Interview with Dr. Collins on Wellness

September 5, 2018

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OITE was lucky enough to recently connect with the Director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins. He offers valuable tips from his own life and experiences. This is a must read for all, especially scientists just starting out in their careers.

You are well known for your hobbies (music and motorcycles to name two) on top of your professional accomplishments.  How do you maintain all of your varied vocational and avocational interests?
I wish I could say that’s because I am a master of time management and work-life balance.  But I can’t really claim credit for either.  What I will claim is that engaging in such activities outside of work helps me nurture that other part of me that longs for adventure and inspiration, and gives me a chance (especially with music) to create something of beauty (well, at least sometimes).  The uplift from those experiences helps me perform better in my work life.

Science isn’t always seen as the most welcoming/friendly environment in terms of work-life balance.  Has this been a challenge in your career? If so, how have you coped?
Yes, achieving that balance is indeed a challenge for those of us working in science.  As NIH Director and PI of an intramural lab, my work demands can tend to soak up every waking hour, and some that should be sleeping.  And sometimes I let that get the best of me.  It helps me to have a life partner and soulmate (my wife Diane) who is much more balanced than I am and who is masterful in diagnosing and treating the work monomania when it gets out of hand.

Do you regularly engage in any self-care (body/mind/spirit/heart) strategies?
My spiritual life is really important to me – and so I spend a little time most mornings in Bible reading and reflection.  I’m also in a men’s book club with several other non-science professionals who are interested in how faith is relevant to modern life – that has been a wonderful source of shared growth.  And then there’s health.  Ten years ago, I realized I was doing a poor job of health maintenance – no exercise, terrible diet.  A DNA test pointed to a higher than average risk of diabetes, a disease my lab works on and that I really don’t want to get.  I hired a personal trainer, stopped indulging so much in pastries and ice cream, and lost 30 pounds.  Those pounds have never come back – and that same trainer comes to my house twice a week at 5:45 AM to put me through an intense hour of weight and cardio training. The effect of both the spiritual and physical training on my sense of wellbeing has been significant.

What advice do you have for scientists just starting out on their career paths for maintaining their own self-care?
It sounds like a cliché – but it’s important to make self-care a priority, not an afterthought.  Choose activities that really enhance your joy in life; they will be easier to sustain.  Find like-minded people to share those experiences, whether it’s a dance class, a softball league, or a book club – it’s too easy to decide you just don’t have time for something if there’s no one else involved.  The chance to do science is an incredible privilege, but it can also be very exhausting.  Figure out what kind of fuel your tank needs, and then make sure to fill it often enough to keep the engine going!

As shown by Dr. Collins, wellness is more than just one thing. Remember to prioritize your own wellness and self-care by taking advantage of the resources and activities near you. If you are at the NIH, the OITE offers many workshops and drop-in groups on topics such as: resilience, assertiveness, and stress management to name a few. Many university campuses and community organizations provide similar offerings through student life services or recreational groups.

 

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Saying “No” at Work

May 22, 2018

A picutre of tree bark with the words It can be anxiety producing to turn down work from a fellow colleague, or even worse, your boss. Sometimes, though, that is exactly what you need to do. In most work settings, especially competitive ones, employees want to be looked upon favorably as the “go-to person” or as a “good team player”. The problem happens when you take on too much and volunteer to pitch in on one too many projects. When doing so, you run the risk of not being as effective at your other tasks and it could leave you feeling stressed and stretched too thin.

If you have already fully assessed the request and plan to say “no” here are a few things to keep in mind as you say this small but powerful two-lettered word.

Give yourself permission to say “no”.
Even at work. Often people agree to requested tasks or favors simply because they fear disappointing the requestor. At work, you should earnestly evaluate whether you have the bandwidth to help with the request and you should always show a willingness to pitch in; however, you can still say no. When doing so, ask if priorities should be shifted to accommodate this request or volunteer to help in smaller or tangential ways for the project. Saying no at work doesn’t mean you are a bad employee, but rather that you are aware of your own personal time constraints and want to be respectful to all involved on the project.

