FROM THE ARCHIVE: Manage Your Time with a Tomato

April 25, 2016

tomatoHave you ever felt overwhelmed with all of the projects you are juggling at work, and as a result, felt that you weren’t doing any one of them as well as you could?  Perhaps you have felt swamped, juggling so many projects that you are unsure where–or even how–to start.

There is an intriguing time management tool…a tomato. Maybe you have heard of–or used–the Pomodoro Technique™, but its properties are quite simple and can be applied anytime, anywhere.

According to the website, “Creator Francesco Cirillo was a university student in Rome struggling to stay on task. He decided to challenge his powers of concentration using what he had at hand – a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato. That was the first Pomodoro (tomato in Italian). Bright red, iconic, and charmingly low-tech, it’s the perfect invitation for getting things done.”

Essentially, the technique involves writing a to-do list early in the day, setting your timer (kitchen, electronic, web-based, or otherwise) for 25 minutes, and focusing on only one task from your list during that time. When the timer goes off, you have completed one “pomodoro.” You put a check mark next to that task on your list, indicating the completion of one pomodoro, and take a 5-minute break. After that, you set your timer once again and go for another 25 minutes, again focusing on one task alone, though it may or may not be the same task you worked on previously. After completing 4 “pomodoros” in a row, you take a longer break, from 15-30 minutes.

The claims made on the Pomodoro website include:

  • “Enhance focus and concentration by cutting down on interruptions!”
  • “Boost motivation and keep it constant!”
  • “Refine the estimation process, both in qualitative and quantitative terms!”
  • “Improve your work or study process!”

This technique seemed so simple, and its claims so lofty, we had to try it out for ourselves.

Since we don’t have a pomodoro of our own, we opted for a simple online clock. Per the instructions on the PT website: list all of the projects on the “Activity Inventory Sheet,” and from those chose four tasks to list on the “To-Do Today” sheet.  Even thought the site offers worksheets, we used Excel to track projects. With the timer set for 25 minutes, we went to work. When the timer went off, we had a five minute break to grab a drink of water. We then reset the timer, and went back to work for another 25 minutes.

By the end of the day, we felt a great sense of accomplishment, having completed many pomodoros–and many goals for that day.  If you regularly struggle with internal interruptions (“What’s for dinner?” “What do we need at the grocery store?” “What time is that meeting again?” etc.), then this might be a particularly good technique for you.

We found the length of one pomodoro (25 minutes) so short that is was easier to fend off these interruptions. Conversely, the amount of time spent on one pomodoro (25 minutes) was in fact long enough to focus intently and not lose concentration on the task at hand. Further, knowing how many pomodoros a particular task actually took to complete was valuable information I used throughout the day and into the next.

All from one little tomato. Check it out and see if this time management tool works for you. If so, let us know with a comment below.

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Are you a multipotentialite?

April 20, 2016

“The notion of the narrowly-focused life is highly romanticized in our culture. It’s this idea of destiny or the one true calling. The idea that we each have one great thing that we are meant to do during our time on this earth… but what if you’re someone who isn’t wired this way?”

This is what Emilie Wapnick asked in her TED talk entitled “Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling.” She coined the term “multipotentialite” and explores this topic on her website, Puttylike.

From a young age, we are asked what we want to be when we grow up and there is an expectation of a single answer. However, this often discounts an individual who has many varied interests and it doesn’t take into consideration that people often have many jobs (and careers!) throughout their lifetime now.

This lack of a singular passion often causes stress for multipotentialites, especially when it seems others (PIs, fellow med school applicants, etc.) appear to have extreme focus and drive.

If you have ever felt anxious about not having one true calling, then this video is a must watch.


Career Options Series: Regulatory Affairs

April 13, 2016

OITE’s Career Options Series will give you a snapshot overview of different career paths. The goal of this 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. Search the NIH Alumni Database to find alums doing similar work.


What is Regulatory Affairs?Image of the words "Regulatory Affairs" with two figures holding a puzzle piece
A profession that functions to apply laws, regulations, and policies to the development, production, and sale of products within regulated industries, such as: food, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, energy, biotech, clinical, and health care products. Why is it needed? To make sure company businesses/products abide by applicable regulations, laws, and guidelines in every country where a product will be marketed.

Regulatory affairs requires expertise from multiple disciplines, such as: research science, physicists, life scientists, chemists, engineers, pharmacy, statistics, veterinary medicine, nursing, clinical medicine, etc.

Sample Job Titles
Regulatory Affairs Specialist, Regulatory and Quality Affairs Analyst,  Policy Manger, Scientist, Regulatory Affairs Associate, etc.

