The Power of Thank You

November 25, 2015

Cork board full of multi-colored post-it notes saying "thank you" in different languages.It’s the week of Thanksgiving. In the United States, this signifies a time of the year when many of us gather around a large meal with family and friends to not only celebrate, but also to reflect on things in our lives for which we are thankful.

Even if you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, this holiday can be a good reminder to stop and take a moment to be thankful. Studies have shown that cultivating gratitude is beneficial in numerous ways. Being grateful can help crowd out negative emotions, help foster a more positive mental attitude, and positivity has been shown to have huge physical and mental health benefits.

Not only can gratitude increase your sense of well-being, it can also play an important role in your professional trajectory. To clarify, we aren’t talking about the standard thank you letters that you send out after interviews or networking events, even though those are great and extremely important to continue sending. Rather, think about sincerely thanking somebody, which requires taking a moment to pause and acknowledge another’s assistance or even just to remark on the great work they are doing. Thank you notes not only make the recipient feel good, but it’s also a beneficial exercise for the letter writer.

As noted in the article “How thank-you notes can transform your career,” gratitude can be professionally powerful. Take the article’s example of Douglas Conant, the former CEO of Campbell Soup. During his ten years at Campbell, he helped turn the company around – he cut costs and implemented innovative marketing efforts all while improving employees’ engagement levels. How did Conant do all of this? Well, for the latter part, he wrote 30,000 thank you notes. He would take about an hour a day to write 10-20 thank you notes to employees at all levels of the company. He had a staffer help him find success stories to praise. Conant is quoted saying, “We’re trained to find things that are wrong, but I try to celebrate what is right.” His focus on strengths worked to help motivate employees and turn a lagging company around.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebooks’ CEO, took on a gratitude challenge in 2014. Zuckerberg celebrated Facebook’s 10th anniversary year by writing one thank you note each day. His reasoning was similar to Conant’s and he said, “It’s important for me, because I’m a really critical person. I always kind of see how I want things to be better, and I’m generally not happy with how things are, or the level of service that we’re providing for people, or the quality of the teams that we built.”

It can be easy to focus on the negative and dwell on what isn’t going right. In order to cultivate gratitude, we recommend an activity which was previously discussed in a blog post about enhancing optimism and resilience. During Thanksgiving, try this out:

Gratitude Visit and Letter
Close your eyes for a moment and think about a person who helped you out in the past. Perhaps someone you never properly thanked? This is a great activity to help you feel more positive because when you feel grateful, you conjure up a pleasant memory or association. Then, expressing that gratitude can help strengthen your relationship and can create more positive connections.   So, give that person a call, write them an e-mail or even drop by their office or home to say thank you!

If you try this activity out, comment and let us know. Thank you, dear readers, for continuing to follow and contribute to this blog!

FROM THE ARCHIVE – Industry vs. Academia: Which is Right for You?

November 16, 2015

Golden_file_cabinetThis From the Archive post revisits a decision many individuals struggle with. Should I stay in academia or should I go into industry?  According to a 2015 Nature survey, graduate students dream of academia but are keeping their career options open.  According to Nature, “The survey also revealed uncertainty and ambivalence. More than 60% of respondents said that they are “likely” or “very likely” to pursue a job in industry (see ‘Industry appeal’). And 61% said that they are “likely” or “very likely” to pursue a research job with a government or foundation, which makes it clear that many graduate students are unclear about their futures.” Science Careers held a webinar on the topic of industry vs academia and the panel discussion included speakers from both fields who took questions from an online audience of postdocs and graduate students. Even though this webinar is a few years old, there are still some very relevant points to keep in mind today.


Many of you may have asked yourselves this question at some point in your academic careers. Which job would give you the most freedom research-wise? More time with your family or for outside interests? Higher salaries? Job security?

1. What questions should you ask yourself to determine whether academia or industry is the right fit for you?

  • Do you want to stay in research or move away from the bench?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What do you enjoy doing?
  • What are you most passionate about?

2. What are some essential differences between academia and industry?

  • In academic work, you will be expected to be a self-starter, comfortable with self-promotion, and will largely work independently, developing research questions on your own.
  • In industry, you will also be expected to drive yourself, but with a view toward a common goal, and an understanding of what is expected of you as a member of a research team, based on objectives set at the beginning of your employment.

