Career Tricks & Tips for Halloween

October 30, 2018

RIP
If a job search scares you more than ghosts and goblins this Halloween, we invite you to visit our graveyard. Tombstones in this cemetery are full of antiquated career practices, myths, and other negative emotions one might have around a job search. Past trainees have successfully buried these demons and threats and we hope you will too!

 

 

RIP – Objective Statement
Statements like “Seeking a responsible position in an industry lab doing cancer research” used to be common on resumes. Now it is seen as unnecessary filler. Instead, opt for a “Qualifications Summary” which highlights your main accomplishments relevant for the position at hand. For examples, check out the OITE Resume & CV Guide.

Here Lies – The Resume with No Cover Letter
A resume and a cover letter go together. If you are sending in a resume, it should have an introductory cover letter. The only exception to this rule is if the job ad specifically states “no cover letters”.

RIP – Self Doubt & Fear of Rejection
It is very common for doubts and fears (especially imposter fears) to arise during a job search; after all, you are opening yourself up to new opportunities. You are not only evaluating your viability for options, but others are evaluating your candidacy as well. There is not a magic potion to give you confidence, but speaking with your career mentors and counselors at OITE can help demystify the process for you and hopefully help you feel more prepared.

Here Lies – Not Networking
A fair number of jobs are still not widely advertised. You can only tap into this hidden job market by speaking to people. A majority of job seekers make the mistake of allotting most of their time online to looking for positions when that time would be better spent doing informational interviews.

RIP – Lack of Preparedness for an Interview
A CV/resume can help you get an interview, but the interview is what gets you the job! You need to spend time researching the organization and preparing for the interview. Understand what type of interview (behavioral, technical, case) you might encounter and get busy doing your homework. If you need help preparing for an interview, OITE career counselors can help. You can sign up for a mock interview here.

Let us know of your job search success by updating your contact information in the Alumni Database. If you are on the NIH campus, you can also share it with us in-person on Wednesday, October 31st as we will be passing out candy in OITE in Building 2 from 11:00-12:00.  Hope to see you there!

 

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Five Most Common Networking Excuses

October 22, 2018

rawpixel-653769-unsplashSome people really enjoy networking; after all, at its essence, it is just talking to others. According to Merriam-Webster, it is simply “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions.” It sounds pretty innocuous, so why then do so many dread and even fear this activity? At OITE, we hear a lot of reasons why individuals avoid networking. Here are the most common:

1. I am an introvert/shy.
Firstly, introversion and shyness are not the same! Both introverts and extraverts can be shy. Introversion means that you feel energized by time alone. Shy, on the other hand, is a feeling of apprehension, awkwardness, or discomfort when around others, especially those you don’t know well. If you feel shy about networking, try starting with people you know well or somewhat well to “practice”. Also, if you need to attend a networking event, try to arrive early as it may feel less overwhelming to you than arriving at a full and busy event.

2.  Networking feels sleazy/selfish.
Networking is a normal part of the professional world. Job seekers do it in order to find new opportunities; however, institutions and labs network as well. Oftentimes, the result can be a great new collaboration on a project. Remember that networking is a mutual endeavor and reframe your thinking about it. It is often about what you have to offer as well and not just what you hope to gain.

3.  It doesn’t work.
“I’ve been networking like crazy for a month and nothing has changed.” Networking is about building relationships, an activity that often requires not only energy but concerted effort over time. Your network of contacts can take years to build and cultivate.  It is often the case that a contact you meet for one particular purpose can play a role in your career months or even years later. You never quite know when that connection may pay off. Keep this in mind when you feel like it isn’t worth the effort.

4.  My work can speak for itself.
Your wonderful experiences, unique skills sets, and awesome publication record are all things to be very proud of; however, securing a new position often requires more than this. Most new hires are brought on to a team not only because they are qualified on paper, but because the hiring manager feels they will be a good fit with the team in real life. Networking is your opportunity to learn more about your cultural fit with an organization and it can be your chance to sell yourself. Don’t underestimate that power and simply rely on your resume or CV to do all the talking for you.

