New to Your Lab? Tips for Making a Good First Impression

July 3, 2018

lost-co-178990-unsplashIf you are new to the NIH, then welcome!

No matter whether you are a summer intern, a postbac, or even a postdoc, starting a new position can feel stressful. You are most likely excited about this new opportunity and eager to make a good impression. Learning new names, discovering the location of supplies, and generally feeling comfortable in a new role can take quite a bit of time. Here are some tips to help make your transition a success:

1. Have a positive attitude.
Being a generally pleasant person can go a long way in winning favor. This can be demonstrated in small ways, like greeting your lab-mates and making small talk with them. A larger way this can be highlighted is by being positive about the tasks you are being assigned. A little bit of grunt work to help get up to speed should be expected. Too many times, we hear trainees complain that a lab isn’t a good fit for them because they haven’t been given complete ownership of a project yet, or they aren’t intellectually stimulated enough. Remember, it takes time. You can help encourage more trust in your abilities by asking questions and…

2. Make yourself visible and available.
You have probably been told at some point that when you are new to a lab/office, you need to arrive early and stay late. If your schedule (and level of excitement) allows, then this can showcase a genuine desire to become a contributing member of the team. However, you can also accomplish this by exploring and observing during the work day. Maybe you notice the postdoc in your lab seems frazzled everyday around 4pm as they try to wrap up their project for the day. Volunteer to pitch in and ask how you could be of help. Observing processes will allow you to ask better questions in meetings with your PI and will showcase that you are plugged into your new setting, which leads us to our last tip…

3. Stay off your phone.
Surely, you will be able to respond to a text here and there but don’t make it a habit to be index finger deep in scrolling. If you are bored and have too much downtime, then ask for more work. As a trainee, you are here to learn and build up new skillsets. Don’t squander it away by getting too caught up in your personal life during working hours. If you are not actively training for a project, ask if it is allowable for you to shadow others in your working space. This will help you become exposed to a wider array of positions and will hopefully help you identify what might be a good professional fit for you.

Remember, good impressions can lead to professional referrals and excellent letters of recommendation; both of which are important factors, especially early in a career.

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Are you Ready for Video Interviews?

March 21, 2017

One of the current trends in the application process for industry positions is to use video interviewing. Currently, business, science, and technology companies are using video interviews as the first step in the interviewing process after a candidate applies for a position because it saves money and staff time for the firms to screen candidates prior to inviting them for face-to face interviews. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) 2016 Recruiting Trends report, there has been a 50 % increase in the use of video interviewing in the past year.  This trend could correlate with the relative decrease in employers coming to on-campus recruiting interviews and career fairs.   Also,  the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) is currently conducting a research study to pilot -test the use of video-interviews with its residency applicants.

In this post, we interviewed an NIH trainee who recently participated in several video interviews to gather a user’s impressions of the process and technology.

What type of company and position(s) did you apply?

They were generally biotech companies that had positions such as a Scientist 1 or Assay Development.

What materials did you use to apply?

I submitted a resume and cover letter through their website. Then you were sent an email with a link to the video interview. This company used HireVue software.  Before the question prompts, there is a short intro about the company mission and culture delivered by the company’s employees.

How did you prepare?

The video interview link came after I applied for the position. I followed the instructions given. You are allowed to complete a few practice questions (mostly behavioral) and to learn how to use the software.  I used Glassdoor to prepare for the interview questions. There was a combination of behavioral and technical questions.  Depending on the position, it may be more technical than behavioral.

Where in the interview process was the video interview?

This was part of the pre-interview process. It was sent after you applied.  I think it takes the place of the telephone screening interview.

How much time were you given to reply to the company?

I was given three business days to practice and then answer the interview questions.

What was it like to record the video interview?

It was both helpful and terrifying at the same time. It was helpful in that it is using a system that makes it convenient.  It was terrifying watching yourself (split screen) while you are answering interview questions vs. looking at someone else.  It’s hard to watch yourself interview.

