NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Senior Scientist

September 2, 2014

Name: Amir Zeituni, PhD

Job Title & Organization: Senior Scientist, Global Science & Technology

Location: NASA HQ

How long you’ve been in your current job: Since July 2013

Postdoc Advisor, IC (when at NIH): Dr. Carole Long

What do you do as a Senior Scientist?
I work as a Senior Scientist for a contracting company called Global Science & Technology in support of the Space Biology Program at NASA. My daily responsibilities change all the time, but basically I help the program executive do a lot of scientific analysis to make sure we have programmatic balance. The program executive in NASA fills the role of the program director/ officer at the NIH. We fulfill the role of science management: writing solicitations for science to be done on the International Space Station, and then hold peer-review panels to have the community evaluate the proposals we get.

Personally, I helped write the research funding announcements (RFA’s) or NASA research announcements (NRA’s) I don’t look at budgets but I will make recommendations and suggestions based on the types of science proposed to the program executive. In December and February, we just released two NRA’s back to back which is somewhat unusual for Space Biology. This requires a lot of writing to ensure that everything goes through legal, procurement and international affairs. We are finishing one of those calls now. What’s great is that we are involved in expanding a program and there are many exciting experiments being selected to be conducted in space. Since NASA is an engineering organization, we need to make sure that our biology work in space can be executed to the satisfaction of our PIs. This leads to a lot of lot of back and forth discussion and collaboration with the PIs and the engineers.

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

1. Critical thinking and analysis
2. Oral and written communication – I am on teleconferences and email all the time, so you really have to have a good presence.
3. Overall, you have to possess a good foundation of basic science research and what makes a good experiment and how to write a good grant.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I love the people I am interacting with; it is a really good community here. I also love that it is challenging and that everything is new, so it feels like a lot to learn.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
Basically I was trained as a microbiologist and an immunologist and the scope of what we are looking at here is huge. I’m looking at all life sciences, so everything from cell science to plants to invertebrates to rodents to humans. We are interested in all of it and it all falls under the umbrella of Space Biology. So, you really just have to get caught up and become proficient in a lot of different fields and sub-disciplines.

What was your job search like?
I was looking for program manager or senior scientist type of positions. I definitely wanted to transition away from the wet bench, so I was looking at what I could do in order to leverage my strengths and find a position that would make me happy. I spoke with a lot of different people who were either scientific review officers or program managers/executives at the NIH and in industry. I settled with something in the government that would be a good fit. After having more follow up discussions, they all basically admitted that in order to get your foot in the door, you have to be a contractor for a couple of years first and then you would be qualified and competitive for a position, sometimes the organization they contracted for would open up a position for them.

How did you identify this company and come to choose this as your next step?
I looked at the NIH OITE website a lot because they would post a lot of job opportunities. I also looked at and LinkedIn and had a search parameter that fit that bill. I had a couple of first and second round interviews with different contractor and different government agencies. What really helped me though was that I saw a position posted and then I got an email from another person in my network about the same position, so I used him as a referral to get in.

What was your interview like?
It started off with a phone interview and where I talked about my science and my general qualifications. That ended up being about a 45 minute conversation with one of the HR recruiters. I was then invited to interview with the manager at the contracting company, which was a more involved interview. I believe that was a three hour on-site interview. Then, I was invited to interview with the potential client and after that I had a follow up interview with the contractor. For this position, I had four interviews in total. I applied for the job in February and I started in July.

What are the most important soft skills needed for your position?
Interpersonal communications through and through – it’s how you interact with people and how you identify who will respond to different types of communication better. Knowing how the client likes thing and how I can get information from other entities is very important. For example, if I need something form person X, I fire off an email; however, if I need something from person Y, I will give them a call.

Any last bits of advice? If you had to do your search differently, would you change anything?
The only bit of advice is to do a lot of informational interviews. They really helped because I learned how to talk the talk essentially. Plus, it is a safer environment so you can ask a lot of the dumb questions that will probably not get you a job offer. I was doing a couple of interviews concurrently, so I ended up applying and learning from those mistakes, which all helped me eventually land this position.

3 Tips for Optimizing Your LinkedIn Profile

August 28, 2014

For better or worse, LinkedIn has become the new résumé and whether you like it or not, you are being searched online. Generally, only the top four or five results are being reviewed, so it is imperative that you use your LinkedIn profile to optimize your online presence and control your professional branding.

Not on LinkedIn? Well, your lack of a presence says something too, especially with 60 million users in the United States. If a recruiter can’t find you on LinkedIn, they might falsely assume you aren’t tech savvy or that you have antiquated views of the world of searching for work.

