Community Provides More Than Support

June 17, 2013

There are many important aspects to having a successful career.  One aspect often overlooked is making sure you have a community of peers.  Communities provide more than just support for everyday life and challenges.  They are great for building networks, developing co-mentoring relationships and gaining leadership experience.  Coming to a large campus, like the NIH or a college campus, can feel like you have landed on a different planet.  Everything is so different.  Finding welcoming and supportive groups and peers can help ease that transition.  But, it can also help you prepare for the next step in your career.

While the resources below are specific to the NIH, all universities have similar groups to make you feel welcome.  Check your campus list of organizations. This is not an exhaustive list of groups available, but is meant to provide an idea of what types of organizations exist.  All of these groups are welcome to everyone in the NIH community.

  • The Graduate Student Council and the postdoc association Felcom both support trainees by providing social events, career networking and communities for intramural trainees.
  • NIH Black Scientists and Friends Network, an informal group dedicated to the mentoring and career enhancement of Black scientists at NIH. For more information, contact Dr. Roland Owens.
  • LGBT-Fellows and Friends helps its members thrive in their professional and personal lives by addressing issues unique to the LGBT community.  Join the LGBT-FF listserv to learn about up-coming LGBT-FF seminars, professional development activities and networking opportunities.
  • The NIH SACNAS (Society for Advancing Hispanics/Chicanos & Native American in Science) chapter provides a trans-NIH resource to provide a forum to network, share successes and strategize about future goals. For more information and to learn about upcoming events, join the NIH-SACNAS listserv.
  • The Women of Color Research Network supports all scientists interested in raising the voice and visibility of Women of Color (WOC) in biomedical and behavioral research.  This new social media site is for women of color and everybody interested in diversity in the scientific workforce.  Visit the Web site to join.
  • MOM-DAD-DOCS seeks to provide mentorship, support, and networking to intramural trainees (basic or clinical) with children.  Contact Lori Conlan (conlanlo AT mail.nih.gov)
  • The Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management plays a lead role in making certain that representatives of all groups feel comfortable and can work optimally on the NIH campus.
  • Visiting Fellows Committee, ~60% of the NIH postdoc population is visiting from other countries.  There are over 20 country groups to connect you with fellows from around the world: https://www.training.nih.gov/country_support_groups
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If I Could Do One Thing Differently in My Career…

June 10, 2013

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

One of the fun things I get to do as part of my job directing the Office of Intramural Training & Education, is to give talks on the NIH campus and at universities across the United States.  Students ask me all types of questions about my career; how a physical therapist became a cell biologist, what I like about my previous faculty job and my current administrative job, what I don’t like, what I look for when I hire new employees, etc. One question always gets asked– what I would do differently if I could do it all over again. I always give the same response – “I would have learned more about leadership and management earlier in my career”.

Yes, I got my faculty job based on my science — the papers I published, the grants I wrote, and the way I communicated enthusiasm for protein trafficking. But, I was successful in that job because of the hard work and dedication of the many students and staff who worked with me. When I communicated my expectations clearly and dealt with issues calmly and up-front, my lab ran more smoothly and I got more work done. Therefore, my success depended on my science skills AND my management/leadership skills. The same is true now in a completely different setting. My success in the OITE depends on others doing their best work.  It is critical that I work continuously on my management and leadership skills.

There is broad agreement that scientists must develop strong interpersonal skills to do effective team science and to transition from training to management positions (at and away from the bench). Yet, we don’t always find the time to be trained in these areas. Many students, postdocs and mentors find little value in “soft skills” training.  They believe that a successful career in science is determined predominantly by publications, patents, funding, etc. However, the book Lab Dynamics (Cohen and Cohen)* surveyed scientists and found that nearly two-thirds reported that interpersonal conflict had hampered progress on a scientific project between 1-5 times in their career. Furthermore, many of our alumni share that managing and leading a team is one of the earliest challenges they face.

To help you start developing your management and leadership skills, the OITE has developed the “Workplace Dynamics” series. The workshops focus on: 1) increased awareness of self and others using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®; 2) communication styles and influencing others; 3) conflict dynamics; 4) team theory; and 5) diversity training. Our goal is to help you gain greater self-awareness and an appreciation that others may approach conflict and group work differently. We hope that by providing a language to discuss these differences, you will be better able to manage yourself and work across differences in the workplace. We use examples that resonate with scientists and combine didactic material with interactive group work. We know that trainees appreciate the interactive group work, but that they also like helpful resources they can access from home. I have listed some of these resources at the bottom of this post in the hopes that readers not currently at NIH can benefit from the reading the material as they seek similar programs on their campuses. Those of you currently at NIH – summer interns, postbacs, grad students, postdocs, clinical and research fellows – take advantage of these workshops now. The Summer/Fall Workplace Dynamics series starts in June.  Find our more and register here.

References:

Lab Dynamics: Management Skills for Scientists, Cohen and Cohen (2005) New York: Cold Spring Harbor Press

MBTI: http://www.myersbriggs.org/

Type Talk at Work (Revised): How the 16 Personality Types Determine Your Success on the Job by Otto Kroeger, Janet M. Thuesen and Hile Rutledge (2002) Delta

Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (Tuxedo NY: Xicom, 1974) and CPP TKI product page

Eckerd College Center for Conflict Dynamics: http://www.conflictdynamics.org/

Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader: How You and Your Organization Can Manage Conflict Effectively by Craig E. Runde and Tim A. Flanagan (2006) Jossey-Bass

Crucial Confrontations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler (2004) McGraw-Hill

Feedback That Works: How to Build and Deliver Your Message, CCL, 2000

Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition; Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman  (2006), Bantam

Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (2000) Bantam

Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, Third Edition by Maurianne Adams, Warren Blumenfeld, Carmelita Castaneda and Heather W. Hackman (2013) Routledge

 


Preparing for the Application Season

June 3, 2013

Regardless of whether you are planning on applying to Graduate School or Professional school, a successful application requires preparation.  If you remember one word from this post, remember “Early.”  Take your exams (GRE, MCAT, LSAT, GMAT, etc.) early.  Get your letters of recommendation lined up early.  Write your personal statement early.  Have someone look over your materials early.  Submit your applications early.  When you get an interview, show up early.

For those applying to graduate school:

You will want to have your GRE taken by the end of August or beginning of September.  This means you need to start studying now.  In particular, you need to go back and review your high school math.  If you don’t use, you lose it.  The chances are that you haven’t used much of what will be on the test in your four (or more) years of undergrad.  You need to take practice exams…lots of them.  Much of successful test taking is being comfortable and familiar with the format.  Reading about the format is not the same as practicing it.

So why do you need to get your GRE done so early?  So you can know whether or not to retake the exam.  If you are unsure whether your scores are strong enough for a particular program, ask the Director of that program.  Unlike Medical School, these programs are trying to recruit you.  Most of the time, the program directors will respond directly to your e-mail asking about the strength of your application.   Writing in with your scores early shows that you are prepared and organized.  Writing in late, shows just the opposite.

For those applying to professional schools:  This specific material is written for Medical School applications, but the principles apply to all professional school applications.

Submit your AMCAS as soon as possible (note, that is another way to say “Early”).  Ideally, you want to submit it with in two weeks of the opening. Do NOT wait for your MCATs.  You can always add more schools later depending on where your scores make you most competitive.  Your odds of acceptance decrease the later you submit your application.  You simply do not look prepared if your application comes in right before the terminal deadline.  Also, medical schools review applications in waves.  The sooner your application is in, the fewer competitors you have for the most number of invitations.

Once your applications are in, pay attention to your e-mail.  Even if you are on vacation, check it daily.  You want to get your secondaries turned around and back to the schools quickly.  You need to show that you are eager to get in and that you are organized enough to turn things around quickly.  If your secondary sits in your inbox for a week while you are relax on vacation, you look eager to relax on vacation and not attend medical school.

For all applicants:

Nothing is as valuable as face-to-face interactions with representatives of the schools you are applying to.  If you are in the Washington D. C. area, the NIH hosts a “Graduate and Professional School Fair” on July 17 in Bethesda.  This is really a first chance to meet admissions officers and make a strong impression.  There will be 153 programs in attendance to meet with postbacs and students as well as informational sessions geared toward specific disciplines such as med schools, dental school, pharmacy school, psychology programs, PhD programs in biomedical sciences.  If you are in the area, this really is an opportunity you do not want to miss.


Tips on Conducting a Job Search Anywhere

May 20, 2013

Do you need to find a job in a geographically limited area far from your current location? Maybe your significant other just found a dream job, or maybe you just always wanted to live in Seattle, WA – whatever the reason, a remote and geographically limited job search poses a distinct set of challenges that require some strategizing to overcome. Here are a few thoughts that may help from a person who recently was searching for a job in Dallas, TX, while living in Bethesda, MD.  These tips are useful in any job search, but particularly for conducting a remote search.

Begin the search early. Job options tend to be reduced when they are limited by geography. Imposing boundaries on the location means relying on fewer potential employers. The more time you allow for finding a job, the better.

Use your network. Your network should be your first resource in a remote job search. Know the histories of the people in your network, and keep up with their current locations. Ask people currently or historically linked to the area for suggested companies or connections. Some of your contacts may work for a company with an office in that location and may be willing to send out feelers on your behalf. Always ask permission before using a contact’s name or, even better, ask them to provide an introduction.

Do not limit yourself to professional contacts. Talk to friends, alumni associations, volunteer organizations, members of your religious institute, or anywhere else you may find an unexpected lead. If you are a member of a professional or volunteer organization, contact the local chapters to make some connections. Seek local people at conferences. Make your job search as widely known as possible – the more exposure the better. Conducting a secretive job search poses more of a challenge, but typically you can advertise pretty broadly without you current boss finding out.

Use job Sites. Job sites will be your friend. Most career sites filter searches to a specific area or radius around an area. Check out the state labor department for local search engines. The City of Dallas website had links to six local search engines.

Know your business. If you are looking for an academic job, search all the universities. For me, looking for a job in science policy in Dallas meant searching anywhere that might have a policy/government relations office, like non-profit organizations and universities. After finding some leads, go back to your network and look for the connections. Cold e-mails to directors or assistant directors (managers) located in offices of interest can end up in future leads or even a job.  So don’t be afraid to write them a note.  None of the offices I contacted were hiring at the time, but I continued to receive several leads from the people I contacted with in those initial cold e-mails.

Be flexible. Compromising a little on the job you are seeking may go a long way towards finding a position. As a person recently preparing for a science policy career in Washington, DC, where policy jobs are plentiful, now moving to Dallas, TX, where science policy jobs are next to non-existent, I had to broaden my search to jobs with similar skills requirements and career goals. After some considerable research, I found a job in the communications office of a local university requiring many of the same skills and tasks that I enjoyed in science policy.

To recap: start early, use your network heavily, use search engines wisely, cold call companies of interest, and use your network even more.

What are your suggestions or experiences for a remote job search?


Finding the Perfect Postdoc

May 13, 2013

Are you starting to think about finding the perfect postdoc position?

First, you need to decide whether you need to do a postdoc at all.  Depending on your career aspirations, a postdoc may only serve to delay your entry into your desired career or even hinder your ability to get started doing what you really want to do.  However, that is another post for another time.

You have decided that a postdoc is the next step, so here are some key elements to consider:

Advisor:  Many people think that the advisor’s reputation is the only thing to consider but we argue that to have a good postdoc experience you need to make sure that you and your advisor are compatible.  Here are some things to look for:

  • Mentoring style: We all say we want autonomy as a postdoc, but the level of autonomy really can differ.  Some advisors you may never see and getting their attention to discuss data is difficult. Others are more hands on and stop by multiple times a day to discuss experiments, techniques, data, etc.  Determine your preference in this spectrum.
  • Record: Understand where they publish.  How stable is their funding?  You should also know if they have expectation that you will write for your own funding or not. Consider the pros and cons of both tenured and tenure-track investigators (feel free to discuss this is the comment section).
  • Your Career: Pick an advisor that will support your career, no matter what you want to do next.  A good sign is if they know where former trainees work and are still in contact.  Do they have a strong network that you can tap into as you look for your next position?

Project:  You will want to know the project(s) you will be working on and how much you get to define it.  Is it really your project, or your boss’s project where you are doing the work?  Also, does the project have built-in skills development for you to learn new techniques and write grants? Is it interesting to you?

