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.

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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.


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.


Carpe Diem: Asking for Letters of Recommendation

August 2, 2017

It is that time of the year when NIH summer interns are returning to their home institutions and the application season for graduate and professional school and academic/post doc positions are right around the corner. It is also time to request letters of recommendation (LOR) to document your NIH training experiences.   The PIs or program directors are the perfect candidates to offer their written appraisal of your work and development that they have observed and recommend you for further opportunities.

Who do I ask?  Ask someone who knows you very well!   Many fellows are lured by the appeal of having a well-known scientist write a recommendation. While this can be advantageous, it is equally important to ask someone who is exceptionally familiar with your work and who can clearly speak to your strengths for the opportunity.  Usually, you will usually need at least three LORs to support your application. Be sure to check if there are specifications about the types of letters you will need for each opportunity that you consider.  Here a few examples of potential reference writers that scientists often use:

  • Principal Investigators (PI)s and Supervisors
  • Summer research experience mentors and program directors regarding your research skills
  • Preceptors (those who you have shadowed) and who can speak to your direct patient contact (health professions)
  • Dissertation/thesis/academic advisers at your home school
  • Observers of your teaching abilities
  • Industry or non-bench managers
  • References who have observed leadership and teamwork abilities
  • Faculty member who taught a hard science course

Will I be bothering them? They are busy.  They expect you to ! Most recommenders have a process and set time aside to write letters because this is how they launch the next generation of leaders.  Request your letter now. In a few months or years, they may forget exactly what you did but won’t forget you personally.   They can always update the letter later.

How to ask?  Ask personally!  Reach out by requesting a meeting by telephone or email.  Use a professional tone and address them using their title.  It is to your advantage to ask for an in-person meeting so that you can explain your long-term career plans and next-steps (post doc, graduate school, employment etc.). You can also have a thoughtful conversation about your competitive edge during the application process. This is also your opportunity to candidly ask for a positive recommendation. This will ensure that they don’t have any reservations about your candidacy. While an awkward conversation to have, it is in your best interest to ensure that you are getting the best endorsement possible. If it is not in your favor, thank them and ask another writer.

When do I ask? Ask now…Ask early! Even though you may not use the letter right away, it can be helpful to ask while your work is still fresh in their minds. You can store letters in a recommendation file service for later use through your college and university.  You can also set up an account with a reputable on-line file service where you can store a variety of references for later use.

What should I send to my reference writer?  Help them write your letter! Provide your letter writer with everything they need to complete the letter.  This can include your updated CV/resume, where, how, and to whom to send the letter, deadline date, and any specific information to include (i.e.: comments about your clinical work, research, etc.).  Some organizations will send an email or regular mail directly to your reference with specific details for completion.  This is typical with centralized application systems for graduate and professional school and fellowships. For industry jobs and some fellowships, you will only need to send contact information for references including how you know the person. Be sure to inform your reference about this because they will not have to write a letter but still prepare for a verbal reference.

Help! Why was I asked to write the letter?   Awkward!  A common reply to many reference requests, this request saves the writer time.   Look at this as your opportunity for you to refresh the writer’s memory about your accomplishments.  You will also have an idea of what he or she will write in your letter. Try creating several bullet points highlighting the areas you wish to have highlighted.  The recommender will then transpose these comments into a letter.

How should I thank my reference writer?  Send a thank you note.  In your letter, be sure to acknowledge your appreciation to your reference in writing via email or regular mail.  Also inform them if you were successful or if you need to request additional letters.


How to be Confident in the Job Search

July 24, 2017

Two of the most frequent questions that fellows ask during career counseling are, “For what jobs do I qualify? “or “Should I apply for this job?”. To answer these questions, career counselors begin with helping fellows to identify and speak assertively about career from their career trajectory that are factual and grounded in reality.  For example,  as a NIH fellow, you will have developed several core competencies which may include research, academic and scientific writing, speaking, grant writing, teaching, mentoring, leadership, management, and ethics training among others.  Also, fellows can speak clearly about their skills, motivations, achievements, values and experience that they have already developed without sounding too shy or overly confident.  In 2012,  Science magazine published a blog article, ” Successful Careers: A Matter of Confidence,”  that goes into more detail about this reality for scientists.

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In OITE, our goal is to help you develop more confidence about your career options and the job search and recommend taking the following steps. If you take these steps, you will be able to answer the questions positively and with confidence.

1.Identify and practice talking about your accomplishments, skills, interests and values.

