PART II: Managing Mentoring Relationships – Tips for Mentors

June 20, 2016

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

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

Here are some ideas for mentors:

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

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

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

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

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


PART I: Managing Mentoring Relationships – Tips for Mentees

June 13, 2016

Perhaps you are a summer intern or you are managing a summer intern?

Regardless of your role, managing the mentor-mentee relationship can be a difficult task.  Attempting to creating a good personality fit  and work style with your mentor, and effectively offering and using feedback, all while managing ever-present demands in the workplace can prove to be a tough and confusing experience for both mentors and mentees.

Wondering how you can better choose and create a positive working relationship with your mentor or mentee?

Here are some ideas for mentees:

Take control of your career path, even when under the wing of a mentor. Even when you’ve found a mentor and created a good relationship, it is up to you to direct and own the relationship. So show leadership and direct it towards what you need. Once you’ve found a mentor, it is easy to sit back and assume that your path is set to go, or to defer to the mentor for all thoughts and directions. This can be a dangerous mindset to fall into though, because it removes you as an agent in your own professional future. Beginning mentoring relationships with a clear discussion of mutual goals and expectations is crucial. In a similar vein, as you continue in your relationship with this mentor, an ongoing periodic checkup is also important, to continually evaluate these mutual goals and expectations, and to assess whether the mentorship is still beneficial.

Become an expert at receiving feedback. It is always easy to accept a compliment, but part of becoming successful in any professional enterprise is accepting and working on your weaknesses. Therefore, it is crucial to be receptive to both positive and negative feedback given to you by your mentor. This means that you listen carefully, demonstrate that you understand, make your best attempt to adjust your performance based on this feedback, and then, after some time and effort, seek additional feedback on how well you’ve progressed. A helpful tool in improving receptiveness to feedback is to focus on your mentor’s communication style, how they offer feedback, and in turn, how you react to it. Also, remember that mentoring is a two-way street, and giving feedback to your mentor can be a valuable tool in boosting your working relationship.  This could come in the form of asking clarifying questions regarding directions or in advocating for yourself by saying, “I tend to work best when ____. Could we find a way to accommodate this?” 

Transition effectively if it is not working out.It is easy to become demotivated if you find that your mentor relationship is not working out the way you want it. Despite this, it is important to keep in mind that mentoring relationships can be complicated by many factors, including: differences in work style, communication style, changing motivations, and evolving workplace dynamics. Make sure to keep focused on your goals, and to leave emotions out of it. Once you find a new mentor, you can work to continuing to achieve your goals.

It cannot be overstated how important and complex the mentor-mentee relationship is. For the mentee, it could very well be a jumpstart into a lifelong career. For the mentor it could be an opportunity to profoundly impact a young researcher, as well as improve the mentor’s own communication and leadership skills. To ensure success, stay engaged, be clear in your communication, and take ownership of the opportunity.

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Next week, in Part II, we will discuss tips for mentors.


Two Part Series: Part 2 – Getting the Most Out of Mentoring Relationships

December 13, 2013

An image of puzzle pieces being drawn by hand. The puzzle pieces read: "Motivate," "Lead by Example," "Mentor," and "Vision" to name a few.In the first part of this series, we talked about how to identify a good mentor. Now that you have done so, how do you cultivate and maintain that relationship? Identifying a mentor is not an easy task; making it work can be even more challenging. In this blog, we will give you some tips to help foster and maintain your mentoring relationships.

Take ownership of your career
Take charge; remember you are the one in control! Think about your career goals in the short-term and long-term. Communicate these goals to your mentors, so they can understand your interests and better guide you on which steps to follow or opportunities to seek to reach your goal. A good mentor will offer advice but not tell you the path to choose; ultimately, that is up to you.

Communicate your expectations
Once you define your goals, it is very important to discuss them with your mentors and work together to develop a plan (such as an individual development plan or IDP) to accomplish your goals. If you prefer structure, you can establish clear expectations for the relationship. For example, you can start by determining how often you will meet (weekly, monthly) and how you will communicate (by email, in person, Skype, etc.). When expectations are set early on, your mentor will then know what you are seeking from the relationship, but you will also know what s/he expects from you. This will help you to effectively manage the relationship and will avoid future misunderstanding.

