Career Exploration Road Map

April 15, 2019

career exploration road map 300dpi

The career exploration road map is a tool that was developed by Bill Lindstaedt and Jennie Dorman to help students/trainees visualize the career exploration process and track their progress. This tool was initially developed for graduate students and postdocs at the University of California, San Francisco, but is now available for all to use.

The road map is intended to be career neutral as it is often understood that many trainees are considering both academic and non-academic career fields at the same time. The map guides you through six different stages of career exploration with a color to match each stage.

1. Self-Assessment (green)
2. Investigation (yellow)
3. Reflection (orange)
4. Synthesis (red)
5. Job Search (purple)
6. Reassessment (blue)

It is a board game style which walks you through key questions you should be asking yourself at every stage of the process. For example, in the first self-assessment stage, questions include: What am I interested in? What am I good at? What is important to me/What do I care about? What careers do I have a hunch I might like? What careers fit my interests, skills, and values?

The creators designed this specifically to help break down the process into more manageable steps. We all know that thinking about career exploration is important – vital even – to future success, but it can feel so overwhelming and time-consuming. Career exploration and decision-making is rarely a linear process hence the map’s circular outline. You may find yourself going through each stage multiple times for varied different options. While that can feel frustrating, it is also a part of the process that helps you eliminate bad choices and zero in on good fit options.

If you are feeling stuck and unsure about where to go with your career, give the questions in the career roadmap a try; and remember, if you are at the NIH, you have access to a variety of career resources and services, including many workshops/events as well as one-on-one career counseling. If the career roadmap is of interest, you might find the OITE workshop on Planning for Career Satisfaction and Success particularly helpful as well.

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Using Online Job Simulations for Career Exploration

April 8, 2019

13Are you considering a career in medical writing? Intellectual property? Program management? Regulatory Affairs? Science Education and Outreach? And beyond?

If so, you should check out online job simulations which allows individuals to test out various jobs. It can be difficult to find internships or detail opportunities that allow you to see if a field is a good fit for you in real life. And while informational interviews are fantastic, they don’t allow you to try things out for yourself. This is where an online job simulation can be of help.

You can explore information about a variety of careers of interest to scientists, such as science policy, university administration, editing, etc. and then you can choose a simulation that gives you instructions for typical job tasks in that field. Currently, there are thirty-one simulations on the site, but more seem to be in the works.

Thi Nguyen, Associate Dean for Graduate Career and Professional Development at Washington University, led the development of these job simulations and notes that each task was reviewed by professionals working in the field to ensure authenticity. The purpose of these online simulations is to help scientists understand what a career actually looks like and whether they would enjoy typical tasks. Many postdocs have also found a newly discovered confidence about their skills sets by completing simulations.

Each simulation is designed to take between 4-8 hours and participants have deliverables to provide. Initially, this might seem like a bit time commitment and a lot of work; however, it is a key way to more fully explore a field. The deliverables are not evaluated and Nguyen encourages students to focus more on the process and not the outcome by asking, “Did you find yourself hungry to learn more about it? Did you find yourself in a little internet rabbit hole because you had fun?” If you were engaged, perhaps that is an indicator that this might be the right fit for you; if you were bored, it might be worth exploring other options.

As noted in a Science Careers article, Luisalberto Gonzalez became interested in becoming a patent agent after attending a career panel, but he still felt unclear about what the job entailed and whether he would even be qualified. He completed one of the online simulations and noted that it helped him understand that he could probably start his job search sooner rather than later. After completing the simulation, he felt assured he already had the skills necessary to make a career pivot.

Have you tried an online simulation? If so, comment and let us know how it was for you.


Are Millennials the Burnout Generation?

April 1, 2019

12In her viral BuzzFeed essay, “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation,” Anne Helen Petersen thoroughly details how economic and social demands/constraints have led millennials to feel burnt out. Unlike previous generations, millennials accrued more education, more debt, and were more willing to put career progression ahead of anything else.

Millennials are seen as the generation to have killed various objects and industries. One example is the diamond industry. Many millennials are not getting married and, if they do, it is later in life and partners rarely have the financial stability to spend on a diamond engagement ring. But, many millennials feel the promises made to them growing up have been killed off, too.

