Career Development Theory Review: Super’s Life-Span, Life-Space Theory

January 25, 2016

Donald Super created a developmental model which emphasized how personal experiences interact with occupational preferences in creating one’s self-concept. Many theorists before him simply looked at personality and occupation and focused on a trait matching approach.

One of Super’s greatest contributions to career development was his emphasis on the importance of developing a self-concept, as well as his recognition that this self-concept can change with new experiences over time. Before this, career development was mostly seen as a singular choice; however, Super viewed career development as a lifelong activity.

This might not seem groundbreaking today, but it was a marked change from the way theorists thought when Super began formulating his theoretical concepts in the 1950’s. In addition to recognizing that people change over their lifetime, he also identified different areas or “life-spaces” that help make a person who they are. The six main life-spaces that make up who we are include: parent/homemaker, worker, citizen, leisurite, student, and child. So many of these roles imply that other people are involved in our lives and thus impact who we are. There are many other spaces in one’s life – other than work – and Super believed that these inhabited social spaces didn’t constitute a distraction but were an integral part of the rainbow of our lives. (Figure from http://career.iresearchnet.com/career-development/supers-career-development-theory/.)

Image of Super's Life-Span, Life-Space Rainbow

Super’s self-concept is the belief that our identities and by extension our career identities are a product of how we see ourselves. Our vocational choices put this concept into practice in the real world.

Super’s Five Life and Career Development Stages

1. Growth (Age: birth – 14)
Characteristics: development of self-concept attitudes, and general world of work

2. Exploration (Age 15 – 24)
Trying out classes, work, hobbies; tentative choice and skill development

3. Establishment (Age 25 – 44)
Entry-level skill building and stabilizing work experience

4. Maintenance (Age 45 –64)
Continual adjustment process to improve position

5. Decline (Age 65+)
Reduced output, preparation for retirement

The stages that Super outlined are guides looking at a macro-perspective of one’s life. These stages often correlate with important events and denote a time of transition. Look at the stages and see where you fit in. Do you agree with how they are laid out? Some critics have argued or adjusted these stages and say that the language used is too deeply rooted in a 1950’s perspective.

Either way, if you are looking for a key takeaway in reviewing this theory and trying to find a practical application to your life, then simply remember this. Super’s work was important because his idea of the self-concept profoundly changed the field of career development.  It challenged individuals to construct their own identification and understanding of their life-space identities including that of their careers. Take a moment to think about and list all of the roles (scientist, parent, yogi, dog owner, caregiver, student etc.) you assume in your life. These roles will likely change depending on your life stage.  Super’s theory is a good reminder that an individual’s life situation changes with time and experience while noting that the concept of vocational maturity may or may not correspond with biological age. People may find themselves in the Exploration stage at 35 years-old since people tend to cycle through these stages when they go through career transitions.


‘Tis the Season for Your Career Development

December 17, 2014

The holiday season is a time when many of us are trying to finalize year end work projects on top of managing personal obligations.   While trying to handle holiday stress, it is easy to lose sight of your own professional goals during this time of year.

Many job seekers protest, “No one’s hiring right now, anyway!” or “I’ll just start job searching in the New Year.” Whatever the excuse, the holiday season is actually a great time to focus on your own career development.  Here are a few reasons why:

Holiday Networking
Your inclination may be to wait until sometime after the holidays to dedicate time to your search; however, the holidays are actually a great time to begin networking. The increase in holiday parties allows for you to cross paths with people you haven’t seen in a while as well as connect with new individuals. Take advantage of December and the increased association with family, friends, and other groups.

The other advantage during this time of the year is that you have a reason to reconnect. Whether through holiday greeting cards or emails, it is the perfect chance to help sustain professional relationships. Just be sure to personalize these greetings and don’t fall back on a general mass email.

