Five Steps to Evaluate Organizational Culture Before You Accept the Offer

February 28, 2017

One of the most important criteria to consider during the job, graduate school, or Postdoc search is to learn about the culture of the place where you are applying.   This means to gather information about the employee’s opinions of the work environment, the support and benefits that they receive, and the values that drive the organization. This is important because you will work and /or study in this environment for many years and you want to find a good fit for your interests and personal style.  But how do you assess this when you are applying?

Step 1: Learn about and list your values

  • Factor in your personal and work values into your career decision. For example, if you value work where you have multiple work assignments, a culture that values family, work-life balance, opportunities to publish, and/or working in an urban environment, then these will become the criteria that you use when considering multiple options.
  • Meet with a career counselor who will help you to identify a broad range of important work values through the use of career assessments around values, interests and skills

Step 2: Research the organization for information about their values

  • Look for a mission and/or value statements
  • Read the job description carefully for words that give you a glimpse into the culture. For example, wording such as collaborative, team, independently, diverse, fast-paced, results oriented, balance multiple priorities, etc. shed light upon the nature of the work environment.
  • Conduct informational interviews with alumni, colleagues, PIs, Postdocs, etc. Connect via Linked In who are familiar with the organization.
  • Listen to what your mentors and colleagues say about the organization.
  • Attend the NIH Career Symposium or the 2017 NIH Graduate and Professional School Fair so that you can meet NIH Alumni, current employees, and recruitment professionals who will give informational sessions and answer specific questions about their environment.
  • Explore employer surveys such as the ones posted on the AAAS , Corporate Quality IndexThe Scientist, Science Magazine.

Step 3:  Listen closely during your interview

  • Listen carefully to the questions that are asked during an interview. Is there a common thread that gives you some insight?
  • How were you treated when you arrived to the interview? Who greeted you, were they pleasant, outgoing, distant, stressed?
  • Was the host(s) welcoming, approachable, resourceful?
  • Were there any specific qualifications that the interviewer stated about their culture (i.e. fast-paced, long days, independent, work interdependently, cultural diversity)?

Step 4:  Ask Good Questions during the Interview

  • Ask interviewers to describe the environment.
  • Learn about opportunities for professional development.
  • Ask if employees work as a team, independently, collaboratively.
  • Ask the employers to describe a typical week.
  • Ask about work-life balance.

Professional/ graduate school and Post Doc opportunities:

  • Ask faculty and students to describe the culture?
  • Learn how the curriculum structured and how students study.
  • Review OITE blogs to learn how to select a mentor.
  • Attend the second look (medical schools) and or pre-matriculation program.
  • Learn about opportunities to become involved in the community.
  • Ask about students support services are available to support wellness.
  • Are there special interest groups or student organizations? Where do participants live? Is there family housing and partner benefits?
  • How is research, conference and publishing encouraged?
  • Determine how the school /department supports diversity and inclusion.

Step 5: Create a spread sheet to evaluate each opportunity

  • List the places where you are applied on the left column.
  • Write your personal values on the top row.
  • Place a check mark and any comments in each box for each organization.
  • Analyze your results to determine which organizations one(s) have the most values.
  • Note the organizations that have the closest match to your values.
  • Factor into any additional criteria.

Feel free to visit the OITE https://www.training.nih.gov to meet with career counselors, Premedical school advisors, and wellness counselors who can further support you during this process.  Also see our events and services.

* OITE services are available to NIH intramural trainees only. Check with your home university or college and utilize the personal, career, and professional school advising resources they offer to you.

 


Staying Sane During the Waiting Game for Professional School Admission

December 19, 2016

You successfully applied to a range of medical or dental schools and now are anxiously waiting to be contacted about interviews and (hopefully!) acceptances to these schools.  During this time, it is normal to feel anxious, worry that you have not provided enough information, or think that there is something else you can do to improve your chances.  Maybe you are tired of family or friends asking, “have you heard yet?”

