Building Bridges Towards Your Career During the Holidays

December 11, 2017

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Cheers! The months of November and December is the time, annually, when workers from the NIH and across the globe take time to celebrate and relax.  During this time, the communication between future job and graduate school opportunities slow down for a couple of weeks.  Even if your research is continuing, PIs and trainees may take a few days off.   This will give you an opportunity to schedule some time and focus on your career development.  Of course, the OITE’s wellness model encourages scientists to have a healthy balance between work and time to replenish your mind, body, spirit and connections with others.  Here are some easy career development activities that trainees can easily schedule in, that will build your career spirit!

Re-kindle professional relationships

During the next few weeks utilize the relaxed schedule to continue developing and reconnecting with your colleagues who will enjoy learning about your status and future goals. Send a holiday card, set up a coffee chat or phone call to re-connect with mentors to strengthen your professional relationships You can also carve out some time to conduct an informational interview, gain clinical and volunteer experience.  Discuss your career plans with others (verbally) to build your confidence articulating your professional career goals while gaining support.

Read! Read!  Read!

Read at least two hours per day will serve you personally and professionally. In fact, reading is one of the recommended methods to help applicants prepare for the MCAT CARS section and interviews.  You can read a variety of media including short stories, novels, newspapers, and professional journals and news magazines to you will increase your ability to read critically and more quickly and effectively.  It will also keep you up-to-date on current issues in your field and in the world.

Revise your resume, CV, cover letters and practice interviewing

Use portion of the time to update your job search correspondence materials including your CV, resume, cover letters and other application materials while at a coffee shop or watching TV. While it is time consuming, it is a necessary part of managing your anxiety about applying to jobs or graduate schools in the future.  Allowing yourself the time to practice interview questions with a trusted friend, family, or colleague can help you hone your skills in this area as well.

Review and update your social media profiles

Employers and graduate schools admissions staff often review the social media sites of their applicants. This is an excellent time to manage your on-line image.  Create and update your profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Set privacy controls, add professional photos and delete any questionable language and images.   This is a time to connect the image that you want to project in 2018 electronically and in person.

Re-energize with physical activity

Whether it is cold, warm, snowy or balmy, the holidays are great times to enhance your physical well-being through active or mindful exercises. These activities will strengthen your ability to be a strong co-worker and have a positive outlook.  Take a walk, jog, dance, listen to music and/or take time to breathe.  If you must be indoors, then go to the gym, swim, engage yoga or mindfulness activities are wise uses of time.

Also, as you are building your professional bridge to success, retool by visiting the OITE website and read through the selection of blog articles, videocasts, and other materials that are designed to prepare you as professional scientists. When you return, you will have engaged in the four areas of the OITE wellness model and begin 2018 with refreshed and strengthened career goals!

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Considering a Career in Biomedical Data Science? What you need to Consider

December 4, 2017
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Word Cloud Created by Jodian Brown using the generator found at https://www.jasondavies.com/wordcloud/

Written by Jodian Brown, Ph.D., Computational Chemistry, IRTA Postdoctoral Fellow OD/OIR/OITE, National Institutes of Health

Data science – it is a field of study that has exploded over the past few years. Consequently, there is a lot of interest from our trainees. To provide tangible insights into strategies trainees can undertake to transition in this field, the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) recently hosted a panel workshop on Careers in Data Science and Computational Biology.

To some the field of data science may seem new, yet, a core group of scientists may oppose that notion. This core group includes, but is not limited to, computational biologists/chemists, bioinformaticians and even geographers. These professions have been harnessing computational approaches and power to make sense of scientifically-relevant data for decades. However, the exponential rise in smart technology (such as smart phones and smart cars) has been linked to a significant surge in the need for persons that can use computational approaches and power to efficiently use and analyze large amounts of all types of data. And from this need is born the term data scientist. Harvard Business Review dedicated an article centered on the role of this job in the 21st century.

A tangible percentage of this rise in generated data can be attributed to biomedically-relevant sources. Over the past two decades, advances in scientific tools and techniques (e.g. high-performance computer clusters, molecular structure elucidation, and genomic sequencing) have drastically increased the data and knowledge within the biomedical enterprise. Thus, at this juncture we need scientists who can integrate their scientific background and interests with computational tools and approaches to tackle these vast data.

