Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: How to Leave Your Job with Grace

August 26, 2010

breakup heartAt some point, you will move on from your current position. Whether your departure is precipitated by a job offer or is made for other reasons, it is important that you leave your current position in the most professional, courteous way possible. Below are some tips for resigning with grace, culled from an article in the Job Employment Guide.

  1. Think carefully about your decision. Before resigning, you need to be sure that you are making the most appropriate move for you, your career, your family, your financial situation, etc.
  2. Try not to feel guilty about your decision. Resignations happen every day, all the time, across every occupation. In the end, you need to do what is best for you.
  3. Be sure to give appropriate notice. Two weeks is the minimum notice that most professionals give, but you may want to think through projects you’d like to complete, students you intend to train, and give as much time as you can within reason, taking both your personal timeline and your PI’s situation/workload into account.
  4. Be ready to leave. Before you submit a resignation letter and/or have a conversation with your PI, wrap up projects, anticipate questions about how your exit will impact the lab, etc.
  5. Draft your letter. Your resignation letter should be short, to the point, and positive. Include your planned last date of employment, but be ready to negotiate this if your PI asks you to stay longer. You need not be specific about your reason for leaving, but can simply state that you are moving on for a new opportunity. Finally, highlight what skills and experiences you have gained during your time in the lab, and thank the PI for the opportunity to work with him/her.
  6. Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally before resigning. Have your letter ready, but more importantly, keep your cool during your resignation discussion. Your PI may be surprised, disappointed, or even angry about your news. Try not to take his/her reaction personally, and stay composed throughout the meeting.
  7. Work hard through your last day in the lab. Finish all that you promised to finish before your departure.
  8. Keep in touch. Once you are settled in your new situation, whether that be at home with your children, in a new lab, or traveling to another country, send along an email and phone or address to keep in touch.

Don’t burn your bridges! End your time with your PI on a positive note. You never know when your paths may cross again, as the scientific community is smaller than you think. Bon voyage!


Coffee, Tea, and Résumé Building

August 24, 2010

coffeeI’m sitting in a café enjoying a hot cup of Tanzanian Peaberry (coffee snobs, unite!) The coffee is keeping me warm on this 60-degree August day. It is downright chilly out there.

Speaking of cafés…have you embraced the Science Café phenomenon yet? These face-to-face chats are typically held at an informal location (café, restaurant, pub, etc.), include a brief presentation by a scientist sharing current research, and are followed by an interactive discussion. Science cafés are open to the public and can be found all over the world. There may be a café right in your own backyard:

“Alcohol and the Adolescent Brain: Dude, where’s my car?”

“Uncovering the Unseen: Science Café with Dan Goods”

“Urbanization and Flyways of Songbirds”

Consider attending, speaking at – or even starting – your own science café. If you attend an upcoming café, use it an opportunity to network with people across a wide variety of backgrounds, experiential levels, and occupations. If you contact local organizers to serve as a speaker or choose to create your own café, you can lecture briefly on a topic of your choice, translating your work for a lay audience. This opportunity represents a powerful résumé/CV builder if you seek to move into science education of any kind.

For more information on science cafés, visit the Science Café website produced by NOVA ScienceNOW, in association with the Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society. Cheers!


Back to Basics: Crafting a Winning Cover Letter

August 19, 2010

Vintage typewriter 2“To Whom It May Concern”…no, that’s not right….”Dear Sir/Madam”….ugh, that’s so outdated….”Dear I-Don’t-Know-Your-Name-and-I’d-Rather-Be-Playing-Scramble-Right-Now…”

Where to start? Many of us still struggle when it comes to crafting a cover letter for a job of interest. I thought it might be valuable to review some of the basics, as job hunting may be new to some of us, while others of us may know that we need to strengthen our letters, based on a lack of positive feedback. Let’s begin:

Q: How should I address my letter if I don’t have a name?

A: Stay away from “Sirs” and “Madams,” and try a title instead. Use something like “Dear Director of Personnel,” “Dear Search Committee Chair,” etc.

