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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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

 


Making the Transition to a New Position

November 26, 2012

You have a new job!  (or hope to soon).  Here are some tips to make the transition to your new position successful and as easy as possible.

First, remember that transitions are always tough.  While you are likely very excited about a new position, the transition can be overwhelming, especially if you are moving to a new location. You are closing out a chapter in your life that has likely lasted between two and five years (or more).   You are saying goodbye to friends and colleagues and disrupting an established routine—so some anxiety is totally normal.

Finish strong and leave your current job on a positive note.  Finish those last minute experiments, organize those freezer boxes, clean your personal spaces (bench, desk, etc), train other people in the group on what you do, and organize/clean/save important computer files and emails.  This always seems to take longer than you think it should, and many of us have put this off to the last minute and then scrambled to finish everything before we walk out the door.  Also, decide how many of those last minute experiments can honestly be done before you leave.  Someone else in the lab can likely perform the rest after you leave.

Make sure you take time to say goodbye to people.  Things can be chaotic as you transition, and sometimes we forget the people.  Schedule enough time to say goodbye (without over-scheduling so that you are going crazy trying to keep your social calendar in check).

If your new job requires you to move, ask the organization you are moving to for relocation help.  Even if this will just be a colleague that will point you in the right direction for good neighborhoods, childcare, restaurants, etc.  Finding a good place to live will make the transition much easier.  You can even search the alumni databases or Linkedin to find other people who are in that location to get guidance.

Make a plan for your arrival at your new job.  Some recommend a 90 day plan of what you would like to get done.  A good book on is The First 90 Days, by Michael Watkins.  Also, if you are heading to an academic appointment, you may want to read Making the Right Moves (published by HHMI), and At the Helm by Kathy Barker.  Create a summary and overview of your position, as you see it.  Then make a list of goals that you should (and can) complete in your first 30, 60, and 90 days.  In this, also mention the assumptions that you have and any required resources needed in order to make this happen.  This gives you some good guidelines and goals as you move into a new position with many other unknowns.

Build a good reputation with both your new boss and your new coworkers.  Be part of the team.  Volunteer to tackle doable projects.  Ask your co-workers on the best places for lunch and coffee (and even invite them to share in a cup of coffee with you).  Don’t try to integrate too quickly into every conversation.  Remember, these people have built a bond and you will need time to really understand all of the nuances of the relationships.

Finally, make sure to take some time for your own work-life balance.  Finding new places in the community is a great way to find a new support system, to gain friends and to make this transition less lonely.

So good luck!!!  And keep in touch…..your transition now makes a terrific success story for those coming through the ranks behind you!


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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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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Career Resolutions: Setting a Calendar for Career Success in 2012

January 3, 2012

Happy New Year!  It is time for the annual tradition of making New Year’s resolutions.  Often the theme of resolutions is to better oneself through eating better, exercising more or changing a habit that drives us crazy (this will be the year that I paste every gel into my notebook and stop using paper towels for my calculations!).  While healthy bodies and well organized notebooks are great things, we encourage you to resolve to prioritize advancing your career.  Do you need to make a decision about what to do after your training?  Do you need to network more and/or more efficiently?  Do you need to develop skills to make a successful transition to the next step in your career? 

We all know that resolutions often do not see success beyond the second week of February.  Saying that you are going to make your career a priority in 2012 is not enough.  You should also make a plan for how to do that.  Below we have sketched out a timeline of things to do in 2012 to make sure that you are ready to face that next step. 

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Giving Thanks for our Readers: Why We Do What We Do

November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving!  The time of year where many of us celebrate with a ridiculous amount of food, American Football on television, food, family, food, friends, and did we mention food?  Also, and perhaps more importantly, it is a time of year where we focus on those things in our lives for which we are thankful.  Here are OITE, we are reflecting on why we are thankful for our jobs and give you all a sense of why we do what we do.

Many of us are trained as research scientists.  Others are NIH employees committed to education and training.  We remain involved in biomedical research while providing the research tools into the often overlooked part of your scientific life…the career part.  We understand the pressures to publish and the long and often unpredictable hours of the lab.  We appreciate the sacrifices you make to further science and to provide better treatments and cures for diseases.  It is that great appreciation that drives us to do what we do:  Help you have the successful career you desire.

We meet with many fellows either through our workshops or in one-on-one meetings to help you improve your career prospects, in any job sector.  We strive to take our understanding of the dynamics of lab life and couple that with our knowledge of career development to help provide the tools and guidance needed to succeed in whatever career path you choose.  We try to provide a positive influence and inspiration.  We help you prepare to become a PI by helping with your application package all the way through negotiating the offer.  We provide training on breaking into industry, from crafting the resume, networking tools, and transitioning to the new job.  And we also present career options along with ways to gain additional skill sets so you can pursue any career that excites you. 

Through helping others reach career goals in science, we get to be a part of advancing biomedical research, growing the broader workforce, and helping people lead fulfilling lives.  When all the pieces come together and we are able to help a fellow achieve career success, it is like getting that final bit of data that completes a paper.  We are grateful to be able to participate in your success.