You Need to Write Better Emails

May 12, 2014

Image of a blue envelope with a slip of paper denoting an "@" symbolEmails are a huge part of everyday life. Look at your own inbox and I am sure you will agree. In today’s world of constant digital communication, strong writing and effective communication skills are more important than ever. Especially if you are job searching, remember that all of your correspondence throughout that process is being critiqued. You only have once chance to make a good virtual impression, so pay careful attention to detail!

Here are some of the most common email mistakes to avoid:

1. Misspelling the recipient’s name.
Many people have uniquely spelled names or a name that is difficult for you to type correctly. Autocorrect can be your worst nightmare in this regard. Compound this with the fact that people generally focus on their name within a document and can immediately spot an incorrect spelling. So, whatever you do, double check your typing and make sure you are spelling the person’s name correctly.

2. Using an incorrect title.
If you are not sure whether you should use Mr. Ms. or Dr. then do a bit more research. Look around online and within LinkedIn to find the most appropriate title. When in doubt, address someone more formally to avoid offending them.

3. Stop defaulting to Dear Sir/Madam.
The best email communication is personalized and this is a generic catch all that often goes awry. Too many female colleagues complain about the number of “Dear Sir” emails they receive daily.

4. Skipping the salutation and valediction.
General pleasantries might seem like unnecessary filler to you, but they can help warm up the tone of your email. They are especially important when you don’t know the person you are emailing very well. Simply starting with your text and no greeting and ending without some sort of closing can come across as curt. Take the time to properly address your recipient (“Dear Dr. Smith,” or Hello Ms. Jones,”) and to close your email effectively (Best regards, Your Name or Thank you, Your Name).

5. Using a vague subject line.
Give your reader a heads up before they even open your message. By using a descriptive subject line, you are helping to get to your point quickly. Your reader will probably thank you for cutting to the chase and saving a bit of their time.

6. Don’t resend an unanswered email!
Forwarding an unanswered note to the same recipient with no new message can be perceived as annoying at best and rude at worst. Try to include a note saying, “I know you are busy, but did you get a chance to look at the message I sent about X?”

7. Don’t spam an entire office/department with the same question.
The problem with sending the same email to multiple individuals is that you often forget to tailor for each individual. So Mr. Jones may get Ms. Smith’s message and quickly realize the spammed message upon receipt. Don’t assume that co-workers aren’t conferring and making notes.

8. Avoid textspeak.
Abbreviations, non-governmental acronyms and emoticons are way too casual to include within a professional email. Always err on the side of formality.

Following these tips will help you avoid some of the most common email faux pas. Effective emailing can help you network, job search, and perform well in your current job. For even more tips on writing effective emails, check out a past blog post here.

What mistakes have we missed? What are some of your email pet peeves? Let us know in the comments!


Making the Most of Your Experience at NIH: The Scorecard

February 6, 2017

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

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

scorecard1-002

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

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

scorecard-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Making the Transition from the Bench to an Office

January 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


ACE Your Career in 10 Hours

October 3, 2016

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

Just 10 hours?

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

Here is how the 10 hours break down:

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

 

Image of the ACE Plan in steps

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


On the Road Again: Actively Forging Your Career Path

September 26, 2016

Image of green mountains and a roadPerhaps more so than ever, it seems that finding a well-paying and rewarding job can be a difficult task for young adults. According to analysis of the 2014 Current Population Survey, median income for people between 25 and 34 has decreased in every major industry since the Great Recession, with the exception of the healthcare industry. In addition, the underemployment rate for recent college grads is still at its highest point since the year 2000 — about 7 percent.  According to the New York Fed “the share of underemployed college graduates in good non-college jobs has fallen sharply, while the share working in low-wage jobs has risen.” In a tough job market, where rewarding work experience which also pays well is hard to find and highly competitive, here are a couple of ways you can take your career path into your own hands.

