Cognitive Distortions Create Imposter Syndrome

September 17, 2018

radu-florin-756283-unsplashRecently, we received wellness tips from NIH Director, Dr. Collins. In case you missed it, you can check it out here. Part of that discussion revolved around how establishing a career in science and maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be stressful.

Stressful situations are often fraught not only with external challenges, like getting that grant or interviewing well for that job; however, there are often a slew of internal challenges as well. Thinking errors and cognitive distortions can arise during stress.

During times of high stress, like graduate school or a first job search, automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) can become even more pronounced. Often trainees will face a barrage of worries and doubts. Sometimes this inner dialogue can be helpful. Your inner voice can help you think and guide your decision-making. At other times, this voice can turn critical and it can become a pessimistic monologue stuck on repeat saying things like: You’ll never get a job. You aren’t competitive enough for that grant/position/award. You should stop trying.

The most common issue that results from an overactive inner critic is the imposter syndrome. The imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon where people are unable to internalize their own accomplishments. They see their success as chance luck or good timing. They believe that in time, others will recognize what they believe to be true – that they are not smart enough and that, in fact, they are a fraud.

According to Aaron Beck and David Burns, two leading experts in cognition, cognitive distortions are irrational thoughts and beliefs that we unknowingly reinforce over time. Patterns and systems of thought are often subtle and difficult to identify if they become a regular feature in your day-to-day thoughts. Often cognitive distortions are connected to mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. Beck and Burns identified the most common distortions/thinking errors. As you will see below, feeling like an imposter is a “disqualifying the positive” type of cognitive distortion.

Disqualifying the Positive
This distortion acknowledges positive experiences but rejects them instead of embracing them. For example, a person gets offered a job at a prestigious institute. Instead of being proud of their accomplishment, they will think “I got the job because not that many people applied.” Or “I think I got the job because my mentor is well known and served as a reference.” This distortion is directly tied to the imposter syndrome.

Overgeneralization
Taking one isolated situation and using it to make wide generalizations. For the job seeker, this could look like, “Well, I didn’t get that one job. Nobody wants to hire me. I’m never going to get a job.” All or nothing language like “always” or “never” is another form of overgeneralization and black-and-white thinking.

Mental Filter
This occurs when somebody focuses almost exclusively on one specific, usually negative or upsetting, aspect of a situation while ignoring the rest. For the job seeker, this could look like, “I answered that one interview question so terribly!” Even if the rest of the interview went well, the person will ruminate about their perceived mistake.

Fortune Telling
This is often also called jumping to conclusions or mind reading and it happens when you assume you know what is going to happen.  Perhaps in an interview, you imagine what the hiring manager is thinking. “They are probably thinking my answer was really stupid.” Then you anticipate how the situation will unfold and assume you will never get the job.

Emotional Reasoning
This refers to the acceptance of one’s emotions and feelings as fact. Surprisingly, many people use this distortion frequently. These statements are often found in the imposter syndrome as well. People will say, “I feel like a fraud, so it must be true.”

In their book, The Confidence Code, Kay and Shipman define Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) as thoughts that come up in a recurrent fashion and constantly buzz around your head, demanding your attention, and hijacking your sense of self-confidence and calm. Our society and the culture in biomedical science often reinforce ANTs and promote anxiety instead of empowerment. To challenge ANTs, try using PATs – Positive Affirming Thoughts. Instead of thinking “I will never amount to anything.” try saying “I trust that my training and perseverance will eventually pay off.”

Labeling, investigating and talking back to your ANTs takes practice but in time can help you to minimize these cognitive intrusions. A helpful and free guided meditation podcast called “Getting Bigger than What Bugs You” can be found at Focusing Resources. Talking to mentors, peers, career counselors and therapists can also help immensely. You will most likely find out that you are not alone. You may never be able to fully silence your inner critic but hopefully, in time, you can turn down the volume.

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Interview with Dr. Collins on Wellness

September 5, 2018

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OITE was lucky enough to recently connect with the Director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins. He offers valuable tips from his own life and experiences. This is a must read for all, especially scientists just starting out in their careers.

You are well known for your hobbies (music and motorcycles to name two) on top of your professional accomplishments.  How do you maintain all of your varied vocational and avocational interests?
I wish I could say that’s because I am a master of time management and work-life balance.  But I can’t really claim credit for either.  What I will claim is that engaging in such activities outside of work helps me nurture that other part of me that longs for adventure and inspiration, and gives me a chance (especially with music) to create something of beauty (well, at least sometimes).  The uplift from those experiences helps me perform better in my work life.

Science isn’t always seen as the most welcoming/friendly environment in terms of work-life balance.  Has this been a challenge in your career? If so, how have you coped?
Yes, achieving that balance is indeed a challenge for those of us working in science.  As NIH Director and PI of an intramural lab, my work demands can tend to soak up every waking hour, and some that should be sleeping.  And sometimes I let that get the best of me.  It helps me to have a life partner and soulmate (my wife Diane) who is much more balanced than I am and who is masterful in diagnosing and treating the work monomania when it gets out of hand.

