Blog Post: Avoid giving what you may catch: Keeping a healthy workplace a priority during the flu season

November 14, 2017

Written by Guest Blogger Shannon DeMaria Ph.D., Research Ethics Training Coordinator, Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE)

Lab and clinic life is can be demanding and relentlessly busy, resulting in schedules with little flexibility or time for impromptu absence. Unfortunately, the flu and similar bugs don’t care, and will circulate regardless.Meanwhile, experimental and clinical biology is difficult to pause. Your cells won’t split themselves, rounds need to be done, and maybe you can still make it in, plus or minus some medication to mask the symptoms.

But, should you? Losing a day could mean losing many days of progress, so the trade-off of that day off doesn’t look very valuable, does it?

 

You may also feel an unspoken and unhealthy pressure to demonstrate your dedication to your work by not taking time off due to personal discomfort. [(This can be seen as part of a broader culture, common in the sciences, of glorifying overwork simply for its own sake.)]

 There’s a word to describe this action: presenteeism. This is the act of being at work when you really shouldn’t be. When you’re immersed in your work, it can be hard to think about much else, but there are times you should look up from that notebook, computer, or clipboard. First – look after yourself! A restful break might be exactly what you need to recover more quickly. Second – look beyond yourself! Particularly in seasons when infectious diseases are spreading, you ought to consider that not staying home has broader impacts than your own immediate schedule.  The consequences of presenteeism include:

 

  • Potentially increased time being ill (and you want to minimize this, right?)
  • Loss of efficacy (you’re more likely to make mistakes.)
  • Loss of Productivity (you won’t be as capable as you think you might.)
  • Workplace epidemics (your co-workers will thank you for not being there.)
  • Future poor health and exhaustion (a repeating cycle that takes a toll.)

 

While you can’t hit ‘pause’ on your experiments, consider working out reciprocal or lab/group-wide arrangements where critical tasks could be temporarily reassigned. And when you do have to come in, precautions such as face masks and minimizing physical contact can be effective in preventing transmission. If you have to cancel something, remember that this happens to us all. Workplace outbreaks will spill into non-work environments, affecting families, children, and more. Ignoring your health and that of those around you can have long lasting and far-rippling costs you hadn’t thought of in that ‘stay home or not?’ calculus.

 Like vaccines, preventing workplace outbreaks has a cumulative or “herd” effect – the more people who are mindful of their practices while ill, the more effective the strategy of illness reduction becomes for all.

 Finally, keep in mind that we may work in an environment with people who are immunocompromised or otherwise highly susceptible to infectious disease. Staying home when you could spread something might seem like an inconvenience, but in reality can be crucial for promoting the NIH mission of public health. So, for your own sake, your co-workers’ sake, and the sake of our patients, please be mindful of the impacts of coming to work while infectious or feeling terrible. The cost of not taking time off may be far greater than you realize!

 

 

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Handling Telephone Communication During Interview Season

November 7, 2017

Now that you have applied for positions or graduate schools, the next step is that you will be contacted to set up interviews.  While many recruiters and faculty utilize email as the primary form of communication, there is still a great possibility that you will be contacted by telephone.  It important that you handle all communication in a professional manner to make the best impression possible. Here are some suggestions to help you!

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Prepare your environment and support people for the calls in advance.

  • Record a professional greeting for your cell and land line so if you are away from the phone, your callers are greeted properly.

Suggested Script: “Hello you have reached the cell phone of {your name}.  I am unable to take your call right now.  Please feel free to leave a message with your phone number.  I will return your call as soon as I am able.”

  • Let the phone go to the answering message If you are in a lab meeting, sick, asleep, taking care of children, driving, or in a busy noisy place, Call back soon afterwards.
  • Put the organization and into your phone contacts- then if someone calls, it will show up.
  • Ask your roommates and family members to answer the phone politely and to take messages if they answer your phone. Give them a script if you need to.