Respect each other’s time
Be mindful of your mentor’s time! Take full advantage of the time you have with him/her. If you know you are meeting or talking to your mentor, be prepared! Before each meeting, you can send your mentor an agenda of topics you would like to discuss in advance and any questions you might have, which will also help them better prepare for your discussion.

Keep your mentor up to date
Mentors can be anywhere and with the help of technology, you don’t need to be close to each other to stay in touch. Let your mentor know about your progress (the good and the bad). You can tell them about any recent accomplishments or awards, as well as your professional struggles.  It is important to keep the lines of communication open, so your update doesn’t even have to be related to you; you can send them a paper or article that you think s/he might be interested in.

Remember: a mentoring relationship should be a rewarding and educational experience for both of you!  The quality of the output will largely depend on the quality of the input, so be sure to treat your mentoring relationships with the professional respect they deserve. Always be prepared for your meetings and practice good communication, but don’t be afraid to be honest about your interests and/or the new directions you are seeking.

 


Good Mentoring Guidelines

March 2, 2011

What makes a good mentor?  That is a question we’ve been pondering here in the OITE.  We see trainees questioning how to find the perfect research mentor, so we created a “how-to” guide to finding a mentor.  Check it out here: https://www.training.nih.gov/mentoring_guidelines

 The goal behind the document is to help those of you transitioning in your scientific career to make good decisions when choosing a new boss.  Sample questions to ask the PI and the research group are included to help you along the way.

An added bonus: Those of you who will be mentors (either for a summer intern, postbac, or grad student, or as you move into a faculty position) should look at the guidelines to see what’s expected of you as a mentor.   How would you craft the three guiding principles for your mentees (focusing on the research program, your personality and mentoring style, and the research environment)? 

The NIH also has a few other resources: the Guide on Training and Mentoring, http://sourcebook.od.nih.gov/ethic-conduct/Training-Mentoring-10-08.pdf

And Goals for Enhanced Mentoring in the IRP, http://sourcebook.od.nih.gov/ethic-conduct/Mentoring%20Goals-final.pdf

 Now intrepid readers…what do you wish you would have asked when picking a research mentor?  Add it to the comments below!


Make the Most of Your Mentoring Relationships

May 25, 2010

LeaderWhen I think about the mentors I’ve had over the course of my professional life, I feel very fortunate. Each has been unique, injecting his or her thoughts, experiences, and personal style into our mentoring relationship. As I reflect on time spent talking with, listening to, or emailing with each of my mentors, it seems like the role of mentor came quite naturally to them, an effortless act that engendered feelings of respect and gratitude on my part. So what’s the secret? How can we take full advantage of the mentoring relationships we are currently in, either as mentor or trainee? I have culled information from a variety of sources cited below to assist you in building and maintaining strong mentoring relationships throughout your career.

As a trainee:

Assume primary responsibility for your own career development.

This is critical, as I have met a few trainees who have been unsuccessful at forging strong mentoring bonds because of an expectation that “other people should be looking out for me.” Take charge of your own career, always.

Communicate your goals often—both formally and informally.

Again, this is your responsibility. Trainees who have shared their professional goals with their mentors early on in their research careers have enjoyed more satisfaction long-term than those who have not.

Assume progressive responsibility and management of your research.

If your current PI serves as a mentor, demonstrate your willingness to take on new projects or learn new skills, with a view to enhancing your own career development and assisting with the growth of your PI/mentor’s lab.

Seek feedback on your performance regularly.

Think about identifying mentors who might be best for providing feedback in a particular area. Do you know of scientists who are great at mentoring others? Building research teams? Those whose strengths lie in editing? How about someone who approaches research problems creatively? Asking for feedback from people who are gifted in a particular area will help you grow as a professional.

As a mentor:

Listen patiently.

If you are mentoring an undergraduate, graduate student, or technician in the lab, try to listen actively to what the trainee is sharing, rather than jumping in and trying to offer a solution immediately.

