Hate Your Job, but Scared to Leave?

June 19, 2018

A picture of a man working at a laptop and running his fingers through his hair.

At OITE, we often meet with trainees who aren’t sure what is the best next step for their career. There can be a lot of uncertainty around career decision-making. Perhaps you feel the same indecisiveness?

Sometimes though, things can be very clear about one topic in particular – you hate your current job. Maybe you loathe the work tasks or perhaps it is just not a good work environment for you.  Whatever the reason, most people are very aware when they truly dislike their job. Sometimes this will manifest in a feeling of dread every Sunday night or even every day, during your morning commute.

The answer seems clear. You should quit your job, right? Financially and professionally, this is a big decision to weigh. Many times, though, the true reason people don’t make a change is for psychological factors. Here are some common mental hurdles when making a job change.

  1. What if I hate my new job just as much or even more?

There is an idiom that many people unknowingly adhere to: “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” This is essentially saying that the unknown is super scary! It can be. Changing jobs will often require that you adapt to a new work culture, a new boss, new colleagues, and it might even mean that new skills are tested.  What if you don’t measure up? What if you don’t fit in?

Doing informational interviews can help shed light on new industries or organizations. This can help you assess if this will be a good overall fit for you. Don’t underestimate your opportunity to learn more about the lab/office when you interview. If you get a funny feeling, trust it. Be sure to ask lots of questions during the interview to measure if this will be a good fit.

  1. I was lucky to get this job. Nobody else will hire me!

Too often, people make sweeping generalizations about their marketability.  Scientific trainees, in particular, often minimize the number of transferable skills they feel they have for new professions.

If you see a job posting that looks intriguing, then you should go ahead and try to apply for it. It is a good idea to “test” your job candidacy/marketability every few years anyway. Do some searches and see what comes up that might be a good match. This could give you some ideas of new skill sets you might need to brush up on; plus, it helps keep your job search materials up to date.  Give it a try – you might just be surprised!

  1. I am lost about what I want to do.

Career exploration takes time and it is not always clear what you see as your skills, values, and interests. If you are unhappy in your current role, then you need to prioritize this activity and be proactive.  The OITE has resources that can help. Our series on Planning for Career Satisfaction and Success could be a great start.  If you are at the NIH, feel free to visit the OITE website to schedule appointments with career counselors and to learn about additional programs and resources to prepare you for a successful job search.

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Welcome 2018 Summer Interns: OITE Blogs of Interest

June 5, 2018

summer-flowers-wallpaper-hd-free

The Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) of the NIH extends a warm welcome to the Summer 2018 interns. Over the next few months, you will engage in many unique opportunities in biomedical research that will encourage you to consider pursuing careers and further graduate study in the field.  As you are settling in to your lab and meeting your PIs and fellow trainees, we want to make sure that you are aware of a variety of helpful blog posts that will help you to maximize your summer experience.

Getting oriented to a new lab and role as a researcher is both exciting and somewhat challenging for summer interns.  We suggest reading the blog Understanding the Impact of Change to learn about the key factors associated with any transition.  Next read Making the Most of Your Transition to the NIH.

One of the challenges in most careers is how to achieve a healthy work-life balance. The OITE Director and our wellness programming staff encourage you to review our model of wellness and managing stress as part of your training to be a successful scientist.

Meeting your new mentor is another opportunity that you will have this summer. To prepare yourself for this essential growth opportunity, we suggest reading the blogs on Identifying Mentors and Learning How To Make the Most of Mentoring Relationships.

Many of you will also be introduced and encouraged to pursue graduate or professional school as a next step in your career planning.  In addition to attending our workshops, be sure to explore the variety of blogs related to topic including exploring the Md MD/PHD route, obtaining the Master’s,  PhD degree, or developing your plan for medical and dental school applications. Visit the OITE summer trainee website to learn about the services available to summer students to meet with a career counselor to help you prepare for careers in the sciences.

We look forward to working with you this summer. Visit the OITE website for further information.  For our readers who are alumni or outside of the NIH, we encourage you to seek similar services through your training director, or your college and university or in the community.

 


Re-Applying to Medical School

April 30, 2018

The decision to re-apply for medical school naturally brings 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 possibility for matriculation this year.  Simultaneously, it is time for you to consider re-applying.

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 should re-apply to medical school.

Ask Yourself: What were the strengths and deficits in my application?
Never just reapply without addressing the problems in your application. Can these be remedied prior to the next application cycle?   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; however, you should re-apply with a new and updated AMCAS application.  Preferably, you will also show a marked increase in clinical hours, new publications or awards, and or an increase in your science GPA and MCAT scores.   You will need to update your AMCAS application including your 15 experiences, personal statement, and references.

Remember the golden rule: apply early in the cycle (during the month of June)!

