Writing the Research Statement

October 6, 2017

One of the documents that applicants are asked to submit as part of the complete academic job packet is the research statement. In general, this is a two to three-page document that describes your pathway into research in your discipline, pre-doctoral and postdoctoral research, and future directions for your research in the professorship.  This is an opportunity for you to help the search committee envision you fitting nicely into their department and achieving tenure in their department.

We encourage postdocs and graduate students in the sciences to visit the OITE website and watch the Academic Job Search: Applying and Interviewing video cast  in which Sharon Milgram, PhD Director of the Office of Intramural Training and Education discusses the essentials of the process for scientists. In addition, view the  Academic Job Search: Preparing Your Job Package presentation slides where you will find more information on preparing Research Statement.

For those of you who need additional help getting started, The University of Pennsylvania discusses the research statement and suggests applicants consider the following questions to help you to begin to craft your research statement.

  • What got you interested in this research?
  • What was the burning question that you set out to answer?
  • What challenges did you encounter along the way, and how did you overcome these challenges?
  • How can your research be applied?
  • Why is your research important within your field?
  • What direction will your research take you in next, and what new questions do you have

We invite you to visit the OITE career counselors to discuss your job search needs.  If you are one of our readers beyond NIH we encourage you to visit our website resources and work with your academic department and other institutional resources to help you prepare.

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Why RCR (Responsible Conduct of Research) Training is a critical part of your NIH training

December 6, 2016

This week the OITE launches a new research ethics workshop for postdocs at the NIH. This addition joins our ongoing PostBac and Grad Student workshops. More info and upcoming events: https://www.training.nih.gov/ethics_training_home_page

You may be wondering.. why should you attend one of these courses? Perhaps your institute requires it or it is needed for your grant/fellowship application. But above that, an understanding of research ethics is an integral part of your training as a scientist or clinician. Still not convinced?…How about this:

  • To protect yourself. In a recent Nature article, more than 50% of people caught in acts of research misconduct stated they did not know the rules. As with judiciary law, not knowing the rules or regulations is not considered a valid excuse for violating them, nor is being told by others that the action is permissible. We want to make sure you know the explicit rules and implicit expectations of the ethics of performing research. You should know what to do if you aren’t sure about something; who to contact if you witness or feel pressured into doing something you think may be unethical; who to contact if you need external intervention regarding lab conduct; where, in general, to seek all of this information both here and at any institution you may end up in the future. Plus, the consequences of poor ethics ruin careers (read more at: http://ori.hhs.gov/case_summary).
  • To inform yourself. Many of the federal guidelines regulating research are reactionary in nature, enacted following public revelations about terrible mistreatment of human and animal subjects, violations of conflicts of interest, and of misplaced trust in scientists by those who they believed were trying to help them. Unfortunately, these sorts of event have not been eliminated; we see them in the headlines all too often. To learn the history of research ethics guidelines in the US means to learn what triggered these outcries and ask “How could they not know what they were doing was wrong?”
  • To question yourself. Where do our professional ethical norms arise from, and how must we ensure we never lose sight of our personal ethical codes to practice science that is safe, sound, and justifiable? The research environment can often be one of high stress, high uncertainty, and high pressure. You must learn to navigate it without compromising your integrity.
  • To communicate to others. The public is going to see more headlines about failures, ethical breaches, and lost resources than they are about breakthroughs and successes. We can all act as scientific ambassadors; to show that we are thoughtful, methodical, and take the upmost care in the work we do (and that we are not all cartoonish images of mad scientists laughing wildly as we do mad science-y things).
  • To protect the scientific endeavor. Much science is funded by the public and therefore explicitly depends on public trust. Without the trust of the public we lose the ability to both conduct research and effectively move our research to treatments and cures.

We do not think ethics training is something you need because you lack the moral grounding to do good science; but rather because we think it benefits all of us to have a shared understanding of the rules and ethical norms it takes to perform research.

So, join us!  More info here: https://www.training.nih.gov/ethics_training_home_page

 

 

 


Review of ResearchGate

March 24, 2014

Screen shot of a user profile on ResearchGate. The user profile highlighted is Ijad Madisch, one of ResearchGate's founders.Recently a few trainees have inquired about ResearchGate, so we decided to take a further look at this site. It was founded in 2008 by two physicians who discovered that collaborating with a friend or colleague (especially one across the world) was no easy task. They created this website with the intent of helping make scientific progress happen faster.

