Is Grit the Key to Success?

October 16, 2015

Orange sign with white letters reading "got grit?"Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth is a psychologist and a 2013 recipient of the MacArhthur Fellowship. Her work focuses on traits that predict achievement. In order to study this, she went to many different places and studied predictors of success in different contexts. For example, she went to the West Point Military Academy and tried to predict which cadets would stay in the rigorous training program and which would drop out. She also went to the National Spelling Bee and tried to predict which students would advance furthest in the competition. Then, she looked at teachers in tough schools to try and see which teachers would still be there at the end of the academic year. Finally, she partnered with private companies to look at salespeople to track not only who would keep their jobs but also generate the most money for the company.

In all of these different settings, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success – grit. Intelligence and talent are often thought of as the best predictors for success; however, it turns out that doing well not only in school but in life depends on much more than your ability to learn quickly and easily. IQ, social intelligence, attractiveness and even physical health were not as predictive of success as grit.

But, what is grit? The essence of grit can be subjective, but it essentially means being a hard-worker and never giving up. According to Duckworth in her TED talk, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina and living life like it’s a marathon not a sprint.”

Robin Koval, author of the book “Grit to Great” was asked for a tip on how to cultivate grit even as you get older. She suggests that you plan on living to 100 years old. Write down your goals for each five or ten-year milestone. See how much you want to accomplish for the next 25, 35, or even 45 years.

While this tip is nice in theory, in actuality, very little research has been done about how you can successfully build grit. This is a popular topic amongst parents hoping to instill grit in their children. The best idea seems to be the idea of a “growth mindset” as put forth by a psychologist named Dr. Carol Dweck. She put forth the idea of two mindsets — fixed and growth. In a fixed mindset, people believe basic qualities like intelligence or talent are fixed traits. In a growth mindset people believe that basic qualities like inborn intelligence or talent are just the starting point and can be developed further through dedication and hard work. The growth mindset viewpoint reflects an attitude toward learning, possibly failing and then persevering with resilience. If nothing else, these mindsets are a reminder not to rest on past laurels.

As a research scientist, you are probably well-versed on grit. A lot of research is about keeping on through monotony, drudgery and failed experiments. Have you ever wondered how gritty you are compared to others?

How much grit do you have? Take this test to find out!

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Soft Skills = Today’s Critical Competencies

August 20, 2014

Image of a person surrounded by eight different bubbles. Each bubble represents a different soft skill, such as "presenting" or "being on time."Traditionally, soft skills were viewed as a secondary bonus to an applicant’s technical skill set; however, in today’s extremely competitive job market, employers are looking for proof of a mix of both hard and soft skills. In fact, recruiters will view a lack of demonstrated leadership or extracurricular activities on your resume as a potential red flag. Illuminating this fact is a study which shows that 60% of managers agreed that soft skills are the most important factor when evaluating an employee’s performance.

Recognizing the extreme importance of soft skills, The Department of Labor (DOL) developed an entire curriculum on the subject entitled, “Soft Skills to Pay the Bills: Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success.” Targeted toward teens and young adults, this program was created as an introduction to workplace interpersonal and professional skills.

The DOL’s list of key soft skills is very similar to OITE’s core competencies; it includes:

  1. Communication
    Permeating almost every aspect of a job, this skill is often ranked first among employers. It includes your ability to speak, write and present.
  2. Enthusiasm & Attitude
    Employers get frustrated with employees who are resistant to change or unable to adapt to new directions. Having an open and upbeat attitude will help your group generate good energy and move forward on projects.
  3. Teamwork
    There will be aspects of teamwork within every job. Leaders and project managers often lament that most of their jobs are spent trying to get colleagues to work effectively together. Therefore, it is essential to your career to work cooperatively and be able to participate in group decision-making.
  4. Networking
    Like teamwork, networking is about building relationships. It also involves critical elements of communication and the ability to represent yourself effectively to others.
  5. Problem Solving & Critical Thinking
    There is no shortage of challenges and issues that can arise on the job. Employers want employees who will be able to face these problems critically and creatively by gathering enough information in order to develop a solution.
  6. Professionalism
    No matter the job or the industry, professionalism is a critical key to your success. Professionalism isn’t one trait – it is a combination of characteristics. It often means conducting yourself with a high level of responsibility, integrity and accountability. Part of professionalism is having a strong work ethic and being willing to go that extra mile. Another integral component is being dependable, trustworthy, and always following through on your projects.