Am I creating a convincing personal statement about my preparation for medical school to a selection committee?
It is recommended that you revise your personal statement.  As you review your statement, instead of asking are your telling a story, ask yourself if you are providing appropriate proof and examples to the selection. To get you started, review the blog regarding writing a persuasive personal statement.

Is it in your best interest to re-apply for 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 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), mission, curriculum as well as your desires for a medical education, 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 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.

Have you considered related health professions? 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 an updated report on “The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2013-2105.”  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 demand for physicians will grow, 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.

Did you attend OITE workshops and utilize pre-professional advising services?
If you are at the NIH the OITE Career Services Center provides pre-professional advising, career counseling and a host of workshops and programs that will support your decision to re-apply. For example, you can attend the next workshop, Filling Out the AMCAS workshop on May 8, 2018. If you are not at the NIH, check with your college or university for these services or at a community or private counseling center in your community.


Family: An Important Influence in Career Decision Making

April 11, 2018

 

In recent weeks, many of our trainees have received offers to attend graduate school or for academic and industry jobs.  Others are making decisions about where to apply and what career paths to choose. While exciting, it also can be stressful to choose among various options and offers.  Here are a few family related questions that trainees bring to counseling sessions.

What are the best jobs for scientists with families?

We are returning to our home country to be near our family raise our children.  How can I go about finding a job abroad?

Should I disclose that I have a family during my interview?

Will you help me find job in industry because I need to make money to take care of my family?

My family wants me to be a doctor.  I want to do something else.

Will my family be able to live with me in graduate school?

How can I investigate school systems for my children when I accept a job?

I cannot decide if I want a master’s or PhD because I want to have children and don’t want to be in school for a long time.

What are the best companies for families?

We are an LGBT couple, what are the best places to work?

My parents are aging, so I need to be near them while raising my current family.  I need flexibility in my schedule which seems impossible as a scientist. What are my options?

As you can see from these questions, the impact of family can change over the course of your time as a trainee preparing for a career in the sciences.  Career counselors often encourage clients to engage in self- reflective assessment at each stage to help our clients make better informed career decisions with more confidence.  Here are a few questions to reflect upon:

Who is in your family currently?  Has this changed (i.e. marriage, children, extended family)

What people in your life encouraged/discouraged/challenged you in your career pursuit?

What messages did you receive from your family about your career choice? Ability to pursue this career?

What is going on in the world around you now that will impact your career choice?

Are you the first to pursue this path? Is your career choice the same as others in your family?

Will family be relocating with you during this choice of careers?

Have you considered housing, cost of living, school systems?

Are three expectations of your partner/spouse relative to your career choice?

In what way will your extended family be involved in your career plan?

 

The OITE provides a variety of programs and services that support trainees with families.  Feel free to make an appointment with a career counselor to discuss these or related to your career decision.  Visit our website to look at resources for trainees who are also parents and read the OITE Careers blogs “To Share or Not To Share: Family Planning in the Job Market and Scientists as Parents: A Balancing Act . If you are part of our extended readership beyond NIH, we encourage you to pursue similar services in your community.

 


FROM THE ARCHIVE: Keep Stress From Derailing Your Work and Life

April 3, 2018

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

Many of our trainees are currently managing the anxiety and pressures that accompany the job and graduate/professional school application process. This From the Archive post will offer insightful perspectives and strategies that will help you manage these pressures effectively.

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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 and 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!

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Visit the OITE website to learn about the variety of services offered to trainees.  We invite you to join us for the Spring 2018 Tune in and Take Care workshop or our weekly Mindfulness Meditation workshops.  Also, check out the new Graduate Student Discussion Group, the Postbac Discussion Group or the Post Doc Stress Discussion Group.  We invite our readers beyond NIH to access similar services in your community to help you with ongoing wellness and stress management.

 


Which Medical School Should I Choose?

March 26, 2018

It is exciting to receive offers to attend medical school.  Simultaneously, it is stressful to have to choose which medical school to attend.  It is natural to experience a mix of anticipation, excitement, and fear of making a mistake as you make this career decisions. Here are some suggestions to help you make this important career decision.

Med school pci

Revisit your criteria for choosing a medical school

Look over your original criteria that you developed when choosing a medical school.  You can go beyond the national rankings of medical schools ask yourself, has anything changed, become better clarified, or new come up that will influence your decision?  Be sure to factor in your personal impressions from your interview, opinions that you received from medical students, your desires from medical school training, and your values .

For MD/PhDs

You may want to consider such things as location, time allotted for research and clinical, the faculty you will be working with, and the opportunities for conference and presentations.  Review the following article for additional criteria to use when choosing a medical scientist training program.