What skills should you consider developing if you are interested in pursuing a data science career? During the Careers in Data Science and Computational Biology workshop four main pillars important to this transition in data science were identified as:

  1. ability to understand and employ mathematical and statistical approaches
  2. programming ability
  3. at a minimum, peripheral knowledge of computer architecture
  4. ability to effectively communicate your work

Translation of the above pillars into practical approaches may include taking mathematics/statistics courses (e.g. machine learning or deep networking) as well as learning programming languages such as Python or R. The next step after improving your mathematics and computer language knowledge is to find a project of interest that ideally is related to your research and use available computer resources to execute project. Often, learning about computer architecture may occur on the fly but it is strongly recommended that you commit to understanding the basics. Various computer platform, analyses and visualization software are freely available (watch video of workshop for some suggestions). Here at the NIH there is a number of resources that you may access. The NIH’s High-Performance Computing (HPC) team offers several free classes (which provides introductions to supercomputing in science and Python) as well as maintaining the HPC cluster that some trainees may access with the appropriate project and proper approval from supervisor (Note: PIs pay for such use). The NIH Data Science Mentoring program accepts applications from NIH individuals who want to mentor or be mentored in data science. For more information on this mentoring program (which needs mentors) you can contact Ms. Lisa Federer via her email lisa.federer@nih.gov or Dr. Ben Busby at ben.busby@nih.gov. Dr. Ben Busby is also a great resource for those with proficient programming abilities who would like to apply them to hackathon projects.

A noteworthy caveat is that skills listed above may be easier to acquire if you are earlier in your career (e.g., postbac and graduate student) as you may possess more time and/or flexibility with regards to your research responsibilities. In contrast, senior trainees such as postdocs and research fellows may have more time constraints and project responsibilities. Nonetheless, if you are a senior trainee or employee it may be amenable to construct data science projects that are directly related to your research. Furthermore, the application of user-friendly computer software is highly recommended if an extensive programming background is not present.

The landscape of data science is broad and the depth of skills involved will depend on the subspecialty. A researcher in data science may be responsible for generating, extracting, analyzing and/or visualizing data and/or developing the tools to do so. Most data scientist positions will often rely on more than one of these subtasks. Thus, as you begin to explore and acquire skills in the field of data science, you can determine your preference of being on the side that makes “biomedical sense” of the data or that develops the tools or both.

The panelists at the OITE-hosted Careers in Data Science and Computational Biology workshop provided great insights into the advantages of having data science skills whether you are interested in an academic or non-academic career.  In addition, specific tools that trainees can assess and use to improve their data science skills were highlighted during the panel discussion. A video recording of this workshop can been found here.

Finally, remember that there are other resources, including career counselors who are happy to talk with you about career exploration, are available here at the OITE. You can schedule an appointment with one of our career counselors via visiting this link.


Thank You Notes

November 21, 2017

Heads Up!  With Thanksgiving, right around the corner, it is a terrific time to remind those of you who are (or will be) interviewing for professional schools, jobs and fellowships to send thank you notes.  One of the standard steps of applying for opportunities, this type of professional correspondence is often overlooked by applicants.   In many situations, a thank you note can be influential in moving you to the next stage in the process, or even obtaining an offer.  As written in a previous blog, giving thanks is very powerful for both the writer and receiver(s).  Here are some suggestions to help you craft a strong thank you letter.

Thank You

Who?      Send your letters to the primary person (Dean of Admissions, PI, manger, HR, or faculty member, student) who worked with you to coordinate your interview. If you met with more than one person, you can either send one letter addressed to the primary person and the committee/group who has interviewed you or individual letters.  Thank your interviewers after each telephone, Skype, or video interview and after second and final rounds.  Thank you notes can also be sent to acknowledge a network contact, mentor, informational interviewee, or recommendation writer.

 What to Include?      Thank you notes should be a short (one or two short paragraphs), signed and sent by you, to each opportunity that has interviewed you. While a hand-written personal note has historically been preferred, in today’s market, due to electronic application and communication during the job search process, it is appropriate to send an electronic thank you letter.  Simply thank the interviewers for their time interviewing you, emphasize something that you learned or positively experienced during the interview, and briefly restate your interest in the position and it match with your skills and interests.

 When?      It is best to send your note within a few days after your interview. Sending an electronic letter is quick and can be beneficial because decisions for positions are made within a few hours to days after your interview.  If you send it via US mail, that will take longer to be received and your interviewers will appreciate it as well.

Why?     Also, as part of job search etiquette, we know that are very appreciative and professionally thankful to those who appreciate their efforts to hire them.

 How?      It is best to send an electronic thank you letter to assure that your letter is quickly received and easily can be added to your electronic file, and/or forwarded to the others on your interview. Handwritten letters or notes (sometimes bought in a store) are appropriate and will be well-received as well.

Please 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 your job search.


