New Year – New Career?

January 1, 2019

Happy 2019!brooke-lark-194254-unsplash

According to this article, fewer people are making new year’s resolutions to exercise or lose weight. More people (37%, up from 6% in 2018) are focusing on saving money. Others seem to be resolving to make new friends (11%), get a new job (12%), and find love (7%).

If you are among the 12% looking for a new job this new year, here are some career resolutions that can help you stay on track.

  1. Resolve to be more accountable by joining a job search group.
    If you want to make a change in your professional domain, you should start by making SMART resolutions. SMART is an acronym used to describe goals as :

    S
     = Specific
    M = Measurable
    A = Attainable
    R = Realistic
    T = Time-bound

    Many resolutions are too vague and don’t put in the accountability often needed for success. For example, often individuals find that having a workout buddy can help them actually get to the gym because there is now an external source of accountability. If you think you would benefit from having an external support group and you are at the NIH, consider applying for the 2019 Job Search Work Team. This support group will meet weekly for a month in order to promote career-oriented action steps among members. For more details, see the online application here: https://www.training.nih.gov/sas/_20/1558/

    If you are outside the NIH, consider creating one of your own with friends/colleagues. This could be a great way to kick start your new year and stay on track!

  2. Resolve to do one thing.
    This seems like a manageable resolution, right? Too often, people make too many resolutions and then become overwhelmed about where to start. Choose just one thing and follow through. If you need some ideas on what that one thing should be, check out our monthly calendar of suggestions here. Whether it is speaking with your PI about your career or making an appointment with an OITE career counselor, choose one thing and do it.

  3. Commit to your own wellness.
    Job searches and transitions are rife with stress. Not only are you trying to continue to be successful in your current role, but you are actively searching for the next best step for yourself. It can be a struggle to feel calm and centered when your schedule feels chaotic. Try to build activities into your daily routine which can help, whether that is arriving at work a bit earlier to get through emails or spending some time at lunch meditating. If you are at the NIH, there are many resources and activities that focus on wellness. You can see the full listing here.
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Waiting is Hard to Do

December 18, 2018

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

It is December 2018, and while many are preparing for holidays, if you are trainee, you are probably asking yourself, “I haven’t heard back from a number of medical schools, is there something I can do to move them along? Should I assume I won’t get in?  Will I get an interview at the graduate programs that I applied to?  I am waiting to hear from academic positions …is there anything I can do?  The good news is that, if you haven’t heard anything yet, you are still being considered. With the holidays fast approaching, it is probable that most communication will resume in the new year.  The reality is that waiting for a response is hard thing to do.

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Dr. Michael Sheridan, Special Advisor for Diversity and Wellness Programs offers some strategies to help and writes that an area to be aware of while you wait is what is going on in your mind – specifically, the “inner chatter” that is present. It’s important to realize that you “talk” to yourself more than anyone else and thus, what you are saying makes a difference.  There are two particular qualities of this inner chatter to be mindful of – the “when” and the “what.”

The “when” of your inner dialogue refers to how much the mind is focused on either the past (“I wish I had remembered to put X in my application.” “I should have had so and so critique my letter before I sent it.”) or the future (“What will I do if I don’t get any interviews?” “If I don’t hear back from them by the end of this week, it means I didn’t get in”).  The reality of both past and future musings (or let’s face it, worrying) is that it is truly wasted effort as you can’t change something that’s already happened and you can’t predict what is going to happen in the future!  The only moment you have any control of is the current moment – and even then, I’m talking about control of your own thoughts and behaviors – not the actions of others or the eventual outcome.  Focusing on what you can do versus what you can’t lowers anxiety and builds confidence.

The “what” of your inner chatter has to do with the overall message or tone of what you are saying to yourself.  Are your thoughts harshly self-critical? (“I know I did a terrible job on that personal essay – I probably sounded really stupid”) Do they have a doomsday or “catastrophizing” flavor to them? (“I didn’t get this position, which means I won’t get any of the others I applied for either”)  Or are they balanced and positive? (“I know I won’t get accepted by everyone, but I probably won’t get rejected by everyone either” -“I’ve done the best I can and I can handle whatever the next step needs to be”).  A good thing to cultivate during the waiting is compassionate self-talk, or treating yourself with “the same kindness, care, and concern that you would treat a good friend” (Dr. Kristen Neff, www.self-compassion.com). So notice what you’re saying to yourself and if it is not supportive, ask yourself if you would say this to a good friend.  Chances are, you would offer something more encouraging, so try being your own good friend!

In addition to Dr. Sheridan’s suggestions above, we invite you to visit our blog, where we suggested some activities to engage in during the holidays that will help you prepare to continue pursuing your career goals.  Also, be sure to visit our OITE web page as well to attend workshops and schedule an appointment with a career counselor.  If you are one of our extended community readers, please check with your home institution and local resources for career services. We will see you in 2019!