Say it with the right tone.
This can be a hard one to do, especially if you feel stressed and overwhelmed by the request. Sometimes answers can come out overly harsh, so try not to conflate your overall feelings about your workload with this one favor. Sometimes it is best to buy yourself more time and say “Can I follow up with you in a few minutes? My mind is focused on X right now.” Then take some time to gather your thoughts and practice your approach.

Be firm with your boundary.
It is equally important not to waver or appear too hesitant when saying no. Be courteous but assertive. You might say, “I’m sorry I can’t be of help right now and I will let you know if that changes in the next few weeks.” This puts you in the position to follow up instead of inviting questions from the requestor of the “If…then” variety. Don’t give the requestor false hope that your answer may change by talking too much about shifting variables. Make sure your no is firmly understood.

If saying no to requests at work (or outside of work, for that matter!) is difficult for you, then you might benefit from the assertiveness workshops. If you are at the NIH, feel free to attend the workshop entitled “Speaking Up: How to Ask For What You Need in the Lab and in Life” on June 19. The OITE also has some resources that might be helpful, including the OITE Career Library. One book you might be particularly interested in is: When I Say No, I Feel Guilty by Manuel J. Smith, PhD.

 


How to be Confident in the Job Search

July 24, 2017

Two of the most frequent questions that fellows ask during career counseling are, “For what jobs do I qualify? “or “Should I apply for this job?”. To answer these questions, career counselors begin with helping fellows to identify and speak assertively about career from their career trajectory that are factual and grounded in reality.  For example,  as a NIH fellow, you will have developed several core competencies which may include research, academic and scientific writing, speaking, grant writing, teaching, mentoring, leadership, management, and ethics training among others.  Also, fellows can speak clearly about their skills, motivations, achievements, values and experience that they have already developed without sounding too shy or overly confident.  In 2012,  Science magazine published a blog article, ” Successful Careers: A Matter of Confidence,”  that goes into more detail about this reality for scientists.

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In OITE, our goal is to help you develop more confidence about your career options and the job search and recommend taking the following steps. If you take these steps, you will be able to answer the questions positively and with confidence.

1.Identify and practice talking about your accomplishments, skills, interests and values.

  • Keep an on-going list of accomplishments and skills that you have gained through your education, training, and work.
  • Develop more understanding of factors related to workplace dynamics and communication. OITE offers a leadership workshop series to help. https://www.training.nih.gov/leadership_training
  • Include work, family and lifestyle needs into your decision-making
  1. Update your CV/Resume to reflect accomplishments, your skills and experiences.
  2. Explore various science career pathways in the sciences and note those of interest.

Some of the most common science career paths include intellectual property, science writing, regulatory affairs, outreach and education, technology transfer, science policy, principal investigator and entrepreneurship and academia. One effective way to begin exploration is to complete the myIDP assessment is self-report instrument that asks the test taker to respond to several smaller career scales related to their science related interests, values and skills.  A report is generated that and how these skills match up with the broad spectrum of employment sectors in science. The myIDP also includes overviews of many career paths in science with links to articles, books and professional associations that describe these career paths.

4.Compare and match your experience and skills to the qualifications listed in job ads

  • Begin to read multiple job descriptions and job openings. Underline/highlight key skills and qualifications in the job description that describe the type of experience the employer is seeking.
  • Reflect on your experience to identify skills that match the description and highlight those skills for your resume/CV.

5.Get involved in your institute/center committees, FELCOM, Scientific Interest Groups (SIG).

  • Obtain leadership and teamwork roles and strengthen your communication skills often prized by employers.
  1. Reach out to professionals who work in the career sectors that interest you.
  • Conduct informational interviews Talk to individuals who work in the job sectors and positions that interest you to learn more about specific skills and knowledge that helps them to do their work.
  • Email/ talk with at least 10-15 people to assess the fit for you in specific organizations and job roles.
  • The more people you talk with the more you will understand what specific jobs involve. You will make contacts in the fields that interest you and potentially find out about jobs that you might never see posted
  • Use your university networks, NIH researchers and alumni, professional society networks, andhttps://oitecareersblog.wordpress.com/?s=linked LinkedIn to find professionals to talk with.
  1. Schedule a mock (practice) interview with a career counselor, mentor, and/or colleague to practice your skills.