Holiday Vacation
More free time and a lighter work load can allow you to accomplish a lot more than you normally would. Use the holiday season’s lull to get caught up on a few things. Fine tune your resume, cover letters and LinkedIn profile.  Research new companies to target or make a list of potential contacts.  Or maybe, you’ll want to use this slower time to pause and reflect on the past year and what you are hoping to accomplish in the upcoming year.

Holiday Traffic
No, not that traffic! The traffic on the roads might be horrendous as you travel during the holiday season, but the website traffic to job search sites decreases dramatically in November and December.  While your competition is sitting around a fire sipping eggnog, you can be submitting your application now.  This often means that you are looked at within a smaller pool of candidates. You also have the added benefit of getting in before the peak application times of January and February.

The holidays can be a special time of the year and it can be a great time to relax and rejuvenate. It doesn’t mean that you have to put your search on hold though. Using this time wisely can help prepare you for career success in the New Year.  However you celebrate the holidays, the OITE wishes you the best!


Is Your Mentor Opposed to Your Career Development?

October 6, 2014

The answer to this question in most instances is no; however this may seem to be the case if you are relying too heavily on your PI for this function. You must always remember, the person most responsible for your career development is the person who benefits most from it – you! Many trainees feel that their mentors are too busy and/or too important to “bother” them with their questions or thoughts. That shouldn’t be the case – they are there to help you learn and pass along their scientific knowledge to a new generation. While it can be difficult to approach your mentor to discuss career progression – and even harder to judge when this discussion is appropriate – this dialogue can be extremely helpful.

Your mentor likely has a wealth of knowledge and experience that can be very helpful as you prepare for your career. But, the rigors of the day-to-day functioning of the lab can sometimes delay or prevent career development discussions from occurring. In this case, it is certainly acceptable for you to request a meeting for this purpose. Below are some suggestions that may help as you think about this conversation:

Prepare thoroughly

  • Be able to articulate your strengths and weaknesses, short-term work goals and longer term career objectives.
  • Honestly assess your contribution to the lab. An accurate evaluation of your performance can build trust with your PI, and also allow you to point out contributions that you are making of which he or she may be unaware.

Identify areas in which your mentor can help you achieve your goals

  • This can also help facilitate the discussion by allowing your mentor to react to and comment on your assessments, and can avoid putting him or her on the spot.
  • Healthy discussion on this topic may identify additional areas of which you had not previously been aware.

Take care in scheduling the meeting

  • Remember, your mentor’s chief responsibility is for the success of the lab. Avoid scheduling around busy times and critical deadlines.
  • Potentially set it for non-working hours.

Be willing to engage in additional learning and development opportunities

  • This can be for the purpose of enhancing performance in your current position, preparing you for your career goals, or even both.

Even with preparation, making the initial request for the meeting can be daunting. A statement like (or an email), “I’d like to discuss my performance with you and get your input on my longer-term plans” can be effective. By approaching it in this manner, you are communicating to your mentor that you have thought about your career development and will not be relying solely on him/her on the topic.

This may sound like an intimidating challenge and you may be nervous for the first meeting. You will find that by using this approach, future meetings will become easier and more productive as you are able to build on past discussions. Next week, we will discuss in-depth how you can talk to your mentor about your career development, even if that means a career change.


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 13 – Educational and Career Development Program

April 16, 2012

This is the thirteenth in a series of profiles about recent NIH postdocs who have found an array of jobs, from academia to industry to communications and beyond, in the U.S. and abroad. What do they do now, and how did they get there? What challenges did they face, and what advice do they have? Read on to find out.

Name: Mary Litzinger

Current position: Manager of educational and career development programs, The American Association of Immunologists

Location: Bethesda, MD

Time in current position: 6 months

Postdoc: Tumor immunology and immunotherapy with Jeffrey Schlom at NCI

Finding a path: I did preclinical research as a postdoc at the NIH. I was actually there for so long—7 years—that I was promoted to a research fellow, an employee position. While I was there, I always knew I wasn’t interested in pursuing the research end and becoming a PI. I enjoyed science, but I was disenchanted with doing all the nitty-gritty details. I started thinking about non-bench positions like scientific journals and science policy.