Q: How long should my letter be?

A: 1-2 pages should suffice.

Q: What should I include?

A: Rather than repeating information that can easily be found on your résumé/CV, use the space available in a letter to outline how well you fit the position. Here are some basics:

1st paragraph: Mention the position title and where you found the posting. And be sure to express enthusiasm. This paragraph tends to be fairly short.

2nd-4th paragraphs: Highlight ways in which your education/experience/background make you a great match for the position. Use specifics, quantify results if you can, mention milestones, achievements, etc. Just be sure to connect your skills and experiences to the job at hand.

5th/Closing paragraph: Finish with the best way to reach you, reiterate your interest in and fit for the position, and indicate that you will follow up.

Q: When should I hear back? Is it ok to contact the employer to find out where my application stands?

A: If you have not heard any response within two weeks after you submit your materials, get back in touch with the employer. And rather than asking about your candidacy, ask the following two questions:

1) Have you received my materials?

2) What is your timeline for this search?

Both are appropriate questions to ask and will give you a sense of where things stand.

If you would like to have your cover letter reviewed before sending it out, consider making an appointment with an OITE career counselor, or email it to msinche@gmail.com for feedback. Good luck!


Oil Spills and Recovery Efforts: Overcoming Failure on the Job

August 17, 2010

oil rigIn a recent article, oil giant BP described the April 20 oil rig explosion and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as a “learning experience.” Richard Morrison, BP’s vice president of Gulf of Mexico operations, and Richard Lynch, BP’s vice president of drillings and completion, said “spill response has led to technical breakthroughs in how to monitor and clean up oil, and created a storehouse of equipment and knowledge.” Still, new studies out today suggest that recovery from the spill is still far from reach.

What about when we fail at work? How can we recover from our mistakes? Or more to the point, how can we turn our failures at work into learning experiences? If you feel you have made a significant error on the job, consider the following strategies from an article devoted to the recovery process:

  1. First, address the problem. Schedule a meeting with your boss and talk through the situation. Take responsibility for any fault and commit to learning from your mistake.
  2. Walk back through the series of events that led to the error. Ask yourself what could have been done differently and consider at what point things went wrong. Outline these details and implement a process to keep it from happening again.
  3. Submit your ideas in a memo or email to your boss. Depending on the circumstances, ask that this memo be placed in your employee file to illustrate your commitment to growing from this situation.
  4. Accept the consequences. Depending on the severity of your mistake, there could be serious repercussions. Realize that your situation serves to teach you.

After addressing the problem using the steps above, consider how you might be able to grow professionally from this experience:

  1. Ask your boss if you can attend a seminar, training or other professional development event designed to enhance your skills in an area related to the mistake.
  2. Offer to pay for this event out of pocket. After attending the event, present your findings to your lab or department.
  3. Follow up with your boss. After a period of time, schedule a meeting with your boss to review your performance. Ask for feedback and prove that you want to grow from this experience.

Finally, once the problem has been resolved, move on. Put your head down and focus on your work to avoid future mistakes. Demonstrating competency and proving your worth may be the most productive way to recover.


This Week’s Episode of CHOPPED: A CV for the Chopping Block

August 12, 2010

onionsDid you see this week’s episode of “CHOPPED?” It contained one of the most ridiculous combinations of foods I’ve seen yet. The chefs had to incorporate the following into an appetizer: kabocha squash, sardines, banana chips, and rice paper. WHAT? Tough basket for this week’s chefs, for sure.

On to our version of CHOPPED…

So, what is a CV, anyway? That is a question I often hear from trainees. A more common question is: “What (on earth) is the difference between a CV and a résumé?”

A curriculum vitae (CV) is a document that outlines your entire academic history. It is used most often to apply for faculty positions at colleges and universities, for research-intensive positions at national labs or research institutes, and for fellowships, grants, or awards.

