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.


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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How to Write a Persuasive Personal Statement

March 19, 2018

It that time of year when applicants to medical schools are feverishly writing and re-writing drafts of their personal statements for medical school in anticipation of applying in June. To help our readers with this awesome task, Dr. William Higgins, Pre-professional Advisor with the OITE, has provided some suggestions that will help you to make a stronger case in favor of your admission to schools.


To write a persuasive statement, Dr. Higgins encourages applicants to think about two main questions, “Why do I want to go into medicine?” and “How have I prepared myself to be successful?” In other words, applicants need to know that admissions committees are reading through thousands of essays looking for experiences that enabled you test the various roles (direct patient care, research, science, leadership, teamwork, service,) that a medical student and future physician will take on. Then you can select your key experiences that will persuade the admissions committee members that you have a strong foundation that has prepare you to succeed in medical school and as a physician.

When you are sitting down to begin writing your statement, Dr. Higgins urges you to stop and recognize that “generation of the content is a separate process from generating the actual text and words. Do not do them at the same time.”   Spend some time writing down and organizing your ideas and insight first. Then and only then, begin composing the text. Forego the writing strategies that are used in creative writing where you were “encouraged to use free writing, flowery language, complex sentence structures, and unfamiliar and artificial style.” For example, instead of writing write, “McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup” you would simply and directly write that, “McBride fell 12 stories…” Higgins suggests that a using logic and clearly worded statements to persuade your reader is appropriate because “medical or professional school essays must flow but don’t have to be a story.”

Dr. Higgins provides the following strategy to create a flowing and persuasive personal statement:

Step One: Do not write! Schedule time to generate the content.

  • DO NOT attempt to simultaneously brainstorm and start to write!
  • Find time when you are not under stress
  • Jot down your various ideas/experiences on notes (post-it notes) and place them on the wall or a large white board.
  • Use concrete examples from your life experiences that excite you

Step Two Choose key experiences and place them order that will create your argument

  • Organize your post-it notes on the wall
  • Select 1-2 themes of your essay
  • Then re-organize them determine the flow to persuade your audience
  • Start with the most important points (those that the admissions committees want to hear)
  • Note key phrases and catch words

Step Three: Start Writing Your Essay

  • Write an opening paragraph that forecasts what you are going to tell the reader during the statement.
  • Focus on key experiences. You don’t have to include everything. Do not rewrite your activities list.
  • Be clear and direct (i.e.: Tell them what you want them to know) No need for flowery language or many adjectives
  • Use the active voice and strong verbs.
  • Write often during scheduled times
  • Write positive statements and avoid negative ones. For example, don’t write, “I didn’t want to attend medical school or be a medical doctor initially…”
  • Eliminate unnecessary words such as, “Based on, In terms of, Studies have shown, Doctors are, It is thought to be, what happened was…”
  • Use correct punctuation
  • In the conclusion link back to your opening argument or thesis

Step 4  Proof Read and Edit

  • Put the essay away for 2 days before re-reading and editing
  • Read it aloud. TRUST YOUR EARS
  • Check for linearity
  • Underline the subject and verb in each sentence. Is the verb in the active voice, strong, appropriate for the subject?
  • Check each paragraph for structure, transitions, etc.
  • Check for continuity
  • Use spell check.
  • Schedule an appointment with a OITE advisor or counselor review your essay. Ask a peer.

Visit the OITE for all workshops and programs related to applying to professional schools. Seek similar services in your region or from your primary institution if you are part of our extended reading audience.

Learn to Negotiate Before Your Interview

February 16, 2018

In recent weeks, many well trained and educated fellows have been offered positions in industry and other non-academic settings.  While that is good news, some were caught off guard because they were asked about salary requirements, start dates, or seemingly offered the position.  Traditionally, large corporations and academic departments extend job offers by telephone after the interviews are over and you are at home, eagerly awaiting the call.  However, during some industry interviews in small or medium sized companies, they may ask you these questions as part of the interview. They can be asked by a range of interviewers including hiring managers, scientists, CEOs or HR staff.  Understandably, trainees may feel unprepared to answer such questions during an interview, and therefore fear they are making a mistake that could cost them negotiating leverage and even the job.  Here’s how to prepare to professionally and confidently address these questions.


Assume the employer is in your corner  While tricky, this is a part of developing your relationship with the company and answering an interview question.  So approaching it from a positive place will benefit you.  When speaking with recruiters, many say that they are hoping to land the best and brightest talent and are eager to make you a good offer that you will accept.  Therefore, they are asking what you would like to have in advance, so they can begin to craft an appealing offer.