5.  I don’t have time.
Networking can start small. It doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment in order for it to be effective. Start carving out small chunks of time to reach out to people for informational interviews. Or you can start even smaller and have coffee with that new person in your branch. Even striking up conversation with peers at an event is a form of networking. Don’t put it off because you feel it will be too time-consuming.

 


International Careers

October 15, 2018

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Many people aspire to have an international career and this opportunity is no longer reserved only for career diplomats. Science, medicine, business, and education – to just name a few – are all fields that have more global career mobility than ever. Biomedical research has always had great reputation for being a very diverse and international field.

An international job search, though, can be more difficult and lengthier overall. It is challenging when you are thousands of miles away and most of your initial interviews are over Skype. Additionally, customs and etiquette around networking tend to vary widely by culture. For example, North Americans tend to feel more comfortable with the idea of networking; even more so than their western counterparts in Europe. However, many of the job search engines that you are used to, like Science, Nature, LinkedIn, and Indeed, have an international reach and can be an effective way to seek out positions abroad.

Like anything in life, there will be pros and cons to your decision to work abroad. It will likely have a large impact not only on your professional life but your personal life as well. If you are considering an international job offer, be sure to read this post “Before Accepting an International Job Offer”. A job in a new country can afford you the chance to improve your cross-cultural communication skills and competencies. Although, this learning might come because of “mistakes” you make at your new job. Rapidly replying to an email might be okay in your home country; whereas in you new country, it might be seen as rude and the proper etiquette would have been to reply in person. Other factors like how emotionally expressive and/or confrontational you are in communicating tends to vary widely by region and country. See our post on “Negotiating Across Cultures”. When accepting a job abroad, remember that there will be growing pains and moments when you don’t feel as competent as you did back at home. Having a job abroad also likely means that your job and visa (ability to live in that country) are linked. If for some reason you hate your new job and need to leave, you will have less job flexibility and it might mean heading back home.

The experience in the global market place, your increased professional network, and a chance to see life and work from another perspective is unmatched when you take a job abroad. The challenges can help build your resilience and experiencing a different way of doing reserach can open your mind up to a whole new range of possibilities — exponentially expanding your worldview.

If you are at the NIH, be sure to check out the International Opportunities Expo 2018 this week. You can find out more information about the event here, but this is an excellent chance to meet and network with science and technology representatives in order to explore research, funding, and career opportunities abroad. If this is of interest, you might also be interested in Science Voices From Home, which organizes brown bag series and different webinars on finding international opportunities. These are categorized by country and recent ones have included Brazil, Australia, India, Canada, and Sweden. If you would like to find out more about this series, you can contact OITE.

 


Writing a Letter of Recommendation – Tips for Mentors

October 9, 2018

al-nik-382503-unsplashAs postbacs prepare to apply for graduate school, many might be coming to you to ask for a letter of recommendation. It can be hard to know how to start these all-important letters, so here are some things to keep in mind as you draft your reference letter.

First and foremost, you should only agree to write a letter if you feel you know the person well and if you can write positively about your working experience with them. If not, you might want to mention that the requestor should contact others who could better speak to their work. Don’t feel compelled to write a letter out of obligation, especially if you feel uncomfortable writing favorably or if you think your assessment could hinder their chances of acceptance.

What You Need to Write a Letter

If you feel comfortable writing a letter of recommendation, then make sure the requestor provides you some background information. If it is for a job, they should give you their CV/resume and a copy of the job description. If it is for graduate/medical school, they should give you their CV/resume, a list of the schools they are applying to, and a copy of their personal statement. This information will be helpful background as you write your letter on their behalf. It would also be a good idea to check in with the person about the top three things they would like you to address in reference to the position or institution. For example, for graduate school, you will most likely want to speak to not only their analytical abilities but their work ethic as well. If you are writing a letter for a medical school applicant, you will want to check out the AAMC website where they offer detailed instructions for letter writers. Writers are encouraged to touch on the applicant’s competencies along four dimensions: thinking/reasoning, science, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.

 

Formatting

In terms of format, letters of recommendation are generally one page and one to three paragraphs long. They must be signed and dated; ideally, it will be on official letterhead. You should start by noting how long you have known this person and in what capacity. Be sure to clarify your role/title and relationship (supervisor, colleague, etc) to the applicant.