Communicate regularly.

Decide on place, time, and frequency of meetings with your trainee and stick to this schedule. Checking in often and keeping lines of communication open will strengthen any professional relationship.

Be clear about your expectations.

Work with each individual you are mentoring to set specific goals. This might include publishing goals, skill development, or a goal related to the job search. Let the conversation be driven by the trainee you are mentoring. Some questions you might ask are “What skills would you like to develop?” “How can you make this happen?” “How will you measure progress in this area?” “How can I facilitate this process?” Have trainees explain projects back to you, or write a paragraph describing a given project and their role in it.

Keep trainees motivated.

Encourage strategic thinking and creativity in your trainee. If feedback is needed, offer criticism in a way that doesn’t shame or discourage your trainee. Encourage your trainee to learn new skills. Provide networking opportunities by introducing your trainees to other scientists while at professional meetings, or on campus in different institutes or departments.

Stay in touch.

Keep in touch with those you are mentoring and those who are mentoring you. The time you invest in these relationships now will pay dividends both now and in the future.

References:


Making the Right Moves: A Practical Guide to Scientific Management for Postdocs and New Faculty, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Compact Between Postdoctoral Appointees and Their Mentors, Association of American Medical Colleges

Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On Being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine


LinkedIn and Tuned-In: How Social Networking Helped a Post Doc Alumna Find an Industry Job and Her Authentic Self

July 17, 2017

Post Doc Alumna:             Anu Nagarajan, PhD

Industry Position:            Senior Scientist

The OITE interviewed a NIH postdoctoral alumna who successfully landed a position in industry.  She shares her career exploration process, job search strategies, and knowledge that she gained about her employability as a professional scientist.

OITE:   Tell me the story about how you began to search for career options as post doc.

Anu:   In 2015 I started to feel a bit lost as a post doc.  I needed mentorship and wanted to know more about a broad range of related careers.  Simultaneously, because I had a newborn, I was also struggling with making a career choice for my family.

OITE: How did you go about getting the help you needed?

Anu:   Job search is a job in itself and managing multiple active projects in the lab, while figuring out strategies to manage both family and work left me feeling like I could not invest the much-needed time to do a job search. I did some soul searching and determined that there was a mismatch between my personality/values and the career and the work life balance I was seeking. It takes a while to figure out which components of your skills and interests you want to carry forward in your career, especially when you are trying to figure out a new career path for yourself.  So, I met with an OITE Career Counselor and began to learn about myself, my skills, and MBTI and I learned that I can do a lot of things that aligned with my values and personality.  These included, education, outreach, helping, mentoring, giving to others plus research in the sciences.  When I told my career counselor that I did not have the time to search for a job on top of my other work commitments, my career counselor advised me to create a Linked In account in order to easily explore jobs and easily create an online network.  I put in all the skills I have and want to carry forward.

OITE:   That is true, social networking sites like LinkedIn are potentially efficient ways to increase your visibility and connect virtually with colleagues and potential employers.  Was it difficult to complete your profile?

Anu:  It was hard for me to do this because I had to put my accomplishments out there!  At that time, I didn’t feel I was strong enough, honestly because when you are juggling at lot at work and personally, it’s hard sometimes to see how many skills you actually have. So at that time I didn’t feel that I was “up to the mark. “

Shortly after I completed my profile.  I felt good about my achievements as I populated the skills sections with science and other accomplishments. Soon after, people began endorsing me on LinkedIn and began adding me to their Profile which was great!  I added peers, faculty, and members into my LinkedIn network. I also joined the professional groups, where I went to grad school, worked previously, and professional organizations.

OITE:  What else did you learn by using LinkedIn?

Anu:  An unanticipated side effect of this was that is that I became more confident of myself!  I got 4 papers out, I went to conferences, and added researchers and representatives that I met from pharmaceutical companies to my LinkedIn links. I also started using the NIH Alumni Database. I met a professor on faculty at a local university who added me to his LinkedIn page who later became a key link to several more opportunities.