Perhaps one of the hardest tasks of finding a career is the process of taking your own concepts of a field of interest, work preferences, and vision of your future, and boiling it down to workable tasks toward achieving concrete goals. One effective strategy is the Active Career Exploration Strategy (ACE) in exploring your preferences and connecting with employers. We will discuss the ACE plan in depth in next week’s blog, but in the meantime as an exercise, try allotting 2 hours of free time toward strategic career exploration. Start with some self-reflection: think about all the components of a job/career that most matter to you, and try to make a list of the three most important points. From this list, start researching potential careers that interest you, and make a workable list. Keep in mind that you may come across a career you did not know existed (for example, if you like biology, but are not interested in working in the lab, perhaps bioinformatics is a field worth looking into.) Once you have found a career that seems of interest, start looking for people to contact in order to learn more. LinkedIn is a great tool to find professionals to contact for informational interviews, and you can also spark curiosity by looking at TedTalk videos related to your field of interest. Once you have found someone whose work you are interested in, start drafting questions for them, and contact them for an informational interview.

Another important skill to have in all steps of career exploration is to understand the competition in your field. Whether you are applying to a job in the private or public sector, research or non-research, getting a sense of the relevant and in-demand skills is absolutely crucial to being a competitive candidate. This can be done by reading articles online, speaking to friends and family working in a similar career, and especially by setting up informational interviews. Once you have gotten a sense of what these skills are, you can make sure to highlight these skills on your resume if you already have experience in this skill, or invest time in learning the skill in order to become a more appealing candidate.

Although knowing your skills and preferences is crucial in finding a good career match, one very common misconception is that finding this match is solely up to you. To the contrary, Jeffrey Kudisch of the Robert H. Smith School of Business suggests that the best way to finding a good job is to assemble a “job search work team,” or “a group of people committed to helping each other” find optimal career matches and professional success. Kudisch explains this optimal career team as being between five and eight people who are centered around a central career focus or niche, yet not too similar in their skills and outlooks. Team members must also complement each other in their skills and outlooks, and must also meet regularly to set and work towards measurable, attainable goals. With an optimal job search team, you can utilize knowledge and wisdom beyond your own in order to find what career works best for you.

No matter your field of work and level of experience, job searching and career planning can be an exhausting and even terrifying experience. Despite this, it is important to remember that you have the power to find a rewarding career path for yourself, and there are always resources available to help you find the perfect career if you get lost. For additional resources, check out the OITE Careers Blog, or schedule an appointment with OITE’s Career Services Department.


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Principal Scientist & Group Leader

June 27, 2016

Image of Joseph LeeName: Joseph Lee, PhD

Job Title & Company: Principal Scientist/Group Leader, Shire/Eurofins Lancaster Labs

Location: Boston, MA

How long you’ve been in your current job: Since November 2014 – a year and a half

IC: I was at NCI for five and then picked up by NIDDK for a year to do a research fellowship in the molecular medicine branch

What do you do in your current position?
I am the gene therapy program lead for the Analytical Development group at Shire, but I’m running it as a contractor so to speak. Officially, I work for Eurofins Lancaster Labs.  They have a professional staffing group and in that I am effectively the site manager for the Shire group. Generally, I wear two hats.  In the first, I have two groups under me – the Analytical Development and the Analytical Development Testing Group. In the second, I am also a principal scientist, where I specialize in gene therapy.

What does the day to day look like for you?
It is complicated for me because I have two departments and close to 18 people under me (not necessarily directly managing them – they are embedded within the department with Shire technical leads) for which I am responsible. So, in this role I step away from the technical responsibilities and try to help them more with their career development.  The other hat is the technical hat – I am essentially the analytical development program lead for gene therapies within Shire.

Now, one of the things you need to understand about working in big pharma is all these things sound kind of nice, but big pharma likes to divide things into a hundred different categories. This means that there can be ten program leads for gene therapy but my slice of the pie is Analytical Development. There is also somebody from Discovery, Regulatory Affairs, Process Development, Early to Mid-Stage Development. In our portion, we are responsible for CMC (Chemistry, Manufacturing, and Controls – i.e., manufacturing; leading to Investigational New Drug applications and ultimately to the clinic). We all contribute to the bigger pie as a whole.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
You know it’s kind of funny. You go through that evolution. You are on the bench as a postdoc, then you are on the bench when you are an early researcher, but eventually you wind up off the bench. I know that there are a lot of postdocs out there that don’t want to be on the bench anymore and want to directly go into administrative. But, you kind of think that after so many years of grad school and training, that being on the bench is a comfortable place where you don’t have to worry about anything but the project at hand. Eventually, you get pushed off the bench by getting asked to do more administrative or management projects.  Especially nowadays, there is an internal mandate in which secondary or tertiary development processes are outsourced to CROs (Contract Research Organizations), so you find a lot of what you do is manage your projects through the CROs. This is actually really common within big pharma – a lot of their developmental programs and the analytical parts of it get outsourced to CROs, even though some of it remains in house. It is in that capacity, that we step in and help manage it. A lot of my time is spent managing projects, typically on the phone on conference calls, which I actually enjoy.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
When you are a grad student/postdoc, there is something very gratifying about doing all of the work on your own. I was a fairly meticulous and very careful person and the quality was up to me, so when I ran my gels or did my blots or whatever analyses, the overall quality was dependent on my own time, effort and care. Now as a manager, you sort of have to convey that to your CROs and your internal research group which is very challenging because you have to find out what motivates other people.  Plus, you have to have confidence and trust in your staff to be an extension of your hands.