Then, you will want to move on to your endorsement of the candidate. Keep in mind the three points they wanted you to address but be specific when doing so. General statements like, “Bailey is a hard worker” tend to fall flat unless supported with examples. You could rephrase it to say, “Bailey has demonstrated an excellent work ethic and commitment to the team. One of our projects required somebody from the lab to come in each weekend day to harvest cells. Bailey volunteered every time to help out and was a pivotal member of our team during busy work times.” It also helps admissions committees if you favorably compare the student to others you have known. As an example: “In terms of analytical abilities, Bailey is in the top 10% of undergraduate students that I have worked with in the past ten years.” Speaking to both their skill sets and personal characteristics is usually the winning combination. Try to address and conclude with one or two traits that make them especially suitable for where they are applying.

Be Aware of Gender Bias

We wrote about gender bias in letters of recommendation a few years ago. A study by Trix and Psenka (2003) examined 300 letters of recommendation for medical faculty positions and determined that recommenders unconsciously described candidates in stereotypically gendered ways:

  • Men were described as “successful” and “accomplished” and letters for male applicants contained more repetitions of superlatives such as “outstanding” or “exceptional.”
  • Women were described as “nurturing” and “compassionate” and letters for female applicants often include doubt raisers, statements like: “It appears that her health and personal life are stable.”

Letters for female applicants were shorter and lacked basic features like a description of the writer’s relationship with the applicant, comments on the applicant’s academic traits and achievements, and/or evaluative comments. Letters for males were more aligned with critical job requirements and used stronger language like “excellent research record” and “ability”.

Make sure you aren’t falling prey to gender bias when writing your letter. You can copy and paste your letter into a Gender Bias Calculator here.


Basic Overview: The US Academic System

October 2, 2018

nathan-dumlao-572049-unsplashMany trainees interested in pursuing an academic career path don’t have a clear idea about the hiring landscape in the United States.  This quick overview will discuss a few topics: the kinds of institutions, the types of jobs available, and last but not least definitions for funding.

What kinds of educational institutions are there in the US?

There is an official listing which is referred to as the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.  Here you can look up institutions by a variety of different classifications, including: undergraduate programs, graduate programs, enrollment profile, size and setting, as well as community engagement.  These listings have been updated every few years since 1970 and the most recent version is expected to be released later this year (2018).

The most basic classifications are based on the type of degree conferred; categories include: doctoral universities, master’s college and universities, baccalaureate colleges, baccalaureate/associate’s colleges, associate’s colleges, special focus institutions (including medical schools), and tribal colleges.

Each of these classifications is further subdivided. One example you might be familiar with is how doctoral universities are categorized:

R1: Highest Research Activity
R2: Higher Research Activity
R3: Limited Research Activity

What types of jobs are available within these institutions?

Generally, academic jobs progress in level from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor to Full Professor. All faculty positions include three main components: 1. Research 2. Teaching 3. Service. However, the amount of time the faculty member is expected to devote to each of these components varies widely by the type of institution.  At R1 doctoral or medical institutions, for example, the research component will be the primary function of the role and the teaching component could be as little as a handful of lectures a year.

Fewer and fewer professors are receiving tenure now. Historically, tenure has meant a lifetime placement at an institution and a job/salary until retirement.  The trends in the academic labor force show that tenure and tenure-track positions are decreasing while part-time faculty and full-time/non-tenure track positions have been increasing.

What about funding?

You have probably heard the terms hard money and soft money, but what do these mean? Hard money denotes an institutionally guaranteed salary. Often times the salaries are for teaching and cover the nine-month academic year (even though they can be paid out over a period of 12 months). Soft money, on the other hand, is money the academic finds on his/her own to supplement a partial salary provided by the institution and covers research costs. This money often comes from grants, which can be one-time funding sources or time-limited, meaning the academic will have to reapply for funding throughout their career.

While the academic career path has been changing dramatically, many scientists and trainees still pursue this option successfully. If you are interested in learning more, the OITE offers a number of in-depth workshops every year about academic jobs and many of these are available for you online. Please check out our videocast on “Academic Job Search – Applying and Interviewing” as well as “Understanding the US Academic System” which is the second presentation in the document.