Hate Your Job, but Scared to Leave?

June 19, 2018

A picture of a man working at a laptop and running his fingers through his hair.

At OITE, we often meet with trainees who aren’t sure what is the best next step for their career. There can be a lot of uncertainty around career decision-making. Perhaps you feel the same indecisiveness?

Sometimes though, things can be very clear about one topic in particular – you hate your current job. Maybe you loathe the work tasks or perhaps it is just not a good work environment for you.  Whatever the reason, most people are very aware when they truly dislike their job. Sometimes this will manifest in a feeling of dread every Sunday night or even every day, during your morning commute.

The answer seems clear. You should quit your job, right? Financially and professionally, this is a big decision to weigh. Many times, though, the true reason people don’t make a change is for psychological factors. Here are some common mental hurdles when making a job change.

  1. What if I hate my new job just as much or even more?

There is an idiom that many people unknowingly adhere to: “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” This is essentially saying that the unknown is super scary! It can be. Changing jobs will often require that you adapt to a new work culture, a new boss, new colleagues, and it might even mean that new skills are tested.  What if you don’t measure up? What if you don’t fit in?

Doing informational interviews can help shed light on new industries or organizations. This can help you assess if this will be a good overall fit for you. Don’t underestimate your opportunity to learn more about the lab/office when you interview. If you get a funny feeling, trust it. Be sure to ask lots of questions during the interview to measure if this will be a good fit.

  1. I was lucky to get this job. Nobody else will hire me!

Too often, people make sweeping generalizations about their marketability.  Scientific trainees, in particular, often minimize the number of transferable skills they feel they have for new professions.

If you see a job posting that looks intriguing, then you should go ahead and try to apply for it. It is a good idea to “test” your job candidacy/marketability every few years anyway. Do some searches and see what comes up that might be a good match. This could give you some ideas of new skill sets you might need to brush up on; plus, it helps keep your job search materials up to date.  Give it a try – you might just be surprised!

  1. I am lost about what I want to do.

Career exploration takes time and it is not always clear what you see as your skills, values, and interests. If you are unhappy in your current role, then you need to prioritize this activity and be proactive.  The OITE has resources that can help. Our series on Planning for Career Satisfaction and Success could be a great start.  If you are at the NIH, feel free to visit the OITE website to schedule appointments with career counselors and to learn about additional programs and resources to prepare you for a successful job search.

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Managing Summer Interns – Tips for Mentors

June 11, 2018

Last week, we started to welcome summer interns to the NIH campus and shared some resources which might be of interest specifically for them.  This week, we are focusing on tips for mentors. So, if you will be mentoring an intern this summer, be sure to read on!

Mentors may find it difficult to find time and energy to manage and train someone, all while trying to satisfy their own work demands. In addition, teaching and training someone is a skill that must be practiced. If you are new at it, it can cause stress for all parties involved. Wondering how you can improve upon your own mentoring skills?

Here are some ideas for mentors:

Be mindful in selecting your mentee. The mentoring relationship, if conducted with care, can be an incredibly rewarding experience for both mentee and mentor. If the match does not fit though, it can also result in a lot of stress and unnecessary effort on both ends. Therefore, it is crucial that the mentor chooses their mentee with care. Assessing the mentee’s motivation, taking similarities and differences into account, and starting the mentorship with a trial period are all steps both parties can take to ensure a successful match. Selecting a good mentee also requires self-knowledge: what are your strengths and weaknesses, how much time and effort do you have aside from your own work, and how many mentees can you realistically take on?

Set clear expectations for performance from the start. In addition to getting used to the new workflow, mentees are also likely getting used to personalities and working styles of their new colleagues and superiors. As this takes time, being explicit about your objectives and expectations for the relationship from the get go will result in more productivity and a better mentoring relationship. Be sure to challenge your mentee, but do not set expectations so high that they feel paralyzed and overwhelmed. Once you have seen the mentee’s performance, it is crucial to offer honest, specific feedback on a regular basis. Everyone loves positive feedback, but it is usually the negative feedback that sparks more learning and change. In instances where negative feedback is needed, it can be helpful to start off with a positive comment/suggestion, and perhaps end with one too. Once you have a sense that your mentee has attained mastery, escalate their responsibility over time to boost their confidence. Make sure to accelerate at a slow enough pace though!

Be accessible. Especially in the beginning. Even with the best communication and clear expectations in place, it can be difficult in a busy research environment to keep up to date and on the same page with both day to day tasks and long term goals. Projects and daily objectives change, mentees can learn of new opportunities that change their perspective. Therefore, keeping regular meetings, both formal and informal, can be a great way to check in, keep in the loop, and stay on the same page. Sometimes meetings are best in a formal context, but informal meetings over lunch or coffee can also help build rapport, and convey what you want in a more effective manner. No matter the context of the meeting, it is important for both parties to practice active listening, which includes dedicating full attention to the discussion, good eye contact, and engaging body language. In some settings, mentees could greatly benefit from even working directly with the mentor on a project; giving them direct exposure in your research and working methods could give them lifelong methods. No matter how you do it, it is imperative that you spend time engaging directly with your mentee.

Although mentoring a young researcher does not always result in a tangible benefit for the mentor, there are many valuable results that come from mentoring a student. First, creating a positive teaching relationship with a mentee often results in more work getting done for the lab’s or mentor’s own research project, saving time and energy. Playing the role of a mentor can also result in a greater self-understanding of one’s own strengths and weaknesses as a researcher and leader.  Lastly, mentoring a young researcher benefits the scientific field as a whole, because it provides direct hands-on learning experience for young professionals who might have no other way of getting such experience. If done correctly, it constitutes a win for all involved.

If you want to read more about mentoring relationships, check out previous blog posts on: Identifying Mentors: Why it Matters  and Getting the Most Out of Mentoring Relationships.

 


Welcome 2018 Summer Interns: OITE Blogs of Interest

June 5, 2018

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The Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) of the NIH extends a warm welcome to the Summer 2018 interns. Over the next few months, you will engage in many unique opportunities in biomedical research that will encourage you to consider pursuing careers and further graduate study in the field.  As you are settling in to your lab and meeting your PIs and fellow trainees, we want to make sure that you are aware of a variety of helpful blog posts that will help you to maximize your summer experience.

Getting oriented to a new lab and role as a researcher is both exciting and somewhat challenging for summer interns.  We suggest reading the blog Understanding the Impact of Change to learn about the key factors associated with any transition.  Next read Making the Most of Your Transition to the NIH.

One of the challenges in most careers is how to achieve a healthy work-life balance. The OITE Director and our wellness programming staff encourage you to review our model of wellness and managing stress as part of your training to be a successful scientist.

Meeting your new mentor is another opportunity that you will have this summer. To prepare yourself for this essential growth opportunity, we suggest reading the blogs on Identifying Mentors and Learning How To Make the Most of Mentoring Relationships.

Many of you will also be introduced and encouraged to pursue graduate or professional school as a next step in your career planning.  In addition to attending our workshops, be sure to explore the variety of blogs related to topic including exploring the Md MD/PHD route, obtaining the Master’s,  PhD degree, or developing your plan for medical and dental school applications. Visit the OITE summer trainee website to learn about the services available to summer students to meet with a career counselor to help you prepare for careers in the sciences.

We look forward to working with you this summer. Visit the OITE website for further information.  For our readers who are alumni or outside of the NIH, we encourage you to seek similar services through your training director, or your college and university or in the community.