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Planned Happenstance

Submitted by Lori Conlan May 11, 2010
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Guest writer: Anne Kirchgessner, LCPC, NCC, Career Counselor Feeling stuck in your current job? Not sure what your next career step is? Here are some tips to help you make your own good luck and take advantage of both planned and unplanned career opportunities. John Krumboltz, a noted career development theorist, considers ways to take advantage of both chance and planned events. He calls this concept Happenstance Learning Theory. His work takes into account that the careers of most people have been impacted by chance happenings as well as planned events. In a recent article in the Journal of Career Assessment (Vol. 17, No. 2, May 2009), Krumboltz writes: “No one can predict the future – everyone’s career is influenced by many unplanned events.” He encourages people to remain open to exploring opportunities in order to move ahead in a positive way toward their goals. The three steps Krumboltz suggests in controlling unplanned events are: 1. Before the unplanned event, take actions that position you to experience it. Application: Be active in many ways. Join walking groups, attend professional meetings, start a book club, etc. 2. During the event, remain alert and sensitive to recognize potential opportunities. Application: Keep your mind open to meeting people and finding new opportunities ALL the time, not just at career-related events. 3. After the event, initiate actions that enable you to benefit from it. Application: Follow up, keep in touch, explore related opportunities. Rather than say something like "I can't do this because..." he suggests asking: “How can I act now to increase the chance of a desirable future event?” Following are four questions that Krumboltz poses that may help you to look ahead in a more positive way to explore a new or future direction: 1. What is a chance event that you wish would happen to you? e.g. someone might say "I want to meet someone involved in public policy." 2. How can you act now to increase the chance of a desirable future event? e.g. “I could join a group affiliated with this field, and/or search on LinkedIn for people currently working in public policy.” 3. How would your life change if you acted? e.g.  “I would learn more about public policy and probably make some good contacts in the field.” 4. How would your life change if you did nothing? e.g. “Hard to say for sure…” (But it’s likely that you could miss some opportunities to explore and move ahead toward your goals) Answering these questions might give you more knowledge and the flexibility to take advantage of chance opportunities. Krumboltz also believes that the goal of career counseling is to help people “learn to take actions to achieve more satisfying career and personal lives - not just make a single career decision.” If you would like to meet with a career counselor in OITE to explore possibilities for your next career step, please e-mail [email protected].

Practice Makes Perfect

Submitted by Lori Conlan May 3, 2010
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Last week, I was privileged to share some time with trainees at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences' Biomedical Career Fair in Durham, North Carolina. The goal of this conference was to:

"provide young scientists an opportunity to explore a myriad of fields and create a contact network as they plan for future careers in the biomedical sciences,"

according to the website above. As it turned out, however, just about every trainee I met has already acquired some level of career development savvy. Most of the graduate students and postdocs I interacted with, whether from UNC-Chapel Hill (GO HEELS!), Duke, NIEHS, the EPA, or elsewhere, have served as volunteers, freelancers, adjuncts, interns, or apprentices in a wide range of career fields. It is precisely this type of hands-on training that will give these candidates an edge in the current job market. If you are currently exploring or are curious about a particular field, test both your interest and skill by creating an opportunity to work in that environment. One of the trainees I met volunteers as an intern in an office of technology transfer, for example. In this setting, she has developed specific skills that are attractive to employers hiring for this field. Another trainee has sought out multiple teaching opportunities by contacting faculty at several institutions and offering to guest lecture. His CV is now much stronger, as he has oodles of classroom experience to show prospective universities. Yet another trainee I met called on her problem solving skills and quick reaction time by jumping in when needed at the career fair. Any trainee involved with the planning and/or execution of a large-scale event like last week's career fair will be sought after by employers from a wide range of fields for their demonstrated teamwork, problem-solving, and organizational skills. (And on that note, let me take this chance to say THANK YOU for a job well done, Diane, Raj, Michelle, and others!) Another innovative way to expand your skill set is to enroll in or audit a class of interest. If you are seeking to move into consulting, for example, you may want to check out the offerings of local business schools. While this type of experience may not seem as hands-on as some of the examples above, it may prove to fill a skill gap on your resume in a field you're considering. So get your hands wet, dirty, or whatever the analogy is to build your resume or CV for careers that appeal to you. And for exceptional career advice, you may need to look no further than your own bench. Judging from the trainees I met last week, your lab mates may be pretty career-savvy folk indeed. :)

