Making the Transition from the Bench to an Office

January 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Making the Most of Your Transition to NIH

June 2, 2014

Part Two of a Two-Part Series on Transitions

If you are just arriving at the NIH as a summer student, postbac, graduate student or postdoctoral or clinical fellow, adjusting to your experience at NIH represents a transition that will be one of many transitions you will face in your career.

You may be starting a new phase after leaving a comfortable niche in your undergraduate or graduate university. Or you may be exploring some new opportunities. Having a model or road map for your transition can be helpful. William Bridges is a writer whose model of transition may be of interest.

Bridges’ model highlights three stages that people go through when they experience change. These are:
1. Ending, Losing, and Letting Go
2. The Neutral Zone
3. The New Beginning

Graphic image of William Bridges' Model of Transition

 

1. Ending, Losing, and Letting Go
At this stage, you are probably experiencing a situational change which can trigger a psychological transition. Change can signal the start of a new opportunity which also means the end of an old opportunity. This could mean the temporary end of feeling sure of your daily tasks or the end of associating with a (comfortable) peer group. Even if this ending is a positive development, it could cause you to feel uncertain and question yourself and your values or abilities. As you are letting go of your previous experience, make sure you solicit the support and resources offered at NIH. The Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) offers many workshops and individual counseling appointments to help you get oriented and connected to the resources and opportunities at NIH. You may learn more at www.training.nih.gov.

2. The Neutral Zone
The neutral zone or transition period can be a time of creative exploration and discovery while you are clarifying your options and goals. This is a great time to explore new ways of thinking about your career and to connect to people who are working as professionals in fields of interest to learn about their work. In order to learn more about your options and connect, you may want to start talking with people in informational interviews. Sometimes trainees find it helpful to plan how to set up informational interviews with a career counselor, especially if this is a new concept. If your experience has been primarily at the bench, you may also want to explore professional involvement in a FELCOM Committee, a professional society, or committees in your IC or community.

3. The New Beginning
The new beginning is the final step in the transition process. It is usually marked by a decrease in anxiety, an increase in enthusiasm, and a clearer vision on how your recent change fits into your long- term plans. This might include starting medical school, a PhD program or moving on to a career as a faculty member, PI, science policy analyst, specialist in technology transfer, grants administrator, and beyond.

Most people will go through each phase during a change; however, remember that each individual responds to change very differently. You might find that you breeze through transitions pretty quickly while others may struggle with each step. No matter what stage you are in related to your career goals and transitions, please take a look at the resources and services to support you at www.training.nih.gov.

William Bridges’ book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, offers suggestions about dealing with transitions and coping with change. You can find this book in most public libraries and it is also available in the OITE Career Library on the second floor of Building 2.

 


Making the Transition to a New Position

November 26, 2012

You have a new job!  (or hope to soon).  Here are some tips to make the transition to your new position successful and as easy as possible.

First, remember that transitions are always tough.  While you are likely very excited about a new position, the transition can be overwhelming, especially if you are moving to a new location. You are closing out a chapter in your life that has likely lasted between two and five years (or more).   You are saying goodbye to friends and colleagues and disrupting an established routine—so some anxiety is totally normal.

Finish strong and leave your current job on a positive note.  Finish those last minute experiments, organize those freezer boxes, clean your personal spaces (bench, desk, etc), train other people in the group on what you do, and organize/clean/save important computer files and emails.  This always seems to take longer than you think it should, and many of us have put this off to the last minute and then scrambled to finish everything before we walk out the door.  Also, decide how many of those last minute experiments can honestly be done before you leave.  Someone else in the lab can likely perform the rest after you leave.

Make sure you take time to say goodbye to people.  Things can be chaotic as you transition, and sometimes we forget the people.  Schedule enough time to say goodbye (without over-scheduling so that you are going crazy trying to keep your social calendar in check).

If your new job requires you to move, ask the organization you are moving to for relocation help.  Even if this will just be a colleague that will point you in the right direction for good neighborhoods, childcare, restaurants, etc.  Finding a good place to live will make the transition much easier.  You can even search the alumni databases or Linkedin to find other people who are in that location to get guidance.

Make a plan for your arrival at your new job.  Some recommend a 90 day plan of what you would like to get done.  A good book on is The First 90 Days, by Michael Watkins.  Also, if you are heading to an academic appointment, you may want to read Making the Right Moves (published by HHMI), and At the Helm by Kathy Barker.  Create a summary and overview of your position, as you see it.  Then make a list of goals that you should (and can) complete in your first 30, 60, and 90 days.  In this, also mention the assumptions that you have and any required resources needed in order to make this happen.  This gives you some good guidelines and goals as you move into a new position with many other unknowns.