ResearchGate has been described as a mash up of familiar social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn because it contains profile pages, groups, job listings, the ability to leave comments as well as “like” and “follow” buttons. However, this social networking site is designed exclusively for scientists and researchers. According to ResearchGate’s site, there are four million users and their primary aim is to:

• Share publications
• Seek new collaborations
• Ask questions and hopefully receive answers from like-minded researchers
• Connect with colleagues

ResearchGate is free to join and members can upload copies of their papers. All papers will be searchable, which also allows users to track and follow the research publications of others in their field. Researchers are encouraged to not only upload successful results but those from failed projects or experiments, which are stored in a separate but still searchable area. The official mission of this site states: We believe science should be open and transparent. This is why we’ve made it our mission to connect researchers and make it easy for them to share, discover, use, and distribute findings. We help researchers voice feedback and build reputation through open discussion and evaluations of each other’s research.

Some critics of ResearchGate argue that even though the site states that there are four million users, it seems there are a lot of inactive profiles. Another criticism has focused on the fact that there hasn’t been much buy in from senior researchers meaning a high percentage of users are students or junior researchers. If you decide to create a ResearchGate profile, make sure you tailor the notification and privacy settings associated with your account since some members have complained about unwanted email spamming.

At this point, ResearchGate shouldn’t be the only site you use for networking, but it can be another helpful tool to connect with like-minded scientists/researchers and additionally it can be another way to help promote your work. As with any site, the more effort you put in, the more you will likely get out of this resource.

We would love to hear your thoughts about ResearchGate! If you have used it, what do you see as the pros and cons? Do you have any recommendations for future users?

**Compilation of Readers’ Reviews**

* In addition to networking, it is extremely useful as a research tool. A couple of points:
-When users sign up the website automatically adds the publications that have your name and appear in your profile, it also continues searching and when one
publishes an article it is also added automatically.
– It also suggests to connect with people that you cite and people who cite you so it is a tremendous tool to keep up with people in your field.
– People can ask questions about experiments and also get immediate feedback if they have questions about a publication instead of having to wonder.
– It allows you to follow senior investigators the same way one can follow a celebrity on Twitter, but there are no tweets and unless you ask a question all the conversations are personal,
there are no “wall postings.”

* It seems to be getting some traction with senior investigators. In the future, it may become more relevant to academia than perhaps LinkedIn.  Within ResearchGate, it is easier to connect with senior investigators because requests are not sent to connect, rather one just “follows” researchers.


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 15 – Investigator I and MRI Head – Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research

June 18, 2012

This is the fifteenth in a series of profiles about recent NIH postdocs who have found an array of jobs, from academia to industry to communications and beyond, in the U.S. and abroad. What do they do now, and how did they get there? What challenges did they face, and what advice do they have? Read on to find out.

Name: Erica Henning

Current position: Investigator I and MRI Head, Global Imaging Group, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research (NIBR)

Location: Cambridge, MA

Time in current position:  1 Year

Postdoc: Translational imaging and stroke with Lawrence Latour and Steven Warach, NINDS

Job search in a nutshell: When I started the job search process, I was on the “typical” academic track. My goal was to obtain an independent investigator position. I applied for jobs in both academia and industry between fall 2009 and spring 2011. I have found that the keys to obtaining any position are skills and expertise, company ‘fit’, and networking.

I consulted my network of colleagues and various job websites. In addition, I searched individual pharma and MRI company websites for preclinical imaging positions. I would say that I spent 1 to 2 hours each day searching and applying for positions. Some links I found helpful were Science Careers, Nature Jobs, Academic Keys, USAjobs, and the ISMRM [International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine] Career Center.

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NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 14 – Research Scientist, Industry

April 30, 2012

This is the fourteenth in a series of profiles about recent NIH postdocs who have found an array of jobs, from academia to industry to communications and beyond, in the U.S. and abroad. What do they do now, and how did they get there? What challenges did they face, and what advice do they have? Read on to find out.