Set yourself apart: While I was a trainee, I attended a lot of the career events held by OITE. Something that came out of many of the speakers was that a lot of scientists want to move beyond the bench, so you have to set yourself apart by showing why you want to make that transition.

I became involved with a science policy discussion group at the NIH. It was only a couple of months old. The leaders of the group had been approached by someone at AAAS who was interested in putting some of the discussions on their MySciNet website. I had an interest in getting some writing credits that weren’t scientific journal articles, so I got involved in posting material on the blog. I know that set me apart when I applied to jobs. It’s important to do as much as you can, even though it can be difficult to find the time.

Read the rest of this entry »


Taking Ownership of Your Career: Developing an Individual Development Plan (IDP)

February 6, 2014

Silhouetee of a person looking at arrows pointing in different directionsHave you drafted a career plan? Do you know if you have the required skills for your dream job? Figuring out the next step in your career and how to prepare for it can be stressful. But developing a plan, early on in your career, will help guide you through this process of identifying and achieving your career goals.

This year, the OITE will be dedicating its blog to help you develop a Career Success Plan, focusing on a variety of core competencies that are critical for your career development, the first being career exploration and planning. This is where creating an individual development plan (IDP) comes into play. But, what is an IDP? And why it is so important?

An IDP is a personalized document developed to help you define your career goals and implement strategies to help you accomplish those goals. There are many ways to develop your IDP. In fact, some universities, organizations, and/or institutes may have their own IDP documents in place. No matter what stage your career is in (postbac, grad student, postdoc) or what career path you are pursuing, an IDP can help you focus on short and long term goals with an action plan to follow. Remember, that as your career progresses, your plans might change, so you can always come back and review your goals adjusting them to your current situation.

Developing an IDP requires time and effort. So it is important that you not only think thoroughly about your career by doing an honest self-assessment but also, by being committed to applying the strategies established in your plan to reach your goals. To help you build your IDP, we discuss briefly the some important elements of the IDP.

Conduct a Self-Assessment

Self-assessment helps you identify skills, interests and values that are key to finding a career that fits you. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your skills (such as communication and leadership), interests (such as mentoring and designing experiments) and values (such as fast-paced environment and flexibility) will all help you evaluate your needs and priorities in your career.

Explore Different Careers

Once you understand your needs and priorities, how do they relate to possible career paths? With so many career options, you want to make sure that the career path you choose matches your skillset and interests. You might also find a career path that you didn’t think about before but fits your needs. When exploring career options, networking and informational interviewing play a critical role to understand those careers that you are unfamiliar with and learn insights of the job.

Set Goals

Now that you have explored different careers, what is your plan to get there? This is where you should develop your short and long term goals that are SMART. By doing so, you will hopefully establish a timeline to stick to your goal.

Implement Plan

Finally and most importantly, is to put your IDP in ACTION! Remember, you are in control of your own career. If you don’t take it seriously, no one else will.

Even though you can complete an IDP by yourself, you should choose a mentoring team that can guide and advise you through this process. Mentors play a critical part of the career planning process not only because of their personal and professional experiences but also because they can: provide feedback about your skills; help you reflect on your interests and values; and keep you motivated and focused.

* Science Careers has a web-based career-planning tool called myIDP that can help graduate students and postdocs develop their IDP. SACNAS-IDP also provides advice on how to build a IDP for undergraduate students

** Disclaimer: This blog is informational and does not constitute an endorsement to Science nor SACNAS Website by NIH OITE


Happy Pride! Helpful Career Resources for LGBTQ Scientists and Allies

June 5, 2017

Courtney's Rainbow1 (002)

In 2014, to recognize Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride month, the OITE Careers Blog published a post addressing job search and work environments for LGBTQ scientists called Happy Pride!  This blog issue provides useful resources for scientists, their families, and allies in support of inclusive career decision-making and work environments.