Attend the Second Look programs

One of the main reasons that medical schools hold revisit or “Second Look” programs is to give admitted students another opportunity to learn about their school without the pressure of an interview.  This is time well invested by Deans, faculty, medical students, staff and other campus departments  who come together to put on their best show with the goal of helping you to experience what it will be like to matriculate in their school.   If you attend you will have a second opportunity to ask questions of students, sample classes, tour learning facilities, learn about housing, libraries, research, ask more questions about financial aid, and other resources without the burden of interviewing.  In the instance where two or more schools have conflicting second look dates, you will have to choose the one that you need to visit most. Before you go, review the AAMC article that discusses several questions that medical students wished they had asked when selecting a medical school.

Use a weighted decision- making ranking system

To look at your decision more objectively, use a ranking system to evaluate the schools on key criteria that you have identified.

Step 1    Make a list of the criteria that you must have in a medical school

Step 2   Using a scale of 0-5, rank each criterion using 5 as the highest correlation

Step 3    Add up the numbers in each column

$ Funding Family Housing Research Options Diversity Great Peers Total
School 5 4 4 4 5 21
School 3 0 3 4 5 13
School 0 5 5 3 5 18

These are a few additional criteria that will help you with make this decision.   Feel free to make an appointment with an OITE career counselor or premed to further help you with decision making. We encourage out expanded readership to utilize resources in your community for similar assistance.


How to Write a Persuasive Personal Statement

March 19, 2018

It that time of year when applicants to medical schools are feverishly writing and re-writing drafts of their personal statements for medical school in anticipation of applying in June. To help our readers with this awesome task, Dr. William Higgins, Pre-professional Advisor with the OITE, has provided some suggestions that will help you to make a stronger case in favor of your admission to schools.

Persuade

To write a persuasive statement, Dr. Higgins encourages applicants to think about two main questions, “Why do I want to go into medicine?” and “How have I prepared myself to be successful?” In other words, applicants need to know that admissions committees are reading through thousands of essays looking for experiences that enabled you test the various roles (direct patient care, research, science, leadership, teamwork, service,) that a medical student and future physician will take on. Then you can select your key experiences that will persuade the admissions committee members that you have a strong foundation that has prepare you to succeed in medical school and as a physician.

When you are sitting down to begin writing your statement, Dr. Higgins urges you to stop and recognize that “generation of the content is a separate process from generating the actual text and words. Do not do them at the same time.”   Spend some time writing down and organizing your ideas and insight first. Then and only then, begin composing the text. Forego the writing strategies that are used in creative writing where you were “encouraged to use free writing, flowery language, complex sentence structures, and unfamiliar and artificial style.” For example, instead of writing write, “McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup” you would simply and directly write that, “McBride fell 12 stories…” Higgins suggests that a using logic and clearly worded statements to persuade your reader is appropriate because “medical or professional school essays must flow but don’t have to be a story.”

Dr. Higgins provides the following strategy to create a flowing and persuasive personal statement:

Step One: Do not write! Schedule time to generate the content.

  • DO NOT attempt to simultaneously brainstorm and start to write!
  • Find time when you are not under stress
  • Jot down your various ideas/experiences on notes (post-it notes) and place them on the wall or a large white board.
  • Use concrete examples from your life experiences that excite you

Step Two Choose key experiences and place them order that will create your argument

  • Organize your post-it notes on the wall
  • Select 1-2 themes of your essay
  • Then re-organize them determine the flow to persuade your audience
  • Start with the most important points (those that the admissions committees want to hear)
  • Note key phrases and catch words

Step Three: Start Writing Your Essay

  • Write an opening paragraph that forecasts what you are going to tell the reader during the statement.
  • Focus on key experiences. You don’t have to include everything. Do not rewrite your activities list.
  • Be clear and direct (i.e.: Tell them what you want them to know) No need for flowery language or many adjectives
  • Use the active voice and strong verbs.
  • Write often during scheduled times
  • Write positive statements and avoid negative ones. For example, don’t write, “I didn’t want to attend medical school or be a medical doctor initially…”
  • Eliminate unnecessary words such as, “Based on, In terms of, Studies have shown, Doctors are, It is thought to be, what happened was…”
  • Use correct punctuation
  • In the conclusion link back to your opening argument or thesis

Step 4  Proof Read and Edit

  • Put the essay away for 2 days before re-reading and editing
  • Read it aloud. TRUST YOUR EARS
  • Check for linearity
  • Underline the subject and verb in each sentence. Is the verb in the active voice, strong, appropriate for the subject?
  • Check each paragraph for structure, transitions, etc.
  • Check for continuity
  • Use spell check.
  • Schedule an appointment with a OITE advisor or counselor review your essay. Ask a peer.

Visit the OITE for all workshops and programs related to applying to professional schools. Seek similar services in your region or from your primary institution if you are part of our extended reading audience.