Name: Michael Abram

Current position: Research scientist, Gilead Sciences, Inc.

Location: Foster City,CA

Time in current position: 11 months

Postdoc: Fidelity of HIV-1 replication with Stephen Hughes at NCI-Frederick

Day-to-day: I work in clinical virology. It’s about 50 percent scientific research, filling in knowledge gaps about HIV drugs that are soon to be FDA-approved or have recently been approved. My research focus is on understanding mechanisms of action and resistance to these drugs, and how they work in combination as antivirals. The remaining half of my job involves nonclinical regulatory work, such as contributing to new drug applications to the FDA and providing clinical virology support on Phase III studies for drugs that will soon be approved. This latter part of my job involves assessing resistance mutations that may be arising in human subjects and determining the effectiveness of these drugs compared to the current standard of care.

It’s always a balancing act. Spending time on one thing usually takes away from another. But while there never seems to be enough time, and there is frequently a sense of urgency to some responsibilities, I am really enjoying my job. No day is the same. I have brought new insights and fresh perspective, which is one of the qualities they were looking for. For the most part I’m allowed creative freedom in my position when around me there is a lot of repetition.

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NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 7 – International Academic Research, Israel

December 12, 2011

This is the seventh in a series of profiles about recent NIH postdocs who have found an array of jobs, from academia to industry to communications and beyond, in the U.S. and abroad. What do they do now, and how did they get there? What challenges did they face, and what advice do they have? Read on to find out.

Name: Mona Dvir-Ginzberg

Current position: Lecturer, Institute of Dental Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Location: Israel

Time in current position: 2 years

Postdoc: Histone-modifying enzymes involved in the pathology of osteoarthritis with David Hall at NIAMS

A change in path: I was very lucky during my postdoc to have made some novel observations. But I was held back by thinking it was way too early to look for jobs and that my publication record was insufficient. After my first publication, I felt more confident to start pursuing a position. At that point, I wasn’t thinking about academia at all. I wanted applicability and financial security, and industry seemed very appealing, so I began interviewing in the States and in Israel with several biotech companies.

It turned out some of the requirements did not suit my expectations. I was drawn to R&D, but some of the projects in the industry already had a product which only needed to be optimized. One company had outsourced all R&D. Others had a lot of documents and regulatory affairs, which appeared to me as being extremely technical and not very creative work.

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NIH Alumni: Where Are They Now? Profile 5 – Research Scientist at Johnson & Johnson

November 14, 2011

Name: Elizabeth Rex

Current position: Research scientist at Johnson & Johnson

Location: San Diego, CA

Time in current position: 4 months

Postdoc: Molecular neuropharmacology of dopamine receptors with David Sibley at NINDS

My story: When I came to NINDS, I didn’t know what I was going to do [for a career]. I thought it would all be unveiled with time. Looking back, I should have had more “career intellect.”

I knew I didn’t want to go into academia. Figuring out what I did want was the hard part. I knew I needed to get closer to helping people. I wanted to get more into drug discovery. Pharma was in line with my interests. It was more big-picture; okay, so you have the target, but what happens after that, how does it go down the pipeline, at what point does it get to the patient, how is it helping them, what went wrong, what works. The other thing is that funding was being cut. This was 2007, and the market was crashing. I had colleagues with their own labs who were struggling. It wasn’t an environment where I could thrive.

Job search in a nutshell: One and a half years out of completing my term, I knew I needed to look for jobs. I started going to seminars through OITE and going on informational interviews. Then I got more serious. I did a ton of reading. I did more extensive job searches and tapped into every connection I could find, even if there was no position immediately available. That included things like mixers and roundtables after work. I had connections with a lot of embassies through the Visiting Fellows program. I used Fogarty. I worked with people who were in the medical field outside the NIH for additional perspective on my CV and so forth.

The thing is not to feel embarrassed but to let people know you’re looking for a job. Don’t cross over into hounding, but mention it in conversation. You just need that one person who will put in the word for you.

Challenges for a non-citizen: I wasn’t a citizen, and I wasn’t a green card holder. That puts another whole dimension on the job search. I had a J1 visa and tried to change my status to H1B. It’s very challenging because you’re only there to train for a certain amount of time (5 years) and then you need to go back to your home country for 2 years (although that can be waivered in some countries). You need to get someone to sponsor you. It all takes time. You really need to get up to speed as soon as possible about what you need to do.

