Advice on Getting Advice

November 13, 2018

clem-onojeghuo-381193-unsplashPeople tend to have a lot of varying opinions — on every topic possible. Just imagine how many different responses you could get when asking what flavor of ice cream you should order or what type of car you should buy. Everyone has their own unique preferences and often their distinct experiences have helped shape their opinions on these topics.

The same is true for advice about career and life choices.

This sounds like common sense, right? However, it is often surprising how many trainees will make major life decisions based on one PI’s opinion or another mentor’s passing advice. At OITE, we often hear trainees say they received conflicting advice/input and need guidance on how to proceed. Here are some basic principles to keep in mind when receiving advice.

Understand that advice should help you to make a decision, not tell you what your decision should be. This is a crucial distinction. Most well-trained career counselors will not share their opinion on what you should do with your life and career; rather, they often ask open-ended questions to help get you thinking about your options and what your preferences might be. The goal in career counseling is to help you develop new ideas and/or to share resources that might eventually help you have that lightbulb moment of clarity.

With that said, advisors, mentors, PIs, parents, partners, and friends all will often share their advice with you. Most are well-meaning and trying to help you. But, just like product reviews on Amazon, you can’t take any one opinion too seriously, unless it really resonates with you. It is important to remember the source for the advice. Often we hear postbacs report advice they received on their medical school application from a PI who never went to medical school nor served on a medical school admission committee. The advice may or may not be sound, so it is important to verify that you are getting accurate advice from a trustworthy person.

Another common mistake alluded to about advice is the tendency to take one opinion as fact. Just like in your experiments, you want to have a broad and diverse sample to pull from as it will only help strengthen you research findings. The same is true with advice. We often recommend doing informational interviews, but are surprised when trainees rule out an entire field because of one bad informational interview. Remember that you might not have the exact same personality or work style as that person and be sure to seek multiple opinions.

Asking for advice and seeking help in making a decision or solving a problem is a great thing to do; just be sure to weigh these opinions properly and don’t let any single advice-giver have more power than you allow yourself.

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International Careers

October 15, 2018

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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.

 


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.


Hate Your Job, but Scared to Leave?

June 19, 2018

A picture of a man working at a laptop and running his fingers through his hair.

At OITE, we often meet with trainees who aren’t sure what is the best next step for their career. There can be a lot of uncertainty around career decision-making. Perhaps you feel the same indecisiveness?

Sometimes though, things can be very clear about one topic in particular – you hate your current job. Maybe you loathe the work tasks or perhaps it is just not a good work environment for you.  Whatever the reason, most people are very aware when they truly dislike their job. Sometimes this will manifest in a feeling of dread every Sunday night or even every day, during your morning commute.

The answer seems clear. You should quit your job, right? Financially and professionally, this is a big decision to weigh. Many times, though, the true reason people don’t make a change is for psychological factors. Here are some common mental hurdles when making a job change.

  1. What if I hate my new job just as much or even more?

There is an idiom that many people unknowingly adhere to: “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” This is essentially saying that the unknown is super scary! It can be. Changing jobs will often require that you adapt to a new work culture, a new boss, new colleagues, and it might even mean that new skills are tested.  What if you don’t measure up? What if you don’t fit in?

Doing informational interviews can help shed light on new industries or organizations. This can help you assess if this will be a good overall fit for you. Don’t underestimate your opportunity to learn more about the lab/office when you interview. If you get a funny feeling, trust it. Be sure to ask lots of questions during the interview to measure if this will be a good fit.

  1. I was lucky to get this job. Nobody else will hire me!

Too often, people make sweeping generalizations about their marketability.  Scientific trainees, in particular, often minimize the number of transferable skills they feel they have for new professions.

If you see a job posting that looks intriguing, then you should go ahead and try to apply for it. It is a good idea to “test” your job candidacy/marketability every few years anyway. Do some searches and see what comes up that might be a good match. This could give you some ideas of new skill sets you might need to brush up on; plus, it helps keep your job search materials up to date.  Give it a try – you might just be surprised!

  1. I am lost about what I want to do.

Career exploration takes time and it is not always clear what you see as your skills, values, and interests. If you are unhappy in your current role, then you need to prioritize this activity and be proactive.  The OITE has resources that can help. Our series on Planning for Career Satisfaction and Success could be a great start.  If you are at the NIH, feel free to visit the OITE website to schedule appointments with career counselors and to learn about additional programs and resources to prepare you for a successful job search.


