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Inject New Life into Your Work This Season

Submitted by Lori Conlan June 8, 2010
Rainbow flag image

It's gorgeous out today--75 degrees, sunny, with a slight breeze that keeps the temperature comfortable enough to sit out in the sun. On days like this, it takes a while for me to get motivated. I find it much easier to daydream about the summer, thinking about places I'd like to go, people I'd like to see, things I'd like to do. It 's hard for me to focus on work as I'd rather be outside, enjoying the weather. In truth, I haven't been very motivated about my work recently. I shared these feelings with a close friend, and our conversation was enormously helpful, as he shook me out of my doldrums and reminded me of ways to stay engaged with my work. Days later, I received an email from my professional association with an article Exit Disclaimer on this very topic by Tim Lutenski, a career consultant and instructor, who suggests ways to stay focused, motivated, and engaged at work. Whether you are feeling inactive or listless, experiencing a loss of the passion or excitement you used to feel about your work, are feeling you're not growing professionally, or are simply bored at work right now, Lutenski's article Exit Disclaimer offers four steps you can take to reinvigorate yourself and find passion and meaning in your work again. 1. Adopt the proper mindset. When I am feeling bored, I typically produce mediocre work, but when I'm excited about my work, I generate superior results. No surprise there, I suppose, but a good reminder of the power of our minds to influence our work. Being reminded of my personal responsibility for my attitude towards work--and ultimately, my success at work--helped me to get back on track, focus on possibilities, and try new approaches. 2. Evaluate yourself. Lutenski's suggestion to pinpoint sources of dissatisfaction and frustration helped me to direct my energy appropriately and to focus on changing what needed to be changed in order to feel satisfied again. If you cannot pinpoint what is frustrating you in your current job, try writing down what your ideal work would look like--and then take steps as you are ready to make your ideal a reality. 3. Reevaluate your skills. To find work that carries more meaning and satisfaction, it is important to identify the skills you are most passionate about using. What do you look forward to doing in your current job?  Is there a project you can propose that would allow you to use those skills more often? If you have trouble identifying your skills, consider meeting with a career counselor in OITE for assistance. According to Lutenski, incorporating these skills in your current work will allow you to build meaning, make job tasks more relevant, and to spend your creative time on tasks that better fit your passion. 4. Take action. In this article Exit Disclaimer, the author argues that you must do something new in order to experience something new. Make a change! Create an action plan for yourself and your work that includes short-term, achievable goals. Reward yourself as you meet these goals. As Lutenski puts it, "The key is that you must initiate and take action – nothing will happen unless you make it happen." To inject new life into your work, try two or three of the following (complete list available in the article Exit Disclaimer cited above):

  • Become an expert - Speak at conferences, publish articles, serve as a resource to others, and conduct workshops.
  • Build outside relationships - Go outside the lab to broaden your skill set, raise your profile, and build relationships to nurture professional growth.
  • Track your successes - Keep a success list to offer perspective and provide hope.
  • Change your routine - Assess how you spend your time and energy and what you can do differently.
  • Read - Be proactive in stimulating your mind and rejuvenating your spirit.
  • Take a class - Meet new people, spark your creativity, and become invigorated with new ideas and challenges.
  • Let go - Work, don’t struggle; do your part, give it your best energy, then let it go. Quit blaming and nursing grudges. Find the positive and move on.
  • Remember the larger picture - Find solace in a world larger than your own. Remember the blessings in your life: your partner, children, family, and friends. Give them your time and attention.

Giving attention to these areas will enhance your life---both inside and outside of work. Enjoy the season! :)