When utilized during a job search, LinkedIn can be a powerful tool and it is crucial to make sure your LinkedIn profile is professional and up to date.

Here are some more tips for optimizing your LinkedIn profile:

  1. Upload a photo.
    Many people have concerns about uploading a photo to LinkedIn, especially since photos aren’t usually included on résumés or CVs in the United States. Worries about ageism, racism and sexism obviously trump more innocuous concerns about simply not being photogenic.  Ageism, racism and sexism are all extremely valid concerns within any job search; however, the benefit of a photo is that it makes you human and not just a hyperlink. Profiles with photos get clicked on seven more times than those without.An image of a LinkedIn page with yellow and orange spots showing where recruiters looks the most. Further highlighting the importance of a photo on your profile can be seen in a study done by Ladders which used heat maps to review the eye tracking techniques of thirty recruiters over a ten week period. They found that recruiters spent 19% of their total time looking at your picture. Where did they look next? Your summary, so…
  2. Avoid long, boring summaries.
    Your summary is not meant to be a data dump or a novel of long paragraphs that will potentially overwhelm, or worse, bore the reader. There are two possible solutions. Solution A. Keep it simple with one sentence, which will hopefully encompass great keywords and will encourage the reader to keep scrolling down to read more. Solution B. Use an overarching key statement and then bullet points.
  3. Make sure your groups add to your brand.
    Groups are a great way to connect with like-minded individuals; however, being a member of too many disparate groups can begin to dilute your professional branding. An easy fix is to go in and make some of your group memberships invisible. To do so, simply go to the group section within your profile and you will see a visibility setting which you can adjust by unchecking the box “Display the group logo on your profile.”

Finally, another way to optimize your LinkedIn profile is quite simple: use it more. The more you use LinkedIn, the better it works. By doing some searches for jobs, groups and even people, LinkedIn will begin to recognize what you are looking for and it will offer suggestions. An additional way to increase your visibility is to participate more by asking thoughtful, professional questions to your groups and/or by commenting on industry-specific articles.

With that advice in mind, what other LinkedIn tips could you share? Feel free to share any comments in the OITE NIH Intramural Science group on LinkedIn.

Soft Skills = Today’s Critical Competencies

August 20, 2014

Image of a person surrounded by eight different bubbles. Each bubble represents a different soft skill, such as "presenting" or "being on time."Traditionally, soft skills were viewed as a secondary bonus to an applicant’s technical skill set; however, in today’s extremely competitive job market, employers are looking for proof of a mix of both hard and soft skills. In fact, recruiters will view a lack of demonstrated leadership or extracurricular activities on your resume as a potential red flag. Illuminating this fact is a study which shows that 60% of managers agreed that soft skills are the most important factor when evaluating an employee’s performance.

Recognizing the extreme importance of soft skills, The Department of Labor (DOL) developed an entire curriculum on the subject entitled, “Soft Skills to Pay the Bills: Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success.” Targeted toward teens and young adults, this program was created as an introduction to workplace interpersonal and professional skills.

The DOL’s list of key soft skills is very similar to OITE’s core competencies; it includes:

  1. Communication
    Permeating almost every aspect of a job, this skill is often ranked first among employers. It includes your ability to speak, write and present.
  2. Enthusiasm & Attitude
    Employers get frustrated with employees who are resistant to change or unable to adapt to new directions. Having an open and upbeat attitude will help your group generate good energy and move forward on projects.
  3. Teamwork
    There will be aspects of teamwork within every job. Leaders and project managers often lament that most of their jobs are spent trying to get colleagues to work effectively together. Therefore, it is essential to your career to work cooperatively and be able to participate in group decision-making.
  4. Networking
    Like teamwork, networking is about building relationships. It also involves critical elements of communication and the ability to represent yourself effectively to others.
  5. Problem Solving & Critical Thinking
    There is no shortage of challenges and issues that can arise on the job. Employers want employees who will be able to face these problems critically and creatively by gathering enough information in order to develop a solution.
  6. Professionalism
    No matter the job or the industry, professionalism is a critical key to your success. Professionalism isn’t one trait – it is a combination of characteristics. It often means conducting yourself with a high level of responsibility, integrity and accountability. Part of professionalism is having a strong work ethic and being willing to go that extra mile. Another integral component is being dependable, trustworthy, and always following through on your projects.

Soft skills are no longer undervalued by employers. Make sure you are practicing these skills in your current position and/or seeking out opportunities to develop these skill sets. You will not only be helping your professional development, but you will be especially thankful the next time you are in an interview and they ask you a common behavioral question like “Tell me about a time when you had to utilize effective communication skills within a group setting,” and you have a stellar anecdote to share.