Did you go through a management training or on-boarding process?
There are always a few courses on management training available, but I think much of it is a trial by fire mentality. I made a lot of mistakes going through my career. You are always making a few mistakes here and there and sometimes it’s big and sometimes it’s small. It really is a continual learning process. There are some management courses offered but I think there is an expectation when you are coming in at a higher level, that you already have some management skills.

What was your job search like after your time at the NIH?
After NIDDK, I got a position at a contract research organization (CRO) called BioReliance, in Rockville. I stayed there for about three years and I started as a Senior Scientist in the Development Services group where I managed all of their custom molecular biology and assay development projects. Then from there, I got recruited to a small bioservices company up in Boston called Batavia BioServices. They (actually, my department – Virology & Molecular Biology) quickly folded after a few months. I had a feeling that might happen, so I had been quietly searching. On the same day that my position at Batavia ended, I got an offer letter from Eurofins which was incredibly lucky. I was extremely fortunate in that regard, but the thing is, you don’t lean on that type of luck (at least for me, good timing like that rarely happens).

When I was at the NIH, I didn’t network like I should have. When I look back at my career planning and what I tell postdocs now is that it really is about networking, networking, and more networking.

As somebody who admits they didn’t network like they should have, what do you think then was the key to your success? Can you point to something that helped you get to your position now?
A lot of postdocs leaving the NIH will hear a refrain, “Well, you don’t have any industry experience.” I mean that is really what you are going up against. Recruiters and employers want to see that you have that specific kind of experience. You have to be fortunate to be able to get your CV to the right hiring manager. Like everybody else did in the beginning, I went through the three phases of applications. I did the carpet bombing approach where I flooded everybody and everything – Monster, Career Builder, etc. LinkedIn at that time wasn’t as sophisticated as it is now, but I went through hiring lines in all sorts of places to submit my CV. And that didn’t work so great.

Then, I went into specific companies. For example, I looked at Genentech and looked at who was working on specific projects in terms of the industry/academia type of basic/translational research and I found emails in scientific manuscripts and I started writing directly to these PIs in industry. You can always figure out how to find their email or contact information. That proved to be a little bit helpful and that got me a few hits.

However, the biggest one is contacts. One great source that a lot of people don’t realize or recognize is the account managers. The way I got into BioReliance is that I knew one of the account managers/sales person through BioReliance because she was formerly at LifeTech and I had a good rapport with her. So, when I saw that BioReliance was hiring for a scientist, I inquired through her and she as an account manager sent it to the right hiring manager.

How did you respond to the interview question about industry experience?
This specific hiring manager really liked my “go get ‘em” attitude. However, during the on-site interviews, I was constantly challenged with the line “Well, you have no industry experience.” That is always difficult to overcome and it is very dependent on the hiring manager. Personally, I got mixed results, but generally I inferred that they could have a really good scientist with little industry experience or they could get a lousy scientist with a lot of industry experience. But, if you hire both of us, in six months, I’ll have industry experience and still be the better scientist. So, as a company you have to decide what is more important to you – the science or the industry experience. You have to be able to convey that to your interviewer in the nicest way possible. Like I said, that explanation got mixed results. A few interviewers thought it was arrogant, a few loved it – funny thing is that the ones that thought it was arrogant turned out to not have the advanced degrees and had to claw and work their way up.