Get Your Job Search in Gear

Submitted by Lori Conlan May 6, 2010
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Recent news reports Exit Disclaimer suggest that the economy is slowly recovering, and that unemployment figures are falling. While this news is hopeful, it may be difficult to hear for those of us currently on the job market. If you have been searching for a while, or are planning to start searching for a job, there are several methods you can use to increase your chance of being successful. Following are some points outlined in a talk I gave at last year’s NIH Career Symposium in Bethesda. 1. Plan ahead Trainees often ask about the best time to begin a job search. My answer to that question is always the same: It is never too early to begin searching! According to the Labor Force Statistics for 2009, taken from the Current Population Survey developed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (U.S. Dept. of Labor), the average length of time people have been unemployed—i.e. roughly the length of a job search—is 24.4 weeks, or almost 6 ½ months. 2. Know what you want It is critical to make a decision on what type(s) of career(s) you are targeting before you search. It is a waste of time to sit in the lab, on your computer, searching endlessly through job listings. It is a far better use of time to visit a career counselor at OITE to conduct some self-assessment and find a career field that suits you. I also strongly encourage you to attend the upcoming NIH Career Symposium on Tuesday, May 18th, from 8:00am - 4:30pm at Natcher Conference Center in Bethesda. Rather than a typical job/employment fair, this is a professional development event with panel discussions and skills workshops that will assist you in the next phase of your career. 3. Create a support network To assist you throughout the job search process, visit OITE often. Get to know the staff there. Also, consider starting a job search support group with friends or colleagues. In this setting, you can brainstorm ideas with one another, offer encouragement, share job leads or networking events, etc. 4. Use many strategies Do not limit yourself to using one or two job search strategies. Use a myriad of approaches, as this will increase the likelihood of finding out about job openings. Consider using the following strategies for your search.

  • Network
    • Tap into alumni/ae databases at undergrad and grad (and potentially postdoc) institutions
    • Join professional associations, which often have student/postdoc discount rates
    • Join local networking groups in your area (some resources for this are listed below)
    • Network online, using LinkedIn Exit Disclaimer and other resources. And be sure to complete your profile on LinkedIn—and keep it updated with any changes.
  • Identify specific organizations
    • Be aware of trends in career fields of interest. To do this, use local and national journals linked to your areas of interest.
    • Check broad, sector-based organizations for employer listings by geographic area, such as biotech council sites. (see below for link)
    • Once you have identified specific organizations, apply for jobs directly on their sites. This strategy is more effective than applying on mega-job listing websites.
  • Consider temp to perm
    • Think about applying with several temporary agencies. Working as a temp gives you a chance to check out the organization, and vice-versa.
    • When you apply, ask agencies about their record of temp-to-perm hires. (Listings of some agencies follow below.)
  • Attend local job fairs
    • Check local newspapers and community journals for listings.
  • Consider professional fellowships
  • Contact placement agencies
    • Most agencies assist job seekers with several years of experience – and this may include postdoctoral work.
    • If you do opt to put an application on file with a placement agency, be wary of fees, as these organizations are well compensated by the firms that employ their services and should not be charging you, the candidate.
  • Resume/job listing “banks,” databases, boards
    • Consider the pros and cons to using these mega-sites:
    • Pros: easy to use, free
    • Cons: time drain, one of the least effective job search methods (so don’t spend much time here!)