Soft skills are no longer undervalued by employers. Make sure you are practicing these skills in your current position and/or seeking out opportunities to develop these skill sets. You will not only be helping your professional development, but you will be especially thankful the next time you are in an interview and they ask you a common behavioral question like “Tell me about a time when you had to utilize effective communication skills within a group setting,” and you have a stellar anecdote to share.


Two Part Series: Part 1 – Identifying Mentors: Why it Matters?

November 21, 2013

Picture of two people holding puzzle pieces. One reads "Mentor," and the other reads "You"You have probably heard the word “mentor” many times and how important a mentor can be for your career, but how can you identify suitable mentors for you? This is a question that many trainees ask themselves. Identifying a good mentor is not an easy task and it takes time and dedication.

So, where do you start? First of all, you need to understand what a mentor is and what mentoring means. A mentor is more than an advisor. S/he is someone who supports and guides you throughout your career imparting his or her knowledge and expertise. Most importantly, a mentor will encourage and motivate you to think and develop your own ideas and career goals.

Who can be a mentor? Actually, anyone! But choosing one might depend on your career stage and your career goals. If you are an undergraduate student interested in medicine, a mentor can be a physician currently practicing medicine. But if you are interested in academia, it can be a faculty member at your institution. If you are a graduate student, it might be a postdoctoral fellow or your principal investigator (PI). If you are a postdoc interested in science policy, you might want to ask someone with experience in the policy arena to be your mentor.

Mentoring is about building a relationship of support and trust with someone who is willing to share their experience, skills and guidance to help you develop both professionally and personally to achieve your goals. Finding good mentors is critical to your career development and your mentoring needs will change over time, so it is a continual process. So, here are some tips to help you in your search:

Find a mentor whose career or experiences are of interest to you.
In order to find a beneficial mentor, it is very important to ask yourself: Where do you want to be in several years? What are your career goals? What are your strengths and weaknesses? You’ll want to look for mentors whose experiences and career accomplishments align with your goals and whom you can learn from.

Choose mentors who provide guidance and constructive criticism.
A good mentor will provide guidance and supportive feedback. S/he will help you grow professionally and personally by working together to enhance your strengths and improve your weaknesses. A good mentor values learning and fosters critical thinking. Therefore, s/he will encourage you to come up with your own ideas and will challenge you to bring out your full potential.

Seek multiple mentors.
Don’t feel restricted to have only one mentor because you feel you will hurt your mentoring relationships by having multiple mentors. In fact, you should have several mentors because each individual can be a valuable resource depending on their unique experiences and how those experiences fit your needs and interests. For example, you might need a mentor to help you develop your teaching skills and another one to advise you on your research project. Of utmost importance, is finding a mentor who is committed and willing to take the time to share their expertise and skills with you. If unsure, start the dialogue early and ask if they are willing to be a mentor to you; however, keep in mind that mentors often develop organically over time.

Understand that mentoring is a two way street.
A common misconception is thinking that mentoring is one sided. Often, a successful mentoring relationship benefits both sides. It can be a rewarding learning experience for both the mentor and the mentee. You should feel confident that you are contributing to the relationship, as your success is also your mentor’s success. Moreover, as you move up in your career, you might become a valued colleague for your mentor and you can also pay it forward by mentoring others.

Remember, like in every relationship, finding a mentor takes time and dedication. Once you find it, you need to cultivate and foster that relationship, but how do you do that? Be sure to check the blog for the second part of this series in which we will discuss how to cultivate and maximize your mentoring relationship.


In Industry, It’s About More Than Just Salary

July 24, 2013

Pondering a career in industry?  Then you need to be aware that the industry job offer may contain elements not part of offers in academia, government or non-profits; industry jobs often include a profit sharing plan.