LGBTQ Employment and Training Opportunities: In addition to the helpful employment resources referred to in the in the 2014 Happy Pride blog (see above), here are some additional resources:

National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technology Professionals (NOGLSTP).  A professional association that provides a listing of  career opportunities for LGBTQ science and technology graduates, mentoring, fellowships, and other forms of support.

New Scientist has published a useful article highlighting LGBT employers in the sciences.

GoAbroad.com published an article with links to an excellent on-line LGBT Student Guide to Studying Abroad that provides resources and helpful information that will help LGBT community members prepare to go abroad for studies.  The guide is also useful for international applicants seeking knowledge about LGBT safe communities across the world.

The Association of International Educators (NAFSA) published an informative article written for allies of LGBTQ international students regarding the specific needs of this population when they arrive to the US and later return to their home countries.

PFLAG International extends its advocacy for LGBT individuals and families globally.  This is a useful resource for LGBT individuals and allies who are preparing to go abroad for short or extended periods of time.

Preferred Gender Pronouns:   When applying for internships, jobs, graduate school, and/or professional schools, you may notice a question related to gender pronouns is added. This question allows applicants an option to request their preferred gender pronouns to use when referring to them.  Colleges, universities, and human rights organizations provide excellent resources used in ally trainings for students, faculty and staff about using gender neutral pronouns.

Ally Training: Many organizations (including the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) offer Safe Zone training that can allow allies the opportunity to learn more about the LGBTQ community and assist in the creation of a more welcoming environment.

LGBTQ Terminology:  One way to contribute to a culture of inclusion and respect for community members is to become aware of accepted terms to refer to members of the LGBTQ community. The human rights organization, PFLAG, publishes a terminology glossary  that is a useful reference to learn about the latest acceptable terms.

As you can see, it is important for job seekers and their allies to address LGBTQ-related topics in order to keep stress from derailing their life, job search, and/or educational process.  The OITE offers career development workshops and/or career, wellness, and pre-professional services. We suggest that you learn when to seek counseling from our office or the NIH Employee Assistance Program.  We encourage you to register for the Workplace Dynamics: Diversity in a Multicultural Society workshops and/or join the NIH LGBT Fellows and Friends (LGBT-FF) community.  Not at NIH?   We recommend using resources offered by your college and university or local community centers. It can be helpful to chat with other professionals who have been through this process to seek advice and support. Out for Work and Out and Equal Workplace Advocates are two good introductory resources.

Courtney's Rainbow1 (002)


Where Do I Begin? Industry Careers for Scientists

February 13, 2017

One of the most challenging questions that developing scientists must answer is, “Should I pursue an academic or industry career?” For some, the pursuit of an academic career  is their path of choice.  For scientists who wish to pursue industry careers, the answer is more difficult to come by because they lack sufficient knowledge of how to pursue the variety of careers in industry.

This OITE Archives post will help scientists to answer this question by providing suggesting the following OITE Archives to begin gathering information about career paths for scientists.    To begin, read the following articles about moving from Industry to Academia and the Top 10 Myths about careers in industry discussed by guest blogger, Professor Brad Fackler.

Next, read through several of the recently published OITE Career Options Series blogs about popular careers for scientists. The information is still relevant and worth reviewing as part of your career decision-making process.

For those who have an interest in working abroad, here are several blogs that will open your eyes to career global opportunities for scientists

If graduate or professional school is needed as part of the pathway to an industry career the following posts will be helpful.

Will a Master’s Degree Get You Where You Want to Go?

Getting In: Everything You want To Know About the Graduate and Professional School Applications

We encourage you schedule informational interviews with NIH alumni and scientists employed in industry to learn more about how they made the transition.  Schedule an appointment with a career counselor to learn more about careers and how values, interests, skills, and lifestyle and how they factor into your decision.   Finally, attend our various career development programs such as the NIH Career Symposium to gather career information from NIH alumni help you make this important career choice.


