How We Learn

June 27, 2013

Post written by Sharon Milgram, Director of The Office of Intramural Training & Education.

Science careers, at or away from the bench, require us to be life-long learners. To be successful, we are always learning – and teaching – new skills. While many of us enjoy this, it also comes with frustrations and challenges. In considering how we learn, I was struck by the excellent and concise explanation of the stages we typically go through as we learn and develop new skills. I found this in a short book entitled “Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager” written by Ken Blanchard. Intramural trainees can find the book in the OITE Career Library, and it is widely available in other libraries and on-line. In this book, Blanchard summarizes the four stages of learning: enthusiastic beginner, disillusioned learner, cautious performer, and high achiever. This summary is helpful to us as life-long learners and as colleagues, mentors and supervisors of others in our work groups.

At the outset, enthusiastic beginners are confident and excited. However, this confidence and the excitement of a new challenge can get in the way as enthusiastic beginners often forget how challenging a task might be. Enthusiastic beginners need a lot of supervision and direction so they stay focused on learning the fundamentals and solidifying the basics. After a short while, and after a few (too many) mistakes, enthusiastic beginners typically become disillusioned learners. We realize how hard it is to truly develop that new skill and doubt starts setting in. In this stage, we need support and encouragement to stick with it. Once we gain some proficiency we enter the cautious learner phase; we are more proficient and more confident and as a result we learn more quickly. In other words, success breeds success — and we are on our way toward becoming a high achiever. At this time, we need the right balance between supervision and independence, as one can only become a high achiever by taking risks and learning from our mistakes.

Whether you are a postbac or summer intern learning how to do PCR for the first time, a grad student preparing for your first committee meeting, a postdoc mentoring your first summer intern, or a senior fellow ready to launch your independent career, remember this simple model of how we learn. Be proactive and find support, encouragement and direction when you need it. If you are the supervisor/mentor, use these strategies to help your employees and mentees learn. It may just keep you going when you get stuck and will help you be compassionate as your colleagues, students and mentees learn new things as well.

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Understanding Emotional Intelligence: perhaps a secret to success?

February 19, 2013

Last week at the NIH, Daniel Goleman delivered a talk about Emotional Intelligence and how it influences leadership.  The premise of Emotional Intelligence is that understanding your emotions, the emotions of others, and how the two interact allows us to be more successful and happier.

Emotional Intelligence suggests that to be successful the following traits are important:

  • Self awareness:  being able to assess and understand your emotions and having self-confidence
  • Social awareness: having empathy, organizational awareness and service orientation
  • Self-management: having emotional self-control, adaptability, initiative and optimism
  • Relationship management: developing others, influence, providing inspiration, conflict management and teamwork

While that all seems well and good, we often hear that scientists lack these types of people skills.  The urban myth is that as long as you are smart enough you can succeed, without having to worry about how you interact with others.  But, there is no researcher that operates in a vacuum—especially today in the word of team science and collaboration.

So, how do you become more aware about these topics, and use them to become more successful?

  1. Reflect on how you respond to stressors.  Are there particular things that you know are hot buttons for you?  In the topics that cause you stress, are there any similarities?  What happens?  Be detailed when you think of these; who is involved, what do you say (or not say), what is the outcome?  What do you wish you would have done or said?
  2. Practice different responses.  One way to get a better response is to practice it, even if it does not feel “right”.  Think about this as writing with your non-dominant hand.  It is possible, but it takes practice to make it legible.  Is there a time when you saw someone else handle a situation well, what can you take from that challenge you witnessed?   When you reflected on a situation did you see another response that would have been better?
  3. Understand the other person’s position.  This is not to say that you agree, but that you see the problem from their perspective.  How can you use that information to build a working relationship?
  4. Breath.  By focusing on your breath you can help reduce stress.  This is also called Mindfulness.

There is no passive solution to understanding these topics, you have to practice.  We teach techniques in OITE leadership and management courses.  Workplace Dynamics covers understanding yourself and others and our Management Bootcamp has a whole session on working with Emotional Intelligence.  We have even started to present these topics at national meetings such as Experimental Biology.

If you are an NIHer, you can Watch Daniel Goleman’s talk from last week.  If you want other information on Emotional Intelligence check out the book list on sites such as Amazon or from your local library.

Research the topic, and learn to be more successful in science by embracing that people are part of our success.


A Year in Review: Calendar for Career Success

December 11, 2012

If you’ve been following the OITE blog this year, you know that in the start of 2012 we decided to help you make a Calendar for Career Success.  We picked topics, and blogged about them, giving you advice (and sometimes challenges) each month to help you drive your career.  In short, we wanted 2012 to be the ‘Year for Your Career.’

And given that it is December, it is time to sit back and reminisce about the past year – because that is what everyone does in December, right?  Some of the things we talked about this year included having conversations about your career goals.  Not just you and your friends talking about your dream job over lunch, but a directed conversation with your PI or a career counselor.  These can be tough – but worthwhile. They help you take control of your career – set a plan, and work with people that have experience and knowledge to help you create a successful career plan.