Manage Your Time with a Tomato

Submitted by Lori Conlan June 11, 2010
tomato image

Recently, a client approached me expressing her need to manage her time more effectively. She felt overwhelmed with all of he projects she was juggling at work, and as a result, felt that she wasn't doing any one of them as well as she could. I could certainly relate--there have been many times in my career when I have felt swamped, juggling so many projects I was unsure where--or even how--to start. In my research for this client, I found the most intriguing time management tool...a tomato. I'm not sure whether you have ever heard of--or used--the Pomodoro Technique™ Exit Disclaimer, but its properties are quite simple and can be applied anytime, anywhere. According to the Pomodoro Technique™ Exit Disclaimer website, "Creator Francesco Cirillo was a university student in Rome struggling to stay on task. He decided to challenge his powers of concentration using what he had at hand - a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato. That was the first Pomodoro. (Tomato in Italian). Bright red, iconic, and charmingly low-tech, it's the perfect invitation for getting things done." I found I agreed with the technique up to this point...I DO think bright red kitchen timers in the shape of a tomato are cute. I read on... Essentially, the technique involves writing a to-do list early in the day, setting your timer (kitchen, electronic, web-based, or otherwise) for 25 minutes, and focusing on only one task from your list during that time. When the timer goes off, you have completed one "pomodoro." You put a check mark next to that task on your list, indicating the completion of one pomodoro, and take a 5-minute break. After that, you set your timer once again and go for another 25 minutes, again focusing on one task alone, though it may or may not be the same task you worked on previously. After completing 4 "pomodoros" in a row, you take a longer break, from 15-30 minutes. Bah, I thought. I was skeptical of the claims made on the Pomodoro website:

  • "Enhance focus and concentration by cutting down on interruptions!"
  • "Boost motivation and keep it constant!"
  • "Refine the estimation process, both in qualitative and quantitative terms!"
  • "Improve your work or study process!"

This technique seemed so simple, and its claims so lofty, I had to try it out for myself. As much as I would love to have a pomodoro of my very own, I currently do not, so I opted for a simple online clock Exit Disclaimer. Per the instructions on the PT website, I listed all of the projects I was then involved with on the "Activity Inventory Sheet," and from those chose 4 tasks to list on my "To-Do Today" sheet. (I used Excel to track my projects and pomodoros, though the site does sell such sheets of paper.) I set my timer for 25 minutes and went to work. When the timer went off, I stood up, grabbed a drink of water, reset the timer, and went back to work for another 25 minutes. By the end of the day, I felt a great sense of accomplishment, having completed many pomodoros--and many goals for that day. And lo and behold, my concentration did improve! I regularly struggle with internal interruptions ("What's for dinner?" "What do we need at the grocery?" "What time is Charles's gymnastics class?" etc.), but found the length of one pomodoro (25 minutes) so short, I was able to fend off these interruptions. Conversely, the amount of time spent on one pomodoro (25 minutes) was in fact long enough to focus intently and not lose concentration on the task at hand. Further, knowing how many pomodoros a particular task actually took to complete was valuable information I used throughout the day and into the next. Amazing!  All from one little tomato. Mr. Cirillo, the Pomodoro Technique's creator, has been kind enough to share his time management strategy in a free, online workbook Exit Disclaimer. So check it out if you'd like to test this time management tool out for yourself--just be sure not to use too many pomodoros to do it.

Get in Job-Search Shape This Summer

Submitted by Lori Conlan June 15, 2010
soccer player

As we get closer to July, vacations loom, and our thoughts run to the beach. Or to the mountains. Or to the World Cup. Or to anywhere but the lab. If you are enjoying a slower pace now, you can use this time to get in shape for a job search this fall.


TO-DO list:

1. Get your CV ready. Keep your CV up-to-date. You might create a few different versions, depending on the types of jobs you intend to apply for in the fall. 2. Draft letters. Again, depending on the kinds of jobs you might apply for, you can use time this summer to craft a few very strong letters. Tailor your letters to jobs you are considering. If you are still unsure of your plans, visit with a career counselor at OITE to explore different fields. If you have a few notions but aren't sure how to write your letters, troll job listings, taking keywords and ideas from them and incorporating these into your letter. Edit your letters carefully, and share them with an OITE career counselor for an objective read. 3. Contact references for letters, etc. Get in touch with your dissertation advisor, talk with your current PI, and contact other professionals who might serve as references for you. Let your references know what types of jobs you are considering for the fall. If you intend to apply for academic positions, you will need letters of recommendation on file. Find out about the costs of holding a file of letters at your graduate institution, open a file, and send the details to your references. 4. Network everywhere, all the time. You may be planning to attend professional meetings this summer, or you may be staying close to home. Either way, it will serve you to consider every contact a potential networking contact. Whether you are visiting another lab on campus for a talk or going to a picnic with several other families, get to know people, and share your job search plans with them, if and when appropriate. 5. Publish. Finish up projects, draft papers, edit them carefully, and submit them. Your publication record still serves as valuable currency for your job search candidacy. Using the time you have now will make for a less hectic, more productive fall. Get in shape today!