Do you regularly engage in any self-care (body/mind/spirit/heart) strategies?
My spiritual life is really important to me – and so I spend a little time most mornings in Bible reading and reflection.  I’m also in a men’s book club with several other non-science professionals who are interested in how faith is relevant to modern life – that has been a wonderful source of shared growth.  And then there’s health.  Ten years ago, I realized I was doing a poor job of health maintenance – no exercise, terrible diet.  A DNA test pointed to a higher than average risk of diabetes, a disease my lab works on and that I really don’t want to get.  I hired a personal trainer, stopped indulging so much in pastries and ice cream, and lost 30 pounds.  Those pounds have never come back – and that same trainer comes to my house twice a week at 5:45 AM to put me through an intense hour of weight and cardio training. The effect of both the spiritual and physical training on my sense of wellbeing has been significant.

What advice do you have for scientists just starting out on their career paths for maintaining their own self-care?
It sounds like a cliché – but it’s important to make self-care a priority, not an afterthought.  Choose activities that really enhance your joy in life; they will be easier to sustain.  Find like-minded people to share those experiences, whether it’s a dance class, a softball league, or a book club – it’s too easy to decide you just don’t have time for something if there’s no one else involved.  The chance to do science is an incredible privilege, but it can also be very exhausting.  Figure out what kind of fuel your tank needs, and then make sure to fill it often enough to keep the engine going!

As shown by Dr. Collins, wellness is more than just one thing. Remember to prioritize your own wellness and self-care by taking advantage of the resources and activities near you. If you are at the NIH, the OITE offers many workshops and drop-in groups on topics such as: resilience, assertiveness, and stress management to name a few. Many university campuses and community organizations provide similar offerings through student life services or recreational groups.

 


Preparing for Multiple-Mini Interviews (MMI)

August 27, 2018

Interview season for professional schools has begun! Those of you who are selected for interviews may be told that the school will use an MMI interview format.   This is a common interview format used by admissions offices for medical schools (MD, MD/PhD, DO), dental, pharmacy, veterinary and other health professions schools.   Using the MMI helps a committee assess candidate’s professionalism, interpersonal skills, ethical and moral judgement.   Other areas that are assessed are cultural awareness, empathy and listening skills, problem solving and judgement.

The Format

In a typical MMI interview, a group of 8 candidates progresses through a circuit of six to eight stations where they are asked to answer a question, complete a task or engage in an activity. Each session is approximately 10 minutes in length. After a brief group introduction, each candidate is placed in front of one of the rooms. Next, they will hear a signal and will have two minutes to read a prompt and think about how they will respond to it. At the next signal, the candidates enter the room and have six to eight minutes to respond to the prompt with the interviewer(s). A final signal will be heard and the candidate finishes their sentence, thanks the interviewers, exits and proceeds to the next room. This cycle continues (for about 90 minutes) until the candidate has visited all 8 MMI stations. In some schools, there is a final station that is about 20 minutes in length where a traditional interview is held.

How to Prepare

Here are some suggestions to prepare for the MMI interview.

  • Practice your answers to MMI questions verbally with a partner. Review websites to gain familiarity with the typical MMI questions. Here are a few: US News MMI Preparation |
    Portland State University website that has a comprehensive list of resources
  • American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC)
  • Review a reserve copy of Desai’s book Multiple Mini Interview MMI: Winning Strategies from Admissions Faculty from the OITE library.
  • Practice physically moving through a circuit of stations when answering each question to experience what it is like to adapt to new rooms and persons.
  • Practice and use the SAR behavioral interview technique so that you are able to describe the behaviors, feelings, and ways you think through a situation.
  • Stay abreast of current issues, events, and policies related to health care by viewing the AMA (American Medical Association), American Dental Association, etc. websites.
  • University of Minnesota – MMI Overview
  • Prepare for ethics and professionalism questions by reviewing the Hippocratic Oath taken by medical students. The University of Washington has a useful site to learn about ethics in medicine to help you prepare. Also review a copy of the Hebert’s book, Doing Right: A Practice Guide to Ethics for Medical Trainees and Physicians or Hope’s book, Medical Ethics: A Very Short Introduction located in the OITE library.

Visit the OITE website to take advantage of our about our premedical resourcesIf you are part of our extended readership, we encourage you to visit your college’s pre-med office or the AAMC for more resources to prepare.


