FROM THE ARCHIVE: Manage Your Time with a Tomato

April 25, 2016

tomatoHave you ever felt overwhelmed with all of the projects you are juggling at work, and as a result, felt that you weren’t doing any one of them as well as you could?  Perhaps you have felt swamped, juggling so many projects that you are unsure where–or even how–to start.

There is an intriguing time management tool…a tomato. Maybe you have heard of–or used–the Pomodoro Technique™, but its properties are quite simple and can be applied anytime, anywhere.

According to the website, “Creator Francesco Cirillo was a university student in Rome struggling to stay on task. He decided to challenge his powers of concentration using what he had at hand – a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato. That was the first Pomodoro (tomato in Italian). Bright red, iconic, and charmingly low-tech, it’s the perfect invitation for getting things done.”

Essentially, the technique involves writing a to-do list early in the day, setting your timer (kitchen, electronic, web-based, or otherwise) for 25 minutes, and focusing on only one task from your list during that time. When the timer goes off, you have completed one “pomodoro.” You put a check mark next to that task on your list, indicating the completion of one pomodoro, and take a 5-minute break. After that, you set your timer once again and go for another 25 minutes, again focusing on one task alone, though it may or may not be the same task you worked on previously. After completing 4 “pomodoros” in a row, you take a longer break, from 15-30 minutes.

The claims made on the Pomodoro website include:

  • “Enhance focus and concentration by cutting down on interruptions!”
  • “Boost motivation and keep it constant!”
  • “Refine the estimation process, both in qualitative and quantitative terms!”
  • “Improve your work or study process!”

This technique seemed so simple, and its claims so lofty, we had to try it out for ourselves.

Since we don’t have a pomodoro of our own, we opted for a simple online clock. Per the instructions on the PT website: list all of the projects on the “Activity Inventory Sheet,” and from those chose four tasks to list on the “To-Do Today” sheet.  Even thought the site offers worksheets, we used Excel to track projects. With the timer set for 25 minutes, we went to work. When the timer went off, we had a five minute break to grab a drink of water. We then reset the timer, and went back to work for another 25 minutes.

By the end of the day, we felt a great sense of accomplishment, having completed many pomodoros–and many goals for that day.  If you regularly struggle with internal interruptions (“What’s for dinner?” “What do we need at the grocery store?” “What time is that meeting again?” etc.), then this might be a particularly good technique for you.

We found the length of one pomodoro (25 minutes) so short that is was easier to fend off these interruptions. Conversely, the amount of time spent on one pomodoro (25 minutes) was in fact long enough to focus intently and not lose concentration on the task at hand. Further, knowing how many pomodoros a particular task actually took to complete was valuable information I used throughout the day and into the next.

All from one little tomato. Check it out and see if this time management tool works for you. If so, let us know with a comment below.


Are you a multipotentialite?

April 20, 2016

“The notion of the narrowly-focused life is highly romanticized in our culture. It’s this idea of destiny or the one true calling. The idea that we each have one great thing that we are meant to do during our time on this earth… but what if you’re someone who isn’t wired this way?”

This is what Emilie Wapnick asked in her TED talk entitled “Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling.” She coined the term “multipotentialite” and explores this topic on her website, Puttylike.

From a young age, we are asked what we want to be when we grow up and there is an expectation of a single answer. However, this often discounts an individual who has many varied interests and it doesn’t take into consideration that people often have many jobs (and careers!) throughout their lifetime now.

This lack of a singular passion often causes stress for multipotentialites, especially when it seems others (PIs, fellow med school applicants, etc.) appear to have extreme focus and drive.

If you have ever felt anxious about not having one true calling, then this video is a must watch.


Career Options Series: Regulatory Affairs

April 13, 2016

OITE’s Career Options Series will give you a snapshot overview of different career paths. The goal of this series is to help you explore a variety of different options by connecting you to new resources.  A large part of making a good career decision is done by gathering information about that field.  We encourage you to follow up this online research by conducting informational interviews with individuals in each field. Search the NIH Alumni Database to find alums doing similar work.


What is Regulatory Affairs?Image of the words "Regulatory Affairs" with two figures holding a puzzle piece
A profession that functions to apply laws, regulations, and policies to the development, production, and sale of products within regulated industries, such as: food, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, energy, biotech, clinical, and health care products. Why is it needed? To make sure company businesses/products abide by applicable regulations, laws, and guidelines in every country where a product will be marketed.

Regulatory affairs requires expertise from multiple disciplines, such as: research science, physicists, life scientists, chemists, engineers, pharmacy, statistics, veterinary medicine, nursing, clinical medicine, etc.