Suggested Script:  Hello?  (Your first and last name) is not here right now. May I take a message? Thank you for calling.”

Train yourself to answer all calls with a greeting and your name.  Avoid answering with colloquial phrases or sounds such as “Hey” “Yeah,” or saying, “uh huh,” “right,” no problem” during the interview.

Suggested Script “Hello…this is Bill.”

If you are in a noisy place when the phone rings

  • Let the call go to your pre-recorded message. Listen to the message, then return the call shortly afterward when you are in a quiet place.
  • If you answer, and it becomes noisy call them back.
  • Do not put the caller on hold.

Suggested script: “I am sorry, but some unexpected noise just started, may I return your call shortly.  Thank you”

Address the caller with their appropriate title and use last name.

  • Use Dr., Mr., or Ms., and the caller’s last name (e.g. Dr. Smith)

Be enthusiastic throughout the entire call.

  • Try Smiling when you answer and talk on the phone
  • Sound enthusiastic. Don’t’ let any feelings of depression, irritation, anger, or fatigue creep into your voice.

Suggested Script: “I am happy to hear from you XYZ” or “I look forward to communicating with you further about the position.”

End the call professionally and enthusiastically. 

Suggested script: “Thank you for calling” or “I am happy that you called.  I will follow- up with you with the items that you have requested. It was nice to speak with you.”

We invite you to review or various blogs about  interviewing for a variety of positions. Please visit our website to make an appointment with a career counselor, register for workshops, or watch videos to help you prepare.


Making Career Searches Less Scary

October 30, 2017

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During a recent OITE workshop on the topic of career planning, trainees from all levels described finding the job search process “scary” and had feelings of  fear and stress regarding approaching the next steps.  For post bacs, applying to graduate, medical and other professional schools can sometimes feel like an uncharted maze at Halloween.  For post docs and visiting fellows, hearing the scary stories about pursuing academic careers, making the big step into industry, or searching for jobs in the US and abroad country is akin to walking in the dark in uncharted territory.  To add to previous OITE Halloween posts, here are some suggestions to help you slay the ghosts and goblins that are perceived to lurk in the career decision making process.

Do Not Go Gentle (Onto) That Good Career Path:   Put on your cloak of confidence –Allow others to help you learn what is next. 

A career counselor will help you confront myths and arm you with career realities that will empower you to forge ahead and fearlessly apply for opportunities and conquer interviews. You can also re-assess your career decisions and make healthy career choices through using individual career advising and assessments to discover how your interests, skills, and values relate to your career goals and career options.  Wellness advisors can help you manage stress and become resilient professionals through mindfulness exercises that are helpful at managing the stressors associated with the journey.

Researching the necessary qualifications and gaining experience will make career maze is less scary

Aim your flashlight towards the journey ahead by gathering practical information that you need about the career path you are embarking on. Conduct career research (websites, workshops, professional meetings), set up informational interviews with scientists, and utilize the videocasts and blogs found on the OITE web page to train for the trek.  Gain additional experience and skills through fellowships, OITE skills workshops, FAES and other options if you discover you need them. Create a timeline and strategy plan will help you to fearlessly navigate through the maze.

Unmask your talents

Create resumes, CVs, cover letters, personal statements and applications that clearly emphasize your strengths and skills. It is extremely important for scientists at all levels to include your leadership, teamwork, collaborations, communication, and community involvement in addition to your science and research skills.  Visit the OITE resume and CV and cover letter guide to help expose the broad range of skills that you bring to the position.

Use Career Tricks and Treats

It’s time to strut your stuff! Set out to interview at the doors of many schools and or positions.   Learn how to interview well by practicing the STAR technique of behavioral interviewing during a practice interview for graduate school and jobs.  This is a proven method of describing your past experiences, transferrable skills,  and discussing your experience with collaboration, teamwork, leadership, and problem solving and diversity.  Other tricks include, learning how to network, negotiate, and/or develop solid presentations of your research. To sweeten the deal, write effective thank you letters, a welcomed treat to those who have taken time to interview you.

