Answering Diversity Questions During an Interview

August 22, 2017

As you prepare for graduate, professional school or job interviews, you may be asked a question related to diversity. Interviewers are very interested in selecting candidates who are aware of and who will contribute to the diversity mission of their organization.  Have you practiced how you will answer diversity-related questions?  In Career Services, we have seen trainees range in their comfort level about addressing diversity topics.  Some trainees have several experiences to answer these questions, that said—many others are unsure how to approach answering the question. Perhaps they do not feel well-versed in diversity-topics, may be from a majority or underrepresented group and wonder how to respond, feel that are being asked to disclose personal information, are unclear about why they are being asked the question, or how to structure their answer.

Here are some possible questions that you may be asked:

  • How do you define diversity?
  • Do you have experience with diversity in this field?
  • How will you contribute to the mission of diversity and inclusion in our company?
  • How will you enhance the inclusion and diversity of your colleagues/peers?
  • Have you had to address a diversity issue while at work?
  • How will you bring diversity to the classroom at our university?

Prepare Early.  Research and build your vocabulary related to diversity and inclusion.

Explore scientific organizations, newsletters, professional journals or Google related to diversity and inclusion issues.  In general, diversity relates to the range of human uniqueness, including race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, religious or ethical values system, national origin, and political beliefs.  Inclusion is the behavior of increasing the involvement and empowerment of individuals in a group to create a culture of belonging.  Ask yourself, what are the issues in your current and/or future profession?  What is your knowledge of disparities, diversity issues in research or treatment, the recruitment of a diverse workforce, serving a broader public.  See the OITE blog post about how those on the academic job market can respond to diversity statements that are requested by many teaching positions.

Are diversity questions illegal to ask?

Good question!  In general, diversity questions are asked to all applications equally by interviewers who have had training because there is an explicit mission to enhance the diversity and inclusion mission of their organization. You do not have to disclose personal information to answer a diversity question (i.e.: your age, ethnicity, etc.). However, with  illegal questions you are being asked to disclose personal information about your race, gender, sexuality, age, disability status in such a way that it does not speak to your strengths for the position.

What perspectives can I take to answer the question?

Once you are familiar with the issues above, re-read the wording of the question to determine what is being asked of you. If you do not have experience, then be honest and say so.  Go on to describe your awareness of diversity issues and specifics of how you plan to address them in the future. Answering this way will put you in in a positive light to share additional skills and experiences or connections to the position that will enhance your application.  For example, you could communicate leadership skills, teamwork, community service, other experience that you have or a program that you would like to start.   Here are some perspectives to consider taking:

  • Connect your experience and goals to their mission statement or programs they are already involved in? Give an example.
  • Discuss skills or abilities that you bring and how they will be useful to encourage a culture of inclusion.
  • Discuss an ethical in your profession that affects people differently.
  • Explain something from your personal life and describe specific ways that this it will help you in that organization
  • Think of diversity more broadly because diversity can include international experiences, experience with various age groups, and/or rural, urban, mountain communities that may have unique needs and resources.

Try using the SAR technique

Use the behavioral interviewing technique called SAR (Situation, Actions, Result) as a strategy.  This technique is based on the philosophy that if you have done it in the past, then you will repeat it in the future. It helps the interviewer envision the behaviors they are likely to see you doing to support the mission of diversity and inclusion while there. Get Involved Now

One of OITE’s goals is to create a culture of inclusion among our diverse scientist trainees.  The OITE leadership group creates quarterly get-togethers for all trainees.  Please join us for the upcoming OITE Trainee Unity Day, August 23, 2017 from Noon -1:00pm in building 50, Ground Floor Conference Room. The NIH Academy programs are designed for participants to explore and address health disparities. The Workplace Dynamics series prepares NIH trainees for leadership roles through a series of 5 workshops including the Workplace Dynamics V: Diversity in a Multicultural Society.. The OITE affinity groups are available to NIH trainees and their allies related to such affinity groups as international and visiting scholars, LGBTQ, trainees of color, and those who have families.  The NIH also creates community through SIGS (Scientific Interest Groups) where participants join from across the NIH Institutes on topics of interest to scientists.

