Diversity Statements

September 19, 2016

In an academic job search, it is not uncommon to get questions related to diversity during your interview. You may be asked: “How do you bring diversity into the classroom?” and “How do you bring diversity to your research?” Recently though, diversity statements have become more and more standard. So along with your CV, cover letter, research statement and teaching statement, you might also be asked to provide a diversity statement.

What is this document and what should you include? It really should be a personal reflection of your feelings and your approach to being a leader and a teacher. However, teaching is meant in the broadest sense possible as you will address diversity and diverse learning/teaching methods within your teaching statement. While keeping your diversity statement on one page, here are some questions to ponder that will hopefully help you get started.

How do I bring diversity?

Reflect for a moment on your past and your identity. Maybe you immigrated to this country? Maybe you were the first generation in your family to attend college? Maybe you were an adult learner in a setting of mostly “traditional” students?  Perhaps you want to share some identifier, including:  racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, etc.  It is not enough though to simply say that you will bring diversity because, “I am black,” or “I am gay.”  Effective diversity statements tend to avoid keeping it all about you and your identity. Be cognizant of addressing other groups as well and your status of being an ally for others.

On top of reflecting about yourself, you will also want to reflect on the school to which you are applying.  Think about the students at that school. Perhaps most students are first-generation or commuter students? Maybe the school has a large number of international students?  You will want to highlight that you have done research about the school’s population and address this in your statement.

What have I done to grow in diversity?

If you are having a hard time answering this question, it might mean you haven’t done enough…yet.  Here are some questions to help you reflect: Have you actively worked to engage with new groups of people through volunteer work? Have you participated in any trainings, workshops or classes, like OITE’s Workplace Dynamics, Diversity Workshop, or the NIH Academy? Have you read any books on diversity? The OITE Library has some that might be of interest, including: Clash! How to Thrive in a Multicultural World  and/or Far From the Tree.

Throughout your document or in a separate section, you will need to detail your experiential knowledge of diversity by highlighting your own personal experiences. At this point, you might be thinking “My experiences aren’t good enough to write about.” That is a common concern and you just have to work with what you have; after all, you can’t fabricate experiences. This however might also mean that you will need to prepare more and engage in making diversity a priority.

There are lots of online resources to help you write your diversity statement. A particular few to pay attention to include:

Remember that if you are at the NIH, the OITE has a variety of programs and services to help you along the way of your academic job search.


Happy Pride! Helpful Career Resources for LGBTQ Scientists and Allies

June 5, 2017

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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.

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Investing in Yourself: Knowing When to Seek Counseling

May 15, 2017

Post written by Michael J. Sheridan, MSW, Ph.D,. Special Advisor for Diversity and Wellness Programs, Office of Intramural Education and Training, National Institute of Health, Bethesda, MD Michael.sheridan@nih.gov

When our usual ways of coping are not working, it may be time to find a counselor. The reality is that most of us could benefit from professional counseling at various points in our life. I know for myself, the stresses and strains during my doctoral program was a time when going to counseling made all the difference. Since then, I think of obtaining counseling resources as investing in my own well being.  After all, we routinely take our cars in for tune-ups, our pets to the vet, and our bodies to the doctor for physicals.  Holistic self-care means investing in our own mental and emotional health, as well!

From talking with NIH fellows in wellness workshops and individual appointments, I know that many face a number of challenging life situations. For example, adjusting to being in a new geographical area in a large, competitive work environment without your usual or familiar supports.  Or trying to determine your own career path when what you’re interested in pursuing differs from the vision of parents, PIs, or mentors.  Or trying to excel at work while finding time to give to partners, spouses, children or other important people in your life.  Or struggling with trying to make your own health and wellbeing a priority when receiving messages that nothing matters but getting the work done.  And sometimes beginning to realize that patterns of behavior that you’ve used in the past just aren’t working anymore – and, in fact, may be making the situation worse.  All of these circumstances can be managed better with the help of focused and supportive counseling.

Some people are comfortable with the prospect of seeing a mental health professional, but others are not open to the idea. They may have an internalized belief that going to a counselor means that something is really wrong with you or that you are weak or that you are avoiding responsibility for your life.  These ideas often stem from 4 prevalent myths about counseling:

Myth #1: Only “crazy” people go to counseling.

Truth: Very few individuals receiving outpatient therapy fall within the “severe mental illness” categories. Most people seek counseling because of everyday stressors or difficult life situations.  A counselor can provide support and assistance in learning how to better cope with these as well as attend to any feelings of depression or anxiety that may be present.

Myth #2: Why can’t I just talk to my friends?!

Truth: Counselors differ from friends in many ways. Beyond the obvious difference of their years of training and experience, they rarely give advice or tell you what to do like well-meaning friends often try to do.  They are there to listen to you and help you come to your own decisions within a non-judgmental and supportive environment. They can also provide an important “mirror” for you to better understand what you’re going through.

Myth #3: Counselors always want to go back to your childhood and blame your parents for everything.

Truth: Counseling involves learning how to accept responsibility for your own life. Sometimes exploring childhood issues that may be contributing to your current situation is indicated, but not always.  The major focus is on changing perceptions and behaviors in your current life that are creating difficulties for you.

Myth #4: Therapy can take years – once you start, it never ends!

Truth: Most counseling is short-term (8-20 sessions) and focused on specific and attainable goals. Sometimes longer work is needed and desired, and other times people take a break for a while and come back to counseling later.  But the decision to end therapy is one you make with your counselor – you are not held captive!

The NIH Employee Assistance Program provides counseling services to help current employees with their health and wellness issues. The OITE also provides short-term wellness advising and can help you get connected with a local counselor.   We can help you understand the training and expertise of different kinds of counselors (e.g., social workers, licensed professional counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists) and what to look for in a counselor.  [You may want to get started by reading this article on “How to Choose a Counselor or Therapist”: http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/how-to-find-a-therapist/] We can also help you better understand the insurance process.  So invest in yourself and contact us if you think you would benefit from some counseling.  We’re here to make the process easier!

 

 

 

 


Five Steps to Evaluate Organizational Culture Before You Accept the Offer

February 28, 2017

One of the most important criteria to consider during the job, graduate school, or Postdoc search is to learn about the culture of the place where you are applying.   This means to gather information about the employee’s opinions of the work environment, the support and benefits that they receive, and the values that drive the organization. This is important because you will work and /or study in this environment for many years and you want to find a good fit for your interests and personal style.  But how do you assess this when you are applying?

Step 1: Learn about and list your values

  • Factor in your personal and work values into your career decision. For example, if you value work where you have multiple work assignments, a culture that values family, work-life balance, opportunities to publish, and/or working in an urban environment, then these will become the criteria that you use when considering multiple options.
  • Meet with a career counselor who will help you to identify a broad range of important work values through the use of career assessments around values, interests and skills

Step 2: Research the organization for information about their values

  • Look for a mission and/or value statements
  • Read the job description carefully for words that give you a glimpse into the culture. For example, wording such as collaborative, team, independently, diverse, fast-paced, results oriented, balance multiple priorities, etc. shed light upon the nature of the work environment.
  • Conduct informational interviews with alumni, colleagues, PIs, Postdocs, etc. Connect via Linked In who are familiar with the organization.
  • Listen to what your mentors and colleagues say about the organization.
  • Attend the NIH Career Symposium or the 2017 NIH Graduate and Professional School Fair so that you can meet NIH Alumni, current employees, and recruitment professionals who will give informational sessions and answer specific questions about their environment.
  • Explore employer surveys such as the ones posted on the AAAS , Corporate Quality IndexThe Scientist, Science Magazine.

Step 3:  Listen closely during your interview

  • Listen carefully to the questions that are asked during an interview. Is there a common thread that gives you some insight?
  • How were you treated when you arrived to the interview? Who greeted you, were they pleasant, outgoing, distant, stressed?
  • Was the host(s) welcoming, approachable, resourceful?
  • Were there any specific qualifications that the interviewer stated about their culture (i.e. fast-paced, long days, independent, work interdependently, cultural diversity)?

Step 4:  Ask Good Questions during the Interview

  • Ask interviewers to describe the environment.
  • Learn about opportunities for professional development.
  • Ask if employees work as a team, independently, collaboratively.
  • Ask the employers to describe a typical week.
  • Ask about work-life balance.

Professional/ graduate school and Post Doc opportunities:

  • Ask faculty and students to describe the culture?
  • Learn how the curriculum structured and how students study.
  • Review OITE blogs to learn how to select a mentor.
  • Attend the second look (medical schools) and or pre-matriculation program.
  • Learn about opportunities to become involved in the community.
  • Ask about students support services are available to support wellness.
  • Are there special interest groups or student organizations? Where do participants live? Is there family housing and partner benefits?
  • How is research, conference and publishing encouraged?
  • Determine how the school /department supports diversity and inclusion.

Step 5: Create a spread sheet to evaluate each opportunity

  • List the places where you are applied on the left column.
  • Write your personal values on the top row.
  • Place a check mark and any comments in each box for each organization.
  • Analyze your results to determine which organizations one(s) have the most values.
  • Note the organizations that have the closest match to your values.
  • Factor into any additional criteria.

Feel free to visit the OITE https://www.training.nih.gov to meet with career counselors, Premedical school advisors, and wellness counselors who can further support you during this process.  Also see our events and services.

* 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


Ways to Mitigate Your Bias

March 28, 2016

A bias is defiImage of multi-colored cogs making up a brainned by Merriam-Webster as “a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasonable.”  This definition focuses on conscious bias or explicit bias.  Likewise, unconscious or implicit bias refers to negative and positive stereotypes that exist in our subconscious and affect our decisions, behaviors, and interactions with others.  Unlike conscious bias, unconscious bias is often triggered automatically and unknowingly since our minds are processing so much information, oftentimes without conscious awareness.  Now, there is growing research focusing on unconscious bias because it is far more prevalent and subtle than conscious bias. It is also often incompatible with what one recognizes as their conscious values.

Just last month, Howard Ross, came to the NIH to speak about unconscious bias.  Ross is a business consultant and the Founder/CLO of Cook Ross, Inc. His work has been featured on NPR and in the New York Times.  In case you missed his talk, you can view the full archived videocast here.

In his presentation, he delineated six key takeaways on how to mitigate your bias, including:

1. Recognize and accept that you have bias.

2. Develop the capacity to shine a flashlight on yourself.

3. Practice “constructive uncertainty”.
This is coined term from Ross. Since our biases are often fast and almost reflexive, Ross suggests pausing to pay attention to what is happening beneath these judgments and assessments. Taking a moment to acknowledge that your interpretation is yours alone and might not be entirely accurate is an act in practicing constructive uncertainty.

4. Explore awkwardness and discomfort.

5. Engage with those you consider others and expose yourself to positive role models in that group.

6. Get feedback.

If you want to learn more about each point, please take some time to watch the videocast. It is well worth it to hear Ross go into detail about each of his tips.

One thing he addressed in his talk though is how there is a necessary movement away from the previously held ideology of colorblindness.  A great article in the Atlantic speaks to this point:

“How many times have you heard someone say that they “don’t see color,” “are colorblind,” or “don’t have a racist bone in their body?” Maybe you’ve even said this yourself. 

Many sociologists, though, are extremely critical of colorblindness as an ideology. They argue that as the mechanisms that reproduce racial inequality have become more covert and obscure than they were during the era of open, legal segregation, the language of explicit racism has given way to a discourse of colorblindness. But they fear that the refusal to take public note of race actually allows people to ignore manifestations of persistent discrimination.”

How can you go about addressing and recognizing your bias?

It can be tough to take some time to be introspective; however, there are some activities that can help facilitate this process.  The first activity is through Project Implicit and it aims to measure attitudes and beliefs that people might be unwilling or unable to report.  The Implicit Association Test (IAT) can be especially illuminating for folks since it might show an implicit attitude that you did not otherwise recognize. There are many IAT tests that you can take here.  Some tests that might be of specific interest include: gender-science IAT, gender-career IAT, race IAT, religion IAT, sexuality IAT, and many more.

A second activity is a videogame called “Fair Play” designed to address implicit race bias through active perspective taking. Faculty, scientists, postdocs and graduate students are encouraged to use this game as a way to explore how unconscious bias affects STEM students’ success.  This interactive game helps you learn to identify common bias concepts such as: color-blind racial attitudes, competency proving, failure to differentiate, status leveling and tokenism.  If you are interested in learning more about this game, please go to: http://fairplaygame.org/

 

If you are at the NIH, the OITE regularly offers workshops on diversity. Check the calendar of events regularly for updates; however, one coming up in May that might be of interest to you is Workplace Dynamics V: Diversity in a Multicultural Society.


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Assistant Professor

July 27, 2015

**TWO-PART SERIES — Part 2: Job Search**

Name: Veronica Irvin

Job Title & Organization:  Assistant Professor; Oregon State University, College of Public Health

Location: Corvallis, Oregon

What was your job search like?
I really did want to get back to academia but I was also realistic that I might not be able to. I definitely had other career options in mind because I knew how difficult it was to find a tenure-track faculty position. Not only that, my position is actually hard money, which is even harder to find.

So, I tried to keep my options open in terms of career field, but I was also willing to move anywhere in the country. If you are fixed on a certain geographic area, that can be limiting. While I was at the NIH, I really focused on publications. I didn’t have any grants going to the university. Coming from the NIH, there was only one mechanism that I could apply through which was the K’s and the university was very forgiving of that because they also realized that by being at the NIH, I was aware of the grant process. So, during my postdoc, I focused on publications and that did matter quite a bit. I know that is what everyone says but it really is that way. It is just easier for them to see what you have done and to count. I also think that networking is important, but networking only takes you so far. My postdoc advisor could help me look at job postings and let me know if he knew anybody in that department or university and what that might actually mean when you look at the job descriptions. He helped me decipher the nuances between them and would help point me to his contacts at universities and on search committees.

Can you tell us about your timeline? How early did you begin your job search?
I attended almost every single training that I could from OITE. I cannot say how helpful they were. Specifically, I went to one that Sharon Milgram facilitated on Applying for Tenure Track Positions. She had mentioned that you should apply one year before you are ready, and I think that is some of the best advice I have ever been given. You have to apply to tenure track positions in the fall, almost one year prior to starting. So, I applied one year before I was ready and it was a great experience because you have to write your research statement and teaching philosophy. It was a great activity to sit down and realize where my holes were and how I wanted to try and focus my next year’s work in my postdoc. It took a lot of time to put together an application for a tenure track position, so I was glad that I started a year out. My postdoc advisor told me that you should consider this: every position that you apply for is one less paper you will get because of the amount of time you have to spend tailoring your application for that university and the job description. I think that helped me a lot because I went online and read a lot about OSU and I knew people who worked there, so I asked them a lot about it. So, applying one year before you are ready is really useful because you get to see what goes into preparing a tenure track application and then it still gives you a year to fill in the holes that you see in your application for the next year. And what happened for me is I actually ended up getting the job during my first year of applying. When I wrote the application, I never thought I was actually going to get this job but I was still so happy I did it because it really did help me focus.

You mentioned publications mattered a lot in your academic job search. Does that mean the quantity, quality or both?
I know this is hard to hear but for a research position or for a research-intensive university, it is still so true. Everyone says both, but it is hard to do it all. First of all, it is really hard to get into really good journals. For example, I don’t have any papers in Science or Nature or JAMA and you don’t necessarily have to have that. I think that one paper in JAMA or Science will help you tremendously. So, I had multiple papers in the next level journal and I still think that they were very good journals but they weren’t the top seven. For me, it was having multiple papers in journals that matched the research disciplines I was focusing on.

