Scientists as Parents: A Balancing Act

April 18, 2017

In recognition of Take Your Child to Work Day on April 27, 2017, we are re-posting an informative three-part series from the Careers Blog archives related to starting a family while in scientific training.   We asked graduate students, postdocs and clinical fellows three questions related to parenting as scientists. These interviews provide helpful advice to trainees who are considering starting families while attempting to manage the various work and family priorities.

Multi Family

Question #1: Why was this a good time for you to start a family?

https://oitecareersblog.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/families-and-science-can-they-mix/

Question # 2: What were the challenges you faced?
https://oitecareersblog.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/families-and-training-part-2/

Question # 3: Do you have any advice for NIH trainees thinking about starting a family?
https://oitecareersblog.wordpress.com/2011/09/02/families-and-training-finale/

Visit the OITE website and learn about OITE’s affinity support group called Mom-Dad-Docs that is open to all trainees who have children or are considering having children. The OITE has posted numerous additional resources for trainees that are parents.  If you are interested in learning more about this group, please contact Ulli Klenke.

OITE services are available to NIH intramural trainees only. Check with your home university or college and utilize the personal, career, and professional school advising resources they offer to you.


Behavioral Interviewing for Scientists

April 11, 2017

Behavior based interviewing is an effective tool used by many science industry recruiters and graduate/professional school admissions officers.   They differ from technical or scientific interviews because they are designed to give a glimpse into how you will perform in the future on “soft skills” by having you reflect and talk aloud about behaviors that you have done in the past. The answers that you provide will inform the interviewer about your potential for succeeding in their organization or school based on your experience in such areas as being an effective team player, ethical and professional, and using your critical thinking , leadership, communication, and problem solving skills.

Often interspersed with scientific interview questions, behavioral interview inquiries will usually start with, “Tell me about a time when…,” or “Give me an example of a time when….”  The best responses to require you to specifically describe actions and behaviors that you used in the past s and then describe the outcomes from this approach.   The SAR technique is an excellent formula to use to create the best answer. Memorize the following acronym and then recall it when you are answering questions.

S              Situation – the background to the problem that you are going to discuss

A             The actions (behaviors) that you took to address the situation from this role

R             The results of your actions

The more thoroughly you describe your behaviors the better the interviewer is able to visualize you fitting into their organization.   You can use examples from the lab, graduate or undergraduate school, internships, work, community, and leadership roles.  Industry and academic examples are welcome.  Here are a few behavioral interview questions for you to try:

  • Tell about a time when you had to make a difficult decision at work.
  • Tell me about how you worked effectively under pressure.
  • Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead.
  • Give an example of a time when you had to arrive at a compromise with members of your team.
  • Describe a situation in which you had to adjust to changes over which you had no control.
  • Give an example of how you set goals and achieve them.
  • Tell me about how you worked effectively under pressure.
  • What do you do if you disagree with your boss?
  • What do you do if you disagree with your co-worker?
  • How you would you deal with a co-worker who wasn’t doing his or her share of the work.

Your interviewer may ask additional clarifying questions such as:

  • What were you thinking at that point?
  • Tell me more about what you specifically did at that time?
  • Lead me through your decision-making process.

Although awkward, go ahead and answer their questions because they are attempting to understand the full spectrum of specific behaviors that you used in the situation.

To prepare for the behavioral interviews, identify several examples of past experiences in which you utilized the soft skills mentioned earlier.  Select examples where you accomplished something, overcame an obstacle, or something did not go as planned.   Feel free to choose academic experiences and non-academic experiences.  Next, practice answering the questions using the SAR technique.

For more practice, visit the OITE website  make an appointment for a mock interview with a career counselor to receive constructive feedback on your answers to behavioral interview questions.  We encourage you to visit our interviewing blogs or skills workshops.

OITE services are available to NIH intramural trainees only. Check with your home university or college and utilize the personal, career, and professional school advising resources they offer to you.


