Designing Your Life

November 27, 2018

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Many of us struggle when it comes to making big life decisions, in part because of a black and white framework that permeates our decision-making mentality.  Have you ever wondered how one decision can lead you down an entirely different life path? Whether it is choosing a city, a job, or even a college major, your decisions add up to help determine your overall trajectory.  Accepting one job offer could lead to satisfaction and success; the other could lead to dissatisfaction and failure.  It’s anyone’s guess as to which is which.

Stanford professors, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, wrote book called “Designing Your Life” which attempts to apply design thinking to life decisions. They created an “Odyssey Plan” which encourages individuals to map out a variety of different options. The authors believe that we all contain multitudes. Each of us has enough energy and talent to live many different types of lives; all of which could be interesting and productive.

The goal is to realize that there are many different careers and options for you – none of them necessarily better or worse than the other. Here’s how to start:

  1. List three different five-year plans
    Remember there is no right or wrong choice here. Your first plan could be your current life. Your second plan could be something that you have always dreamed about doing. Your third plan could be a practical back-up to your current life, if for some reason you lost your job or some other life event happened.
  2. Give each plan a six-word title and write down three questions about each version of your life.
    The questions are intended to be though-provoking for you, such as: “Would I like owning my own business?” “If I own an art studio in Brooklyn, would I miss living in the Midwest?” “Do I want all the student loans that come with medical school?”
  3. Rank each life plan
    Consider the resources you have to put this plan into place as well as your confidence level about whether you would really like it. The final scales asks you about “coherence” and how much sense this makes overall.

The authors recommend sharing your plans with close family and friends, not necessarily so they can critique each plan, but so that they can reflect and ask you questions. It might even be a shared group activity that they partake in as well.

To start designing your own life options, check out their online worksheet here: http://designingyour.life/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/DYL-Odyssey-Planning-Worksheet-v21.pdf

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How to Maximize Your Membership in a Professional Society

November 20, 2018

There are hundreds of professional associations and these organizations are typically not-for-profit groups with the mission of furthering the advancement of a particular profession as well as the general interests of people within that career field. Most associations require an application and an annual membership fee; however, they help connect you to like-minded professionals and a slew of resources. Many organizations also offer discounted rates for students/trainees or new graduates. Some examples of science-specific organizations include: American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), American Chemical Society, American Association of BioAnalysts, American Society for Microbiology, and the list goes on and on.

You might have an idea of the right professional association for you to join, but perhaps you are unsure how exactly this membership can be of benefit. Professional societies can provide many direct and indirect benefits for scientists in their career, including: awards and honors that you can apply to (travel grants), publishing opportunities, leadership experiences (if you serve on a committee or volunteer to help plan local or national meetings), knowledge and key articles about issues within your field and new hiring trends. Last, but not least, most associations also have job boards which will likely only post positions that are truly relevant to you.

However, the most important benefit from your association in a professional organization is the networking opportunities. There are two main ways to network within a professional association – online or in-person.

Attend In-Person Events

Most professional organizations have an annual conference. Some even have smaller, regionally-focused meetings or dinners for local chapters. These events can be key to building your network and your credibility within your field. At the very least, you should attend, but as time goes by, you might also want to think about presenting on topics at conferences or panels. Hopefully, over time, your affiliation with the group will grow and you can consider seeking a leadership position within the group. Pursuing leadership positions will help elevate your brand and your reputation within your field.

Access Online Membership Directories

Once you have membership to the organization, you are granted access to a member directory where you can learn about other members in the group including where they work. This can be hugely beneficial if you are looking for collaborators on projects or if you are trying to network for your own professional purposes. Not only is there a membership directory on the organization’s website, but most groups also have active LinkedIn groups that you can join. Try not to be a passive observer. Instead, comment on discussion threads within the group or start a new conversation of your own. The more you engage and increase your visibility, the most people will begin to recognize you as a trusted peer professional.

Many professionals are actively engaged in multiple organizations/associations. If you are just starting out in your career, we recommend joining one. When in doubt, ask for recommendations from your mentors/network in order to choose the best option for you.


Advice on Getting Advice

November 13, 2018

clem-onojeghuo-381193-unsplashPeople tend to have a lot of varying opinions — on every topic possible. Just imagine how many different responses you could get when asking what flavor of ice cream you should order or what type of car you should buy. Everyone has their own unique preferences and often their distinct experiences have helped shape their opinions on these topics.

The same is true for advice about career and life choices.

This sounds like common sense, right? However, it is often surprising how many trainees will make major life decisions based on one PI’s opinion or another mentor’s passing advice. At OITE, we often hear trainees say they received conflicting advice/input and need guidance on how to proceed. Here are some basic principles to keep in mind when receiving advice.

Understand that advice should help you to make a decision, not tell you what your decision should be. This is a crucial distinction. Most well-trained career counselors will not share their opinion on what you should do with your life and career; rather, they often ask open-ended questions to help get you thinking about your options and what your preferences might be. The goal in career counseling is to help you develop new ideas and/or to share resources that might eventually help you have that lightbulb moment of clarity.

With that said, advisors, mentors, PIs, parents, partners, and friends all will often share their advice with you. Most are well-meaning and trying to help you. But, just like product reviews on Amazon, you can’t take any one opinion too seriously, unless it really resonates with you. It is important to remember the source for the advice. Often we hear postbacs report advice they received on their medical school application from a PI who never went to medical school nor served on a medical school admission committee. The advice may or may not be sound, so it is important to verify that you are getting accurate advice from a trustworthy person.

Another common mistake alluded to about advice is the tendency to take one opinion as fact. Just like in your experiments, you want to have a broad and diverse sample to pull from as it will only help strengthen you research findings. The same is true with advice. We often recommend doing informational interviews, but are surprised when trainees rule out an entire field because of one bad informational interview. Remember that you might not have the exact same personality or work style as that person and be sure to seek multiple opinions.

Asking for advice and seeking help in making a decision or solving a problem is a great thing to do; just be sure to weigh these opinions properly and don’t let any single advice-giver have more power than you allow yourself.