3. How can I learn more about these two worlds?

  • Conduct research on the web.
  • Talk with people you know in both spheres.
  • Attend university or institute career symposia, career fairs, panels, etc.
  • Talk with people at scientific meetings.
  • Attend any lunches, networking events, etc. after research talks on your campus.
  • Ask scientists you meet about their own career paths.

4. When should I start preparing for either job?

  • It’s never too early! Even by the 2nd year of your postdoc, you should be updating your CV, participating in skills courses, taking on a summer student – basically doing things that will set you apart from the crowd on the job market.

5. Are there jobs available in industry or academia in this bleak economic climate?

  • Yes! There’s never a total hiring freeze in industry, so there are always opportunities for people who are smart, well-trained, and have good ideas.
  • In academia, positions may be slightly easier to come by in private institutions, if endowments have rebounded.
  • Universities need to maintain research vitality, so hiring will always be a priority.
  • One way of uncovering opportunities is to find out which universities are building new science facilities. These institutions will typically need new science faculty to fill new lab space!

6. Which path allows for greater work/life balance?

  • This depends on the particular company/institution, particular department, particular job.
  • While some may think that schedules are tougher on the academic side, some industry jobs also require a great number of hours during the work week.
  • Some may feel a greater sense of freedom and therefore balance on the academic side because the hours are flexible, while others may feel more balance in industry because the hours are more structured.
  • This depends largely on the person and the work situation.

7. Does compensation vary greatly from one to the other?

  • No, compensation levels are surprisingly similar based on level of experience, promotion, etc.

8. What skills are most important for me to develop before going on the job market?

  • Networking is #1, followed by teamwork, and being a thoughtful leader.

9. What are the pros and cons in academia vs. industry?

  • Benefits in academia: a sense of autonomy, an excitement around novel discoveries, intrinsic motivators, travel, getting to know people all over the world, collegial environment. Downsides: grant renewal, feeling pressure to publish or perish.
  • Benefits in industry: potential benefit to patients of what you’re working on, fairly immediate application of science, access to resources, connections to other scientists around you. Downsides: cannot always investigate areas of personal interest.

10. Any final thoughts, words of wisdom?

  • Stay true to yourself, know yourself well before going out on the market.
  • Practice what you’re going to say so you do the best job of selling yourself.
  • Start early and practice often.

Continue this conversation with professionals you meet in both academia and industry. These interactions will help you to determine what is best for YOU!

Career Options Series: Public Health

November 9, 2015

OITE’s new Career Options Series will give you a snapshot overview of different career paths. The goal of this blog 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.

What is Public Health?
Image of a large globe with hands from different indiviudals touching it
“Public Health is the science of protecting and improving the health of communities through education, promotion of healthy lifestyles, and research for disease and injury prevention. Public health professionals analyze the effect on health of genetics, personal choice and the environment in order to develop programs that protect the health of your family and community.”
– From the resource:

Sample Job Titles
Global Health Specialist; Public Health Analyst; Field Support Manager; Public Health Director; Health Policy Analyst; Regional HIV/AIDS Technical Advisor; Program Associate; Program Officer for Africa, East Asia, etc; Health Policy Consultant; Nutrition/Sanitation/ Maternal Health Specialist; Proposal Writer; Health Coordinator; Field Organizer; Project Manager; Advocacy Officer; Consultant; Program Analyst; Public Health Associate; Regional Specialist, and many more.

Sample Work Settings
Government Agencies; Government Contractors; Intergovernmental or Multi-Lateral Agencies; Non-governmental (NGO) agencies or Non-Profits; Private Sector such as consulting firms or lending agencies; Think Tanks; In-Country/Disaster Relief

Sample Employers
Abt Associates
Advocates for Youth
American Red Cross
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Department of State
Doctors of the World
Family Health International
Human Rights Watch
ICF International
Kaiser Foundation
Peace Corps
Public Health Institute
United Nations
World Health Organization
World Vision

Potential Topics/Areas of Specialty
• Biostatistics and Informatics
• Community Health
• Capacity building
• Communicable Diseases
• Consulting
• Emerging economies
• Environmental Health
• Epidemiology
• Global Health
• Grants management
• Health Administration
• Infectious diseases
• Migration & Quarantine
• Neglected diseases
• Program evaluation
• Policy
• Reproductive health
• Social and Behavioral Health
• Vaccines
• Vulnerable Populations
• Water, Sanitation & Hygiene

