‘Tis the Season for Your Career Development

December 17, 2014

The holiday season is a time when many of us are trying to finalize year end work projects on top of managing personal obligations.   While trying to handle holiday stress, it is easy to lose sight of your own professional goals during this time of year.

Many job seekers protest, “No one’s hiring right now, anyway!” or “I’ll just start job searching in the New Year.” Whatever the excuse, the holiday season is actually a great time to focus on your own career development.  Here are a few reasons why:

Holiday Networking
Your inclination may be to wait until sometime after the holidays to dedicate time to your search; however, the holidays are actually a great time to begin networking. The increase in holiday parties allows for you to cross paths with people you haven’t seen in a while as well as connect with new individuals. Take advantage of December and the increased association with family, friends, and other groups.

The other advantage during this time of the year is that you have a reason to reconnect. Whether through holiday greeting cards or emails, it is the perfect chance to help sustain professional relationships. Just be sure to personalize these greetings and don’t fall back on a general mass email.

Holiday Vacation
More free time and a lighter work load can allow you to accomplish a lot more than you normally would. Use the holiday season’s lull to get caught up on a few things. Fine tune your resume, cover letters and LinkedIn profile.  Research new companies to target or make a list of potential contacts.  Or maybe, you’ll want to use this slower time to pause and reflect on the past year and what you are hoping to accomplish in the upcoming year.

Holiday Traffic
No, not that traffic! The traffic on the roads might be horrendous as you travel during the holiday season, but the website traffic to job search sites decreases dramatically in November and December.  While your competition is sitting around a fire sipping eggnog, you can be submitting your application now.  This often means that you are looked at within a smaller pool of candidates. You also have the added benefit of getting in before the peak application times of January and February.

The holidays can be a special time of the year and it can be a great time to relax and rejuvenate. It doesn’t mean that you have to put your search on hold though. Using this time wisely can help prepare you for career success in the New Year.  However you celebrate the holidays, the OITE wishes you the best!

Handling Holiday Stress

December 8, 2014

For many, the holiday season is joy-filled and terrific. Some of us however, experience the holiday blues as we feel loneliness, reflect on the past year, and possibly dread an upcoming and uncertain new year. Rates of depression and anxiety tend to spike during the holiday season. If you are already experiencing stress in other areas of your life, then you may be especially vulnerable to holiday stress this season.

The holiday season often brings twinkling lights, and at the same time long to-do lists and a variety of different stressors:

  • Family: managing family dynamics and expectations, having them over, being separated from them or traveling near or far to be with them can all be anxiety-causing events.
  • Money: financial demands like buying gifts for everybody or travel costs can dampen the holiday spirit tremendously.
  • Kids: how to teach them the true value of giving during the holidays when everything seems to revolve around receiving?

So here are a few tips to help you handle the holiday season this year:

  1. Prioritize. Setting clear expectations for what you want from this year’s holiday season is key. Knowing and managing these expectations will be your first line of defense against stress.
  2. Stick to your budget. If you are always stressed out about buying gifts, change the rules this year. Maybe just one gift per person? Maybe just a limited monetary amount? No gift at all – only the kids? Consider what you want and talk to your family to come to an agreement.
  3. Plan ahead. Make a list of things that need to be done and set aside specific times/days when to do it. Plan the menu and shop for it in one trip.
  4. Be willing to say no and/or ask for help. Do not overwhelm yourself with events and activities you won’t be able to enjoy because you are mentally already three steps ahead. Don’t hesitate to ask others for help!
  5. Don’t forget your own health. Overindulgence during the holidays usually adds to your own stress and guilt. Your immune system might also be lowered from added stress and the arrival of cold/flu season. Try to exercise, get plenty of sleep, listen to soothing music or even get a massage.

At the end, don’t forget what the holidays are about: spending time with loved ones, family or friends. Hope you have an enjoyable holiday season!

How Micromanagers can Deflate Your Confidence

December 5, 2014

“How do you prefer to be managed?” is a common interview question. Generally, it is answered with some variation of, “I prefer to be given autonomy on my projects and not be micromanaged.”

Webster’s online dictionary defines micromanaging as “manage[ment] especially with excessive control or attention on details”. But how do you really know if you are being micromanaged? Especially while in a training position, this perception can be quite subjective. One person might label their PI a micromanager and another could describe that same person as a very available, hands-on supervisor. And what causes micromanagers to feel the need to control every project?

