NIH Graduate and Professional School Fair

July 11, 2017

This year is the 10th anniversary of our Graduate & Professional School Fair! This amazing event features over 200 universities looking to recruit for their graduate, medical, public health, nursing, and dental programs. The fair is for postbacs and summer interns who are in college to help you prepare for your next steps in your career journey.  It is a terrific networking event to help you understand the types of programs out there, determine what schools interest you, and gather more data to make informed decisions.

Lots of advice on how to get the most out of this event here: https://www.training.nih.gov/assets/GP_Fair_Advice_-_508_-_ps.pdf

But here are some highlights!

The list of schools is published.  Check out what schools are coming and what areas of the country are represented. Select at least 5 schools to you must talk to and stop at random other tables that attract your interest you while you are there.

Make a point to talk to the people at the table, not just gather swag and candy.  This the time to leave an impression that you are ready for the next step.

Take a look at the workshops too! Directors of MD/PhD, grad, medical, public health, dental, and psychology programs will discuss what they are looking for in candidates and will give you invaluable insights to help you apply, interview and matriculate into the program of your choice.  Another session will discuss whether a MS master’s may help you succeed in your career goals.

Our photobooth will also be available to provide a professional headshot for the secondary med school applications or posting on your LinkedIn/ResearchGate accounts.

Also, we will start and end the day with a discussion of skills that are critical to survive and thrive as you move into graduate or professional school!

So, if you are thinking about a PhD, MD, DO, MD/PhD, DDS, MPH, MS—or one of the other myriad of graduate degrees in the biomedical sciences field, join us on July 18!


How To Network

June 27, 2017

One of the most important skills to develop and use as a professional scientist is networking.  It is valuable for making important connections related to your research, learning about job opportunities or gathering information about graduate school applications.  This summer, the OITE will be holding several opportunities for you to meet the diverse group of trainees and fellows from across the NIH such as Get Cool and Get Connected (Popsicles!) and Think, Ink and Network events.  You can also use your skills during the Graduate and Professional School fair, and Summer Poster Day programs.

For some, the act of approaching a stranger and starting a conversation is easy. For others, especially those who are quiet or do not speak the language fluently, it can be stressful. Networking is about developing professional relationships with colleagues.  Therefore, you can use many of the same strategies as you would when making a new professional friend.   Here are some additional tips to help you when you are meeting new colleagues at receptions, poster sessions, conferences, job interviews, career or graduate school fairs, and meet ups.

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Find something in common:  Two things that you have in common with most people at NIH is that you are interested in science and conducting research.  In addition, most of you will be in college or graduating soon.  These are all conversation starters.

Maximize your personal style: Think about your personal style and use skills that maximize your strengths. As mentioned, extroverted types may be comfortable initiating conversations.  However,  introverts and ambiverts have many strengths and areas for improvement during networking.   If you prefer to meet people as part of a group or at a quieter place, then do that.

Memorize a list of highlights:  Once you have a list, it will be easy to recall your highlights in each situation.  Here are some suggested topics to use when you want to strike up a conversation.

  • Name
  • Current Job? What are you working on?
  • What is a current issue in science, the media, or the conference that interests you?
  • Goal or reason for introducing yourself?
  • How can they help you?

Review the 2012 Networking Maps blog:   Using the strategy of mapping will help you to develop a strategy to determine in what sphere the connection is in so you can plan how you want to start a conversation.

Connect with people who you already know first.  They will introduce you to others. To become comfortable, begin chatting with someone that you already know.  Often, they will know others and can introduce you.   

Keep the relationship alive:  Obtain their contact information before the event is over. Bring business cards or your resume with you.  Offer to connect with them through LinkedIn, use your  cell phone to collect their information.  Next, drop a thank you note within the next 24-48 hours with a request to set up another opportunity to talk in person or electronically.

Branch Out:   Branch out beyond walls of your lab.  Utilize the NIH community, alumni, join NIH SIGS, attend conferences, and other OITE events.

 


Reapplying to Medical School

May 30, 2017

The decision to reapply to medical school naturally brings with it mixed feelings. You should be congratulated for the investment of time, effort, and expense that all applicants invest during the application process.  For those of you who are on waitlists for admission this cycle, there is still a slight/small possibility for matriculation this year.  Simultaneously, it is time for you and those who were not admitted to consider reapplying.  You are not alone.  The reality is that in 2016, the AAMC reported that there were over 49,000 medical school applicants.  From that pool of applicants, fewer than half matriculated into their first year of medical school.   Dr. Bill Higgins Pre-professional consultant in the OITE suggests that you address the following questions to decide if you will re-apply to medical school. Ask yourself,

Never just reapply without addressing the problems in your application.

What were the strengths and deficits in your application? Can these be remedied by the next application deadline?   Take ownership of this process and do not re-apply with the same application you used previously.  Schools will appreciate the persistence towards the goal of admission to medical school.  So re-apply with a new and updated AMCAS application.  For example, show a marked increase in clinical hours, new publications or awards, and or an increase in your science GPA and MCAT scores.   Revision of your personal statement and updating 15 experiences can make a huge difference   You will need to update your AMCAS application including your 15 experiences, personal statement, and references. Also, remember to apply early in the cycle and prepare for interviews (traditional and MMI).

