Waiting is Hard to Do

December 18, 2017

Blog written by Michael J. Sheridan, MSW, PhD, Special Advisor for Diversity and Wellness Programs, Michael.sheridan@nih.gov

It is December 2017, and while many are preparing for holidays, if you are trainee, you are probably asking yourself, “I haven’t heard back from a number of medical schools, is there something I can do to move them along? Should I assume I won’t get in?  Will I get an interview at the graduate programs that I applied to?  I am waiting to hear from academic positions …is there anything I can do?  The good news is that, if you haven’t heard anything yet, you are still being considered. With the holidays fast approaching, it is probable that most communication will resume in the new year.  The reality is that waiting for a response is hard thing to do.

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Dr. Michael Sheridan, Special Advisor for Diversity and Wellness Programs offers some strategies to help and writes that an area to be aware of while you wait is what is going on in your mind – specifically, the “inner chatter” that is present. It’s important to realize that you “talk” to yourself more than anyone else and thus, what you are saying makes a difference.  There are two particular qualities of this inner chatter to be mindful of – the “when” and the “what.”

The “when” of your inner dialogue refers to how much the mind is focused on either the past (“I wish I had remembered to put X in my application.” “I should have had so and so critique my letter before I sent it.”) or the future (“What will I do if I don’t get any interviews?” “If I don’t hear back from them by the end of this week, it means I didn’t get in”).  The reality of both past and future musings (or let’s face it, worrying) is that it is truly wasted effort as you can’t change something that’s already happened and you can’t predict what is going to happen in the future!  The only moment you have any control of is the current moment – and even then, I’m talking about control of your own thoughts and behaviors – not the actions of others or the eventual outcome.  Focusing on what you can do versus what you can’t lowers anxiety and builds confidence.

The “what” of your inner chatter has to do with the overall message or tone of what you are saying to yourself.  Are your thoughts harshly self-critical? (“I know I did a terrible job on that personal essay – I probably sounded really stupid”) Do they have a doomsday or “catastrophizing” flavor to them? (“I didn’t get this position, which means I won’t get any of the others I applied for either”)  Or are they balanced and positive? (“I know I won’t get accepted by everyone, but I probably won’t get rejected by everyone either” -“I’ve done the best I can and I can handle whatever the next step needs to be”).  A good thing to cultivate during the waiting is compassionate self-talk, or treating yourself with “the same kindness, care, and concern that you would treat a good friend” (Dr. Kristen Neff, www.self-compassion.com). So notice what you’re saying to yourself and if it is not supportive, ask yourself if you would say this to a good friend.  Chances are, you would offer something more encouraging, so try being your own good friend!

In addition to Dr. Sheridan’s suggestions above, we invite you to visit our most recent blog, where we suggested some activities to engage in during the holidays that will help you prepare to continue pursuing your career goals in 2018.  Also, be sure to visit our OITE web page as well to attend workshops and schedule an appointment with a career counselor.  If you are one of our extended community readers, please check with your home institution and local resources for career services. We will see you in 2018!

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Building Bridges Towards Your Career During the Holidays

December 11, 2017

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Cheers! The months of November and December is the time, annually, when workers from the NIH and across the globe take time to celebrate and relax.  During this time, the communication between future job and graduate school opportunities slow down for a couple of weeks.  Even if your research is continuing, PIs and trainees may take a few days off.   This will give you an opportunity to schedule some time and focus on your career development.  Of course, the OITE’s wellness model encourages scientists to have a healthy balance between work and time to replenish your mind, body, spirit and connections with others.  Here are some easy career development activities that trainees can easily schedule in, that will build your career spirit!

Re-kindle professional relationships

During the next few weeks utilize the relaxed schedule to continue developing and reconnecting with your colleagues who will enjoy learning about your status and future goals. Send a holiday card, set up a coffee chat or phone call to re-connect with mentors to strengthen your professional relationships You can also carve out some time to conduct an informational interview, gain clinical and volunteer experience.  Discuss your career plans with others (verbally) to build your confidence articulating your professional career goals while gaining support.

Read! Read!  Read!

Read at least two hours per day will serve you personally and professionally. In fact, reading is one of the recommended methods to help applicants prepare for the MCAT CARS section and interviews.  You can read a variety of media including short stories, novels, newspapers, and professional journals and news magazines to you will increase your ability to read critically and more quickly and effectively.  It will also keep you up-to-date on current issues in your field and in the world.

Revise your resume, CV, cover letters and practice interviewing

Use portion of the time to update your job search correspondence materials including your CV, resume, cover letters and other application materials while at a coffee shop or watching TV. While it is time consuming, it is a necessary part of managing your anxiety about applying to jobs or graduate schools in the future.  Allowing yourself the time to practice interview questions with a trusted friend, family, or colleague can help you hone your skills in this area as well.

Review and update your social media profiles

Employers and graduate schools admissions staff often review the social media sites of their applicants. This is an excellent time to manage your on-line image.  Create and update your profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Set privacy controls, add professional photos and delete any questionable language and images.   This is a time to connect the image that you want to project in 2018 electronically and in person.

