NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Communications Manager

August 12, 2013

Name: Benjamin Porter, PhD

Job Title & Company: Communications Manager, Office of Communications; The University of Texas at Dallas

Location: Dallas, Texas

How long you’ve been in your current job: 3 months

Postdoc Advisor, IC and subject: Alan Koretsky, NINDS, Behavioral fMRI

What do you do as a Communications Manager?
Basically, my job is public relations — I handle both internal and external public relations matters for the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas. When researchers do interesting work or if they just received a grant or published a paper, I will write up a story for the University website. If we think it could be a bigger news story, then we try pitching it to a newspaper or TV station. Similarly, if there is a current events topic going on at a time when it makes sense for an expert to comment, then we will also pitch our faculty as experts. A recent example is the explosion at the chemical plant in West, Texas. We were able to pitch a chemist who could explain the basic science behind that event.

What are the most important skills that you utilize in your current position?
A lot of it is listening and being able to interpret what is being said. One of the reasons I was hired is because I have a PhD, and I am able to understand the science behind what the faculty are doing. I can then take that and translate it into layman’s terms. I can also understand the faculty’s concerns in talking to the media and the fear that they might be misrepresented.  On the other side, I understand what the media needs and what they need the faculty to say, and I can interact between the two parties well.

I write press releases and internal newsletters, so being able to write and edit goes a long way.  I am currently learning AP style and how to write for the news, but these are things you can pick up as long as you have the basic skill. Writing for the NIH Catalyst or the Record are great ways to practice writing for the public.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
For me, I like to be absolutely certain about what I’m doing and know that I am doing it well, so not necessarily knowing every aspect of the job and having to keep asking people if this is correct has been an adjustment. But I think that comes with transitioning careers.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I love getting to hear about everybody’s research and getting to meet with the faculty. There are about 80 faculty members that I work with and getting to meet all of them and hearing what they are doing is great. Then I get to brag about them, which is also fun.

What was your job search like?
My job search was weird. I started off looking for a job in DC because I was planning on going into science policy. I spent the last year of my postdoc getting prepared to find a job in science policy – making all of the connections and laying the groundwork. Then, the sequestration came around and my wife’s job at the Department of Defense became less stable. It was no longer feasible to live in DC and provide the life for our kids that we wanted, so we decided to move to Dallas because of our family connections here. I shifted my career path somewhat, but the part of science policy that I really liked the most was promoting science, which I still get to do.

My job search was remote at the time, so I used my network as much as possible. I also did a lot of cold calls and cold emails to find job leads in the area.   It turned out that a friend worked at UT Dallas and promoted the school as a great place to work. Then I just applied to an online job posting and worked my way in from there.

What was the response to your cold calls and emails?
A lot of the time, I would be told that the company wasn’t hiring, but they almost always gave me somebody else to call or another direction to go. One contact always led to two or three others.  I did probably 15 cold calls and only three or four didn’t get back to me. Just be sure to be upfront that you are looking for job leads in a cold call and not necessarily inquiring for a specific position. Limiting yourself to an inquiry into if the company is hiring will result in a simple yes or no answer. Leave it more open-ended than that.

How did you find people to call?
I did a lot of informational interviews when I was in DC. I did something like 50 informational interviews. From those interviews, I was able to ask people for connections. Also, my mentor at NIH encouraged me to get involved in extracurricular activities. I joined AAAS (The American Association for the Advancement of Science) and I started the Washington, DC, Metro Area Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience, which is still running strong. These involvements helped me to meet people and develop soft skills; plus, I was very lucky to have my mentor — my success seemed like his priority. Dr. Koretsky was one of my biggest assets.

What are the most important soft skills needed for your position?
The ability to get along well with people, especially with multiple bosses and multiple demands. You have to be able to work with others and compromise with them. I did a wonderful detail with the Office of Extramural Research, which allowed me to report to both my mentor and my detail manager. Balancing the needs of two very different jobs was a great preparation.

Open and straightforward communication is hugely important in my position, as is being able to jump right in. If you are switching careers, you don’t necessarily have to be comfortable, but try to be comfortable with your discomfort.