Finding Meaning in Your Work

August 20, 2018

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A recent Hidden Brain podcast entitled “You 2.0: Dream Jobs” explored the importance of finding meaning in your work. Amy Wrzesniewski is a Professor of Management at Yale and her current research focuses on studying how employees shape their interactions and relationships with others in the workplace to add meaning to their job and change their own work identity. She notes, “People who see their work as a calling are significantly more satisfied with their jobs. They’re significantly more satisfied with their lives. They’re more engaged in what it is they’re doing and tend to be better performers regardless of what the work is.”

One finding in her research focuses on the idea of cognitive crafting, reframing what it is you’re doing and how you come to think about your work. People aren’t always in a position to change their job description or the nature of their job; however, changing the way you think about your job is perhaps the greatest power you have.

Wrzesniewski discusses three types of job crafting techniques:

  • Task Crafting
    This is when employees change their formal job responsibilities by adding/dropping/altering tasks or the time devoted to certain tasks. Example: A tech-savvy customer service representative offering to help with IT issues, even though it is not technically in her job description.
  • Relational Crafting
    Altering how and when employees interact with other in order to perform their job duties. Example: A software engineer collaborating with a marketing analyst about product design and market response.
  • Cognitive Crafting
    When employees alter the way they perceive the tasks and relationships that comprise their job. Example: Hospital cleaning crew sees their job as a way to also check in on patients while tidying their rooms.

 
This work also ties in with research from Daniel Pink, who believes that there are three essential elements that motivate us. They include: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Most people strive to find purpose in their lives and in their work. They yearn to see how their contributions can fit into a larger picture.

Some of the key takeaways from this research are that it is often up to you to branch out and find creative ways to add something new or different to your work in order to make it more meaningful to you. Be sure to continue to do the tasks assigned to you, but if you are feeling stuck at work, then take some time to think about how you can craft your current position into one that offers you more meaning and satisfaction.

 


UPDATE 2018: Which Federal Agencies & Contractors Hire Scientists?

August 6, 2018

Piece of paper with the words "Government Jobs" in boldWhich agencies hire scientists?

While the OITE is an NIH entity, great science happens in other divisions all across government.  Almost all of these places hire scientists for both bench and non-bench positions.  Non-bench positions can include: science administration (grants management from almost every agency, managing research programs, career development training), science policy (how innovative science is completed and promoted), regulation (determining if a drug is safe or an agricultural product is good for the environment).

Here is a list of government agencies hiring biomedical scientists. The list is not complete, and we would love your feedback on ones we missed!

National Institutes of Health (NIH): The NIH hires scientists for both bench and non-bench positions in the intramural research program (IRP), as well as non-bench positions within the division of extramural science, which manages the grants process in order to fund science around the country and the world.

Department of Health & Human Services (HHS): As the parent agency of the NIH, this organization hires scientists to do administrative jobs understanding how to improve health care and fund science for America.

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC):  This agency is tasked with disease prevention and protection.  They have labs to understand the mechanisms of diseases and infectious agents, both at the bench and through epidemiology.  They also have administration jobs to help set policies and run the organization.

Food & Drug Administration (FDA): Most of the time people think of the FDA as only regulatory review; however, they have writing jobs, policy jobs, and science administration.  In addition, the FDA does a large amount of bench research in areas critical to the FDA mission. View more details here.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA): The USDA has the Agriculture Research Service its division of lab positions.  There are also many laboratories across the US and the world to test our food supply safety.

National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA): NASA has an entire division set aside for biological research.

Department of Defense (DOD): The Department of Defense has many research programs housed in each branch of the military, and you can apply as a civilian (or opt to join the service).  These research programs focus on welfare of the military (protection and prevention), and also general labs for hospitals and forensics.  Also, there may even be faculty opportunities at the Academies.

Public Health Service: This is an all officer core tasked with protecting public health.  They have opportunities for scientists, clinicians, dentists, nurses, vets, and public health people.  Scientists in this group work all kinds of jobs both at the bench and away from the bench in the NIH, CDC, EPA and other government agencies.

Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS): The medical/dental university of the armed services, which is located on the campus of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.  This is a medical school with positions for faculty member (including research programs), and other types of academic support positions.

Veterans Affairs (VA): Bench based positions will be within the hospital laboratory systems.  Non-bench jobs can include policy and administration to improve the lives of American’s veterans.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): The EPA hires scientists to understand how things in our environment will affect humans and the world in which we live.  There are bench jobs examining environmental factors to our health, both from a basic science perspective from the NC facility and also from labs strategically placed around the country.  Administration jobs can range from science policy, grants administration, regulation, and more.

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO): This organization reviews all patents submitted to the U.S. government.  Scientists review these patents according to their area of discipline.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI): The FBI hires scientists as special agents and also to do research in the core labs (such as DNA forensics).

US Congress and Executive Branch: There are policy based jobs helping us guide science through the political process both in the US and abroad.  Congress has whole committees dedicated to science (like the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee or the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee).  The Executive Branch has the Office of Science and Technology Policy and also science policy within the State Department.

