How We Learn

June 27, 2013

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

Science careers, at or away from the bench, require us to be life-long learners. To be successful, we are always learning – and teaching – new skills. While many of us enjoy this, it also comes with frustrations and challenges. In considering how we learn, I was struck by the excellent and concise explanation of the stages we typically go through as we learn and develop new skills. I found this in a short book entitled “Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager” written by Ken Blanchard. Intramural trainees can find the book in the OITE Career Library, and it is widely available in other libraries and on-line. In this book, Blanchard summarizes the four stages of learning: enthusiastic beginner, disillusioned learner, cautious performer, and high achiever. This summary is helpful to us as life-long learners and as colleagues, mentors and supervisors of others in our work groups.

At the outset, enthusiastic beginners are confident and excited. However, this confidence and the excitement of a new challenge can get in the way as enthusiastic beginners often forget how challenging a task might be. Enthusiastic beginners need a lot of supervision and direction so they stay focused on learning the fundamentals and solidifying the basics. After a short while, and after a few (too many) mistakes, enthusiastic beginners typically become disillusioned learners. We realize how hard it is to truly develop that new skill and doubt starts setting in. In this stage, we need support and encouragement to stick with it. Once we gain some proficiency we enter the cautious learner phase; we are more proficient and more confident and as a result we learn more quickly. In other words, success breeds success — and we are on our way toward becoming a high achiever. At this time, we need the right balance between supervision and independence, as one can only become a high achiever by taking risks and learning from our mistakes.

Whether you are a postbac or summer intern learning how to do PCR for the first time, a grad student preparing for your first committee meeting, a postdoc mentoring your first summer intern, or a senior fellow ready to launch your independent career, remember this simple model of how we learn. Be proactive and find support, encouragement and direction when you need it. If you are the supervisor/mentor, use these strategies to help your employees and mentees learn. It may just keep you going when you get stuck and will help you be compassionate as your colleagues, students and mentees learn new things as well.

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NIH Alumni: Where are they now?

September 9, 2011

This is the first in a series of profiles about recent NIH postdocs who have found an array of jobs, from academia to industry to communications and beyond, in the U.S. and abroad. What do they do now, and how did they get there? What challenges did they face, and what advice do they have? Read on to find out.

Name: Nicholas Mitchell

Current position: Assistant professor at St. Bonaventure University

Location: St. Bonaventure, NY

Time in current position: 10 months

Postdoc: Adult neurogenesis as a potential therapy for cognitive deficits, with Henriette van Praag at NIA

Job search in a nutshell: I went to the NIH after completing a one-year visiting professorship. I decided to do a postdoc largely based on the realization that I needed to retool and complete my research training to be competitive for tenure-track faculty positions at undergraduate institutions.

I was really aggressive in my job search, going to sources within and beyond the NIH. I asked people in academia and industry about what key functions and tasks were required to be successful in the jobs I was interested in. I interviewed for faculty and administrative positions in academia. I also considered alternate careers that emphasized the business and managerial sides of science. Ultimately, I chose academia because I thought it encompassed most of what I was looking for.

Go back to the beginning: For people struggling with finding a job or choosing between options, go back as far as you need to to identify the people who excited you. That should give some indication of where you want to go. I honed in on becoming a professor by listing my five most influential role models. They were coaches, teachers and professors. Open yourself up to all the people you’ve encountered and the career possibilities available to you.

Read the rest of this entry »


A Day in the Life of…A Science Educator

January 14, 2011

kidsLast fall, OITE launched “A Day in the Life of…,” a series of interactive, online chats exploring a variety of careers in science.

In September, we heard from David Kosub, a Public Health Analyst, about careers in science/public health policy, and chatted with Philip Mayer, an Assistant Vice President of Pfizer, in October to explore careers in big pharma. Last November, we featured careers in science writing through a discussion with Mariette DiChristina, Editor-in-Chief of Scientific American. (For more tips from Ms. DiChristina, click here.)

To kick off the series in 2011, we are pleased to introduce “A Day in the Life of…A Science Educator,” featuring Jayatri Das, Senior Exhibit Developer at The Franklin Institute exit icon1 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a dynamic science museum with interactive exhibits for visitors of all ages, live science shows, and more.

To read the transcript of the chat, click here exit icon1.

EVENT: “A Day in the Life of…A Science Educator”

DATE: Thursday, January 20, 2011

TIME: 12 pm – 1:00 pm EST

GUEST: Jayatri Das, Senior Exhibit Developer, The Franklin Institute

RELATED POST: How to Get a Job in Science Education and Outreach


“A Day in the Life of…” Upcoming Series on Career Options for Scientists

September 7, 2010

CapitolSo, just what does a science policy analyst do every day? A science museum exhibits coordinator? A VP of drug development? OITE aims to answer these questions via an interactive, online chat series this fall.

The series will be held from 12:00 – 1:00 pm every third Thursday from September through December, which includes: Sept. 16, Oct. 21, Nov. 18, and Dec. 16.

Topics covered will include careers in science policy, science writing, drug development in industry, and science education.

Trainees at every stage are welcome to participate and are encouraged to bring questions to our “speakers” during the live chats. After each discussion, the transcript of the entire chat will be posted on this site.

To kick off the series, we will explore the work of a science policy analyst.

EVENT: “A Day in the Life of…A Public Health Analyst”

GUEST: David Kosub, Ph.D., Public Health Analyst, NIAID, NIH

DATE: Thursday, September 16, 2010

TIME: 12 pm – 1:00 pm EST

Bring your questions and comments, as this live event is your chance to learn more about different careers!  To set up an email reminder for the event, or to participate in the discussion the day of the event, click here.

Chat with you next Thursday!