Build a good reputation with both your new boss and your new coworkers.  Be part of the team.  Volunteer to tackle doable projects.  Ask your co-workers on the best places for lunch and coffee (and even invite them to share in a cup of coffee with you).  Don’t try to integrate too quickly into every conversation.  Remember, these people have built a bond and you will need time to really understand all of the nuances of the relationships.

Finally, make sure to take some time for your own work-life balance.  Finding new places in the community is a great way to find a new support system, to gain friends and to make this transition less lonely.

So good luck!!!  And keep in touch…..your transition now makes a terrific success story for those coming through the ranks behind you!


There’s No Place Like Home: Making a Smooth Transition to a New Place

October 12, 2010

Mom and child on mallWhen we left North Carolina 4 years ago, I worried about the impact our move would have on my then three-year-old son. He was very close to a small group of friends, enjoyed his daycare situation so much, and I was worried that uprooting him might be too stressful. My friends and family all shared the same response to my concern: “He’s so young, he won’t remember a thing!” Well, four years later, he still gets teary from time to time about missing his “friends from North Carolina.”

Leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar is difficult for all of us. We miss our old friends, familiar haunts, favorite activities. It is tough to move to a new city, new neighborhood, new school, new job – and to leave the familiar behind. Add to this other irksome details of moving – buying a house, selling a house, finding an apartment, packing, unpacking, finding your way around a new job, new community – and you’ve got a recipe for stress. All of these pieces can be triggers for stress, which is why moving is so often mentioned as one of the top stressors in life.

What is the best way to deal with the stress of moving? There are several resources available, some within OITE and the NIH, that will help you to stay sane and slowly build a sense of community in your new place.

  1. Get organized. Being organized, developing lists, and checking things off/getting things done will help you to move forward and get to know your new surroundings. Find the nearest drugstore, the cheapest gas station, the best bank for you, etc. Gather phone numbers from the parents of your child’s new classmates and seek referrals for pediatricians and dentists. Visit your town/city’s website to find out about recycling/trash pick-up, car registration, and other important information for new residents.
  2. Join in. Think about the activities you took part in at your former place of residence, and get involved in your new space. I have always been an avid hiker, so I looked into hiking groups in Connecticut after we left NC. The sooner you engage in activities that you enjoy, the better your chances of meeting like-minded people.
  3. Branch out. If you are not typically one to approach someone you don’t know, give it a shot. Introduce yourself to someone new at a lecture, standing in line for coffee, or anywhere else you happen to be on campus. Connecting with people will help you to become more fully integrated in your new community.
  4. Maintain old ties. Keep up with friends and loved ones after you get settled. While your relationships will change because of the distance between you, keeping in touch with old friends will help you through difficult moments in the transition.
  5. Use available resources. There are many resources available to you via OITE and the NIH to help you manage the stress involved with relocating. Be sure to check these out!
  6. Give it some time. It may take several months to a few years to become acclimated and truly feel a part of a new community. Give yourself a chance to readjust, and you will eventually feel at home in your new location!

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.

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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.


Are you Ready for Video Interviews?

March 21, 2017

One of the current trends in the application process for industry positions is to use video interviewing. Currently, business, science, and technology companies are using video interviews as the first step in the interviewing process after a candidate applies for a position because it saves money and staff time for the firms to screen candidates prior to inviting them for face-to face interviews. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) 2016 Recruiting Trends report, there has been a 50 % increase in the use of video interviewing in the past year.  This trend could correlate with the relative decrease in employers coming to on-campus recruiting interviews and career fairs.   Also,  the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) is currently conducting a research study to pilot -test the use of video-interviews with its residency applicants.

In this post, we interviewed an NIH trainee who recently participated in several video interviews to gather a user’s impressions of the process and technology.

What type of company and position(s) did you apply?

They were generally biotech companies that had positions such as a Scientist 1 or Assay Development.

What materials did you use to apply?

I submitted a resume and cover letter through their website. Then you were sent an email with a link to the video interview. This company used HireVue software.  Before the question prompts, there is a short intro about the company mission and culture delivered by the company’s employees.

How did you prepare?

The video interview link came after I applied for the position. I followed the instructions given. You are allowed to complete a few practice questions (mostly behavioral) and to learn how to use the software.  I used Glassdoor to prepare for the interview questions. There was a combination of behavioral and technical questions.  Depending on the position, it may be more technical than behavioral.

Where in the interview process was the video interview?

This was part of the pre-interview process. It was sent after you applied.  I think it takes the place of the telephone screening interview.

How much time were you given to reply to the company?

I was given three business days to practice and then answer the interview questions.

What was it like to record the video interview?

It was both helpful and terrifying at the same time. It was helpful in that it is using a system that makes it convenient.  It was terrifying watching yourself (split screen) while you are answering interview questions vs. looking at someone else.  It’s hard to watch yourself interview.

How many questions were you asked?

You were given about 20 minutes to answer 7-9 questions (about 20-30 minutes). You are given 30 seconds to read the question and then between 1-3 minutes to answer the questions.  Some questions you are given are one minute and most others you have more time. Some questions have multiple stems in them, so you may feel rushed to answer everything in the 3 minutes.

What Questions were you asked?

I was given questions about why I chose this company, behavioral questions, compare and contrast technologies, describe how to develop or troubleshoot assays. I was asked how does product development differ from research and development in biotech.  For another interview, I was asked to summarize my molecular biology, troubleshooting, and optimizing skills.

It appears that the various teams in a company can select their own questions. For example, for some positions I was given one time to answer the interview questions.  However, in another interview, I was given multiple times to answer the question before submitting it.

After the videotaped interview, they presented a short video thanking me for completing the video interview, but the next steps in the process were unclear.

What would you recommend to others who are asked to complete video interviews?

Utilize the practice time to learn the software and practice questions. Be aware of your choice of setting, lighting, height of camera and monitor, and choice of dress for video interview.  You can have some have some notes in front of you.  You will see a split screen with the question on left, outline of self on the right, and countdown clock on the top right corner.

In the 2015 Science Magazine  article, Ace Your Video Interview,  by David Jensen, he recommends that candidates should be highly aware of their environment, appearance, and performance when using Skype technology for live video interviews.  For example, he described that shadows from lighting, animals in the background, and clutter are distractions that can cause a candidate’s interview to be less than stellar.  He also emphasizes that a candidate could be interviewed by several people.  It may be recorded as well.  Based on the experiences of our trainee and Jensen’s comments, here are some additional recommendations to how to prepare for pre-recorded video interviews:

  • Practice using any type of video-based software so that can get used to seeing yourself while you are interviewing. Check to see If there is a way to turn this feature off during your practice sessions with the software you are given. Please note that OITE does not endorse HireVue, SKYPE, or any particular any video interviewing products.
  • Be sure you are looking directly into the camera and that your background is free from distractions.
  • Practice your answers standard industry interview and behavioral questions.
  • Conduct company research in advance to learn about the company, its competitors, and trends in the industry.
  • Although it may end abruptly, send a thank you note after the interview. You may also record a thank you to the committee at the end of your video interview.
  • Dress in professional attire (at least from the waist up) because you are making your first impression with the employer.

While video interviews are not completely replacing the face-to-face interviews, you are likely to encounter them at some phase of the process in the future. If you would like to discuss any part of the process of applying for industry positions, have a mock interview, and /or review your application materials, feel free to set up an appointment with a career counselor. Also please remember to attend the NIH Career Symposium on May 11, 2016 where NIH alumni will discuss their transitions to a variety of careers in academia and beyond.


Where Do I Begin? Industry Careers for Scientists

February 13, 2017

One of the most challenging questions that developing scientists must answer is, “Should I pursue an academic or industry career?” For some, the pursuit of an academic career  is their path of choice.  For scientists who wish to pursue industry careers, the answer is more difficult to come by because they lack sufficient knowledge of how to pursue the variety of careers in industry.

This OITE Archives post will help scientists to answer this question by providing suggesting the following OITE Archives to begin gathering information about career paths for scientists.    To begin, read the following articles about moving from Industry to Academia and the Top 10 Myths about careers in industry discussed by guest blogger, Professor Brad Fackler.

Next, read through several of the recently published OITE Career Options Series blogs about popular careers for scientists. The information is still relevant and worth reviewing as part of your career decision-making process.

For those who have an interest in working abroad, here are several blogs that will open your eyes to career global opportunities for scientists

If graduate or professional school is needed as part of the pathway to an industry career the following posts will be helpful.

Will a Master’s Degree Get You Where You Want to Go?

Getting In: Everything You want To Know About the Graduate and Professional School Applications

We encourage you schedule informational interviews with NIH alumni and scientists employed in industry to learn more about how they made the transition.  Schedule an appointment with a career counselor to learn more about careers and how values, interests, skills, and lifestyle and how they factor into your decision.   Finally, attend our various career development programs such as the NIH Career Symposium to gather career information from NIH alumni help you make this important career choice.


Squash those ANTs

November 7, 2016

Even the most optimistic person is not immune to negative thoughts, but for some, automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) are a regular part of life and the chatter of self-doubt and worry can be constant.