Applying to PhD Programs

April 5, 2017

It is that time of year when many of you are preparing to apply to doctoral programs in the sciences.  You may be asking yourself:

  • Where do I apply?
  • What strategies will I use to decide between programs?
  • What are the best programs for me?

Here are several suggestions to simplify the process provided by Dr. Bill Higgins, Pre-Professional Consultant in NIH’s Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE).

Define Your Research Interests

Defining your research interests is the first step in identifying Ph.D. graduate programs.  Your definition may be relatively broad or quite narrow, but you should spend time thinking about the types of research questions that interest you.  If your interests are broad, e.g., metabolic regulation, neural networks, gene expression in cancerous cells, etc., you may gravitate toward more diverse umbrella programs that include investigators in many loosely related disciplines.   Frequently such programs offer laboratory rotations during the first year to help you discover a focus for the dissertation research.   A narrower, more focused interest often leads an applicant to specific laboratories or a small group of laboratories.  Many applicants have more than one area of interest and thus apply to graduate programs that reflect these different interests.  Remember that the dissertation topic is just the first of many research projects in the career of a successful investigator.  Few P.I.s pursue the same research thread for their entire research career.   Proper training prepares a Ph.D. to approach questions in any area of the discipline.

Find the PhD Programs in Your Chosen Field of Study

For those of you seeking programs in the United States, there are rankings posted in the US News and World Report annually.   For some PhD programs, however, the graduate school rankings may not apply to the part/sub-discipline of the program you are interested in.  In this case, Dr. Higgins recommended networking with researchers and attending meetings to discover these programs.

Identify and Interview NIH Researchers

Find NIH investigators conducting research in the area of your interest.  You can conduct an informational interviews and ask them for names of respected and productive colleagues at other institutions.  Start a list of such people and of their institutions and programs.  Always look at the References Cited sections of these investigators’ recent publications for the names and locations of other investigators in the field.  Add these to your list!

Attend Professional Meeting Gatherings

The investigators in your field are usually attend the same national scientific meetings every year.  Identify these organizations, find the on-line site, and then peruse the Abstracts from the recent conferences and write down the investigator’s names.  They also attend NIH Scientific Interest Group (SIG) programs.  Also, these are excellent places to identify prospective dissertation mentors, e.g., contact them at meetings you may attend, use NIH PI’s to help establish contact, emails after you apply to call attention to your application, etc. Now that you have a list of productive people and their programs and what academic institutions and departments where they work, you are ready to explore the relevant web sites and narrow down your list.

To keep track of your information, we suggest that you create a spreadsheet with key dates and information for each university using the following column headings, PhD Program, School, Entrance Exams, Where to Apply (school or on-line application service), Personal Statements, number of references needed, Application Deadlines, and any other criteria you choose.  This strategy will also enable you to make additions and corrections as well as track your application process.

Feel free to visit the OITE Career Services Center and schedule an appointment to meet with pre-professional advisors, wellness, and career counselors who can further support you during this process.  Click the following link for general information about how to apply to graduate programs and visit the OITE Calendar of Events page for related programs. We also encourage you to view the additional resources on our webpage that include the Career Services Blog, Alumni Network, and OITE Video-casts.

OITE services are available to NIH intramural trainees only. Check with your home university or college and utilize the personal, career, and professional school advising resources they offer to you.

 


Keep Stress From Derailing Your Work and Life

March 23, 2017

Post written by Sharon Milgram, Ph.D., Director, Office of Intramural Training and Education at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD.

Stress is inevitable – in our relationships, at home and at work, pretty much all around us. At NIH our stresses include experimental roadblocks, bureaucracy, paper and grant rejections, the school/job search process, difficult workplace relationships, and/or the craziness of juggling our work and life. On top of these normal (and expected) workplace stresses, many of us are now experiencing a high level of stress related to the uncertainty of future government policies, here and abroad.  While some stress can be helpful, driving us to work hard and focus on things that are important to us, too much stress is counter-productive leading to sleepless nights, negative coping strategies, frayed relationships, and illness. Now, more than ever, we all need to pause and consider how we respond to stress and how we can work together as a community to manage the stress that seems to be swirling around us. I often talk with NIH trainees and staff about managing stress and wanted to share some insights from those discussions.