In hindsight, is there anything that you would have done differently with your job search?
I might have started earlier and looked a little more aggressively. And by that I mean meeting people. The connections that I made in DC were fairly limited to NIH. Towards the end, I was starting to branch out to some of the nonprofits in the DC area, and I wish I had started doing that earlier. I would recommend establishing your network fairly early and making it a broad net.

Any last bits of advice?
Don’t do it alone! NIH is a fantastic resource. OITE is a fantastic resource.  The people there are really great about helping out. Get to know the folks there well and early.  Plus, with all of the informational interviews that I did at NIH, I can say that almost everybody is willing to help you.

From the over 50 informational interviews, I only had about five that never got back to me.  Of those 50, I probably only cold called five to ten people.  All of the other connections were sparked from those first few calls, so always be sure to ask the person for another connection recommendation. The informational interviews also helped make me more comfortable when the time came for an actual job interview.  NIH is a great place for career development, so use it as much as you can.


219-to-212: Communication Breakdown vs. Communication Success

March 22, 2010

Yesterday’s historic vote on overhauling the health care system in the U.S. could not have been much closer. The final vote in the House of Representatives on Sunday was 219-to-212, with Republicans voting unanimously against the bill.

The tensions rife throughout this debate are illuminated by the language used to describe it:

– “an epic political battle” (NY Times, March 22, 2010)

– “a tortuous campaign” (LA Times, March 22, 2010)

– “a critical logjam” (Chicago Tribune, March 21, 2010)

Consider for a moment disagreements you’ve had with peers or supervisors, students or faculty, friends or family. While your disagreements may not have been on the same scale as the national health care debate, you may have felt misunderstood–or may have experienced a complete lack of understanding of a particular viewpoint with which you disagreed.

When you find yourself worrying about a disagreement, remember that the NIH Office of the Ombudsman provides a free, confidential resource to assist NIH trainees and employees in addressing concerns and resolving conflicts. The Office is often called upon to provide guidance in difficult, longstanding conflicts; they are also a great place to go to talk things out at the first sign of a complicated situation. The Ombudsman’s Office is happy to speak to NIH employees who work on every campus—phone appointments are possible. To learn more, visit http://ombudsman.nih.gov/ or call (301) 594-7231.

Another helpful resource that can help you gain insight into yourself and others is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®). By helping you understand they way you and others process information and interact with the world, this assessment can help you  express your own views in ways that can really be heard. In the MBTI, there are no “right” or “wrong” answers. This assessment simply represents a way to understand our personalities more fully. Understanding difference can then lead to more effective communication with those around you.

This valuable resource is offered free of charge through the OITE for all trainees. MBTI seminars are offered regularly throughout the year. Watch your inbox for an invitation to the next one (Bethesda) which will be on April 15th from 9:00am-12:00pm.


Behavioral Interviewing for Scientists

April 11, 2017

Behavior based interviewing is an effective tool used by many science industry recruiters and graduate/professional school admissions officers.   They differ from technical or scientific interviews because they are designed to give a glimpse into how you will perform in the future on “soft skills” by having you reflect and talk aloud about behaviors that you have done in the past. The answers that you provide will inform the interviewer about your potential for succeeding in their organization or school based on your experience in such areas as being an effective team player, ethical and professional, and using your critical thinking , leadership, communication, and problem solving skills.

Often interspersed with scientific interview questions, behavioral interview inquiries will usually start with, “Tell me about a time when…,” or “Give me an example of a time when….”  The best responses to require you to specifically describe actions and behaviors that you used in the past s and then describe the outcomes from this approach.   The SAR technique is an excellent formula to use to create the best answer. Memorize the following acronym and then recall it when you are answering questions.

S              Situation – the background to the problem that you are going to discuss

A             The actions (behaviors) that you took to address the situation from this role

R             The results of your actions

The more thoroughly you describe your behaviors the better the interviewer is able to visualize you fitting into their organization.   You can use examples from the lab, graduate or undergraduate school, internships, work, community, and leadership roles.  Industry and academic examples are welcome.  Here are a few behavioral interview questions for you to try:

  • Tell about a time when you had to make a difficult decision at work.
  • Tell me about how you worked effectively under pressure.
  • Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead.
  • Give an example of a time when you had to arrive at a compromise with members of your team.
  • Describe a situation in which you had to adjust to changes over which you had no control.
  • Give an example of how you set goals and achieve them.
  • Tell me about how you worked effectively under pressure.
  • What do you do if you disagree with your boss?
  • What do you do if you disagree with your co-worker?
  • How you would you deal with a co-worker who wasn’t doing his or her share of the work.

