How a Mentor Helped Me Succeed…and How I Now Get to Help Her

July 10, 2013

Post written by Lori M. Conlan, Director of the Postdoc Office and the Career Services Center at the OITE

This week I had lunch with the first mentor I had outside of the lab environment. In 2006, I had just left my postdoc to join a non-profit in Manhattan—the New York Academy of Sciences. I knew I could do the job running a career development program for graduate students and postdocs, but I was clueless about how life worked in an office. I started on a Tuesday, and by Friday I was sent off on my first business trip to Miami. One of my colleagues, the VP of marketing and membership, went with me. Through out the entire trip she explained the rules of the trade and actively engaged me in business meetings with university leaders. She was never officially charged to be my mentor, nor did I specifically ask her to be my mentor—it was a relationship that grew organically due to the integrated nature of our work. Over the next year or so this terrific mentor helped me learn to develop successful marketing campaigns, improved my non-technical writing, taught me how to be persuasive, and most importantly how to navigate office politics and big egos. I always knew that she was giving me more than she was receiving, but she has always been passionate at mentoring the next generation. We loosely stayed in touch after she left the organization, a common thing that happens with networking and mentoring. I was always appreciative that she smoothed the transition from the bench to the desk, but never knew how I was going to give back in the circle of networking.

Fast-forward seven years. She and her husband are moving to DC for his job and she is looking for connections here. Now, I am happy to be on the other side giving back to the networking relationship. We chatted about what her passions are and how she can relate her skill sets to those passions. She went away from lunch yesterday with broader ideas about the types of places she would like to work, specific venues in DC, and even a few introductions. I know she is a master networker, and has met with tons of people as she explores what is next in her career, but I did feel like I gave back a bit for all the good she did for me years ago.

When I talk with fellows about finding mentors, they often ask, “But what do I have to offer them?” So, as you ponder setting up mentoring relationships and you wonder about how you will give back to the relationship—don’t underestimate what you may be giving back in the future. Mentoring always leads to positive outcomes for both people in the relationship. And what those positive outcomes are changes as your lives change. I hope you too find a mentor that you can connect with for years to come.  And don’t worry if you lose touch, these good mentoring relationships can always be re-invigorated no matter how long you have been apart (even seven years in this case).

Check out the OITE’s other blog posts for more on mentoring and networking

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How I Overcame My Fear of Informational Interviewing

November 5, 2012

Post written by a guest blogger Yewon Cheon, former postdoc in the National Institute of Aging and current Program Coordinator in OITE.

“I love interviewing people!”

One day, I was full of energy, running down the hall and shouting with excitement, coming back from an interview. It surprised everyone, including me. Because I am shy and afraid of talking to people I don’t know, it was very hard for me to absorb and initiate informational interviews for my career development. I am a researcher who hates networking, but I am NOT afraid of doing an experiment.  So, I designed my new experiment: informational interviews.

When I started to treat informational interviews like an experiment I found myself enjoying this important career tool, and using it for my advantage.  Think of it like this: It is composed of a literature review (getting information about person and career), developing methods (preparing questions), an experiment (interview), data acquisition (Q&A) and data analysis (evaluating a meeting), and repetition to increase sample size and to confirm reproducibility (contact others).

Here is how I found success:

My background:

I was shy and not confident in myself, finding it easier to label test tubes at the bench rather than to talk to strangers about their careers. Informational interviewing and networking were not things I wanted to do . My career mentor gave me two names to contact for informational interviews, a handout on how to conduct informational interviews, and the encouragement to go out and try….yet, it still took me a week to connect.

I am an Asian woman. I was raised and educated in the traditional Eastern way; listening and following others is considered to be respectful, but being persistent and aggressive is frowned on. I felt that being proactive in conducting informational interviews was the equivalent of being aggressive. Read the rest of this entry »


Serving on a Committee: Make the Most of the Opportunity

September 24, 2012

The OITE starts preparing for the large events (like the NIH Career Symposium) about 9-12 months in advance.  When we can, we like to form committees of NIH fellows eager to help plan, organize and execute these events.   It helps us to get fresh ideas from the fellows’ perspective, and it gives fellows the chance to build valuable skills to highlight on their resumes.  Here are three ways to take full advantage of committee membership.

  • Leadership – Being on a committee gives you a chance to be a leader.  However, you have to take the initiative make that happen.  Vocalize your ideas by making suggestions for speakers, session topics, themes, etc.  Volunteer for tasks (especially if an organizer is needed), host speakers or moderate a session.
  • Administration –There is quite a bit of administrative work that goes into large events at the NIH.  Determining the number of rooms you need and how many chairs you need in each room; Deciding what sessions or speakers to put in what rooms; setting schedules and agendas for the whole event and the people participating in the event are only just a few examples.  Actively engage with the OITE advisor to make sure you can understand this process.
  • Networking –Networking is about laying the foundation for a relationship with someone.  Participate fully in all committee work and find common ground with your fellow teammates.  Make sure to greet and host speakers.  After the event find ways to cultivate networking connections with your fellow committee members, other event attendees, and speakers.