Talking to other people was so motivating to me!   To see how other people viewed me was huge!  This helped me to stay motivated, have a more realistic idea of who I am.  I realized that I am good at a lot of things.   The first thing I wish to share is that it is important to reach beyond your immediate lab group to gain perspective on your strengths. Your lab group might be great in giving feedback about your work, but you need a wider network of people, other scientists, mentors, and peers to endorse your skills and later promote you.

OITE:  How did LinkedIn help you land an industry position?

Anu:  I got a message through LinkedIn from an HR manager at a major scientific company who asked if I am interested in the company, to send her a CV and she set up a meeting with one of their group leaders.   I agreed, and during the discussion, I learned more details about the position and the areas of expertise they were looking for. The group leader was also in the same professional network as my other peers, so they already knew about my background and training.

Next, the HR manager and group leader invited me to give an on-site job talk to the group about my research and met meet one-on-one with the scientists, all of whom had PhDs and postdoctoral experience.

OITE: Was it a traditional job talk format like in an academic interview

Anu:  Yes, it utilized a job talk format.  Since this is a software company whose products are used by pharmaceutical companies for drug design, I focused my talk on my problem-solving skills, where I highlighted several methods I have used over the years to address many scientific problems, including some related to drug design.  Their science is solid and accomplished.  I hold them in high esteem.  Their products are state of the art and I have used them before as well.

After this interview, I proceeded to candidacy. I provided my references who included my doctoral academic advisor, a mentor and senior professor who knew my skills, and my current PI at NIH.  The following week, I was offered the job by the group leader who said, “we’d love to have you, we hope you will take the job!”

I negotiated for two weeks to evaluate the offer. During this time, I obtained more input about their research by talking to other members of the team. I also talked with my partner about the offer and what we needed for our family.

OITE:  When you talked with them, did you decide to negotiate?  If so were you able to negotiate everything that you needed?

Anu:   Yes except I must relocate to the city where they are headquartered.  However, I negotiated a later start date so that I had time to locate housing for my family. I also received time to attend conferences, publish, to work from home and telework which will contribute to work and family balance.

OITE:  What words of wisdom would like to share with fellow scientists from your experience launching a career search and landing an industry position?

Anu:   My main message is, feel confident about yourself and your accomplishments. A person who didn’t know me reached out to me through LinkedIn.  Networking is about being yourself and knowing what you are capable of.  It is important to have people who are impressed by you and promote you in your network.  Finally, I learned that I interviewed more confidently because I was being my authentic self.

As scientists, we have a one-track mind and think we only a few career options that will work for us. But once I started talking to people, I figured out what my priorities were in terms of what values, skills, and interests I wanted to carry forward in my career. OITE workshops and staff were a huge help!  Look up people on NIH Alumni database and cold contact them for informational interviews. Usually, people are open to informational interviews because you are from NIH. It’s not weird (I used to think so).

Please visit the OITE for more information about career counseling and other services for NIH trainees and fellows.  We also encourage fellows and our readers who are not with NIH to access services through your college or university or in your communities.


Welcome Summer Interns: OITE Blogs of Interest

June 19, 2017

 

The Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) of the NIH extends a warm welcome to the Summer 2017 interns. Over the next few months, you will engage in many unique opportunities in biomedical research that will encourage you to consider pursuing careers and further graduate study in the field.  As you are settling in to your lab and meeting your PIs and fellow trainees, we want to make sure that you are aware of a variety of helpful blog posts that will help you to maximize your summer experience.

th4N7T1HUU

Getting oriented to a new lab and role as a researcher is both exciting and somewhat challenging for summer interns. We suggest reading the blog Understanding the Impact of Change to learn about the key factors associated with any transition.  Next read Making the Most of Your Transition to the NIH.

One of the challenges in most careers is how to achieve a healthy work-life balance. The OITE Director and our wellness programming staff encourage you to review our model of wellness and managing stress as part of your training to be a successful scientist.

Meeting your new mentor is another opportunity that you will have this summer. To prepare yourself for this essential growth opportunity, we suggest reading the blogs on Identifying Mentors and Learning How To Make the Most of Mentoring Relationships.

