Hate Your Job, but Scared to Leave?

June 19, 2018

A picture of a man working at a laptop and running his fingers through his hair.

At OITE, we often meet with trainees who aren’t sure what is the best next step for their career. There can be a lot of uncertainty around career decision-making. Perhaps you feel the same indecisiveness?

Sometimes though, things can be very clear about one topic in particular – you hate your current job. Maybe you loathe the work tasks or perhaps it is just not a good work environment for you.  Whatever the reason, most people are very aware when they truly dislike their job. Sometimes this will manifest in a feeling of dread every Sunday night or even every day, during your morning commute.

The answer seems clear. You should quit your job, right? Financially and professionally, this is a big decision to weigh. Many times, though, the true reason people don’t make a change is for psychological factors. Here are some common mental hurdles when making a job change.

  1. What if I hate my new job just as much or even more?

There is an idiom that many people unknowingly adhere to: “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” This is essentially saying that the unknown is super scary! It can be. Changing jobs will often require that you adapt to a new work culture, a new boss, new colleagues, and it might even mean that new skills are tested.  What if you don’t measure up? What if you don’t fit in?

Doing informational interviews can help shed light on new industries or organizations. This can help you assess if this will be a good overall fit for you. Don’t underestimate your opportunity to learn more about the lab/office when you interview. If you get a funny feeling, trust it. Be sure to ask lots of questions during the interview to measure if this will be a good fit.

  1. I was lucky to get this job. Nobody else will hire me!

Too often, people make sweeping generalizations about their marketability.  Scientific trainees, in particular, often minimize the number of transferable skills they feel they have for new professions.

If you see a job posting that looks intriguing, then you should go ahead and try to apply for it. It is a good idea to “test” your job candidacy/marketability every few years anyway. Do some searches and see what comes up that might be a good match. This could give you some ideas of new skill sets you might need to brush up on; plus, it helps keep your job search materials up to date.  Give it a try – you might just be surprised!

  1. I am lost about what I want to do.

Career exploration takes time and it is not always clear what you see as your skills, values, and interests. If you are unhappy in your current role, then you need to prioritize this activity and be proactive.  The OITE has resources that can help. Our series on Planning for Career Satisfaction and Success could be a great start.  If you are at the NIH, feel free to visit the OITE website to schedule appointments with career counselors and to learn about additional programs and resources to prepare you for a successful job search.

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Managing Summer Interns – Tips for Mentors

June 11, 2018

Last week, we started to welcome summer interns to the NIH campus and shared some resources which might be of interest specifically for them.  This week, we are focusing on tips for mentors. So, if you will be mentoring an intern this summer, be sure to read on!

Mentors may find it difficult to find time and energy to manage and train someone, all while trying to satisfy their own work demands. In addition, teaching and training someone is a skill that must be practiced. If you are new at it, it can cause stress for all parties involved. Wondering how you can improve upon your own mentoring skills?

Here are some ideas for mentors:

Be mindful in selecting your mentee. The mentoring relationship, if conducted with care, can be an incredibly rewarding experience for both mentee and mentor. If the match does not fit though, it can also result in a lot of stress and unnecessary effort on both ends. Therefore, it is crucial that the mentor chooses their mentee with care. Assessing the mentee’s motivation, taking similarities and differences into account, and starting the mentorship with a trial period are all steps both parties can take to ensure a successful match. Selecting a good mentee also requires self-knowledge: what are your strengths and weaknesses, how much time and effort do you have aside from your own work, and how many mentees can you realistically take on?

Set clear expectations for performance from the start. In addition to getting used to the new workflow, mentees are also likely getting used to personalities and working styles of their new colleagues and superiors. As this takes time, being explicit about your objectives and expectations for the relationship from the get go will result in more productivity and a better mentoring relationship. Be sure to challenge your mentee, but do not set expectations so high that they feel paralyzed and overwhelmed. Once you have seen the mentee’s performance, it is crucial to offer honest, specific feedback on a regular basis. Everyone loves positive feedback, but it is usually the negative feedback that sparks more learning and change. In instances where negative feedback is needed, it can be helpful to start off with a positive comment/suggestion, and perhaps end with one too. Once you have a sense that your mentee has attained mastery, escalate their responsibility over time to boost their confidence. Make sure to accelerate at a slow enough pace though!