***

Now, many people think that the only way to get a job with the government is to go through USAjobs.gov.  Not true!  Most offices also use a variety of contracting firms to help fill openings (for example at the NIH we often use Kelly Scientific, SAIC, and Leidos).  Contracting jobs are a great way to get your foot in the door and gain additional skill sets to make you even more competitive for a federal position.   They are also typically hired much faster than positions within the federal system, and may or may not have the same citizenship requirements.  Most offices treat contractors just the same as they do federal employees, so do not feel like this is not a good option to help move your career forward.

Here is a list of contracting firms to explore; again, sure we missed some but this is a terrific start:

Contractors * Web Link
Booz Allen Hamilton http://www.boozallen.com/
CAMRIS International http://www.camris.com/
General Dynamics Information Technology http://www.gdit.com/
Kelly Scientific http://www.kellyservices.com/global/science/
KForce http://www.kforce.com/
The Henry M. Jackson Foundation (HJF) http://www.hjf.org/
Lab Support http://www.labsupport.com/
Lab Pros http://www.labprosinc.com/
The McConnell Group http://www.themccgroup.com
The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) http://orise.orau.gov/
Research Triangle Institute International (RTI) http://www.rti.org/
Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) http://www.saic.com/
TechFlow http://www.techflow.com/
Yoh Scientific http://jobs.yoh.com/
   

* Posting of these contractor names does not constitute endorsement by NIH OITE.

 

 

 

 


Negotiating Across Cultures

July 30, 2018

It can be difficult enough to negotiate within your own home culture, but it can become even more trying when cultural differences are factored in. You have probably noticed cultural differences when communicating and collaborating with international labs. Language barriers aside, the way messages are received can vary widely and are often viewed through a cultural lens.

Erin Meyer, Professor at INSEAD, and the author of The Culture Map: Breaking Through Invisible Boundaries of Global Business has been studying this topic for years. You can watch an interesting video on international communication styles at Harvard Business Review entitled “Getting to Yes Across Cultures”.

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She also created a spectrum and sorted nationalities based on how confrontational and emotionally expressive they are. For example, the U.S. is considered mildly emotionally expressive and confrontational. In America, it is quite common to say, “I totally disagree.” This could seem like a banal statement; however, in other cultures, this same sentence could provoke anger and a breakdown within the relationship and the negotiation. It might be better to be less blunt and say things like, “I don’t quite understand your point. Can you explain more?”

Some cultures, like Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands, view open disagreement as a positive as long as it is expressed calmly. Whereas in cultures like Japan and Korea, any disagreement could be seen as a failure. So, the next time you are heading into a big meeting or negotiation, take a moment to remember how your own cultural lens might affect your perceptions all the while recognizing how this might be the same or different for your counterpart.


Becoming a Physician Assistant

July 23, 2018

rawpixel-577480-unsplashA growing number of postbacs have indicated an interest in becoming a physician assistant (PA). So, what does this career path look like?

A PA is an advanced practice medical provider who is licensed to treat illness and disease. Depending on the state, PA’s can prescribe medication and order diagnostic tests for their patients. Generally, they examine patients and practice medicine on teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers. In some extremely rural areas, a PA may even be the primary care provider at a clinic where a physician may present only one to two days a week. Laws and regulations on these practices vary by state in the U.S.

It is important for individuals interested in becoming a PA to possess many qualities, such as strong communication and interpersonal skills. This is key given how much of the work is focused on patient interactions. However, it is equally important to demonstrate excellent problem-solving skills and the ability to respond to emergency situations in a calm and reasoned manner.

Here are some quick facts about the field according the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook:

Typical Entry-Level Education:  Master’s Degree
2017 Median Pay:   $104,860/annually; $50.41/hour
Number of Jobs, 2016:  106,200
Job Outlook, 2016-2026:  37% (Much faster than average)

The Occupational Outlook Handbook suggests that these occupations have similar job duties to that of a PA. These include: EMTs and Paramedics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, Nurse Practitioners, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Physicians, Surgeons, Registered Nurses, and Speech Language Pathologists. If you are continuing to explore career options and are considering becoming a PA, these might be other avenues to look into as well.

As you can see from the Department of Labor projections, this is a growing career path in the U.S. If you are interested in learning more about becoming a PA, the NAAHP has offered some key questions to think about as you decide on this field:

  • What distinguishes a PA from other health care providers, like a physician or a nurse practitioner?
  • How will the PA profession help me meet my career goals?
  • Why do I think I will be an excellent health care provider? More specifically, an excellent physician assistant?

Physician assistant programs usually take at least two years of full-time study, equivalent to a master’s degree. While requirements vary by program, usually your undergraduate coursework should demonstrate a focus on science and you should have accrued exposure to clinical settings. If you would like to learn more about PA programs, here are some resources to check out: