FROM THE ARCHIVE: Boo! Why Job Searches are So Scary

October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween from OITE!Image of two bats, a ghost, a pumpkin and the word "Boo!".

Today is a day for tricks, treats and all things spooky. While we hope you will enjoy the spirit of this holiday in your personal life, we also invite you to think about your professional life and what part of the job search scares you.

Job searching can feel like navigating your way through a haunted house – it can be riddled with false doors, creepy detours, and hair-raising events.  As proof of this, read some Job Search Horror Stories as shared by OITE staff.  Many questions can come up during a job search: What in your professional past, if anything, haunts you? How spooked are you by networking? What eerily hard questions have you received during an interview? How frightened are you about finding the perfect job?

The questions and doubts that arise during a job search are very common.  You are opening yourself up to new opportunities, which is often synonymous with change. Plus, you are putting yourself and your professional accomplishments out into the world for consideration.  You are pulling back the mask; on a superficial level, it is easy to understand how the job search can make an individual feel vulnerable, exposed, and anxious.  The anxiety and risk aversion associated with this process can cause individuals to procrastinate.  Like a ghoul you can’t shake, there can be a nagging voice in your head reminding you that you need to be doing more.

Brain research has repeatedly shown that humans try to maximize rewards and minimize threats – we often condition ourselves to avoid pain or resistance.  Often times, we also avoid what is most important to us.  Many scientists tend to be perfectionists, and this can be a debilitating attribute for a job search. We all want to choose the perfect job, create the perfect resume and negotiate the perfect salary.  Fear that we will fall short can cause us to avoid those activities and procrastinate.

Take some time today to think about the ghosts of your job searching past.  Remember that there are a lot of “tricks” to job searching, so be sure to utilize the “treats” from OITE. We are here to help you at every stage along the way and can hopefully begin to help demystify a scary process.

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FROM THE ARCHIVE – Explore Your Interests through “SIGS”

July 8, 2016

What are you interested in? Are you a knitter? A rock climber? A serial book club attendee? WhateveLady Rock Climberr your interests, chances are you have endeavored to carve out time to enjoy them, or found a group of people who share them.

Similarly, we all have career interests–whether we are ready to pursue said careers or not. I, for one, have a children’s book manuscript hidden in my desk drawer that is not yet ready for prime time. I would, however, be interested in meeting a group of people curious about the same field.

Fortunately, as a trainee at the NIH, you can find groups of like-minded people right in your own backyard. The NIH sponsors Inter-Institute Scientific Interest Groups, called SIGS. According to the SIGS website, “the interest groups sponsor symposia, poster sessions and lectures; offer mentoring and career guidance for junior scientists; help researchers share the latest techniques and information; act as informal advisors to the Deputy Director of Intramural Research (DDIR); provide advice for the annual NIH Research Festival; and serve as hosts for the Wednesday Afternoon Lecture Series.”

I encourage you to peruse the list of SIGS and find a group of people interested in the same topic(s) that interest(s) you. As you look at the list, you’ll find that there are a few groups focused more on specific career fields than on scientific research-related content. Check out the Patent Law and Technology Transfer Interest Group, for example. This group seeks “to provide an educational and networking opportunity for NIH scientists interested in patent law and technology transfer.” They have even developed a Patent Bar Study Group for those interested in passing the patent bar.

Whether the SIGS you are considering focus on a particular area of research or on a particular career, I encourage you to join, or explore starting a new SIG if you don’t see your interest area listed. Some SIGS include scientists from outside the NIH, and all of the SIGS include scientists from different institutes. This outlet represents a potential gold mine for networking! Get to know other scientists interested in the same area of research, attend lectures to learn more about a particular topic, initiate conversations that may spark collaborations. All of these activities will enhance your work as a scientist–and could strengthen your candidacy on the job market.


FROM THE ARCHIVE – Get More Done: Take A Break

March 11, 2016

Image of four blue folder with one red folder slightly ajar from bookcaseFind yourself swamped with work but unable to focus?  Ever wonder how to quit procrastinating?  At OITE, we often get asked about strategies and tips on how to improve one’s time management and productivity. This From the Archive post offers unlikely advice on how to handle these work challenges.


The title seems a little contradictory.  How is it that you can get more work done, but spend less time working?  According to a New York Times article about a study from the University of Toronto Scarborough, it is because small breaks make you more efficient.  The study authors suggests that the brain “becomes fatigued after sustained use and needs a rest period before it can recover, he explains — much as a weight lifter needs rest before doing a second round of repetitions at the gym.”

So here are a few of the tips from the article:

  • Symptoms of needing to take a break are drifting or day dreaming.
  • If you are in “the zone,” keep working.  It isn’t working hard that drains your brain, it’s when you are forcing yourself to go on when you really need a break.
  • Taking too many breaks leads to procrastination.  So, be smart about it.  Everything in moderation

Here are a few ideas for break:

  • Go for a walk – Even just doing laps on your floor gets you moving and gives you a break from your work.  If you are at the NIH and don’t want to melt in this heat wave, consider walking the track in the basement of building 10.
  • Go get a coffee (or something else) with a co-worker – After all, you have to walk to where the coffee is and having someone with you makes it less likely you will just sit and start thinking about work.  According scientists who have spent time in England, many labs there still take a break in the afternoon for tea (or other beverage) for about 30 minutes.  In fact, there is often a break in the morning as well for around the same amount of time.
  • Stand at your computer while you read the OITE Careers Blog – The article mentions that standing while doing your work can help relieve some of the brain drain.
  • Take a nap – We are aware this is not a culturally acceptable practice here in the USA, even if it is supported by science.  However, in other cultures a break in the afternoon to rest is quite common.  The Spanish Siesta is famous, and so I asked a visiting fellow and friend from Spain about how the “Siesta” works in the research community.  She pointed out the siesta is as much about food as it is about sleep.  The main goal is to sit down together around the table and have a meal as a family or group of friends.  If you can grab a siesta in that time, that’s even better.