In hindsight, is there anything you wish you had done differently? Any last bits of advice?
I had a great time at the NIH as it offers you an environment to pursue many directions in research and you are less imposed with the budgetary component like if you were in a university. With that being said, where you go next will be up to you – whether that is industry or academia.  You need to have a plan and you need to have contingencies if something doesn’t work out. One thing for certain, no matter whether you are in industry or academia, your career can be cut short because of budgetary constraints or reorganizations of departments.  Personally, I have never felt or allowed myself to be so comfortable that I don’t contingency plan for the worst. I have been fortunate because I always do have a plan if something bad were to happen. It is like a game of musical chairs and you kind of understand that the music is going to stop at some time – if you have good instincts, you can anticipate when the music stops.

If you are good at what you do, you’re constantly going to be contacted by recruiters. That is why LinkedIn can be so helpful. There seem to be two types of recruiters. One who finds you through LinkedIn and the other who finds you through internal databases like Monster/CareerBuilders or other sites. The ones who find you through LinkedIn are pretty sophisticated and tend to search more for executives, principal scientists, director level positions. The ones at Career Builder and Monster are going to lump you in with the keywords on your resume and they’ll inquire about your availability for contractor positions more at that associate scientist level.

LinkedIn is an incredible resource so I always suggest that everyone maintain their account

Any last bits of advice?
You need to learn how to manage people. At some point, you will be put into a position where you manage people and I think that you have to be very serious about getting to that level where you become a manager. You have to take it at heart that you are dealing with somebody’s livelihood as a manager. You have to be responsible for them but you also have to be accountable for you what you do and how you could potentially affect their lives and their livelihood. It’s easy to push somebody around and expect them to do all sorts of stuff for you, but you have to make sure that they are getting something back from it.  If they sense that they aren’t getting developed professionally, then you will lose one and then you’ll lose another and so on. People will see that you are an ineffective manger and once they take your reports away from you, then you are on the island.

It is easy to think that you may be something special – well educated, highly trained. You are part of this great ‘fraternity/sorority’ of researchers seeding academia and industry.  It is up to you, but it is better to, at least try to be, a good person.  Paraphrasing a quote…the measure of a person is not how they treat their superiors, but how they treat their subordinates.

Good luck to all!


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Biomedical Engineer/Lead Medical Device Reviewer

January 11, 2016

Name: Joshua Chetta, PhD

Job Title & Organization: Biomedical Engineer/Lead Medical Device Reviewer, FDA

Location: White Oak, Silver Spring Md

How long you’ve been in your current job: 1.5 years

Postdoc Advisor, IC (when at NIH): Joseph Frank, Clinical Center

What do you do as an Engineer/Device Reviewer?
I’m in CDRH, the Center for Devices and Radiological Health. Most people know about the FDA in its capacity as a drug regulatory agency, but it also regulates medical devices. Things like implants, pace makers and all the hardware that you would see in a hospital room – all of the monitoring devices. So, the medical devices have their own regulatory pathways. My day to day job is to review applications from companies for clearance to market a device in the U.S. In some cases, those are straightforward applications, especially if there is already a similar device on the market. In other cases, it can be more complicated, especially if it is a new device or a new technology that we haven’t seen before.

How is the workflow structured?
I am in the Dental Device Branch which I wasn’t expecting to be as interesting as it is, but we get a lot of really fascinating stuff sent our way.

A submission will be assigned to an individual reviewer, who will act as the lead reviewer. Depending on the complexity of the device and the submission, the lead reviewer can either handle it on their own or call in others for consult. There are subject matter experts in the FDA whom we can ask for help. So, with respect to the review, there is the science side of it but there is also a project management side of it. I have my deadlines and I have to write my analysis and reports but I also have to get other people’s reports and compile everything to come up with a consensus.

What are the most important skills that you utilize in your current position?

Absolutely communication skills are vital, both oral and written. The ability to talk to people from different backgrounds and not only to make yourself understood but to understand where they are coming from as well. The ability to keep good records is extremely important since everything we do has legal ramifications. It is important to keep track of why decisions were made and the justification for those decisions. Emails, telephone/conference calls all need to be logged. This is essential because a lot of what we do can have an impact down the line. For example, if a device comes out and is questionable or it doesn’t do well, then it needs to be clear why a decision was made, so being meticulous with our written record is pretty important.