CHOPPED - Blog Review of CVs, Résumés, and Letters

Submitted by Lori Conlan June 16, 2010
chopped tomato image

My favorite new reality TV show is "Chopped," which airs on the Food Network. The show isn't new, but I am new to it, and I can't get enough of it. Chefs are given baskets containing secret ingredients and must create an appetizer, entrée, or dessert using everything they find in the basket. I love to cook, but I am more a recipe-follower than an improviser in the kitchen, so the chefs who compete on this show completely impress me. What I would like to propose now is an online version of CHOPPED--well, with a slightly different premise. I would like to invite you to send me your CV, résumé, or cover letter via email (to [email protected]). I will choose one document each Wednesday to put up on the chopping block--that is, to review on this blog. I promise to remove identifying information, and will offer not only critiques, but also praise when warranted. Who knows...your document may even serve as a template for trainees just starting the job search process. Send me your document soon, and I will post the first I receive--with my comments--on this site. Bon Appétit!

CHOPPED - First Résumé on the Chopping Block

Submitted by Lori Conlan June 17, 2010
Below you will find the first résumé in our "CHOPPED" series. I have inserted my comments in red. Please do consider sending your document along for next week's episode!

Ima Champion, Ph.D.

12345 Fakeplace Ave., NW #550

Washington, DC 20008

[email protected]

(xxx) xxx-xxxx


Policy, Communication, Curriculum Development

While I encourage trainees to come up with descriptive category headings for their résumés, I would say this heading tries to cover too much. I would advise this trainee to change this heading to the type of work he would most like to do; e.g. "Science Policy Experience," or "Experience in Science Policy and Education," or something similar. Fellow ∙ American Society of Human Genetics ∙ Bethesda, MD ∙ Apr 2010 – Present Interesting style--the trainee chose here to highlight the organization in bold, rather than his title. This is completely appropriate, and will work whenever you think the organizational name carries more weight than your title.
  • Wrote NSF grant proposal to expand access to genomic data visualization tools in classroom settings
  • Providing analysis and briefing on legislative, judicial, policy action of interest to the genomics community
  • Representing ASHG in Hill outreach for FASEB, of which ASHG is a member, to communicate the importance of continued federal funding of basic scientific research
(Note of inspiration: this trainee created the science education fellowship above himself. Don't be afraid to blaze a new trail in an area of interest for you!) Fellow ∙ National Human Genome Research Institute ∙ NIH ∙ Bethesda, MD ∙ June 2009 – Present
  • Partnering with the ASTAR program at the Department of Justice to develop educational symposium for 50 federal and state high court judges to enhance understanding of the intersection of genomics and the law in areas such as forensics, genetic discrimination, privacy, and gene patenting
  • Recruited to participate with HHS Secretary’s Advisory Committee to analyze public perceptions and awareness of the role of genetics and genetic testing in personalized medicine and public health
  • Developed NHGRI documents on various topics, including family health history, pharmacogenomics, genetic testing, and disorders like Down Syndrome and Huntington Disease
Job descriptions for both positions are strong, using action verbs and details to describe work accomplishments.


PhD ∙ Biochemistry & Molecular Genetics, George Washington University, Washington, DC ∙ Sept 2004 – May 2009
  • Fully funded research at the National Institutes of Health via the GWU – NIH Graduate Partnership Program
  • George Washington University Representative to the NIH Graduate Student Council (2007 – 2009)
BA ∙ Chemistry - Biochemistry, Colby College, Waterville, ME ∙ Sept 1998 – May 2003
  • Assisted in teaching multiple laboratory sections and provided departmental tutoring support


Biomedical Research

Would add the word "Experience" to the end of this category heading. Sickle Cell Disease & Hemoglobin Disorders ∙ 2003 – Present
  • As a post-doctoral fellow, studying global changes in DNA structure and gene expression underlying red blood cell development, severe anemias, and hemoglobin disorders affecting global populations
  • As a PhD candidate, studied red cell development, biology, and gene expression, describing primary defects contributing to severe anemia syndromes
Stem Cells & Gene Therapy ∙ 2001 – 2002
  • During an undergraduate fellowship at NIH, examined expression of retroviral receptors on bone marrow stem cells to develop improved gene therapy strategies for the treatment of blood disorders
Forensics & Environmental Toxins ∙ 2001 – 2003
  • As an undergraduate, examined the DNA damage to liver cells exposed to common industrial chemicals, to describe the underlying mechanisms leading to cancers in factory workers
  • Also conducted forensic DNA identification to develop a teaching exercise for use in multiple Colby College laboratory courses
Listing major research areas is a unique way of describing research experience, and one I have not seen before. I think it works well here, given this trainee's interests, particularly since a few of these areas of research are hot topics in the media right now.

Presentations and Publications, Abbreviated

  • Presented research at various conferences, including: American Society of Hematology annual meetings (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009); Red Cells Gordon Conference (2007); Hemoglobin Switching Meeting (2006); American Chemical Society annual meeting (2003)
  • Published research in multiple journals, including: Molecular & Cellular Biology; Blood; Journal of Chemical Education
I have a few comments about handling this category this way. While an abbreviated list of publications and presentations is fine, I would argue that Publications may deserve more space on this résumé, if the trainee is truly interested in communication (as indicated in his first category heading, above), or if the trainee is targeting jobs for which writing is a major component. He might consider a category entitled "Writing Experience" and list all of his publications. On the topic of space...this résumé is currently one page in Word, but the trainee has enough experience and education to warrant a second page. Finally, one more way to handle a long list of publications and/or presentations is to create a separate document with the same header as your résumé, but listing only publications and presentations. On your résumé then, you might offer as a closing line "Complete list of publications and presentations available upon request." I have seen some trainees use this technique effectively. ———————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————— Nicely done, Jacques! Now where's my dinner?

REAL WORLD NIH: Thursday, June 24, 10:00 AM

Submitted by Lori Conlan June 22, 2010
Join us LIVE this Thursday for our first REAL WORLD chat with a current NIH trainee! The trainee joining us for this live, online chat on Thursday has been invited to interview for a position at the intersection of science policy, science communication, and grants administration. To give you a better sense of the position, read through the following phrases from the job description:
  • Design and conduct evaluations that will examine many qualitative and quantitative endpoints that measure scientific productivity, scientific and public health impact, and economic return on investment
  • Write, review, and edit materials, at various levels of technical difficulty, for use in communicating information effectively and serve as the agency representative at meetings related to the areas of responsibility
  • Synthesize and simplify scientific information from all available sources into capsule narratives, determine appropriate presentation style and format, and graphically enhance scientific documents to more clearly demonstrate scientific concepts
  • Determine and implement the best approach for quantitative and qualitative assessment
  • Evaluate and communicate important scientific advances made by grantees to a diverse audience comprised of scientific professionals, congressional staff and committees, other federal, state, or local agencies and specifically-interested segments of the lay public
  • Develop and maintain contacts in scientific evaluation
  • Provide an assessment of a scientific field
  • Develop a needs analysis in which the current state of the science is evaluated and future needs are assessed
The trainee interviewing for this job has a few questions she'd like to ask before her interview takes place. Join our conversation this Thursday and have your questions answered...whether you ask them yourself or not. REAL WORLD NIH LIVE - Thursday, June 24, 2010 10:00am - 10:30am Before Thursday, visit the link above to set an event reminder for yourself. After the chat, the text of the conversation will be available at the same site. Join us for the discussion, send in your questions, or just sit back, read, and learn!

Job Searching on the Sly...

Submitted by Lori Conlan June 22, 2010
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Working with trainees on job searches over the years, I have often heard the same anxiety-ridden question: How can I possibly look for a job while working full-time?

This can be done, and has been done successfully by hundreds of trainees. However, it’s important to exercise professionalism and discretion on the job while conducting your search. If you cannot find time outside of work to conduct your search, try coming in early, staying late, or working on your search during your lunch break. Being in a lab and having access to a computer all day can be hard to resist, but you are at work to do your job – not to look for a new one.