What was the interview like?
So, everything happened very quickly for me. This university posted early, the due date was October 15th. I was called within a week for references and then a week later for a phone interview. I did a phone interview with four to five individuals probably a month after I applied and then I heard back two weeks later for an in-person interview.

I flew out in January for the two-day interview process. Essentially, it was from 7:30 am to 7:00 pm each day. I met with someone for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In between meals, every moment was scheduled with meeting and interviews. I started off with the search committee and then the directors of the school. Then I did a presentation about my research which was an hour total. Next, I had an interview with the dean and I also met with a bunch of different faculty from within my school. The deans and directors asked a lot of questions about productivity and what courses I could teach and ideas for the future. The other faculty I met with were really trying to assess if I was going to be a good colleague. These interviews were a lot more low key and more about trying to see if you have common research interests. My feeling about those interviews was that they were trying to see if I was going to be a good fit and if I was going to be able to contribute to meetings and communicate with them. Some concerns could arise if there was nobody that you could collaborate with on your research. If that was the case, then that could be a hiring downside.

Is there anything you wish you had known going into this interview?
No, because I had asked a lot of people about their experiences interviewing and I also practiced interviewing at the OITE. I also went over my research presentation with people who had interviewed and/or worked in academia, so I wasn’t really surprised by anything in the interview process. But one question that others had warned me about getting and which I actually got in my interview was, “How do you bring diversity into the classroom? How do you bring diversity to your research?” Diversity was undefined and vague.

In hindsight, would you have changed anything about your search? Any last bits of advice?
My job search worked really well and I was fortunate to get a job during my first year of applying, but even if that hadn’t happened, I am so happy I started a year out. I can’t say how helpful that was in focusing me during my last year of my postdoc. I took the advice of applying a year before I was really ready, so everything felt like practice to me. Actually, during my interview, I felt really calm because I didn’t think I was going to get the job and I thought it was just good practice. My postdoc advisor gave me great advice before I flew out for the interview, he said, “Just have fun.” At this stage, they aren’t flying you if they really don’t like you and they aren’t trying to embarrass you. It helped take the stress off because I met so many people during my interview and there was no way I could know everybody’s research background.

In terms of advice: I would try to talk to faculty at the university within the same college or school who have the same dean because they will have a sense about how decisions are made regarding teaching load and money goes within the college/school. Talk to people (of course they can’t be on the search committee) to see what advice they would give. Once you have a phone interview, you will know who is on the search committee. I would look for other people and call or email them, or even better ask colleagues for referrals. That way you can know what kind of support they got their first year and it will make it clearer for you.

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Last week, we posted Part 1 – Job Overview.

 


NIH GPP Alumni: Where are they now? Postdoc Fellow

May 19, 2014

Name: Julien Debbache, PhD

Job Title & Organization: Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Zurich

Location: Zurich, Switzerland

How long you’ve been in your current job: Two years

PHD Advisor, IC: Heinz Arnheiter, NINDS (Now NIH Emeritus); Individual Partnership Program (Rennes 1 University, France)

What do you do as a Postdoc?
I lead two main projects on two very different topics. One is dealing with the Wnt signaling pathways in melanoma using in vivo mouse models. The other is looking at the physiological roles of adult Neural Crest derived stem cells in healing of the skin upon injury, again using in vivo mouse models.

Since June 2013, I have supervised one PhD student and will mentor a new one starting June 2014. I am also more loosely supervising two other PhD students in the lab, playing the role of “scientific consultant” for their experimental strategy and troubleshooting.

I am involved in some of the institute’s teaching activities by helping with the histology courses. I will become the animal research representative for our group, which means that I’ll be the contact person for the state veterinary office if they have questions about our experimental procedures.