Of course the other thing is that you also have to have to look at data, analyze it and synthesize it. Often, you are working with short deadlines, and with test reports that may or may not include all of the information you’d like, or with studies that haven’t necessarily been designed well. A lot of the time, you are trying to do the best you can with what you have. It means relying on the scientific and regulatory knowledge of yourself and others to fill in the gaps. The process involves rigorous scientific analysis as well as trying to navigate through the regulatory framework, to come up with the best rationale to justify a decision. So there are a few constraints that make it interesting.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
There are a lot of really great things about it. First, the people that work here are great. The other reviewers come from different backgrounds. Since we review medical devices, we have everybody from engineers to clinicians, to physicists and chemists. There are all sorts of people here, so you walk down the hall and can ask a microbiologist what he thinks about sterilization. Then, down the hall on the other side is an electrical engineer who you can ask about circuits and software. That is a really, really great aspect of it – that everybody comes from a different background but we are all very much a team.

The other thing that I like is the actual science side of it – it is really interesting. There are a lot of ideas and new technology out there which people are trying to get through. It’s interesting to see how technology is progressing and how these things are moving along.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career? What are some of the challenges you initially faced?
It might sound silly, but sitting at a desk is really difficult. I was not prepared for that. I’m evaluating the data in applications, so I am pretty much at a computer most of the day. I’ve found that being at a computer can be tiring. It is not the same as being in a lab where you are running around and doing different things all the time.

The other thing, which I probably should have expected, is coming in and not knowing much. It has been difficult, but thankfully the people that I work with are all amazing. There’s a lot of experience in my branch and everybody is incredibly generous with their time and answering questions. There’s a sense that they have all been here before and we are all in this together. I like that curiosity encouraged here. However, being the new guy and dealing with the steep learning curve has been humbling.

How did you come to choose this as your next step?
I knew after my postdoc that I didn’t necessarily want to go into academic science. I had kind of burned out on basic, or even translational research. I realized I wasn’t really cut out for it. I like this because it is very much on the application side of medical research and science. It is as close as you can get to helping change the way that medicine is practiced in the United States, by making sure that new technology gets out to market quickly, but that the data supporting it is strong. From my background as a biomedical engineer, this seemed like a really interesting way to bridge that gap between the social relevance of science and what we do in the lab. I thought that was going to be cool and it has been.

What was your job search like?
I knew people here, so that helped. My wife has actually worked at the FDA for a few years and the fact that she liked her job so much made this seem like an attractive possibility, because I wasn’t necessarily thinking regulatory science until I heard her and her friends from work talk about it. It was definitely helpful to know people.

Also, I used OITE. I used LinkedIn. Lori Conlan (Director of Postdoc Services at OITE) helped connect me to people and I actually ended up getting a few job offers at the same time. So, like people say – network, network, network.

What was your interview like and how did you prepare for it?
I did many, many practice interviews at OITE, which were all really helpful. I met with OITE to learn about what types of questions to expect and how to prepare to answer them. I find interviewing to be very intimidating, because selling myself is not a skill that I have much experience with. So I have found that practice is really important, in order to figure out how to get my points across succinctly and clearly.

The interview itself focused on creative problem solving and how I would go about doing things given certain situations, or how I had solved problems in the past, so it was actually a fun interview. It didn’t seem to focus so much on skill sets as much as personality and problem solving approach. The focus here is on having a broad scientific knowledge and a willingness to learn. Meeting with everybody and the interview process definitely sold me on the job.

Advice for somebody hoping to go down a similar path?
It’s tough coming from academic research, because unless you’ve been involved in the regulatory side of product development, or maybe tech transfer, I don’t think most of us have had experience with regulatory science. I guess if you worked at a regulatory consultancy or law firm that deals with shepherding applications through the FDA and the regulatory process in general that could help; however, at the reviewer level, there is an understanding that most people come in without much of a background in the regulatory side of things. The important part is to demonstrate broad scientific literacy, competency, and a willingness to learn new things and put yourself in a position where you aren’t going to have all the answers.

With that being said, I should have done more research on the regulatory process prior to my interview. I talked with my wife a lot and she explained the broad process to me. But there are resources on the FDA’s website intended to describe the process to industry, and I would recommend that people interested in working here take some time to reveiw those. But still, until you do it, it will all be theoretical and the nuts and bolts of it are often more complicated than it sounds.

How long was your search and if you had to do it again, would you change anything about your job search?

One of my problems was that I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do. Coming from an academic science/research background, the academic path seemed clearly marked out. Anything other than that was unknown. I took advantage of the courses and seminars which OITE offered because a lot of them focused on non-bench career options. Even after that though, I still didn’t necessarily know what I wanted to do, so it would have been nice to nail down a direction a little bit sooner.