For NIH fellows, feel free to make an appointment with an OITE career counselor for if you need further help getting started or evaluating your approach.  Similar services can be found in your home institution or in the community for readers beyond the NIH.

Anne Kirchgessner MSEd. is a Career Counselor with NIH’s Office of Intramural Training and Education

 


Making the Most of Your Experience at NIH: The Scorecard

February 6, 2017

I arrived at NIH in October 2015. I attended the workshop “English Communication for Visiting Scientists” (ECVS) workshop in February 2016 because, as non-native speaker, I wanted to improve my communication skills. I remember that I was afraid of asking my PI to sign the written consent I needed to register for it. I soon realized how unwarranted my fear was! My PI was glad to know that I wished to improve my communication skills. This has been the first lesson I learned from The Scorecard: “If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no.”

The ECVS workshop. The 2-day workshop itself was very useful. I learned and practiced how to write professional e-mails and to be assertive. But most importantly, I realized that I was not alone. Instead, I was surrounded by people who understood the fear and the frustration of jumping suddenly into a completely different world. During the ECVS workshop, I learned about the Scorecard: an intensive training program to be completed within 6-months. The program (Fig. 1) envisages 10 scores earned by completing the workshops/activities. They are  grouped into four categories: career development, mentoring, leadership/management, and communication.

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Fig. 1. Representation of the Scorecard categories. Numbers in squared brackets represent the points needed to complete each category. The activities I included in my scorecard are in bold.

The Action Plan. I am a person who likes challenges, so I decided to try and draft an action plan (Fig. 2). First, I identified among the listed courses/activities the ones I was most interested in. Then, I looked at the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) calendar, planned when to attend them, to ensure that I was able to meet the deadline. Last but not least, I identified what I call the “milestone” of my program, i.e. the most difficult and time intensive course. In my case, it was the “Scientists Teaching Science (STS) 9-week course”. I knew that completing it would have motivated me to keep following the plan. Among the other activities that I included in my plan, I chose to attend the Workplace Dynamics IV and V workshops and the mentoring course, and to give a presentation at OITE. I will briefly describe them in the next paragraphs by highlighting why I think they have been very useful for me.

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                        Fig. 2. My “action plan” to complete the Scorecard.

Career development. The milestone of my program – the STS 9-week course – is, in my opinion, a must for fellows aiming at an academic career. One of the assignments is to write the teaching philosophy statement, a fundamental piece of the academic job package! Having the opportunity to have a person with a long-term experience in education, read it and provide constructive feedback is priceless. Moreover, the course is entirely on-line and the teacher provides students with useful hints on how to organize on-line courses and incorporate active learning techniques in the classes. I simply loved it.

Leadership/Management. The Workplace Dynamics series opened my mind. At the beginning of the workshop, as soon as I realized that I had to practice by speaking to the person close to me, I wanted to run away! Yes, I am an extremely introverted person. I am afraid of talking to people, especially in a language that is not my mother tongue, and I prefer to write e-mails. E-mails that most of my colleagues never read, because they prefer to communicate verbally. It took me a while to realize that my approach was ineffective. The workshops provided me with helpful hints on how to address the differences in the personalities and communication styles between me and my colleagues that and made me more successful at work.  After attending the two workshops I needed for the scorecard, I decided to complete the series and I am going to attend the next Management Boot Camp.

Mentoring. The “Summer Research Mentor Training course” was another very helpful workshop. Similar to the STS course, one of the assignments was to write the mentoring philosophy statement. I have recently used both assignments as drafts for an application for an academic position. During the course, I learned the importance of aligning mentor/mentee goals and expectations and assessing differences in communication and learning styles. We all tend to communicate and teach the way it is most effective to us. Recognizing that what works for us does not necessarily work for other people and learn how to manage those differences is the first step to become an effective mentor. I look forward to have the opportunity to mentor a summer student.