A résumé is a document that highlights your education, experiences, and skills as they relate to a particular position. It is essentially used for every position other than a faculty opening, for which a curriculum vitae (CV) is used. Some employers seeking the content of a résumé may instead request a CV, leaving the job seeker at a total loss. If you’d like more help in sorting out which document to prepare, visit the new and improved OITE website and take a look at the handouts on both CV and resume writing.

Now…on to this week’s victim, with names changed to protect the innocent, and my comments in red. This is less of a chop, though, and more of a sauté, as this CV is in such good shape. Consider this a sample that you might use as a model when constructing/editing your own document.

____________________________________

Hira Mee Tudeigh, Ph.D.

7890 Lois Lane            anytrainee@mail.nih.gov (work)

Baltimore, MD 21224             iheartscience@emailhost.com (home)

(abc) def-ghij

Education and Training

  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

National Institutes of Health (NIH), 2005-present

Post-Doctoral Fellow, Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA)

–  Post-doctoral research topic:  Differential pharmacology of independent synaptic inputs to the ventral tegmental area (VTA).

Mentor:  Ino Alotta Stuff, Ph.D.

I have seen postdoctoral appointments listed under “Education and Training” or “Research Experience” categories. Either is fine.

  • University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS)

Center for Translational Neuroscience, 2002-2005

Ph.D. in Neurobiology and Developmental Sciences

–  Doctoral dissertation title:  Development of REM sleep: Cholinergic and intrinsic mechanisms.

Mentor:  Read Abookaday, Ph.D.

When working on an academic CV, it is often helpful to list your mentor(s).

  • University of Central Arkansas (UCA), 1997-2001

B.S. in Psychology with a minor in Chemistry

–  Neurobiology research topic:  Role of pedal 3 neurons in turning while crawling in the marine slug Tritonia diomedea.

Mentor:  Interest Ingresearch, Ph.D.

–  Psychology research topic:  Immediate effects of a terroristic event on birth rates.

Mentor:  Patenting Althetime, Ph.D.

Teaching

  • Instructed Chemistry and Experimental Neurobiology Labs to over 350 students, 1999-2001
  • Tutored Chemistry I, Chemistry II and Physiological Chemistry, 2000-2001

Mentoring

  • NIDA summer student.  Physician-Scientist Training Program, 2010

–  Senior high school student in Honolulu, HI

  • UAMS summer student, 2004-2005

–  Chemistry Ph.D. student at Stanford University, Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship recipient

  • UAMS post-baccalaureate, 2003-2005

Science writer

Note how early in the CV the “Teaching” and “Mentoring” categories fall. Order is very important in CV writing, as it demonstrates interest and experience appropriate to the job at hand. For example, if this trainee were applying for teaching-intensive faculty positions, this order would be spot-on. If she/he were interested in research-intensive faculty jobs, listing research experience and publications earlier would be more useful.

Awards and Honors

  • NIH Fellows Award for Research Excellence (FARE), 2008
  • Eli Lilly Graduate Student Travel Award to the Society for Neuroscience meeting, 2004
  • Walter Morris Neuroscience Award for Best Graduate Student Presentation, 2004
  • Sleep Research Society’s Trainee Merit Based Travel Award, 2004
  • UAMS Graduate School Travel Fund Award, 2003
  • 1st place Undergraduate Research Award from the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience for exceptional independent neurobiology research (additional monetary award from UCLA), 2001
  • Certificate for Meritorious Service to the Community from the American Chemistry Society, 2001
  • 3rd place Undergraduate Student Oral Presentation from the Arkansas Academy of Science, 2001

Professional Service

  • Co-founded the NIH Patent Law and Technology Transfer Scientific Interest Group, 2008
  • Chief Physiology Judge for the NIH Fellowship Award for Research Excellence, 2008-2010
  • NIH Fellows Committee (FelCom) Membership Secretary, NIDA Basic Science Representative, Job Fair Subcommittee, 2007-2010
  • Sleep Research Society Trainee Day Subcommittee Member, 2004-2005
  • President of the Student Affiliates, American Chemistry Society, 2000-2001
  • Treasurer of the Student Affiliates, American Chemistry Society, 1999-2000

