Keep Stress From Derailing Your Work and Life

March 23, 2017

Post written by Sharon Milgram, Ph.D., Director, Office of Intramural Training and Education at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD.

Stress is inevitable – in our relationships, at home and at work, pretty much all around us. At NIH our stresses include experimental roadblocks, bureaucracy, paper and grant rejections, the school/job search process, difficult workplace relationships, and/or the craziness of juggling our work and life. On top of these normal (and expected) workplace stresses, many of us are now experiencing a high level of stress related to the uncertainty of future government policies, here and abroad.  While some stress can be helpful, driving us to work hard and focus on things that are important to us, too much stress is counter-productive leading to sleepless nights, negative coping strategies, frayed relationships, and illness. Now, more than ever, we all need to pause and consider how we respond to stress and how we can work together as a community to manage the stress that seems to be swirling around us. I often talk with NIH trainees and staff about managing stress and wanted to share some insights from those discussions.

I will begin by laying out a brief model for wellness we developed here at OITE that is rooted in acknowledging that we need to focus on multiple elements to truly lead a healthy and less stressed life.  This holistic approach to wellness prompts us to consider four areas – our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual selves.

Wellness Model

Physical wellness includes things such as getting enough sleep, eating nutritional meals, exercising, avoiding harmful substances, getting regular health care, and taking breaks when we need them.  Mental wellness involves modifying unhelpful thought patterns (e.g., ruminating about the past/worrying about the future vs. paying attention to the present, perfectionism, comparing ourselves to others, negative self-tapes), as well as practicing self-affirmations and allowing the mind to engage in new things that interest us.  Emotional wellness focuses on being able to recognize and feel our emotions, expressing our needs honestly and directly, asking for help when we need it, creating and staying connected to a supportive circle of friends and family, and demonstrating compassion for ourselves and others.  Finally, spiritual wellness is about cultivating what gives us a sense of deeper meaning, purpose, and connection in our lives.  For some people this is done through religious beliefs and practices, while for others it is found in non-sectarian areas, such as nature, the world of science, social justice initiatives, creative endeavors and so on.  Whatever the arena, spiritual wellness involves having a connection to something beyond ourselves, seeking out resources that nurture us spiritually, investing time in what is most meaningful to us, reading books and/or watching inspirational media, and engaging in activities that support our life’s purpose.  It also means learning how to be a human being instead of a human doing.  It’s important to pay attention to all four areas as any one area affects our well-being in the other three.  Holistic wellness also involves increasing our mindfulness or awareness of how we’re doing in each area in order to practice good self-care.

After looking carefully at my own wellness practices and noticing some important gaps, I started experimenting with some new approaches. I am sharing my new strategies here, and hope you will share yours in the comments section, with the hope that more explicit discussions about wellness will help all of us all have an easier time during these stressful times. I recently compiled a playlist of upbeat songs and am trying to take more mindful walks (physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness). I realized I needed to stop reading the news at night and have replaced surfing the internet with a good novel or calm conversation with my wife (mental and emotional wellness). To learn more meditation strategies (a big struggle for me!) I participated in a class where we meditated each time we met (mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness).  My most fun wellness addition — I am learning to box! This is one exercise that totally takes me out of my head while relieving huge amounts of stress (physical and mental awareness). We all have a different set of wellness practices that work for us; let me know what wellness practices work for you; perhaps your ideas will inspire others!

Resilience is defined as the ability to grow and learn through setback and difficult times. The foundation of resilience is wellness and a foundation of wellness is community. If you wish to bring your most creative and resilient self to work (and beyond) each day, make an investment in your future by engaging with your colleagues at work and by finding sources of community at home.  Also, join us next week for our Tune In & Take Care workshop focused on stress management, wellness and resilience on the Bethesda campus and watch for offerings on other campuses as well. Get involved in groups on campus and make an effort to get to know the people around you. And get out there and move…. sing…. dance…. paint…. meditate…. connect…… pray…. hike…. whatever makes you more resilient and happy!

Tune In & Take Care Workshop – March 28th, 2017 – 1:00 to 3:00 pm

To Register: https://www.training.nih.gov/events/view/_2/2034/Tune_In_and_Take_Care_Managing_Stress_and_Promoting_Wellbeing

 

 


Interviewing with Confidence

January 9, 2017

At last, all that you have worked for has led to the highly desired interview. Congratulations! The interview process can feel daunting, but don’t let it.  At the heart of all interviews is an exchange between two or more parties about shared interests and desires to determine “best fit”. Hopefully, by this point you have done some self-assessment and know yourself well enough to effectively communicate your fit for the program, school or organization.  If not, now is the time to reflect. Consider clarifying your strengths, areas of expertise and desires for your future. Re-evaluating your interests, values, and skills helps to enhance confidence that you are on the right track in applying for specific programs or positions. Ask yourself:

  • Why do I want this job?
  • How am I prepared to take on the responsibilities being asked of me?
  • What do I have to offer them?
  • What do they have to offer me?