Petersen notes millennial “parents – a mix of young boomers and old Gen-Xers – reared us during an age of economic and political stability. As with previous generations, there was an expectation that the next one would be better off – both in terms of health and finances. But as millennials enter into mid-adulthood, that prognosis has been proven false.” This doesn’t seem to be afflicting a generational few, but rather is seen as the condition for the whole. This feeling of instability and of always needing to catch up is the basis of the generational burn out millennials are experiencing.

Petersen argues that burnout is “not limited to workers in acutely high-stress environments. And it’s not a temporary affliction: it’s the millennial condition.” It can be seen by the high numbers of people patching together jobs in a gig economy operating on their own schedule but without health care or paid time off. It can be seen as “academics teaching four adjunct classes and surviving on food stamps while trying to publish research in one last attempt at snagging a tenure-track job.”

Older millennials had their early careers rocked by the dot com bust. It was even worse for millennials entering the job market during the 2008 recession. But, it seems many millennials still have this underlying feeling of constant anxiety that they should be doing more to optimize their time and their work in order to try and get ahead. Even self-care techniques like getting an oxygen facial or keeping a bullet journal are implemented to help you become a better person but do little to help ease your burnout.

Petersen addressed this point on Twitter when she tweeted:

THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE WILL NOT CURE YOUR BURNOUT

THE HEADSPACE APP WILL NOT CURE YOUR BURNOUT

DRUNK ELEPHANT WILL NOT CURE YOUR BURNOUT

Petersen’s essay doesn’t actually offer any solutions to help you cure your burnout. Rather she asks the reader in earnest:

“So what now? Should I meditate more, negotiate for more time off, delegate tasks within my relationship, perform acts of self-care, and institute timers on my social media? How, in other words, can I optimize myself to get those mundane tasks done and theoretically cure my burnout?”

Many other generational groups have argued that millennials aren’t the only ones that experience burnt out. Jonathan Melsic, a Gen Xer, wrote an article “Millennials Don’t Have a Monopoly on Burnout” where he contends that Petersen understates the scope of the burnout problem stating that about a quarter of all U.S. workers exhibit symptoms of burnout – it seems to be a societal problem, not a generational one.

If you are feeling burnt out, or if you want to understand the psychological landscape for millennials a bit better, Petersen’s BuzzFeed essay is a must read.


From the Archive – NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Biomedical Engineer/Lead Medical Device Reviewer

March 25, 2019

Name: Joshua Chetta, PhD

Job Title & Organization: Biomedical Engineer/Lead Medical Device Reviewer, FDA

Location: White Oak, Silver Spring Md

How long you’ve been in your current job: 1.5 years

Postdoc Advisor, IC (when at NIH): Joseph Frank, Clinical Center

What do you do as an Engineer/Device Reviewer?
I’m in CDRH, the Center for Devices and Radiological Health. Most people know about the FDA in its capacity as a drug regulatory agency, but it also regulates medical devices. Things like implants, pace makers and all the hardware that you would see in a hospital room – all of the monitoring devices. So, the medical devices have their own regulatory pathways. My day to day job is to review applications from companies for clearance to market a device in the U.S. In some cases, those are straightforward applications, especially if there is already a similar device on the market. In other cases, it can be more complicated, especially if it is a new device or a new technology that we haven’t seen before.

How is the workflow structured?
I am in the Dental Device Branch which I wasn’t expecting to be as interesting as it is, but we get a lot of really fascinating stuff sent our way.

A submission will be assigned to an individual reviewer, who will act as the lead reviewer. Depending on the complexity of the device and the submission, the lead reviewer can either handle it on their own or call in others for consult. There are subject matter experts in the FDA whom we can ask for help. So, with respect to the review, there is the science side of it but there is also a project management side of it. I have my deadlines and I have to write my analysis and reports but I also have to get other people’s reports and compile everything to come up with a consensus.

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

Absolutely communication skills are vital, both oral and written. The ability to talk to people from different backgrounds and not only to make yourself understood but to understand where they are coming from as well. The ability to keep good records is extremely important since everything we do has legal ramifications. It is important to keep track of why decisions were made and the justification for those decisions. Emails, telephone/conference calls all need to be logged. This is essential because a lot of what we do can have an impact down the line. For example, if a device comes out and is questionable or it doesn’t do well, then it needs to be clear why a decision was made, so being meticulous with our written record is pretty important.

