Waiting is Hard to Do

December 18, 2017

Blog written by Michael J. Sheridan, MSW, PhD, Special Advisor for Diversity and Wellness Programs, Michael.sheridan@nih.gov

It is December 2017, and while many are preparing for holidays, if you are trainee, you are probably asking yourself, “I haven’t heard back from a number of medical schools, is there something I can do to move them along? Should I assume I won’t get in?  Will I get an interview at the graduate programs that I applied to?  I am waiting to hear from academic positions …is there anything I can do?  The good news is that, if you haven’t heard anything yet, you are still being considered. With the holidays fast approaching, it is probable that most communication will resume in the new year.  The reality is that waiting for a response is hard thing to do.


Dr. Michael Sheridan, Special Advisor for Diversity and Wellness Programs offers some strategies to help and writes that an area to be aware of while you wait is what is going on in your mind – specifically, the “inner chatter” that is present. It’s important to realize that you “talk” to yourself more than anyone else and thus, what you are saying makes a difference.  There are two particular qualities of this inner chatter to be mindful of – the “when” and the “what.”

The “when” of your inner dialogue refers to how much the mind is focused on either the past (“I wish I had remembered to put X in my application.” “I should have had so and so critique my letter before I sent it.”) or the future (“What will I do if I don’t get any interviews?” “If I don’t hear back from them by the end of this week, it means I didn’t get in”).  The reality of both past and future musings (or let’s face it, worrying) is that it is truly wasted effort as you can’t change something that’s already happened and you can’t predict what is going to happen in the future!  The only moment you have any control of is the current moment – and even then, I’m talking about control of your own thoughts and behaviors – not the actions of others or the eventual outcome.  Focusing on what you can do versus what you can’t lowers anxiety and builds confidence.

The “what” of your inner chatter has to do with the overall message or tone of what you are saying to yourself.  Are your thoughts harshly self-critical? (“I know I did a terrible job on that personal essay – I probably sounded really stupid”) Do they have a doomsday or “catastrophizing” flavor to them? (“I didn’t get this position, which means I won’t get any of the others I applied for either”)  Or are they balanced and positive? (“I know I won’t get accepted by everyone, but I probably won’t get rejected by everyone either” -“I’ve done the best I can and I can handle whatever the next step needs to be”).  A good thing to cultivate during the waiting is compassionate self-talk, or treating yourself with “the same kindness, care, and concern that you would treat a good friend” (Dr. Kristen Neff, www.self-compassion.com). So notice what you’re saying to yourself and if it is not supportive, ask yourself if you would say this to a good friend.  Chances are, you would offer something more encouraging, so try being your own good friend!

In addition to Dr. Sheridan’s suggestions above, we invite you to visit our most recent blog, where we suggested some activities to engage in during the holidays that will help you prepare to continue pursuing your career goals in 2018.  Also, be sure to visit our OITE web page as well to attend workshops and schedule an appointment with a career counselor.  If you are one of our extended community readers, please check with your home institution and local resources for career services. We will see you in 2018!


Academic Job Search: Telephone Interviews

October 23, 2017

This is the time of year to prepare for telephone interviews.  For many of you, this will be the first step in the academic interviewing process.  This is a cost-effective and time efficient method for many search committees and enables them to narrow down the list of applicants that are invited for campus interviews.  In the OITE academic interview video cast, Sharon Milgram, Director of the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE), for the NIH suggests that candidates prepare to practice the following suggestions for managing the process:

  • Use a land-line
  • Find a quiet place free of distractions
  • Prepare for a 30-45-minute telephone interview. Expect up to three interviewers on the line
  • Jot down the names of interviewers and refer to each by name when answering the questions
  • Loss of facial and body-language (non-verbal) cues make it difficult at first
  • Be sure to have questions prepared in advance as this conversation will likely end with them asking if you have questions

Here are some potential questions to help you prepare for telephone interviews

  • Why are you interested in this position?
  • Tell us about your research. How will you involve students in your research?
  • What courses could you teach here?
  • What research projects/topics could you pursue here?
  • How would you describe your interactions with students?
  • What questions do you have for us?

Of course, after this  step,  you will prepare for campus interviews, job talks, chalk talks and negotiating a job package. We encourage you to visit the OITE website to register for workshops and career counseling appointments that may assist you with your search.  Also view our video casts and blogs related to the academic and industry job search. We encourage our readers beyond NIH to utilize resources at their home academic institutions as well.

