Go Gov – Finding a Job in the Federal Government

October 1, 2015

Looking for a job in the federal government? If so, be sure to check out many of the resources offered through OITE, including:

1. How to Find and Read Job Ads

USAjobs has a reputation for being hard to search, but if you take some time to familiarize yourself , you might find it is not that bad. This blog post will help you identify how to look for some keywords and job titles that work for you.

2. Which Federal Agencies and Contractors Hire Scientists?

This blog post details a list of federal agencies and contractors which often hire biomedical scientists.

3.  Government Jobs for Scientists

A must watch YouTube video which gives a comprehensive but quick overview of careers for doctoral-level biomedical scientists. This video discusses the different types of jobs, both at and away from the bench with the US Government.

Outside of the OITE, the Partnership for Public Service has many resources to check out. A good place to start would be their page on working in the federal government.

Maximizers – Doing Better but Feeling Worse

September 21, 2015

Arrows Choice Shows Options Alternatives Or ChoosingCareer decision making is something that everyone struggles with at some point; in a recent blog post, we wrote about this struggle, which can lead to a tendency to drift into decisions. Turns out, there are two basic decision-making styles. Which one are you — a maximizer or a satisficer?

Maximizers tend to take their time and don’t feel comfortable choosing until they feel they have explored every option and have chosen the absolute best. Satisficers on the other hand prefer to be fast rather than thorough and they tend to choose the option that first meets all of their needs because it is good enough. The word “satisficer” comes from the two words “satisfy” and “suffice”.

Most people tend to fall somewhere in the middle; however, people can be both a maximizer or a satisficer depending on what’s at stake. For example, maybe you are a maximizer about your apartment/home but a satisficer about the kind of car you drive. To determine your decision-making style, Barry Schwartz, Psychology Professor at Swarthmore, developed thirteen statements to help score your maximizing/satisficing tendencies.

For each statement, rate yourself as 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 7 (Strongly Agree). The higher your score, the higher your maximizing decision-making style.

1. No matter how satisfied I am with my job, it’s only right for me to be on the lookout for better opportunities.

2. When I am in the car listening to the radio, I often check other stations to see if something better is playing, even if I am relatively satisfied with what I’m listening to.

3. When I watch TV, I channel surf, often scanning through the available options even while attempting to watch one program.

4. I treat relationships like clothing; I expect to try on a lot before finding the perfect fit.

5. I often find it difficult to shop for a gift for a friend.

6. Choosing a movie to watch is really difficult. I’m always struggling to pick the best one.

7. When shopping, I have a hard time finding clothing that I really love.

8. I’m a big fan of lists that attempt to rank things (the best movies, the best singers, the best athletes, the best novels, etc.).

9. I find that writing is very difficult even if it’s just writing a letter to a friend, because it’s so hard to word things just right. I often do several drafts of even simple things.

10. I never settle for second best.

11. Whenever I’m faced with a choice, I try to imagine what all the other possibilities are, even ones that aren’t present at the moment.

12. I often fantasize about living in ways that are quite different from my actual life.

13. No matter what I do, I have the highest standards for myself.

A study published in Psychological Science in 2006 entitled, Doing Better but Feeling Worse found some differences between maximizers and satisficers.   Dr. Schwartz, author of “The Paradox of Choice” followed 548 job-seeking college seniors at eleven schools. They found that maximizers landed better jobs and their starting salaries were about 20% higher than their satisficer peers. According to the authors though, “maximizers were less satisfied than satisficers with the jobs they obtained and experienced more negative affect throughout the job-search process.”

How can this be when the maximizers seemingly should have been happier than the satisficers? In a world with seemingly endless options, so many possibilities can actually paralyze decision-making. Researching every last option can be daunting and extremely stressful for an individual. Plus maximizers may always wonder if they made the best decision.

How then can maximizers learn from the group of more content satisficers? If you are a maximizer making a decision, some strategies that might work include finding a way to narrow options down earlier in the process. You can do this by simply creating a list of your top three guidelines/priorities and adopting the first solution that satisfies them all. A big part of this decision-making is taking a leap of faith which can be challenging. For you maximizers out there, what has helped you make decisions?

Guide to Cover Letters

September 14, 2015

OITE Guide to Cover LettersYour cover letter is often the first document an employer sees. It serves not only as an introduction to your résumé or CV but to you and your writing style. Take advantage of this opportunity to expand upon your qualifications.