  • Keep an on-going list of accomplishments and skills that you have gained through your education, training, and work.
  • Develop more understanding of factors related to workplace dynamics and communication. OITE offers a leadership workshop series to help. https://www.training.nih.gov/leadership_training
  • Include work, family and lifestyle needs into your decision-making
  1. Update your CV/Resume to reflect accomplishments, your skills and experiences.
  2. Explore various science career pathways in the sciences and note those of interest.

Some of the most common science career paths include intellectual property, science writing, regulatory affairs, outreach and education, technology transfer, science policy, principal investigator and entrepreneurship and academia. One effective way to begin exploration is to complete the myIDP assessment is self-report instrument that asks the test taker to respond to several smaller career scales related to their science related interests, values and skills.  A report is generated that and how these skills match up with the broad spectrum of employment sectors in science. The myIDP also includes overviews of many career paths in science with links to articles, books and professional associations that describe these career paths.

4.Compare and match your experience and skills to the qualifications listed in job ads

  • Begin to read multiple job descriptions and job openings. Underline/highlight key skills and qualifications in the job description that describe the type of experience the employer is seeking.
  • Reflect on your experience to identify skills that match the description and highlight those skills for your resume/CV.

5.Get involved in your institute/center committees, FELCOM, Scientific Interest Groups (SIG).

  • Obtain leadership and teamwork roles and strengthen your communication skills often prized by employers.
  1. Reach out to professionals who work in the career sectors that interest you.
  • Conduct informational interviews Talk to individuals who work in the job sectors and positions that interest you to learn more about specific skills and knowledge that helps them to do their work.
  • Email/ talk with at least 10-15 people to assess the fit for you in specific organizations and job roles.
  • The more people you talk with the more you will understand what specific jobs involve. You will make contacts in the fields that interest you and potentially find out about jobs that you might never see posted
  • Use your university networks, NIH researchers and alumni, professional society networks, andhttps://oitecareersblog.wordpress.com/?s=linked LinkedIn to find professionals to talk with.
  1. Schedule a mock (practice) interview with a career counselor, mentor, and/or colleague to practice your skills.

For NIH fellows, feel free to make an appointment with an OITE career counselor for if you need further help getting started or evaluating your approach.  Similar services can be found in your home institution or in the community for readers beyond the NIH.

Anne Kirchgessner MSEd. is a Career Counselor with NIH’s Office of Intramural Training and Education

 


Job Search Skills that PhDs and Post Docs Need to Know About the Job Search and How OITE Can Help

April 27, 2017

For many NIH PhDs and post-docs in the sciences, the formula that you learned to use to find a successful academic career has been straight -forward:

 Graduate Degrees + Research +Publications + Academic Job Talks + Academic       Achievements (BS through PhD) = Successful Careers 

You may not know that after the Post-Doc, there are some additional skills that can be added to the job search equation.  Here they are:

Eight Skills Developed During Scientific Training that are Useful for the Job Search

Persistence        ability to persevere towards a career goal without immediate results

Analysis               ability to research careers, create job-search criteria, and evaluate fit

Networking        ability to identify a professional network and to ask for career advice at

professional conferences and from alumni from your department

Web Savvy         ability to use web-sites and social media to research and apply for

jobs

Teamwork &      ability to lead and collaborate with diverse multi-disciplinary groups    Leadership         of scientists, PIs,  Post Docs, MDs, and other professionals.

Science                 ability to talk about your expert scientific skills and knowledge

acquired from your thesis and post doc research anf publications

People Skills       ability to establish rapport with employers orally and in writing

The Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) offers many programs, services, and resources to help you your plan for and succeed in a competitive academic and industry job market

  1. Review the services available and useful handouts through OITE at: https://www.training.nih.gov/career_services/postdoctoral_fellows
  2. Watch  OITE Videocasts about job search and career options in academia, industry and beyond at: https://www.training.nih.gov/oite_videocasts
  3. Register for career and job search workshops at: https://www.training.nih.gov/events/upcoming
  4. Attend the 10th Annual NIH Career Symposium on May 11, 2017 where invited NIH PhDs and Post Doc alumni scientists will discuss their pathways into specific career sectors including academia, business, industry, government, non-profit, writing and communication.  Register at  https://www.training.nih.gov/events/view/_2/1920/10th_Annual_NIH_Career_Symposium
  5. Review the OITE job postings
  6. Check out these additional OITE On-line resources

Feel free to schedule an individual appointment with a career counselor to talk about your specific career and job search, plan, discover your interests, values, and skills, or have a mock interviews.