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.

Writing the Teaching Statement

September 28, 2017

As you prepare a your written application materials to use when entering the Academic Job Market, in addition to the standard Curriculum Vitae (CV), Cover Letter,  and a diversity statements, you may be asked submit a Teaching Statement .  In general, teaching statements help search committees gain an understanding about how you approach teaching courses in your academic discipline.  This statement, that will include your philosophy towards teaching science,  will give the reader a concise synopsis of the underpinnings and origins to your approach to teaching followed by the strategies you plan to use, and examples and evidence of your success. The authors of,  The Academic Job Search Handbook (5th Edition), write that the Teaching Statement can be described as, “…a brief essay that will give a hiring committee an idea of what you actually do in the classroom. You will need to make some general statements but be sure to give some examples of things you have already done, or at least seen in practice, rather than give examples that are entirely hypothetical.”.

The NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) recommends that you watch our video casts on the Academic Job Search Process  before writing your statement.  Strong teaching statements will:

  • show clear evidence that you can “walk the walk”.
  • communicate that you are student-centered.
  • showcase your ability to teach to diverse learning styles
  • demonstrate your ability to reflect about your role as a teacher.
  • convey your enthusiasm for teaching.

For beginning instructors, Science Magazine provides some specific tips to the academic scientist who is starting the job market. The AAAS makes several suggestions to impress the search committee that include tailoring it to the institution, drawing form your personal experience learning science, and discussing what courses you would like to teach.  To help you get started, jot down your responses to the following reflective questions as you begin or re-evaluate your teaching statement:

  • Think back …Who or what experiences have influenced your approach to teaching?
  • How do you teach science? How do you motivate students to learn?
  • Do you teach differently to undergraduates, graduate, professionals?
  • What methods, materials, techniques, technology will you use to support your teaching goals
  • How will you teach to diverse audiences?
  • Describe creative methods to teach in your field?

If you are new to teaching or need more experience teaching, the OITE offers the course Scientists Teaching Science  that is an excellent program to help you begin to strategize and develop the skills for teaching in the profession including developing a teaching philosophy.  If taken, this can be included as training in your teaching statement and on your CV.

Getting a Faculty Job – Revisited

August 14, 2017

We are reaching into the archives to update the August 2013 blog post, “Getting a Faculty Job.”   Starting in August, a large share of faculty jobs will begin accepting applications to fill positions that begin in the fall of the following year.  Here are some key elements of the academic job search to consider before you apply:

  1. What type of educational institution is appealing to you?
    Do you want to be at a large research university (like Columbia University in NYC), a state school that terminates in a master’s program (like Eastern Michigan University), or a four-year liberal arts environment, (like Swarthmore College) or community college.  Each of these types of institutions has different expectations regarding the amount of teaching and research expected from faculty.  Different institutions/schools have different expectations for grant funding, teaching, and service and obtaining tenure. Be sure to consider the type of position you are looking for so you can prepare the strongest possible package.  Another question to consider: does the location and setting (urban/suburban) matter to you? To research schools, look at the Carnegie Classifications.
  2. Find positions that interest you.
    Many schools post their domestic and international academic openings on-line at sites including:  Science Careers, New Scientist Jobs, Academic 360, Nature, Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Cell Careers, Higher Education Recruitment Consortium, The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Identify universities that have strong research programs in your field who may have positions open.  Utilize your professional network with faculty at professional meetings, conferences, and visit their websites to learn about future position openings.
  3. Start to prepare your job application package that will include several elements.
    a.   Curriculum Vitae (CV )– a record of your academic career.  Your CV, as described in the OITE Resume and CV Guide, will be tailored differently if it is a research-intensive position or if it is a teaching-intensive position.
  1. b.   Cover Letter – This is a document that is tailored to the job for which you are applying.  The OITE also publishes a Cover Letter guide document that shows several examples to explain why you are interested in establishing your career at that university, and how you see your research goals fitting into their overall department.
  2. c.   Research Statement/Plan – The goal here is to get your future colleagues to be excited about you and your science.  This document typically includes some discussion of prior research accomplishments, but you should specifically highlight the work most relevant to your proposed work.  You need to lay out a do-able research plan for the next 5+ years that is similar in format to what you would use for a grant submission with a focus on explaining how the work you are currently proposing fits into your broader long-term goals. Depending on the position, you may want to explain how you will tailor your research for students at the institution; this is especially important if the expectation is that you will engage large numbers of undergrads in your research.
  3. d.   Teaching Philosophy/Plan – If you will have a teaching component of your job, this part of your application tells them about your personal beliefs on teaching and gives a hiring committee a visual of your approach (philosophy, learning outcomes, methods, skills, texts etc.) to teaching students in that subject matter. Include specific examples and reflect that you understand the student population at that specific institution.
  4. Diversity Statement – In recent years, several universities request a written statement that addresses such questions your past and future contributions to diversity through research, teaching, and service. You may be asked to link this to the mission of the college and university as well. Go ahead and consult the diversity statement blog from 2016.
  5. Letters of recommendation – You should start to line your letters up early.  They need to be very strong.
  6. Practice Academic InterviewsIt is important to practice answering questions for academic interviews. Most often these interviews will be on campus, however, in some instances they may be conference interviews. The key to this is to research the university/college before you interview to avoid any interview gaffes. This also involves preparing and rehearsing for your job talk presentation and addressing any challenging questions.  We recommend practicing with scientists in your field who can provide helpful suggestions and pose questions that you may encounter during your interview.