A cover letter also allows you to:
» Elaborate on important experiences/skills and relate them to job requirements.
» Explain your experiences through anecdotes that work in conjunction with the information provided on your résumé/CV.
» Highlight the fact that you took the time to tailor your job application.
» Provide a sample of your written communication skills

You should always send a cover letter with your résumé or CV.  The only exception would be if the position description explicitly states “no cover letters”.

How can you go about creating one? OITE has created a newly updated Guide to Cover Letters.

This guide will help you create your own cover letter and is full of:

  • Recommendations and tips
  • Formatting requirements
  • Variety of sample cover letters, including an email inquiry sample

Remember, the OITE also has a Guide to Résumés and Curricula Vitae.  If you need additional guidance,  make an appointment to discuss your documents with an OITE career counselor.

Are You Drifting Into Decisions?

September 8, 2015

People are faced with choices and decisions every day — some are inconsequential and some are life-changing. Maybe you are trying to decide whether or not you should go to graduate school or whether or not you should take that job you were offered. Try to think for a moment about the last big decision you had to make. How did you approach that decision? Were you forced to actively choose or did you drift into that decision?

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, describes drift, her coined term for the decision you make by not deciding or by not taking responsibility for a decision. She aptly points out that drift can start very subtly and even though the word drift denotes a touch of laziness, drifting can actually be a ton of work. Rubin recounts her first experience with drift:

“I drifted into law school. I didn’t know what else I wanted to do, it seemed like a legitimate, useful way to spend a few years, it would keep my options open…I didn’t really think much about the decision.

Just taking one drifting step can you set you in a course that’s very hard to stop. In my case, I drifted into taking the LSAT (the law-school application test). “Why not, might as well, could come in handy, maybe I’ll be glad I did,” etc. This is a good example of the fact that drifting doesn’t always mean taking the easier course; it was a lot of trouble to prepare and take the LSAT, but it was still drift.”

Her experience might resonate with you. So, how can you tell if you are drifting? Rubin developed a quiz.

Check the statements that apply to you. More checks mean a higher chance of drift.

__ I find myself doing or getting something because the people around me are doing it or want it. (E.g., Everyone else in my lab is applying to medical school, so I think I should as well.)
__ I often have the peculiar feeling that I’m living someone else’s life.
__ I often think, “This situation can’t go on,” but then it does go on.
__ I spend a lot of time daydreaming about a completely different life as an escape from what I’m doing now.
__ I find myself getting very angry if someone challenges the values that I think I’m working toward. (E.g., working like crazy as a fifth-year postdoc, and furious if someone argues that money and security aren’t important.)
__ I complain about my situation, but I don’t spend much time trying to figure out ways to make it better. In fact…
__ I fantasize that some catastrophe or upheaval will blow up my situation. I’ll break my leg or get transferred to another city.
__ I find myself having disproportionate reactions. (For example, I have a friend who wasn’t admitting to herself that she wanted to be an actor, and she decided to give it a shot after she started crying when someone started talking about acting.)
__ I feel like other people or processes are moving events forward, and I’m just passively carried along.
__ There is something in my life about which I used to be passionate, but now I never allow myself to indulge in it. In fact, it makes me uncomfortable even thinking about it.
__ I’ve justified certain actions on my part by assuring myself, “I might as well,” “It can’t hurt,” “This might be useful,” “This will keep my options open,” “I can always decide later,” “I can always change my mind,” “Nothing is forever,” “How bad can it be?”


Being indecisive isn’t always negative. Sometimes hesitation allows you to gather more information in order to actually make a decision. However, it can also be really hard to admit that your indecisive phase has expired and you are now drifting. How then can you conquer drift and finally make that decision?

Well, it will be different for each person. It can help to start by firstly trying to let go of your perfectionistic tendencies. Perfectionism can lead to a fear of making the wrong decision. Maybe you take that job or enroll in that graduate program and you hate it? Remember, you are allowed to change your mind in the future and make a new decision which will better serve you. Part of one’s life and career can be trial and error. Give yourself the gift of that flexibility. Also, a big part of making decisions that are right for you means tuning into your emotions and trusting that you know yourself better than mentors/ advisors/ parents/partners who mean well.

PhD in Depression?