Be accessible. Especially in the beginning. Even with the best communication and clear expectations in place, it can be difficult in a busy research environment to keep up to date and on the same page with both day to day tasks and long term goals. Projects and daily objectives change, mentees can learn of new opportunities that change their perspective. Therefore, keeping regular meetings, both formal and informal, can be a great way to check in, keep in the loop, and stay on the same page. Sometimes meetings are best in a formal context, but informal meetings over lunch or coffee can also help build rapport, and convey what you want in a more effective manner. No matter the context of the meeting, it is important for both parties to practice active listening, which includes dedicating full attention to the discussion, good eye contact, and engaging body language. In some settings, mentees could greatly benefit from even working directly with the mentor on a project; giving them direct exposure in your research and working methods could give them lifelong methods. No matter how you do it, it is imperative that you spend time engaging directly with your mentee.

Although mentoring a young researcher does not always result in a tangible benefit for the mentor, there are many valuable results that come from mentoring a student. First, creating a positive teaching relationship with a mentee often results in more work getting done for the lab’s or mentor’s own research project, saving time and energy. Playing the role of a mentor can also result in a greater self-understanding of one’s own strengths and weaknesses as a researcher and leader.  Lastly, mentoring a young researcher benefits the scientific field as a whole, because it provides direct hands-on learning experience for young professionals who might have no other way of getting such experience. If done correctly, it constitutes a win for all involved.

If you want to read more about mentoring relationships, check out previous blog posts on: Identifying Mentors: Why it Matters  and Getting the Most Out of Mentoring Relationships.

 


Welcome 2018 Summer Interns: OITE Blogs of Interest

June 5, 2018

summer-flowers-wallpaper-hd-free

The Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) of the NIH extends a warm welcome to the Summer 2018 interns. Over the next few months, you will engage in many unique opportunities in biomedical research that will encourage you to consider pursuing careers and further graduate study in the field.  As you are settling in to your lab and meeting your PIs and fellow trainees, we want to make sure that you are aware of a variety of helpful blog posts that will help you to maximize your summer experience.

Getting oriented to a new lab and role as a researcher is both exciting and somewhat challenging for summer interns.  We suggest reading the blog Understanding the Impact of Change to learn about the key factors associated with any transition.  Next read Making the Most of Your Transition to the NIH.

One of the challenges in most careers is how to achieve a healthy work-life balance. The OITE Director and our wellness programming staff encourage you to review our model of wellness and managing stress as part of your training to be a successful scientist.

Meeting your new mentor is another opportunity that you will have this summer. To prepare yourself for this essential growth opportunity, we suggest reading the blogs on Identifying Mentors and Learning How To Make the Most of Mentoring Relationships.

Many of you will also be introduced and encouraged to pursue graduate or professional school as a next step in your career planning.  In addition to attending our workshops, be sure to explore the variety of blogs related to topic including exploring the Md MD/PHD route, obtaining the Master’s,  PhD degree, or developing your plan for medical and dental school applications. Visit the OITE summer trainee website to learn about the services available to summer students to meet with a career counselor to help you prepare for careers in the sciences.

We look forward to working with you this summer. Visit the OITE website for further information.  For our readers who are alumni or outside of the NIH, we encourage you to seek similar services through your training director, or your college and university or in the community.

 


Saying “No” at Work

May 22, 2018

A picutre of tree bark with the words It can be anxiety producing to turn down work from a fellow colleague, or even worse, your boss. Sometimes, though, that is exactly what you need to do. In most work settings, especially competitive ones, employees want to be looked upon favorably as the “go-to person” or as a “good team player”. The problem happens when you take on too much and volunteer to pitch in on one too many projects. When doing so, you run the risk of not being as effective at your other tasks and it could leave you feeling stressed and stretched too thin.

If you have already fully assessed the request and plan to say “no” here are a few things to keep in mind as you say this small but powerful two-lettered word.

Give yourself permission to say “no”.
Even at work. Often people agree to requested tasks or favors simply because they fear disappointing the requestor. At work, you should earnestly evaluate whether you have the bandwidth to help with the request and you should always show a willingness to pitch in; however, you can still say no. When doing so, ask if priorities should be shifted to accommodate this request or volunteer to help in smaller or tangential ways for the project. Saying no at work doesn’t mean you are a bad employee, but rather that you are aware of your own personal time constraints and want to be respectful to all involved on the project.

Say it with the right tone.
This can be a hard one to do, especially if you feel stressed and overwhelmed by the request. Sometimes answers can come out overly harsh, so try not to conflate your overall feelings about your workload with this one favor. Sometimes it is best to buy yourself more time and say “Can I follow up with you in a few minutes? My mind is focused on X right now.” Then take some time to gather your thoughts and practice your approach.