Creating strong application documents and active preparation are keys to success in the academic job search market.  We encourage you to attend academic job search workshops and programs offered by the OITE.  In addition, the counselors can help you with preparation and encourage you watch our OITE video casts online including the Academic Job Search Overview prior to scheduling appointments. For those of you beyond NIH, consider setting up a practice interviews with your home institution’s academic department or career center.

A Decade and Counting, the NIH Career Symposium Celebrates 10 years.

May 2, 2017

On May 11, 2017 the OITE will again host the NIH Career Symposium! This year is special…we will celebrate its 10th anniversary.  This event is one of our favorites, it highlights the multitude of career opportunities for biomedical scientists—and in the past decade over 7500 graduate students, postdocs and fellows have attended the event to propel their own careers.  Our invited speakers tell us about their career paths, how they got their jobs, and advice to attendees as they plan their careers.

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The event is open and free to everyone, both NIH and non-NIH folks. It is intended for doctoral degree students and recipients. Just register to let us know you are coming!

We have a blog on how to navigate the day here: Getting the Most Out of Your NIH Career Symposium Experience and here: Career Symposium 2015 – #careersymp (Note our twitter handle will stay the same this year if you would like to follow along!)

We could not run the career symposium without the dedication of the over 700 speakers that have taken time away from their jobs to share their career insights. We have learned that many careers are a function of planned happenstance (FYI: never let a speaker tell you luck lead their job search). This year 99% of the speakers are NIH alumni.

We are also grateful to the over 200 postdocs and grad students who have helped plan the event since 2008. 125 of these former committee members are now alumni, in all career sectors (23% are in academics, 41% are in government, 34% are in industry and 1% are in non-profits). Committee members have blogged on how the career symposium has helped them on their personal career paths: Serving on a Committee: Make the Most of the Opportunity (watch for the call in September if you would like to help plan for the next event)

Since 2010 we have created a newsletter to share the highlights of each panel—each article was written by a grad student or postdoc. Read the synopses here: https://www.training.nih.gov/nih_career_symposium.

We culled out what we think are the best pieces of advice from the past decade of the NIH Career Symposium:

  • It’s not luck—you have to work at finding a job to make sure you are in the right time at the right place.
  • Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith that all is going to work out.
  • Any career you chose is the right decision, and is therefore not an alternative, may be the most liberating thing you do as postdoc.
  • When choosing your career path, it is important to remember that the only opinion that matters here is yours.
  • Good communication skills will not only advance your career in science writing but will also provide opportunities within science policy, grant administration, or to oversee research at universities.

So, we hope you can join us on May 11 for the NIH Career Symposium.  It just might be the catalyst to get you to the next stage of your career!

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

April 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

Persistence        ability to persevere towards a career goal without immediate results

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

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

professional conferences and from alumni from your department

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


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

Science                 ability to talk about your expert scientific skills and knowledge

acquired from your thesis and post doc research anf publications

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

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

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

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