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.
June 17, 2013
There are many important aspects to having a successful career. One aspect often overlooked is making sure you have a community of peers. Communities provide more than just support for everyday life and challenges. They are great for building networks, developing co-mentoring relationships and gaining leadership experience. Coming to a large campus, like the NIH or a college campus, can feel like you have landed on a different planet. Everything is so different. Finding welcoming and supportive groups and peers can help ease that transition. But, it can also help you prepare for the next step in your career.
While the resources below are specific to the NIH, all universities have similar groups to make you feel welcome. Check your campus list of organizations. This is not an exhaustive list of groups available, but is meant to provide an idea of what types of organizations exist. All of these groups are welcome to everyone in the NIH community.
- The Graduate Student Council and the postdoc association Felcom both support trainees by providing social events, career networking and communities for intramural trainees.
- NIH Black Scientists and Friends Network, an informal group dedicated to the mentoring and career enhancement of Black scientists at NIH. For more information, contact Dr. Roland Owens.
- LGBT-Fellows and Friends helps its members thrive in their professional and personal lives by addressing issues unique to the LGBT community. Join the LGBT-FF listserv to learn about up-coming LGBT-FF seminars, professional development activities and networking opportunities.
- The NIH SACNAS (Society for Advancing Hispanics/Chicanos & Native American in Science) chapter provides a trans-NIH resource to provide a forum to network, share successes and strategize about future goals. For more information and to learn about upcoming events, join the NIH-SACNAS listserv.
- The Women of Color Research Network supports all scientists interested in raising the voice and visibility of Women of Color (WOC) in biomedical and behavioral research. This new social media site is for women of color and everybody interested in diversity in the scientific workforce. Visit the Web site to join.
- MOM-DAD-DOCS seeks to provide mentorship, support, and networking to intramural trainees (basic or clinical) with children. Contact Lori Conlan (conlanlo AT mail.nih.gov)
- The Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management plays a lead role in making certain that representatives of all groups feel comfortable and can work optimally on the NIH campus.
- Visiting Fellows Committee, ~60% of the NIH postdoc population is visiting from other countries. There are over 20 country groups to connect you with fellows from around the world: https://www.training.nih.gov/country_support_groups
July 9, 2012
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?