I will begin by laying out a brief model for wellness we developed here at OITE that is rooted in acknowledging that we need to focus on multiple elements to truly lead a healthy and less stressed life.  This holistic approach to wellness prompts us to consider four areas – our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual selves.

Wellness Model

Physical wellness includes things such as getting enough sleep, eating nutritional meals, exercising, avoiding harmful substances, getting regular health care, and taking breaks when we need them.  Mental wellness involves modifying unhelpful thought patterns (e.g., ruminating about the past/worrying about the future vs. paying attention to the present, perfectionism, comparing ourselves to others, negative self-tapes), as well as practicing self-affirmations and allowing the mind to engage in new things that interest us.  Emotional wellness focuses on being able to recognize and feel our emotions, expressing our needs honestly and directly, asking for help when we need it, creating and staying connected to a supportive circle of friends and family, and demonstrating compassion for ourselves and others.  Finally, spiritual wellness is about cultivating what gives us a sense of deeper meaning, purpose, and connection in our lives.  For some people this is done through religious beliefs and practices, while for others it is found in non-sectarian areas, such as nature, the world of science, social justice initiatives, creative endeavors and so on.  Whatever the arena, spiritual wellness involves having a connection to something beyond ourselves, seeking out resources that nurture us spiritually, investing time in what is most meaningful to us, reading books and/or watching inspirational media, and engaging in activities that support our life’s purpose.  It also means learning how to be a human being instead of a human doing.  It’s important to pay attention to all four areas as any one area affects our well-being in the other three.  Holistic wellness also involves increasing our mindfulness or awareness of how we’re doing in each area in order to practice good self-care.

After looking carefully at my own wellness practices and noticing some important gaps, I started experimenting with some new approaches. I am sharing my new strategies here, and hope you will share yours in the comments section, with the hope that more explicit discussions about wellness will help all of us all have an easier time during these stressful times. I recently compiled a playlist of upbeat songs and am trying to take more mindful walks (physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness). I realized I needed to stop reading the news at night and have replaced surfing the internet with a good novel or calm conversation with my wife (mental and emotional wellness). To learn more meditation strategies (a big struggle for me!) I participated in a class where we meditated each time we met (mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness).  My most fun wellness addition — I am learning to box! This is one exercise that totally takes me out of my head while relieving huge amounts of stress (physical and mental awareness). We all have a different set of wellness practices that work for us; let me know what wellness practices work for you; perhaps your ideas will inspire others!

Resilience is defined as the ability to grow and learn through setback and difficult times. The foundation of resilience is wellness and a foundation of wellness is community. If you wish to bring your most creative and resilient self to work (and beyond) each day, make an investment in your future by engaging with your colleagues at work and by finding sources of community at home.  Also, join us next week for our Tune In & Take Care workshop focused on stress management, wellness and resilience on the Bethesda campus and watch for offerings on other campuses as well. Get involved in groups on campus and make an effort to get to know the people around you. And get out there and move…. sing…. dance…. paint…. meditate…. connect…… pray…. hike…. whatever makes you more resilient and happy!

Tune In & Take Care Workshop – March 28th, 2017 – 1:00 to 3:00 pm

To Register: https://www.training.nih.gov/events/view/_2/2034/Tune_In_and_Take_Care_Managing_Stress_and_Promoting_Wellbeing

 

 


Are you Ready for Video Interviews?

March 21, 2017

One of the current trends in the application process for industry positions is to use video interviewing. Currently, business, science, and technology companies are using video interviews as the first step in the interviewing process after a candidate applies for a position because it saves money and staff time for the firms to screen candidates prior to inviting them for face-to face interviews. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) 2016 Recruiting Trends report, there has been a 50 % increase in the use of video interviewing in the past year.  This trend could correlate with the relative decrease in employers coming to on-campus recruiting interviews and career fairs.   Also,  the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) is currently conducting a research study to pilot -test the use of video-interviews with its residency applicants.