Career decision making and pursuing graduate or professional school options are also areas that which you will embrace during the summer.  In addition to utilizing the resources at your college and university during the academic year, the OITE Career Services Center has career counselors who will help you explore you assess how your values, interests, and skills relate to healthy career decision making and/or develop CV, resumes, and practice interviewing skills.   We also offer pre-professional advisors who will help you to prepare you to apply for graduate or professional school.  Stay tuned for a blog post that will prepare you for the Graduate and Professional School Fair on July 18, 2017 where representatives from a number of schools will come to NIH to meet you and share information about their programs.

We look forward to working with you this summer. Visit the OITE website for further information.  For our readers who are alumni or outside of the NIH, we encourage you to seek similar services through your training director, or your college and university or in the community.


Happy Pride! Helpful Career Resources for LGBTQ Scientists and Allies

June 5, 2017

Courtney's Rainbow1 (002)

In 2014, to recognize Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride month, the OITE Careers Blog published a post addressing job search and work environments for LGBTQ scientists called Happy Pride!  This blog issue provides useful resources for scientists, their families, and allies in support of inclusive career decision-making and work environments.

LGBTQ Employment and Training Opportunities: In addition to the helpful employment resources referred to in the in the 2014 Happy Pride blog (see above), here are some additional resources:

National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technology Professionals (NOGLSTP).  A professional association that provides a listing of  career opportunities for LGBTQ science and technology graduates, mentoring, fellowships, and other forms of support.

New Scientist has published a useful article highlighting LGBT employers in the sciences.

GoAbroad.com published an article with links to an excellent on-line LGBT Student Guide to Studying Abroad that provides resources and helpful information that will help LGBT community members prepare to go abroad for studies.  The guide is also useful for international applicants seeking knowledge about LGBT safe communities across the world.

The Association of International Educators (NAFSA) published an informative article written for allies of LGBTQ international students regarding the specific needs of this population when they arrive to the US and later return to their home countries.

PFLAG International extends its advocacy for LGBT individuals and families globally.  This is a useful resource for LGBT individuals and allies who are preparing to go abroad for short or extended periods of time.

Preferred Gender Pronouns:   When applying for internships, jobs, graduate school, and/or professional schools, you may notice a question related to gender pronouns is added. This question allows applicants an option to request their preferred gender pronouns to use when referring to them.  Colleges, universities, and human rights organizations provide excellent resources used in ally trainings for students, faculty and staff about using gender neutral pronouns.

Ally Training: Many organizations (including the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) offer Safe Zone training that can allow allies the opportunity to learn more about the LGBTQ community and assist in the creation of a more welcoming environment.

LGBTQ Terminology:  One way to contribute to a culture of inclusion and respect for community members is to become aware of accepted terms to refer to members of the LGBTQ community. The human rights organization, PFLAG, publishes a terminology glossary  that is a useful reference to learn about the latest acceptable terms.

As you can see, it is important for job seekers and their allies to address LGBTQ-related topics in order to keep stress from derailing their life, job search, and/or educational process.  The OITE offers career development workshops and/or career, wellness, and pre-professional services. We suggest that you learn when to seek counseling from our office or the NIH Employee Assistance Program.  We encourage you to register for the Workplace Dynamics: Diversity in a Multicultural Society workshops and/or join the NIH LGBT Fellows and Friends (LGBT-FF) community.  Not at NIH?   We recommend using resources offered by your college and university or local community centers. It can be helpful to chat with other professionals who have been through this process to seek advice and support. Out for Work and Out and Equal Workplace Advocates are two good introductory resources.

Courtney's Rainbow1 (002)


Five Steps to Evaluate Organizational Culture Before You Accept the Offer

February 28, 2017

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

Step 1: Learn about and list your values

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

Step 2: Research the organization for information about their values

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

Step 3:  Listen closely during your interview

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

Step 4:  Ask Good Questions during the Interview

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

Professional/ graduate school and Post Doc opportunities:

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

Step 5: Create a spread sheet to evaluate each opportunity

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

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

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

 


Making the Most of Your Experience at NIH: The Scorecard

February 6, 2017

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

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

scorecard1-002

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

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

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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