Blog Post: Avoid giving what you may catch: Keeping a healthy workplace a priority during the flu season

November 14, 2017

Written by Guest Blogger Shannon DeMaria Ph.D., Research Ethics Training Coordinator, Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE)

Lab and clinic life is can be demanding and relentlessly busy, resulting in schedules with little flexibility or time for impromptu absence. Unfortunately, the flu and similar bugs don’t care, and will circulate regardless.Meanwhile, experimental and clinical biology is difficult to pause. Your cells won’t split themselves, rounds need to be done, and maybe you can still make it in, plus or minus some medication to mask the symptoms.

But, should you? Losing a day could mean losing many days of progress, so the trade-off of that day off doesn’t look very valuable, does it?

 

You may also feel an unspoken and unhealthy pressure to demonstrate your dedication to your work by not taking time off due to personal discomfort. [(This can be seen as part of a broader culture, common in the sciences, of glorifying overwork simply for its own sake.)]

 There’s a word to describe this action: presenteeism. This is the act of being at work when you really shouldn’t be. When you’re immersed in your work, it can be hard to think about much else, but there are times you should look up from that notebook, computer, or clipboard. First – look after yourself! A restful break might be exactly what you need to recover more quickly. Second – look beyond yourself! Particularly in seasons when infectious diseases are spreading, you ought to consider that not staying home has broader impacts than your own immediate schedule.  The consequences of presenteeism include:

 

  • Potentially increased time being ill (and you want to minimize this, right?)
  • Loss of efficacy (you’re more likely to make mistakes.)
  • Loss of Productivity (you won’t be as capable as you think you might.)
  • Workplace epidemics (your co-workers will thank you for not being there.)
  • Future poor health and exhaustion (a repeating cycle that takes a toll.)

 

While you can’t hit ‘pause’ on your experiments, consider working out reciprocal or lab/group-wide arrangements where critical tasks could be temporarily reassigned. And when you do have to come in, precautions such as face masks and minimizing physical contact can be effective in preventing transmission. If you have to cancel something, remember that this happens to us all. Workplace outbreaks will spill into non-work environments, affecting families, children, and more. Ignoring your health and that of those around you can have long lasting and far-rippling costs you hadn’t thought of in that ‘stay home or not?’ calculus.

 Like vaccines, preventing workplace outbreaks has a cumulative or “herd” effect – the more people who are mindful of their practices while ill, the more effective the strategy of illness reduction becomes for all.

 Finally, keep in mind that we may work in an environment with people who are immunocompromised or otherwise highly susceptible to infectious disease. Staying home when you could spread something might seem like an inconvenience, but in reality can be crucial for promoting the NIH mission of public health. So, for your own sake, your co-workers’ sake, and the sake of our patients, please be mindful of the impacts of coming to work while infectious or feeling terrible. The cost of not taking time off may be far greater than you realize!

 

 

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Navigating a career in science with disabilities and chronic illness

October 16, 2017

Blog is written by Shannon DeMaria Ph.D., Research Ethics Training Coordinator, Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE)

As October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), this post is dedicated to exploring these topics as they relate to those who are planning careers in the biomedical enterprise.

First a note: this post is going to make use of the broadest possible to definition of disability, keeping in mind that many people do not self-identify as having a disability or being disabled. [The language surrounding these topics is complex, but does not have to be a barrier to discussing them.]

As scientists at the NIH, we can probably all rattle off how the scientific question we are working on relates to human health. As humans ourselves, we may also be touched by some of them. The fact is there is no barrier between us, the diseases we study, the patients we see, and the rest of the population. That means that at some point in our life, or for the entirety of it, many of us will find ourselves navigating a serious illness, chronic illness, disability of some sort (which may be temporary or permanent), as well as having friends and loved ones who may experience the same.