Answers to these and other questions help you prepare to respond confidently to the interviewer in ways that show your fit for the position or program.

Preparation is the key to successful interviews. Interview candidates who fall short of receiving offers are often ineffectively conveying confidence in their skills and expertise as related to the position they are interviewing for. The more knowledge you have about the organization you are interviewing with, the individuals interviewing you, the mission and vision of the department or program, and/or specific duties and responsibilities involved, the better able you are to connect your strengths to their needs. Often individuals engaged in an employment or educational search believe their skill set will win them the job or offer.  Although indeed that may look great on paper, it doesn’t always lead to an offer.

Not long ago, a trainee shared their interviewing experience that reflected success in obtaining interviews, however, they had not yet gotten an offer. In this case, the interviewee found themselves problem solving for the interviewer – asking questions that may have laid seeds of doubt in the interviewers’ minds. As an individual skilled in analysis and problem solving, it was easy for them to do so. However, it wasn’t the candidate’s job to figure out solutions to potential problems they saw in their being hired, simply to convey confidently how they could help. Reflecting on their interviewing experiences and brainstorming alternative strategies for responding to interview questions allowed the candidate to more effectively convey their fit at the next interview.  Soon after the candidate received an offer which they accepted.  Success!

You too can come across confidently in the interview. Consider this as you prepare:

Know Yourself – Re-clarify your interests in the position, as well as your values and skills to allow for connections between yourself and the employer or program.  An OITE Career Counselor or Graduate School and Pre-Professional Advisor can help in this process:  https://www.training.nih.gov.

Prepare for the interview – Research information about the organization, institution, or program so that you are confident about your fit and can effectively communicate this as related to their core values, mission and needed skills and expertise.  We also suggest that you watch the OITE Interviewing Techniques workshop to learn and practice your skills.

Interview the Employer – Be prepared to ask questions in an interview if time allows.  Choose questions that help you determine whether there will be a good fit for you such as: “What opportunities for advancement are in place?”, “What type of mentorship is available for new hires?” or “What resources are available to help students engage in career planning?”  Knowing what is important to you will help you generate questions to ask.

Breathe, Relax, and Enjoy – Most interviews offer you the chance to meet new people, see different places and experience new things.  Take the opportunity to do so.  Whatever happens, this kind of mindset will help relieve worry and nervousness about the interview, allow you to stay focused on the big picture, and encourage confident communication in the interview.

Interviewing can be difficult, especially if you feel unprepared. Preparation will help you feel more confident about the unique things you offer and encourage a focus on where you fit with the employer, institution or program.  Remember, the absence of an offer after an interview doesn’t mean you were not qualified, simply that you were not the fit that the employer was looking for.  Keep in mind that getting an interview is evidence of success in the search or application process.  Be sure to give yourself credit and acknowledge your successes along the way.  Before you know it, you’ll have an offer too!


Why RCR (Responsible Conduct of Research) Training is a critical part of your NIH training

December 6, 2016

This week the OITE launches a new research ethics workshop for postdocs at the NIH. This addition joins our ongoing PostBac and Grad Student workshops. More info and upcoming events: https://www.training.nih.gov/ethics_training_home_page

You may be wondering.. why should you attend one of these courses? Perhaps your institute requires it or it is needed for your grant/fellowship application. But above that, an understanding of research ethics is an integral part of your training as a scientist or clinician. Still not convinced?…How about this:

  • To protect yourself. In a recent Nature article, more than 50% of people caught in acts of research misconduct stated they did not know the rules. As with judiciary law, not knowing the rules or regulations is not considered a valid excuse for violating them, nor is being told by others that the action is permissible. We want to make sure you know the explicit rules and implicit expectations of the ethics of performing research. You should know what to do if you aren’t sure about something; who to contact if you witness or feel pressured into doing something you think may be unethical; who to contact if you need external intervention regarding lab conduct; where, in general, to seek all of this information both here and at any institution you may end up in the future. Plus, the consequences of poor ethics ruin careers (read more at: http://ori.hhs.gov/case_summary).
  • To inform yourself. Many of the federal guidelines regulating research are reactionary in nature, enacted following public revelations about terrible mistreatment of human and animal subjects, violations of conflicts of interest, and of misplaced trust in scientists by those who they believed were trying to help them. Unfortunately, these sorts of event have not been eliminated; we see them in the headlines all too often. To learn the history of research ethics guidelines in the US means to learn what triggered these outcries and ask “How could they not know what they were doing was wrong?”
  • To question yourself. Where do our professional ethical norms arise from, and how must we ensure we never lose sight of our personal ethical codes to practice science that is safe, sound, and justifiable? The research environment can often be one of high stress, high uncertainty, and high pressure. You must learn to navigate it without compromising your integrity.
  • To communicate to others. The public is going to see more headlines about failures, ethical breaches, and lost resources than they are about breakthroughs and successes. We can all act as scientific ambassadors; to show that we are thoughtful, methodical, and take the upmost care in the work we do (and that we are not all cartoonish images of mad scientists laughing wildly as we do mad science-y things).
  • To protect the scientific endeavor. Much science is funded by the public and therefore explicitly depends on public trust. Without the trust of the public we lose the ability to both conduct research and effectively move our research to treatments and cures.