Learn how to negotiate and what is negotiable before you interview Review the archived OITE Careers blogs about preparing to negotiate and the ABC’s of Negotiation.  In general, this will help you to know the process.

Prepare to answer salary questions If you are asked about your salary requirements, you can craft a response based on your research of salaries for scientists in that area or company, and give a mid-range versus an actual salary number.  If they ask you about your current salary, you can be honest, and also remind them that it is for a postdoctoral fellow and not the current market rate for someone with your credentials.

Know when you can start  Before you interview for any job, think about what is an ideal start date for you.  Usually, it is preferred that employees provide a two-week notice of your departure from the job.  Typically, more time is often needed.  As a postdoc you will need to plan for transitioning your responsibilities in lab to help the PI continue in the research after your departure. Also factor in your time for packing and relocating.

Time to Evaluate the offer  Usually companies will give you one if not two weeks.  Don’t make a rushed decision or give them any indication that you have accepted the offer. It is to your advantage (and theirs) that when you accept the offer, you will be comfortable settling into the position.  We suggest reviewing the archived OITE presentation, and attending a future Industry: Negotiating Offers and Making the Transition workshop to learn how to evaluate an offer.  If you have other interviews scheduled that you would like to honor, it is good to be clear that you would like to honor those interviews before you accept the offer.

If you need further assistance, make an appointment with an OITE career counselor to ask questions and or have a mock interview appointment to practice your responses.  If you are part of our extended readership, contact a career professional in your institution or local area.

Handling Unanticipated Interruptions at Work

February 5, 2018


One of the most predictable workplace variables that successful scientists can learn to control for is an unexpected work interruption.   These breaks in service can range from changes in staffing and equipment malfunctions to anticipated breaks in the work due to the economy and/or inclement weather. Naturally, during such events (predictable or not), you will experience a range of reactions including awkward excitement, anxiety, fear, panic, frustration, anger or even avoidance and denial.  As a future professional, you will be expected to have the skills to manage such reactions and continue to act professionally as a leader. In fact, when you are applying to graduate/professional schools and jobs, you probably be asked questions about how you handle ambiguity or unanticipated changes in the workplace. Here are some helpful suggestions to help you cope with these disruptions in a positive way.

Accept the unexpected. Plan for it. Follow the leader.

You will handle workplace surprises with more confidence if you accept the reality that they will happen in general. To prepare yourself, ask your PI (or incorporate) plans to manage your research study. For example, if you are in a lab, review and follow established procedures for managing all aspects your research project during challenging times. If none exist, then consider taking the lead in designing a plan based on what you learn in the current situation. Feel free to consult others who have survived the interruptions in the past and follow their suggestions.

Heed the warning

Read your emails from administration, watch the news, listen to co-workers who you trust and your PI to be able to forecast interruptions. If you get advanced warnings, then take them seriously as discussed earlier. Avoidance will only increase your anxiety and leave you to struggle.

Take a deep breath. Be Optimistic

Communicate using a realistic and positive tone to your co-workers and subordinates to stay resilient during this time.  For example, you could say, “While this is inconvenient, we need put the following procedure in action to maintain the integrity and future focus of our project moving forward.” Also utilize reframe any negative thinking and shift to a can-do attitude. For example, shift from a typical woe is me response such as “I cannot believe this is happening to me,” or “this is ridiculous” to “I (we) can handle this. Let’s put a plan together to keep the work moving forward”

Respond professionally

Using the problem-solving strategy of emotionally detaching and focusing on the moment will allow you to stay calm and in control of your emotions, and analyze the situation. Focusing on what is lost or interrupted has the potential will give the impression that you are ill equipped to handle change and ambiguity. By focusing on the present situation and setting up a plan, this will engage you in moving towards the future and communicate trust and optimism from your co-workers.

Take care of yourself. Practice wellness.

In these situations, be sure to factor in your personal wellness as part of the plan. In OITE, we encourage you to practice self-care during these times and suggest that you read and incorporate the strategies suggested Dr. Sharon Milgram’s blog about how to keep stress from derailing your work and life. For those of you who may have anticipate a break in work, we suggest viewing Michael Sheridan’s Special Advisor for Diversity and Wellness Programs article, Waiting is Hard to Do, for suggestions on incorporating wellness activities while waiting.   These plans can include taking walks, going to a movie, or even seek counseling to help you cope.

If you feel that you need further support, feel free to utilize all OITE workshop, counseling, and advising services to help you manage during these times. Our extended readers are encouraged to utilize similar resources in your area.