Key Skills
– Communication, both written and verbal
– Language Skills — proficiency in Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese, etc
– Analysis and Evaluation
– Project/Time Management
– People skills (consensus building)
– Cultural Sensitivity
– Problem-Solving

How to get started
Fellowships e.g., USAID Global Health Fellowship
Internships e.g., NCI Health Communications Internship
Details e.g., NIH institutes; 1 day/week
Networking e.g., With speakers at NIH global health seminars
Volunteering e.g., Global Health charities, here and abroad
Additional education/degrees (Masters in Public Health)
Certificates (Certificate in Public Health –FAES)

Professional Organizations
American Public Health Association
Global Health Council

Additional Resources
OITE’s How To Series: Global Health
Guide to Public Health Careers
Explore Public Health Careers
Schools of Public Health Application Service


Coming up in the Career Options Series, we will be highlighting the field of Science Policy.

NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Biologist

November 2, 2015

Name: Juliane Lessard, PhD

Job Title & Company: Biologist, FDA, Center for Devices and Radiological Health

Location: White Oak, MD

How long you’ve been in your current job: 1 year

Postdoc Advisor, IC: Dr. Maria Morasso, NIAMS

What do you do as a Biologist?
I mostly review pre-market regulatory submissions for in vitro diagnostic tests, which are considered medical devices. My division gets many different types of pre-market submissions (e.g., PMA, 510k) depending on the type of device and the type of test. My supervisor will assign me a submission and I then begin the review process. I work with product specialists, other reviewers in the division, and management to get a good idea of what we need, evaluate performance data to identify any potential safety issues, and determine what we should ask the industry sponsor to provide for us in order to complete the review. I also interact with the industry sponsor directly to clarify issues, request updates to the material, etc. Within a pre-determined time frame, we will decide whether the submission contains any deficiencies too significant for us to continue our review at that time. If so, we issue a hold letter with a list of items that the sponsor needs to address in order for us to continue our review. Or, if there are no deficiencies, I recommend approval or clearance of the submission and if management is in agreement, the sponsor can go ahead and market their product.

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

I do a lot of reading and a lot of writing. There are memos for everything and because I interact with the industry sponsors directly, it is very important to be able to write clearly. There is a highly specific way to write in regulatory affairs, which was a pretty steep learning curve for me coming to the FDA. I read probably a couple of hundred pages a day. It can be easy to get lost in the details, so it is really important to be able to extract the important points from a submission while keeping the big picture in mind. I would say this is very similar to manuscript reviewing for publication in journals.

How did you get up to speed on the regulatory affairs writing style?
The way it is done in my division (and in most other offices at the FDA), I was assigned a mentor who was different from my direct supervisor. In the beginning, that mentor worked with me on all of my submissions. She would edit my language and offer suggestions on how to word things. She would also provide examples for me to look at how certain issues had been addressed previously. This mentor worked closely with me for the first six months and my direct supervisor would meet with me every other week to go over any transition issues. In addition, I completed several months of coursework as part of the Reviewer Certification Program, which is a requirement for new reviewers in the Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

Other than the writing style, what has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
One of the hardest things to adjust to was the amount of reading that I do. I also sit in front of a computer all day. There is no getting up and doing experiments and then sitting back down. A lot of the work is very deadline driven. This wasn’t a problem in the beginning, but now that I have more parallel submissions to work on, it is very important to schedule my timelines well. In the lab, I could just do an experiment next week or not look at it for another month, so my current work is a lot less flexible than time management in the lab.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I really love how diverse the work is and how relevant it is to public health. It is very rewarding for me to know that my work has a much more immediate impact than what I was working on when I was on the research side at the NIH. For example, I can go to the drug store and see some of the over the counter devices that we regulate. Our division reviews pregnancy tests, so when I see those, I think, “Oh, look at that – I am part of the pathway for this product to be on the market in the US!”