And sometimes we made you work – pulling together resources to create your job application, practicing your interviewing skills.  Because your career plan is not just a theory or a timeline on a piece of paper, but something you engage in: Thinking critically about your resume or CV, assessing your skills and abilities, and taking advantage of resources and opportunities to strengthen your career.

If you followed our career calendar for 2012 (you can find it here) then congratulations!  You deserve a good pat on the back. Even if you are in your same job now (because you weren’t on the job market in 2012) or not (despite your best efforts you still haven’t moved on to your dream job), actively working on your career each month is a great achievement.  Even people in their ‘dream’ job constantly engage in making their career a ‘priority.’  They attend conferences and network with colleagues; they think about how to either gain new skills or apply the ones they have to new questions or problems.  For these people, focus is on making their current job more interesting or more challenging, not on getting a new one.

But why should 2012 be the only “Year of Your Career?”  The answer: No reason.  Every year can be your career year.  And if you weren’t reading our blog in January of 2012 (shame on you, by the way), then there is no reason not to start working on our calendar in January 2013.  And if you’ve been with us all year long, you can continue to actively work on your career – whether you want to just be better at your current job, or get a new one.

In short, your career is an activity, not a thing.  And by setting up a career calendar, and sticking to it, you’ve decided that your career is a priority, and actively engage in having your dream career!


Using Your Networking Map

March 21, 2012

If you have been following the blog calendar, you have been thinking about your career, and maybe have even met with a career counselor.  That means (hopefully) that you have a few ideas about career options, and some questions that an informational interview might help you answer.   Now that you have filled in your networking map, it is time to ask those you know if they know anyone you could talk with.

Say you are pondering a career in industry.  Your first two circles will be the easiest place to start and will most likely yield your best results.  After you have worked through your first two circles, go through your next circle and think about people from biotech and pharmaceutical companies you have met (or even people on the attendee list that you did not meet) at conferences and meetings. Or perhaps in this circle is a professor from a past institution that you know had a postdoc transition to a company.  This is also the place to search the OITE Alumni Database for former fellows who share NIH connections.  Then the final circle, people in the community, is where you let anyone you know help you find an introduction (you never know who your neighbor knows until you ask).

Now, you ask, “I have been thinking about career paths in industry, do you know anyone who has taken this path?  Would you introduce us?”  The key here is that you need to be able to ask specifically for what you want; your network cannot read your mind.  You cannot assume that they know you need a job, and thus will introduce you to everyone in their contact list.  You have to be proactive to obtain the introductions you need.

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Helpful Tips to Managing Stress and Anxiety In Interviews

February 8, 2012

Interviews are often essential stepping-stones to the next career stage. You know you are qualified, yet you may worry that you will be too nervous to perform well enough to get the position. If even the thought of the interview makes your palms sweaty and your heart race, believe it or not, that’s normal.  According to some estimates, as many as 40 million Americans suffer from situational anxiety.  As interview season is in full swing, we are seeing and hearing a lot of anxiety from trainees about pending interviews.  With the help of our Career Counselors and our Leadership and Professional Development Coach, we have come up with a few tips on managing your anxiety during an interview.

 Before the Interview: 

  • Develop confidence in yourself. Interviews are important, and may have a say in shaping your future. However, they are not the only criteria under which you will be judged for a position.  You were invited for an interview.  That in itself means you are a strong candidate and the organization you are interviewing with wants you to do well.  Often, anxiety in an interview can be linked to anticipation of the outcome.  The same symptoms of anxiety for someone fearing failure can be interpreted as excitement by someone anticipating success.  Be confident and think positive.   Read the rest of this entry »

Top 7 Reasons That You Should Visit A Career Counselor

February 6, 2012

In the beginning of January, we posted a calendar with monthly steps to move your career forward.  The February task was to meet with a career counselor.  Here at OITE, we have two career counselors on staff.  Anne and Elaine were kind enough to introduce themselves on the blog a couple of years ago.  What makes them an enormous asset for you is that they exclusively advise scientists.  They understand the career dynamics of fellows here at NIH and researchers in general.  They have a wide breadth of knowledge and experience in career counseling and have already helped hundreds of fellows take the next step in their careers. 

Whether you know where your career is heading or not, meeting with a career counselor can help you be more competitive in fulfilling your career goals.  With the help of our two career counselors on staff at OITE, we have determined the top 7 reasons to visit a career counselor.

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Discussing Your Career with Your PI

January 9, 2012

Last week we challenged you to make your career a priority in 2012.  We even provided a calendar you could follow for the year.  As with most “resolutions” the first step is an extremely important step.  In our calendar to job success, that first step is to have a conversation with your PI about your career plans.  This is true no matter what career path you are planning, from academics, industry and beyond. 

We have conducted a random poll around the OITE and with fellows who have recently left.  The results are clear:  Having a conversation with their PI about the next step can be scary.  You may be unsure that you have enough data to actually say this is the year that you will move on.  If you are going to be a PI you may not be sure if will be able to take part of your project with you.  Perhaps you do not know what reaction you will get if you say you want to take a different career path than staying in academic research.  All of these factors can persuade you just to not have the conversation at all. 

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