a job. Although I got a few non-federal interviews, this position is the only federal position for which I was interviewed. I think I suffered from not having a well-structured federal resume—developing one is an art!

Did you change your resume for each job?
I tweaked my resume to fit the jobs that I applied for. I would say that by the time I got to the negotiation phase for the job I ended up getting, my resume was not written in a way that allowed me to get everything that I could have potentially gotten. That was one lesson learned from the process. I wish I would have seen this videocast (http://videocast.nih.gov/Summary.asp?File=18452&bhcp=1) a few years ago when I was applying.

Once you made it through the first rounds, what was your interview like?
I had two panel interviews. My first interview was the senior staff of my particular branch and then the second was the senior staff across the office. The interviews were really good. I honestly think that once you get past the USAJob and HR-process, the interview isn’t that hard. The hardest parts are getting referred and getting an interview. Getting referred is very, very hard, but having a good federal resume helps.

Did you utilize your network in this job search?
I didn’t know anyone in the office directly. Contacts made through my detail helped because my current supervisor actually knows the person that I did my detail with and was familiar with her office’s work. He realized that the work in his office would be very similar and I think that was a key factor for getting an interview. That would have been post referral though, so I don’t know how I got referred.

What are the most important soft skills needed for your position?
There is a fair deal of networking and interpersonal skills necessary to be really successful. The type of work we do requires a lot of coordination so you have to nurture a lot of good will with the people you are reaching out to for information.

If you had to do your search differently, would you change anything?
Yes, I think I went into this entire process a little too naïve. I am still naïve about a lot of the different types of positions that are available at the NIH and I think I should have done much more of a thorough informational interview process to see what is out there.

I went to job fairs and events from OITE, but I never had a really good handle on what these job descriptions meant, especially when looking at USAJobs. Right now, I am in a great position because I get to interact with so many people, so I can have a better sense of what is out there. Honestly I don’t know how I could accomplish that as a postdoc. The only way I think I could have gotten this information would be through informational interviews with a bunch of people not knowing whether I would be interested in what they did or not.

There are a lot of different titles on USAJobs — Program Analyst, Health Science Analyst, Health Program Analyst, Health Program Administrator, etc. I spent a lot of time worrying about what each title meant and who would be a good fit for that position. I don’t know if there is a formula at the HR level that says how these roles are differentiated; my sense is that there is. If we had more information about that, it might empower postdocs to go out there and seek out people who are in the roles that they are most interested in.

Any last bits of advice?
NCI and NIH and all of the other Institutes are filled with former postdocs that somehow got out of the lab and they are so willing to help out other postdocs who are trying to do the same. So, by reaching out for informational interviews, you will find that there are many more receptive people than you might expect.  Also, end every informational interview with one question—“who else would you recommend I talk to?”—and keep the process moving.


Happy Pride!

June 26, 2014

Picture of a rainbow flag waving in the windIn honor of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month, we wanted to focus this week’s blog post on LGBT issues in a job search and at work. Pride month’s history focuses on parades and festivals that celebrate openness and equal rights for all. In a work context, this includes people who identify as LGBT and allies who want to create and maintain a supportive work environment. Two weeks ago, we wrote a post Illegal Interview Questions – What They Are and How to Handle Them.”  This post triggered a discussion and we realized that beyond what’s covered in anti-discrimination laws, there are also disclosures that can make you feel uncomfortable in a professional setting.

For some, coming out can be a hard choice. It is not a one-shot event; rather it occurs over and over again throughout one’s life and career. This is also a very personal decision; how much or how little you want to be out in your workplace or in a job search is often complex and nuanced. Varied questions can arise such as: How important is it to me to be out? How will I come out at work? How will my co-workers react? How gay-friendly is my company and/or field of work? Will I be screened out based on my affiliations if I put LGBT activities on my resume?

Coming Out In a Job Search

When deciding whether or not be out on a resume, job application or in an interview, it is extremely important to do what feels the most comfortable to you. Each individual has a unique experience and viewpoint, so this process varies widely and it may or may not be difficult for you. If you find it difficult, it is a good idea to speak to people in your network or a career counselor. What feels right to you might not be the same as what is right for another. Some individuals choose to use their resume as a way to screen out non-supportive employers and will explicitly list LGBT-related organizations. Others may prefer to disclose their sexual orientation once hired or not at all.

Differences can continue even into the interview. One may decide to ask the following questions, like: Is there a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employee resource group at your workplace? or Will my partner be covered by my health insurance? Another may decide to be more guarded and rely on researching the company online and/or through their own professional contacts.

Coming Out In the Workplace

While being out at work (and in life) can be very satisfying, some people may also have concerns about it. This can be especially relevant depending on your geographic location or the culture of your work environment. No one wants to jeopardize their job security or opportunities for advancement. With that in mind, here are some questions to consider before making this decision (as noted by the Human Rights Campaign website):

  • Does your employer have a written non-discrimination policy? Does it specifically cover sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression? Does insurance cover domestic partner benefits? Does health coverage cover transitioning costs?
  • What’s the overall climate in your workplace? Do people tend to make derogatory comments or jokes? Are any of your co-workers openly LGBT?
  • What are your work relationships like? Do people discuss their personal lives? Are they asking questions about yours? Is the atmosphere friendly or guarded?
  • Does your state or locality have a non-discrimination law including sexual orientation and gender identity/expression?
  • Is your company ranked on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index? If so, what rating has it earned?