Professional Societies

  • Society for Neuroscience, 2006-present
  • Student Member Sleep Research Society, 2003-2005
  • Student Member Society for Neuroscience, 2002-2005

Community Involvement

  • Organized and instructed Chemistry lectures and labs for the High School Science Workshop held at the University of Central Arkansas, 2000-2001
  • Held Chemistry demonstrations for 1st to 4th grade students at rural schools located in the central Arkansas region, 2000-2001
  • Judged the Central Arkansas Regional Science Fair and high school science fairs, 2000-2001
  • Volunteer in the Little Rock Baptist Hospital Emergency Room, 1998-1999

Both “Professional Service” and “Community Involvement” are important to list for teaching-intensive positions, as they demonstrate a commitment to issues other than one’s work; i.e. a commitment to serve the community, whether that be the campus community, the scientific community, etc.

Invited Presentations

1)      Are Pre- and Postsynaptic G-Protein Coupled Receptors Regulated Differently? Winter Conference on Brain Research, 2011.

2)      Taking it all in: Functional properties of distinct inputs to VTA dopamine neurons. Winter Conference on Brain Research, 2010.

3)      Impaired electrophysiological function in the substantia nigra precedes parkinsonian deficits in the MitoPark mouse.  Gordon Research Seminar: 2009.

Publications

Book Chapters

1)    Some Other People and Me. Chapter Title, In: Book Title, Really Smart Person (Ed.), Publisher, City, State, Zip. Chapter 9.

Research Articles in Progress (* indicates shared first authorship)

1)    Me*, Some Other Person*, Another Person, and Many Others. Article title.

2)    Some Other Person, Me, and a Few Others, Article title.

3)    Me, and Two Others. Article title.

4)    Me and Another Person. Article title. Research in Progress.

I appreciate the fact that the writer separated works in progress from published work here.

Research Articles Published (* indicates shared first authorship)

5)    Another Person*, Me*, Lots of Other People. (2010). Article title. Journal Title, In press.

6)    Me and One Other Person (2010). Article title. Journal Title. 30(23): 7900 –7909.

7)    Another Person, Me, and One Other. (2010). Article title. Journal Title. 59(1-2): 121-7.

8)    Me and One Person (2009). Article title. Journal Title. 587(6): 1233-47.

9)    Me (2007). Article title. Journal Title. 27(1): 1-3.

10) Me, and Several Others. (2007). Article title. Journal Title. 1129(1): 147-55.

11) A Few Others, Me, and a Few More. (2006). Article title. Journal Title. 141(2): 769-79.

12) Me, and Many People. (2006). Article title. Journal Title. 28(2): 210-19.

13) Several People, Me, and One Other Person. (2005). Article title. Journal Title. 3(2): 89-113.

14) One Person, Me, and Several Others. (2004). Article title. Journal Title. 91(4): 1470-1481.

15) One Person, Me, and a Few Others. (2004). Article title. Journal Title. 96(2): 735-746.

16) A Couple People and Me. (2003). Article title. Journal Title. 2(2): 115-131.

17) A Few People, Me, and a Few More. (2003). Article title. Journal Title. 140(1): 57-66.

Abstracts and Presentations

1)    This Person, Me, Those People. (2010). Title. Society for Neurosci. Abst.

2)    Me and That Person. (2009). Title. Gordon Research Conference.

3)    Me and That Person. (2008). Title. Society for Neurosci. Abst.

4)    Me, Some Other Person, and This Person (2007). Title. Society for Neurosci. Abst.

5)    Some Other Person, That Person, Me, and This Person. (2007). Title. Society for Neurosci. Abst.

6)    Me and Some Person. (2006). Title. Society for Neurosci. Abst.

7)    Some People, Me, and Another Person. (2006). Title. Sleep 28.

8)    Some Person, Me, and Some More People. (2006). Title. Sleep 28.

…And this list continued through 19 items, so this trainee has kept him/herself busy for some time.