NIH OITE Alumni: Where Are They Now? Director of Career Services

October 17, 2016

dumsch_amandaName: Amanda Dumsch

Job Title & Organization: Director of Career Services; SAIS Europe, Johns Hopkins University

Location: Bologna, Italy

What was your job search like?
I wasn’t actively job searching; however, a former boss emailed me a link to an open position at SAIS Europe.  I didn’t pay much attention to it at first and I actually sat on the email for over a month. Then, one day while I was at the National Career Development Association Conference, I suddenly decided it couldn’t hurt to send in my cover letter and resume. The process moved seemingly quickly after that.

How did you make the decision to take an international job?
It was actually a difficult decision for me because I was in an enviable position. My job as a career counselor at the OITE was fantastic. I was happily employed in a job that I liked working alongside people I respected. So, I worried and wondered. How could I walk away from that? I also lived geographically close to my family, so the prospect of moving an ocean away – on a different continent – stressed me out.

Making the decision took time and I did a lot of things to help get clarity. I made pros and cons lists; I journaled about it; I spoke to career counselors; I talked to trusted colleagues; and I conferred with loved ones constantly.  I even reread some of the very blog posts that I had written about decision-making, including:

Making a Career Decision? Use the CASVE Cycle

3 Decision-Making Tips

Decision-Making Activity — Prioritizing Grid

As a feeling decider, the decision ultimately came down to a gut feeling that this was the right next step for me in my life and my career. Sometimes stress and worry still kick in though and I panic, What if I made the wrong decision?  But, I try to take a moment to breathe and remind myself that I can always make a new decision if needed in the future.

What have you learned from this process?
There is an adage “opportunity knocks at inopportune times” and I have often thought about this line because it felt so applicable to my situation. Perhaps more than any other time in my life, I had committed to multiple projects through the end of the year. So, moving felt very disruptive to all of the plans (professional development courses, the NYC marathon, trips) that I had scheduled.

As a planner, it can be hard for me to make adjustments when something new comes up, but I learned to be more flexible and adaptable. The fact that this something new was so life changing felt exciting… and stressful.  I remind myself that almost everyone struggles with transitions and even positive change can create stress.

Any final thoughts?
While at the NIH, I had almost 2500 individual appointments; in these meetings, I had the chance to meet with trainees at all levels – postbacs, graduate students, and postdocs. I met smart and ambitious individuals doing remarkable work at and away from the bench.  Many of my meetings focused on transitions; helping people transition both to and away from the NIH.  I was constantly impressed by the trainees that I had the privilege of working with and I was especially struck by the visiting fellows.  Their courage to move to a different country, learn a new language, and adapt to a new culture was inspiring to me.  I look forward to experiencing a new way of life in a new part of the world, but the people I met at the NIH will always be dear to me.


ACE Your Career in 10 Hours

October 3, 2016

Albert Chen, an MD/PhD student at the University of Michigan designed the ACE plan.  ACE is short for Active Career Exploration.  According the Chen and colleagues within their four-part series on Science Careers, “ACE is your protocol for career experimentation, a logical progression of steps designed to overcome common barriers and give visible results after just 10 hours.”

Just 10 hours?

To be clear, the authors note that this means 10 hours within one month. The steps aren’t meant to be drawn out over, say the last year of your postdoc.

Here is how the 10 hours break down:

2 hours = Read and reflect
3 hours = Send cold emails to people you don’t know
3 hours = Meet people for informational interviews
2 hours = Form your career plan

 

Image of the ACE Plan in steps

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chen created a guide to help you within your ACE Plan entitled “Cold E-mails and Hot Coffee” which can be downloaded for free.  One of authors’ guiding principles was to create limits on how much time a person could spend in one section since it can be so easy to get stuck in an area which feels the most comfortable to you.

Many trainees at the NIH are well-versed on the first step: reading and reflecting.  Many times this equates to trying to do their own research on a career field through articles and books; however, they then have a hard time making that leap into the second and third stages – the more active phases – which include sending cold emails and meeting people for informational interviews. The read and reflect phase spans into months instead of a mere two hours.