Your interviewer may ask additional clarifying questions such as:

  • What were you thinking at that point?
  • Tell me more about what you specifically did at that time?
  • Lead me through your decision-making process.

Although awkward, go ahead and answer their questions because they are attempting to understand the full spectrum of specific behaviors that you used in the situation.

To prepare for the behavioral interviews, identify several examples of past experiences in which you utilized the soft skills mentioned earlier.  Select examples where you accomplished something, overcame an obstacle, or something did not go as planned.   Feel free to choose academic experiences and non-academic experiences.  Next, practice answering the questions using the SAR technique.

For more practice, visit the OITE website  make an appointment for a mock interview with a career counselor to receive constructive feedback on your answers to behavioral interview questions.  We encourage you to visit our interviewing blogs or skills workshops.

OITE 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.


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.

scorecard1-002

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.

scorecard-3

                        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


Making the Transition from the Bench to an Office

January 17, 2017

Managing transitions is an issue that you will likely face throughout your career. Many PhDs choose to leave the bench to work in an office. While some things stay the same no matter where you work, some of the cultural changes that accompany a desk job may be surprising. Here are  some identified by members of the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE):

Dress Code Alterations: While there’s no need to follow the lab dress code any longer (yay for sandals!), you also probably can’t dress as casually in an office. This dress code varies by each office setting, so you will want to find out as much information as possible about the workplace before interviewing, and then ask questions about the work culture and take note of how people dress when you interview. Likewise, you may want to consider wearing layers, as you will no longer have the added warmth of your lab coat or from being surrounded by running heavy equipment. For me personally, I did not realize just how many of my clothes were related to cartoons, sci-fi, or sports teams until I started working in an office. Thankfully, OITE has a more casual dress code than some places, so the transition was not as expensive as it could have been—but some of you may have to add a budget line for clothing.

Greater Interdependence: Being at the bench is often solitary work, and can allow you to have greater control over planning your day. However, in many offices (especially when you first begin), you may need help from your co-workers to find your way in the new setting. Your work might also involve more planning and execution as a team than what you currently experience, and you may discover a shift in power dynamics that differ from the lab (i.e. multiple supervisors for different projects rather than one PI). This can have some very positive aspects. According to Virginia Meyer, Director of Student Services for UGSP, “Even if you are friends with everyone in lab, there’s still a feeling of competition for resources, publications, attention, etc. Here [at her current office position], I feel like we work more collaboratively towards a goal rather than competitively on our own projects.” Therefore, it is important to have a “team” mindset, and to try to learn others’ favored method of communication so that you can all work together well. Additionally, depending on what kind of office you work in (such as anything involving the public), you may need to become accustomed to interacting with people from a variety of backgrounds all day. Many scientists mention that navigating team management and leadership is an early issue that they face in their career transition, and being able to interact well with others is an important soft skill that employers seek. In order to better prepare for these issues, you can attend some OITE workshops such as the Workplace Dynamics series and Management Bootcamp.

Changes in communication: When asking others in OITE about surprises in shifting to an office position, the sheer amount of emails that they receive came up multiple times. Keeping track of and replying to all of these messages can take up quite a lot of time, and easily derails your day. Likewise, there are additional office tools within email services such as Outlook (sharing calendars, meeting invitations, etc.) that aren’t commonly used by most scientists, but very useful in an office setting. “That first month of understanding Outlook and the volume of emails I received was overwhelming,” said Lori Conlan, Director of both the Office of Postdoctoral Services and the Career Services Center. Integrating some of these tools into your workday now could save you some time in the future. Additionally, in case you are not already using them, it is important to become accustomed to writing professional emails and the etiquette involved.