Sample Job Titles
Regulatory Affairs Specialist, Regulatory and Quality Affairs Analyst,  Policy Manger, Scientist, Regulatory Affairs Associate, etc.

Sample Work Settings/Employers
Regulatory Affairs in the Federal Government:|
FDA
– FDA scientists review test results submitted by sponsors, so that the FDA can decide whether the drug is safe enough for clinical trials, whether the drug can be sold to the public, and what should go on the drug’s professional labeling.
USDA – Inspect food safety, and collect and analyze surveillance data of foodborne outbreak; conduct studies such as evaluations, like Child Nutrition Studies or Food Security Studies in response to the needs of policy makers and managers.
EPA –  Assess exposure, hazard and risk of chemical substances and/or toxic substances; assess risk of environmental pollutants, and develop biological indicators.

Regulatory Affairs in the Private Sector:
Industry – Gather data necessary for submission to government. Manage process of regulatory approval

Consulting/Regulatory Affairs Services – Provide evaluation of the best regulatory path. May provide outsources submissions and follow-up services.

Key Skills
– RA needs individuals with backgrounds in biology, chemistry, engineering, information technology, pharmacology, quality, toxicology, clinical sciences, writing and management
– Knowledge of science, regulations, and policy
– Verbal  and written communication skills
– Analytical and organizational skills, including the ability to evaluate potential product candidates and trials
– Project and time management skills
– Computer skills
– People skills, including the ability to mediate and find common ground among interested parties (research, production, sales, marketing, regulatory agencies, etc.) and gain consensus

How to get started
• Commissioner’s Fellowship Program (FDA)
• CDER Academic Collaboration Program (FDA)
• CATO Fellowship
• Trainings:
– The Regulatory Affairs Professional Society (RAPS) Online University
– NIH FAES Graduate School Classes (Look at current availability but previous relevant classes have     included Inside and Outside the FDA or FDA Regulation, Industry and Hidden IP)
– Master’s of Science in Regulatory Affairs programs
• Regulatory Affairs Branch (RAB), NIH, NCI

Professional Organizations
The Regulatory Affairs Professional Society (RAPS)
The Organization for Professional in Regulatory Affairs (TOPRA)
The Canadian Association of Professional Regulatory Affairs (CAPRA)

Additional Resources
OITE’s How To Series: Regulatory Affairs, including an archived video, slides, and more resources!

 

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Coming up in the Career Options Series, we want to know what you which work path you would like to see highlighted. Take a moment to vote below:


Slowing it Down: 4 Simple Ways to Incorporate Mindfulness Into Your Day

April 6, 2016

Find yourself stressed out from work?Silhouette of a person sitting crosslegged looking toward sunset

Between the office/lab environment, mentor and mentee relationships, outside training and education, and life demands, it is all too common for stress to hijack your wellbeing. One quick effective way in dealing with life stress is to use techniques in mindfulness meditation.

A recent review of mindfulness interventions at the University of Cincinnati shows mindfulness techniques to be effective at creating positive change in stress and stress-related psychology and physiology, especially in the workplace. Benefits of these techniques are shown in a range of occupational positions, including healthcare professionals, undergraduate and graduate students, continuing education faculty, and community members.

Length of the surveyed interventions ranged from 8 hours to 32 hours, and outcome measures included: perceived stress, self-compassion, burnout, and positive and negative affect scales. Of the 17 mindfulness studies reviewed, 15 showed positive post-test changes in psychological or physiological measures related to stress. Despite limitations of sample size and variety of outcome measures, mindfulness meditation is shown to be a promising method for stress reduction in the work place

Wondering how you can utilize mindfulness techniques to improve stress?

Here are four simple ideas:

  1. Try spending 5-10 minutes a day generating focused and non-judgmental awareness of your breath. Common techniques include counting the lengths of your in- and out- breaths and aiming to increase this count, putting your hand on your chest to feel the flow of air through your lungs, and listening to the sound of your breath.
  1. Generate non-judgmental awareness of thoughts, or “purposefully paying attention to the present moment, with a non-judging, non-striving attitude of acceptance” (Sharma & Rush, 2014). Techniques include letting your mind go blank, and observing what thoughts arrive, and acknowledging thoughts that arise without judgment.
  1. Spend some time focusing on an object around you (for example a piece of food, a sentimental object, or an object in nature). Notice the detail in the object, how it feels, looks, sounds, and even smells. If you are in your office or the lab, there are websites and apps that allow you to choose a scene and set a meditation timer for as little as three minutes to take a quick mindfulness break. Check out calm.com for a preview!
  1. Spend 10-15 minutes each day stretching, while paying attention to how this stretching affects the way your body feels, and the way your mind feels. Some useful examples of gentle stretches: clockwise and counter-clockwise head-rolls, forward and backward shoulder rolls, mouth/cheek/eye stretches making “big” and “little” faces, and touching your toes!