During times of high stress, like a job search, ANTs can become even more pronounced. Often job seekers will face a barrage of worries and doubts like: Am I making the right decision? Maybe I should wait until I finish X experiment and get Y publication? Should I leave the bench? I like what I’m doing… why do I have to change? I hate what I am doing…will I really like anything else?

Career planning and job searching is all about transitions and transitions are always difficult. Perhaps we have to let go of an idea we once held for ourselves; or we have to find a way to manage the uncertainty of a job search; or we have to deal with the discomfort of examining our strengths and weaknesses while others do the same.

Stress can create a time fraught with challenges and thinking errors. Some of the most common thinking errors that can occur include:

Overgeneralization
Taking one isolated situation and using it to make wide generalizations. For the job seeker, this could look like, “Well, I didn’t get that one job. Nobody wants to hire me. I’m never going to get a job.” All or nothing language like “always” or “never” is another form of overgeneralization and black-and-white thinking.

Mental Filter
This occurs when somebody focuses almost exclusively on one specific, usually negative or upsetting, aspect of a situation while ignoring the rest. For the job seeker, this could look like, “I answered that one interview question so terribly!” Even if the rest of the interview went well, the person will ruminate about their perceived mistake.

Fortune Telling
This is often also called jumping to conclusions or mind reading and it happens when you assume you know what is going to happen.  Perhaps in an interview, you imagine what the hiring manager is thinking. “They are probably thinking my answer was really stupid.” Then you anticipate how the situation will unfold and assume you will never get the job.

***
There are many thinking errors that can occur and Dr. Amen has devoted his research to this topic. Dr. Daniel Amen is a psychiatrist, director of the Amen Clinics, the author of “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life”.  He notes that our brains are actually wired to focus on the negative and to scan for threats, but you can also learn how to stop your automatic negative thoughts and focus on the positive.

According to Dr. Amen, there are three steps to kill thos ANTs:

1. Write them down and clearly identify them.

2. Ask: are these true?

3. If you discover these thoughts aren’t true, talk back to them !

Labeling, investigating and talking back to your ANTs takes practice but it time can help you to minimize these cognitive intrusions. Watch Dr. Amen’s video here:


NIH OITE Alumni: Where Are They Now? Director of Career Services

October 17, 2016

dumsch_amandaName: Amanda Dumsch

Job Title & Organization: Director of Career Services; SAIS Europe, Johns Hopkins University

Location: Bologna, Italy

What was your job search like?
I wasn’t actively job searching; however, a former boss emailed me a link to an open position at SAIS Europe.  I didn’t pay much attention to it at first and I actually sat on the email for over a month. Then, one day while I was at the National Career Development Association Conference, I suddenly decided it couldn’t hurt to send in my cover letter and resume. The process moved seemingly quickly after that.

How did you make the decision to take an international job?
It was actually a difficult decision for me because I was in an enviable position. My job as a career counselor at the OITE was fantastic. I was happily employed in a job that I liked working alongside people I respected. So, I worried and wondered. How could I walk away from that? I also lived geographically close to my family, so the prospect of moving an ocean away – on a different continent – stressed me out.

Making the decision took time and I did a lot of things to help get clarity. I made pros and cons lists; I journaled about it; I spoke to career counselors; I talked to trusted colleagues; and I conferred with loved ones constantly.  I even reread some of the very blog posts that I had written about decision-making, including:

Making a Career Decision? Use the CASVE Cycle

3 Decision-Making Tips

Decision-Making Activity — Prioritizing Grid

As a feeling decider, the decision ultimately came down to a gut feeling that this was the right next step for me in my life and my career. Sometimes stress and worry still kick in though and I panic, What if I made the wrong decision?  But, I try to take a moment to breathe and remind myself that I can always make a new decision if needed in the future.

What have you learned from this process?
There is an adage “opportunity knocks at inopportune times” and I have often thought about this line because it felt so applicable to my situation. Perhaps more than any other time in my life, I had committed to multiple projects through the end of the year. So, moving felt very disruptive to all of the plans (professional development courses, the NYC marathon, trips) that I had scheduled.

As a planner, it can be hard for me to make adjustments when something new comes up, but I learned to be more flexible and adaptable. The fact that this something new was so life changing felt exciting… and stressful.  I remind myself that almost everyone struggles with transitions and even positive change can create stress.