In this post, we interviewed an NIH trainee who recently participated in several video interviews to gather a user’s impressions of the process and technology.

What type of company and position(s) did you apply?

They were generally biotech companies that had positions such as a Scientist 1 or Assay Development.

What materials did you use to apply?

I submitted a resume and cover letter through their website. Then you were sent an email with a link to the video interview. This company used HireVue software.  Before the question prompts, there is a short intro about the company mission and culture delivered by the company’s employees.

How did you prepare?

The video interview link came after I applied for the position. I followed the instructions given. You are allowed to complete a few practice questions (mostly behavioral) and to learn how to use the software.  I used Glassdoor to prepare for the interview questions. There was a combination of behavioral and technical questions.  Depending on the position, it may be more technical than behavioral.

Where in the interview process was the video interview?

This was part of the pre-interview process. It was sent after you applied.  I think it takes the place of the telephone screening interview.

How much time were you given to reply to the company?

I was given three business days to practice and then answer the interview questions.

What was it like to record the video interview?

It was both helpful and terrifying at the same time. It was helpful in that it is using a system that makes it convenient.  It was terrifying watching yourself (split screen) while you are answering interview questions vs. looking at someone else.  It’s hard to watch yourself interview.

How many questions were you asked?

You were given about 20 minutes to answer 7-9 questions (about 20-30 minutes). You are given 30 seconds to read the question and then between 1-3 minutes to answer the questions.  Some questions you are given are one minute and most others you have more time. Some questions have multiple stems in them, so you may feel rushed to answer everything in the 3 minutes.

What Questions were you asked?

I was given questions about why I chose this company, behavioral questions, compare and contrast technologies, describe how to develop or troubleshoot assays. I was asked how does product development differ from research and development in biotech.  For another interview, I was asked to summarize my molecular biology, troubleshooting, and optimizing skills.

It appears that the various teams in a company can select their own questions. For example, for some positions I was given one time to answer the interview questions.  However, in another interview, I was given multiple times to answer the question before submitting it.

After the videotaped interview, they presented a short video thanking me for completing the video interview, but the next steps in the process were unclear.

What would you recommend to others who are asked to complete video interviews?

Utilize the practice time to learn the software and practice questions. Be aware of your choice of setting, lighting, height of camera and monitor, and choice of dress for video interview.  You can have some have some notes in front of you.  You will see a split screen with the question on left, outline of self on the right, and countdown clock on the top right corner.

In the 2015 Science Magazine  article, Ace Your Video Interview,  by David Jensen, he recommends that candidates should be highly aware of their environment, appearance, and performance when using Skype technology for live video interviews.  For example, he described that shadows from lighting, animals in the background, and clutter are distractions that can cause a candidate’s interview to be less than stellar.  He also emphasizes that a candidate could be interviewed by several people.  It may be recorded as well.  Based on the experiences of our trainee and Jensen’s comments, here are some additional recommendations to how to prepare for pre-recorded video interviews:

  • Practice using any type of video-based software so that can get used to seeing yourself while you are interviewing. Check to see If there is a way to turn this feature off during your practice sessions with the software you are given. Please note that OITE does not endorse HireVue, SKYPE, or any particular any video interviewing products.
  • Be sure you are looking directly into the camera and that your background is free from distractions.
  • Practice your answers standard industry interview and behavioral questions.
  • Conduct company research in advance to learn about the company, its competitors, and trends in the industry.
  • Although it may end abruptly, send a thank you note after the interview. You may also record a thank you to the committee at the end of your video interview.
  • Dress in professional attire (at least from the waist up) because you are making your first impression with the employer.

While video interviews are not completely replacing the face-to-face interviews, you are likely to encounter them at some phase of the process in the future. If you would like to discuss any part of the process of applying for industry positions, have a mock interview, and /or review your application materials, feel free to set up an appointment with a career counselor. Also please remember to attend the NIH Career Symposium on May 11, 2016 where NIH alumni will discuss their transitions to a variety of careers in academia and beyond.