Often micromanagers want to be involved in every aspect of a project because there is an underlying fear that it won’t be done the right way. Or, they may expect people to handle projects and problems exactly as they would, no matter how viable alternative solutions may be. Overtime, a prolonged micromanagement supervisory style can cause an employee to internalize the insecurity that their boss distrusts their work products. Micromanaged employees also often become apathetic and disengaged from their work because they have become conditioned to believe that their ideas aren’t worthy of consideration. They realize their contributions aren’t valued and consequently, their productivity and morale often plummet. This lack of confidence can even bleed over into job interviews as the employee moves on from this group.  The job candidate questions their actions and can’t necessarily see clearly what skills they could contribute. No matter the job or what stage of your career, confidence is a key component of success.

Micromanagement of certain time-sensitive or especially important projects can be rationalized if not overlooked. As a trainee, you can probably surmise that there are other stressors causing your supervisor to put extra stress on your work at that moment. In the world of science, the current funding climate can cause severe financial stressors for PIs as they try to ensure they will have funding for everyone in the research group. It is also worthy of noting that there tends to be a lack of management training as individuals rise in the scientific ranks.

How can you begin rebuilding your confidence and positivity after working for someone you would define as a micromanager? Realize that it might take time, but assess where you are at in the moment. Meeting with a career counselor can help you objectively review your situation and identify new tools for coping — whether that is by starting a job search or finding new ways to manage your work environment.

“There Aren’t Enough Hours in the Day” – Time Management Tips

November 25, 2014

Everybody seems busy today. In fact, according to an op-ed in the New York Times, many Americans are addicted to this ‘busy trap.’ Guilt and anxiety seem to arise if you aren’t managing multiple projects at once. Because of this daily grind – self-imposed or not – many aren’t able to find time to plan and strategize their career development. Most job seekers lament that there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

How then can you take back control and find the time that is needed in order to effectively accomplish your goals?

Keep a Time Journal
If you wonder at the end of your day why your ‘To Do’ list is not complete, then you should analyze your day. There are bound to be projects that take longer than expected and you will undoubtedly have demands placed upon you from others during your workday; however, these factors shouldn’t impact your ability to find time for your truly important tasks.   Being cognizant of how your time is spent is the first step in identifying potential areas for improvement.

Be Proactive, Not Reactive
Research from the University of California, Irvine showed that professional are interrupted every 11 minutes and on average it takes them 23 minutes to get back on task. One of, if not the biggest, interrupters at work is email. So, unless you want to spend your workday reacting to other people’s priorities, it will be important to implement some new time-saving strategies, including:

  • Start your day offline.
    For many, this will be a tough habit to break. Checking work email is often one of the first tasks in any given day; however, take ten minutes at the start of your day to check your daily goals and tasks in order to maximize your workday.
  • Check your email on a schedule.
    One email can pull you in; later, you find yourself two hours behind. Eliminate the distraction by shutting down your inbox entirely. It could help to silence the pings from your smartphone as well. The goal here is not an entire day of email radio silence, but a more systematic approach to the way you check email. Perhaps you only need to check it on the hour and allot yourself fifteen minutes to do so. Hopefully, implementing your own structure will help you feel more in control of your inbox and your time.

Take Time Off
It might seem counterintuitive, but taking time off to relax and recharge will actually help you to be more focused and productive when you are at work. The problem is that many employees don’t take advantage of paid time off. More than 40% of Americans who receive paid time off didn’t take advantage of their full benefits. Add this to the fact that about 1 in 4 Americans doesn’t have a job where they get paid time off. Whether self-imposed or employer-imposed, not taking enough time off has a direct impact on your time management and overall work performance. Bear this fact in mind as we approach the holiday season.

Effective time management is all about planning for the future, setting goals, prioritizing tasks and actually monitoring all of these factors. Time management skills need to be continually practiced so don’t waste any more time and start implementing some of your own strategies today. What has worked for you? Comment below with other tried and true time management tips.

Grad School Apps – Five Kisses of Death

November 12, 2014

If you are a prospective PhD student, you will probably be spending these next couple of weeks putting the finishing touches on your graduate school applications. With looming deadlines for fall admission, the majority of applications will be due in December or January.