We have had a lot of people who serve on a committee later ask the OITE advisors for a letter of recommendation. We love to write strong letters for our committee members, so make sure that we see all the work that you are doing and how you pulled your weight in the team.

These are only a few of the skills you can establish while working on a committee.  There are others like writing, editing, advertising, analyzing and evaluating the event, and many more.  However, you won’t get the ones you want by just signing up to be on the planning committee.  Work with your OITE advisor to talk about your career goals and to identify which jobs on the committee will set you up for success.

We want you to have a great experience on a committee.  Do the best job you can, but make sure not to over-commit yourself.  Together we make the events that make training at the NIH special.


Putting Together Your Job Package

September 4, 2012

If you have been following out Calendar for Career Success, you know that August is the time to put together your job packages.  Whether it be for an academic positions, a postdoc or a transition to a new career field, you need to have a competitive application.  We have provided some information below we feel will be helpful in this endeavor.


Getting the Skills You Need

July 23, 2012

If you have been following our Calendar for Career Success in 2012, then July is the month where you should be making some decisions.  You have done some exploring of career options, gathered information on different jobs and interviewed a variety of people to gain a better understanding of what a particular job really entails.  You have spent the first part of the year getting to know yourself and your options.  You have broadened your ideas of what careers are out there for you.  Now it is time to start narrowing those options down to the ones you are really passionate about and to make a plan for how you are going to put yourself in the best position to successfully get where you want to go.

Here are a few practical steps you can take to get yours moving in the right direction:

Read the rest of this entry »


A Fellow’s Perspective: What I Learned Serving On A Committee

June 11, 2012

Post written by a guest blogger Ahmed Kablan, Postdoc at NIDDK.

This past eight months, I have had the privilege to work with more than 20 other fellows and the OITE staff to organize the 5th annual NIH Career Symposium.  Serving on the planning committee was a valuable experience.  Some of the key things that I learned by volunteering as a committee member are:

  • The importance of teamwork and time management: In order to work well with your team it is crucial communicate clearly to avoid duplication of effort.  My time management skills have improved, resulting in increased productivity. By learning to prioritize the issues at hand and work with a team my life seems more manageable.
  • To practice leadership skills at all times: You don’t have to be in leadership position to build your leadership skills. Each one of us had the chance to take the lead on certain issue, or bring new ideas to the group.
  • To step out of my comfort zone: Getting out of the lab, talking to other fellows, and doing a different kind of work helped me discover skills I didn’t know I had, such as communicating my complex science in simple and plain language. I was also able to see how skills I have learned in the lab are applicable in other settings. Skills such as planning a project, explaining it to the other key players and justifying the resources needed to complete the project, or the ability to communicate effectively with people of broad educational backgrounds. 
  • How to build a network and witness why it is important: You have heard it a million times, but networking is an important skill to develop. What is not always apparent is how easy it can be.  Attending the Career Symposium social events was great. The atmosphere was relaxed and everyone was there to network. I was able to connect with the speakers and other attendees.  That let me see how we as a committee had used our network to make this event happen.  The success of this event relied on the ability of committee members and OITE staff to identify potential speakers and be connected to them enough to invite them to come. Your network helps you get where you want to go.  In this case it helped us put together successful and dynamic panels.
  • The value of using social media effectively: I have used LinkedIn more in the past few months than I did in the first six years after I joined.  I used it to advertise and start discussions around the information presented at the Career Symposium.
  • How fulfilling it can be to be a part of something like the Career Symposium: Working on the committee to organize the Career Symposium was personally fulfilling. I have benefitted first hand from a previous NIH Career Symposium, so by participating in this committee I hoped to help others find similar career guidance. Giving is really highly rewarding.

If you want to help next year, look for an announcement in September.


A Note from Our Career Counselors

May 10, 2012

Post written by a guest blogger Anne Kirchgessner, Career Counselor in OITE.

In my role as a career counselor in the OITE Career Services Center, I often hear postdocs say something like “My mentor hasn’t done anything to help me get to the next step.” The sentiment is understandable.  Your PhD advisor may have taken a more active role in your search for a postdoc position.  Maybe your advisor made a call to get you your current position, or may have referred you to a colleague or collaborator.  This sense of security using your PhD mentor’s contacts may fail when you realize that the next step is a new game with new rules, requiring new skills and strategies for success.   In a recent article in Science Careers, David G. Jensen discusses the facts that the recognition and help we seek doesn’t always come from the top down.   It suggests looking at the bigger picture, collaborating, and finding satisfaction in work that you want to do, and taking charge of your own career decisions. 

Read the rest of this entry »