Managing SAD at Work

December 11, 2018

lily-banse-363743-unsplashJust over a month ago, we set our clocks back for Daylight Savings Time. This combined with fewer daylight hours means that most of us are leaving work in the dark. This is just one of the many groan-inducing moments which wintertime brings. Others include frigid mornings making it harder to get out of a warm bed, commuting through snow/ice and gloomy grey days all the while navigating sick colleagues in the lab.

It is no wonder that many of us find that our energy levels and happy outlook dissipate with the change in seasons.  For some of us, the winter blues can be easily shaken off; however, others are afflicted by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons and differences in daylight hours.  Not accounting for personal variability, SAD usually begins in October/November and ends in March/April.

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, SAD is not considered a separate disorder; it is a type of depression displaying a recurring seasonal pattern.  For individuals to be diagnosed, they must meet full criteria for major depression coinciding with specific seasons for at least two years.

On top of some of the common symptoms of depression such as feeling hopeless, sluggish, and experiencing difficulty concentrating, other symptoms of winter pattern SAD include:

  • Low energy
  • Hypersomnia (excessive daytime sleepiness)
  • Overeating
  • Weight gain
  • Craving carbohydrates
  • Social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”)

There are attributes that make you more likely to suffer from SAD. Living far from the equator is an obvious one; for example, only one percent of those who live in Florida experience SAD whereas about nine percent in New England and Alaska suffers from SAD.  If you have a family predisposition or prior diagnoses of depression or bipolar, you are more likely to experience SAD as well. Another risk factor is being female as SAD is diagnosed four times more often in women than in men.

If you are concerned that you might be suffering from SAD, please seek help from a physician or counselor right away. There is no need to suffer these winter months away and four major types of treatment have been proved effective. These include: medication, psychotherapy, light therapy, and vitamin D which can be used alone or in combination with one another.

Don’t be hesitant to ask for workplace adjustments which could help as well. Some of these small tweaks could include sitting by a window in the lab/office or even installing a light box which is designed to simulate sunshine and help increase one’s production of serotonin. You may also ask to adjust your work hours, so that you are able to leave the lab before it gets dark at night.


Character Strengths

December 4, 2018

Character Strength Word InfographicDo you need help identifying your signature strengths?

According to the VIA Institute on Character, knowing your character strengths isn’t just interesting information to have; it can have a positive impact on your life overall. It is believed that understanding your strengths can help you: 1. Manage and overcome problems; 2. Improve your personal and professional relationships; 3. Enhance your overall sense of well-being.

Martin Seligman (Founder of Positive Psychology) and his research group have a website through the University of Pennsylvania called: authentichappiness.org.  This site includes information on learning and applying the principles of positive psychology to any domain, such as a job search. We have talked about the site before on the OITE Career Blog when we discussed the importance of positivity and resilience in your job search in past blog posts like “Enhancing Optimism and Resilience in Your Job Search & Beyond”. This website has a whole range of different surveys that you can take, such as assessments on happiness, grit, work-life balance, etc. The one we suggest focusing on today is the Signature Strengths Survey which helps you identify your top five strengths.

This online assessment denotes six classes of virtues that make up the 24 character strengths listed. These six classes and corresponding strengths include:

  • Wisdom and knowledge

Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge
Strengths: Creativity, Curiosity, Judgment, Love-of-Learning, Perspective

  • Courage

Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal
Strengths: Bravery, Honesty, Perseverance, Zest

  • Humanity

Interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others
Strengths: Kindness, Love, Social Intelligence

  • Justice

Civic strengths that underlie healthy community life
Strengths: Fairness, Leadership, Teamwork

  • Temperance

Strengths that protect against excess
Strengths: Forgiveness, Humility, Prudence, Self-Regulation

  • Transcendence

Strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning
Strengths: Appreciations of Beauty, Gratitude, Hope, Humor, Spirituality

Hopefully this assessment will help you focus on not only identifying your strengths but also finding new ways to begin using those strengths more intentionally within your life. A logistical note about taking this survey: it is quite long as it has 240 questions and you can’t save it and come back to it, so be sure to take it when you have sufficient time. You do have to create a log in to access the surveys, but by participating you are actually paying it forward in a way by helping with their positive psychology research.


Designing Your Life

November 27, 2018

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Many of us struggle when it comes to making big life decisions, in part because of a black and white framework that permeates our decision-making mentality.  Have you ever wondered how one decision can lead you down an entirely different life path? Whether it is choosing a city, a job, or even a college major, your decisions add up to help determine your overall trajectory.  Accepting one job offer could lead to satisfaction and success; the other could lead to dissatisfaction and failure.  It’s anyone’s guess as to which is which.

Stanford professors, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, wrote book called “Designing Your Life” which attempts to apply design thinking to life decisions. They created an “Odyssey Plan” which encourages individuals to map out a variety of different options. The authors believe that we all contain multitudes. Each of us has enough energy and talent to live many different types of lives; all of which could be interesting and productive.