Now might be a good time to read a research article from Teaching of Psychology (Appleby & Appleby, 2006). In this qualitative study, chairs of admissions committees were asked to provide detailed examples of “kisses of death” they had encountered when reviewing a candidate’s application materials. In this study, “kisses of death” were defined as “aberrant types of information that cause graduate admissions committees to reject otherwise strong applicants.” From these responses, Appleby and Appleby categorized their findings into five broad themes.

While this study specifically focused on psychology graduate programs, the results can be applicable to all types of graduate programs. The findings were interesting and can be important reminders for all applicants.

The five kisses of death in the graduate school application process are:

  1. Inappropriate Personal Statements
    Many falsely interpret a personal statement at face value and view this document as an opportunity to share personal and private information instead of addressing research interests and their perceived fit with the program. Rather than focusing on your personal characteristics and motives, the authors of study suggest focusing on your qualifications for graduate study and the professional activities and experiences that have prepared you for this next step.
  2. Damaging Letters of Recommendation
    First and foremost, make sure that your letter writer is an appropriate reference. If you seek recommendation letters from a family friend, minister, or other personal contact, this could potentially raise a red flag with the admissions committee. Make sure you choose professors and research mentors who not only know you very well, but also who you are sure will write positively about your qualifications. Don’t be shy about explicitly asking if the letter will be strong.
  3. Lack of Information About the Program
    The importance of researching the focus of each program cannot be overemphasized. Studying key research interests of current faculty is also crucial. Your application will not be successful if you use generic statements for each different school/program.
  4. Poor Writing Skills
    Sure, writing skills can be improved over time and with practice. However, if you are applying to graduate school, admissions committees expect your writing to be of a certain caliber already. Also, any type of spelling or grammatical error in your application is completely unacceptable. Proofread and ask others to read through your materials as well.
  1. Misfired Attempts to Impress
    Attempts to impress the admissions committee often go awry when they are seen as insincere (such as, complimenting the program in an excessive way); inappropriate (blaming others such as your undergraduate institution for your poor academic performance); and arrogant (touting family connections by name dropping).

Even intelligent, qualified and motivated applicants can make simple mistakes in their application. So, try your best to avoid these five pitfalls! If you want to read full article, it can be found here: Appleby, D. C., & Appleby, K. M. (2006). Kisses of death in the graduate school application process. Teaching of Psychology, 33, 19-24.

Guide to Résumés and Curricula Vitae

November 7, 2014

Image of text on the Guide to Resumes and Curricula VitaeThere is often confusion about the differences between a résumé and a CV and when it is best to use each document. This confusion is often compounded by the fact that there is not a standard resume or CV template – your documents will (and should) look different than your lab mates.  While there aren’t formal rules to follow, there are certain expectations for each document.

Résumés and CVs continue to be extremely important documents for job seekers.

OITE has created a newly updated Guide to Résumés and Curricula Vitae

This guide is chock full of:

  • Recommendations and tips
  • Do’s and Don’ts
  • Accomplishment Memory Jogger Questions
  • Lists of transferable action verbs
  • Samples geared toward postbacs, graduate student and postdocs
  • Ideas on how you can create and/or update your own documents


For even more help, mark November 19th on your calendars!

Nov 19, 2014 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm

This workshop will highlight the critical elements and structure of scientific resumes. This important job document serves as the foundation for all job searches. We will discuss how to create a resume based on the employment sector and published position description.

Additional résumé and CV guidance can be found by making an appointment to discuss your documents with an OITE career counselor.

NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Scientific Program Manager

October 27, 2014

Name: Kristin Fabre

Job Title & Organization: Scientific Program Manager, NCATS

Location: NIH – Bethesda, Maryland

How long you’ve been in your current job: Two years

Postdoc Advisor, IC: Dr. Jim Mitchell; Radiation Biology Branch, NCI

What do you do as a Scientific Program Manager?
There are many different job descriptions for what program analysts or managers do, but my primary focus is managing the Tissue Chip for Drug Screening Program. This program aims to develop 3-D human tissue chips that accurately model the structure and function of human organs, such as the lung, liver and heart. This program, which is consortium-based, allows me to work together with about twenty different investigators along with several interagency government officials. So, we work with a lot of different members, including: other NIH Institutes and Centers, the FDA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The idea is to make sure that all of the scientific and administrative milestones are being met. We work to identify any resources needed to meet those milestones or hurdles to overcome. We disseminate information to the public about what this program does and talk to the investigators on a regular basis about the science. We provide feedback as to how the projects can be improved and how we can highlight their successes.