Please feel free to visit the OITE Career Services website and take part in career counseling, pre-professional advising and schedule a mock interview to get prepared for graduate school, post doc, and job interviews. If you are beyond NIH, we recommend looking in your respective colleges, universities, workplaces, or larger communities to connect and find services.

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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.


Making Career Searches Less Scary

October 30, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Unmask your talents

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

Use Career Tricks and Treats

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

 Have Halloween Fun!

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


Writing the Teaching Statement

September 28, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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


Making Commitments to Unity

August 28, 2017

Blog written by Michael J. Sheridan, MSW, PhD, Special Advisor for Diversity and Wellness Programs, Michael.sheridan@nih.gov

In a time when it seems that every news report is another example of discord and polarization, it can be difficult to determine how any one of us can make a difference. We can find ourselves thinking, “How can I make any real impact toward advancing social justice in healthcare, education, research and the larger society? I’m just one person with very little influence.” But as my OITE colleague, Dr. Darryl Murray observed, progress in the arena of equality and social justice is lot like science – each small step forward contributes to a bigger picture and an eventual solution.  Without those seemingly “small” contributions, no progress is ever made.

Last Wednesday, the OITE hosted an NIH Trainee Unity event to help people consider what small, but important, steps they could take in building more welcoming and inclusive communities – at NIH and beyond. While munching on chips and salsa and bolstered by chocolate,*  about 50 people shared their concerns and hopes for creating a more just and compassionate society.  We were challenged by Dr. Sharon Milgram, OITE Director to identify, “What can you do to support unity?” Individuals wrote their commitments on brightly colored sticky notes, which are now posted in the OITE West hallway (Building 2, 2nd floor).  Come by and see them and add your own!

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  • I will continue to have “uncomfortable” conversations to make sure I understand all diversity in every variation that makes us beautiful.
  • Show up, speak up. Welcome people into our community (LGBTQ+, Immigrants, Latinx). Show empathy.
  • Open my home and heart to exchange students.
  • Volunteer in clinics for the uninsured; be more involved in mentoring junior colleagues
  • Teach my daughters to embrace diversity & inclusion, & to be proud of who they are.
  • I will dedicate my career to address health disparity & to encourage kids from underserved communities to aspire for higher education. We can make a difference if we all do our part!
  • As a white person, work to confront and dismantle white privilege and white supremacy.
  • Millions of people enjoyed the same eclipse a few days ago. We all live together on the same earth. We ought to work together to make our society better for all.

When making such commitments, it’s important to consider what is most meaningful to you and what is realistic. What matters to you most? Can you do this on your own or should you connect with others? How can you begin? What preparation might you need? What resources do you need? How will you stay motivated for the long haul?

It’s also critical to reflect on your “mind-set.” We talk a lot about “growth mindset” at the OITE. First introduced by Dr. Carol Dweck, growth mindset means that we believe our most basic abilities can be developed through dedication, hard work, love of learning, and resilience. Commitment to unity and advancing social justice requires a kind of growth mindset, too.  We need to develop our capacity for active listening (with your heart as well as your ears); respecting and learning from others’ experiences; and knowing when to stand up and take the lead, and when to stand back and support others’ leadership.  We generally aren’t taught these things, but we can learn them.  We will make mistakes along the way, but we can offer authentic apologies when we do – that’s also part of the learning process.

It’s also key to realize that every day brings opportunities to “practice unity.”   One way is through “micro-affirmations.”  Dr. Mary Rowe describes micro-affirmations as apparently small acts, often ephemeral and hard-to-see, either in public or private, sometimes unconscious but very effective, that occur whenever people wish to help others succeed.  I believe that micro-affirmations can also be used to communicate support and welcoming to others, especially when they or people like them are being targeted.  Asking someone to go have coffee or lunch with you, providing a safe space for someone to share their experience, smiling and saying hello to people on the street (and on campus!), telling a stranger how beautiful their child is…the possibilities are endless and only require that we look for ways to connect.