I was seriously looking for a job for at least 9 months before I finally got any offers and I was looking in a less serious way for well over a year. It was a reasonably drawn out process, but if I had figured myself out more, it might have helped me identify my options sooner. At the same time, that exploration process was important as well.

Any last bits of advice?
You know, I was told this many times but it didn’t really hit home until after the fact. However, the thing that everybody says about networking and putting yourself out there and exploring different options is really important. I struggled for a while trying to find insight into what I was looking for and that only came after a long process, so try to embark upon that sooner rather than later. Finding a good job was (for me) about knowing myself and what I was looking for in order to find something fulfilling.


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Assistant Professor

July 22, 2015

**TWO-PART SERIES — Part 1: Job Overview**

Name: Veronica Irvin

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

Location: Corvallis, Oregon

How long you’ve been in your current job: Started in September 2014, so I’m in my second term.

What is your role as an Assistant Professor like?
It’s a tenured track position, broken up between teaching, advising, research, scholarship and service. The first few years I have a reduced teaching load to get introduced to the system and develop my course syllabi.

What courses are you teaching?
This term I am teaching Program Evaluation for MPH students where they design an evaluation plan for a real-world health program. They work with a stakeholder in the community at a health department, a non-profit or a community organization, who is implementing a health program. The students design an evaluation that fits around the needs and the timing of the project, including some of their outcomes. It gives the students experience working within the community and a realistic picture about what timing and financial constraints are in a real-world setting.

The other course is a writing class for undergraduate students. In our university, they want to give students a chance to learn writing not only from the English Department but also learn what is common in your specific genre or discipline. Seniors will actually do a writing course with non-English department faculty to learn writing methods. The university actually provided me with a course on how to learn about teaching writing.

How did you come to choose this as the next step after your postdoc? Has a tenure track faculty position always been your goal?
I have always been leaning toward academia. That is where I was from prior to my postdoc. I really enjoyed my postdoc at the NIH and I was really thinking about whether I wanted to stay in more of an administrative role within research or go back to academia. In academia, I really liked the idea of working with students one-on-one and I liked the prospect of having a little bit more freedom about what your research will focus on. I really did miss working with students which is what I had done prior to the NIH as a graduate student.

What do you consider the most important skills that you utilize in this role?
Definitely writing skills and it is important to listen and understand the priorities of not only the students you are working with but also with the community organizations you are engaging. If I really want a student to have another opportunity with a community organization or a clinic, I really have to stop and think, “Why would this clinic want this student?” I need to make sure it wouldn’t be a time burden for them and analyze the benefit that each party could receive from this partnership.

What about soft skills?
How to write effective emails and how to have a one-on-one discussion with a student are some skills I use a lot. Many times, things come up in a student’s personal life which they have to come and talk to you about. Or, it can be a discussion on grades and having to explain why they may or may not get an ‘A.’ So, I think those conversation skills and being able to respond to emails whether it is department-wide or between you and a student are very important.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I really enjoy engaging with the students and working to tailor the program for each student. There are some students who want to do more statistics/design versus students that want to do more community outreach/organization. It helps to tailor their courses and research experiences to help them be better prepared to land a job.

The university is the number one employer in the community so there are a lot of bonds between the university and the community, which is great. For me, it has been a process of starting slow and trying to make and establish those connections. That has taken a few months and I am still not quite there yet, but relationship building can take time.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
Moving the research that I was doing at the NIH and trying to get it started up here. Finding out what will and what won’t work here has been challenging. One of the challenges is that we are located in a smaller city so for a lot of health promotion or public health research, you are now working with a smaller representation of the population. I have been trying to adapt whether I can do some of the research from OSU but with a population that lives elsewhere or can I tailor some of my research questions to match the population that lives here.

How has the orientation to this role been? What has the process been like for new faculty and how have you been supported?
There are lots of orientations and at our university, they gave us no teaching the first term in order to give us time to go to all of these new meetings, whether it was meeting with the IRB or others.

But it is important to note that I asked about this during my interview. It is important to ask good questions during your interview. My university actually has a formal mentoring program for new assistant professors. So, when I came in the fall, they worked with me to identify two faculty members who I wanted to work with for either teaching or research. So, I meet with them separately at least once every other month. The goal is to become tenured in five years, so they also help you make sure you are on the right track for that. I speak with my mentors about what I have done and my goals for the rest of the year so that I can make sure I have had a successful first year on the track to becoming tenured.