Labmates:  Do you like small labs that feel like family, or large labs with lots of people with differing expertise?  You will want to ask the current lab members about the work culture, work-life balance and the average length of a postdoc in the lab and where past members have gone after leaving.  These are the people you will spend a large portion of your time with, so getting the right fit is key to your overall happiness.

Institution:  Does the institution where the lab is based have career support in the form of a postdoc office or association?  You will also want to know the standard pay scale and benefits for postdocs and whether that is negotiable.  Also, don’t forget about your science and determine if the institution has facilities, such as core groups, that will support your research.

Location:  Yes, it does matter.  For some, being in a big city is the only way to truly live. For others, all that noise and commotion is too much to handle.  If you have a family (or are hoping to start one), their needs are important to consider as well.  Also, remember that your income needs to be considered with in the context of the cost of living for that area.

These are just a few key elements to consider.  Feel free to add a comment discussing other considerations when choosing the perfect postdoc.

 


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Patent Examiner, United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)

April 4, 2013

Last year we had a number of postdocs from the NIH Intramural Research Program leave to start their careers with USPTO, here we interview 3 that started in May of 2012

Names: Sean Barron, PhD; Andrea McCollum, PhD; and Julie Wu, PhD
Location: Alexandria, VA
Time in current positions: 8 months (all started at the same time)
Postdocs:

  • Sean: the affect of nicotine on the hippocampus with Chris McBain at NICHD.
  • Andrea: biomarkers in ovarian cancer with Elise Kohn at NCI.
  • Julie: the role of mTOR for aged related processes with Toren Finkel at NHLBI.

What is a patent examiner? A patent examiner reviews applications and determines their patentability according to the laws and regulations for the US government. Patent applications need to comply with US laws in their format, organization, subject matter, etc., and contain strong support for the claims. Investigating the evidence of those claims and making sure that no one else patented or published the idea is where the patent examiner turns sleuth. The work requires checking publications, conferences, books, and other potential outlets to ensure that the item being patented is not already in the public domain.
How did they find this job? Andrea conducted informational interviews early on to determine where she wanted to go next in her career. With her interest sparked by speaking to people in patent work, Andrea took the FAES course: Intellectual Property and Patent Prosecution for Scientists. Sean took the same course as a way of introduction to the patent world after hearing about technology transfer at an OITE event. Julie applied for the position after researching a job post on an organizational e-mail. So each person had a different level of preparation for the job.

What skills are needed? Everyone agreed that an ideal candidate would have a good attention to detail, be quick to learn, and, as Sean put it, “be comfortable being uncomfortable”. The USPTO reads patents on every sector of science (and more), and a patent examiner needs be able to quickly process an application that may be barely related to the science they have previously seen. Additionally, examining patents is a high-paced environment, and there is an expectation that a certain number of patents will be reviewed each pay period. Sean views these targets as a positive in that you always have a good idea of how well you are performing. Excellent time management and organizational skills help an examiner deal with the fast pace necessary for the high turn around requirement.

What adjustments did you make moving to the USPTO? Becoming a patent examiner requires a change in mindset from that of a bench scientist. As a bench scientist, you are expected to be an expert at everything you do and to know your field in great detail. As a patent examiner, time is a luxury. You need to learn just enough to be able to accept or deny a patent with confidence. This fast pace requires a big shift from knowing a lot about a little to knowing a little about a lot.

What preparation can people do to follow in your path? In addition to the course previously mentioned, FAES offers several technology transfer related courses that can be applied for credit for a Masters of Science degree at the University of Maryland University College’s (UMUC) Graduate School of Management and Technology. Detailing in the Office of Technology Transfer is also a good way to check if intellectual property is a field you are interested in (see the recent Catalyst article: Details, details, details: Leaving the bench, but staying in science). A nice thing about working as a patent examiner is there is no previous experience required. You will be trained (extensively) in the patent process after placing in the job.

Keep in mind when applying to emphasize the breadth of your knowledge rather than the depth. You probably will not be placed in the area you researched, so it is important to show intellectual flexibility.

Is this career for everyone? Although all three of our alumni love their jobs, they also recognized that the career of a patent examiner is not for everyone. The pay and work life balance is excellent, the science is fascinating, and you can quickly gain control of your own career in the USPTO. However, the work is pretty independent, desk-based, and fast-paced. But, for the right people this is a career they can love.


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!