Is it in your best interest to postpone reapplying to the next cycle?

Be honest with yourself and decide if is better to apply during this cycle or apply or in one-year so that you are applying when your application will be at its strongest.

Did you overlook applying to schools/programs that could be a good fit?

Make sure you have a realistic understanding of your credentials and the admissions requirements at various medical schools. Factor in each school’s metrics (Science GPA and MCAT scores), and mission, your desires for a medical education, their curriculum, and your values.

Do I need to apply to a pre-medical post- baccalaureate program?

Completing a pre-medical post baccalaureate program can be the most effective way to gain the qualifications needed for to medical school acceptance.  If you have determined that you need to increase your science GPA, gain clinical or research experience, re-take the MCAT, and/or need more support through the process, then there are a variety of programs that would suit your needs.  Visit the AAMC post-baccalaureate programs information site which describe the various programs nation-wide.

Consider related health professions career graduate programs

You may want to consider additional health care career options if you have not gained entrance to medical school after several attempts or if you have an interest in another field. In fact, in 2015, the AAMC published a report on the “The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2013-2015.”  The conclusion of this study suggests, “that the demand for physician services is growing faster than physician supply and that by 2025 demand will exceed supply by 46,100 to 90,4000 physicians.” While the will demand for physicians grow, but so too will the demand for other health-care related positions like nurses or physician assistants.   You may also consider applying Doctor of Osteopathy programs or pursue doctoral education in a scientific career as well.

Seek further pre-professional advising and counseling services

If you are at the NIH the OITE Career Services Center provides pre-professional advising and career counseling as well as a host of workshops and programs that will support your decision to re-apply.  If you continue to struggle with the mixed emotions that can come from not being accepted this cycle, the OITE recommends seeking wellness counseling.  In addition, The NIH Employee Assistance Program provides counseling services to help current employees with their health and wellness issues. If you are not at OITE, you may check with your college or university for these services or at a community or private counseling center in your community.


Applying to PhD Programs

April 5, 2017

It is that time of year when many of you are preparing to apply to doctoral programs in the sciences.  You may be asking yourself:

  • Where do I apply?
  • What strategies will I use to decide between programs?
  • What are the best programs for me?

Here are several suggestions to simplify the process provided by Dr. Bill Higgins, Pre-Professional Consultant in NIH’s Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE).

Define Your Research Interests

Defining your research interests is the first step in identifying Ph.D. graduate programs.  Your definition may be relatively broad or quite narrow, but you should spend time thinking about the types of research questions that interest you.  If your interests are broad, e.g., metabolic regulation, neural networks, gene expression in cancerous cells, etc., you may gravitate toward more diverse umbrella programs that include investigators in many loosely related disciplines.   Frequently such programs offer laboratory rotations during the first year to help you discover a focus for the dissertation research.   A narrower, more focused interest often leads an applicant to specific laboratories or a small group of laboratories.  Many applicants have more than one area of interest and thus apply to graduate programs that reflect these different interests.  Remember that the dissertation topic is just the first of many research projects in the career of a successful investigator.  Few P.I.s pursue the same research thread for their entire research career.   Proper training prepares a Ph.D. to approach questions in any area of the discipline.

Find the PhD Programs in Your Chosen Field of Study

For those of you seeking programs in the United States, there are rankings posted in the US News and World Report annually.   For some PhD programs, however, the graduate school rankings may not apply to the part/sub-discipline of the program you are interested in.  In this case, Dr. Higgins recommended networking with researchers and attending meetings to discover these programs.

Identify and Interview NIH Researchers

Find NIH investigators conducting research in the area of your interest.  You can conduct an informational interviews and ask them for names of respected and productive colleagues at other institutions.  Start a list of such people and of their institutions and programs.  Always look at the References Cited sections of these investigators’ recent publications for the names and locations of other investigators in the field.  Add these to your list!

Attend Professional Meeting Gatherings

The investigators in your field are usually attend the same national scientific meetings every year.  Identify these organizations, find the on-line site, and then peruse the Abstracts from the recent conferences and write down the investigator’s names.  They also attend NIH Scientific Interest Group (SIG) programs.  Also, these are excellent places to identify prospective dissertation mentors, e.g., contact them at meetings you may attend, use NIH PI’s to help establish contact, emails after you apply to call attention to your application, etc. Now that you have a list of productive people and their programs and what academic institutions and departments where they work, you are ready to explore the relevant web sites and narrow down your list.

To keep track of your information, we suggest that you create a spreadsheet with key dates and information for each university using the following column headings, PhD Program, School, Entrance Exams, Where to Apply (school or on-line application service), Personal Statements, number of references needed, Application Deadlines, and any other criteria you choose.  This strategy will also enable you to make additions and corrections as well as track your application process.

Feel free to visit the OITE Career Services Center and schedule an appointment to meet with pre-professional advisors, wellness, and career counselors who can further support you during this process.  Click the following link for general information about how to apply to graduate programs and visit the OITE Calendar of Events page for related programs. We also encourage you to view the additional resources on our webpage that include the Career Services Blog, Alumni Network, and OITE Video-casts.

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.

 


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