The goal is to realize that there are many different careers and options for you – none of them necessarily better or worse than the other. Here’s how to start:

  1. List three different five-year plans
    Remember there is no right or wrong choice here. Your first plan could be your current life. Your second plan could be something that you have always dreamed about doing. Your third plan could be a practical back-up to your current life, if for some reason you lost your job or some other life event happened.
  2. Give each plan a six-word title and write down three questions about each version of your life.
    The questions are intended to be though-provoking for you, such as: “Would I like owning my own business?” “If I own an art studio in Brooklyn, would I miss living in the Midwest?” “Do I want all the student loans that come with medical school?”
  3. Rank each life plan
    Consider the resources you have to put this plan into place as well as your confidence level about whether you would really like it. The final scales asks you about “coherence” and how much sense this makes overall.

The authors recommend sharing your plans with close family and friends, not necessarily so they can critique each plan, but so that they can reflect and ask you questions. It might even be a shared group activity that they partake in as well.

To start designing your own life options, check out their online worksheet here: http://designingyour.life/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/DYL-Odyssey-Planning-Worksheet-v21.pdf


How to Maximize Your Membership in a Professional Society

November 20, 2018

There are hundreds of professional associations and these organizations are typically not-for-profit groups with the mission of furthering the advancement of a particular profession as well as the general interests of people within that career field. Most associations require an application and an annual membership fee; however, they help connect you to like-minded professionals and a slew of resources. Many organizations also offer discounted rates for students/trainees or new graduates. Some examples of science-specific organizations include: American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), American Chemical Society, American Association of BioAnalysts, American Society for Microbiology, and the list goes on and on.

You might have an idea of the right professional association for you to join, but perhaps you are unsure how exactly this membership can be of benefit. Professional societies can provide many direct and indirect benefits for scientists in their career, including: awards and honors that you can apply to (travel grants), publishing opportunities, leadership experiences (if you serve on a committee or volunteer to help plan local or national meetings), knowledge and key articles about issues within your field and new hiring trends. Last, but not least, most associations also have job boards which will likely only post positions that are truly relevant to you.

However, the most important benefit from your association in a professional organization is the networking opportunities. There are two main ways to network within a professional association – online or in-person.

Attend In-Person Events

Most professional organizations have an annual conference. Some even have smaller, regionally-focused meetings or dinners for local chapters. These events can be key to building your network and your credibility within your field. At the very least, you should attend, but as time goes by, you might also want to think about presenting on topics at conferences or panels. Hopefully, over time, your affiliation with the group will grow and you can consider seeking a leadership position within the group. Pursuing leadership positions will help elevate your brand and your reputation within your field.

Access Online Membership Directories

Once you have membership to the organization, you are granted access to a member directory where you can learn about other members in the group including where they work. This can be hugely beneficial if you are looking for collaborators on projects or if you are trying to network for your own professional purposes. Not only is there a membership directory on the organization’s website, but most groups also have active LinkedIn groups that you can join. Try not to be a passive observer. Instead, comment on discussion threads within the group or start a new conversation of your own. The more you engage and increase your visibility, the most people will begin to recognize you as a trusted peer professional.

Many professionals are actively engaged in multiple organizations/associations. If you are just starting out in your career, we recommend joining one. When in doubt, ask for recommendations from your mentors/network in order to choose the best option for you.


Advice on Getting Advice

November 13, 2018

clem-onojeghuo-381193-unsplashPeople tend to have a lot of varying opinions — on every topic possible. Just imagine how many different responses you could get when asking what flavor of ice cream you should order or what type of car you should buy. Everyone has their own unique preferences and often their distinct experiences have helped shape their opinions on these topics.

The same is true for advice about career and life choices.

This sounds like common sense, right? However, it is often surprising how many trainees will make major life decisions based on one PI’s opinion or another mentor’s passing advice. At OITE, we often hear trainees say they received conflicting advice/input and need guidance on how to proceed. Here are some basic principles to keep in mind when receiving advice.

Understand that advice should help you to make a decision, not tell you what your decision should be. This is a crucial distinction. Most well-trained career counselors will not share their opinion on what you should do with your life and career; rather, they often ask open-ended questions to help get you thinking about your options and what your preferences might be. The goal in career counseling is to help you develop new ideas and/or to share resources that might eventually help you have that lightbulb moment of clarity.

With that said, advisors, mentors, PIs, parents, partners, and friends all will often share their advice with you. Most are well-meaning and trying to help you. But, just like product reviews on Amazon, you can’t take any one opinion too seriously, unless it really resonates with you. It is important to remember the source for the advice. Often we hear postbacs report advice they received on their medical school application from a PI who never went to medical school nor served on a medical school admission committee. The advice may or may not be sound, so it is important to verify that you are getting accurate advice from a trustworthy person.

Another common mistake alluded to about advice is the tendency to take one opinion as fact. Just like in your experiments, you want to have a broad and diverse sample to pull from as it will only help strengthen you research findings. The same is true with advice. We often recommend doing informational interviews, but are surprised when trainees rule out an entire field because of one bad informational interview. Remember that you might not have the exact same personality or work style as that person and be sure to seek multiple opinions.

Asking for advice and seeking help in making a decision or solving a problem is a great thing to do; just be sure to weigh these opinions properly and don’t let any single advice-giver have more power than you allow yourself.