Hours Vary Less: Partially due to the increased interaction necessities mentioned above, it is important that you work within a more normal time range that is comparable to what is held by everyone else in the office. So while there are fewer odd time requirements (no need to be in lab at 7 am!), you may not have as much flexibility for maintaining the hours that you prefer. Also, there may be additional requirements or paperwork in order for you to request time off for appointments or vacations. Furthermore, while you are less likely to need to work on weekends, snow days are different because you might be able to telework. While teleworking can offer greater flexibility, it can also lead to unique challenges (technical difficulties, teleguilt, etc.). I find teleworking beneficial because I am able to gain back the time I would otherwise spend towards commuting, but I also enjoy being able to easily interact with my colleagues when I come to the office. Whenever possible, becoming used to more “normal” working hours now can help make this transition easier.

Different Physical Demands: “I think one of the things that surprised me the most was realizing how much physical activity I got when I was in the lab,” said Phil Ryan, Deputy Director of the Graduate Programs and Student Services. Thankfully, being away from the bench means fewer consecutive hours on your feet. However, the transition to spending the majority of your day sitting can be strange. Most desk work will also involve staring at a computer screen, which can take some time to get used to as well. Also, since you no longer work in a lab, keeping food and drinks at your desk is allowed and it can be easier to avoid getting dehydrated. Unfortunately, this increased availability can easily lead to snacking all day, and never taking real breaks because you can constantly continue working. This combined with a more sedentary workday can make it more difficult to stay in shape, and never taking breaks can lead to ceaseless eye strain while hunching over a keyboard. Therefore, it’s important to keep the benefits of occasional breaks in mind as you transition, and to continue (or finally implement!) self-care practices.

Lab Actually Prepared You Well: One of the best surprises that those interviewed, including Yewon Cheon, Director of the Postbac and Summer Research Program, mentioned was that “the skills that you learned in the lab are actually transferrable to an office job like this. All of the analytical skills and experience working to find a solution have been very useful.” Even if on bad days, you might feel as though you aren’t gaining any desirable skills from the lab, the truth is that you still learn a lot that is useful for other careers. If you need help identifying any of these skills, you can use this activity, and perhaps talk to a career counselor. Should you still feel that you are missing transferrable skills that would be really useful for an office position, you can try to gain them by serving as a volunteer or on a committee.

Overall, there are a variety of fantastic office careers for scientists, all with unique challenges and rewards. By learning more about potential cultural differences, as well as the environment and expectations at your new position, you can help smooth your transition when leaving the bench and entering a new workforce.

Post written by guest blogger, Courtney Kurtyka-Welsh, Education and Outreach Specialist, Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) at the National Institute of Health


Interviewing with Confidence

January 9, 2017

At last, all that you have worked for has led to the highly desired interview. Congratulations! The interview process can feel daunting, but don’t let it.  At the heart of all interviews is an exchange between two or more parties about shared interests and desires to determine “best fit”. Hopefully, by this point you have done some self-assessment and know yourself well enough to effectively communicate your fit for the program, school or organization.  If not, now is the time to reflect. Consider clarifying your strengths, areas of expertise and desires for your future. Re-evaluating your interests, values, and skills helps to enhance confidence that you are on the right track in applying for specific programs or positions. Ask yourself:

  • Why do I want this job?
  • How am I prepared to take on the responsibilities being asked of me?
  • What do I have to offer them?
  • What do they have to offer me?

Answers to these and other questions help you prepare to respond confidently to the interviewer in ways that show your fit for the position or program.

Preparation is the key to successful interviews. Interview candidates who fall short of receiving offers are often ineffectively conveying confidence in their skills and expertise as related to the position they are interviewing for. The more knowledge you have about the organization you are interviewing with, the individuals interviewing you, the mission and vision of the department or program, and/or specific duties and responsibilities involved, the better able you are to connect your strengths to their needs. Often individuals engaged in an employment or educational search believe their skill set will win them the job or offer.  Although indeed that may look great on paper, it doesn’t always lead to an offer.

Not long ago, a trainee shared their interviewing experience that reflected success in obtaining interviews, however, they had not yet gotten an offer. In this case, the interviewee found themselves problem solving for the interviewer – asking questions that may have laid seeds of doubt in the interviewers’ minds. As an individual skilled in analysis and problem solving, it was easy for them to do so. However, it wasn’t the candidate’s job to figure out solutions to potential problems they saw in their being hired, simply to convey confidently how they could help. Reflecting on their interviewing experiences and brainstorming alternative strategies for responding to interview questions allowed the candidate to more effectively convey their fit at the next interview.  Soon after the candidate received an offer which they accepted.  Success!