Industry profit sharing takes two basic forms; dividends, a cash payment made to employees and share-holders based upon the performance of the company, usually on an annual basis, and equity, the actual ownership of shares of the company.  Equity in a company is granted by one of the following methods:

  • Stock grants:      A company may grant actual shares of its stock to employees.  The value of these grants is determined by the price at which the shares are traded on one of the stock exchanges.  An example: You are granted 100 shares at $5 per share. Over time if the value rises to $10 per share; the grant becomes worth $1000 after a vesting period.  Vesting is the time that you are required to hold the stock before you can sell.  If the vesting period is four years, you may sell up to 25% of your shares each year, or you can wait the four years and opt to sell all of your stocks.
  • Stock options:   If the company grants a stock option, it gives you the right to buy a specific number of shares of your company’s stock during a time and at a price that the employer specifies.  Typically this stock price is lower than market value.  As in the above example, you are granted the option to purchase 100 shares at $5 per share.  If the value rises to $10 per share, the option to you becomes worth $1000, minus the $500 you paid, or $500.  As in stock grants, a vesting period usually applies for options as well.
  • American Depository receipts (ADR’s): ADR’s are used by non-American companies whose stock trades on a foreign exchange to provide an equity vehicle for American employees.  Its value to you would be calculated in the same manner as a stock option.

Most importantly when considering a job offer, make sure to take into account the offer in its entirety, not just the salary.  The value of these other elements may comprise a significant percentage of total compensation.  In some cases, where the value of the stock has risen tremendously, many of their employees have made huge sums of money.  However in other cases, where the stock has hovered near its price at the public offering, employees have made very little.

The value that these profit sharing vehicles can add to your compensation may vary.  Make sure you connect with your Career Services Center (for NIH intramural trainees that is the OITE) to help you with the negotiation process to optimize the value of the offer you receive.


How a Mentor Helped Me Succeed…and How I Now Get to Help Her

July 10, 2013

Post written by Lori M. Conlan, Director of the Postdoc Office and the Career Services Center at the OITE

This week I had lunch with the first mentor I had outside of the lab environment. In 2006, I had just left my postdoc to join a non-profit in Manhattan—the New York Academy of Sciences. I knew I could do the job running a career development program for graduate students and postdocs, but I was clueless about how life worked in an office. I started on a Tuesday, and by Friday I was sent off on my first business trip to Miami. One of my colleagues, the VP of marketing and membership, went with me. Through out the entire trip she explained the rules of the trade and actively engaged me in business meetings with university leaders. She was never officially charged to be my mentor, nor did I specifically ask her to be my mentor—it was a relationship that grew organically due to the integrated nature of our work. Over the next year or so this terrific mentor helped me learn to develop successful marketing campaigns, improved my non-technical writing, taught me how to be persuasive, and most importantly how to navigate office politics and big egos. I always knew that she was giving me more than she was receiving, but she has always been passionate at mentoring the next generation. We loosely stayed in touch after she left the organization, a common thing that happens with networking and mentoring. I was always appreciative that she smoothed the transition from the bench to the desk, but never knew how I was going to give back in the circle of networking.

Fast-forward seven years. She and her husband are moving to DC for his job and she is looking for connections here. Now, I am happy to be on the other side giving back to the networking relationship. We chatted about what her passions are and how she can relate her skill sets to those passions. She went away from lunch yesterday with broader ideas about the types of places she would like to work, specific venues in DC, and even a few introductions. I know she is a master networker, and has met with tons of people as she explores what is next in her career, but I did feel like I gave back a bit for all the good she did for me years ago.

When I talk with fellows about finding mentors, they often ask, “But what do I have to offer them?” So, as you ponder setting up mentoring relationships and you wonder about how you will give back to the relationship—don’t underestimate what you may be giving back in the future. Mentoring always leads to positive outcomes for both people in the relationship. And what those positive outcomes are changes as your lives change. I hope you too find a mentor that you can connect with for years to come.  And don’t worry if you lose touch, these good mentoring relationships can always be re-invigorated no matter how long you have been apart (even seven years in this case).

Check out the OITE’s other blog posts for more on mentoring and networking


How We Learn

June 27, 2013

Post written by Sharon Milgram, Director of The Office of Intramural Training & Education.