 Have Halloween Fun!

Trainees are encouraged put on your costumes and stop by OITE Trick or Treat celebration on Halloween on October 31, 2017 between 11:00 and 12:30pm to celebrate you and also learn about how our services can help you in your career preparation.  Also hear about some of OITE’s staff’s scary job search stories.


Academic Job Search: Telephone Interviews

October 23, 2017

This is the time of year to prepare for telephone interviews.  For many of you, this will be the first step in the academic interviewing process.  This is a cost-effective and time efficient method for many search committees and enables them to narrow down the list of applicants that are invited for campus interviews.  In the OITE academic interview video cast, Sharon Milgram, Director of the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE), for the NIH suggests that candidates prepare to practice the following suggestions for managing the process:

  • Use a land-line
  • Find a quiet place free of distractions
  • Prepare for a 30-45-minute telephone interview. Expect up to three interviewers on the line
  • Jot down the names of interviewers and refer to each by name when answering the questions
  • Loss of facial and body-language (non-verbal) cues make it difficult at first
  • Be sure to have questions prepared in advance as this conversation will likely end with them asking if you have questions

Here are some potential questions to help you prepare for telephone interviews

  • Why are you interested in this position?
  • Tell us about your research. How will you involve students in your research?
  • What courses could you teach here?
  • What research projects/topics could you pursue here?
  • How would you describe your interactions with students?
  • What questions do you have for us?

Of course, after this  step,  you will prepare for campus interviews, job talks, chalk talks and negotiating a job package. We encourage you to visit the OITE website to register for workshops and career counseling appointments that may assist you with your search.  Also view our video casts and blogs related to the academic and industry job search. We encourage our readers beyond NIH to utilize resources at their home academic institutions as well.


Navigating a career in science with disabilities and chronic illness

October 16, 2017

Blog is written by Shannon DeMaria Ph.D., Research Ethics Training Coordinator, Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE)

As October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), this post is dedicated to exploring these topics as they relate to those who are planning careers in the biomedical enterprise.

First a note: this post is going to make use of the broadest possible to definition of disability, keeping in mind that many people do not self-identify as having a disability or being disabled. [The language surrounding these topics is complex, but does not have to be a barrier to discussing them.]

As scientists at the NIH, we can probably all rattle off how the scientific question we are working on relates to human health. As humans ourselves, we may also be touched by some of them. The fact is there is no barrier between us, the diseases we study, the patients we see, and the rest of the population. That means that at some point in our life, or for the entirety of it, many of us will find ourselves navigating a serious illness, chronic illness, disability of some sort (which may be temporary or permanent), as well as having friends and loved ones who may experience the same.

According to the 2012 U.S. Census, 19% of Americans reported having some sort of disability. Among scientists that number drops to ~5% (reported by the National Science Foundation). It is likely that this is an underestimate at least partially driven by a decrease in self-identification. However, it also reflects an underrepresentation of people with disabilities in STEM careers. As such, it can be difficult to look around and see this aspect of ‘yourself’ represented in the scientific population. This may lead one to wonder: do I belong here? Is a scientific career compatible with “X”?

The answer is yes, but keeping in mind that there are many complexities and uncertainties that may arise. There are many factors to actively consider as you plan for your future career, and aspects of your own and your loved ones’ health should be among them. Some topics may be addressed proactively, avoiding what could have been predictable problems later. Some difficulties may prove to be unavoidable, and building breadth into your current training and flexibility into your future plans would help to minimize the stress and disruption that they cause.

Consider the following (non-comprehensive) list of issues that you may wish to build plans around:

  • Determining if you are comfortable with disclosure.
  • Identifying your needs.
  • Self-advocacy.
  • Forming meaningful networks.
  • Wellness.
  • Future career considerations.
  • Finances.
  • Exploring and Choosing science careers where you will be able to utilize your strengths or where your work can be reasonably accommodated.