You too can come across confidently in the interview. Consider this as you prepare:

Know Yourself – Re-clarify your interests in the position, as well as your values and skills to allow for connections between yourself and the employer or program.  An OITE Career Counselor or Graduate School and Pre-Professional Advisor can help in this process:  https://www.training.nih.gov.

Prepare for the interview – Research information about the organization, institution, or program so that you are confident about your fit and can effectively communicate this as related to their core values, mission and needed skills and expertise.  We also suggest that you watch the OITE Interviewing Techniques workshop to learn and practice your skills.

Interview the Employer – Be prepared to ask questions in an interview if time allows.  Choose questions that help you determine whether there will be a good fit for you such as: “What opportunities for advancement are in place?”, “What type of mentorship is available for new hires?” or “What resources are available to help students engage in career planning?”  Knowing what is important to you will help you generate questions to ask.

Breathe, Relax, and Enjoy – Most interviews offer you the chance to meet new people, see different places and experience new things.  Take the opportunity to do so.  Whatever happens, this kind of mindset will help relieve worry and nervousness about the interview, allow you to stay focused on the big picture, and encourage confident communication in the interview.

Interviewing can be difficult, especially if you feel unprepared. Preparation will help you feel more confident about the unique things you offer and encourage a focus on where you fit with the employer, institution or program.  Remember, the absence of an offer after an interview doesn’t mean you were not qualified, simply that you were not the fit that the employer was looking for.  Keep in mind that getting an interview is evidence of success in the search or application process.  Be sure to give yourself credit and acknowledge your successes along the way.  Before you know it, you’ll have an offer too!


Making a Career Decision? Use the CASVE Cycle

August 22, 2016

Florida State University has a world-renowned career center which pioneered the Cognitive Information Processing theory.  According to Wikipedia, this “theory asserts that the major components involved in determining career decision-making and problem-solving effectiveness are the content and the process of career decisions. The importance of the content and process in career decision making can be described by using a metaphor of a recipe. To make a good dish (decision) one must have all necessary ingredients (content), and know how to follow cooking instructions (process).”

Today, we are going to focus on the instructions or the process.  This process is something that everyone will continually navigate through their own career development. CIP theory has put forth a CASVE decision-making cycle to help understand this process. The CASVE Cycle is a good career decision-making model which focuses on action-oriented steps detailing what you need to do. In this cycle, the process is broken down into five stages.

Communication – Analysis – Synthesis – Valuing – Execution (CASVE)

Image of the CASVE Cycle

COMMUNICATION
“Identifying the problem or the gap”

This could be anything from “I need to find a new job” or “I have to choose a major”. It is important to be as specific as possible when identifying the presenting issue. According to the model, communication often boils down to external cues (events, significant others) and internal cues (emotions, physiological responses, and avoidance behavior).

ANALYSIS
“Understanding myself and my options”

This section focuses on self-knowledge like utilizing reflection, structured exercises, or even assessment instruments to gain more insights into your skills, values, and interests in order to gain more self-awareness. Knowledge about options can be gained by looking into more specifics about the options you have at hand. It might also be necessary to explore occupations, programs of study, and employers based on your skills, values, and interests which will help you understand the wide array of options available to you through your own personal filters/preferences.

SYNTHESIS
“Expanding and then narrowing my list of options”

In this stage, you are trying to elaborate on your options in order to then crystallize them into a manageable set of options.  You are essentially checking for alternatives to see if there are other areas to explore.  You can generate occupational, educational, and employment options by doing interest inventories like the Strong Interest Inventory, or other informal assessments online, as well as by doing informational interviews.

In the narrowing phase of this stage, you are tasked with identifying no more than three alternatives, occupational or otherwise.

VALUING
“Prioritizing alternatives”

Your prioritization of your educational, occupational, and employment alternatives conclude with an identification of your tentative primary and secondary choices.