If you are at the NIH, the OITE Mindfulness Meditation Group meets weekly every Thursday at 5:00 pm (except holidays) in the Graduate Lounge in Building 10 (Rm. 1N263).  This group is designed to be a time for you to slow down and connect with yourself and learn the benefits of meditation.  It’s a drop-in group, so it’s fine to come any Thursday that you can.

As we progress in our jobs and in our lives, stress will always be a factor, and so finding novel ways to respond to stress can be an exciting way to improve your day!


Ways to Mitigate Your Bias

March 28, 2016

A bias is defiImage of multi-colored cogs making up a brainned by Merriam-Webster as “a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasonable.”  This definition focuses on conscious bias or explicit bias.  Likewise, unconscious or implicit bias refers to negative and positive stereotypes that exist in our subconscious and affect our decisions, behaviors, and interactions with others.  Unlike conscious bias, unconscious bias is often triggered automatically and unknowingly since our minds are processing so much information, oftentimes without conscious awareness.  Now, there is growing research focusing on unconscious bias because it is far more prevalent and subtle than conscious bias. It is also often incompatible with what one recognizes as their conscious values.

Just last month, Howard Ross, came to the NIH to speak about unconscious bias.  Ross is a business consultant and the Founder/CLO of Cook Ross, Inc. His work has been featured on NPR and in the New York Times.  In case you missed his talk, you can view the full archived videocast here.

In his presentation, he delineated six key takeaways on how to mitigate your bias, including:

1. Recognize and accept that you have bias.

2. Develop the capacity to shine a flashlight on yourself.

3. Practice “constructive uncertainty”.
This is coined term from Ross. Since our biases are often fast and almost reflexive, Ross suggests pausing to pay attention to what is happening beneath these judgments and assessments. Taking a moment to acknowledge that your interpretation is yours alone and might not be entirely accurate is an act in practicing constructive uncertainty.

4. Explore awkwardness and discomfort.

5. Engage with those you consider others and expose yourself to positive role models in that group.

6. Get feedback.

If you want to learn more about each point, please take some time to watch the videocast. It is well worth it to hear Ross go into detail about each of his tips.

One thing he addressed in his talk though is how there is a necessary movement away from the previously held ideology of colorblindness.  A great article in the Atlantic speaks to this point:

“How many times have you heard someone say that they “don’t see color,” “are colorblind,” or “don’t have a racist bone in their body?” Maybe you’ve even said this yourself. 

Many sociologists, though, are extremely critical of colorblindness as an ideology. They argue that as the mechanisms that reproduce racial inequality have become more covert and obscure than they were during the era of open, legal segregation, the language of explicit racism has given way to a discourse of colorblindness. But they fear that the refusal to take public note of race actually allows people to ignore manifestations of persistent discrimination.”

How can you go about addressing and recognizing your bias?

It can be tough to take some time to be introspective; however, there are some activities that can help facilitate this process.  The first activity is through Project Implicit and it aims to measure attitudes and beliefs that people might be unwilling or unable to report.  The Implicit Association Test (IAT) can be especially illuminating for folks since it might show an implicit attitude that you did not otherwise recognize. There are many IAT tests that you can take here.  Some tests that might be of specific interest include: gender-science IAT, gender-career IAT, race IAT, religion IAT, sexuality IAT, and many more.

A second activity is a videogame called “Fair Play” designed to address implicit race bias through active perspective taking. Faculty, scientists, postdocs and graduate students are encouraged to use this game as a way to explore how unconscious bias affects STEM students’ success.  This interactive game helps you learn to identify common bias concepts such as: color-blind racial attitudes, competency proving, failure to differentiate, status leveling and tokenism.  If you are interested in learning more about this game, please go to: http://fairplaygame.org/

 

If you are at the NIH, the OITE regularly offers workshops on diversity. Check the calendar of events regularly for updates; however, one coming up in May that might be of interest to you is Workplace Dynamics V: Diversity in a Multicultural Society.