Analyzing the NIH Alumni Database: Where are our NIH postdocs going?

March 13, 2017

In the OITE we are often asked about the career paths of former postdocs. While we do not conduct mandatory exit surveys, we do have some data from the OITE NIH Alumni Database. This database is populated as fellows leave the NIH. To date it contains about 1100 entries. Of those, 639 contain career information that we have been able to analyze. Caveat: this information is only from former trainees who have voluntarily created entries in the database; it does not capture the full range nor percentage of actual career paths*.

PDAlum Figure 1
We began by comparing data on our intramural research program (IRP) alumni to the data published in the 2012 NIH Biomedical Research Workforce Working Group Report (BWF). This report analyzed a post-training workforce of 128,000 people in terms of six categories. Academic Research/Teaching accounted for 43% of the workforce, followed by Science-Related, non-Research (individuals employed by industry, government, non-profits who do not conduct research) and Industrial Research at 18% each. The Non-Science-Related workforce employed 13%, and Government Research accounted for an additional 6%. Two percent reported they were unemployed.
In Figure 1 we show that fractions of IRP alumni who have continued in Academic/Research Teaching (39%) and Industrial Research (14%) were similar to those in the national BWF survey. However, far more IRP alumni continued in Government Research (15% of NIH IRP vs 6% in the national survey) and Science-Related, non-Research (33% of NIH IRP vs 18% for the national survey) careers, while far fewer went on to careers in non-Science-Related professions (< 1% vs 13%). No one in our alumni database reported that they were unemployed.
Our percentage of alumni staying in government research is higher than the national average (15% vs. 6%). This is not surprising that some fellows choose to stay as staff scientists or become tenure track within the IRP. The information of what careers are considered non-science related was difficult to find. Our analysis of alumni careers suggests that science-related non-research careers are more common than the national average.
Dissecting the Academic Research/Teaching data provides us with more information about what types of positions are held in this sector, Figure 2.

PDAlum Figure 2

This category includes only positions directly associated with research or teaching; careers in academic institutions in offices such as tech transfer, policy, academic affairs, etc. are counted in the Science-Related, Non-Research category. Three-quarters of alumni in this sector are in academic tenure-track or tenured positions. In fact 192 total alumni in the database are tenured or tenure track faculty (185 are in academics and 7 in government research). From this data we predict that 30% of IRP alumni have tenured or tenure track faculty positions.
The data for the Science-Related Non-research careers demonstrates the breadth of career options that are available for PhD-trained scientists, Figure 3. We binned careers based on the job titles that were submitted to the alumni database. Discerning the exact jobs of the 25% of reported careers in program management/analysis is challenging. The titles range from program coordinator to manager, director and advisor. Similarly, it is very likely that the 5% of alumni that report working in grants (as program officers, analysts, or review) is low due to the lack of precision in the job titles within the program management/analysis category. The data still provide evidence that program administration (making sure that science runs) is a common career choice. Science policy is a career path selected by 20% NIH of reported alumni. These careers are in all sectors, but are mainly spilt between the Federal government and non-profits (i.e., professional societies). Other career choices reflected in Figure 3 show the breath of career choices for NIH postdocs.

PDAlum Figure 3

If you want any addiional information about the careers in these categories we suggest that you explore the alumni database. As a current fellow with an OITE account you can search the database: https://www.training.nih.gov/alumni. Additionally, you can use the contact information in the alumni database to set up informational interviews as you plan your career post-NIH.
In 2017 we hope you will help us with this data project! Are you an NIH alum? If so, join the database or update your earlier submission. Last year around 800 people logged-in to the database and updated their information. But we still have too many gaps. 460 postdocs, for example, have an alumni database account that include no information about their current position. Only have ~20% of our postdocs* actually contribute to the database. The OITE really does want to know where you are! Current and future postdocs want to be able to see career trends and how training at the NIH might influence their career choices. So join the database or update your record now: https://www.training.nih.gov/alumni/register
*The database was built in June 2010. We estimate that 800 postdocs per year leave the NIH. Therefore the maximum sample size could be ~5200 alumni. With 1100 reporting that represents 21.2% of the potential sample size.