We do not think ethics training is something you need because you lack the moral grounding to do good science; but rather because we think it benefits all of us to have a shared understanding of the rules and ethical norms it takes to perform research.

So, join us!  More info here: https://www.training.nih.gov/ethics_training_home_page

 

 

 


The Power of Thank You

November 25, 2015

Cork board full of multi-colored post-it notes saying "thank you" in different languages.It’s the week of Thanksgiving. In the United States, this signifies a time of the year when many of us gather around a large meal with family and friends to not only celebrate, but also to reflect on things in our lives for which we are thankful.

Even if you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, this holiday can be a good reminder to stop and take a moment to be thankful. Studies have shown that cultivating gratitude is beneficial in numerous ways. Being grateful can help crowd out negative emotions, help foster a more positive mental attitude, and positivity has been shown to have huge physical and mental health benefits.

Not only can gratitude increase your sense of well-being, it can also play an important role in your professional trajectory. To clarify, we aren’t talking about the standard thank you letters that you send out after interviews or networking events, even though those are great and extremely important to continue sending. Rather, think about sincerely thanking somebody, which requires taking a moment to pause and acknowledge another’s assistance or even just to remark on the great work they are doing. Thank you notes not only make the recipient feel good, but it’s also a beneficial exercise for the letter writer.

As noted in the article “How thank-you notes can transform your career,” gratitude can be professionally powerful. Take the article’s example of Douglas Conant, the former CEO of Campbell Soup. During his ten years at Campbell, he helped turn the company around – he cut costs and implemented innovative marketing efforts all while improving employees’ engagement levels. How did Conant do all of this? Well, for the latter part, he wrote 30,000 thank you notes. He would take about an hour a day to write 10-20 thank you notes to employees at all levels of the company. He had a staffer help him find success stories to praise. Conant is quoted saying, “We’re trained to find things that are wrong, but I try to celebrate what is right.” His focus on strengths worked to help motivate employees and turn a lagging company around.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebooks’ CEO, took on a gratitude challenge in 2014. Zuckerberg celebrated Facebook’s 10th anniversary year by writing one thank you note each day. His reasoning was similar to Conant’s and he said, “It’s important for me, because I’m a really critical person. I always kind of see how I want things to be better, and I’m generally not happy with how things are, or the level of service that we’re providing for people, or the quality of the teams that we built.”

It can be easy to focus on the negative and dwell on what isn’t going right. In order to cultivate gratitude, we recommend an activity which was previously discussed in a blog post about enhancing optimism and resilience. During Thanksgiving, try this out:

Gratitude Visit and Letter
Close your eyes for a moment and think about a person who helped you out in the past. Perhaps someone you never properly thanked? This is a great activity to help you feel more positive because when you feel grateful, you conjure up a pleasant memory or association. Then, expressing that gratitude can help strengthen your relationship and can create more positive connections.   So, give that person a call, write them an e-mail or even drop by their office or home to say thank you!

If you try this activity out, comment and let us know. Thank you, dear readers, for continuing to follow and contribute to this blog!


How Rude! Minding Your Manners at Work

June 29, 2015

We have all seen rude behavior at work. The co-worker who becomes absorbed into their phone mid-meeting or the colleague who doesn’t clean up after themselves in a shared space. What do you consider rude work behavior and do you feel it is on the rise?

A growing number of psychologists do and they are conducting research on incivility in the workplace. Polls are finding that most Americans feel civility has declined, not just making the workplace unpleasant but ultimately having an impact on work productivity and well-being — even beyond the cubicle.

A professor from Georgetown University, Christine Porath, wrote a recent NY Times op-ed, “No Time to Be Nice at Work”. The author remembers seeing her “athletic dad” in the hospital with electrodes strapped to his chest. She couldn’t help but wonder how this had happened and she believed it was related to work stress as “for years he endured two uncivil bosses.”

In part, her hunch was confirmed by a study published in 2012 which showed that stressful jobs increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by 38%. Another poll of 800 workers on the receiving end of bad behavior found that half intentionally decreased work effort, 65% admitted performance decline and 12% quit.