Here are some final tips for a successful search:

  • Get organized! Create a system to keep track of your search: notebook, online, etc.
  • Use a calendar and set short-term, achievable goals every week
  • Keep in touch with people

And check out the resources below. Best of luck in your search! Resources: DC Job Search Group: Exit Disclaimer One-Stop Career Centers: Exit Disclaimer Grant/fellowship listings: Exit Disclaimer Online networking: Exit Disclaimer, Exit Disclaimer DC/MD Business journals: Exit Disclaimer, Exit Disclaimer Tech Council of Maryland Membership Directory: Exit Disclaimer Temp and Placement Agencies: Kelly Scientific Resources (Specializes in placing scientific professionals): Exit Disclaimer (Resource for employers and job seekers in chemistry, pharmaceuticals, biotech, and the chemical sciences industry): Exit Disclaimer Evolution Recruitment Consultants (Provides recruitment services, positions, and candidates for all areas of the biotechnology sector): Exit Disclaimer Scientific Placement, Inc. (Specializing in recruitment of candidates with commercial product development experience in the microcomputer and commercial software industries): Exit Disclaimer OneScience (Biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and scientific job listings, career insight, and news): Exit Disclaimer

To Share or Not to Share: Family Planning and the Job Market

Submitted by Lori Conlan May 14, 2010
I just got off the phone with a close friend who is currently on the job market--and initiating the adoption process. She is now thinking through her family planning decisions and the impact, if any, they might have on her job search and eventual employment. Starting a family can be a wonderful, overwhelming experience fraught with ups and downs, pain and joy. Throwing a job search into this mix of emotions (and for some, physical changes) can lead to a bevy of questions: How will an employer react if I am visibly pregnant? If I have an interview scheduled, should I disclose my pregnancy before the interview? Or tackle the issue once I arrive? What if I know I'm pregnant, but I'm not showing yet? What if I accept a position and then get a call from the adoption agency? While these are difficult questions, and responses will vary from person to person, depending on many factors (including your own personal values), there are some strategies you can employ to think through the pros and cons, and the ramifications, if any, of your decisions around family planning. Thinking through potential scenarios can significantly reduce your stress around this topic. Still, it is important to recognize that things may not necessarily happen according to plan, and being willing to accept some ambiguity will also help with stress reduction. As you begin this process, consider your priorities, on your own and/or with your partner. Are you close to graduation byt anxious to get started with a family? Can you delay for a year if you are currently pregnant? Or are you in a position financially where you need to find work as soon as possible? Again, your responses will be as varied as your personalities. If you are planning to get pregnant in the near future or considering adoption, there is no need to disclose your plans to an employer--unless and until there is something to disclose. And even then, your decision is your own. Regardless of how far along you are, you need not disclose your pregnancy or adoption plans in a cover letter. This document is used to demonstrate your potential fit and ultimate contribution to an employer and should focus on your qualifications and experiences as they relate to the job. Once contacted for an interview, you will have another decision to make. Should you disclose a pregnancy or adoption that is in the very early stages? Not necessarily, but again, thinking through the pros and cons of disclosure will be helpful in calming your nerves. Being in the early stages introduces uncertainty, and you may decide not to disclose at this point. If you do decide to disclose at this point, you should recognize that your disclosure may introduce bias on the part of the employer or hiring committee. If you are noticeably pregnant, or are in the final stages of completing an adoption, it may make more sense to disclose--and I would recommend doing so before the interview so as not to catch your potential employer by surprise. You can address it simply in an email or phone conversation, e.g.: "I'd like to let you know before my visit that I am 5 months pregnant, but I intend to work full-time before and after my baby arrives. I am excited about this opportunity, as your drug development team has been growing so quickly...." I would encourage you to change the course of the conversation quickly from your family plans to the job at hand, whether you decide to disclose in advance or in person. On a related note, be sure to think through how much time you might like to take after the baby arrives.  The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is in place to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave--but only after 12 months of employment. If a pregnancy or adoption occurs after you have accepted a position, think strategically about how to manage that situation. What can you contribute before the arrival of your new family member? Is there work you can realistically accomplish while on leave? And when do you intend to return to work? Positioning yourself as a professional who has thought through the myriad ways a new child will impact your work may help to engender respect from your new colleagues. Managing pregnancy or adoption coupled with a job search is a tricky situation to navigate. If you have lingering questions after this post, please do send them along. It would also be wonderful for parents past, present, and future, to hear about your experiences in this situation. Post a comment or story on this topic if you feel comfortable sharing. We could all benefit from hearing. :)