August 31, 2015

According to data from a report out of UC Berkeley, almost half of STEM PhDs are depressed. Additionally, these graduate students reported a lack of optimism in regards to their future career paths. These data are limited to one college campus; however, the study’s author, Galen Panger, believes these results would be replicated elsewhere.   Panger viewed this study as a first step in expanding the conversation about mental health and wellness noting, “Graduate students have unique needs, and we need to expand the mental health conversation beyond mental illness and talk about everyone’s performance and everyone’s well-being.”

Why is graduate school a trigger for anxiety and depression? Graduate students often face many challenges in and out of the academic setting. In the lab, many report tense work environments with advisors as well as a pressure to produce groundbreaking results. Outside the lab, students face financial burdens and can feel isolated from family and friends who don’t quite understand the stressors of academic rigor. These factors can quickly add up, especially for students already vulnerable to mental health disorders.

Comic strip of grad school timeline: Impressed! Oppressed. Depressed. Mostly Pressed.
Wellness and self-care are extremely important during graduate studies. A recent keynote presentation at the 2015 GPP Retreat highlighted several points about the importance of paying attention to our own health and well-being. Stress is bound to be a part of life, but it is also important to recognize when stress becomes maladaptive for you. Individuals receive messages of stress through three main ways: body (physical sensations), mind (thoughts/images), and emotions (affect/feelings). Some physical symptoms of stress can include headaches, insomnia, low energy and frequent illness. Emotional symptoms can include feeling easily frustrated, overwhelmed, hopeless or helpless, as well as general moodiness. The cognitive symptoms of stress can include constant worry and racing thoughts and/or feeling the inability to focus or remember. Long-term stress can have many health consequences, such as depression and anxiety.

Life will never be completely stress-free, so how can you more effectively handle stress on a daily basis? Three quick and easy tips to try and incorporate daily include:

  1. Stretching (even at your desk)
  2. Breathing (counting to 5 on your in breath, taking a pause for a moment, and then counting to 7 on your out breath)
  3. Getting up to move around (for several minutes every hour)

Stretching and breathing lower stress hormones and bring on a relaxation response; while moving helps to get blood and endorphins flowing. Practicing mindfulness meditation has been proven to help reduce stress and improve focus. If you are unsure of how to begin practicing meditation, check out these five steps to help you get started.

Another component of developing effective coping mechanisms is to help build resiliency. Resilience won’t make your problems go away but it can help give you the ability to see past them and find more enjoyment in life. Luckily, one can work on developing skills to become more resilient, including:

  • Be proactive
    Don’t ignore your problems or be afraid to ask for help. Identify what isn’t working for you and make a plan to take control of the situation to improve it.
  • Get connected
    Building strong, positive relationships will help provide the support you’ll need in times of stress. Continue to foster the relationships you have and, if needed, seek out new connections in your community.
  • Take care of yourself
    Make time for yourself and nurture your mind, body and spirit in ways you see fit. Try the tips of stretching, breathing, exercise and mediation.

Some of the top predictors of depression according to the Berkeley study were: insufficient sleep, poorer overall health, lower academic engagement, and lower social support. Prioritize your wellness and self-care. The OITE is offering a program on wellness in the beginning of October. If you aren’t at the NIH, you can participate in a MOOC, “How to Survive Your PhD” which will focus on building resilience during grad school. Let us know what tips work for you by commenting below.


August 24, 2015

Image of a person at a desk in a house.It’s called many things: teleworking, telecommuting, working from home, working remotely. Whatever you call it, it’s on the rise. According to the Telework Research Network, about one in five Americans work from home at least once a week; this number is expected to increase over 60% in the next five years. Teleworking is a growing trend in the workplace because there are many upsides. Teleworkers often report among other things: increased productivity, fewer interruptions from colleagues and more flexibility over the management of their time. While we know you may not be able to do research at home, it is likely you may telework to write papers, analyze data, or think about new project directions.

Teleworking doesn’t only benefit the employee. Employers also benefit from teleworkers. According to Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics, the government saved about $32 million last winter when federal employees worked from home during official snow days. Not all companies are on board with working from home though. Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, banned telework — an announcement that was widely considered controversial. Best Buy followed Yahoo’s lead and ended their flexible work program in 2013. Mayer recently defended this decision by acknowledging “people are more productive when they’re alone, but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together.”

