Assessing Your Skills, Values & Interests

April 15, 2014

Three overlapping cirlcles. One circle reads "Interests," the other "Values," and the last "Skills"Whether you are a postbac, graduate student, postdoc or clinical fellow, you probably have wondered how to blend your individual interests, values and skills into a satisfying career. Self-assessment is an integral part of an effective career planning process and involves asking yourself about your:


Skills

-How good am I at different lab techniques or giving talks?
-How are my language, mentoring, training, writing and communication skills?

Interests
-What interests me? For example, do I prefer running the experiment or writing up the experiment?

Values
-What is important to me in a job? For example, do I need to have a lot of variety or do I prefer to have a pretty consistent schedule?
-What do I value? For example, do I value having autonomy and independence or do I value being a member of a team?

 

There are many ways to assess your interests, preferences, values, skills and priorities. Here are a few resources to consider:

1. Career Counseling
If you are part of the intramural program at the NIH, schedule an individual meeting with a career counselor in the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) to talk about your career goals and preferences and ways to do some formal self-assessments which will help you develop a plan to reach your goals. Not at the NIH? Check with your institution, graduate program, or postdoc office to see what is available for you.

2. Developing an Individual Development Plan
MyIDP.org is a free site designed especially for PhDs and it provides:
– Exercises to help you examine your skills, interests, and values
– A list of 20 scientific career paths with a prediction of which ones best fit your skills and
interests
– A tool for setting strategic goals for the coming year, with optional reminders to keep you
on track

3. Planning for Career Satisfaction and Success
This videocast and materials from this past workshop will help you understand how your personal interests, skills, and values contribute to your future career success. A major theme is taking ownership of your decisions. Important topics include: the importance of career decision making, self-assessment, transferrable skills, networking, defining success, personal needs, work/life balance, and defining short-term and long-term goals.

4. Completing Online Self-Assessment Exercises
There are many free self-assessment exercises to help you identify your goals, values, skills and motivations for work.
a. The LifeWork Transitions site offers many great activities. Step 3 – Redefining Your Self: Passions, Preferences, Purpose is especially helpful in assessing your life and work values.
b. Steward Cooper Coon offers many free online tests, including:
Career Values Test
Motivated Skills Test

5. Attending the Workplace Dynamics Series
The Workplace Dynamics Series offered through OITE is another tool to help you with self-assessment around areas like communications skills, teamwork, conflict and diversity.

Self-assessment is not an easy process and it won’t happen overnight. Give yourself the time, space and energy to be introspective. Knowing your skills, values and interests will allow you to be a more effective job searcher because you will have a sense of roles that would or would not be a good “fit” for you. Having a good idea of your own values and interests can help prioritize your professional goals. This focus will allow you to ask better questions during informational interviews and employment interviews alike.

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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.


Tips on Conducting a Job Search Anywhere

May 20, 2013

Do you need to find a job in a geographically limited area far from your current location? Maybe your significant other just found a dream job, or maybe you just always wanted to live in Seattle, WA – whatever the reason, a remote and geographically limited job search poses a distinct set of challenges that require some strategizing to overcome. Here are a few thoughts that may help from a person who recently was searching for a job in Dallas, TX, while living in Bethesda, MD.  These tips are useful in any job search, but particularly for conducting a remote search.

Begin the search early. Job options tend to be reduced when they are limited by geography. Imposing boundaries on the location means relying on fewer potential employers. The more time you allow for finding a job, the better.

Use your network. Your network should be your first resource in a remote job search. Know the histories of the people in your network, and keep up with their current locations. Ask people currently or historically linked to the area for suggested companies or connections. Some of your contacts may work for a company with an office in that location and may be willing to send out feelers on your behalf. Always ask permission before using a contact’s name or, even better, ask them to provide an introduction.

Do not limit yourself to professional contacts. Talk to friends, alumni associations, volunteer organizations, members of your religious institute, or anywhere else you may find an unexpected lead. If you are a member of a professional or volunteer organization, contact the local chapters to make some connections. Seek local people at conferences. Make your job search as widely known as possible – the more exposure the better. Conducting a secretive job search poses more of a challenge, but typically you can advertise pretty broadly without you current boss finding out.