Here are common challenges and strategies to help you maintain your sanity and manage stress during this time:

Common Questions

  • Is it okay to call or email the schools and ask for an application status update?
  • Call only once. Curb your desire to call repeatedly.  Sometimes schools feel like students put them on re-dial with the volume of individual calls!
  • I want to update my application materials. Is this a good time to do it?
  • Some schools accept updates to applications and will publish this clearly on their webpage. If you do send updates, it should contain only SIGNIFICANT additions (e.g., papers published, new clinical experience position, completed science courses with a grade, leadership).  Remember that the on the original AMCAS application, a description of each experience is limited to 750 characters—this limit remains. In most cases, an update should be a concise bulleted list.  If you have a publication, use the formal citation.  No lengthy letters with veiled pleas for acceptance. One update letter is acceptable, a second is pushing it unless it contains something amazing.
  • I have been placed on a waitlist for an interview or acceptance. Does this mean I won’t get in?
  • Being placed on a waitlist or in the hold file is not a rejection. This means that you still have a possibility for acceptance. Some schools are sorting through their acceptances and attempting to figure out their yield rate before extending more invitations to interview.  Schools with a high number of applicants are still reviewing applications as well.
  • Should I send a letter of intent?
  • Submitting a Letter of Intent at this point in the cycle is of little value. You applied to the school, so the committee knows you want to go there.  It is not going to move you into the ‘accept’ category if you are not there already.  Letters of intent should not be sent to all schools.  Rather, letters of intent should be reserved for the school where you can guarantee that if you are accepted you would turn down other offers that you may have.  Check out the US News article on letters of intent.
  • How long can I expect to be on a waitlist?
  • Expect significant movement from Waitlists and Hold files after 15 March. Another time will be around  April 30 of each application cycle year, when admitted applicants are required to choose a medical school to attend and decline multiple offers.  This way, medical schools begin filling these spaces. Still, many in April, May, and often up to one week prior to the first week of medical school.
  • I have begun to receive rejections from schools to which I have applied.  Should I plan to re-apply next cycle?
  • Each year, many students are not admitted to school and decide to re-apply to medical school and successfully matriculate in later years.   You should re-apply when you have significantly improved your application materials and experiences. Meet with mentors, career or professional school advisors, medical students, and admissions officers to get feedback on how to strengthen your applications.  You may need additional clinical hours, research, or leadership experience. You could work on strengthen your AMCAS application and personal statement.  You should be practicing your interview skills.  See the 2015 blog article, “So I didn’t Get in Medical School Now What

Step 2   Do’s and Don’ts in the waiting game
Here are some do’s and don’ts behaviors that many applicants may default to during times of high stress.

Don’t

  • Launch a social media rant about schools or admissions teams. Admissions committees and students check social media.
  • Complain to admissions officers or medical students about the perceived amount of time it is taking for them to reply to you for interviews or admissions decisions.
  • Contact each school more than once to check on the status of your application.
  • Re-take the MCAT yet without significant preparation. Your goal is to raise your score significantly before re-applying.

Do:

  • Surround yourself with positive and healthy individuals, mentors, groups, and activities
  • Meet with advisors, career and personal counselors who can support you through this period.
  • Continue to show your continued passion for professional school. This includes staying involved in a combination of clinical, research, leadership, service, coursework activities.
  • Prepare for interviews. Many professional schools are now using the Multiple Mini Interviews.
  • Stay emotionally strong and resilient
  • Practice healthy coping behaviors including exercising, healthy eating, and involvement in social activities and mindfulness
  • Utilize any cultural, spiritual, familial, and other personal support to maintain hope and develop coping skills and strengths.

Feel free to visit the OITE https://www.training.nih.gov to meet with medical school advisors, wellness or career counselors who can further support you during this process.

* OITE services are available to NIH intramural trainees only. Check with your home university or college and utilize the personal, career, and professional school advising resources they offer to you.


MD/PhD: Is it Right for You?

August 4, 2015

A few weeks ago, OITE hosted NIH’s Graduate & Professional School Fair. One of the sessions focused on MD/PhD programs and how to decide whether it is the right program for you. If you missed it, the presentation can be found online.

The goal of most MD/PhD programs is to create physician-scientists who aim to spend about 80% of their time on research and 20% of their time on clinical care. Most MD/PhD programs are training you to enter research-oriented careers. If you have no interest in research, an MD/PhD might not be the best fit for you. Remember also that MD physicians can conduct research and many MDs pursue research fellowships during their training. Many MD/PhD applicants falsely believe that they will spend about half of their time in the lab and half of their time in the clinic. This is not true until maybe fifteen or so years into your career.