3 Decision-Making Tips

March 21, 2016

Image of a person on a road that diverges in two different directions.We often talk about decision-making within this blog because so many decision points come up within a career.  We have discussed how people can drift into decisions and how one can use a prioritizing grid in order to help make a decision.  Making a decision is a highly personal experience, but if you are facing your next leap into the unknown, it can often help to do the following:

  1. Try it on for a while.
    Imagine yourself in both scenarios. Really try to adopt your decision, even if just for a day or for a whole week. How do you feel? Anxious? Well, try to remember that all change triggers anxiety. Even positive, exciting life changes are stressful.  So, if you feel anxious, try to tune in to that emotion. Is it an expansive almost energetic anxiety or is it one that feels constrictive to you?Still unsure? Flip a coin! Seriously, it has helped many people make a decision and not because they simply went with the outcome associated with heads or tails, but because in that instant as the coin was falling to the ground, they had a flash of a feeling. A gut feeling which helped them realize what result they were hoping for and thus helped them to make a decision.
  1. Become a thinking decider versus a feeling decider.
    Decision making is inextricably linked to emotions. Researchers discovered this when they found that patients who suffered damage to their orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain involved in processing emotions, also often lost their decision-making abilities. It will be almost impossible to make a decision without even subconsciously factoring in your own emotions and feelings. Remember though that emotions ebb and flow. You can feel fantastic about work in the morning and leave at night thinking I have to find a new job.  Remember the often fleeting nature of feelings when you are making a decision.  You will feel much more confident in your decision if you look beyond your emotions to the actual facts.  Thinking deciders often sit down and makes pros and cons lists. Try this out as an activity, but make sure you only list facts.
  2. Remember this doesn’t have to be your last decision.
    There is a bit of a gamble in every decision. You can weigh your options carefully; however, there will always be an element of risk when you choose one thing over another.  And, sometimes the only way to know is to actually take the risk and decide once and for all. Many people relentlessly worry though. What if I make the wrong decision?  Be kind to yourself as you go through this process.  If it’s the right decision, fantastic! If it turned out to be the wrong decision, then remember this. You can always make a new decision later on and change the once decided trajectory. Sometimes remembering that every decision doesn’t have to be final can help alleviate the burden of making that initial choice.

Career choice and decision-making will be an ongoing process throughout your life, so try to find peace in the ambiguity and continually work to find an approach that works best for you.


FROM THE ARCHIVE – Get More Done: Take A Break

March 11, 2016

Image of four blue folder with one red folder slightly ajar from bookcaseFind yourself swamped with work but unable to focus?  Ever wonder how to quit procrastinating?  At OITE, we often get asked about strategies and tips on how to improve one’s time management and productivity. This From the Archive post offers unlikely advice on how to handle these work challenges.


The title seems a little contradictory.  How is it that you can get more work done, but spend less time working?  According to a New York Times article about a study from the University of Toronto Scarborough, it is because small breaks make you more efficient.  The study authors suggests that the brain “becomes fatigued after sustained use and needs a rest period before it can recover, he explains — much as a weight lifter needs rest before doing a second round of repetitions at the gym.”

So here are a few of the tips from the article:

  • Symptoms of needing to take a break are drifting or day dreaming.
  • If you are in “the zone,” keep working.  It isn’t working hard that drains your brain, it’s when you are forcing yourself to go on when you really need a break.
  • Taking too many breaks leads to procrastination.  So, be smart about it.  Everything in moderation

Here are a few ideas for break:

  • Go for a walk – Even just doing laps on your floor gets you moving and gives you a break from your work.  If you are at the NIH and don’t want to melt in this heat wave, consider walking the track in the basement of building 10.
  • Go get a coffee (or something else) with a co-worker – After all, you have to walk to where the coffee is and having someone with you makes it less likely you will just sit and start thinking about work.  According scientists who have spent time in England, many labs there still take a break in the afternoon for tea (or other beverage) for about 30 minutes.  In fact, there is often a break in the morning as well for around the same amount of time.
  • Stand at your computer while you read the OITE Careers Blog – The article mentions that standing while doing your work can help relieve some of the brain drain.
  • Take a nap – We are aware this is not a culturally acceptable practice here in the USA, even if it is supported by science.  However, in other cultures a break in the afternoon to rest is quite common.  The Spanish Siesta is famous, and so I asked a visiting fellow and friend from Spain about how the “Siesta” works in the research community.  She pointed out the siesta is as much about food as it is about sleep.  The main goal is to sit down together around the table and have a meal as a family or group of friends.  If you can grab a siesta in that time, that’s even better.

Working hard is a hallmark of the research profession.  Most scientists I know take a lot of pride in putting in long hours.  We are certainly not suggesting that any of us not work hard.  However, research suggests that taking breaks can help us work smarter as we work hard.  And isn’t that what we all want to do?


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