Of course the other thing is that you also have to have to look at data, analyze it and synthesize it. Often, you are working with short deadlines, and with test reports that may or may not include all of the information you’d like, or with studies that haven’t necessarily been designed well. A lot of the time, you are trying to do the best you can with what you have. It means relying on the scientific and regulatory knowledge of yourself and others to fill in the gaps. The process involves rigorous scientific analysis as well as trying to navigate through the regulatory framework, to come up with the best rationale to justify a decision. So there are a few constraints that make it interesting.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
There are a lot of really great things about it. First, the people that work here are great. The other reviewers come from different backgrounds. Since we review medical devices, we have everybody from engineers to clinicians, to physicists and chemists. There are all sorts of people here, so you walk down the hall and can ask a microbiologist what he thinks about sterilization. Then, down the hall on the other side is an electrical engineer who you can ask about circuits and software. That is a really, really great aspect of it – that everybody comes from a different background but we are all very much a team.

The other thing that I like is the actual science side of it – it is really interesting. There are a lot of ideas and new technology out there which people are trying to get through. It’s interesting to see how technology is progressing and how these things are moving along.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career? What are some of the challenges you initially faced?
It might sound silly, but sitting at a desk is really difficult. I was not prepared for that. I’m evaluating the data in applications, so I am pretty much at a computer most of the day. I’ve found that being at a computer can be tiring. It is not the same as being in a lab where you are running around and doing different things all the time.

The other thing, which I probably should have expected, is coming in and not knowing much. It has been difficult, but thankfully the people that I work with are all amazing. There’s a lot of experience in my branch and everybody is incredibly generous with their time and answering questions. There’s a sense that they have all been here before and we are all in this together. I like that curiosity encouraged here. However, being the new guy and dealing with the steep learning curve has been humbling.

How did you come to choose this as your next step?
I knew after my postdoc that I didn’t necessarily want to go into academic science. I had kind of burned out on basic, or even translational research. I realized I wasn’t really cut out for it. I like this because it is very much on the application side of medical research and science. It is as close as you can get to helping change the way that medicine is practiced in the United States, by making sure that new technology gets out to market quickly, but that the data supporting it is strong. From my background as a biomedical engineer, this seemed like a really interesting way to bridge that gap between the social relevance of science and what we do in the lab. I thought that was going to be cool and it has been.

What was your job search like?
I knew people here, so that helped. My wife has actually worked at the FDA for a few years and the fact that she liked her job so much made this seem like an attractive possibility, because I wasn’t necessarily thinking regulatory science until I heard her and her friends from work talk about it. It was definitely helpful to know people.

Also, I used OITE. I used LinkedIn. Lori Conlan (Director of Postdoc Services at OITE) helped connect me to people and I actually ended up getting a few job offers at the same time. So, like people say – network, network, network. 

What was your interview like and how did you prepare for it?
I did many, many practice interviews at OITE, which were all really helpful. I met with OITE to learn about what types of questions to expect and how to prepare to answer them. I find interviewing to be very intimidating, because selling myself is not a skill that I have much experience with. So I have found that practice is really important, in order to figure out how to get my points across succinctly and clearly.

The interview itself focused on creative problem solving and how I would go about doing things given certain situations, or how I had solved problems in the past, so it was actually a fun interview. It didn’t seem to focus so much on skill sets as much as personality and problem solving approach. The focus here is on having a broad scientific knowledge and a willingness to learn. Meeting with everybody and the interview process definitely sold me on the job.

Advice for somebody hoping to go down a similar path?
It’s tough coming from academic research, because unless you’ve been involved in the regulatory side of product development, or maybe tech transfer, I don’t think most of us have had experience with regulatory science. I guess if you worked at a regulatory consultancy or law firm that deals with shepherding applications through the FDA and the regulatory process in general that could help; however, at the reviewer level, there is an understanding that most people come in without much of a background in the regulatory side of things. The important part is to demonstrate broad scientific literacy, competency, and a willingness to learn new things and put yourself in a position where you aren’t going to have all the answers.

With that being said, I should have done more research on the regulatory process prior to my interview. I talked with my wife a lot and she explained the broad process to me. But there are resources on the FDA’s website intended to describe the process to industry, and I would recommend that people interested in working here take some time to reveiw those. But still, until you do it, it will all be theoretical and the nuts and bolts of it are often more complicated than it sounds.

How long was your search and if you had to do it again, would you change anything about your job search? 