Why do people get stuck making the leap to the second and third phases within the ACE Plan?

Well, often because sending cold emails to people you don’t know feels awkward and you worry it won’t be well-received.  Chen and colleagues understand these challenges, so they devoted a whole article on how you can do this part well.  It is extremely important to normalize this networking process because it is so key to your career development. Often the worst that happens is you just don’t hear back.

If you have attended any of our workshops at the OITE, then the ACE Plan will sound very familiar to you.  It is a new spin on common recommendations, but perhaps the time-limited approach will resonate with you.

Give it a try and let us know how the 10 hour ACE plan worked for you!


What Anchors Your Career? A Look at Work Motivations and Values

September 12, 2016

Image of a boat dropping anchor

In the world of career development, we often discuss the importance of assessing your skills, values, and interests. Today, we are going to focus primarily on career values because while it is such a priority, it is also an oft overlooked piece of the puzzle.

What are Career Values?
You can see general categorizations of career values at O*NET. Another site which compiled a list of career values is Monster.com, which you can access here.  They broke it down into intrinsic and extrinsic values. Here is a snapshot of some of the options:

Intrinsic Values
– Working for a cause I deem worthy
– Experiencing adventure/excitement
– Having an opportunity to be creative
– Engaging in very detailed work

Extrinsic Values

– Making a certain amount of money
– Being in a position of authority/power
– Working in an aesthetically pleasing environment
– Being recognized monetarily or otherwise for contributions


How Can You Identify Your Career Values and Motivations?
There are many ways to begin identifying your career values. It can often be helpful to discuss this with a career counselor or mentor who can work with you to prioritize your values. However, some people benefit from structured exercises/activities to help them create their list of career values. It is important to recognize that you will probably create a long list of things you “Always Value” in a career; however, in order to be realistic, you will need to truly assess what your top values include. Try not to choose more than 3-4 values as your top priorities.

One other way of thinking about career values comes from Edgar Shein who created an assessment about Motivation and Career Anchors. He described career anchors as the unique combination of perceived career competence, motives, and values.  He put forth eight core career anchors. See which one you would choose as your primary and then secondary career anchor.

Career Anchors

  1. Managerial
    This type’s primary concern is to integrate the efforts of others and to tie together different functions in an organization. They welcome the opportunity to make decisions, direct, influence, and coordinate the work of others.
  2. Technical Expertise
    This type prefers to specialize in their skill and they enjoy being challenged to exercise their talents and skills in their particular technical or functional area. They feel most successful when they are recognized as an expert.  They tend to dislike being moved into managerial positions.
  3. Autonomy/Independence
    This type dislikes being bound by rules, hours, dress codes, etc. They enjoy setting their own pace, schedule, lifestyle and work habits. They often dislike the organization and structure of a workplace and often end up working for themselves.
  4. Security/Stability
    This type seeks security and stability in their jobs. They look for long-term careers, geographic stability, and good job benefits. They dislike personal risk and often personally identify with their work organization which makes them reliable employees.
  5. Entrepreneurial/Creativity
    This type thrives on creating something new and/or different, whether a product or a service. They are willing to take risks without knowing the outcome. They enjoy work where success is closely linked to their own efforts as the creator.
  6. Service/Dedication to a Cause
    This type wants to undertake work which embodies values that are central to them (e.g. make the world a better place to live; help a cause; etc). They tend to be more oriented to the value of the work than to the actual talents or areas of competence involved.
  7. Pure Challenge
    This type likes solving, conquering, overcoming, winning. The process of winning is most central to them rather than a particular field or skill area.
  8. Life Style Integration
    This type’s primary concern is to make all major sectors of their life work together in an integrated whole. They don’t want to have to choose between family, career or self-development. They seek flexibility and strive for a well-balanced lifestyle.

In whatever way you choose to think about it – career values, career motivations, career anchors – these are ultimately the key factors that drive you when making your career decisions.  Remember too, that these can change depending on where you are in your life-span life-space, so you might need to reassess over time.