Communication. As an introverted, not native speaker, presentations were a huge obstacle for me. I love to design and sketch them out but, until several months ago, I would have paid someone else to deliver them in my place. Most importantly, I would never have volunteered for a presentation. I now realize that my fear to present caused me to miss many valuable opportunities to practice! Now things have changed. Taking part in the activities suggested by the scorecard helped me to practice and build my confidence. I now look forward to presentations rather than trying to avoid them. The author of a book entitled “The Exceptional Presenter” states: “The time to practice is during your normal daily routines, when habits can be formed and mistakes are not costly.”

Final thoughts. All that said, the Scorecard simply acted as “firestarter”. The goal of earning a training certificate motivated me to engage in the program and meeting the deadlines helped me to stay on track. However, as soon as I realized how useful the program was, I attended many other courses beyond the Scorecard. When I earned the ECVS certificate, however, I was really surprised to know that nobody else completed the scorecard before me. So, I decided to write this post to encourage other fellows to engage in it.

Please fellows, don’t think you don’t have the time and don’t be a “rat in the lab”!  Please bear in mind that the knowledge you will gain by completing the Scorecard training program will help you feel better in your lab, communicate more effectively with your PI and colleagues, and develop your career. And please, please don’t miss any opportunity to practice your communication skills!

So, what are you waiting for? The next ECVS workshop is on March 1st, don’t miss it!

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This post was written by guest blogger, Dr. Antonella Ciancetta, Visiting Fellow at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and first fellow who earned the English Communication for Visiting Scientists Certificate


The Introverted Job Seeker

July 9, 2014

Do you have to be dragged to a networking event or cocktail party? When you do go to an event, do you have to spend the rest of the day recuperating? Do you need plenty of alone time during the day? If you answered yes to these questions, you might be an introvert. The level and intensity of introversion varies from person to person, so even if you haven’t taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), you probably have a general sense regarding your own preference toward extraversion or introversion. For the purpose of this post, we are going to focus on the quieter half of the population – the introverts.

In Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” she argues that U.S. work culture is often biased against introverts; their quiet, reflective and serious demeanors are often trumped by extraverted traits such as being outgoing, assertive and verbose. Now, depending on your work environment, your boss’ style, and the culture of your team, it is arguable whether extraversion or introversion could be viewed more positively.

However, there is one area which is seemingly stacked in favor of the extraverted and that is the job search. Two major aspects of a job search which are especially energy draining to introverts are networking and interviewing.

Networking

How might being introverted hold you back in terms of networking? Well, it could if it means that you find yourself avoiding social situations with possible introductions to new contacts or if you find you never quite muster the energy to take that phone call or set up that informational interview.

Introverts are often excellent networkers though because they tend to observe and analyze people and situations well. Also, introverts tend to prefer listening – a great characteristic for effective networking and an excellent means for gathering new information and new contacts. Whereas an extravert might approach networking with a hard-sell mentality, an introvert tends to go in with more of a soft-sell approach, which is often a preferable way to begin building a rapport (and a larger network of professional contacts).

Just remember to care for your introverted self throughout this process. When you have to utilize your less-preferred extravert skills, you will begin to feel your energy drain. Be sure to build in time to recharge throughout your job search timeline.

Interviewing

One particularly valuable job search trait of extraverts is that they tend to think out loud. This is especially important during an interview. Interviews by design often favor an extravert’s ease in making introductions and connections.

Interview questions, especially behavioral-based interview questions, are asked so that the employer can get a feel for your thought process and how you would approach different situations. Thinking out loud – even if it isn’t stated perfectly – helps you convey information to the employer. Reticence to disclose information, shortly phrased answers, and long silences will likely hurt your chances. Introverts often assume people can read how they are thinking or feeling. Or, if in an interview, they will assume the employer knows they are excited about the position because they are there. On the contrary, employers bring you into an interview in order to see and hear your enthusiasm. Expressing this fully can be a challenge for many introverts.