Blog Post: Avoid giving what you may catch: Keeping a healthy workplace a priority during the flu season

November 14, 2017

Written by Guest Blogger Shannon DeMaria Ph.D., Research Ethics Training Coordinator, Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE)

Lab and clinic life is can be demanding and relentlessly busy, resulting in schedules with little flexibility or time for impromptu absence. Unfortunately, the flu and similar bugs don’t care, and will circulate regardless.Meanwhile, experimental and clinical biology is difficult to pause. Your cells won’t split themselves, rounds need to be done, and maybe you can still make it in, plus or minus some medication to mask the symptoms.

But, should you? Losing a day could mean losing many days of progress, so the trade-off of that day off doesn’t look very valuable, does it?

 

You may also feel an unspoken and unhealthy pressure to demonstrate your dedication to your work by not taking time off due to personal discomfort. [(This can be seen as part of a broader culture, common in the sciences, of glorifying overwork simply for its own sake.)]

 There’s a word to describe this action: presenteeism. This is the act of being at work when you really shouldn’t be. When you’re immersed in your work, it can be hard to think about much else, but there are times you should look up from that notebook, computer, or clipboard. First – look after yourself! A restful break might be exactly what you need to recover more quickly. Second – look beyond yourself! Particularly in seasons when infectious diseases are spreading, you ought to consider that not staying home has broader impacts than your own immediate schedule.  The consequences of presenteeism include:

 

  • Potentially increased time being ill (and you want to minimize this, right?)
  • Loss of efficacy (you’re more likely to make mistakes.)
  • Loss of Productivity (you won’t be as capable as you think you might.)
  • Workplace epidemics (your co-workers will thank you for not being there.)
  • Future poor health and exhaustion (a repeating cycle that takes a toll.)

 

While you can’t hit ‘pause’ on your experiments, consider working out reciprocal or lab/group-wide arrangements where critical tasks could be temporarily reassigned. And when you do have to come in, precautions such as face masks and minimizing physical contact can be effective in preventing transmission. If you have to cancel something, remember that this happens to us all. Workplace outbreaks will spill into non-work environments, affecting families, children, and more. Ignoring your health and that of those around you can have long lasting and far-rippling costs you hadn’t thought of in that ‘stay home or not?’ calculus.

 Like vaccines, preventing workplace outbreaks has a cumulative or “herd” effect – the more people who are mindful of their practices while ill, the more effective the strategy of illness reduction becomes for all.

 Finally, keep in mind that we may work in an environment with people who are immunocompromised or otherwise highly susceptible to infectious disease. Staying home when you could spread something might seem like an inconvenience, but in reality can be crucial for promoting the NIH mission of public health. So, for your own sake, your co-workers’ sake, and the sake of our patients, please be mindful of the impacts of coming to work while infectious or feeling terrible. The cost of not taking time off may be far greater than you realize!

 

 


Handling Telephone Communication During Interview Season

November 7, 2017

Now that you have applied for positions or graduate schools, the next step is that you will be contacted to set up interviews.  While many recruiters and faculty utilize email as the primary form of communication, there is still a great possibility that you will be contacted by telephone.  It important that you handle all communication in a professional manner to make the best impression possible. Here are some suggestions to help you!

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Prepare your environment and support people for the calls in advance.

  • Record a professional greeting for your cell and land line so if you are away from the phone, your callers are greeted properly.

Suggested Script: “Hello you have reached the cell phone of {your name}.  I am unable to take your call right now.  Please feel free to leave a message with your phone number.  I will return your call as soon as I am able.”

  • Let the phone go to the answering message If you are in a lab meeting, sick, asleep, taking care of children, driving, or in a busy noisy place, Call back soon afterwards.
  • Put the organization and into your phone contacts- then if someone calls, it will show up.
  • Ask your roommates and family members to answer the phone politely and to take messages if they answer your phone. Give them a script if you need to.

Suggested Script:  Hello?  (Your first and last name) is not here right now. May I take a message? Thank you for calling.”

Train yourself to answer all calls with a greeting and your name.  Avoid answering with colloquial phrases or sounds such as “Hey” “Yeah,” or saying, “uh huh,” “right,” no problem” during the interview.

Suggested Script “Hello…this is Bill.”

If you are in a noisy place when the phone rings

  • Let the call go to your pre-recorded message. Listen to the message, then return the call shortly afterward when you are in a quiet place.
  • If you answer, and it becomes noisy call them back.
  • Do not put the caller on hold.

Suggested script: “I am sorry, but some unexpected noise just started, may I return your call shortly.  Thank you”

Address the caller with their appropriate title and use last name.

  • Use Dr., Mr., or Ms., and the caller’s last name (e.g. Dr. Smith)

Be enthusiastic throughout the entire call.

  • Try Smiling when you answer and talk on the phone
  • Sound enthusiastic. Don’t’ let any feelings of depression, irritation, anger, or fatigue creep into your voice.