FAQ's on Resumes

Submitted by Lori Conlan May 20, 2010
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Years ago, as I was training a career development staff, I created this list of questions I frequently heard from trainees. If you have a question about resume writing that you don't see represented here, send it along and I'll post an answer here! Q: An employer requested a CV in a job ad I found, but it is not a faculty opening. Should I send a resume or a CV? A:  Resume. The term “CV” is sometimes generically used to refer to any kind of personal qualifications document, but what employers are actually seeking is a resume. That is, employers who request “CVs” want to see categories typically included on a resume but not on an academic CV, such as skills or techniques, job descriptions for research you have conducted, etc. Q: Should I include personal information on my resume, such as marital status, number of children, social security number, age, etc.? A: No, not if you are applying for jobs in the United States. Including a social security number can be especially hazardous because of the potential for identity theft. Q: Is an objective required on a resume? A: No, but if used, it should be specific and demonstrate what you have to offer an employer. Alternatively, consider using a summary of qualifications or professional profile at the beginning of the resume to demonstrate focus. Q: Should I list my postdoctoral experience under “Education,” “Research Experience,” or both? A: It may depend on what you are applying for. If you are moving away from the bench, it may be fine to list your postdoctoral appointment under “Education.” However, if you expect to use laboratory skills day-to-day in your next position, list it under “Research Experience”—which should fall right after “Education.” Q: Can I include volunteer work as experience? A: Yes, as long as you don't include it in a category entitled “Work Experience,” or “Employment.” The words “work” and “employment” denote paid experiences. Q: Should I list my current advisor as a reference if we don’t have a very good relationship? A: No—but be prepared for a prospective employer to contact that person. You can let employers know that you are conducting your job search in confidence, but some may still try to contact your current advisor. Q: Do I need to print my resume on “good” paper when preparing to attend a job fair? A: If you wish, but clean, 20-lb. white paper is just as good. Q: Should I list presentations I've given in lab meetings? What about departmental presentations? A: Lab meeting presentations: no; department-wide, Institute-wide: yes. Q: I am on an H1-B. Should I list my visa status on my resume? A: Deciding when to share your visa status with a potential employer is a personal decision. However, you may choose to wait until the interview stage to disclose your status, simply because that gives the employer an opportunity to review your credentials without considering sponsorship requirements—and it may be that they are willing to sponsor you after learning more about you and your abilities. Q: Should I use the first person on my resume? A: No. It is best not to use “I,” “me,” or “my” on your resume. Q: Does font style matter? How about size? A: Yes—the font used on a resume should be clean and easy to read. Arial and Times New Roman are used most often. Any font smaller than 11 pt. becomes difficult to read for some. Q: What if my resume extends beyond one page? A: That is fine. Consider both your education and level of experience. Generally speaking, graduate students have had more education and experience than undergrads, postdoctoral scholars more than grad students, etc. That said, going on to 2, 3, even 4 pages may be fine for you, depending on where you are in your science career. Q: Should I list organizations I've been involved with that would reveal my religious affiliation? Political affiliation? A: This is a personal decision—but be aware that it may introduce bias, depending on the point of view of the reader. Generally speaking, it is best not to include such information, unless you would not be interested in working in a place that would discriminate against a particular value, belief, or orientation you hold. Q: Should I list professional affiliations? A: Yes, if they are relevant to the position you are seeking. You may also choose to list fraternal or community service organizations if you think that participation in such groups demonstrates your civic mindedness and will be perceived positively by a prospective employer.

Make the Most of Your Mentoring Relationships

Submitted by Lori Conlan May 25, 2010
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When I think about the mentors I've had over the course of my professional life, I feel very fortunate. Each has been unique, injecting his or her thoughts, experiences, and personal style into our mentoring relationship. As I reflect on time spent talking with, listening to, or emailing with each of my mentors, it seems like the role of mentor came quite naturally to them, an effortless act that engendered feelings of respect and gratitude on my part. So what's the secret? How can we take full advantage of the mentoring relationships we are currently in, either as mentor or trainee? I have culled information from a variety of sources cited below to assist you in building and maintaining strong mentoring relationships throughout your career.