Any final thoughts?
While at the NIH, I had almost 2500 individual appointments; in these meetings, I had the chance to meet with trainees at all levels – postbacs, graduate students, and postdocs. I met smart and ambitious individuals doing remarkable work at and away from the bench.  Many of my meetings focused on transitions; helping people transition both to and away from the NIH.  I was constantly impressed by the trainees that I had the privilege of working with and I was especially struck by the visiting fellows.  Their courage to move to a different country, learn a new language, and adapt to a new culture was inspiring to me.  I look forward to experiencing a new way of life in a new part of the world, but the people I met at the NIH will always be dear to me.


Finding Your Career Path: Are you a Sprinter, Wanderer, or Straggler?

July 12, 2016

Although exciting and important, finding your ideal career path can often be quite nerve-wracking and stressful as well. It is easy to feel like you are drifting in an unknown direction, despite the multitude of professional opportunities. More importantly, it is all too common to fall into the mindset that there is one and only one way to be successful in your occupation. But, as career satisfaction is a complex matter, there are often multiple ways to achieve success.

Having an awareness of your own personal approach can work wonders in increasing your confidence and directing your goals.

In his best-selling book, “There is Life after College” Jeff Selingo synthesizes current research on young adults, outlining three professional categories that they tend to fall in. Whereas each characterization has its own benefits and weaknesses, knowing where you stand on the spectrum can help you gain insight into planning your future career.

Image of six stick people running in the colors blue, green, and purple

Are you a Sprinter?
According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, young adults born in the early 1980s have had, on average, six different jobs between the ages of 18 and 26, and by their 27th birthday only 14 percent of college graduates had a job that lasted at least two years. Economists have further found that increased mobility in one’s 20s leads to higher earnings later in life. Sprinters fit this cohort of young adults perfectly: they act like rocket ships, speeding towards their careers and are hell-bent on success, no matter what the cost. They tend to have a clear idea of what they want to achieve, and they stick with it, assembling a progression of professional opportunities that look increasingly impressive. Consequently, they also tend to change jobs frequently according to their career visions. This approach to finding a career has many strengths: if planned well, it creates impressive opportunities, and can lead to much independence, confidence, and success.

However, the Sprinter lifestyle is not for everyone, and can even be a recipe for confusion and turmoil. Frequent transitions without the ability to move up in your job can be defeating, and student debt provides a real limitation to mobility and occupational flexibility. Also, in moving so fast into a career, it is all too common to not take the time to develop your interests, and explore what is truly the right career for you.

Are you a Wanderer?
Wanderers are not as quick and certain about their careers. Although they can bounce from job to job like Sprinters, they are often not as determined as Sprinters are to find a job and are more likely to work in a job outside of their field of study.

This can often be a strength: in a complex world/economy, jumping headlong into a career is not always the most alluring choice for a young adult, and taking the time to explore career path may lead to more fruitful options down the line. For example, many young adults decide to go back to graduate school for additional degrees in hopes of leading to a job that they are passionate about.

However, for some, taking this time can be limiting, and can even lead to a feeling that you’ve missed out on important career opportunities. Paradoxically, research shows that the bulk of wage increase in an adult’s career happens in the first ten years. So for a young adult who is not catapulting confidently into a career, exploration can seem more like fighting a riptide, with many young professionals remaining in jobs that they are overqualified for, jumping between disparate professional opportunities in hopes of striking gold, and also taking jobs that do not fall on their  educational path. Although messages like “keep your eyes on the prize” and “hold out for better opportunities in the future” are meant to be motivating, it is tempting to wonder how long this will take, and at what cost?

Are you a Straggler?
Perhaps the most frustrated cohort is that of the Straggler. They have tried several career options, and are still struggling to find a true path for them. Some have tried an alternate professional or career path, only to find that it was not what they expected. Some have decided to go back to graduate school in the absence of a clear mindset for a career path, and some are even struggling to find work. In a professional culture that tends to stress the “one size fits all” notion for career success, it can be hard to shed this mindset in order to explore what is truly right for you. Although it can be defeating to find that you have not succeeded in the path you set out for yourself, always remember that your educational or professional institution has resources for you to explore career paths, and it is never too late to begin this process.


Although these categories can seem hierarchical, there are logical steps people in each one can take to lead to success in their careers. For the Sprinter, although being successful may be easy, it might be necessary to take some time to reflect on what do I want, and what would be best for me, aside from prestige. For the Wanderer, it could very well be the opposite: if you see a job that you are interested in, go for it, because it could be a meaningful career step. And for the Straggler, it may be necessary to shed the occupational pressure of family and friends, and take the time necessary to find what is my true calling.

No matter the case, always remember that OITE Career Services is here to help if you are at the NIH. To schedule an appointment, simply go to https://www.training.nih.gov/career_services/appointments.