This is accomplished by valuing the costs and benefits to: yourself, your significant others, your cultural group, your community and/or society at large.

EXECUTION
“Implementing my choice”

This stage is about making a plan for implementing your tentative primary choice. Three key factors in beginning the execution of your choice include: 1. Reality testing 2. Preparation program and 3. Employment/Education Seeking.


RESOURCES

Florida State University has put many of its resources and handouts about the CASVE cycle online and they are free for the public to utilize. Take advantage of this handout which allows you to describe your own career problem solving and decision-making process using the CASVE Cycle.

Another helpful resource is this exercise entitled “Guide to Good Decision-Making“.  It goes into more depth about each stage and even gives examples so you have a sense of how to complete this on your own.

Remember, that every decision will have its pros and cons. Very rarely is there a perfect decision to me made; however, hopefully this model will make you feel like you have taken the time to make a fully informed and well-contemplated career decision.


Career Options Series: Science Education & Outreach

August 8, 2016

OITE’s Career Options Series will give you a snapshot overview of different career paths. The goal of this series is to help you explore a variety of different options by connecting you to new resources.  A large part of making a good career decision is done by gathering information about that field.  We encourage you to follow up this online research by conducting informational interviews with individuals in each field. Search the NIH Alumni Database to find alums doing similar work.


What is Science Education & Public Outreach? Picture of an ipad with arrow shooting out with eduational graphics

The field of Science Education and Public Outreach (E/PO) is an umbrella term that refers to the education and generation of public awareness of science and its relevant topics and methods. According to NASA, this encompasses increasing the general public’s understanding of engineering, technologies, and education, and engagement in improving the quality of scientific pursuits in these areas. Positions in E/PO arise in a wide variety of settings, including public and private primary and secondary education, zoos, museums, and both non-profit and for-profit companies and organizations. Hiring institutions typically hire candidates with bachelors, masters, or doctoral degrees, and a variety of skill sets are typically used, including science curriculum development, program management, teaching, research, and administrative work such as assembling educational material.

Sample Job Titles
Program Director/Manager OR Analyst/Coordinator/Specialist; Outreach Coordinator; Science Writer/Educator; Online Communications Specialist; Career Development and Outreach; Science Exhibit Developer; Teacher; Learning Coordinator; etc.

Sample Employers
Many universities and schools do science education and outreach, so those are great places to start. However, also remember to look at many professional associations as they often have a department dedicated to education and outreach. Additionally, consulting firms could be a place to make a contribution to this field. Just make sure the organization works with schools or agencies of interest to you.

 

University of Massachusetts Medical School
University of Maryland
SARE Research
Macfadden
George Mason University
Society for Science & the Public
Chemical Educational Foundation
Galapagos Conservancy
Mercy: The Mississippi Health Advocacy Program
Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids
U.S. Department of Education
The Schott Foundation for Public Education
Burness
BCS, Inc
Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection
Cognitive Professional Services Inc.
Savan Group

Many, many more! COMMENT below with organization suggestions.

Key Skills
– Communication skills, including: presenting as well as writing
– Teaching/Education
– Scientific/Media Writing
– Program Development
– Website Development
– Writing/editing
– Multimedia outreach/communication
– Publishing
– Web design
– Data analytics
– Program management
– Research methods and data analysis
– Interpersonal communication skills

Professional Organizations/ Resources
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Presidential Management Fellowship
IRACDA Fellowship/Grant
National Association for Science Teachers

How to Find Jobs
Higher Ed Jobs
Chronicle of Higher Education

OITE Resources
How to Series on Career Education and Outreach
Careers in Science Education and Outreach Handout


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Public Health Informatics Fellow

August 1, 2016

Image of Raymond FrancisName: Raymond Francis Sarmiento, MD

Job Title & Company: Public Health Informatics Fellow, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Location: I am the first and only CDC fellow based outside of Atlanta. I have been based in Cincinnati, Ohio since 2014 because I joined the fellowship program with a lot of health informatics experience primarily because of my prior NLM fellowship. The Public Health Informatics Fellowship (PHIF) program was looking to pilot test how to send out a fellow into the field, if you will, so they asked if I was willing and I said yes. They wanted to try and see if that could be a successfully proven approach in providing informatics technical expertise and support to CDC institutes located outside of Atlanta.  I would say that the whole experience has been a success so far, not only in terms of my work here within my institute (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or NIOSH) but also for the PHIF program as well.