What was your job search like?
It started when I met with OITE pretty early on during my postdoc. I did all of those personality tests, but what really helped me was Science Career’s IDP. I knew I didn’t want to go into academia and I was looking for something that was a little more family friendly. One of the top hits from the IDP report was in Quality Assurance and Regulatory Affairs, and I didn’t know anything about it really. Then I remembered that I had met somebody from the FDA when I was in grad school. I looked her up and found out that she was still at the FDA. She invited me to come over to see the office for an informational interview and she gave me a couple more people to talk to. I started doing a lot of informational interviews in this area. I also used LinkedIn and found several alums not only from grad school but also from my college who now work as regulatory reviewers at the FDA. Most people were really willing to talk on the phone or in person for a couple of minutes. I made up a short questionnaire so I could ask everybody similar questions.

Eventually, one of my informational interviewees showed my resume to her supervisor and I was invited for an interview. I was originally hired as a Staff Fellow, which is a Title 42 direct hire position. After I had my interview, I had to submit a formal application for this position. A Staff Fellow is term-limited (for two years), so I continued applying for review positions in my division through USAJobs after I started at the FDA. After a few tries, I was successful and my Staff Fellow appointment was converted to a more permanent (GS) position as a Biologist.

What resume tips can you share?
One of the things I learned from my informational interviews was to highlight the following skills: time management, critical thinking, writing skills, presentation skills, and team work. For my resume, I tried to incorporate most of these skills into my qualifications summary on my resume. It also helped to highlight a lot of manuscript review experience because that is very similar to pre-market review work at the FDA.

What was your interview like?
It was a group interview. The way our division is structured is that we have several branch chiefs, kind of like lab heads. All of the branch chiefs were there. It was mostly based on my resume and they asked me questions on my background and what kind of lab techniques I was trained in, as well as questions on how I manage my time and why I wanted to work at the FDA. Overall, pretty standard questions and it was only a one round interview.

You have to have a lot of patience with the government hiring process, even with Title 42. For me, I interviewed in May and didn’t hear officially that I was going to be hired until the end of September. I have heard from others that generally the process takes about four months after a successful interview.

You did a lot of research and informational interviews about this field. Now that you are in it, is this work what you anticipated? Any surprises?
The type of work was expected, but the details weren’t. I didn’t realize how many different types of submissions we would get. There is a really big span from engineering to clinical trials to basic chemistry.

In hindsight, would you have done anything differently in your job search?
I would have started earlier. The postdoc helped in terms of the work experience, but not in terms of the technical knowledge. Part of me wishes I had explored this career option in graduate school in more detail.

For somebody, hoping to go down a similar path, do you have any last bits of advice?
My advice to others is to start early because it can take a long time to find an opening and to find somebody who needs a reviewer. Plus, it takes a while to get through the hiring process.

Decision-Making Activity — Prioritizing Grid

October 26, 2015

Image of the front cover of the book "What Color Is Your Parachute?"Richard Bolles, author of What Color Is Your Parachute?, developed a prioritization grid to help individuals make career decisions. The paper version in the book is quite cumbersome to use, so Beverly Ryle developed an interactive and easy to use online version.

This can be a great tool to utilize as you work to prioritize anything – whether it is career-related or not. Individuals use this grid to figure out what skills and values are the most important for them to have in a job. However, you can use the grid for almost anything. Do you have an overwhelming project ahead of you? You can use this grid to help you prioritize and organize your tasks.

The benefit of this particular grid is that you can write in absolutely anything. It doesn’t give you preset options from which to choose. Before you begin prioritizing, take some time to go through the examples provided just so you have a sense of the flow.

If you are interested in learning about more career activities, stop by the Main Circulating Library on the 2nd Floor of Building 2. The OITE has a Career Library with many books including the book noted above, What Color Is Your Parachute?

You can also search the library online by going to NIH Library site. From the “Research Tools” menu, chose “Online Catalog”. Finally, scan the choices under “Search all libraries” and select the “OITE Career Library”.

Gender Bias – Making the Unconscious Conscious

October 22, 2015

Scale with a blue male sign on left side and a pink female sign on the right side.Tackling overt discrimination can be difficult enough. Take for example, the recent case at UC Berkeley. After a six-month investigation, the university concluded that high profile faculty member and renowned astronomer, Geoffrey Marcy, had violated multiple sexual harassment policies over the course of a decade. At first, the university’s investigation and corresponding disciplinary actions went under the radar; however, when it became public that Marcy’s reprimand was essentially a small slap on the wrist, the community responded. A petition from students and faculty alike began and was supported by thousands of scientists. Marcy resigned from his faculty position last week.