Can you tell me more about this program?
The Tissue Chip Program is a five year program which is using bioengineering to make these devices that essentially mimic the human environment. So, what you can do is put human cells into this scaffold and it will trick the cells into thinking they are actually in the human body. They start to behave and function as if they are in the human body. What we are hoping for and what this technology promises is that it would be a superior method to getting responses to drug toxicity and efficacy using these model systems rather than animals or your standard in vitro systems.

How do you communicate these findings to the public?
There are different ways – obviously giving presentations and sometimes we get an occasional media request. One common request is giving regular updates to NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins or Dr. Chris Austin, the Director of NCATS. We want to keep them updated on the progress so that they can highlight it to Congress and other NIH constituents, as well as the scientific community. We also work on updating websites, are currently making a Tissue Chip video and engaging with social media.

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

There are a few skills that are important. First is having a strong scientific background because even though I am not at the bench doing research, I am still talking and thinking about science and thinking about future programs and how we can further build on this technology and help our investigators. This scientific background knowledge is very important. Second would be to the ability to step out of your comfort zone and look at how you can improve the program and implementing changes by collaborating with the investigators and other government agencies. Strong communication skills are vital in this regard. Another skill that is really important is the ability to step away from very specific tasks or questions such as “What does this protein do?” or “What is this pathway?” and look at the 30,000 foot view. You want to be able to look at the general program as a whole and how you’d want to move it forward.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I really enjoy working directly with investigators and talking about the science. It is really exciting when we have a really big challenge and we do it as a consortium, which is really hard to do. We have about 200+ people in the consortium, so getting all of these project teams to be on the same page can be a daunting task, but when it really comes together, it is very rewarding.

Another one of my other favorite things is talking about the program. I love going places and talking about what this program does and what it means and what opportunities we might have for collaboration.

What has been the hardest challenge about transitioning into this career?
The biggest challenge would be learning the ropes of how extramural works. There have been a lot of things which I had to learn on the fly. My background was radiation biology and with this program, you really have to be a jack of all trades. You need to know a little bit about physiology, all ten major organ systems, bioengineering, stem cell technology, and induced pluripotent stem cell technology. I do have a working team. I have forty people across the NIH that are on my project team and can provide me with that expertise. Even so, it still is a lot of learning different concepts and different research fields beyond my expertise in radiation biology.

Additionally, understanding how extramural processes work has been a challenge because as a postdoc, I was just so used to being at the bench and working on my experiments. Coming out of that environment and learning how the whole grant process works and how we work with grants management and scientific review can be challenging, but these are all things you have to catch up on fairly rapidly once you get into managing a program.

What was your job search like?
It can be really difficult if you are interested in moving into program or science review work or any kind of extramural activity, especially when all you’ve known is bench and intramural work. Therefore, it is really important to develop skills outside of the lab which OITE was really helpful with as was the NCI FYI Steering Committee. It was important to get those skill sets through different activities. I spent a lot of time when I was job searching looking at jobs that I might be qualified for; however, how I actually got this job was through a contact I made when I chaired a committee. I was a chair for designing and developing career fairs and annual colloquiums but also for the steering committee. From that experience, I knew a couple of recruiters from contracting companies, such as Kelly and SAIC. When I started heavily looking for jobs, I would go to USAJobs.gov but I would also talk to people I had worked with. Through my work on the steering committee and organizing the career fair, I worked with a Kelly recruiter who actually got to see me in action and ultimately that is how I got this position, in addition to my experience!

How did you come to choose this as your next step?
It was a lot of soul searching, but ultimately what it boiled down to was asking myself, “What am I really good at?” and “What am I happy doing?”

When I was a graduate student or even a postdoc at the bench, I tried to think of the things that I was most excited about. One would be presenting and talking about science and big ideas while working with people. I realized I actually didn’t like doing the experiments but I wanted to look at the data and see what that meant and how we could move forward. I liked interacting, making connections, troubleshooting and building stronger programs. So, once I realized what I enjoyed and where I excelled, I then started looking for careers which incorporated those skills as a major component to them. I looked at science policy and global health, but ultimately program work really encompassed everything that I felt passionate about.

Any last bits of advice? If a trainee is reading this and is hoping to follow a similar path, what would you recommend?
I would recommend that they do some soul searching to figure out what they are happiest doing and what their strong or weak skills are and find a job that fits around that. Take some time to develop those skills even further outside of the lab so that you can put that on your resume and reach out and network.


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