What are the most important skills that you utilize in your current position?
Analytical skills, especially since I’m working with such different projects. Of course there is some overlap between them, but the biggest challenge is trying to digest the context and the particular differences between all the projects.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
Mentoring and helping people out. During my time at NIH, I realized that my greatest satisfaction came from the help I felt I was bringing to people more than from the results I was directly generating. I did not have the chance to mentor anyone directly then, even though I was helping out postbacs and summer students as well as a few postdocs from neighboring labs. But the time I spent helping people was truly rewarding on a personal level.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this position? What are some of the challenges you faced?
The hardest part of this process has actually been outside of the lab. Science-wise, Switzerland is very similar to the US — relatively good funding opportunities for labs and for fellowships, good collaborative networks between labs and universities and good international diversity among the students/fellows. So professionally, given the generous funding situation in Switzerland, there hasn’t been much of a difference from my previous work environment besides the outstanding support I had the chance to benefit from during my time at NIH. OITE/GPP has played a major part in the success of my PhD and I have never been able to find anything which relates to the level of support/help/advice I received at the NIH.

The language has been and is still a big problem outside the lab. Zurich is located in the German speaking part of the country and I have struggled a bit with it. Also my experience in the US made me appreciate the incredible convenience the American society offers its citizens and that is far from being the strongest attribute of Switzerland, even while living in the biggest city of the country. I’ve come back to the US twice since I left NIH for conferences and tourism, and I do feel “homesick” for quite some time when I return to Switzerland afterwards. So I would say my biggest challenge has been leaving the American lifestyle I got used to enjoying for five years.

What was your job search like?
Fortunately, I have been lucky enough to always get the position I was looking for. For my master’s degree, my PhD and now my postdoc lab, I only sent one application. In all instances, they were spontaneous applications, not openly advertised positions on websites or journals. I just wrote an email saying I was looking for a position and was interested in the work they were doing.

How did you come to choose this as your next step?
I went to a conference and attended a lecture from the lab I’m currently working in. I found their research highly interesting and it matched the idea of what I wanted to do after working for five years in developmental biology.

What are the most important soft skills needed for your position?
Critical and collaborative thinking. I no longer think of my work as solely mine but shared among the people I work with, and I think I get more satisfaction out of it because of this mindset.

How did you prepare for the interview?
I gave my interview presentation three days after my Thesis Defense so I just had to prepare for that one. I gave the same presentation, which was actually better spoken at the interview than at the defense.

Any last bits of advice? If you had to do your search differently, would you change anything?
Well, I now have a different approach to the type of job I want to do in science, so I would probably look for what I want now. But I don’t regret anything I have been through since these steps were essential to allowing me to figure out what I really enjoy doing in science. I would certainly tell people not to stay stuck with a job they do not enjoy waking up for. Sharon Milgram once told me, “With a PhD and enough motivation, you can practically do anything you want.”

 


Assessing Your Skills, Values & Interests

April 15, 2014

Three overlapping cirlcles. One circle reads "Interests," the other "Values," and the last "Skills"Whether you are a postbac, graduate student, postdoc or clinical fellow, you probably have wondered how to blend your individual interests, values and skills into a satisfying career. Self-assessment is an integral part of an effective career planning process and involves asking yourself about your:


Skills

-How good am I at different lab techniques or giving talks?
-How are my language, mentoring, training, writing and communication skills?

Interests
-What interests me? For example, do I prefer running the experiment or writing up the experiment?

Values
-What is important to me in a job? For example, do I need to have a lot of variety or do I prefer to have a pretty consistent schedule?
-What do I value? For example, do I value having autonomy and independence or do I value being a member of a team?

 

There are many ways to assess your interests, preferences, values, skills and priorities. Here are a few resources to consider:

1. Career Counseling
If you are part of the intramural program at the NIH, schedule an individual meeting with a career counselor in the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) to talk about your career goals and preferences and ways to do some formal self-assessments which will help you develop a plan to reach your goals. Not at the NIH? Check with your institution, graduate program, or postdoc office to see what is available for you.