How many questions were you asked?

You were given about 20 minutes to answer 7-9 questions (about 20-30 minutes). You are given 30 seconds to read the question and then between 1-3 minutes to answer the questions.  Some questions you are given are one minute and most others you have more time. Some questions have multiple stems in them, so you may feel rushed to answer everything in the 3 minutes.

What Questions were you asked?

I was given questions about why I chose this company, behavioral questions, compare and contrast technologies, describe how to develop or troubleshoot assays. I was asked how does product development differ from research and development in biotech.  For another interview, I was asked to summarize my molecular biology, troubleshooting, and optimizing skills.

It appears that the various teams in a company can select their own questions. For example, for some positions I was given one time to answer the interview questions.  However, in another interview, I was given multiple times to answer the question before submitting it.

After the videotaped interview, they presented a short video thanking me for completing the video interview, but the next steps in the process were unclear.

What would you recommend to others who are asked to complete video interviews?

Utilize the practice time to learn the software and practice questions. Be aware of your choice of setting, lighting, height of camera and monitor, and choice of dress for video interview.  You can have some have some notes in front of you.  You will see a split screen with the question on left, outline of self on the right, and countdown clock on the top right corner.

In the 2015 Science Magazine  article, Ace Your Video Interview,  by David Jensen, he recommends that candidates should be highly aware of their environment, appearance, and performance when using Skype technology for live video interviews.  For example, he described that shadows from lighting, animals in the background, and clutter are distractions that can cause a candidate’s interview to be less than stellar.  He also emphasizes that a candidate could be interviewed by several people.  It may be recorded as well.  Based on the experiences of our trainee and Jensen’s comments, here are some additional recommendations to how to prepare for pre-recorded video interviews:

  • Practice using any type of video-based software so that can get used to seeing yourself while you are interviewing. Check to see If there is a way to turn this feature off during your practice sessions with the software you are given. Please note that OITE does not endorse HireVue, SKYPE, or any particular any video interviewing products.
  • Be sure you are looking directly into the camera and that your background is free from distractions.
  • Practice your answers standard industry interview and behavioral questions.
  • Conduct company research in advance to learn about the company, its competitors, and trends in the industry.
  • Although it may end abruptly, send a thank you note after the interview. You may also record a thank you to the committee at the end of your video interview.
  • Dress in professional attire (at least from the waist up) because you are making your first impression with the employer.

While video interviews are not completely replacing the face-to-face interviews, you are likely to encounter them at some phase of the process in the future. If you would like to discuss any part of the process of applying for industry positions, have a mock interview, and /or review your application materials, feel free to set up an appointment with a career counselor. Also please remember to attend the NIH Career Symposium on May 11, 2016 where NIH alumni will discuss their transitions to a variety of careers in academia and beyond.


Analyzing the NIH Alumni Database: Where are our NIH postdocs going?

March 13, 2017

In the OITE we are often asked about the career paths of former postdocs. While we do not conduct mandatory exit surveys, we do have some data from the OITE NIH Alumni Database. This database is populated as fellows leave the NIH. To date it contains about 1100 entries. Of those, 639 contain career information that we have been able to analyze. Caveat: this information is only from former trainees who have voluntarily created entries in the database; it does not capture the full range nor percentage of actual career paths*.

