Dont Leave Us Hanging!

July 16, 2013

As you get ready to end your summer internship or your summer rotations as a grad student, don’t forget to keep in touch.

We often hear from our younger trainees that you enjoyed your summer experience.  You like the research and felt you got along great with your mentor(s). Yet, when many of you write to join the lab again the following summer or to get a letter of recommendation your feel like you never hear from the advisor or you get a lukewarm response.  “Why?” you ask,  “I did good work.”   Of course you did, you just forgot to demonstrate how much the work meant to you and how much you want to stay a part of that work.

We know that it can be hard to keep up with your labs when you leave (without feeling like a stalker).  So, here is a suggestion to get started.  Send your PI a brief thank you note within a month of leaving.   This does not need to be a long email, just a few short lines thanking them for letting you be in their research group, something valuable that you learned, and that you hope you can keep in touch.  Write a separate (and different) letter to your day to day mentor or supervisor in the lab, probably your postdoc or graduate student.

You can always follow up anytime with a quick hello, and to let people know that you still are thinking about your experience.  Once a semester is even enough.  Ask about the project you worked on and if there has been any progress.

If your research has helped your coursework or your coursework has finally made something you learned during the summer more clear, let people know.  (i.e. this week we studying signal transduction which made me think about…)

Follow pub-med-watch to see if that paper that the lab was toiling over all summer was finally published.  Then send a note to congratulate the authors.

Connect online, LinkedIn is a terrific way to make a connection.  You should ask your advisor and other labmates if they would like to be connected before you send them an invitation.  Also, remember LinkedIn is static, and not everyone in the scientific community yet uses it to its full ability.  It will not replace an active networking outreach as described above.

When it comes time to return to the research group or to ask for a letter of recommendation, remind them who you are and what you did in their group.

Good luck to you as you wrap up your summer research experience, we are glad you came!

Advertisements

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

 


Resumes are about Results

January 23, 2013

You are reading through a job description, which starts with the following: “We are seeking an accomplished researcher to lead our transgenic mouse program.”  You think this job is perfect for you!  Your research project uses a transgenic mouse model, and for the past two years you’ve been Chair of your institute’s student led Career Symposium.  You include in your resume the research you did in transgenic mouse lines, add a one-line bullet “Chair: Career Symposium Committee,” and send it in with your cover letter.  Done.  Now you just have to wait for them to call you!

When employers advertise an open position, they are trying to find someone that can produce results and match their needs.  While you were correct to add your committee experience to your resume, simply listing it is not enough.  Your resume needs to describe, in words, the results of your work as leader, and how you achieved them.  So how do you do that?  Start by simply writing, on a piece of paper, what you did as the committee chair. Use active phrases that describe what you did and what you accomplished.  Here are some examples:

  • Met weekly with other committee members to identify topics of interest and produced 9 seminars during a 12-month period
  • Led meetings, set agendas, and ensured task completion
  • Led a team of 15 committee members and distributed people to 3 teams based on skills and expertise
  • Contacted potential speakers, providing details about your committee and the goals of the Career Symposium series
  • Coordinated travel arrangements for speakers, created itinerary, and confirmed travel & hotel arrangements
  • Managed finances to ensure the series stays on budget by tracking costs for receptions, honorariums, travel expenses, and processed reimbursements
  • Marketed seminars to NIH community, using email, websites and other social media and achieved average attendance of 150 people per seminar

Now you have a detailed description of your leadership and the results of your work on the committee.  The next step is to read through the job description again, paying attention to where there are examples of the requirements or duties of the position.  As you re-read the description, you see the following sentence:  “Successful applicants will be able to lead a small group, create timelines, communicate priorities, and manage staff to ensure deadlines are met.”  The final step is to condense the list above into two or three short, active, bullet points that describe how your experience leading the committee matches what they want. (Editor’s note: Give it a try by writing your version of the bullet points in the comment section of this blog).  This speaks directly to how you meet the position’s requirements, and is much more informative than listing “Chair: Career Symposium Committee.”

You can learn much more about career options in industry, and how to build your resume and cover letter to be competitive for these positions at theIndustry Careers Overview” seminar on January 24th, in Building 50 Room 1227 (also videocast at videocast.nih.gov).  Click here to register.


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.