Ways to Mitigate Your Bias

March 28, 2016

A bias is defiImage of multi-colored cogs making up a brainned by Merriam-Webster as “a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasonable.”  This definition focuses on conscious bias or explicit bias.  Likewise, unconscious or implicit bias refers to negative and positive stereotypes that exist in our subconscious and affect our decisions, behaviors, and interactions with others.  Unlike conscious bias, unconscious bias is often triggered automatically and unknowingly since our minds are processing so much information, oftentimes without conscious awareness.  Now, there is growing research focusing on unconscious bias because it is far more prevalent and subtle than conscious bias. It is also often incompatible with what one recognizes as their conscious values.

Just last month, Howard Ross, came to the NIH to speak about unconscious bias.  Ross is a business consultant and the Founder/CLO of Cook Ross, Inc. His work has been featured on NPR and in the New York Times.  In case you missed his talk, you can view the full archived videocast here.

In his presentation, he delineated six key takeaways on how to mitigate your bias, including:

1. Recognize and accept that you have bias.

2. Develop the capacity to shine a flashlight on yourself.

3. Practice “constructive uncertainty”.
This is coined term from Ross. Since our biases are often fast and almost reflexive, Ross suggests pausing to pay attention to what is happening beneath these judgments and assessments. Taking a moment to acknowledge that your interpretation is yours alone and might not be entirely accurate is an act in practicing constructive uncertainty.

4. Explore awkwardness and discomfort.

5. Engage with those you consider others and expose yourself to positive role models in that group.

6. Get feedback.

If you want to learn more about each point, please take some time to watch the videocast. It is well worth it to hear Ross go into detail about each of his tips.

One thing he addressed in his talk though is how there is a necessary movement away from the previously held ideology of colorblindness.  A great article in the Atlantic speaks to this point:

“How many times have you heard someone say that they “don’t see color,” “are colorblind,” or “don’t have a racist bone in their body?” Maybe you’ve even said this yourself. 

Many sociologists, though, are extremely critical of colorblindness as an ideology. They argue that as the mechanisms that reproduce racial inequality have become more covert and obscure than they were during the era of open, legal segregation, the language of explicit racism has given way to a discourse of colorblindness. But they fear that the refusal to take public note of race actually allows people to ignore manifestations of persistent discrimination.”

How can you go about addressing and recognizing your bias?

It can be tough to take some time to be introspective; however, there are some activities that can help facilitate this process.  The first activity is through Project Implicit and it aims to measure attitudes and beliefs that people might be unwilling or unable to report.  The Implicit Association Test (IAT) can be especially illuminating for folks since it might show an implicit attitude that you did not otherwise recognize. There are many IAT tests that you can take here.  Some tests that might be of specific interest include: gender-science IAT, gender-career IAT, race IAT, religion IAT, sexuality IAT, and many more.

A second activity is a videogame called “Fair Play” designed to address implicit race bias through active perspective taking. Faculty, scientists, postdocs and graduate students are encouraged to use this game as a way to explore how unconscious bias affects STEM students’ success.  This interactive game helps you learn to identify common bias concepts such as: color-blind racial attitudes, competency proving, failure to differentiate, status leveling and tokenism.  If you are interested in learning more about this game, please go to: http://fairplaygame.org/

 

If you are at the NIH, the OITE regularly offers workshops on diversity. Check the calendar of events regularly for updates; however, one coming up in May that might be of interest to you is Workplace Dynamics V: Diversity in a Multicultural Society.

Advertisements

3 Decision-Making Tips

March 21, 2016

Image of a person on a road that diverges in two different directions.We often talk about decision-making within this blog because so many decision points come up within a career.  We have discussed how people can drift into decisions and how one can use a prioritizing grid in order to help make a decision.  Making a decision is a highly personal experience, but if you are facing your next leap into the unknown, it can often help to do the following:

  1. Try it on for a while.
    Imagine yourself in both scenarios. Really try to adopt your decision, even if just for a day or for a whole week. How do you feel? Anxious? Well, try to remember that all change triggers anxiety. Even positive, exciting life changes are stressful.  So, if you feel anxious, try to tune in to that emotion. Is it an expansive almost energetic anxiety or is it one that feels constrictive to you?Still unsure? Flip a coin! Seriously, it has helped many people make a decision and not because they simply went with the outcome associated with heads or tails, but because in that instant as the coin was falling to the ground, they had a flash of a feeling. A gut feeling which helped them realize what result they were hoping for and thus helped them to make a decision.
  1. Become a thinking decider versus a feeling decider.
    Decision making is inextricably linked to emotions. Researchers discovered this when they found that patients who suffered damage to their orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain involved in processing emotions, also often lost their decision-making abilities. It will be almost impossible to make a decision without even subconsciously factoring in your own emotions and feelings. Remember though that emotions ebb and flow. You can feel fantastic about work in the morning and leave at night thinking I have to find a new job.  Remember the often fleeting nature of feelings when you are making a decision.  You will feel much more confident in your decision if you look beyond your emotions to the actual facts.  Thinking deciders often sit down and makes pros and cons lists. Try this out as an activity, but make sure you only list facts.
  2. Remember this doesn’t have to be your last decision.
    There is a bit of a gamble in every decision. You can weigh your options carefully; however, there will always be an element of risk when you choose one thing over another.  And, sometimes the only way to know is to actually take the risk and decide once and for all. Many people relentlessly worry though. What if I make the wrong decision?  Be kind to yourself as you go through this process.  If it’s the right decision, fantastic! If it turned out to be the wrong decision, then remember this. You can always make a new decision later on and change the once decided trajectory. Sometimes remembering that every decision doesn’t have to be final can help alleviate the burden of making that initial choice.

Career choice and decision-making will be an ongoing process throughout your life, so try to find peace in the ambiguity and continually work to find an approach that works best for you.


FROM THE ARCHIVE – Get More Done: Take A Break

March 11, 2016

Image of four blue folder with one red folder slightly ajar from bookcaseFind yourself swamped with work but unable to focus?  Ever wonder how to quit procrastinating?  At OITE, we often get asked about strategies and tips on how to improve one’s time management and productivity. This From the Archive post offers unlikely advice on how to handle these work challenges.


The title seems a little contradictory.  How is it that you can get more work done, but spend less time working?  According to a New York Times article about a study from the University of Toronto Scarborough, it is because small breaks make you more efficient.  The study authors suggests that the brain “becomes fatigued after sustained use and needs a rest period before it can recover, he explains — much as a weight lifter needs rest before doing a second round of repetitions at the gym.”

So here are a few of the tips from the article:

  • Symptoms of needing to take a break are drifting or day dreaming.
  • If you are in “the zone,” keep working.  It isn’t working hard that drains your brain, it’s when you are forcing yourself to go on when you really need a break.
  • Taking too many breaks leads to procrastination.  So, be smart about it.  Everything in moderation

Here are a few ideas for break:

  • Go for a walk – Even just doing laps on your floor gets you moving and gives you a break from your work.  If you are at the NIH and don’t want to melt in this heat wave, consider walking the track in the basement of building 10.
  • Go get a coffee (or something else) with a co-worker – After all, you have to walk to where the coffee is and having someone with you makes it less likely you will just sit and start thinking about work.  According scientists who have spent time in England, many labs there still take a break in the afternoon for tea (or other beverage) for about 30 minutes.  In fact, there is often a break in the morning as well for around the same amount of time.
  • Stand at your computer while you read the OITE Careers Blog – The article mentions that standing while doing your work can help relieve some of the brain drain.
  • Take a nap – We are aware this is not a culturally acceptable practice here in the USA, even if it is supported by science.  However, in other cultures a break in the afternoon to rest is quite common.  The Spanish Siesta is famous, and so I asked a visiting fellow and friend from Spain about how the “Siesta” works in the research community.  She pointed out the siesta is as much about food as it is about sleep.  The main goal is to sit down together around the table and have a meal as a family or group of friends.  If you can grab a siesta in that time, that’s even better.

Working hard is a hallmark of the research profession.  Most scientists I know take a lot of pride in putting in long hours.  We are certainly not suggesting that any of us not work hard.  However, research suggests that taking breaks can help us work smarter as we work hard.  And isn’t that what we all want to do?


Applying for Jobs with the US Government

March 4, 2016

We’ve talked about which federal agencies and contractors hire scientists  as well as how you can go about finding and reading jobs ads; however, if you are looking for a job in the federal government, you should also check out this video from OITE.

This tutorial on USAJobs.gov will help you better understand the application process for government positions.

Remember to subscribe to OITE’s YouTube channel to get real time updates on new videos.