The good news is that many of these skills can be practiced. You can learn better responses to interview questions, you can role play networking successfully and you can “try on” the façade of an extraverted job-seeker. This doesn’t mean you have to go out there and be something completely different and inauthentic to you; rather, challenge yourself to do things that might not feel completely comfortable to you as an introvert. Hopefully this serves as a reminder to check in with yourself about your true preferences and make sure you are taking care of yourself throughout the job search process.


Top 7 Reasons That You Should Visit A Career Counselor

February 6, 2012

In the beginning of January, we posted a calendar with monthly steps to move your career forward.  The February task was to meet with a career counselor.  Here at OITE, we have two career counselors on staff.  Anne and Elaine were kind enough to introduce themselves on the blog a couple of years ago.  What makes them an enormous asset for you is that they exclusively advise scientists.  They understand the career dynamics of fellows here at NIH and researchers in general.  They have a wide breadth of knowledge and experience in career counseling and have already helped hundreds of fellows take the next step in their careers. 

Whether you know where your career is heading or not, meeting with a career counselor can help you be more competitive in fulfilling your career goals.  With the help of our two career counselors on staff at OITE, we have determined the top 7 reasons to visit a career counselor.

Read the rest of this entry »


Meet OITE – Anne Kirchgessner, NCC, NCCC, LCPC

March 15, 2010

Hello!

As a Career Counselor within OITE, I enjoy working with postbacs, graduate students, postdocs and clinical fellows throughout all stages of the career planning and job search process.

Before joining OITE, I counseled undergraduate and graduate students and post-docs for ten years in the Johns Hopkins Career Center for the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences and the Whiting School of Engineering.

Previously, I worked as the Director of Career, Counseling and Learning Services at the University of Maryland University College where I managed a staff of career counselors, math and writing tutors and student peer advisors. As Program Director for Experiential Learning at University of Maryland, College Park I helped students gain academic credit for cooperative education experiences and internships.

My experience includes teaching and coaching adult students to develop portfolios to gain college level credit in a variety of disciplines at University of Maryland University College.

I have also had career counseling and consultation experience at the American University, the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) and in private practice.

Earlier in my career I counseled disabled students in various career-related co-op and internship placements at Genesee Community College.

My Bachelor’s degree is in English (being a reformed Chemistry major) from Nazareth College of Rochester and my Master’s degree is in Counseling from the State University of New York College at Brockport. My certifications include National Certified Counselor (NCC), National Certified Career Counselor (NCCC) and Maryland Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC).

I’m happy to meet with fellows who are looking for help with CV, resume, and interviewing skills, as well as considering new career options or just getting started on planning their next career steps I am also interested in assertive communication issues and concerns in the workplace

Our appointment e-mail address is OITE-Careers@od.nih.gov.

All the best,
Anne


About the Career Services Center

January 19, 2010

The OITE Career Services Center was established in 2007 to serve all of the trainees in the NIH intramural community. Our goal is to ensure that NIH trainees are aware of the many jobs available, both at and away from the bench, and to provide the resources to help them identify good personal options. Our career counselors run workshops, lead small group discussions, and schedule individual appointments open to all. These are designed to assist trainees in self-assessment, career exploration, goal setting, and finding positions.

Staffing for the Center includes:

• career counselors, who can assist you with analyzing your strengths, weaknesses, and values; help you write resumes and CVs; provide information on career options; and coach you through the job search process; and

• counselors who can aid you in developing a more assertive presence, dealing with interpersonal conflicts that might arise in the lab, managing time and/or stress, and more personal issues.

You can use the OITE Web site to make one-on-one appointments with these individuals. If you are in or near Bethesda, your appointments will be in Building 2 on the main campus. If you are at another location, the counselors will come to you or we will arrange phone appointments.