Two Part Series: Part 1 – Identifying Mentors: Why it Matters?

November 21, 2013

Picture of two people holding puzzle pieces. One reads "Mentor," and the other reads "You"You have probably heard the word “mentor” many times and how important a mentor can be for your career, but how can you identify suitable mentors for you? This is a question that many trainees ask themselves. Identifying a good mentor is not an easy task and it takes time and dedication.

So, where do you start? First of all, you need to understand what a mentor is and what mentoring means. A mentor is more than an advisor. S/he is someone who supports and guides you throughout your career imparting his or her knowledge and expertise. Most importantly, a mentor will encourage and motivate you to think and develop your own ideas and career goals.

Who can be a mentor? Actually, anyone! But choosing one might depend on your career stage and your career goals. If you are an undergraduate student interested in medicine, a mentor can be a physician currently practicing medicine. But if you are interested in academia, it can be a faculty member at your institution. If you are a graduate student, it might be a postdoctoral fellow or your principal investigator (PI). If you are a postdoc interested in science policy, you might want to ask someone with experience in the policy arena to be your mentor.

Mentoring is about building a relationship of support and trust with someone who is willing to share their experience, skills and guidance to help you develop both professionally and personally to achieve your goals. Finding good mentors is critical to your career development and your mentoring needs will change over time, so it is a continual process. So, here are some tips to help you in your search:

Find a mentor whose career or experiences are of interest to you.
In order to find a beneficial mentor, it is very important to ask yourself: Where do you want to be in several years? What are your career goals? What are your strengths and weaknesses? You’ll want to look for mentors whose experiences and career accomplishments align with your goals and whom you can learn from.

Choose mentors who provide guidance and constructive criticism.
A good mentor will provide guidance and supportive feedback. S/he will help you grow professionally and personally by working together to enhance your strengths and improve your weaknesses. A good mentor values learning and fosters critical thinking. Therefore, s/he will encourage you to come up with your own ideas and will challenge you to bring out your full potential.

Seek multiple mentors.
Don’t feel restricted to have only one mentor because you feel you will hurt your mentoring relationships by having multiple mentors. In fact, you should have several mentors because each individual can be a valuable resource depending on their unique experiences and how those experiences fit your needs and interests. For example, you might need a mentor to help you develop your teaching skills and another one to advise you on your research project. Of utmost importance, is finding a mentor who is committed and willing to take the time to share their expertise and skills with you. If unsure, start the dialogue early and ask if they are willing to be a mentor to you; however, keep in mind that mentors often develop organically over time.

Understand that mentoring is a two way street.
A common misconception is thinking that mentoring is one sided. Often, a successful mentoring relationship benefits both sides. It can be a rewarding learning experience for both the mentor and the mentee. You should feel confident that you are contributing to the relationship, as your success is also your mentor’s success. Moreover, as you move up in your career, you might become a valued colleague for your mentor and you can also pay it forward by mentoring others.

Remember, like in every relationship, finding a mentor takes time and dedication. Once you find it, you need to cultivate and foster that relationship, but how do you do that? Be sure to check the blog for the second part of this series in which we will discuss how to cultivate and maximize your mentoring relationship.

The 3 Most Important Factors of a Job Search: Networking, Networking and Networking

November 14, 2013

Image of stick people with dotted lines connecting each individual to anotherIn real estate parlance, it is said that the three most important factors in maximizing the value of your property are location, location and location.  Networking carries a similar importance, especially for those preparing for a career beyond NIH, or your current institution.  Many good jobs are filled by candidates who have been identified prior to that job being officially posted.  Therefore, the more broadly your net of contacts can be cast, the better your chances of receiving advanced information on positions which are of interest to you.