An article “The psychological impact of teleworking: stress, emotions and health” was published in the journal, New Technology, Work and Employment. This article notes some of the benefits of teleworking including: better balance of home and work life, increased flexibility, reduction in commuting, reduced overheads for employer, increased skill base for employer, and increased productivity. On the other hand, the article also details some of the challenges that come with teleworking.

Telework Problems

  1. Social isolation
    One of the most commonly cited disadvantages to teleworking even with technological tethers like IM, email, phone calls and Skype.
  2. Presenteeism
    Meaning not just an increase in working longer hours but also working when sick as well. Presenteesim is an issue for office workers who feel pressured to come to work when sick, but this can be an even bigger challenge for teleworkers when co-workers can’t ‘see’ how unwell they are.
  3. Lack of support
    The article specifically mentions technical support in this section since technology is the key for successful teleworking; however, support could also mean supervisory support in decision-making as well.
  4. Career progression
    The importance of face time has been perpetuated through the years and through different sectors of employment. Turns out it might be true since people who worked from home were promoted at half the rate of their office worker colleagues.
  5. Blurring of boundaries
    Traditionally, the commute from work to home allowed for a role transition to occur. There is often a spillover effect for office workers who transfer both negative and positive emotions from work to home, but this can be an even bigger challenge for the teleworker.

Anybody who works remotely will also disclose another secret disadvantage: guilt. This teleguilt comes from a fear that your co-workers or your boss are thinking that you aren’t pulling your weight. You can feel this fear while sitting at work, but the teleworker often fears that everyone thinks they are lounging around their house in pajamas and not putting in enough hours. This guilt and fear often fuels teleworkers to work even more hours to “prove” that they are working. This makes the traditional long hours that scientists log even worse!

How can you combat teleguilt? In general, some strategies for reducing work guilt include:
1. Prioritize work items and immediately take action on the most pressing items.
2. Develop a system (time management/task organizer) that helps keep you consistent.
3. Recognize when you have done all you can for the day/week and then move on.

As you progress in your career, even as a scientist, the options for telework increase. So, keep these strategies in mind as you gain more and more options to work from home. Just remember the sign-off from Garrison Keillor in the Writer’s Almanac, “Be well, do go work, and keep in touch”...sounds like a good mantra for all who work from home.

Are you an Ambivert?

August 10, 2015

If you have ever taken the Myers Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI), then you probably know whether you are an introvert or an extrovert. This assessment was developed based on Carl Jung’s framework of psychological types. Jung coined the terms “Extrovert” and “Introvert” to describe the direction of one’s energy flow. He felt this dimension was one of the most substantial personality differences. Even if you haven’t taken the MBTI, it is likely you have a sense of your own preference in regards to what energizes you since extroversion and introversion are widely talked about.

It’s generally considered that extroverts tend to be energized by the outside world (people, places and things around them) and their energy is externally directed; whereas, introverts tend to be energized by their inner world (own ideas, thoughts, concepts) and their energy is internally directed.

Instead of thinking of this as a label, it might be more helpful to view these preferences as a continuum. If the descriptors for introverts or extroverts have never fully resonated with you, it might be because you are a slight extrovert or a slight introvert – an ambivert.  Arrow pointing in either direction. On the left is "Introvert." In the middle is "Ambivert." On the right is "Extrovert."

Ambiverts are those who fall relatively in the middle of being introverted and extraverted. They can slide up or down the spectrum depending on the context, situation and people around them. This is often referred to as situational introversion. They tend to identify with characteristics of both personality traits and can even adapt depending on the situation. Some have likened it to ability to be ambidextrous with your personality.

The article “Not an Introvert? Not an Extrovert? You May Be an Ambivert” in the Wall Street Journal describes the ambivert as:

  • Knowing when to listen and when to talk
  • Moderate in mood – not overly expressive or reserved
  • Adaptable to situations
  • Socially flexible

We could add to this list with research findings from Professor Adam Grant. Grant works at the Wharton School of Business at Penn and he published an article entitled, “Rethinking the Extraverted Sales Ideal: The Ambivert Advantage.” He found that, contrary to popular belief, strong extroverts are as bad at sales as strong introverts. The ambiverts did the best by a wide margin.

Interested in finding out if you are an ambivert? Take this quiz to find out!


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