***

Next week, we will post Part 2 – Job Search.


Skype First Impressions

July 8, 2015

Do you have a Skype interview coming up? In a previous blog post, we went into great detail about how to prepare for a Skype interview. 

Now, here is a quick video with some tips on how to look your best on interview day. Don’t have time to watch the video? Check out the pre-interview checklist here as well as these four key tips on how to look and sound your best.

  1. Find a quiet place with no distracting sounds.
    Turn off your phone ringer. Mute the TV.  This can be hard to do if you are interviewing at home with kids or pets running around, but it is imperative to plan accordingly for uninterrupted interview time. Make sure you also keep other programs closed on your desktop that might ding alerts about calendar reminders or emails.
  2. Locate a good background and keep the camera at eye level and an arm’s length away.
    Think about your surroundings and what will be visible on the screen.  It is best to be positioned in front of a wall free of clutter or personal items.
  3. Good lighting is imperative.
    Make sure your lighting is aimed at you and not behind you; otherwise you will appear as simply a silhouette.
  4. Make sure YOU look good.
    Convey the right first impression and dress as you would for an in-person interview.  Even if that means a blouse and blazer on top and pajamas on the bottom.

Do you have other suggestions from your own experience? Let us know with a comment below.


How Rude! Minding Your Manners at Work

June 29, 2015

We have all seen rude behavior at work. The co-worker who becomes absorbed into their phone mid-meeting or the colleague who doesn’t clean up after themselves in a shared space. What do you consider rude work behavior and do you feel it is on the rise?

A growing number of psychologists do and they are conducting research on incivility in the workplace. Polls are finding that most Americans feel civility has declined, not just making the workplace unpleasant but ultimately having an impact on work productivity and well-being — even beyond the cubicle.

A professor from Georgetown University, Christine Porath, wrote a recent NY Times op-ed, “No Time to Be Nice at Work”. The author remembers seeing her “athletic dad” in the hospital with electrodes strapped to his chest. She couldn’t help but wonder how this had happened and she believed it was related to work stress as “for years he endured two uncivil bosses.”

In part, her hunch was confirmed by a study published in 2012 which showed that stressful jobs increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by 38%. Another poll of 800 workers on the receiving end of bad behavior found that half intentionally decreased work effort, 65% admitted performance decline and 12% quit.

AARP compiled a list of the top work offenses, including:

  1. Not saying hello
    Ignoring or not acknowledging a co-worker
  2. Acting superior
    This could include belittling someone’s ideas or suggestions in a meeting
  3. Inappropriate work language
    Using profanity or offensive comments
  4. Gossipping
    Some may call it venting, but talking about people behind their backs only leads to a toxic work environment
  5. Having sharp elbows
    Being overly ambitious or driven without regard for others in your lab/office
  6. Misusing email
    Either in frequency or in tone. Emails can often be misread, so if discussing a sensitive topic, have a conversation in person

They chose to stop at six, but what would you add to this list? Leave a comment below with what you think is the worst work offense.

Rude behavior often falls outside the scope of basic workplace policies, making it difficult (but not impossible) to remedy the behavior. To be fair, most people don’t know they are being rude. They may be so preoccupied with work that they forget their behavior has an impact on others. So, what can you do if a co-worker is being rude?

  1. Call them out on it.
    If possible, address the inappropriate behavior in the moment. A bad behavior unaddressed will most likely become a pattern. If you need time to collect your thoughts, then do so, but ultimately you need to have that conversation.
  1. Have a goal for the conversation.
    You will need to convey what you want to happen going forward. What is the behavior that needs to be addressed? What are your expectations post-conversation? Think about this on your own so you can articulate it to your colleague. For example, does your co-worker constantly interrupt you? Say so as diplomatically as you can and note that you expect this behavior to be curtailed going forward.
  2. Thank your co-worker for listening to you.
    This should be a respectful conversation not a confrontation. Return this respect by allowing them to voice explanations or any of their own concerns.
  3. Move on.
    Hopefully, now that the issue has been addressed, it will be resolved. Don’t let feelings of resentment linger; however, if you continue having issues, seek help from managers or mentors. You don’t have to endure an uncomfortable work environment. If you are at the NIH, there are many offices to help you, including: the Ombudsman, CIVIL, and EAP.