Culture Shock – Adjusting to a New Culture, a New City, a New Lab

March 6, 2015

Image of a globe with flags of different countries around it.In 2013, international fellows came to the NIH from 93 countries; if you just relocated to the NIH from abroad, it can be a challenge to adjust to a new culture, new city, and a new lab.

Many international fellows can experience culture shock, but each person will respond to a new culture differently. Every new trainee at the NIH will experience a transition period to their new environment and some may find they adjust easily; however, others struggle to acclimate. Once the initial luster of being in a new place wears off, individuals can find themselves feeling increasingly irritated by their new setting. Many also report feeling very isolated.

At times, individuals can feel lost or not sure about what to do in various situations. In an article in Science Careers entitled “International Scholars: Suffering in Silence,” one postdoc noted that adjusting to the new cultural norms was the hardest part. For example, it took a year before she felt comfortable calling her PI by her first name; this lack of formality wasn’t commonplace in her home country.

Many trainees, no matter where they are from, hesitate to ask for help adjusting to a new setting. They often feel responsible for figuring things out on their own. If they run into a roadblock, they don’t naturally think of finding a resource which only increases their isolation. Maybe your graduate school did not have many resources to help with career or interpersonal concerns. Fortunately, the NIH has many services to help you:

The NIH Office of Intramural Training & Education (OITE)

  • Look for Upcoming Events
    Orientation, Career and Professional Development Workshops and English/Cultural resources are regularly offered. Become active on campus in order to help you not only meet more people but also to become acclimated to the NIH campus culture. https://www.training.nih.gov/events/upcoming
  • Join an OITE Listserv
    Joining and regularly reading these email will make sure you get up-to-date information about training events and career development activities that are taking place. https://www.training.nih.gov/listservs

The Division of International Services

  • The Division of International Services provides immigration-related services to theNational Institutes of Health for visiting foreign scientists and the NIH research community. http://dis.ors.od.nih.gov/index.html

The NIH boasts a very diverse work environment, so remember that you are not alone. Give yourself time to adjust to your new place. In dealing with culture shock, it is important to remember to keep an open mind and try to maintain a positive attitude. Adapting to cultural differences does take time, so be patient during this adjustment; however, it is extremely important to take ownership of this time. It will help immensely if you make an effort to get involved and connect with your new community around you.

International Fellows – What helped you adjust to life in a new place? What resources did you take advantage of to help learn English? Let us know by commenting below!


2014 Career Success Plan

January 10, 2014

Here at OITE, our continued resolution is to help trainees become skilled in a variety of core competencies.  We view these four competencies as vital to your career development.

They include:
1. Career Exploration and Planning
2. Communicating
3. Teaching and Mentoring
4. Leading and Managing

Our goal for the blog this year is to cover a variety of resources and projected outcomes for each of these core competencies.

One of the first we will tackle is career exploration and planning.  This often involves four phases: Exploration, Preparation, Action, and Adaptation.  You will most likely go through these steps more than once because one’s career development very rarely follows a linear projection. Look next week for a blog on the topic of career exploration and planning, specifically individual development plans.

Hopefully, by covering all four of the core competencies, we will help to establish a thematic framework as you continue to read the blog throughout the year.  We will label and categorize each new post accordingly, so that the blog becomes a searchable site for you to easily navigate.  In addition, we hope this gives you some inspiration as you set your own new year’s career goals.  For a more detailed view of the graphic, please click on the image to enlarge.

Diagram of four core competencies; including: Career Exploration & Planning, Communicating, Teaching & Mentoring and Leading & Managing


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.


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

If I Could Do One Thing Differently in My Career…

June 10, 2013

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

One of the fun things I get to do as part of my job directing the Office of Intramural Training & Education, is to give talks on the NIH campus and at universities across the United States.  Students ask me all types of questions about my career; how a physical therapist became a cell biologist, what I like about my previous faculty job and my current administrative job, what I don’t like, what I look for when I hire new employees, etc. One question always gets asked– what I would do differently if I could do it all over again. I always give the same response – “I would have learned more about leadership and management earlier in my career”.

Yes, I got my faculty job based on my science — the papers I published, the grants I wrote, and the way I communicated enthusiasm for protein trafficking. But, I was successful in that job because of the hard work and dedication of the many students and staff who worked with me. When I communicated my expectations clearly and dealt with issues calmly and up-front, my lab ran more smoothly and I got more work done. Therefore, my success depended on my science skills AND my management/leadership skills. The same is true now in a completely different setting. My success in the OITE depends on others doing their best work.  It is critical that I work continuously on my management and leadership skills.

There is broad agreement that scientists must develop strong interpersonal skills to do effective team science and to transition from training to management positions (at and away from the bench). Yet, we don’t always find the time to be trained in these areas. Many students, postdocs and mentors find little value in “soft skills” training.  They believe that a successful career in science is determined predominantly by publications, patents, funding, etc. However, the book Lab Dynamics (Cohen and Cohen)* surveyed scientists and found that nearly two-thirds reported that interpersonal conflict had hampered progress on a scientific project between 1-5 times in their career. Furthermore, many of our alumni share that managing and leading a team is one of the earliest challenges they face.

To help you start developing your management and leadership skills, the OITE has developed the “Workplace Dynamics” series. The workshops focus on: 1) increased awareness of self and others using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®; 2) communication styles and influencing others; 3) conflict dynamics; 4) team theory; and 5) diversity training. Our goal is to help you gain greater self-awareness and an appreciation that others may approach conflict and group work differently. We hope that by providing a language to discuss these differences, you will be better able to manage yourself and work across differences in the workplace. We use examples that resonate with scientists and combine didactic material with interactive group work. We know that trainees appreciate the interactive group work, but that they also like helpful resources they can access from home. I have listed some of these resources at the bottom of this post in the hopes that readers not currently at NIH can benefit from the reading the material as they seek similar programs on their campuses. Those of you currently at NIH – summer interns, postbacs, grad students, postdocs, clinical and research fellows – take advantage of these workshops now. The Summer/Fall Workplace Dynamics series starts in June.  Find our more and register here.

References:

Lab Dynamics: Management Skills for Scientists, Cohen and Cohen (2005) New York: Cold Spring Harbor Press

MBTI: http://www.myersbriggs.org/

Type Talk at Work (Revised): How the 16 Personality Types Determine Your Success on the Job by Otto Kroeger, Janet M. Thuesen and Hile Rutledge (2002) Delta

Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (Tuxedo NY: Xicom, 1974) and CPP TKI product page

Eckerd College Center for Conflict Dynamics: http://www.conflictdynamics.org/

Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader: How You and Your Organization Can Manage Conflict Effectively by Craig E. Runde and Tim A. Flanagan (2006) Jossey-Bass

Crucial Confrontations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler (2004) McGraw-Hill

Feedback That Works: How to Build and Deliver Your Message, CCL, 2000

Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition; Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman  (2006), Bantam

Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (2000) Bantam

Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, Third Edition by Maurianne Adams, Warren Blumenfeld, Carmelita Castaneda and Heather W. Hackman (2013) Routledge