According to the 2012 U.S. Census, 19% of Americans reported having some sort of disability. Among scientists that number drops to ~5% (reported by the National Science Foundation). It is likely that this is an underestimate at least partially driven by a decrease in self-identification. However, it also reflects an underrepresentation of people with disabilities in STEM careers. As such, it can be difficult to look around and see this aspect of ‘yourself’ represented in the scientific population. This may lead one to wonder: do I belong here? Is a scientific career compatible with “X”?

The answer is yes, but keeping in mind that there are many complexities and uncertainties that may arise. There are many factors to actively consider as you plan for your future career, and aspects of your own and your loved ones’ health should be among them. Some topics may be addressed proactively, avoiding what could have been predictable problems later. Some difficulties may prove to be unavoidable, and building breadth into your current training and flexibility into your future plans would help to minimize the stress and disruption that they cause.

Consider the following (non-comprehensive) list of issues that you may wish to build plans around:

  • Determining if you are comfortable with disclosure.
  • Identifying your needs.
  • Self-advocacy.
  • Forming meaningful networks.
  • Wellness.
  • Future career considerations.
  • Finances.
  • Exploring and Choosing science careers where you will be able to utilize your strengths or where your work can be reasonably accommodated.

Each one of these topics is complex and could easily span an entire article to themselves. They also apply broadly to the scientific workforce! This post cannot comprehensively cover them all but is meant to take a look at the larger picture and to provide a launching point for future conversations.

Here are some useful resources.

As scientists and humans, we should strive towards the goal of creating a culture of inclusiveness, beginning with visibility and discussion. And, in the end, remember that you are not alone.

OITE career 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.


Making Commitments to Unity

August 28, 2017

Blog written by Michael J. Sheridan, MSW, PhD, Special Advisor for Diversity and Wellness Programs, Michael.sheridan@nih.gov

In a time when it seems that every news report is another example of discord and polarization, it can be difficult to determine how any one of us can make a difference. We can find ourselves thinking, “How can I make any real impact toward advancing social justice in healthcare, education, research and the larger society? I’m just one person with very little influence.” But as my OITE colleague, Dr. Darryl Murray observed, progress in the arena of equality and social justice is lot like science – each small step forward contributes to a bigger picture and an eventual solution.  Without those seemingly “small” contributions, no progress is ever made.

Last Wednesday, the OITE hosted an NIH Trainee Unity event to help people consider what small, but important, steps they could take in building more welcoming and inclusive communities – at NIH and beyond. While munching on chips and salsa and bolstered by chocolate,*  about 50 people shared their concerns and hopes for creating a more just and compassionate society.  We were challenged by Dr. Sharon Milgram, OITE Director to identify, “What can you do to support unity?” Individuals wrote their commitments on brightly colored sticky notes, which are now posted in the OITE West hallway (Building 2, 2nd floor).  Come by and see them and add your own!

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  • I will continue to have “uncomfortable” conversations to make sure I understand all diversity in every variation that makes us beautiful.
  • Show up, speak up. Welcome people into our community (LGBTQ+, Immigrants, Latinx). Show empathy.
  • Open my home and heart to exchange students.
  • Volunteer in clinics for the uninsured; be more involved in mentoring junior colleagues
  • Teach my daughters to embrace diversity & inclusion, & to be proud of who they are.
  • I will dedicate my career to address health disparity & to encourage kids from underserved communities to aspire for higher education. We can make a difference if we all do our part!
  • As a white person, work to confront and dismantle white privilege and white supremacy.
  • Millions of people enjoyed the same eclipse a few days ago. We all live together on the same earth. We ought to work together to make our society better for all.

When making such commitments, it’s important to consider what is most meaningful to you and what is realistic. What matters to you most? Can you do this on your own or should you connect with others? How can you begin? What preparation might you need? What resources do you need? How will you stay motivated for the long haul?

It’s also critical to reflect on your “mind-set.” We talk a lot about “growth mindset” at the OITE. First introduced by Dr. Carol Dweck, growth mindset means that we believe our most basic abilities can be developed through dedication, hard work, love of learning, and resilience. Commitment to unity and advancing social justice requires a kind of growth mindset, too.  We need to develop our capacity for active listening (with your heart as well as your ears); respecting and learning from others’ experiences; and knowing when to stand up and take the lead, and when to stand back and support others’ leadership.  We generally aren’t taught these things, but we can learn them.  We will make mistakes along the way, but we can offer authentic apologies when we do – that’s also part of the learning process.

It’s also key to realize that every day brings opportunities to “practice unity.”   One way is through “micro-affirmations.”  Dr. Mary Rowe describes micro-affirmations as apparently small acts, often ephemeral and hard-to-see, either in public or private, sometimes unconscious but very effective, that occur whenever people wish to help others succeed.  I believe that micro-affirmations can also be used to communicate support and welcoming to others, especially when they or people like them are being targeted.  Asking someone to go have coffee or lunch with you, providing a safe space for someone to share their experience, smiling and saying hello to people on the street (and on campus!), telling a stranger how beautiful their child is…the possibilities are endless and only require that we look for ways to connect.

Building what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called “the beloved community” takes all of us. What will you do?  How will you contribute? The world needs you now more than ever.

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.

* No federal funds were used for these refreshments.


Happy Pride! Helpful Career Resources for LGBTQ Scientists and Allies

June 5, 2017

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In 2014, to recognize Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride month, the OITE Careers Blog published a post addressing job search and work environments for LGBTQ scientists called Happy Pride!  This blog issue provides useful resources for scientists, their families, and allies in support of inclusive career decision-making and work environments.

LGBTQ Employment and Training Opportunities: In addition to the helpful employment resources referred to in the in the 2014 Happy Pride blog (see above), here are some additional resources:

National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technology Professionals (NOGLSTP).  A professional association that provides a listing of  career opportunities for LGBTQ science and technology graduates, mentoring, fellowships, and other forms of support.

New Scientist has published a useful article highlighting LGBT employers in the sciences.

GoAbroad.com published an article with links to an excellent on-line LGBT Student Guide to Studying Abroad that provides resources and helpful information that will help LGBT community members prepare to go abroad for studies.  The guide is also useful for international applicants seeking knowledge about LGBT safe communities across the world.

The Association of International Educators (NAFSA) published an informative article written for allies of LGBTQ international students regarding the specific needs of this population when they arrive to the US and later return to their home countries.

PFLAG International extends its advocacy for LGBT individuals and families globally.  This is a useful resource for LGBT individuals and allies who are preparing to go abroad for short or extended periods of time.

Preferred Gender Pronouns:   When applying for internships, jobs, graduate school, and/or professional schools, you may notice a question related to gender pronouns is added. This question allows applicants an option to request their preferred gender pronouns to use when referring to them.  Colleges, universities, and human rights organizations provide excellent resources used in ally trainings for students, faculty and staff about using gender neutral pronouns.

Ally Training: Many organizations (including the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) offer Safe Zone training that can allow allies the opportunity to learn more about the LGBTQ community and assist in the creation of a more welcoming environment.

LGBTQ Terminology:  One way to contribute to a culture of inclusion and respect for community members is to become aware of accepted terms to refer to members of the LGBTQ community. The human rights organization, PFLAG, publishes a terminology glossary  that is a useful reference to learn about the latest acceptable terms.

As you can see, it is important for job seekers and their allies to address LGBTQ-related topics in order to keep stress from derailing their life, job search, and/or educational process.  The OITE offers career development workshops and/or career, wellness, and pre-professional services. We suggest that you learn when to seek counseling from our office or the NIH Employee Assistance Program.  We encourage you to register for the Workplace Dynamics: Diversity in a Multicultural Society workshops and/or join the NIH LGBT Fellows and Friends (LGBT-FF) community.  Not at NIH?   We recommend using resources offered by your college and university or local community centers. It can be helpful to chat with other professionals who have been through this process to seek advice and support. Out for Work and Out and Equal Workplace Advocates are two good introductory resources.

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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