So, how can you decide? First and foremost, allow yourself ample time to gather information in order to make this decision. Before undertaking any further education, it is extremely important for you to consider your own interests and career plans.

Is doing translational research and making discoveries really important to you? If yes, perhaps you are leaning toward an MD/PhD. Are you more drawn to basic research and the idea of running a lab within the biological science field? If yes, perhaps you are leaning toward a PhD. Or maybe you are most interested in working with people in a clinical setting? If so, an MD or other medical training program might be the best fit for your long-term career plans.

Many prospective applicants wonder whether an MD/PhD is worth it for them. Some big considerations are the financial and time commitments. On one hand, an MD/PhD program is longer and generally takes seven to eight years to complete. However, on the upside, they are generally pretty well-funded. Another consideration is the level of competition. Medical school is difficult to get into and MD/PhD programs are even tougher. There are approximately 20,000 MD students and 600 MD/PhD students. These statistics aren’t meant to deter, but rather to highlight that MD/PhD students are a unique group. It is important to be focused yet realistic. Ultimately, your path will be decided through a mix of your interests, motivations and aptitudes.

The AAMC has a lot of resources about MD/PhD programs and they have even compiled a list of frequently asked questions. It is definitely worth checking out here. However, it can often be helpful to talk through your options with mentors or advisors. Do informational interviews with people who have an MD/PhD to see if this would be the right fit for you. If you are at the NIH, you can also meet with medical/graduate school advisors or career counselors within OITE.


MCAT Meltdown – Dealing with Test Anxiety

April 1, 2015

Image of a boy with sitting at a desk with a test in front of him. He has his hand clasped to his face and a furrowed brow.Testing for the new MCAT begins this month, on April 17th to be exact. Testing will go through September. You can see the full 2015 testing calendar here.

If you are a registered test taker, you have undoubtedly been spending a good portion of your time studying and preparing. For many test takers, the hours spent not studying are consumed by another activity – worry.

Many people experience nervousness in preparation for an exam and especially on test day. Surprisingly, moderate levels of stress can actually be helpful. In preparation for the exam, it can help motivate you to study. On test day, you can get a boost of adrenaline which can actually help you feel more mentally alert and can help you perform better.

Problems arise though when this fear becomes excessive and debilitating. Like more general forms of anxiety, test anxiety is categorized as a psychological condition. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, test anxiety can cause emotional symptoms (fear & anger) as well as physical symptoms like nausea, headache, rapid heartbeat, light-headedness, and a shortness of breath. These physical symptoms can trigger a panic attack. The behavioral/cognitive symptoms that arise from test anxiety often include negative thoughts and a difficulty concentrating.

If you know you are prone to anxiety, especially test anxiety, then you will need to adopt coping mechanisms to help you throughout your MCAT experience. Use your own tried and true methods, while keeping these tips in mind.

Managing anxiety DURING TEST PREPARATION:

  • Maintain a balanced schedule – Study and prepare but don’t spend all of your time focusing on the MCAT as it will only serve to stress you out even more.
  • Keep healthy – Eat right, exercise and get plenty of sleep. It will be more difficult to combat stress and anxiety if you are overtired and sick.
  • Look at the big picture – Your entire self-worth is not dependent on this one exam and if it doesn’t go well, you will have other chances. Putting undue pressure on the situation will only create more stress.
  • It matters what you tell yourself – Instead of saying “I’m nervous,” say “I’m excited.” This can help transform some of the anxiety and in reality, you are excited because taking this test is moving you forward to where you want to go.
  • Practice relaxation techniques – Dr. Andrew Weil swears by a breathing technique which has been described as a natural tranquilizer. Try 4-7-8. Breathe in for four counts, hold for seven counts and the release the breath with your mouth open and hold the tip of your tongue behind your front teeth for eight counts. Repeat this three times.

