Managing SAD at Work

December 11, 2018

lily-banse-363743-unsplashJust over a month ago, we set our clocks back for Daylight Savings Time. This combined with fewer daylight hours means that most of us are leaving work in the dark. This is just one of the many groan-inducing moments which wintertime brings. Others include frigid mornings making it harder to get out of a warm bed, commuting through snow/ice and gloomy grey days all the while navigating sick colleagues in the lab.

It is no wonder that many of us find that our energy levels and happy outlook dissipate with the change in seasons.  For some of us, the winter blues can be easily shaken off; however, others are afflicted by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons.  Not accounting for personal variability, SAD usually begins in October/November and ends in March/April.

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, SAD is not considered a separate disorder; it is a type of depression displaying a recurring seasonal pattern.  For individuals to be diagnosed, they must meet full criteria for major depression coinciding with specific seasons for at least two years.

On top of some of the common symptoms of depression such as feeling hopeless, sluggish, and experiencing difficulty concentrating, other symptoms of winter pattern SAD include:

  • Low energy
  • Hypersomnia (excessive daytime sleepiness)
  • Overeating
  • Weight gain
  • Craving carbohydrates
  • Social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”)

There are attributes that make you more likely to suffer from SAD. Living far from the equator is an obvious one; for example, only one percent of those who live in Florida experience SAD whereas about nine percent in New England and Alaska suffers from SAD.  If you have a family predisposition or prior diagnoses of depression or bipolar, you are more likely to experience SAD as well. Another risk factor is being female as SAD is diagnosed four times more often in women than in men.

If you are concerned that you might be suffering from SAD, please seek help from a physician or counselor right away. There is no need to suffer these winter months away and four major types of treatment have been proved effective. These include: medication, psychotherapy, light therapy, and vitamin D which can be used alone or in combination with one another.

Don’t be hesitant to ask for workplace adjustments which could help as well. Some of these small tweaks could include sitting by a window in the lab/office or even installing a light box which is designed to simulate sunshine and help increase one’s production of serotonin. You may also ask to adjust your work hours, so that you are able to leave the lab before it gets dark at night.

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Character Strengths

December 4, 2018

Character Strength Word InfographicDo you need help identifying your signature strengths?

According to the VIA Institute on Character, knowing your character strengths isn’t just interesting information to have; it can have a positive impact on your life overall. It is believed that understanding your strengths can help you: 1. Manage and overcome problems; 2. Improve your personal and professional relationships; 3. Enhance your overall sense of well-being.

Martin Seligman (Founder of Positive Psychology) and his research group have a website through the University of Pennsylvania called: authentichappiness.org.  This site includes information on learning and applying the principles of positive psychology to any domain, such as a job search. We have talked about the site before on the OITE Career Blog when we discussed the importance of positivity and resilience in your job search in past blog posts like “Enhancing Optimism and Resilience in Your Job Search & Beyond”. This website has a whole range of different surveys that you can take, such as assessments on happiness, grit, work-life balance, etc. The one we suggest focusing on today is the Signature Strengths Survey which helps you identify your top five strengths.

This online assessment denotes six classes of virtues that make up the 24 character strengths listed. These six classes and corresponding strengths include:

  • Wisdom and knowledge

Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge
Strengths: Creativity, Curiosity, Judgment, Love-of-Learning, Perspective

  • Courage

Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal
Strengths: Bravery, Honesty, Perseverance, Zest

  • Humanity

Interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others
Strengths: Kindness, Love, Social Intelligence

  • Justice

Civic strengths that underlie healthy community life
Strengths: Fairness, Leadership, Teamwork

  • Temperance

Strengths that protect against excess
Strengths: Forgiveness, Humility, Prudence, Self-Regulation

  • Transcendence

Strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning
Strengths: Appreciations of Beauty, Gratitude, Hope, Humor, Spirituality

Hopefully this assessment will help you focus on not only identifying your strengths but also finding new ways to begin using those strengths more intentionally within your life. A logistical note about taking this survey: it is quite long as it has 240 questions and you can’t save it and come back to it, so be sure to take it when you have sufficient time. You do have to create a log in to access the surveys, but by participating you are actually paying it forward in a way by helping with their positive psychology research.


Designing Your Life

November 27, 2018

kelly-sikkema-291518-unsplash

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


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.


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!

 


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.