One of my problems was that I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do. Coming from an academic science/research background, the academic path seemed clearly marked out. Anything other than that was unknown. I took advantage of the courses and seminars which OITE offered because a lot of them focused on non-bench career options. Even after that though, I still didn’t necessarily know what I wanted to do, so it would have been nice to nail down a direction a little bit sooner.

I was seriously looking for a job for at least 9 months before I finally got any offers and I was looking in a less serious way for well over a year. It was a reasonably drawn out process, but if I had figured myself out more, it might have helped me identify my options sooner. At the same time, that exploration process was important as well.

Any last bits of advice?
You know, I was told this many times but it didn’t really hit home until after the fact. However, the thing that everybody says about networking and putting yourself out there and exploring different options is really important. I struggled for a while trying to find insight into what I was looking for and that only came after a long process, so try to embark upon that sooner rather than later. Finding a good job was (for me) about knowing myself and what I was looking for in order to find something fulfilling.


Interviews at Consulting Firms

March 18, 2019

Consulting as a general label can feel very vague, especially given that it is a huge and diverse industry. There are many different types of consulting firms and areas of practice within one firm. Some management consulting firms specialize in giving advice on business strategy and operations (downsizing, acquisitions, restructuring) while others are known for their expertise in specific industries like technology.

No matter the firm or the focus area though, consulting firms mainly run on their people and the intellectual capital they possess. Consultants are branded as smart problem-solvers who are expected to deliver results and firms look for candidates with these skills:

Top 5 Consulting Skills

  1. Analytical skills with a keen problem-solving ability
  2. Interpersonal skills and an ability to work well on a team
  3. Strong communication skills – both oral and written – especially presentation skills
  4. Creativity with a leaning toward an entrepreneurial spirit
  5. Ability to cope with pressure while maintaining flexibility

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How These Skills Are Tested in Interviews
Most consulting firms have a standardized and rigid interview process which consists of several stages for an applicant. Generally, you can anticipate an initial phone screen and multiple rounds of in-person interviews, where there will be two areas of focus: case interview and behavioral/fit interview.

Phone Interview – A preliminary phone screen is usually a half-hour conversation with either an HR representative or a consultant/partner. Expect a mix of standard interview and behavioral questions. Sample questions could include:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Walk me through your resume.
  • Why Firm X?
  • Why City Y?
  • Why consulting?

Behavioral/Personal Fit Interview – Don’t minimize the importance of your answers during this portion of the interview. You are often being evaluated for your fit with a particular team as well as the overall culture of the firm. Many firms report using the “airplane test”. This is when the manager will ask themselves, “In addition to having the qualifications and technical skills to do the job well, would I want to be stuck on an airplane or in an airport with this person?” Sample questions could include:

  • Tell me about a time when you exhibited leadership.
  • Give me an example of a time when you solved a problem creatively.
  • What is your greatest accomplishment to date?
  • What role do you normally assume within a group/team?
  • Tell me about a mistake that you made recently.
  • What is the last book you read for fun?

Case Interview – This is often an interviewee’s most dreaded part of a consulting interview, but it needn’t be if you remember that there is often no right or wrong answer. In a case interview, the interviewer will present you with an open-ended business problem or issue and ask you to discuss it or solve the problem.

There are two types of case interview methods:

  1. ‘Go With the Flow’ Cases (most common) – Your job is to ask the interviewer logical questions that will enable you to make a suitable recommendation. You are driving the discussion.
  2. Command and Control Cases – The interviewer guides the discussion and the case has a lot of quantitative work and brainstorming components.

Cases can cover any number of topics. It will be important for you to answer using a framework. Familiarize yourself with common frameworks; many samples can be found in books like “Case in Point” or “Crack the Case” as well as fee-based websites like AcetheCase.com. For case interviews, remember to ask questions and clarify any of your assumptions. It is extremely important to externalize your internal thought process as you lay out your strategy for answering the question at hand.

 


KonMari™ Your Work Station

March 11, 2019

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Marie Kondo is the author of the extremely popular book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The popularity of this book has even been turned into a Netflix series called “Tidying Up”. In both the book and the series, this world-renowned organizational consultant, helps people declutter and find organization and balance in their homes and hopefully by extension their lives.

The show focuses primarily on tidying one’s home and it has made phrases like “sparking joy” go viral. However, Kondo’s signature technique – the KonMari Method™ — could be applied in many different ways, including to your office, lab space, or work station.