As a trainee:

Assume primary responsibility for your own career development. This is critical, as I have met a few trainees who have been unsuccessful at forging strong mentoring bonds because of an expectation that "other people should be looking out for me." Take charge of your own career, always. Communicate your goals often—both formally and informally. Again, this is your responsibility. Trainees who have shared their professional goals with their mentors early on in their research careers have enjoyed more satisfaction long-term than those who have not.

Assume progressive responsibility and management of your research.
If your current PI serves as a mentor, demonstrate your willingness to take on new projects or learn new skills, with a view to enhancing your own career development and assisting with the growth of your PI/mentor's lab.
Seek feedback on your performance regularly.
Think about identifying mentors who might be best for providing feedback in a particular area. Do you know of scientists who are great at mentoring others? Building research teams? Those whose strengths lie in editing? How about someone who approaches research problems creatively? Asking for feedback from people who are gifted in a particular area will help you grow as a professional.

As a mentor:

Listen patiently.

If you are mentoring an undergraduate, graduate student, or technician in the lab, try to listen actively to what the trainee is sharing, rather than jumping in and trying to offer a solution immediately.
Communicate regularly.
Decide on place, time, and frequency of meetings with your trainee and stick to this schedule. Checking in often and keeping lines of communication open will strengthen any professional relationship.
Be clear about your expectations.
Work with each individual you are mentoring to set specific goals. This might include publishing goals, skill development, or a goal related to the job search. Let the conversation be driven by the trainee you are mentoring. Some questions you might ask are "What skills would you like to develop?" "How can you make this happen?" "How will you measure progress in this area?" "How can I facilitate this process?" Have trainees explain projects back to you, or write a paragraph describing a given project and their role in it.
Keep trainees motivated.
Encourage strategic thinking and creativity in your trainee. If feedback is needed, offer criticism in a way that doesn’t shame or discourage your trainee. Encourage your trainee to learn new skills. Provide networking opportunities by introducing your trainees to other scientists while at professional meetings, or on campus in different institutes or departments.
Stay in touch.
Keep in touch with those you are mentoring and those who are mentoring you. The time you invest in these relationships now will pay dividends both now and in the future.



Compact Between Postdoctoral Appointees and Their Mentors, Association of American Medical Colleges Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On Being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine

Where the Jobs Are: The Top 10 Cities for Growth

Submitted by Lori Conlan May 28, 2010
A friend of mine is relocating for a new job and has been checking into real estate sites as she looks for new houses.  During her research, she came across an article listing the 10 Best Cities for the Next Decade. The authors of the article argue that when innovation is in the forefront of a city's culture, unemployment is typically down and new job growth outpaces national averages. So which cities ranked highest for job creation and salary growth, and came in lower than the national average in terms of unemployment figures?  Check out the list below. 10. Topeka, KS 9. West Hartford, CT 8. Burlington, VT 7. Des Moines, IA 6. Rochester, MN 5. Salt Lake City, UT 4. Boulder, CO 3. Washington, DC 2. Seattle, WA 1. Austin, TX While the metrics used to determine the list above included unemployment rate and income growth, the percentage of the workforce in the "creative class" was also assessed. The creative class, as described by Kevin Stolarick and Richard Florida (see The Rise of the Creative Class), includes scientists, engineers, educators, writers, artists, entertainers and others. The authors argue that this group injects "both economic and cultural vitality into a city and help make it a vibrant place to live." What qualities are most important to you in a city? An entrepreneurial spirit in the marketplace? Good weather? A significant percentage of the population in the "creative class?" Affordable housing? The survey above is an interesting approach, as it explores growth through the lenses of innovation and collaboration. Are these pieces the most important to you in a job? As you consider these and other factors to determine where to apply for jobs, you may want to check out a related article, Find the City That's Best for You. Durham, NC, came up for me, so I know it works.  :) (For some great photos of the top 10 cities above, visit the 10 Best Cities at a Glance.)