Managing anxiety ON TEST DAY:

  • Utilize relaxation techniques – It’s time to use the techniques you practiced! Take calming deep breaths and say to yourself “All shall be well. All matters of things shall be well.” Research on meditation has shown that the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain in charge of abstract thinking and critical analysis, responds to positive slogans, exercise and mindfulness.
  • Take a pause – If you begin to panic on test day, then allow yourself a quick break and to breathe and regroup.
  • Focus on you – Test anxiety often comes from dysfunctional cognitive-behavioral patterns, like comparing yourself to others. Do your best to concentrate on YOU!

If you have strategies for managing test anxiety, please comment below!


You Didn’t Get Into Medical School – Now What?

March 15, 2015

Image of four circles in a square. The top two have a green check and green X mark. The bottom two have a red check and red X mark.First, take solace in the fact that you aren’t alone. According to the AAMC, there were over 48,000 medical school applicants in 2013. From that pool of applicants, less than half of them (20,055) matriculated into their first year of medical school.

Secondly, be heartened by recent reports like the one just released in March 2015, “The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2013 to 2025.” The conclusion of this study suggests “that demand for physician services is growing faster than physician supply and that by 2025 demand will exceed supply by 46,100 to 90,400 physicians.” Presumably, this also means that medical schools will continue to add spots in their programs to help meet the demand for future physicians. Not only will the demand for physicians grow, but so too will the demand for other health-care related positions like nurses or physician assistants.

If you are really interested in helping people in a medical setting, then there are lots of career possibilities. Don’t let one rejection get you down for too long; however, it is likely that you are asking yourself what you should do now. Should you apply again? If you are willing to tackle the application time and cost yet again, then here are a few other things to consider:

  • What were the true deficits in your application? Can these be remedied by the next deadline?
    The other applicants aren’t going to be less competitive next year, so you must take ownership of this process in order to improve your application. That means that there must be a marked improvement in: MCAT score, clinical hours, new publications or awards, or an increase in your science GPA. These can be difficult areas to quickly improve in a year’s time, even though it can be done with dedication and focus.  However, if some of your mistakes included applying late in the cycle, having a poor personal statement, or bombing an interview, then you can take steps to help overcome these challenges more quickly and easily.

  • Did you overlook schools/programs that could be a good fit?
    Make sure you have a realistic understanding of your credentials versus the admissions requirements at various medical schools. Sure, it would be wonderful to be admitted to you first choice school, but it is important to honestly assess these chances. Perhaps during the first round of applications, you ignored osteopathic schools or you didn’t even consider other medical routes like becoming a nurse, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant. Take some time to reflect on all of your options and open up your mind to the possibilities.

Whether you need help handling the stress and anxiety of this process, talking through your options, or better understanding the medical school application process, then come into the OITE*. Here, you can meet with wellness counselors, career counselors or medical school advisors to help you during your next step planning.

 

* OITE services are only available to NIH intramural trainees. If you are at a university, check with your school for the resources they offer.


MCAT 2015 – Information and Preparation for the New Test

February 9, 2015

MCAT 2015The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has implemented quite a few changes to the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Administration of the new MCAT begins in April of 2015; however, registration for this exam opens THIS WEDNESDAY, February 11th.

If you are planning on applying to medical school, here are some things you need to know. The 2015 MCAT is different from the old test in a variety of ways; here are a few to note:

  • It’s Much Longer
    In fact, it is nearly double the length. The old test had 144 questions and the new test has 230. This will require the test-taker to have much more stamina and focus; however, it also means that each question is worth fewer points. Speaking of points…
  • It has a Different Scoring Scale
    In the old test, each section was worth 1-15 and the total score was between 1-45. Each of the four sections on new MCAT 2015 will be scored 118-132, for a total possible score of 528. The mean is expected to be 125 per section for a total mean score of 500.
  • Tests on More Topic Areas
    Four sections will now be covered including: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior; Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills.
  • Fewer Test Dates!
    The test will be offered from April – September; however, since we always encourage applicants to apply early and get their AMCAS in by at least June, this means that we recommend you take the test in either April or May…June at the latest. It is extremely important to register for an earlier test date if at all possible!

Now that you have some basic information on the new MCAT, let’s focus on what you are really concerned about – the preparation! What do you need to do in order to perform well?

The first thing you need to do is to watch the entirety of this brand new YouTube video from OITE on Preparing for the MCAT. It is chock-full of great tips, so you are encouraged to watch the whole video and to take notes. Pay special attention around the 17 minute mark when Dr. Higgins gives step by step homework instructions on how you should prepare for the new MCAT.