Coming out during your career is an ongoing process and there is not one right way to do it. Even if you come out to one person at work, you can’t assume that information is being passed on. It is important to assess your readiness and the level of disclosure that feels comfortable to you. It can be helpful to talk to folks who have been through this process to seek advice and support. Out for Work and Out and Equal Workplace Advocates are two good introductory resources. Also, at the NIH, LGBT Fellows and Friends (LGBT-FF) is an excellent group with which to connect. You can join their listserv here.


Welcome Summer Interns!

June 16, 2014

Image of a "welcome mat" - a brown mat with black letters stating "WELCOME"If you are just arriving at the NIH as a summer intern, the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) wants to take a moment to welcome you! Summer is often seen as a time of the year to kick back and relax, but not here at the NIH and we love the extra excitement and energy buzzing around campus during the summer months.

As you continue to settle into your lab, we want to make sure you take advantage of all the opportunities available to you in order to maximize your summer experience. With that in mind, here are some previous blog posts that each summer intern should take a few moments to read:

1. Orienting yourself to a new place and a new role can be tough. Understanding the Impact of Change is a blog post that addresses the challenges of transitions and helps you understand the internal impacts of external change. Follow this up with a quick read on Making the Most of Your Transition to the NIH.

2. Good mentoring relationships are essential to your professional development and success. Take advantage of your time at the NIH as an opportunity to Identify Mentors and Learn How to Make the Most of These Relationships.

3. Summer internships are a great way to gain exposure to a new setting and skill set. Also, remember to take the time to reflect on these experiences by Assessing Your Skills, Values and Interests as a way to better understand how this summer experience fits into your long-term career planning.

4. The OITE is here to help you. Whether you need help asking for a Letter of Recommendation or writing your Resume or CV, remember there are resources available to you.

We look forward to seeing you around campus, and we wish you a productive and professionally enriching summer experience!


Illegal* Interview Questions – What They Are and How to Handle Them

June 11, 2014

A white button with the words "Illegal Interview Questions" covered by a red X.In the United States, federal and state laws prohibit prospective employers from asking certain questions that are not related to the job for which they are hiring; however, most interviewers are not deliberately trying to discriminate against job applicants. In fact, many illegal* interview questions come out unintentionally in a conversational tone. As an example, an interviewer could start the interview with some ice breaker type questions and say, “You have such an interesting name! What’s the origin?” Outside of an interview, this would be a pretty innocuous question; however, within an interview, it could be construed as trying to ascertain your nationality.

Personal information like your heritage, religion, age, and marital status can very subtly sneak into an interview. Here are a few more examples:

Subject:
Nationality
Illegal Questions:
Are you a U.S. citizen? Where were you born? Is English your first language?
Legal to Ask:
Are you authorized to work in the United States on a full-time basis? What languages do you speak and what is your proficiency level? (This can also be tested by the interview itself and/or a written exam.)

Subject: Marital/Family Status
Illegal Questions:
Are you married? Are you planning to have children? How many kids do you have? What are your child care arrangements?
Legal to Ask:
Would you be willing to relocate if necessary? Are you willing to travel as stated in the position description?

Subject: Disabilities
Illegal Questions:
Do you have a disability? Have you had any recent illnesses or operations?
Legal to Ask:
Are you able to perform the essential functions of this position with or without reasonable accommodations?

Subject: Age
Illegal Questions:
How old are you? What is your birthdate? When did you graduate from college?
Legal to Ask:
Are you over the age of 18?

Subject: Affiliations
Illegal Questions:
What religious holidays do you celebrate? What clubs/organizations do you belong to?
Legal to Ask:
Are you available to work Sundays (if the position notes this)?

What should you do if one of these questions gets asked during your interview? It can be a challenge to weigh your options quickly while you are still face to face with the interviewer. So, if there is an area which is of specific concern for you, try to prepare some possible responses. Here are four different options:

  1. Simply answer the question. Only choose this option if you are truly comfortable providing that information and don’t personally feel that it could cause an issue for you.
  2. Answer the question with a question of your own. You could say, “I’m happy to try and answer that question for you, but can you help me understand how that relates to this job first?”
  3. Don’t answer directly, but respond to the intent of the question. For example, if the interviewer asks if you are a U.S. citizen, you can respond by saying, “I think you are meaning to ask if I am legally authorized to work here and the answer is yes.”
  4. Refuse to answer the question. This last resort should only be utilized for a very egregious question.

Knowing in advance what kinds of illegal questions are apt to sneak into an interview and how you feel about answering them should be a part of your interview preparation. This can help you quickly diffuse an uncomfortable situation should it arise. Beyond what’s legal, there are also disclosures that can make you feel uncomfortable discussing in a professional setting. We will be touching on some of these issues in future blog posts.

*  Illegal interview questions, while not illegal in the strictest meaning, do have great potential to open a company or organization up to being held liable in a discrimination law suit.


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