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International Careers

October 15, 2018

kyle-glenn-598701-unsplash

Many people aspire to have an international career and this opportunity is no longer reserved only for career diplomats. Science, medicine, business, and education – to just name a few – are all fields that have more global career mobility than ever. Biomedical research has always had great reputation for being a very diverse and international field.

An international job search, though, can be more difficult and lengthier overall. It is challenging when you are thousands of miles away and most of your initial interviews are over Skype. Additionally, customs and etiquette around networking tend to vary widely by culture. For example, North Americans tend to feel more comfortable with the idea of networking; even more so than their western counterparts in Europe. However, many of the job search engines that you are used to, like Science, Nature, LinkedIn, and Indeed, have an international reach and can be an effective way to seek out positions abroad.

Like anything in life, there will be pros and cons to your decision to work abroad. It will likely have a large impact not only on your professional life but your personal life as well. If you are considering an international job offer, be sure to read this post “Before Accepting an International Job Offer”. A job in a new country can afford you the chance to improve your cross-cultural communication skills and competencies. Although, this learning might come because of “mistakes” you make at your new job. Rapidly replying to an email might be okay in your home country; whereas in you new country, it might be seen as rude and the proper etiquette would have been to reply in person. Other factors like how emotionally expressive and/or confrontational you are in communicating tends to vary widely by region and country. See our post on “Negotiating Across Cultures”. When accepting a job abroad, remember that there will be growing pains and moments when you don’t feel as competent as you did back at home. Having a job abroad also likely means that your job and visa (ability to live in that country) are linked. If for some reason you hate your new job and need to leave, you will have less job flexibility and it might mean heading back home.

The experience in the global market place, your increased professional network, and a chance to see life and work from another perspective is unmatched when you take a job abroad. The challenges can help build your resilience and experiencing a different way of doing reserach can open your mind up to a whole new range of possibilities — exponentially expanding your worldview.

If you are at the NIH, be sure to check out the International Opportunities Expo 2018 this week. You can find out more information about the event here, but this is an excellent chance to meet and network with science and technology representatives in order to explore research, funding, and career opportunities abroad. If this is of interest, you might also be interested in Science Voices From Home, which organizes brown bag series and different webinars on finding international opportunities. These are categorized by country and recent ones have included Brazil, Australia, India, Canada, and Sweden. If you would like to find out more about this series, you can contact OITE.

 


Writing a Letter of Recommendation – Tips for Mentors

October 9, 2018

al-nik-382503-unsplashAs postbacs prepare to apply for graduate school, many might be coming to you to ask for a letter of recommendation. It can be hard to know how to start these all-important letters, so here are some things to keep in mind as you draft your reference letter.

First and foremost, you should only agree to write a letter if you feel you know the person well and if you can write positively about your working experience with them. If not, you might want to mention that the requestor should contact others who could better speak to their work. Don’t feel compelled to write a letter out of obligation, especially if you feel uncomfortable writing favorably or if you think your assessment could hinder their chances of acceptance.

What You Need to Write a Letter

If you feel comfortable writing a letter of recommendation, then make sure the requestor provides you some background information. If it is for a job, they should give you their CV/resume and a copy of the job description. If it is for graduate/medical school, they should give you their CV/resume, a list of the schools they are applying to, and a copy of their personal statement. This information will be helpful background as you write your letter on their behalf. It would also be a good idea to check in with the person about the top three things they would like you to address in reference to the position or institution. For example, for graduate school, you will most likely want to speak to not only their analytical abilities but their work ethic as well. If you are writing a letter for a medical school applicant, you will want to check out the AAMC website where they offer detailed instructions for letter writers. Writers are encouraged to touch on the applicant’s competencies along four dimensions: thinking/reasoning, science, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.

 

Formatting

In terms of format, letters of recommendation are generally one page and one to three paragraphs long. They must be signed and dated; ideally, it will be on official letterhead. You should start by noting how long you have known this person and in what capacity. Be sure to clarify your role/title and relationship (supervisor, colleague, etc) to the applicant.