Additionally, the official MCAT 2015 Sample Test is now available online. There is a small charge to download; however, it is probably well worth your time and money. The Khan Academy also has preparatory materials broken down by section that you should check out. Last but not least, the OITE is here to help you with any questions about the process.  We wish all the 2015 MCAT test takers the best of luck!

 


Personal Statements: Your Portrait in 5,000 Characters or Less

October 20, 2014

Have you ever taken to the task of trying to put on paper what is special, unique, distinctive and impressive about you and your life story? Well, if you are applying to graduate and/or medical school, you soon will in the form of a personal statement.

Personal statements are a standard part of the application and they give you the chance to sell yourself to the admissions committee. Often times, you are given a somewhat general and vague prompt to tell the committee about yourself and how their program fits into your longer term career goals. This type of prompt gives you much more flexibility. Other applications, however, might ask you to answer a specific question, or they may even require that you answer three to four different types of questions in shorter essay forms. Here are some things to keep in mind as you draft any personal statement:

FOLLOW DIRECTIONS
If you are unclear about length requirements, then double check! Brevity is often preferred so make sure each line is clear and concise. Each school/program is a little bit different and it behooves you to make sure you are following the directions and answering the prompts perfectly for that specific program. This means tailoring each essay/answer for every school you are applying to!

CREATE YOUR NARRATIVE
How did you become interested in this field? What have you done to confirm this decision as your next step? Have you overcome any challenges or obstacles during this process? What skills/personal characteristics have been highlighted through your experiences?

Most people prefer to be told information through a story rather than reading a rote list of qualifications, so be sure to demonstrate your skills through concrete experiences in the form of anecdotes.

DON’T BE TOO PERSONAL
Sure, you are writing a personal statement but it shouldn’t be too personal, especially if you write about a topic that would make you uncomfortable to talk about in person. Writing about a topic alone at your laptop can be very different than speaking about that same topic in a room full of strangers (i.e., the admissions committee interview). Many times we see applicants who are shocked to be asked about something they wrote about in their personal statement. If you write about it, then be prepared to be asked follow up questions. Therefore, use your best judgment about your own comfort level, but remember to be judicious in what you share.

FIND YOUR ANGLE
First impressions exist on paper too! Your first paragraph is often the most important – you will either pull the reader in or bore them. Concentrate on making your first paragraph as strong as it can be. If a theme emerges that you can sustain throughout each paragraph, then great; however, don’t feel beholden to this either.

REMEMBER YOUR AUDIENCE
The person reading your document has most likely read hundreds of applications before yours. Applicants forget that faculty read these and are looking more for professionalism than cute stories. Try your best to avoid clichés that will make your personal statement blur together with the stack of other applicants. Clichéd statements such as, “I want to go to medical school because I like science and helping people,” are much too vague. Be as specific as you can – your reason for pursuing graduate/medical school should emerge as the logical conclusion from your detailed experiences.

GOOD GRAMMAR IS KEY
Remember basic writing tenets like using strong, active verbs and avoiding run-on sentences. It can be helpful to use spell check and to read aloud for errors like noun/verb agreement. Try to also avoid using colloquial language like “cool” too much. You want your personality to come out, but you also want to present the most polished, professional version of yourself that you can.

There isn’t one correct way to write a personal statement, especially since it should be representative of your personality, intellect and cumulative experience. For graduate school, you focus on a concise description of your past research experiences followed by a specific linking of how that relates to your interest in that specific program. The same is true for medical school, but you are highlighting a combination of both your research and clinical experiences. Take some time to be introspective during the drafting process, but be sure to seek advice and input from family, friends, colleagues, mentors and the OITE.

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Some helpful videos to check out:

What Admissions Directors Think About Getting Into Graduate School:

Writing Personal Statements for Graduate School:
http://videocast.nih.gov/summary.asp?Live=9685&bhcp=1

Writing Personal Statements for Professional School:
http://videocast.nih.gov/summary.asp?Live=11108&bhcp=1

Graduate School Overview:
http://videocast.nih.gov/summary.asp?Live=12745&bhcp=1