Sample Work Settings/Employers
Regulatory Affairs in the Federal Government:|
FDA
– FDA scientists review test results submitted by sponsors, so that the FDA can decide whether the drug is safe enough for clinical trials, whether the drug can be sold to the public, and what should go on the drug’s professional labeling.
USDA – Inspect food safety, and collect and analyze surveillance data of foodborne outbreak; conduct studies such as evaluations, like Child Nutrition Studies or Food Security Studies in response to the needs of policy makers and managers.
EPA –  Assess exposure, hazard and risk of chemical substances and/or toxic substances; assess risk of environmental pollutants, and develop biological indicators.

Regulatory Affairs in the Private Sector:
Industry – Gather data necessary for submission to government. Manage process of regulatory approval

Consulting/Regulatory Affairs Services – Provide evaluation of the best regulatory path. May provide outsources submissions and follow-up services.

Key Skills
– RA needs individuals with backgrounds in biology, chemistry, engineering, information technology, pharmacology, quality, toxicology, clinical sciences, writing and management
– Knowledge of science, regulations, and policy
– Verbal  and written communication skills
– Analytical and organizational skills, including the ability to evaluate potential product candidates and trials
– Project and time management skills
– Computer skills
– People skills, including the ability to mediate and find common ground among interested parties (research, production, sales, marketing, regulatory agencies, etc.) and gain consensus

How to get started
• Commissioner’s Fellowship Program (FDA)
• CDER Academic Collaboration Program (FDA)
• CATO Fellowship
• Trainings:
– The Regulatory Affairs Professional Society (RAPS) Online University
– NIH FAES Graduate School Classes (Look at current availability but previous relevant classes have     included Inside and Outside the FDA or FDA Regulation, Industry and Hidden IP)
– Master’s of Science in Regulatory Affairs programs
• Regulatory Affairs Branch (RAB), NIH, NCI

Professional Organizations
The Regulatory Affairs Professional Society (RAPS)
The Organization for Professional in Regulatory Affairs (TOPRA)
The Canadian Association of Professional Regulatory Affairs (CAPRA)

Additional Resources
OITE’s How To Series: Regulatory Affairs, including an archived video, slides, and more resources!

 

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Coming up in the Career Options Series, we want to know what you which work path you would like to see highlighted. Take a moment to vote below:


Slowing it Down: 4 Simple Ways to Incorporate Mindfulness Into Your Day

April 6, 2016

Find yourself stressed out from work?Silhouette of a person sitting crosslegged looking toward sunset

Between the office/lab environment, mentor and mentee relationships, outside training and education, and life demands, it is all too common for stress to hijack your wellbeing. One quick effective way in dealing with life stress is to use techniques in mindfulness meditation.

A recent review of mindfulness interventions at the University of Cincinnati shows mindfulness techniques to be effective at creating positive change in stress and stress-related psychology and physiology, especially in the workplace. Benefits of these techniques are shown in a range of occupational positions, including healthcare professionals, undergraduate and graduate students, continuing education faculty, and community members.

Length of the surveyed interventions ranged from 8 hours to 32 hours, and outcome measures included: perceived stress, self-compassion, burnout, and positive and negative affect scales. Of the 17 mindfulness studies reviewed, 15 showed positive post-test changes in psychological or physiological measures related to stress. Despite limitations of sample size and variety of outcome measures, mindfulness meditation is shown to be a promising method for stress reduction in the work place

Wondering how you can utilize mindfulness techniques to improve stress?

Here are four simple ideas:

  1. Try spending 5-10 minutes a day generating focused and non-judgmental awareness of your breath. Common techniques include counting the lengths of your in- and out- breaths and aiming to increase this count, putting your hand on your chest to feel the flow of air through your lungs, and listening to the sound of your breath.
  1. Generate non-judgmental awareness of thoughts, or “purposefully paying attention to the present moment, with a non-judging, non-striving attitude of acceptance” (Sharma & Rush, 2014). Techniques include letting your mind go blank, and observing what thoughts arrive, and acknowledging thoughts that arise without judgment.
  1. Spend some time focusing on an object around you (for example a piece of food, a sentimental object, or an object in nature). Notice the detail in the object, how it feels, looks, sounds, and even smells. If you are in your office or the lab, there are websites and apps that allow you to choose a scene and set a meditation timer for as little as three minutes to take a quick mindfulness break. Check out calm.com for a preview!
  1. Spend 10-15 minutes each day stretching, while paying attention to how this stretching affects the way your body feels, and the way your mind feels. Some useful examples of gentle stretches: clockwise and counter-clockwise head-rolls, forward and backward shoulder rolls, mouth/cheek/eye stretches making “big” and “little” faces, and touching your toes!

If you are at the NIH, the OITE Mindfulness Meditation Group meets weekly every Thursday at 5:00 pm (except holidays) in the Graduate Lounge in Building 10 (Rm. 1N263).  This group is designed to be a time for you to slow down and connect with yourself and learn the benefits of meditation.  It’s a drop-in group, so it’s fine to come any Thursday that you can.

As we progress in our jobs and in our lives, stress will always be a factor, and so finding novel ways to respond to stress can be an exciting way to improve your day!