How long you’ve been in your current job: Nearing the end of my two year fellowship at CDC

Postdoc Advisers, IC:
Dr. Paul Fontelo (medical informatics training director at Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications) and Dr. Clement McDonald, Director of the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications at the National Library of Medicine (NLM), U.S. National Institutes of Health

What was your career progression after NIH like?
After finishing my two-year postdoctoral clinical informatics fellowship at the NLM, I moved to an applied training fellowship on public health informatics over at the CDC. I’m currently at the CDC, doing work on occupational health surveillance, epidemiology, electronic health records, data analytics, and natural language processing.

What is your day to day like in this role?
The work that I do is a mixture of public health project management as well as conducting research on improving public health using informatics techniques and problem-solving frameworks. In a typical day, I connect with key project stakeholders, including the software engineering team, content development and management team, and internal and external users. On a near daily basis, I communicate the progress we have made on each of the projects to the respective project managers and team leaders. As a team, we work together on improving our health information systems, mostly occupational health surveillance programs and consumer tools, that have been developed here in NIOSH.

How did you find this opportunity?
It was something that I had known about prior to my NLM fellowship because I had previously applied to PHIF in 2010. When it was time to move forward with my career, I felt the need to gain more applied informatics training experience, particularly in public health, mainly because I wanted to expand my horizons in terms of being able to find and apply practical informatics solutions to real-world public health problems.

For individuals who are interested in a public health informatics fellowship, do you have any insights on what would make them a competitive candidate?
Being able to show that you possess a strong foundation in terms of understanding health informatics concepts and that you are competent in your statistical analysis skills are things that are strongly desired for PHIF candidates. A candidate’s willingness to learn is also a critically important qualification.  Aside from those, having previous research and/or evaluation experience will help the would-be fellow succeed in PHIF.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
My favorite aspect is being given the chance, on a daily basis, to gain valuable experience and exposure to the workings of public health surveillance and epidemiology as it is conducted in the United States. I value my time and experience here because I believe it will help me in the long term especially when I return to the Philippines, which is my home country. Working in one of the top public health institutions in the world and the premier public health agency in the United States has given the chance to collaborate with the top scientists in the field and this has helped me understand the best practices in terms of implementing informatics solutions to public health problems.

Your work sounds like an intersection of two very popular fields – public health and health informatics. So, what are you hoping to do next after your fellowship?
After the fellowship, I intend to return to the Philippines because I am highly interested in establishing the public health informatics field back home. At present, there are no companies or government agencies in the Philippines that focus on using health informatics frameworks and solutions to local public health problems. Another idea is to join the Philippines’ Department of Health as a public health informatics expert or maybe even be our country’s health informatics czar as the Philippines continues to develop and successfully its national long-term plans for e-health and telemedicine. In addition, I am also open to opportunities where I can apply both my clinical and research expertise, maybe in roles such as Chief Medical Information Officer, Senior Health Data Scientist, or Clinical Research Director who deals with clinical informatics projects.

What are the most important skill sets that you utilize?
Definitely, effective communication skills and the ability to constantly improve are critical skills one needs to use every day. By effectively communicating your message to your intended audience, particularly to key stakeholders and champions who will can greatly influence the outcome of your project, your project is likely to succeed and meet your target outcomes. I cannot emphasize this enough.

For somebody who wants to go down a similar path like yours and get more experience in both clinical and public health informatics, what would you recommend to them?

I would say that the most crucial thing for early career scientists is to identify a mentor or scientist who you would like to emulate or model your career after.  If you do your research and are able to realize that “Yes, this is the career arc that I want to experience… This is the career that would help me grow into the best version of myself as a scientist.”, then by all means do everything you can to try to connect with that individual. Take advantage of what you can learn from your mentors. Ask for the necessary support and guidance that you will need for you to be on your way to your desired career path.