Developing and cultivating your network of contacts is critically important whether your career plans are in the academic setting or in industry.  For those of you at the NIH, who are planning a career in the academic setting, networking is more straight-forward in that the people with whom you are in contact every day are often key components of your network.  For those who desire to move into a career in industry, networking will involve going beyond your normal day-to-day routine.  In this case you will need to build a network of contacts that are working in industry and doing similar jobs to those of your interest.

There are some tools available that can help you establish and maintain contacts outside of your current work environment.  LinkedIn can be used to identify and communicate with people in industries and companies that you have targeted.  Your University’s Alumni Database as well as the NIH Alumni Database can be good resources for finding industry contacts as well.  In addition, contacting these alums can provide insight on the issues associated with the transition from academic labs to industry.  Once you have identified potential contacts, an informational interview is an excellent way to discover more about a company and develop a contact (hopefully an advocate) within the company when job openings occur.

Another way to bolster your network is through attending conferences.  Not only do you have a chance to meet industry scientists who are in the same field as your area of expertise, but you also can take the opportunity to meet the business people from the companies who are displaying at the conference.  Both the scientific and business people within the companies can help you navigate the HR policies and procedures when there are job openings.  In addition, attending trade association get-togethers can also be a good way to build your network.  These are the same conferences and meetings that you would normally attend; use them as an opportunity to meet the people from industry.

One final thought; start your networking today!  So many people say that they want to get their next job now, so it is time to start networking.  Networking should begin the day you start in your present position.  Your network of contacts can take years to build and cultivate.  It is often the case that a contact you meet for one particular purpose can play a role in your career months, or even years later.

CV vs. Resume: What’s the Difference?

November 7, 2013

Word cloud of words like "Curriculum vitae," "Resume," "Job," "Letters," "Searching"Resumes and CVs are both extremely important documents to a job seeker. They are some of the most important job hunting tools you possess.  However, it can be confusing to know when and how to use each document.  This confusion is often compounded by the fact that there is not a standard resume or CV template – your documents will (and should) look different than your lab mates.  While there aren’t formal rules to follow, there are certain expectations for each document, which are noted in the table below:





Ongoing academic & work history

Targeted marketing tool


Virtually unlimited

1-3 pages depending on use


Use if seeking:
* Academic, research, or postdoc positions

* Applying for grants/fellowships

Used for every other type of job search away from the bench — outside academia and/or research science


Wide variety of sections, including (to name a few):
* Awards
* Grants
* Conferences attended

* Poster presentations
* Publications

Succinct and relevant to the position.  You usually only have space for a few key sections.
Two that are a given are:


Style is not as important as content

Style and content are both highly important – resumes must be formatted well and easy to read. Maximize all the white space on your resume’s page.


* Personal pronouns
* Objective statement
* References
* The label “Curriculum Vitae”
* Lots of bullet points with long narratives
* Lists of skills/techniques

* Personal pronouns

* Experience not relevant to the position

* Presentations & abstracts
* Publications

To hear more details about these differences, we encourage you to watch OITE’s video workshop, CVs and Resumes: Essential Job Search Documents.

CVs are the norm in a scientific research environment, so most scientists are familiar with the basics for creating a CV.  Therefore, creating a resume can be a bit more challenging. A lot of scientists’ resumes end up looking a lot like a CV.  When placed in an applicant pool with resumes, this CV will stand out as odd and out of touch.  It is important to understand the key differences between these documents and to take the time to convert your CV to a resume when the position calls for it.

Your lab and your publications often speak for themselves on a CV. This is not true for a resume.  Don’t assume that your lab and/or job title is enough to convince the reader that you are qualified for the position. On a resume, you should be using strong, active verbs and numbers to highlight your accomplishments in a quantitative way.  As an example, don’t just say you taught a lab section; employers want to know specifics like the fact that you “Designed lesson plans and taught introductory biology to 54 undergraduate students.”

For both documents, it is important to be genuine, but this is not the space to be modest. These documents are often the only introduction you get to present to a potential employer, so take the time to review them often.  It also helps to seek input from friends, colleagues, and OITE.