Before Accepting an International Job Offer

April 23, 2018

Picture of international flagsIn last week’s blog post, we discussed considerations for properly evaluating a job offer. On top of all those points, there are more things to consider if it is an international job offer. Here are some questions to ask:

  1. How and in what currency will you be paid?
  2. Will relocation costs be covered? Both to the new location and return?
  3. What else could they assist with in terms of relocation?
  4. What are the parameters of the commitment? If something comes up and you need to leave the job/country, what would they do to help? Would you be liable in some way if you needed to end the contract early for emergency (or non-emergency) reasons?
  5. Many international jobs mean that an organization has offices worldwide. Perhaps you won’t be working in the headquarters. What does this mean for your reporting structure? Will you have multiple reporting lines? Are these dotted line connections?
  6. If working with multiple offices worldwide, what are the expectations for weekly meetings/ check-ins? For example, an organization has an office in North America, Europe, and Asia and there are weekly staff meetings every Monday at 9:00 AM EDT/3:00PM CET. This means if you are one of the colleagues in Asia, you will have to log into meetings at 10:00PM on Monday nights. How would you feel about this?
  7. What kind of insurance is provided? Does it cover travel to neighboring countries? Does it cover you when you are in your home country? Does it cover repatriation if you become ill?
  8. What is the official (and unofficial) working language of the office?
  9. Will there be an English-speaking (fill in the blank with your language of choice) representative of the organization to assist with your in-country orientation and initial setup?
  10. Will you be offered an orientation before starting work?
  11. If needed, will this orientation include language and cultural classes to assist with your acclimation?
  12. Inquire about potential taxes owed in your new country as well as in your home country.
  13. Does your company offer any tax equalization benefits (usually only applicable if on a contract with your home country)?
  14. For example, if you are on an American contract working abroad, would you get credit for time in relation to Social Security?
  15. Are accommodations or a housing subsidy included in the job offer? If not, how will the organization assist you in finding housing?
  16. Can your employer sponsor your partner and dependents?

In addition to these specific questions about the job itself, it is important to consider your life outside of work and to evaluate how this move could have a larger impact on you and your life.

  1. How will the move impact your hobbies/values?
  2. What are the cultural differences that may impact your lifestyle? (Example: does the country prohibit alcohol?)
  3. What are the cultural underpinnings that may impact the way you are perceived in the job? (Example: countries where women’s access to education/employment may be severely limited and hence it impacts the way female employees are perceived by their male and female colleagues/clients)
  4. Even if your employer can sponsor partners/dependents, what exactly will they do during the day while you are at work?
  5. Does the country you’re moving to afford the opportunity for you to practice your faith?
  6. Are there organizational affiliations that are important to you that you’ll be asked to forfeit by taking the job? (Example: volunteering with specific organizations; engaging with community groups)
  7. The availability of therapists and support groups vary quite a lot by the country and region you are in. How will you cope if you don’t have easy access to groups (example: Alcoholics Anonymous, LGBTQ, etc.)
  8. Will you have dietary challenges in the country (vegetarian/vegan/gluten free)?

Have you taken a job abroad? If so, what do you wish you had asked or known before doing so? Comment below with your own questions and tips for others considering international job offers!


Before Accepting a Job Offer

April 16, 2018

Table with a croissant and black coffee with a woman writing in her daily planner.It can be easy to get swept up in the excitement of a job offer and immediately say, “Yes, I’ll accept!” During the interview, you probably already learned a lot about the organization and role; however, it is imperative that you take even more time – once an offer is in hand – to get clarity on job specifics. If you have recently been offered a position, here are some points to consider:

  1. Negotiate and confirm your salary while exploring options for bonuses.
    Salary negotiation can be stressful, but this is the only time in the entire job process when you can do it – take advantage! Here are some past blog posts on how to prepare when negotiating non-academic job offers and academic job offers.
  2. Clarify your title and the reporting structure for your role.
    This sounds pretty basic, right? It is surprising though how many times at OITE we hear trainees say they didn’t realize they’d be reporting to a postdoc or staff scientist instead of the PI. Make sure you are clear on the actual hierarchy within your new position and assess this person’s management style. Will it be a good fit for you?
  3. Understand your benefits and when they start.
    Employees have come to expect certain benefits be associated with their job – health coverage, retirement, commuting costs, tuition assistance, etc. Recognize that these benefits can widely vary between organizations. Additionally, they might not kick in immediately. Some organizations have a probationary period that you first must successfully complete. For example, at a new employee orientation, an employee was shocked to learn that health coverage didn’t start for two whole months. A delay in benefits can be costly, so be sure to ask these questions before you sign on the dotted line.