Be firm with your boundary.
It is equally important not to waver or appear too hesitant when saying no. Be courteous but assertive. You might say, “I’m sorry I can’t be of help right now and I will let you know if that changes in the next few weeks.” This puts you in the position to follow up instead of inviting questions from the requestor of the “If…then” variety. Don’t give the requestor false hope that your answer may change by talking too much about shifting variables. Make sure your no is firmly understood.

If saying no to requests at work (or outside of work, for that matter!) is difficult for you, then you might benefit from the assertiveness workshops. If you are at the NIH, feel free to attend the workshop entitled “Speaking Up: How to Ask For What You Need in the Lab and in Life” on June 19. The OITE also has some resources that might be helpful, including the OITE Career Library. One book you might be particularly interested in is: When I Say No, I Feel Guilty by Manuel J. Smith, PhD.

 


Why the 11th Annual Career Symposium is Awesome!  

May 15, 2018

The 11th Annual NIH Career Symposium is on May 18, 2018. This great event features career panels to help you make career decisions.  Register now and join us!

CS 11

Top 11 things on why the career symposium is awesome:

  1. You can look at what careers you might want.
    1. We have faculty, industry, government, bench, non-bench jobs to highlight. Come hear about what these folks do all day at their jobs to make sure you are ready.
  2. You could also decide which careers do not fit you.
    1. If you are unsure what is next, you can “test” careers-it is just as important to take careers off your decision tree as it is to find a career that fits you.
  3. You do have time for this—it is part of being a grad student/postdoc/fellow.
    1. One common comment we hear is “I do not have time, my experiments need me!” We get it, most of the OITE staff have PhDs….that said, part of your job as a trainee is to find a job so consider this your experiment for the day!
  4. You can hear from over 60 speakers that are attending.
    1. Many of our speakers also make hiring decisions, so you can get insider info on what committees are looking for in CV/resumes, cover letters, and interviews.
  5. You can see that most trainees are in the same decision-making process that you are.
    1. There is comfort in seeing that other trainees are also wondering about what career they want after they leave their postdoc/fellow/grad experience. You can share ideas and tips with your colleagues to make this process easier.
  6. Network with your peers
    1. Too many times trainees think networking is only about speaking to those in positions of hiring power; however, you can get great advice and insights from like-minded individuals in your peer group. The career symposium usually has over 750 in attendance, so there will be plenty of opportunity to make new connections!
  7. You should invite everyone who is a postdoc, grad student, fellow in the biomedical sciences to join us.
    1. While hosted by the NIH OITE (part of the intramural research program), everyone is invited–even if you are not in the intramural research program.
  8. You might learn a new skill in our blitzes.
    1. The end of the day features skill blitzes to help you prepare your job packages, interview, deal with the stress of being a scientist, transition to your new job, tell your boss about your career plans, and more.
  9. You have an easy place to practice networking.
    1. A few years ago, a speaker mentioned that while they had great conversations the day of, no attendees followed up after the event. Be that person that follows up!
  10. You can get a picture at the LinkedIn photobooth.
    1. According to LinkedIn’s data, LinkedIn profiles with photos get 21 times more profile views, nine times more connection requests and 36 times more messages than those without photos.
  11. You can participate by tweeting along.
    1. We will highlight comments and tips by the speakers all day on Twitter. Follow along at NIH_OITE with the hashtag #CareerSymp18

 

See you there!


Re-Applying to Graduate Programs

May 7, 2018

As noted in last week’s blog about reapplying to medical school, deciding to reapply for graduate programs naturally brings mixed feelings.  You should be congratulated for the investment of time, effort, and expense that all applicants invest during the application process.  For those of you who are on waitlists for admission this cycle, there is still a possibility for matriculation this year.  Simultaneously, it is time for you to consider re-applying.
Here are some things to consider:

There are things beyond your control.

It is common for applicants to reapply.  It is important to realize that each year, the number of students accepted to graduate programs may vary depending on a variety of matters.  In some departments a loss of funding from the department, school or institution can result in a reduction in the number of applicants who they can support in a PhD program.  Also, in any given year, the number of faculty who are available to take on new doctoral students may fluctuate.  Some faculty may have sabbaticals, take family or health leaves of absence, or even simply be overloaded with students.

Ask Yourself:  What are the strengths and deficits in my application?