PDAlum Figure 1
We began by comparing data on our intramural research program (IRP) alumni to the data published in the 2012 NIH Biomedical Research Workforce Working Group Report (BWF). This report analyzed a post-training workforce of 128,000 people in terms of six categories. Academic Research/Teaching accounted for 43% of the workforce, followed by Science-Related, non-Research (individuals employed by industry, government, non-profits who do not conduct research) and Industrial Research at 18% each. The Non-Science-Related workforce employed 13%, and Government Research accounted for an additional 6%. Two percent reported they were unemployed.
In Figure 1 we show that fractions of IRP alumni who have continued in Academic/Research Teaching (39%) and Industrial Research (14%) were similar to those in the national BWF survey. However, far more IRP alumni continued in Government Research (15% of NIH IRP vs 6% in the national survey) and Science-Related, non-Research (33% of NIH IRP vs 18% for the national survey) careers, while far fewer went on to careers in non-Science-Related professions (< 1% vs 13%). No one in our alumni database reported that they were unemployed.
Our percentage of alumni staying in government research is higher than the national average (15% vs. 6%). This is not surprising that some fellows choose to stay as staff scientists or become tenure track within the IRP. The information of what careers are considered non-science related was difficult to find. Our analysis of alumni careers suggests that science-related non-research careers are more common than the national average.
Dissecting the Academic Research/Teaching data provides us with more information about what types of positions are held in this sector, Figure 2.

PDAlum Figure 2

This category includes only positions directly associated with research or teaching; careers in academic institutions in offices such as tech transfer, policy, academic affairs, etc. are counted in the Science-Related, Non-Research category. Three-quarters of alumni in this sector are in academic tenure-track or tenured positions. In fact 192 total alumni in the database are tenured or tenure track faculty (185 are in academics and 7 in government research). From this data we predict that 30% of IRP alumni have tenured or tenure track faculty positions.
The data for the Science-Related Non-research careers demonstrates the breadth of career options that are available for PhD-trained scientists, Figure 3. We binned careers based on the job titles that were submitted to the alumni database. Discerning the exact jobs of the 25% of reported careers in program management/analysis is challenging. The titles range from program coordinator to manager, director and advisor. Similarly, it is very likely that the 5% of alumni that report working in grants (as program officers, analysts, or review) is low due to the lack of precision in the job titles within the program management/analysis category. The data still provide evidence that program administration (making sure that science runs) is a common career choice. Science policy is a career path selected by 20% NIH of reported alumni. These careers are in all sectors, but are mainly spilt between the Federal government and non-profits (i.e., professional societies). Other career choices reflected in Figure 3 show the breath of career choices for NIH postdocs.

PDAlum Figure 3

If you want any addiional information about the careers in these categories we suggest that you explore the alumni database. As a current fellow with an OITE account you can search the database: https://www.training.nih.gov/alumni. Additionally, you can use the contact information in the alumni database to set up informational interviews as you plan your career post-NIH.
In 2017 we hope you will help us with this data project! Are you an NIH alum? If so, join the database or update your earlier submission. Last year around 800 people logged-in to the database and updated their information. But we still have too many gaps. 460 postdocs, for example, have an alumni database account that include no information about their current position. Only have ~20% of our postdocs* actually contribute to the database. The OITE really does want to know where you are! Current and future postdocs want to be able to see career trends and how training at the NIH might influence their career choices. So join the database or update your record now: https://www.training.nih.gov/alumni/register
*The database was built in June 2010. We estimate that 800 postdocs per year leave the NIH. Therefore the maximum sample size could be ~5200 alumni. With 1100 reporting that represents 21.2% of the potential sample size.

To learn about the full range of services and programs offered by the Office of Intramural Training and Education, visit us at https://www.training.nih.gov.

 


Where Do I Begin? Industry Careers for Scientists

February 13, 2017

One of the most challenging questions that developing scientists must answer is, “Should I pursue an academic or industry career?” For some, the pursuit of an academic career  is their path of choice.  For scientists who wish to pursue industry careers, the answer is more difficult to come by because they lack sufficient knowledge of how to pursue the variety of careers in industry.

This OITE Archives post will help scientists to answer this question by providing suggesting the following OITE Archives to begin gathering information about career paths for scientists.    To begin, read the following articles about moving from Industry to Academia and the Top 10 Myths about careers in industry discussed by guest blogger, Professor Brad Fackler.