Re-energize with physical activity

Whether it is cold, warm, snowy or balmy, the holidays are great times to enhance your physical well-being through active or mindful exercises. These activities will strengthen your ability to be a strong co-worker and have a positive outlook.  Take a walk, jog, dance, listen to music and/or take time to breathe.  If you must be indoors, then go to the gym, swim, engage yoga or mindfulness activities are wise uses of time.

Also, as you are building your professional bridge to success, retool by visiting the OITE website and read through the selection of blog articles, videocasts, and other materials that are designed to prepare you as professional scientists. When you return, you will have engaged in the four areas of the OITE wellness model and begin 2018 with refreshed and strengthened career goals!


Considering a Career in Biomedical Data Science? What you need to Consider

December 4, 2017
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Word Cloud Created by Jodian Brown using the generator found at https://www.jasondavies.com/wordcloud/

Written by Jodian Brown, Ph.D., Computational Chemistry, IRTA Postdoctoral Fellow OD/OIR/OITE, National Institutes of Health

Data science – it is a field of study that has exploded over the past few years. Consequently, there is a lot of interest from our trainees. To provide tangible insights into strategies trainees can undertake to transition in this field, the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) recently hosted a panel workshop on Careers in Data Science and Computational Biology.

To some the field of data science may seem new, yet, a core group of scientists may oppose that notion. This core group includes, but is not limited to, computational biologists/chemists, bioinformaticians and even geographers. These professions have been harnessing computational approaches and power to make sense of scientifically-relevant data for decades. However, the exponential rise in smart technology (such as smart phones and smart cars) has been linked to a significant surge in the need for persons that can use computational approaches and power to efficiently use and analyze large amounts of all types of data. And from this need is born the term data scientist. Harvard Business Review dedicated an article centered on the role of this job in the 21st century.

A tangible percentage of this rise in generated data can be attributed to biomedically-relevant sources. Over the past two decades, advances in scientific tools and techniques (e.g. high-performance computer clusters, molecular structure elucidation, and genomic sequencing) have drastically increased the data and knowledge within the biomedical enterprise. Thus, at this juncture we need scientists who can integrate their scientific background and interests with computational tools and approaches to tackle these vast data.

What skills should you consider developing if you are interested in pursuing a data science career? During the Careers in Data Science and Computational Biology workshop four main pillars important to this transition in data science were identified as:

  1. ability to understand and employ mathematical and statistical approaches
  2. programming ability
  3. at a minimum, peripheral knowledge of computer architecture
  4. ability to effectively communicate your work

Translation of the above pillars into practical approaches may include taking mathematics/statistics courses (e.g. machine learning or deep networking) as well as learning programming languages such as Python or R. The next step after improving your mathematics and computer language knowledge is to find a project of interest that ideally is related to your research and use available computer resources to execute project. Often, learning about computer architecture may occur on the fly but it is strongly recommended that you commit to understanding the basics. Various computer platform, analyses and visualization software are freely available (watch video of workshop for some suggestions). Here at the NIH there is a number of resources that you may access. The NIH’s High-Performance Computing (HPC) team offers several free classes (which provides introductions to supercomputing in science and Python) as well as maintaining the HPC cluster that some trainees may access with the appropriate project and proper approval from supervisor (Note: PIs pay for such use). The NIH Data Science Mentoring program accepts applications from NIH individuals who want to mentor or be mentored in data science. For more information on this mentoring program (which needs mentors) you can contact Ms. Lisa Federer via her email lisa.federer@nih.gov or Dr. Ben Busby at ben.busby@nih.gov. Dr. Ben Busby is also a great resource for those with proficient programming abilities who would like to apply them to hackathon projects.

A noteworthy caveat is that skills listed above may be easier to acquire if you are earlier in your career (e.g., postbac and graduate student) as you may possess more time and/or flexibility with regards to your research responsibilities. In contrast, senior trainees such as postdocs and research fellows may have more time constraints and project responsibilities. Nonetheless, if you are a senior trainee or employee it may be amenable to construct data science projects that are directly related to your research. Furthermore, the application of user-friendly computer software is highly recommended if an extensive programming background is not present.

The landscape of data science is broad and the depth of skills involved will depend on the subspecialty. A researcher in data science may be responsible for generating, extracting, analyzing and/or visualizing data and/or developing the tools to do so. Most data scientist positions will often rely on more than one of these subtasks. Thus, as you begin to explore and acquire skills in the field of data science, you can determine your preference of being on the side that makes “biomedical sense” of the data or that develops the tools or both.

The panelists at the OITE-hosted Careers in Data Science and Computational Biology workshop provided great insights into the advantages of having data science skills whether you are interested in an academic or non-academic career.  In addition, specific tools that trainees can assess and use to improve their data science skills were highlighted during the panel discussion. A video recording of this workshop can been found here.

Finally, remember that there are other resources, including career counselors who are happy to talk with you about career exploration, are available here at the OITE. You can schedule an appointment with one of our career counselors via visiting this link.