Building what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called “the beloved community” takes all of us. What will you do?  How will you contribute? The world needs you now more than ever.

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.

* No federal funds were used for these refreshments.


Getting a Faculty Job – Revisited

August 14, 2017

We are reaching into the archives to update the August 2013 blog post, “Getting a Faculty Job.”   Starting in August, a large share of faculty jobs will begin accepting applications to fill positions that begin in the fall of the following year.  Here are some key elements of the academic job search to consider before you apply:

  1. What type of educational institution is appealing to you?
    Do you want to be at a large research university (like Columbia University in NYC), a state school that terminates in a master’s program (like Eastern Michigan University), or a four-year liberal arts environment, (like Swarthmore College) or community college.  Each of these types of institutions has different expectations regarding the amount of teaching and research expected from faculty.  Different institutions/schools have different expectations for grant funding, teaching, and service and obtaining tenure. Be sure to consider the type of position you are looking for so you can prepare the strongest possible package.  Another question to consider: does the location and setting (urban/suburban) matter to you? To research schools, look at the Carnegie Classifications.
  2. Find positions that interest you.
    Many schools post their domestic and international academic openings on-line at sites including:  Science Careers, New Scientist Jobs, Academic 360, Nature, Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Cell Careers, Higher Education Recruitment Consortium, The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Identify universities that have strong research programs in your field who may have positions open.  Utilize your professional network with faculty at professional meetings, conferences, and visit their websites to learn about future position openings.
  3. Start to prepare your job application package that will include several elements.
    a.   Curriculum Vitae (CV )– a record of your academic career.  Your CV, as described in the OITE Resume and CV Guide, will be tailored differently if it is a research-intensive position or if it is a teaching-intensive position.
  1. b.   Cover Letter – This is a document that is tailored to the job for which you are applying.  The OITE also publishes a Cover Letter guide document that shows several examples to explain why you are interested in establishing your career at that university, and how you see your research goals fitting into their overall department.
  2. c.   Research Statement/Plan – The goal here is to get your future colleagues to be excited about you and your science.  This document typically includes some discussion of prior research accomplishments, but you should specifically highlight the work most relevant to your proposed work.  You need to lay out a do-able research plan for the next 5+ years that is similar in format to what you would use for a grant submission with a focus on explaining how the work you are currently proposing fits into your broader long-term goals. Depending on the position, you may want to explain how you will tailor your research for students at the institution; this is especially important if the expectation is that you will engage large numbers of undergrads in your research.
  3. d.   Teaching Philosophy/Plan – If you will have a teaching component of your job, this part of your application tells them about your personal beliefs on teaching and gives a hiring committee a visual of your approach (philosophy, learning outcomes, methods, skills, texts etc.) to teaching students in that subject matter. Include specific examples and reflect that you understand the student population at that specific institution.
  4. Diversity Statement – In recent years, several universities request a written statement that addresses such questions your past and future contributions to diversity through research, teaching, and service. You may be asked to link this to the mission of the college and university as well. Go ahead and consult the diversity statement blog from 2016.
  5. Letters of recommendation – You should start to line your letters up early.  They need to be very strong.
  6. Practice Academic InterviewsIt is important to practice answering questions for academic interviews. Most often these interviews will be on campus, however, in some instances they may be conference interviews. The key to this is to research the university/college before you interview to avoid any interview gaffes. This also involves preparing and rehearsing for your job talk presentation and addressing any challenging questions.  We recommend practicing with scientists in your field who can provide helpful suggestions and pose questions that you may encounter during your interview.

Creating strong application documents and active preparation are keys to success in the academic job search market.  We encourage you to attend academic job search workshops and programs offered by the OITE.  In addition, the counselors can help you with preparation and encourage you watch our OITE video casts online including the Academic Job Search Overview prior to scheduling appointments. For those of you beyond NIH, consider setting up a practice interviews with your home institution’s academic department or career center.


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