Suggested Script: “I am happy to hear from you XYZ” or “I look forward to communicating with you further about the position.”

End the call professionally and enthusiastically. 

Suggested script: “Thank you for calling” or “I am happy that you called.  I will follow- up with you with the items that you have requested. It was nice to speak with you.”

We invite you to review or various blogs about  interviewing for a variety of positions. Please visit our website to make an appointment with a career counselor, register for workshops, or watch videos to help you prepare.


Making Career Searches Less Scary

October 30, 2017

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During a recent OITE workshop on the topic of career planning, trainees from all levels described finding the job search process “scary” and had feelings of  fear and stress regarding approaching the next steps.  For post bacs, applying to graduate, medical and other professional schools can sometimes feel like an uncharted maze at Halloween.  For post docs and visiting fellows, hearing the scary stories about pursuing academic careers, making the big step into industry, or searching for jobs in the US and abroad country is akin to walking in the dark in uncharted territory.  To add to previous OITE Halloween posts, here are some suggestions to help you slay the ghosts and goblins that are perceived to lurk in the career decision making process.

Do Not Go Gentle (Onto) That Good Career Path:   Put on your cloak of confidence –Allow others to help you learn what is next. 

A career counselor will help you confront myths and arm you with career realities that will empower you to forge ahead and fearlessly apply for opportunities and conquer interviews. You can also re-assess your career decisions and make healthy career choices through using individual career advising and assessments to discover how your interests, skills, and values relate to your career goals and career options.  Wellness advisors can help you manage stress and become resilient professionals through mindfulness exercises that are helpful at managing the stressors associated with the journey.

Researching the necessary qualifications and gaining experience will make career maze is less scary

Aim your flashlight towards the journey ahead by gathering practical information that you need about the career path you are embarking on. Conduct career research (websites, workshops, professional meetings), set up informational interviews with scientists, and utilize the videocasts and blogs found on the OITE web page to train for the trek.  Gain additional experience and skills through fellowships, OITE skills workshops, FAES and other options if you discover you need them. Create a timeline and strategy plan will help you to fearlessly navigate through the maze.

Unmask your talents

Create resumes, CVs, cover letters, personal statements and applications that clearly emphasize your strengths and skills. It is extremely important for scientists at all levels to include your leadership, teamwork, collaborations, communication, and community involvement in addition to your science and research skills.  Visit the OITE resume and CV and cover letter guide to help expose the broad range of skills that you bring to the position.

Use Career Tricks and Treats

It’s time to strut your stuff! Set out to interview at the doors of many schools and or positions.   Learn how to interview well by practicing the STAR technique of behavioral interviewing during a practice interview for graduate school and jobs.  This is a proven method of describing your past experiences, transferrable skills,  and discussing your experience with collaboration, teamwork, leadership, and problem solving and diversity.  Other tricks include, learning how to network, negotiate, and/or develop solid presentations of your research. To sweeten the deal, write effective thank you letters, a welcomed treat to those who have taken time to interview you.

 Have Halloween Fun!

Trainees are encouraged put on your costumes and stop by OITE Trick or Treat celebration on Halloween on October 31, 2017 between 11:00 and 12:30pm to celebrate you and also learn about how our services can help you in your career preparation.  Also hear about some of OITE’s staff’s scary job search stories.


Academic Job Search: Telephone Interviews

October 23, 2017

This is the time of year to prepare for telephone interviews.  For many of you, this will be the first step in the academic interviewing process.  This is a cost-effective and time efficient method for many search committees and enables them to narrow down the list of applicants that are invited for campus interviews.  In the OITE academic interview video cast, Sharon Milgram, Director of the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE), for the NIH suggests that candidates prepare to practice the following suggestions for managing the process:

  • Use a land-line
  • Find a quiet place free of distractions
  • Prepare for a 30-45-minute telephone interview. Expect up to three interviewers on the line
  • Jot down the names of interviewers and refer to each by name when answering the questions
  • Loss of facial and body-language (non-verbal) cues make it difficult at first
  • Be sure to have questions prepared in advance as this conversation will likely end with them asking if you have questions

Here are some potential questions to help you prepare for telephone interviews

  • Why are you interested in this position?
  • Tell us about your research. How will you involve students in your research?
  • What courses could you teach here?
  • What research projects/topics could you pursue here?
  • How would you describe your interactions with students?
  • What questions do you have for us?

Of course, after this  step,  you will prepare for campus interviews, job talks, chalk talks and negotiating a job package. We encourage you to visit the OITE website to register for workshops and career counseling appointments that may assist you with your search.  Also view our video casts and blogs related to the academic and industry job search. We encourage our readers beyond NIH to utilize resources at their home academic institutions as well.