Building Confidence for a Successful Career in 2014

February 25, 2014

Almost everyone faces challenges with confidence in the workplace at some point in their life.  Challenges with confidence can be more noticeable if we live or work in a culture that is different from the one in which we were raised.  Our family, cultural background and personal preferences may also affect our comfort with expressing ourselves in a confident way.  However, one can stay true to their values and still learn to express themselves confidently.  Two key steps to increasing your confidence include:

1.       Identify areas where you feel both confident and unsure.

In an article in Science Careers, Sharon Ann Holgate offers many useful suggestions about developing confidence.  She notes, “For those with low self-confidence, establishing appropriate metrics and measuring your progress against them can be difficult, so make sure to involve people you trust to offer honest feedback and support …Conversely, seeking out constructive criticism is important whenever you are feeling supremely confident about your job performance.”

The take away message from her article is that confidence needs to be grounded in reality. Seeking support and feedback are essential because we can both underestimate and overestimate our abilities.

2.       Practice confidence-building activities.

There is some interesting research from Harvard which indicates that your body language not only affects how others see you, but also how you feel about yourself. A power pose is to stand in a posture of confidence – standing tall and upright with shoulders squared and back. The simple act of power posing can have a positive effect on increasing confidence and reducing stress.  Social psychologist, Amy Cuddy, shares how this works in her TED talk.

Confidence is often built over time with repeated practice, so seek opportunities to continue to develop your skills.  Start small in an environment that feels safe to you and push yourself to work from there. The OITE has many workshops that could be a great starting point in developing your confidence.  For example, do you feel uncomfortable asserting yourself in lab? Then, make a note to attend the workshop Speaking Up: How to Ask For What You Need in the Lab and in Life.  Are you feeling less than confident about your English speaking skills? Then, be sure to come to the two day class on Improving Spoken English.

Whatever the issue may be — self-doubt happens for many.  When it comes up for you, make sure you take time to recognize it and then take steps to make it more manageable for yourself.

Advertisements

Positivity in a Job Search

February 18, 2014

Image of a chalk board with different colored post-it notes spelling out "Positivity"Looking for a job can be an incredibly frustrating task. Today, individuals often find themselves anxiously searching for positions that will be a good fit within a very competitive market.  Inevitably, rejection is an unavoidable aspect of a job search. Negativity can also be compounded by self-doubt. Maybe you worry that you don’t have enough to offer a new employer or maybe you worry that you will be unsuccessful in finding work that is meaningful to you personally.

Negativity can be internalized and then it can seep out during the worst times, like during a big interview. Employers are keen at sniffing out desperation, bad attitudes, and poor self-esteem.  Interview questions are intentionally designed to gauge many of these dimensions.  So, how can you turn around a job search that has gone awry?

If you have been feeling negative about your job search (or anything really), explore one of the better-known books in positive psychology research. One book in particular that is available for check-out from the OITE Library in Building 2 is Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, by Martin E. P. Seligman, 2006. This book includes self-tests and exercises to assist you with assessing (and hopefully increasing) your happiness at work and in life.

This book goes into detail about how you can begin to train yourself to think more positively. If you are feeling stressed by the thought of adding another book to your reading list, here are some key points for you to utilize in the meantime:

1. Your language matters. Negative self-talk has a direct impact on subsequent thoughts and behaviors. When you find yourself saying things like, “I would love that job, but I am not qualified,” try to force yourself to reframe it in a more positive light, such as: “I would love that job, and I will find a way to gain the necessary skills.” Simple semantics like replacing the “but” with “and” helps put the locus of control back to you.

2.  Re-live past wins. One negative thought can lead you down a spiral of negativity. The same is true for positivity.  Make a list of all your accomplishments, both big and small, so when you start feeling negatively, you can have a visual reminder of all the things you have done well.

3. Reward yourself.  Take your job search seriously and set daily or weekly goals to track your progress.  When you’ve reached a goal, reward yourself. Celebrating small successes along the way can help positively reinforce that behavior and hopefully keep you motivated.

4.  Take responsibility. Others cannot control your happiness. While things can be really tough, only you can make the choice to focus on the positive by using the tips above.


The Need for More Inquisitiveness in Science

February 10, 2014

Post written by guest blogger Dr. Howard Young, Principal Investigator at the National Cancer Institute.