  4. Know how your performance will be evaluated/measured.
    What will be the main priorities for your role? In the first six months? First year? Are there certain metrics you will be required to meet? Even if the job isn’t in sales, many positions now quantify results they expect employees to hit. Ask this specific question now, so you aren’t surprised later. Also, try to ascertain if there are expectations to be “on” evening and weekends.One great way to do this is by…
  5. Meet your future colleagues.
    You have met your boss and your boss’s boss, but if you still haven’t met the team you will be working with day in and day out, then this should be a red flag. While it might not be completely transparent within the first meeting, you can get a glimpse of the work culture and office politics by meeting your future co-workers, either individually or in a group. This can also be a good chance to ask insightful questions to see if this work environment will ultimately be the best fit for you. Be sure to check out this past blog post on “Five Steps to Evaluate Organizational Culture Before You Accept the Offer”.

If you need more help evaluating a job offer, feel free to make an appointment with an OITE career counselor. The OITE can serve as a resource and sounding board as you embark on your decision-making process.


First Week on the Job in Industry

March 6, 2018

Congratulations!  You succeeded in landing your first position in industry after NIH and, like most trainees, you are experiencing a mix of emotions in anticipation getting started.   For many of you, not only is this your first “real job” after your graduate school and postdoc, it is your first job outside of academia.  This blog will provide suggestions of what to expect during your first week and offers some do’s and don’ts in support of a successful transition from the comfortable routine of NIH lab to the work world.

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Week Prior

Like many adventures, preparation in advance will be essential to your success in your new position.  Give yourself at least one week’s time after you leave NIH to prepare to begin your new position. During this time, you can relocate, establish your new home, assemble your wardrobe, and take care of personal and family business. Complete any pre-work (articles, projects etc.) that your boss recommends before your first day.  Bring any forms of identification (usually two) for your first day. We also suggest carving out some personal time, to de-stress and engage in wellness activities so you can start your job refreshed.  Consider doing a practice commute before your first day to assure that you will be on-time and know the directions.  Typically, your new boss or HR manager will provide you with a place to report, a contact person, an itinerary of what to expect that day, and where to park (if needed).

First Day – Onboarding

You have arrived (preferably about 15 minutes early), are well-dressed, and are prepared to approach the day with a fresh positive attitude. More importantly, prepare to meet lots of people!   Your new supervisor (or someone that they appoint) will welcome you, introduce you to your co-workers, show you to your workspace, and take you to lunch.  You will also meet many important people (office assistants, IT, HR etc.) who are charged to get you prepared to communicate with your coworkers and succeed in the company.  Expect to fill out paperwork, get pin-numbers, get yourself established with payroll, establish an email account and telephone number, get ID cards, obtain security clearances, obtain parking passes, and obtain access to any facilities you will need.  Someone will take you on a tour of the facilities and escort you to any meetings that have been scheduled for you.  Also, expect to be enrolled (that day or in the first week) in a New Employees Orientation that will introduce you to company culture, provide you with instructions for how to enroll in benefits (Health, Dental, Vision, etc.),  and inform you of resources available to you as an employee.  During down time  settle into your new space, read any materials that you were given,  and enjoy some quiet time.  On your way home, be sure to say goodbye to your boss and team.

First Week – Establishing yourself as a team member

Beginning with your second day continue to get established in your new work environment by learning about your first work activities  and completingion of the onboarding process (most likely takes longer than one day).  Approach each new day with the goals of being alert, asking good questions, behave collaboratively, and to begin contributing to the team’s success (without overstepping).  The following are suggestions for the remainder of the week to help you become successful.

To Do

  • Meet your co-workers casually, in meetings, and over lunch. Prepare a short introduction to use including your new title, where you came from, and your department.
  • Begin to set up a calendar and To-do list that includes time to meet with your new supervisor and team.
  • Be observant and learn about office norms (arrival and departure, dress code, meeting etiquette etc.).
  • Attend all orientations that are scheduled for you and complete paperwork on time.
  • Look interested and be attentive in meetings. Ask many questions
  • Contribute to office discussions – minimally at first, but enough to show you are engaged
  • Begin a list of SMART goals to accomplish during your first 90 days

Things to Avoid

  • Don’t arrive late or leave early. Communicate with your boss or administrative assistant if there is a conflict (inclement weather, etc.) so they are aware.
  • Try not to call in sick or be absent unless it is crucial. Why? You need to earn sick leave.
  • Don’t use your cell phone or I pad, or earphones. This non-verbal behavior will be interpreted as aloof, closed off, disinterested and disrespectful.
  • Don’t sit in your office or eat alone. Seek out an opportunity to be a collaborator and team player
  • Don’t be silent. Add something to the conversations to show engagement in meetings
  • Don’t agree with office gossip or speak negatively about co-workers, work environment, boss, culture. It is better to say “thanks for the heads up”
  • Don’t ask your about future promotions additional positions in the company. Focus on the current position

Getting a new position in industry is exciting.  Following these simple suggestions can help you start off in a positive manner and be prepared for success.  Visit our videocast and learn more about starting a faculty position.   Feel free to chat with an OITE career services counselor to discuss starting your job in more detail.