 


Behavioral Interviewing for Scientists

April 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

R             The results of your actions

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

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

Your interviewer may ask additional clarifying questions such as:

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

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

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

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

OITE services are available to NIH intramural trainees only. Check with your home university or college and utilize the personal, career, and professional school advising resources they offer to you.


Making the Most of Your Experience at NIH: The Scorecard

February 6, 2017

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

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

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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.

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                        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


Staying Sane During the Waiting Game for Professional School Admission

December 19, 2016

You successfully applied to a range of medical or dental schools and now are anxiously waiting to be contacted about interviews and (hopefully!) acceptances to these schools.  During this time, it is normal to feel anxious, worry that you have not provided enough information, or think that there is something else you can do to improve your chances.  Maybe you are tired of family or friends asking, “have you heard yet?”

Here are common challenges and strategies to help you maintain your sanity and manage stress during this time:

Common Questions

  • Is it okay to call or email the schools and ask for an application status update?
  • Call only once. Curb your desire to call repeatedly.  Sometimes schools feel like students put them on re-dial with the volume of individual calls!
  • I want to update my application materials. Is this a good time to do it?
  • Some schools accept updates to applications and will publish this clearly on their webpage. If you do send updates, it should contain only SIGNIFICANT additions (e.g., papers published, new clinical experience position, completed science courses with a grade, leadership).  Remember that the on the original AMCAS application, a description of each experience is limited to 750 characters—this limit remains. In most cases, an update should be a concise bulleted list.  If you have a publication, use the formal citation.  No lengthy letters with veiled pleas for acceptance. One update letter is acceptable, a second is pushing it unless it contains something amazing.
  • I have been placed on a waitlist for an interview or acceptance. Does this mean I won’t get in?
  • Being placed on a waitlist or in the hold file is not a rejection. This means that you still have a possibility for acceptance. Some schools are sorting through their acceptances and attempting to figure out their yield rate before extending more invitations to interview.  Schools with a high number of applicants are still reviewing applications as well.
  • Should I send a letter of intent?
  • Submitting a Letter of Intent at this point in the cycle is of little value. You applied to the school, so the committee knows you want to go there.  It is not going to move you into the ‘accept’ category if you are not there already.  Letters of intent should not be sent to all schools.  Rather, letters of intent should be reserved for the school where you can guarantee that if you are accepted you would turn down other offers that you may have.  Check out the US News article on letters of intent.
  • How long can I expect to be on a waitlist?
  • Expect significant movement from Waitlists and Hold files after 15 March. Another time will be around  April 30 of each application cycle year, when admitted applicants are required to choose a medical school to attend and decline multiple offers.  This way, medical schools begin filling these spaces. Still, many in April, May, and often up to one week prior to the first week of medical school.
  • I have begun to receive rejections from schools to which I have applied.  Should I plan to re-apply next cycle?
  • Each year, many students are not admitted to school and decide to re-apply to medical school and successfully matriculate in later years.   You should re-apply when you have significantly improved your application materials and experiences. Meet with mentors, career or professional school advisors, medical students, and admissions officers to get feedback on how to strengthen your applications.  You may need additional clinical hours, research, or leadership experience. You could work on strengthen your AMCAS application and personal statement.  You should be practicing your interview skills.  See the 2015 blog article, “So I didn’t Get in Medical School Now What

Step 2   Do’s and Don’ts in the waiting game
Here are some do’s and don’ts behaviors that many applicants may default to during times of high stress.

Don’t

  • Launch a social media rant about schools or admissions teams. Admissions committees and students check social media.
  • Complain to admissions officers or medical students about the perceived amount of time it is taking for them to reply to you for interviews or admissions decisions.
  • Contact each school more than once to check on the status of your application.
  • Re-take the MCAT yet without significant preparation. Your goal is to raise your score significantly before re-applying.

Do:

  • Surround yourself with positive and healthy individuals, mentors, groups, and activities
  • Meet with advisors, career and personal counselors who can support you through this period.
  • Continue to show your continued passion for professional school. This includes staying involved in a combination of clinical, research, leadership, service, coursework activities.
  • Prepare for interviews. Many professional schools are now using the Multiple Mini Interviews.
  • Stay emotionally strong and resilient
  • Practice healthy coping behaviors including exercising, healthy eating, and involvement in social activities and mindfulness
  • Utilize any cultural, spiritual, familial, and other personal support to maintain hope and develop coping skills and strengths.

Feel free to visit the OITE https://www.training.nih.gov to meet with medical school advisors, wellness or career counselors who can further support you during this process.

* 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.