Recently, I attended a seminar with talks given by two younger scientists.  The audience consisted mostly of fellows, postbacs and some students.  The subjects of the two talks were different and there was sufficient time for questions and a discussion.   To my surprise and disappointment, other than my questions, only one other question was asked and it did not come from a trainee.   I left the seminar wondering why younger scientists are not more inquisitive with respect to science outside of their personal domain.

A few of my colleagues have suggested some possible explanations for the lack of questions. Maybe cultural differences are to blame, since  in some cultures it is not considered appropriate to question more senior individuals.  Others suggested that the presence of senior scientists at a seminar is intimidating and younger fellows would not want to take the chance of embarrassing themselves in front of these individuals.  Another possible explanation could be that the seminar was so far out of their field that they were completely lost from the start.   Even if any of these were true, we still need younger scientists to learn to be more active in the discussion of science.

So, how can we encourage inquisitive questions?

  • Mentors should make an effort to stress that curiosity is encouraged and active participation in seminars and meetings through questions and input is expected.
  • Talk about how being inquisitive in science is necessary, regardless of your culture and you standing on the “totem pole.”
  • Stress that an open and inquisitive mind is needed for whatever career path a scientist chooses.
  • Model good questioning, and perhaps provide a “seed question” that will get the thought processes rolling.

To help frame your own questions, think about three things:
1) How can the speaker help me with my research?
2) How can I help the speaker with their research?
3) Why am I at this talk?

In truth, there are no easy or foolproof answers to this issue.   Please let us know your suggestions and thoughts about how you learned to ask questions and be inquisitive.


Taking Ownership of Your Career: Developing an Individual Development Plan (IDP)

February 6, 2014

Silhouetee of a person looking at arrows pointing in different directionsHave you drafted a career plan? Do you know if you have the required skills for your dream job? Figuring out the next step in your career and how to prepare for it can be stressful. But developing a plan, early on in your career, will help guide you through this process of identifying and achieving your career goals.

This year, the OITE will be dedicating its blog to help you develop a Career Success Plan, focusing on a variety of core competencies that are critical for your career development, the first being career exploration and planning. This is where creating an individual development plan (IDP) comes into play. But, what is an IDP? And why it is so important?

An IDP is a personalized document developed to help you define your career goals and implement strategies to help you accomplish those goals. There are many ways to develop your IDP. In fact, some universities, organizations, and/or institutes may have their own IDP documents in place. No matter what stage your career is in (postbac, grad student, postdoc) or what career path you are pursuing, an IDP can help you focus on short and long term goals with an action plan to follow. Remember, that as your career progresses, your plans might change, so you can always come back and review your goals adjusting them to your current situation.

Developing an IDP requires time and effort. So it is important that you not only think thoroughly about your career by doing an honest self-assessment but also, by being committed to applying the strategies established in your plan to reach your goals. To help you build your IDP, we discuss briefly the some important elements of the IDP.

Conduct a Self-Assessment

Self-assessment helps you identify skills, interests and values that are key to finding a career that fits you. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your skills (such as communication and leadership), interests (such as mentoring and designing experiments) and values (such as fast-paced environment and flexibility) will all help you evaluate your needs and priorities in your career.

Explore Different Careers

Once you understand your needs and priorities, how do they relate to possible career paths? With so many career options, you want to make sure that the career path you choose matches your skillset and interests. You might also find a career path that you didn’t think about before but fits your needs. When exploring career options, networking and informational interviewing play a critical role to understand those careers that you are unfamiliar with and learn insights of the job.

Set Goals

Now that you have explored different careers, what is your plan to get there? This is where you should develop your short and long term goals that are SMART. By doing so, you will hopefully establish a timeline to stick to your goal.

Implement Plan

Finally and most importantly, is to put your IDP in ACTION! Remember, you are in control of your own career. If you don’t take it seriously, no one else will.

Even though you can complete an IDP by yourself, you should choose a mentoring team that can guide and advise you through this process. Mentors play a critical part of the career planning process not only because of their personal and professional experiences but also because they can: provide feedback about your skills; help you reflect on your interests and values; and keep you motivated and focused.

* Science Careers has a web-based career-planning tool called myIDP that can help graduate students and postdocs develop their IDP. SACNAS-IDP also provides advice on how to build a IDP for undergraduate students

** Disclaimer: This blog is informational and does not constitute an endorsement to Science nor SACNAS Website by NIH OITE