_____________________________________

Send along your CV, résumé, or letter to msinche@gmail.com if you’re willing to brave the chopping block. As with today’s example, I may be quite easy on you: certainly easier than coming up with an appetizer of banana chips and sardines. 🙂


Hidden Gifts

August 10, 2010

presentI met recently with a friend who described her son’s gifts in detail: he can pick up just about any instrument and play it right off the bat; he can take apart a computer, order any needed parts online, and fix it himself; he can read a poem and analyze it, without any formal training as a literature scholar. However, when it comes to identifying jobs that might be a good fit for him, he continues to come up empty.

Being gifted in many areas and having myriad interests does not always translate into an in-depth understanding of the world of work, occupations, and job-person “fit.” And while there are some strength, interest, and values assessment sites on the web, your best bet is still to begin close to home with a visit to OITE.

1. Schedule a meeting with a counselor.

OITE employs career counselors who visit the Bethesda, Baltimore, Frederick, and Durham, NC campuses regularly. These counselors assist trainees by talking through values, strengths, and interests as they relate to jobs. Each counselor is also trained in administering and interpreting the two career-related assessments listed below.

2. Take career-related assessments through OITE.

OITE offers two career-related assessments. The first is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®, or MBTI®. The MBTI® assessment is the best known and most widely used personality tool available today. Developed more than 50 years ago, the MBTI assists users in understanding individual differences and uncovering new ways to work and interact with others. It can be helpful in exploring different occupations when interpreted by a trained career counselor, and when reviewed in concert with other measures.

If you are interested in taking the MBTI, attend an upcoming MBTI program offered by OITE. Check the events calendar for this workshop, coming September 29, 2010, to the Bethesda campus.

The Strong Interest Inventory® provides research-validated insights to help you in your search for a rich, fulfilling career. The Strong empowers users to discover their true interests so they can better identify, understand, and often expand their career options.

If you are interested in taking the Strong Interest Inventory, please contact OITE to set up an individual appointment with a career counselor.

By exploring your hidden gifts using the steps outlined above, you will be better able to connect them to occupations you may find rewarding. Happy hunting!


Explore Your Interests through “SIGS”

August 5, 2010

What are you interested in? Are you a knitter? A rock climber? A serial book club attendee? WhateveLady Rock Climberr your interests, chances are you have endeavored to carve out time to enjoy them, or found a group of people who share them.

Similarly, we all have career interests–whether we are ready to pursue said careers or not. I, for one, have a children’s book manuscript hidden in my desk drawer that is not yet ready for prime time. I would, however, be interested in meeting a group of people curious about the same field.

Fortunately, as a trainee at the NIH, you can find groups of like-minded people right in your own backyard. The NIH sponsors Inter-Institute Scientific Interest Groups, called SIGS. According to the SIGS website, “the interest groups sponsor symposia, poster sessions and lectures; offer mentoring and career guidance for junior scientists; help researchers share the latest techniques and information; act as informal advisors to the Deputy Director of Intramural Research (DDIR); provide advice for the annual NIH Research Festival; and serve as hosts for the Wednesday Afternoon Lecture Series.”

I encourage you to peruse the list of SIGS and find a group of people interested in the same topic(s) that interest(s) you. As you look at the list, you’ll find that there are a few groups focused more on specific career fields than on scientific research-related content. Check out the Patent Law and Technology Transfer Interest Group, for example. This group seeks “to provide an educational and networking opportunity for NIH scientists interested in patent law and technology transfer.” They have even developed a Patent Bar Study Group for those interested in passing the patent bar.

Whether the SIGS you are considering focus on a particular area of research or on a particular career, I encourage you to join, or explore starting a new SIG if you don’t see your interest area listed. Some SIGS include scientists from outside the NIH, and all of the SIGS include scientists from different institutes. This outlet represents a potential gold mine for networking! Get to know other scientists interested in the same area of research, attend lectures to learn more about a particular topic, initiate conversations that may spark collaborations. All of these activities will enhance your work as a scientist–and could strengthen your candidacy on the job market.