There are egregious examples of hostile work environments like Marcy’s lab at Berkeley and appalling examples of sexist comments like Tim Hunt’s “trouble with girls.” However, most discrimination is much more subtle. Unconscious gender bias can keep women in STEM from opportunities, equal pay and much more. Persistently feeling undervalued professionally can eventually push women out of the lab and out of STEM altogether.

Furthermore, empirical evidence supports gender bias findings. We have written in the past about gender bias in letters of recommendation. This bias persists with science faculty during hiring decisions and one study found that male applicants were viewed as more competent and deserving of a higher salary even when female applicant’s resumes were identical.

Unfortunately though, many men don’t believe this is actually happening. A new study found that unconscious bias is quite insidious and when shown evidence of gender bias against women in STEM fields, men were significantly less likely to find these studies important and/or convincing. The study’s authors note, “How can we successfully broaden the participation of women in STEM when the very research underscoring the need for this initiative is less valued by the majority of the group who dominate and maintain the culture of STEM?”

How can this be fixed then? As with most problems, often the first step is to admit there is actually a problem. On a systematic level, recognizing gender bias exists in STEM and working to develop programs and initiatives to combat it will be essential.

But, what can you do on an individual level? First, remember that every person has biases. Most people believe they are ethical and unbiased. However, even the most open-minded person harbors a lot of unconscious biases. Once you begin to realize your own biases, then you can make decisions to change your behavior accordingly. Organizations like Google have recognized this and started workforce training programs focusing on unconscious bias. Watch their video on making the unconscious conscious.

Harvard has a series of online tests which measures implicit prejudices on everything from gender and race to age. Millions have taken these tests to help increase awareness of unconscious bias. Check it out here at the Implicit Association Test. We can all work to overcome implicit bias; however, remember to seek support if you feel like you are being treated unfairly. If you are at the NIH, there are resources to help you like the NIH Ombudsman and the Employee Assistance Program.

Is Grit the Key to Success?

October 16, 2015

Orange sign with white letters reading "got grit?"Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth is a psychologist and a 2013 recipient of the MacArhthur Fellowship. Her work focuses on traits that predict achievement. In order to study this, she went to many different places and studied predictors of success in different contexts. For example, she went to the West Point Military Academy and tried to predict which cadets would stay in the rigorous training program and which would drop out. She also went to the National Spelling Bee and tried to predict which students would advance furthest in the competition. Then, she looked at teachers in tough schools to try and see which teachers would still be there at the end of the academic year. Finally, she partnered with private companies to look at salespeople to track not only who would keep their jobs but also generate the most money for the company.

In all of these different settings, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success – grit. Intelligence and talent are often thought of as the best predictors for success; however, it turns out that doing well not only in school but in life depends on much more than your ability to learn quickly and easily. IQ, social intelligence, attractiveness and even physical health were not as predictive of success as grit.

But, what is grit? The essence of grit can be subjective, but it essentially means being a hard-worker and never giving up. According to Duckworth in her TED talk, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina and living life like it’s a marathon not a sprint.”

Robin Koval, author of the book “Grit to Great” was asked for a tip on how to cultivate grit even as you get older. She suggests that you plan on living to 100 years old. Write down your goals for each five or ten-year milestone. See how much you want to accomplish for the next 25, 35, or even 45 years.

While this tip is nice in theory, in actuality, very little research has been done about how you can successfully build grit. This is a popular topic amongst parents hoping to instill grit in their children. The best idea seems to be the idea of a “growth mindset” as put forth by a psychologist named Dr. Carol Dweck. She put forth the idea of two mindsets — fixed and growth. In a fixed mindset, people believe basic qualities like intelligence or talent are fixed traits. In a growth mindset people believe that basic qualities like inborn intelligence or talent are just the starting point and can be developed further through dedication and hard work. The growth mindset viewpoint reflects an attitude toward learning, possibly failing and then persevering with resilience. If nothing else, these mindsets are a reminder not to rest on past laurels.

As a research scientist, you are probably well-versed on grit. A lot of research is about keeping on through monotony, drudgery and failed experiments. Have you ever wondered how gritty you are compared to others?

How much grit do you have? Take this test to find out!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 521 other followers