2. Developing an Individual Development Plan
MyIDP.org is a free site designed especially for PhDs and it provides:
– Exercises to help you examine your skills, interests, and values
– A list of 20 scientific career paths with a prediction of which ones best fit your skills and
interests
– A tool for setting strategic goals for the coming year, with optional reminders to keep you
on track

3. Planning for Career Satisfaction and Success
This videocast and materials from this past workshop will help you understand how your personal interests, skills, and values contribute to your future career success. A major theme is taking ownership of your decisions. Important topics include: the importance of career decision making, self-assessment, transferrable skills, networking, defining success, personal needs, work/life balance, and defining short-term and long-term goals.

4. Completing Online Self-Assessment Exercises
There are many free self-assessment exercises to help you identify your goals, values, skills and motivations for work.
a. The LifeWork Transitions site offers many great activities. Step 3 – Redefining Your Self: Passions, Preferences, Purpose is especially helpful in assessing your life and work values.
b. Steward Cooper Coon offers many free online tests, including:
Career Values Test
Motivated Skills Test

5. Attending the Workplace Dynamics Series
The Workplace Dynamics Series offered through OITE is another tool to help you with self-assessment around areas like communications skills, teamwork, conflict and diversity.

Self-assessment is not an easy process and it won’t happen overnight. Give yourself the time, space and energy to be introspective. Knowing your skills, values and interests will allow you to be a more effective job searcher because you will have a sense of roles that would or would not be a good “fit” for you. Having a good idea of your own values and interests can help prioritize your professional goals. This focus will allow you to ask better questions during informational interviews and employment interviews alike.


Community Provides More Than Support

June 17, 2013

There are many important aspects to having a successful career.  One aspect often overlooked is making sure you have a community of peers.  Communities provide more than just support for everyday life and challenges.  They are great for building networks, developing co-mentoring relationships and gaining leadership experience.  Coming to a large campus, like the NIH or a college campus, can feel like you have landed on a different planet.  Everything is so different.  Finding welcoming and supportive groups and peers can help ease that transition.  But, it can also help you prepare for the next step in your career.

While the resources below are specific to the NIH, all universities have similar groups to make you feel welcome.  Check your campus list of organizations. This is not an exhaustive list of groups available, but is meant to provide an idea of what types of organizations exist.  All of these groups are welcome to everyone in the NIH community.

  • The Graduate Student Council and the postdoc association Felcom both support trainees by providing social events, career networking and communities for intramural trainees.
  • NIH Black Scientists and Friends Network, an informal group dedicated to the mentoring and career enhancement of Black scientists at NIH. For more information, contact Dr. Roland Owens.
  • LGBT-Fellows and Friends helps its members thrive in their professional and personal lives by addressing issues unique to the LGBT community.  Join the LGBT-FF listserv to learn about up-coming LGBT-FF seminars, professional development activities and networking opportunities.
  • The NIH SACNAS (Society for Advancing Hispanics/Chicanos & Native American in Science) chapter provides a trans-NIH resource to provide a forum to network, share successes and strategize about future goals. For more information and to learn about upcoming events, join the NIH-SACNAS listserv.
  • The Women of Color Research Network supports all scientists interested in raising the voice and visibility of Women of Color (WOC) in biomedical and behavioral research.  This new social media site is for women of color and everybody interested in diversity in the scientific workforce.  Visit the Web site to join.
  • MOM-DAD-DOCS seeks to provide mentorship, support, and networking to intramural trainees (basic or clinical) with children.  Contact Lori Conlan (conlanlo AT mail.nih.gov)
  • The Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management plays a lead role in making certain that representatives of all groups feel comfortable and can work optimally on the NIH campus.
  • Visiting Fellows Committee, ~60% of the NIH postdoc population is visiting from other countries.  There are over 20 country groups to connect you with fellows from around the world: https://www.training.nih.gov/country_support_groups