Use job Sites. Job sites will be your friend. Most career sites filter searches to a specific area or radius around an area. Check out the state labor department for local search engines. The City of Dallas website had links to six local search engines.

Know your business. If you are looking for an academic job, search all the universities. For me, looking for a job in science policy in Dallas meant searching anywhere that might have a policy/government relations office, like non-profit organizations and universities. After finding some leads, go back to your network and look for the connections. Cold e-mails to directors or assistant directors (managers) located in offices of interest can end up in future leads or even a job.  So don’t be afraid to write them a note.  None of the offices I contacted were hiring at the time, but I continued to receive several leads from the people I contacted with in those initial cold e-mails.

Be flexible. Compromising a little on the job you are seeking may go a long way towards finding a position. As a person recently preparing for a science policy career in Washington, DC, where policy jobs are plentiful, now moving to Dallas, TX, where science policy jobs are next to non-existent, I had to broaden my search to jobs with similar skills requirements and career goals. After some considerable research, I found a job in the communications office of a local university requiring many of the same skills and tasks that I enjoyed in science policy.

To recap: start early, use your network heavily, use search engines wisely, cold call companies of interest, and use your network even more.

What are your suggestions or experiences for a remote job search?


Finding Time for Career-Enhancing Activities

May 6, 2013

Research is your top priority as a graduate student or postdoc. That, coupled with your passion for science, may drive you to devote every waking moment to your research.  You love discovery.  You need to publish.  However, regardless of your career aspirations, your regular routine may benefit from a slight change of pace.  Maybe there is a certain career you’ve always wanted to explore or skill set you’ve wanted to develop.  Participating in activities outside of lab can help you learn a lot about yourself, forge meaningful networks, and potentially guide your future career path.

Earlier, we discussed serving on the career symposium committee and how to make the most out of such opportunities.  Other activities may range from writing an article for a newsletter, organizing a monthly seminar series or social event, teaching a course or leading a journal club, taking the initiative to start a new interest group, or serving as a co-chair of a postdoc or graduate student association (such as FelCom or the Graduate Student Council). There is a variety of opportunities with a range of time commitments to explore.

Choose the right moment, but make the time: Develop a comfortable balance between your research and activities, and never overextend yourself.  For both graduate students and postdocs, the “middle-years” of your fellowships are generally good times to participate.  Don’t get heavily involved when just starting your fellowship or when your lab is in the midst of preparing for a sensitive event like a grant deadline or a BSC review.  For grad students, avoid periods of time when you have a high level of academic responsibilities.  Perhaps it feels like there is no perfect time or personal/family commitments make it difficult to participate in events that extend into the evening.  Though, let’s say you devote 5% of the “standard” 40 hour work to such career-enhancing activities.  That’s 2 hours a week!  Look at your schedule from that perspective and determine how you can find the time.

Do the job right or don’t do it at all: Don’t participate in an activity if you are just looking to add a line to your CV, and don’t agree to take a role if you are not truly enthusiastic about it.  That line on your CV alone won’t do or say anything if you can’t support it by explaining the transferrable skills that you may have acquired.  Make sure you clearly understand what is expected for each one before you volunteer.   If you don’t fulfill your responsibilities, it could irreparably damage your reputation with colleagues and staff.  Give plenty of warning if you have to respectfully miss a meeting or withdraw from an activity.  Again, research is your top priority and everyone understands if extenuating circumstances arise.

Taking the next step: Talk to your mentor about your participation in any activities during normal working hours.  If your mentor isn’t too enthusiastic about your participating in a certain activity, start with an event that doesn’t take up much time.  Explain to your mentor how these activities can be important for your future career path and show, specifically, how small the time commitment really is for many cases.  Show through experience that these activities are not interfering with your ability to get new data or proceed with your research.

The NIH (or your university) is a great place to explore your skills and interests both in and out of the lab.  If you choose the right activity, plan ahead and manage your time efficiently, you can significantly enrich your experience here.