Each one of these topics is complex and could easily span an entire article to themselves. They also apply broadly to the scientific workforce! This post cannot comprehensively cover them all but is meant to take a look at the larger picture and to provide a launching point for future conversations.

Here are some useful resources.

As scientists and humans, we should strive towards the goal of creating a culture of inclusiveness, beginning with visibility and discussion. And, in the end, remember that you are not alone.

OITE career services are available to NIH intramural trainees only. Check with your home university or college and utilize the personal, career, and professional school advising resources they offer to you.


Writing the Research Statement

October 6, 2017

One of the documents that applicants are asked to submit as part of the complete academic job packet is the research statement. In general, this is a two to three-page document that describes your pathway into research in your discipline, pre-doctoral and postdoctoral research, and future directions for your research in the professorship.  This is an opportunity for you to help the search committee envision you fitting nicely into their department and achieving tenure in their department.

We encourage postdocs and graduate students in the sciences to visit the OITE website and watch the Academic Job Search: Applying and Interviewing video cast  in which Sharon Milgram, PhD Director of the Office of Intramural Training and Education discusses the essentials of the process for scientists. In addition, view the  Academic Job Search: Preparing Your Job Package presentation slides where you will find more information on preparing Research Statement.

For those of you who need additional help getting started, The University of Pennsylvania discusses the research statement and suggests applicants consider the following questions to help you to begin to craft your research statement.

  • What got you interested in this research?
  • What was the burning question that you set out to answer?
  • What challenges did you encounter along the way, and how did you overcome these challenges?
  • How can your research be applied?
  • Why is your research important within your field?
  • What direction will your research take you in next, and what new questions do you have

We invite you to visit the OITE career counselors to discuss your job search needs.  If you are one of our readers beyond NIH we encourage you to visit our website resources and work with your academic department and other institutional resources to help you prepare.


Writing the Teaching Statement

September 28, 2017

As you prepare a your written application materials to use when entering the Academic Job Market, in addition to the standard Curriculum Vitae (CV), Cover Letter,  and a diversity statements, you may be asked submit a Teaching Statement .  In general, teaching statements help search committees gain an understanding about how you approach teaching courses in your academic discipline.  This statement, that will include your philosophy towards teaching science,  will give the reader a concise synopsis of the underpinnings and origins to your approach to teaching followed by the strategies you plan to use, and examples and evidence of your success. The authors of,  The Academic Job Search Handbook (5th Edition), write that the Teaching Statement can be described as, “…a brief essay that will give a hiring committee an idea of what you actually do in the classroom. You will need to make some general statements but be sure to give some examples of things you have already done, or at least seen in practice, rather than give examples that are entirely hypothetical.”.

The NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) recommends that you watch our video casts on the Academic Job Search Process  before writing your statement.  Strong teaching statements will:

  • show clear evidence that you can “walk the walk”.
  • communicate that you are student-centered.
  • showcase your ability to teach to diverse learning styles
  • demonstrate your ability to reflect about your role as a teacher.
  • convey your enthusiasm for teaching.

For beginning instructors, Science Magazine provides some specific tips to the academic scientist who is starting the job market. The AAAS makes several suggestions to impress the search committee that include tailoring it to the institution, drawing form your personal experience learning science, and discussing what courses you would like to teach.  To help you get started, jot down your responses to the following reflective questions as you begin or re-evaluate your teaching statement:

  • Think back …Who or what experiences have influenced your approach to teaching?
  • How do you teach science? How do you motivate students to learn?
  • Do you teach differently to undergraduates, graduate, professionals?
  • What methods, materials, techniques, technology will you use to support your teaching goals
  • How will you teach to diverse audiences?
  • Describe creative methods to teach in your field?

If you are new to teaching or need more experience teaching, the OITE offers the course Scientists Teaching Science  that is an excellent program to help you begin to strategize and develop the skills for teaching in the profession including developing a teaching philosophy.  If taken, this can be included as training in your teaching statement and on your CV.