To learn about the full range of services and programs offered by the Office of Intramural Training and Education, visit us at https://www.training.nih.gov.

 


Five Steps to Evaluate Organizational Culture Before You Accept the Offer

February 28, 2017

One of the most important criteria to consider during the job, graduate school, or Postdoc search is to learn about the culture of the place where you are applying.   This means to gather information about the employee’s opinions of the work environment, the support and benefits that they receive, and the values that drive the organization. This is important because you will work and /or study in this environment for many years and you want to find a good fit for your interests and personal style.  But how do you assess this when you are applying?

Step 1: Learn about and list your values

  • Factor in your personal and work values into your career decision. For example, if you value work where you have multiple work assignments, a culture that values family, work-life balance, opportunities to publish, and/or working in an urban environment, then these will become the criteria that you use when considering multiple options.
  • Meet with a career counselor who will help you to identify a broad range of important work values through the use of career assessments around values, interests and skills

Step 2: Research the organization for information about their values

  • Look for a mission and/or value statements
  • Read the job description carefully for words that give you a glimpse into the culture. For example, wording such as collaborative, team, independently, diverse, fast-paced, results oriented, balance multiple priorities, etc. shed light upon the nature of the work environment.
  • Conduct informational interviews with alumni, colleagues, PIs, Postdocs, etc. Connect via Linked In who are familiar with the organization.
  • Listen to what your mentors and colleagues say about the organization.
  • Attend the NIH Career Symposium or the 2017 NIH Graduate and Professional School Fair so that you can meet NIH Alumni, current employees, and recruitment professionals who will give informational sessions and answer specific questions about their environment.
  • Explore employer surveys such as the ones posted on the AAAS , Corporate Quality IndexThe Scientist, Science Magazine.

Step 3:  Listen closely during your interview

  • Listen carefully to the questions that are asked during an interview. Is there a common thread that gives you some insight?
  • How were you treated when you arrived to the interview? Who greeted you, were they pleasant, outgoing, distant, stressed?
  • Was the host(s) welcoming, approachable, resourceful?
  • Were there any specific qualifications that the interviewer stated about their culture (i.e. fast-paced, long days, independent, work interdependently, cultural diversity)?

Step 4:  Ask Good Questions during the Interview

  • Ask interviewers to describe the environment.
  • Learn about opportunities for professional development.
  • Ask if employees work as a team, independently, collaboratively.
  • Ask the employers to describe a typical week.
  • Ask about work-life balance.

Professional/ graduate school and Post Doc opportunities:

  • Ask faculty and students to describe the culture?
  • Learn how the curriculum structured and how students study.
  • Review OITE blogs to learn how to select a mentor.
  • Attend the second look (medical schools) and or pre-matriculation program.
  • Learn about opportunities to become involved in the community.
  • Ask about students support services are available to support wellness.
  • Are there special interest groups or student organizations? Where do participants live? Is there family housing and partner benefits?
  • How is research, conference and publishing encouraged?
  • Determine how the school /department supports diversity and inclusion.

Step 5: Create a spread sheet to evaluate each opportunity

  • List the places where you are applied on the left column.
  • Write your personal values on the top row.
  • Place a check mark and any comments in each box for each organization.
  • Analyze your results to determine which organizations one(s) have the most values.
  • Note the organizations that have the closest match to your values.
  • Factor into any additional criteria.

Feel free to visit the OITE https://www.training.nih.gov to meet with career counselors, Premedical school advisors, and wellness counselors who can further support you during this process.  Also see our events and services.

* OITE services are available to NIH intramural trainees only. Check with your home university or college and utilize the personal, career, and professional school advising resources they offer to you.