Medical School Interviews

August 6, 2014

The season for medical school interviews is quickly approaching. If you have completed your secondary medical school application and been offered an interview, then congratulations! Schools don’t typically bring you in for an interview unless they are strongly considering your candidacy.

Bearing this in mind, many times the interview is more about your fit with the program rather than your scores and credentials. Schools use an interview to evaluate your professionalism, maturity, and personality. They want to hear in your words – spoken not written – what your motivation is in pursuing medicine.

Effective preparation is critical to the success of your interview.
Here are some things you should know before going to each interview:

  • What type of interviewing format does the school use?
    Schools may do traditional, in-person, one-on-one interviews; Skype interviews; group interviews; or even a mix of them all. Find out more about your school’s format by looking at their Web site and/or asking the admissions coordinator. You can also find information about the interview style and format for each school on The Student Doctor Network.
  • Will it be an open file or closed file interview?
    In an open file interview, the interviewer may have read your whole application or just parts of it. The interviewer could also be reading your file for the first time during the interview. In a closed file interview, your interviewer has not seen any part of your application.
  • Do they do Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI)?
    In an MMI, there are generally six to ten stations. You go around and have about two minutes to read a scenario based question. These tend to focus on situational and/or ethical dilemmas. You are then given six to eight minutes to answer in a way that demonstrates your logic and creative problem solving skills.

Once you understand the format for the interview, you anticipate (or plan!) how you will respond to potential interview questions.
Here are a few groups of sample questions to think about:

* What experiences have most motivated you to pursue medicine?
* What concerns you about medical school and a residency program?
* How have you tested your commitment to pursue medicine?

* Tell me about a time when you demonstrated leadership.
*What was the most stressful situation you have faced to date; how did you handle it?
*Walk me through an experience where you made a mistake. How did you fix it?

*Tell me about yourself.
* Why did you choose this school?
*What are your three strongest qualities?
*What is the most important thing you would want to convey to the admission committee?

There are many, many more possible interview questions you could be asked! While you will never be able to fully anticipate each question, it can be helpful to review lists of interview questions and begin thinking about how you would frame your answers. To prepare for behavioral questions, you might reflect on personal interactions/situations in your past, considering how you might frame them as stories and what personal characteristics they demonstrate.

Starting on August 18th, the OITE is offering group medical school mock interview sessions to help you prepare. A total of seventeen sessions has been scheduled over the subsequent three weeks. If you are part of the intramural program, you can attend ONE session in order to practice your responses and learn from not only your peers but a facilitator as well.

Enhancing Optimism and Resilience in Your Job Search & Beyond

July 29, 2014

Picture of a group of blue sad faces with a yellow happy face in the middleAs we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, it can be really difficult to stay positive during a job search. However, positivity is often a key characteristic of the most productive job searchers and luckily, there are things you can do to help enhance your own optimism.

In the Job Search Resiliency video (part of the new OITE YouTube Channel) you will find helpful tips and strategies for finding ways to stay positive and optimistic if/when your job search doesn’t go as planned.

One takeaway (of many) from the video is to engage in positive psychology exercises.  Some of these exercises include:

  1. Gratitude Visit and Letter
    Close your eyes for a moment and think about a person who helped you out in the past. Perhaps someone you never properly thanked? This is a great activity to help you feel more positive because when you feel grateful, you conjure up a pleasant memory or association. Then, expressing that gratitude can help strengthen your relationship and can create more positive connections.   So, give that person a call, write them an e-mail or even drop by their office or home to say thank you!
  1. Three Good Things in Life
    Oftentimes, it is easy to identify all the things that went wrong in a day, or even all the challenges you are facing within your job search. Take a moment each day to balance out that perspective. Pause and reflect on all the things (big and small) that went well. Then choose three of these good things and write them down. We invite you to take it a step further and provide an explanation (why it was good and/or how it came about) for each good thing. You may find that you are the cause of many of these positive events.
  1. Identifying Signature Strengths
    Martin Seligman (Founder of Positive Psychology) and his research group have a website:  This site includes information on learning and applying the principles of positive psychology to any domain, such as a job search. They also have a whole range of different surveys that you can take. We suggest taking the Signature Strengths Survey and noting your top five strengths.

    You can help combat negativity when you focus on not only identifying your strengths but also finding new ways to begin using those strengths more intentionally throughout your week. A logistical note about taking this survey: it is quite long as it has 240 questions and you can’t save it and come back to it, so be sure to take it when you have sufficient time. You do have to create a log in to access the surveys, but by participating you are actually paying it forward in a way by helping with their positive psychology research.

One final recommended exercise is to watch the full Job Search Resiliency video on YouTube. It’s a quick way to get even more information, including some key follow up resources.

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:

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.


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