AARP compiled a list of the top work offenses, including:

  1. Not saying hello
    Ignoring or not acknowledging a co-worker
  2. Acting superior
    This could include belittling someone’s ideas or suggestions in a meeting
  3. Inappropriate work language
    Using profanity or offensive comments
  4. Gossipping
    Some may call it venting, but talking about people behind their backs only leads to a toxic work environment
  5. Having sharp elbows
    Being overly ambitious or driven without regard for others in your lab/office
  6. Misusing email
    Either in frequency or in tone. Emails can often be misread, so if discussing a sensitive topic, have a conversation in person

They chose to stop at six, but what would you add to this list? Leave a comment below with what you think is the worst work offense.

Rude behavior often falls outside the scope of basic workplace policies, making it difficult (but not impossible) to remedy the behavior. To be fair, most people don’t know they are being rude. They may be so preoccupied with work that they forget their behavior has an impact on others. So, what can you do if a co-worker is being rude?

  1. Call them out on it.
    If possible, address the inappropriate behavior in the moment. A bad behavior unaddressed will most likely become a pattern. If you need time to collect your thoughts, then do so, but ultimately you need to have that conversation.
  1. Have a goal for the conversation.
    You will need to convey what you want to happen going forward. What is the behavior that needs to be addressed? What are your expectations post-conversation? Think about this on your own so you can articulate it to your colleague. For example, does your co-worker constantly interrupt you? Say so as diplomatically as you can and note that you expect this behavior to be curtailed going forward.
  2. Thank your co-worker for listening to you.
    This should be a respectful conversation not a confrontation. Return this respect by allowing them to voice explanations or any of their own concerns.
  3. Move on.
    Hopefully, now that the issue has been addressed, it will be resolved. Don’t let feelings of resentment linger; however, if you continue having issues, seek help from managers or mentors. You don’t have to endure an uncomfortable work environment. If you are at the NIH, there are many offices to help you, including: the Ombudsman, CIVIL, and EAP.

 


The Introverted Job Seeker

July 9, 2014

Do you have to be dragged to a networking event or cocktail party? When you do go to an event, do you have to spend the rest of the day recuperating? Do you need plenty of alone time during the day? If you answered yes to these questions, you might be an introvert. The level and intensity of introversion varies from person to person, so even if you haven’t taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), you probably have a general sense regarding your own preference toward extraversion or introversion. For the purpose of this post, we are going to focus on the quieter half of the population – the introverts.

In Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” she argues that U.S. work culture is often biased against introverts; their quiet, reflective and serious demeanors are often trumped by extraverted traits such as being outgoing, assertive and verbose. Now, depending on your work environment, your boss’ style, and the culture of your team, it is arguable whether extraversion or introversion could be viewed more positively.

However, there is one area which is seemingly stacked in favor of the extraverted and that is the job search. Two major aspects of a job search which are especially energy draining to introverts are networking and interviewing.

Networking

How might being introverted hold you back in terms of networking? Well, it could if it means that you find yourself avoiding social situations with possible introductions to new contacts or if you find you never quite muster the energy to take that phone call or set up that informational interview.

Introverts are often excellent networkers though because they tend to observe and analyze people and situations well. Also, introverts tend to prefer listening – a great characteristic for effective networking and an excellent means for gathering new information and new contacts. Whereas an extravert might approach networking with a hard-sell mentality, an introvert tends to go in with more of a soft-sell approach, which is often a preferable way to begin building a rapport (and a larger network of professional contacts).

Just remember to care for your introverted self throughout this process. When you have to utilize your less-preferred extravert skills, you will begin to feel your energy drain. Be sure to build in time to recharge throughout your job search timeline.

Interviewing

One particularly valuable job search trait of extraverts is that they tend to think out loud. This is especially important during an interview. Interviews by design often favor an extravert’s ease in making introductions and connections.

Interview questions, especially behavioral-based interview questions, are asked so that the employer can get a feel for your thought process and how you would approach different situations. Thinking out loud – even if it isn’t stated perfectly – helps you convey information to the employer. Reticence to disclose information, shortly phrased answers, and long silences will likely hurt your chances. Introverts often assume people can read how they are thinking or feeling. Or, if in an interview, they will assume the employer knows they are excited about the position because they are there. On the contrary, employers bring you into an interview in order to see and hear your enthusiasm. Expressing this fully can be a challenge for many introverts.

The good news is that many of these skills can be practiced. You can learn better responses to interview questions, you can role play networking successfully and you can “try on” the façade of an extraverted job-seeker. This doesn’t mean you have to go out there and be something completely different and inauthentic to you; rather, challenge yourself to do things that might not feel completely comfortable to you as an introvert. Hopefully this serves as a reminder to check in with yourself about your true preferences and make sure you are taking care of yourself throughout the job search process.


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