Becoming Skilled and Competent: The Essentials of Presentations

February 11, 2013

One of the most common forms of professional communication is the ‘Presentation.’  No matter what career you have – professor, researcher, science policy analyst, CEO of a company – chances are you will have to prepare and deliver professional presentations.  In fact, you probably give presentations regularly already – for lab meeting, at professional conferences, for your thesis proposal, or for your job interview.  However, no matter why you are giving your talk, the goal is the same: Communicating and sharing information with your audience.  Because of this, there are some simple principles that any talk should have – and you can use these are the building blocks of any presentation you prepare.

  1. Have a story:  Every talk has a story.  Just like any story – from a book or a movie – no one remembers every detail, but just the major events.  Your goal is to construct your presentation so that people leave remembering the major points.  Start by asking yourself, “What are the ‘major events’ your audience should know about your story?  If they have 5 minutes to summarize my talk, what is it I want them to be able to say?”
  2. Plan your TransitionsSuccessful presentations are about successful transitions.  Transitions occur throughout your talk.  There is a transition from your introduction to your first major point.  Another transition occurs when you move to the next point.  Transitions also occur from slide to slide.  If you understand the story you are trying to tell, then having smooth transitions is easier.  When you are practicing your talk, think about how you will lead your audience from one point to the other.  For example, once you complete your specific aims of your experiments, your audience should know (and you should too) that the next major point to discuss is the methods used, in only enough detail for them to understand what comes afterwards – highlights from the results.
  3. You are the Presentation, not the Slides: With Powerpoint and other presentation applications today, most people prepare slides to go with their talk.  While this is not a bad thing, the slides should not be the focus of your story.  Filling your slides with the verbatim text of your presentation bores your audience, invites them to read ahead (and by doing so, stop listening to you), and in the ends, makes them wonder why you could not have just written the talk and handed it to them before hand.  You are the presentation:  You tell the story, you decide what the important aspects to emphasize are, and you direct the audience’s attention to interesting features of graphs and figures.  Your slides are tools and landmarks that help you stay on track, and remind you what major point you wanted to make at that time.  Perhaps outline your story on a piece of paper, and then create your slides to help support your story.

Here is a recent videocast of a workshop that the OITE did on Talking Science: Designing and Delivering Successful Oral Presentations

No matter what type of talk you need to give, before you start, think first about your story, how you will transition from major point to major point (and from slide to slide), and do not rely upon you slides to tell your story.   With these basics you can create any great talk!


You Got an Interview, Not a Job Offer: How to Impress Your Way into a Position

September 17, 2012

Its interview season!  This time of year we seem to see an increase in the number of institutions hiring people.  Before they hire someone, they are going to interview at least a few people for each position.  This is why we set September on our Calendar for Career Success to be the month that you practice your interviewing skills.  Here are a few key Do’s and Don’ts you should be focusing on when practicing or preparing for an interview.

Do…

  • Know and understand what you are applying to do.  This does not mean just knowing what the job is called.  You need to know the specific duties associated with the position.  If you are uncertain going in to the interview, do not ask, “So what will I be doing?”  Instead, rephrase your question to show some understanding while asking for more clarification.  For example, “It is my understanding that I will be doing A, B and C.  Are there any other duties or responsibilities?”
  • Research the company/organization for which you will be interviewing prior to the interview.  Start with their web page to get a basic idea of who they are and what they do.  However, you need to read more than just their web page.  Use search engines and read reviews.  Use your network and ask people familiar with the organization to gain a more in-depth understanding.
  • Try to find out who is presently in the position.  This may help you gauge the experiences needed.  If the position is new to the company, research a similar position at another company. This may give you ideas on activities and programs that could be implemented in the position you are applying for.
  • Be careful of your body language, facial expression and your verbal tone of voice.  If you appear to be put off by a question, or uncertain of your answer it is going to be a negative against you when the interviewers are reviewing their candidates.
  • Answer questions in Situation/Task Action Result (STAR) format.  “When I was working for X, I needed to do Y.  I started by implementing Z, and working on A.  After a few months it was running smoothly and my supervisor was thrilled.” Read the rest of this entry »

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.