Science careers, at or away from the bench, require us to be life-long learners. To be successful, we are always learning – and teaching – new skills. While many of us enjoy this, it also comes with frustrations and challenges. In considering how we learn, I was struck by the excellent and concise explanation of the stages we typically go through as we learn and develop new skills. I found this in a short book entitled “Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager” written by Ken Blanchard. Intramural trainees can find the book in the OITE Career Library, and it is widely available in other libraries and on-line. In this book, Blanchard summarizes the four stages of learning: enthusiastic beginner, disillusioned learner, cautious performer, and high achiever. This summary is helpful to us as life-long learners and as colleagues, mentors and supervisors of others in our work groups.

At the outset, enthusiastic beginners are confident and excited. However, this confidence and the excitement of a new challenge can get in the way as enthusiastic beginners often forget how challenging a task might be. Enthusiastic beginners need a lot of supervision and direction so they stay focused on learning the fundamentals and solidifying the basics. After a short while, and after a few (too many) mistakes, enthusiastic beginners typically become disillusioned learners. We realize how hard it is to truly develop that new skill and doubt starts setting in. In this stage, we need support and encouragement to stick with it. Once we gain some proficiency we enter the cautious learner phase; we are more proficient and more confident and as a result we learn more quickly. In other words, success breeds success — and we are on our way toward becoming a high achiever. At this time, we need the right balance between supervision and independence, as one can only become a high achiever by taking risks and learning from our mistakes.

Whether you are a postbac or summer intern learning how to do PCR for the first time, a grad student preparing for your first committee meeting, a postdoc mentoring your first summer intern, or a senior fellow ready to launch your independent career, remember this simple model of how we learn. Be proactive and find support, encouragement and direction when you need it. If you are the supervisor/mentor, use these strategies to help your employees and mentees learn. It may just keep you going when you get stuck and will help you be compassionate as your colleagues, students and mentees learn new things as well.


Community Provides More Than Support

June 17, 2013

There are many important aspects to having a successful career.  One aspect often overlooked is making sure you have a community of peers.  Communities provide more than just support for everyday life and challenges.  They are great for building networks, developing co-mentoring relationships and gaining leadership experience.  Coming to a large campus, like the NIH or a college campus, can feel like you have landed on a different planet.  Everything is so different.  Finding welcoming and supportive groups and peers can help ease that transition.  But, it can also help you prepare for the next step in your career.

While the resources below are specific to the NIH, all universities have similar groups to make you feel welcome.  Check your campus list of organizations. This is not an exhaustive list of groups available, but is meant to provide an idea of what types of organizations exist.  All of these groups are welcome to everyone in the NIH community.

  • The Graduate Student Council and the postdoc association Felcom both support trainees by providing social events, career networking and communities for intramural trainees.
  • NIH Black Scientists and Friends Network, an informal group dedicated to the mentoring and career enhancement of Black scientists at NIH. For more information, contact Dr. Roland Owens.
  • LGBT-Fellows and Friends helps its members thrive in their professional and personal lives by addressing issues unique to the LGBT community.  Join the LGBT-FF listserv to learn about up-coming LGBT-FF seminars, professional development activities and networking opportunities.
  • The NIH SACNAS (Society for Advancing Hispanics/Chicanos & Native American in Science) chapter provides a trans-NIH resource to provide a forum to network, share successes and strategize about future goals. For more information and to learn about upcoming events, join the NIH-SACNAS listserv.
  • The Women of Color Research Network supports all scientists interested in raising the voice and visibility of Women of Color (WOC) in biomedical and behavioral research.  This new social media site is for women of color and everybody interested in diversity in the scientific workforce.  Visit the Web site to join.
  • MOM-DAD-DOCS seeks to provide mentorship, support, and networking to intramural trainees (basic or clinical) with children.  Contact Lori Conlan (conlanlo AT mail.nih.gov)
  • The Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management plays a lead role in making certain that representatives of all groups feel comfortable and can work optimally on the NIH campus.
  • Visiting Fellows Committee, ~60% of the NIH postdoc population is visiting from other countries.  There are over 20 country groups to connect you with fellows from around the world: https://www.training.nih.gov/country_support_groups