Then, you will want to move on to your endorsement of the candidate. Keep in mind the three points they wanted you to address but be specific when doing so. General statements like, “Bailey is a hard worker” tend to fall flat unless supported with examples. You could rephrase it to say, “Bailey has demonstrated an excellent work ethic and commitment to the team. One of our projects required somebody from the lab to come in each weekend day to harvest cells. Bailey volunteered every time to help out and was a pivotal member of our team during busy work times.” It also helps admissions committees if you favorably compare the student to others you have known. As an example: “In terms of analytical abilities, Bailey is in the top 10% of undergraduate students that I have worked with in the past ten years.” Speaking to both their skill sets and personal characteristics is usually the winning combination. Try to address and conclude with one or two traits that make them especially suitable for where they are applying.

Be Aware of Gender Bias

We wrote about gender bias in letters of recommendation a few years ago. A study by Trix and Psenka (2003) examined 300 letters of recommendation for medical faculty positions and determined that recommenders unconsciously described candidates in stereotypically gendered ways:

  • Men were described as “successful” and “accomplished” and letters for male applicants contained more repetitions of superlatives such as “outstanding” or “exceptional.”
  • Women were described as “nurturing” and “compassionate” and letters for female applicants often include doubt raisers, statements like: “It appears that her health and personal life are stable.”

Letters for female applicants were shorter and lacked basic features like a description of the writer’s relationship with the applicant, comments on the applicant’s academic traits and achievements, and/or evaluative comments. Letters for males were more aligned with critical job requirements and used stronger language like “excellent research record” and “ability”.

Make sure you aren’t falling prey to gender bias when writing your letter. You can copy and paste your letter into a Gender Bias Calculator here.


Basic Overview: The US Academic System

October 2, 2018

nathan-dumlao-572049-unsplashMany trainees interested in pursuing an academic career path don’t have a clear idea about the hiring landscape in the United States.  This quick overview will discuss a few topics: the kinds of institutions, the types of jobs available, and last but not least definitions for funding.

What kinds of educational institutions are there in the US?

There is an official listing which is referred to as the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.  Here you can look up institutions by a variety of different classifications, including: undergraduate programs, graduate programs, enrollment profile, size and setting, as well as community engagement.  These listings have been updated every few years since 1970 and the most recent version is expected to be released later this year (2018).

The most basic classifications are based on the type of degree conferred; categories include: doctoral universities, master’s college and universities, baccalaureate colleges, baccalaureate/associate’s colleges, associate’s colleges, special focus institutions (including medical schools), and tribal colleges.

Each of these classifications is further subdivided. One example you might be familiar with is how doctoral universities are categorized:

R1: Highest Research Activity
R2: Higher Research Activity
R3: Limited Research Activity

What types of jobs are available within these institutions?

Generally, academic jobs progress in level from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor to Full Professor. All faculty positions include three main components: 1. Research 2. Teaching 3. Service. However, the amount of time the faculty member is expected to devote to each of these components varies widely by the type of institution.  At R1 doctoral or medical institutions, for example, the research component will be the primary function of the role and the teaching component could be as little as a handful of lectures a year.

Fewer and fewer professors are receiving tenure now. Historically, tenure has meant a lifetime placement at an institution and a job/salary until retirement.  The trends in the academic labor force show that tenure and tenure-track positions are decreasing while part-time faculty and full-time/non-tenure track positions have been increasing.

What about funding?

You have probably heard the terms hard money and soft money, but what do these mean? Hard money denotes an institutionally guaranteed salary. Often times the salaries are for teaching and cover the nine-month academic year (even though they can be paid out over a period of 12 months). Soft money, on the other hand, is money the academic finds on his/her own to supplement a partial salary provided by the institution and covers research costs. This money often comes from grants, which can be one-time funding sources or time-limited, meaning the academic will have to reapply for funding throughout their career.

While the academic career path has been changing dramatically, many scientists and trainees still pursue this option successfully. If you are interested in learning more, the OITE offers a number of in-depth workshops every year about academic jobs and many of these are available for you online. Please check out our videocast on “Academic Job Search – Applying and Interviewing” as well as “Understanding the US Academic System” which is the second presentation in the document.