Never reapply without addressing the problems within your previous application and interview.   Take ownership of the process and ask, “How can I improve my application in the future?”.  Often, admissions officers can give you one or two tidbits of information that can help you.  Dr. Bill Higgins, OITE’s Preprofessional Advisor, provided these additional tips to graduate school re-applicants:

  • Talk to Graduate Program Directors who have seen your application and ask for suggestions for improvement
  • Obtain suggestions from your PI about how to improve your application
  • Apply to a broader range of graduate programs that range in competitiveness and prestige
  • Obtain new letters of recommendation from PIs who know about your work and science
  • Address any grade or GRE scores
  • Make sure your stated research interests match the program’s foci
  • Get help with your personal statement from the OITE staff

Act to improve upon your application.

Now that you have gathered feedback, honestly ask, “Can these problems be remedied effectively prior to reapplying or will I need more time?  Next set out to make any necessary improvements to your application.  Plan to attend the NIH Graduate and Professional School Fair on Wednesday July 18, 2018 and speak with representatives of over 160 graduate programs seeking applicants form NIH.  Feel free to make an appointment with a OITE career counselor and attend the workshops on applying to graduate school workshops and programs during the Fall and Winter of each application season.

 


Re-Applying to Medical School

April 30, 2018

The decision to re-apply for medical school naturally brings mixed feelings.  You should be congratulated for the investment of time, effort, and expense that all applicants invest during the application process.  For those of you who are on waitlists for admission this cycle, there is still a possibility for matriculation this year.  Simultaneously, it is time for you to consider re-applying.

You Are Not Alone

The reality is that in 2016, the AAMC reported that there were over 49,000 medical school applicants.  From that pool of applicants, fewer than half matriculated into their first year of medical school.   Dr. Bill Higgins, Pre-Professional Consultant in the OITE, suggests that you address the following questions to decide if you should re-apply to medical school.

Ask Yourself: What were the strengths and deficits in my application?
Never just reapply without addressing the problems in your application. Can these be remedied prior to the next application cycle?   Take ownership of this process and do not re-apply with the same application you used previously.  Schools will appreciate the persistence towards the goal of admission to medical school; however, you should re-apply with a new and updated AMCAS application.  Preferably, you will also show a marked increase in clinical hours, new publications or awards, and or an increase in your science GPA and MCAT scores.   You will need to update your AMCAS application including your 15 experiences, personal statement, and references.

Remember the golden rule: apply early in the cycle (during the month of June)!

Am I creating a convincing personal statement about my preparation for medical school to a selection committee?
It is recommended that you revise your personal statement.  As you review your statement, instead of asking are your telling a story, ask yourself if you are providing appropriate proof and examples to the selection. To get you started, review the blog regarding writing a persuasive personal statement.

Is it in your best interest to re-apply for the next cycle?
Be honest with yourself and decide if is better to apply during this cycle or apply or in one-year so that you are applying when your application will be at its strongest.

Did you overlook applying to schools that could be a good fit?
Make sure you have a realistic understanding of your credentials and the admissions requirements at various medical schools.  Factor in each school’s metrics (Science GPA and MCAT scores), mission, curriculum as well as your desires for a medical education, and your values.

Do I need to apply to a pre-medical post-baccalaureate program?
Completing a pre-medical post baccalaureate program can be the most effective way to gain the qualifications needed for medical school acceptance.  If you have determined that you need to increase your science GPA, gain clinical or research experience, re-take the MCAT, and/or need more support through the process, then there are a variety of programs that would suit your needs.  Visit the AAMC post-baccalaureate programs information site which describe the various programs nation-wide.

Have you considered related health professions? Graduate programs?

You may want to consider additional health care career options if you have not gained entrance to medical school after several attempts or if you have an interest in another field.  In fact, in 2015, the AAMC published an updated report on “The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2013-2105.”  The conclusion of this study suggests, “that the demand for physician services is growing faster than physician supply and that by 2025 demand will exceed supply by 46,100 to 90,4000 physicians.” While the demand for physicians will grow, so too will the demand for other health-care related positions like nurses or physician assistants.   You may also consider applying Doctor of Osteopathy programs or pursue doctoral education in a scientific career as well.

Did you attend OITE workshops and utilize pre-professional advising services?
If you are at the NIH the OITE Career Services Center provides pre-professional advising, career counseling and a host of workshops and programs that will support your decision to re-apply. For example, you can attend the next workshop, Filling Out the AMCAS workshop on May 8, 2018. If you are not at the NIH, check with your college or university for these services or at a community or private counseling center in your community.