Another thing, especially for foreign nationals who are experiencing living in the United States for the first time, is to not be afraid to contact the “fathers” or “mothers” of your chosen field. Often, we feel intimidated so we hesitate in doing this, but you truly won’t know if they will be open or not to helping you unless you try. If everything falls into place, then you have taken that first big leap of working toward your goal to becoming the best scientist that you could possibly be.

Furthermore, constantly improving yourself and looking for ways to build your capacity in areas where you feel you need to improve — maybe in machine learning, maybe in regression analysis, whatever it may be – will contribute immensely to your future success.

When you look at your career to date, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I probably would have applied for the NLM fellowship a few years earlier in my career. Being on the same career trajectory but on an earlier timeline, I would have likely been working on helping to improve the public health agenda in the Philippines a couple years earlier. But overall, I have no regrets, only a profound appreciation of what I have been given and how much I can contribute towards helping my home country.


PART II: Managing Mentoring Relationships – Tips for Mentors

June 20, 2016

Last week in Part I, we offered some ideas for mentees in order to maximize their mentoring relationships. This week, we are going to focus on mentors.

Mentors may find it difficult to find time and energy to manage and train someone, all while trying to satisfy their own work demands. In addition, teaching and training someone is a skill that must be practiced. If you are new at it, it can cause stress for all parties involved. Wondering how you can improve upon your own mentoring skills?

Here are some ideas for mentors:

Be mindful in selecting your mentee. The mentoring relationship, if conducted with care, can be an incredibly rewarding experience for both mentee and mentor. If the match does not fit though, it can also result in a lot of stress and unnecessary effort on both ends. Therefore, it is crucial that the mentor chooses their mentee with care. Assessing the mentee’s motivation, taking similarities and differences into account, and starting the mentorship with a trial period are all steps both parties can take to ensure a successful match. Selecting a good mentee also requires self-knowledge: what are your strengths and weaknesses, how much time and effort do you have aside from your own work, and how many mentees can you realistically take on?

Set clear expectations for performance from the start. In addition to getting used to the new workflow, mentees are also likely getting used to personalities and working styles of their new colleagues and superiors. As this takes time, being explicit about your objectives and expectations for the relationship from the get go will result in more productivity and a better mentoring relationship. Be sure to challenge your mentee, but do not set expectations so high that they feel paralyzed and overwhelmed. Once you have seen the mentee’s performance, it is crucial to offer honest, specific feedback on a regular basis. Everyone loves positive feedback, but it is usually the negative feedback that sparks more learning and change. In instances where negative feedback is needed, it can be helpful to start off with a positive comment/suggestion, and perhaps end with one too. Once you have a sense that your mentee has attained mastery, escalate their responsibility over time to boost their confidence. Make sure to accelerate at a slow enough pace though!

Be accessible. Especially in the beginning. Even with the best communication and clear expectations in place, it can be difficult in a busy research environment to keep up to date and on the same page with both day to day tasks and long term goals. Projects and daily objectives change, mentees can learn of new opportunities that change their perspective. Therefore, keeping regular meetings, both formal and informal, can be a great way to check in, keep in the loop, and stay on the same page. Sometimes meetings are best in a formal context, but informal meetings over lunch or coffee can also help build rapport, and convey what you want in a more effective manner. No matter the context of the meeting, it is important for both parties to practice active listening, which includes dedicating full attention to the discussion, good eye contact, and engaging body language. In some settings, mentees could greatly benefit from even working directly with the mentor on a project; giving them direct exposure in your research and working methods could give them lifelong methods. No matter how you do it, it is imperative that you spend time engaging directly with your mentee.

Although mentoring a young researcher does not always result in a tangible benefit for the mentor, there are many valuable results that come from mentoring a student. First, creating a positive teaching relationship with a mentee often results in more work getting done for the lab’s or mentor’s own research project, saving time and energy. Playing the role of a mentor can also result in a greater self-understanding of one’s own strengths and weaknesses as a researcher and leader.  Lastly, mentoring a young researcher benefits the scientific field as a whole, because it provides direct hands-on learning experience for young professionals who might have no other way of getting such experience. If done correctly, it constitutes a win for all involved.

If you want to read more about mentoring relationships, check out previous blog posts on: Identifying Mentors: Why it Matters  and Getting the Most Out of Mentoring Relationships.