Next, read through several of the recently published OITE Career Options Series blogs about popular careers for scientists. The information is still relevant and worth reviewing as part of your career decision-making process.

For those who have an interest in working abroad, here are several blogs that will open your eyes to career global opportunities for scientists

If graduate or professional school is needed as part of the pathway to an industry career the following posts will be helpful.

Will a Master’s Degree Get You Where You Want to Go?

Getting In: Everything You want To Know About the Graduate and Professional School Applications

We encourage you schedule informational interviews with NIH alumni and scientists employed in industry to learn more about how they made the transition.  Schedule an appointment with a career counselor to learn more about careers and how values, interests, skills, and lifestyle and how they factor into your decision.   Finally, attend our various career development programs such as the NIH Career Symposium to gather career information from NIH alumni help you make this important career choice.


ACE Your Career in 10 Hours

October 3, 2016

Albert Chen, an MD/PhD student at the University of Michigan designed the ACE plan.  ACE is short for Active Career Exploration.  According the Chen and colleagues within their four-part series on Science Careers, “ACE is your protocol for career experimentation, a logical progression of steps designed to overcome common barriers and give visible results after just 10 hours.”

Just 10 hours?

To be clear, the authors note that this means 10 hours within one month. The steps aren’t meant to be drawn out over, say the last year of your postdoc.

Here is how the 10 hours break down:

2 hours = Read and reflect
3 hours = Send cold emails to people you don’t know
3 hours = Meet people for informational interviews
2 hours = Form your career plan

 

Image of the ACE Plan in steps

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chen created a guide to help you within your ACE Plan entitled “Cold E-mails and Hot Coffee” which can be downloaded for free.  One of authors’ guiding principles was to create limits on how much time a person could spend in one section since it can be so easy to get stuck in an area which feels the most comfortable to you.

Many trainees at the NIH are well-versed on the first step: reading and reflecting.  Many times this equates to trying to do their own research on a career field through articles and books; however, they then have a hard time making that leap into the second and third stages – the more active phases – which include sending cold emails and meeting people for informational interviews. The read and reflect phase spans into months instead of a mere two hours.

Why do people get stuck making the leap to the second and third phases within the ACE Plan?

Well, often because sending cold emails to people you don’t know feels awkward and you worry it won’t be well-received.  Chen and colleagues understand these challenges, so they devoted a whole article on how you can do this part well.  It is extremely important to normalize this networking process because it is so key to your career development. Often the worst that happens is you just don’t hear back.

If you have attended any of our workshops at the OITE, then the ACE Plan will sound very familiar to you.  It is a new spin on common recommendations, but perhaps the time-limited approach will resonate with you.

Give it a try and let us know how the 10 hour ACE plan worked for you!


First Generation College Students: Challenges, Strengths, and Resources to Develop Confidence and Move Ahead

June 6, 2016

Image of a graduationg cap with the phrase "I'm First!"If you are the first in your family to attend college, you may have already experienced some challenges or concerns like: not knowing many contacts in the fields of science or medicine through your circle of family and friends or feeling like an imposter and wondering if you really belong in various professional groups or meetings.

You are not alone.  Research shows that first generation college students often have concerns like these, but research also highlights many of the strengths which first generation students bring to their lives and careers including:

  • Resilience after coping with obstacles and challenges
  • Appreciation for opportunities
  • Persistence to achieve goals in spite of difficult circumstances
  • Adaptability in the face of change

It is extremely important to take advantage of the resources around you. Here are some strategies to develop confidence and move ahead:

Learn how to develop professional career networks

You can learn how to how to develop and strengthen your professional/career networks.  Research has shown that specialized support programs can be very helpful to first generation college students.  If you are in training at NIH, you have access to numerous free support programs and resources to help you learn how to build professional networks:

  • Learn about informational interviewing as a first step in the networking process.
  • Watch videocasts to learn about networking.
  • Contact former NIH trainees for advice about their career paths. The NIH Alumni Database lists many scientists who initially were post-bacs, graduate students and post-docs at NIH.  You may contact them directly to get advice about their career fields.

