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!

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FROM THE ARCHIVE: Boo! Why Job Searches are So Scary

October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween from OITE!Image of two bats, a ghost, a pumpkin and the word "Boo!".

Today is a day for tricks, treats and all things spooky. While we hope you will enjoy the spirit of this holiday in your personal life, we also invite you to think about your professional life and what part of the job search scares you.

Job searching can feel like navigating your way through a haunted house – it can be riddled with false doors, creepy detours, and hair-raising events.  As proof of this, read some Job Search Horror Stories as shared by OITE staff.  Many questions can come up during a job search: What in your professional past, if anything, haunts you? How spooked are you by networking? What eerily hard questions have you received during an interview? How frightened are you about finding the perfect job?

The questions and doubts that arise during a job search are very common.  You are opening yourself up to new opportunities, which is often synonymous with change. Plus, you are putting yourself and your professional accomplishments out into the world for consideration.  You are pulling back the mask; on a superficial level, it is easy to understand how the job search can make an individual feel vulnerable, exposed, and anxious.  The anxiety and risk aversion associated with this process can cause individuals to procrastinate.  Like a ghoul you can’t shake, there can be a nagging voice in your head reminding you that you need to be doing more.

Brain research has repeatedly shown that humans try to maximize rewards and minimize threats – we often condition ourselves to avoid pain or resistance.  Often times, we also avoid what is most important to us.  Many scientists tend to be perfectionists, and this can be a debilitating attribute for a job search. We all want to choose the perfect job, create the perfect resume and negotiate the perfect salary.  Fear that we will fall short can cause us to avoid those activities and procrastinate.

Take some time today to think about the ghosts of your job searching past.  Remember that there are a lot of “tricks” to job searching, so be sure to utilize the “treats” from OITE. We are here to help you at every stage along the way and can hopefully begin to help demystify a scary process.


FROM THE ARCHIVE – Explore Your Interests through “SIGS”

July 8, 2016

What are you interested in? Are you a knitter? A rock climber? A serial book club attendee? WhateveLady Rock Climberr your interests, chances are you have endeavored to carve out time to enjoy them, or found a group of people who share them.

Similarly, we all have career interests–whether we are ready to pursue said careers or not. I, for one, have a children’s book manuscript hidden in my desk drawer that is not yet ready for prime time. I would, however, be interested in meeting a group of people curious about the same field.

Fortunately, as a trainee at the NIH, you can find groups of like-minded people right in your own backyard. The NIH sponsors Inter-Institute Scientific Interest Groups, called SIGS. According to the SIGS website, “the interest groups sponsor symposia, poster sessions and lectures; offer mentoring and career guidance for junior scientists; help researchers share the latest techniques and information; act as informal advisors to the Deputy Director of Intramural Research (DDIR); provide advice for the annual NIH Research Festival; and serve as hosts for the Wednesday Afternoon Lecture Series.”

I encourage you to peruse the list of SIGS and find a group of people interested in the same topic(s) that interest(s) you. As you look at the list, you’ll find that there are a few groups focused more on specific career fields than on scientific research-related content. Check out the Patent Law and Technology Transfer Interest Group, for example. This group seeks “to provide an educational and networking opportunity for NIH scientists interested in patent law and technology transfer.” They have even developed a Patent Bar Study Group for those interested in passing the patent bar.

Whether the SIGS you are considering focus on a particular area of research or on a particular career, I encourage you to join, or explore starting a new SIG if you don’t see your interest area listed. Some SIGS include scientists from outside the NIH, and all of the SIGS include scientists from different institutes. This outlet represents a potential gold mine for networking! Get to know other scientists interested in the same area of research, attend lectures to learn more about a particular topic, initiate conversations that may spark collaborations. All of these activities will enhance your work as a scientist–and could strengthen your candidacy on the job market.


FROM THE ARCHIVE – Get More Done: Take A Break

March 11, 2016

Image of four blue folder with one red folder slightly ajar from bookcaseFind yourself swamped with work but unable to focus?  Ever wonder how to quit procrastinating?  At OITE, we often get asked about strategies and tips on how to improve one’s time management and productivity. This From the Archive post offers unlikely advice on how to handle these work challenges.


The title seems a little contradictory.  How is it that you can get more work done, but spend less time working?  According to a New York Times article about a study from the University of Toronto Scarborough, it is because small breaks make you more efficient.  The study authors suggests that the brain “becomes fatigued after sustained use and needs a rest period before it can recover, he explains — much as a weight lifter needs rest before doing a second round of repetitions at the gym.”

So here are a few of the tips from the article:

  • Symptoms of needing to take a break are drifting or day dreaming.
  • If you are in “the zone,” keep working.  It isn’t working hard that drains your brain, it’s when you are forcing yourself to go on when you really need a break.
  • Taking too many breaks leads to procrastination.  So, be smart about it.  Everything in moderation

Here are a few ideas for break:

  • Go for a walk – Even just doing laps on your floor gets you moving and gives you a break from your work.  If you are at the NIH and don’t want to melt in this heat wave, consider walking the track in the basement of building 10.
  • Go get a coffee (or something else) with a co-worker – After all, you have to walk to where the coffee is and having someone with you makes it less likely you will just sit and start thinking about work.  According scientists who have spent time in England, many labs there still take a break in the afternoon for tea (or other beverage) for about 30 minutes.  In fact, there is often a break in the morning as well for around the same amount of time.
  • Stand at your computer while you read the OITE Careers Blog – The article mentions that standing while doing your work can help relieve some of the brain drain.
  • Take a nap – We are aware this is not a culturally acceptable practice here in the USA, even if it is supported by science.  However, in other cultures a break in the afternoon to rest is quite common.  The Spanish Siesta is famous, and so I asked a visiting fellow and friend from Spain about how the “Siesta” works in the research community.  She pointed out the siesta is as much about food as it is about sleep.  The main goal is to sit down together around the table and have a meal as a family or group of friends.  If you can grab a siesta in that time, that’s even better.

Working hard is a hallmark of the research profession.  Most scientists I know take a lot of pride in putting in long hours.  We are certainly not suggesting that any of us not work hard.  However, research suggests that taking breaks can help us work smarter as we work hard.  And isn’t that what we all want to do?


FROM THE ARCHIVE – Families and Science: Can They Mix?

June 10, 2015

stick familyAre you thinking about starting a family? Or, perhaps you have children and know all too well the challenges of finding your own work-life balance.

The OITE Career Blog is reposting a three part series from the archive about having a family during one’s scientific training. In this series, we asked grad students, postdocs, and clinical fellows questions about parenthood in an attempt to compile a list of pros/cons and general advice.

Question #1: Why was this a good time for you to start a family?
https://oitecareersblog.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/families-and-science-can-they-mix/

Question # 2: What were the challenges you faced?
https://oitecareersblog.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/families-and-training-part-2/

Question # 3: Do you have any advice for NIH trainees thinking about starting a family?
https://oitecareersblog.wordpress.com/2011/09/02/families-and-training-finale/

For those of you at the NIH, there is an affinity support group, Mom-Dad-Docs. If interested in learning more about this group, contact Ulli Klenke.

What other questions would you like to see answered on this topic? Comment below and let us know.