Working hard is a hallmark of the research profession.  Most scientists I know take a lot of pride in putting in long hours.  We are certainly not suggesting that any of us not work hard.  However, research suggests that taking breaks can help us work smarter as we work hard.  And isn’t that what we all want to do?


FROM THE ARCHIVE – Industry vs. Academia: Which is Right for You?

November 16, 2015

Golden_file_cabinetThis From the Archive post revisits a decision many individuals struggle with. Should I stay in academia or should I go into industry?  According to a 2015 Nature survey, graduate students dream of academia but are keeping their career options open.  According to Nature, “The survey also revealed uncertainty and ambivalence. More than 60% of respondents said that they are “likely” or “very likely” to pursue a job in industry (see ‘Industry appeal’). And 61% said that they are “likely” or “very likely” to pursue a research job with a government or foundation, which makes it clear that many graduate students are unclear about their futures.” Science Careers held a webinar on the topic of industry vs academia and the panel discussion included speakers from both fields who took questions from an online audience of postdocs and graduate students. Even though this webinar is a few years old, there are still some very relevant points to keep in mind today.

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Many of you may have asked yourselves this question at some point in your academic careers. Which job would give you the most freedom research-wise? More time with your family or for outside interests? Higher salaries? Job security?

1. What questions should you ask yourself to determine whether academia or industry is the right fit for you?

  • Do you want to stay in research or move away from the bench?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What do you enjoy doing?
  • What are you most passionate about?

2. What are some essential differences between academia and industry?

  • In academic work, you will be expected to be a self-starter, comfortable with self-promotion, and will largely work independently, developing research questions on your own.
  • In industry, you will also be expected to drive yourself, but with a view toward a common goal, and an understanding of what is expected of you as a member of a research team, based on objectives set at the beginning of your employment.

3. How can I learn more about these two worlds?

  • Conduct research on the web.
  • Talk with people you know in both spheres.
  • Attend university or institute career symposia, career fairs, panels, etc.
  • Talk with people at scientific meetings.
  • Attend any lunches, networking events, etc. after research talks on your campus.
  • Ask scientists you meet about their own career paths.

4. When should I start preparing for either job?

  • It’s never too early! Even by the 2nd year of your postdoc, you should be updating your CV, participating in skills courses, taking on a summer student – basically doing things that will set you apart from the crowd on the job market.

5. Are there jobs available in industry or academia in this bleak economic climate?

  • Yes! There’s never a total hiring freeze in industry, so there are always opportunities for people who are smart, well-trained, and have good ideas.
  • In academia, positions may be slightly easier to come by in private institutions, if endowments have rebounded.
  • Universities need to maintain research vitality, so hiring will always be a priority.
  • One way of uncovering opportunities is to find out which universities are building new science facilities. These institutions will typically need new science faculty to fill new lab space!

6. Which path allows for greater work/life balance?

  • This depends on the particular company/institution, particular department, particular job.
  • While some may think that schedules are tougher on the academic side, some industry jobs also require a great number of hours during the work week.
  • Some may feel a greater sense of freedom and therefore balance on the academic side because the hours are flexible, while others may feel more balance in industry because the hours are more structured.
  • This depends largely on the person and the work situation.

7. Does compensation vary greatly from one to the other?

  • No, compensation levels are surprisingly similar based on level of experience, promotion, etc.

8. What skills are most important for me to develop before going on the job market?

  • Networking is #1, followed by teamwork, and being a thoughtful leader.

9. What are the pros and cons in academia vs. industry?

  • Benefits in academia: a sense of autonomy, an excitement around novel discoveries, intrinsic motivators, travel, getting to know people all over the world, collegial environment. Downsides: grant renewal, feeling pressure to publish or perish.
  • Benefits in industry: potential benefit to patients of what you’re working on, fairly immediate application of science, access to resources, connections to other scientists around you. Downsides: cannot always investigate areas of personal interest.

10. Any final thoughts, words of wisdom?

  • Stay true to yourself, know yourself well before going out on the market.
  • Practice what you’re going to say so you do the best job of selling yourself.
  • Start early and practice often.

Continue this conversation with professionals you meet in both academia and industry. These interactions will help you to determine what is best for YOU!


FROM THE ARCHIVE – Families and Science: Can They Mix?

June 10, 2015

stick familyAre you thinking about starting a family? Or, perhaps you have children and know all too well the challenges of finding your own work-life balance.

The OITE Career Blog is reposting a three part series from the archive about having a family during one’s scientific training. In this series, we asked grad students, postdocs, and clinical fellows questions about parenthood in an attempt to compile a list of pros/cons and general advice.

Question #1: Why was this a good time for you to start a family?
https://oitecareersblog.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/families-and-science-can-they-mix/

Question # 2: What were the challenges you faced?
https://oitecareersblog.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/families-and-training-part-2/

Question # 3: Do you have any advice for NIH trainees thinking about starting a family?
https://oitecareersblog.wordpress.com/2011/09/02/families-and-training-finale/

For those of you at the NIH, there is an affinity support group, Mom-Dad-Docs. If interested in learning more about this group, contact Ulli Klenke.

What other questions would you like to see answered on this topic? Comment below and let us know.