Incorporate your personal values into your career choices

For first generation college students, sometimes there is a gap between family experiences/values and the demands of a career and degree process.  If you struggle with how to manage this gap, there are two things you can do to help clarify your values and to move ahead toward your goals:

Identify how mentoring can help you build your own community in science

Start by reflecting on the kind of mentoring you think will help you progress in your career. If you are unsure, read some articles to find out what makes a good mentor.

  • Reach out to finds groups that will support you. A large part of feeling comfortable in your career and work environment is having a community to share the experience.  The NIH is a big place.  Groups like the ones listed here will help you to find a community that will help you to feel at home.

Let OITE staff know how we can help you during your training time at NIH
It’s not always easy to reach out for help and support. In the Office of Intramural Training and Education, we are excited to have you here at NIH and want to do everything we can to help you be successful .

  • Start by talking with a career counselor to begin your career planning or reach out to another OITE staff member.  We can help you to take the next step to a successful career.

Career Options Series: Science Policy

December 10, 2015

OITE’s Career Options Series will give you a snapshot overview of different career paths. The goal of this series is to help you explore a variety of different options by connecting you to new resources. A large part of making a good career decision is done by gathering information about that field. We encourage you to follow up this online research by conducting informational interviews with individuals in each field. You can check out our first career option guide on Public Health here.


What is Science Policy?Image of two green street signs with the word "science" on one and "policy" on the other
Science Policy falls under two areas: Policy for Science and Science for Policy. Policy for Science looks at developing and determining STEM education and R&D funding priorities and directions as well as establishing guidelines and regulations on the practice and conduct of science. Whereas, Science for Policy looks at informing and enhancing the development, decision-making, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and resulting programs and regulations.
– From the resource: AAAS S&T Policy Fellowships at http://fellowships.aaas.org/

Sample Job Titles
(Senior) Science Policy Analyst; Public Health Analyst; Director of Science Policy; Public Affairs Director; Program Officer; Health Science Policy Analyst; Public Health Analyst; Scientific Program Analyst; Science and Technology Policy Analyst; Policy Analyst Manager; Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs; Advocate, Administrator; Health Policy Advisor; Scientific Program Analyst; Policy Specialist; Government Relations Manager; Director, Research Programs Advocacy; etc.

Sample Work Settings
The majority (more than half) of these jobs are in non-profits followed by government, academia and then industry.

Sample Employers
American Institutes for Research
Department of Health and Human Services
Friends of Cancer Research
National Science Foundation
*Plus, many more! Do a “Science Policy” search on indeed.com to get a sense of employers who are hiring in this field.

Science Policy work involves:
• Assessing scientific data
• Writing briefs/memos (for internal audiences and external audiences like Congress)
• Communicating science to the general public, scientific audiences, lawmakers
• Coordinating volunteers, committee members, scientists
• Program management of seminars, coalitions, etc.

Key Skills
– Broad knowledge of science
– Knowledge of science policy
– People skills
– Communication, both written and verbal
– Analytical
– Project/Time Management

How to get started
Fellowships e.g., AAAS Science & Technology Fellowship
Internships e.g., science societies (generally unpaid)
Details e.g., NIH institutes; 1 day/week
Networking e.g., With speakers at NIH global health seminars
Volunteering e.g., Meet-ups like DC Science Policy Happy Hour Group
Additional education/degrees: Enroll in science and technology policy classes (GW and JHU offer a few)

Professional Organizations
American Association for the Advancement of Science
American Chemical Society – Science Policy
Network of School of Public Policy, Affairs & Administration

Additional Resources
OITE’s How To Series: Science Policy
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog
Office of Science Policy at NIH

Coming up in the Career Options Series, we will be highlighting the field of Tech Transfer.