According to the KonMari website, there are six basic rules for organizing:

  1. Commit yourself to tidying up.
  2. Imagine your ideal lifestyle.
  3. Finish discarding first.
  4. Tidy by category, not by location.
    1. Kondo recommends organizing by clothing, books, papers, miscellaneous items, sentimental items
  5. Follow the right order.
  6. Ask yourself if it sparks joy.

Kondo maintains, “When your office space is organized, it will result in increased efficiency because your use of time becomes much more productive. You’ll be comfortable in your office space, and that contributes to your overall performance and your creativity.”

It is unlikely that you have clothing at work (although some people keep blazers or shoes in a drawer, just in case). So, you will likely want to focus on the other categories of organization, namely books, papers, and miscellaneous items. Papers, outdated periodicals, old notes from meetings tend to be the most common items that clutter a workspace.

One of the biggest differences between organizing at work versus as home is Kondo’s signature question, “Does this spark joy?” Many items at work might not spark joy for you, but are essential for you to keep. Instead of focusing on the joy an item brings, pay attention to whether it is contributing to your productivity and performance at work. Maybe you have robust paper files which should be scanned and made into a digital folder instead? Perhaps you have a drawer full of office supplies that no longer function properly (i.e. pens that have run out of ink or paper clips everywhere).

Assess your space carefully and imagine how it could be situated in order to help you not only be more productive but also to feel calmer and more in control of your setting. When organizing your work space, Kondo encourages you to ask yourself, “Does this contribute to me feeling more positive and also does it contribute to my efficiency?”


So, What’s a Detail?

March 4, 2019

Post written by Sandra Bonne-Année, former postdoc at NIAID and current detailee at OITE.

If definitions like ‘an individual fact or item, a minor decorative feature, or a meticulous cleaning of a motor vehicle’ come to mind when you hear the word “detail”, you are certainly not alone. As a postdoctoral fellow at NIH, I had a vague understanding of what a detail was and no real understanding of when or how to secure one. The “detail” is a chance to volunteer in another work-space to gain skills and exposure to careers.

Entering the final year of my fellowship, I had reached a point of utter frustration with my research projects, dismay with my job search and confusion about my career path. In commiserating with other fellows during informational interviews, I would be asked, “Why don’t you do a detail?” However, the particulars on where I would find such a position were always left out. I began researching detail opportunities and after several emails and a few interviews I found myself no closer to securing a position.

So, I decided to ask for help on the matter and in doing so I landed my detail in the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE). I know it sounds a bit serendipitous. It certainly felt that way, but what I found was a person who recognized that my interest in science education and outreach aligned with the work being done in her office. She could also see that I could benefit from the experience of working outside a laboratory setting. While my experience might not be the norm, many postdocs are able to secure detail opportunities simply by doing informational interviews with offices of interest. Don’t be afraid to ask what opportunities might be available within an office.

How do you go about finding a detail experience of your own? The first thing I’ll say is there is no one way to land a detail and no two experiences are the same. Keep in mind a detail experience can be created for you given of course that your interest and the circumstances align. Lastly, detail opportunities can also arise through job openings depending on the needs of the hiring office, your enthusiasm and qualifications. Details can be full or part time experiences, in which the later may encompass a hybrid of research and office time. When negotiating a detail opportunity, try to maintain an open line of communication between your detail supervisor and your PI, whenever possible. This is particularly important for a smooth transition or when crafting a schedule that includes both research and office time.

Explore the OITE Job Board or the Office of Human Resources for more information on detail opportunities at the NIH. The Office of Human Resources website includes opportunities for various levels so be sure to select opportunities that fit your experience level.

So, whether you’re interested in pursuing a different career path or feeling like it’s time to move away from the bench entirely, a detail may be the perfect experience for you to immerse yourself in a new environment and learn new skills. For me, once I was separated from the bench, I was able to spend more time working on myself by implementing more wellness and stress management techniques. By virtue of my detail office, it afforded me more time to devote to working with an OITE Career Counselor and enroll in a Job Search Group that allowed me to work on self-assessments, job search material and creating a realistic plan for my next job search. The experience also allowed me to take on new responsibilities, learning new skills and rediscovering things about myself that I had long forgotten. Ultimately, stepping away from the bench allowed me to rediscover my passion for research and what drives me as a scientist.