There are certainly ways to search effectively while working in a full-time position. Today’s Careers section of the Wall Street Journal offers an articleImage removed.on this very topic. Author Elizabeth Garrone suggests the following tactics when conducting a search on the sly:

1) Link in, link in, link in.
We have featured articles on this blog about the utility of LinkedInImage removed.for establishing networks, but keeping your profile updated and using it as your personal job search tool is what Garrone explores in her piece. “‘Eighty-five percent of recruiters use LinkedIn to find talent,’ says Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio, a career services expert with Vault.comImage removed.and a former Fortune 500 recruiter. ‘It’s a completely passive job search tool.’ To give yourself the best edge over the competition, make sure that any online profiles you have are up-to-date and complete.”
2) …And then link in some more.
Join the NIH Intramural Science LinkedInImage to connect with 708 NIH scientists and trainees (as well as its “Job Archive” subgroup, which contains all jobs posted to the NIH Intramural Science job board.) Create a new LinkedIn group with a view to expanding your science network – but consider using it as a source of potential contacts for your job search. Consider bringing an in-person networking group you are involved with to the web using LinkedIn. You may then have the potential to invite (or be introduced to) members’ connections once the LinkedIn group has been established.
3) Make phone calls/schedule meetings at odd times.
“But don’t be too restrictive,” says Garrone. Be sure to give any employer you speak with lots of options/times when you can be available. And once you schedule a discussion of any kind – be it an informational interview, a first-round interview, a negotiation discussion around salary, etc. – be sure you have a quiet space to use where you won’t be interrupted. And be sure your cell phone battery is charged. (I recently lost a call when reviewing an important project with my boss. OOPS!)
Respect your fellow trainees and PI, your current position, and don’t neglect your work duties as you seek a new job. Doing so will only burn bridges you have already constructed; keep those strong while building new ones.

CHOPPED - Blog Review of CVs, Résumés, and Letters

Submitted by Lori Conlan June 23, 2010
chopped tomato image

As with last week's post, I will continue every Wednesday to invite you to send me your CV, résumé, or cover letter via email to [email protected]. I will choose one document each Wednesday to put up on the chopping block--that is, to review on this blog. I will remove identifying information, and will offer not only critiques, but also praise when warranted. Send me your document soon, and I will post the first I receive--with my comments--on this site.

REAL WORLD: Interviewing Tips

Submitted by Lori Conlan June 24, 2010
Read through our first REAL WORLD chat with a current NIH trainee! This trainee joined us for a live, online chat to discuss a position at the intersection of science policy, science communication, and grants administration for which she is interviewing. The text of our conversation can be found at: REAL WORLD NIH

The ABC's of Negotiating

Submitted by Lori Conlan June 29, 2010
dollar signs image

Congratulations! You made it through several interviews successfully and just received a call with an offer. Now what? Do people still negotiate in this tough job market? Should you negotiate with your new employer? And if so, how do you begin the negotiation process? To be sure, people are still negotiating in this market, some quite successfully. Some trainees have expressed to me that they fear negotiating will drive the employer to rescind the offer. I would contend that being made an offer puts you in a position of power, but there are still some missteps you can take if you're not adequately prepared. For example, you can turn the employer off completely and possibly change her mind about your candidacy if you request something outrageous in your salary or package. Generally speaking, you will need to do some homework before engaging in a negotiation. Here are some pointers I can offer as you begin to think through this process. A = Assess the value of the job in the marketplace. To get a sense of the value of the job you have been offered, do some research and find out what the baseline salary is for similar positions in the same geographic location. While there are many websites out there that generate salary data, I still prefer to use one of the oldest on the web, I like using because you can search for salary data by zip code AND by job title. You can get very close to the specifics of the job you have been offered by clicking on job titles and viewing job descriptions in pop-up windows. These will include educational and experiential levels to help you determine the closest match to the job you were offered. The other reason I like this site is that it will give you a range of salaries, including the mean and median, for the position and geographic region you specify. B = Bargain. Once you have a sense of the salary level you can shoot for, it’s time for you to bargain! It is difficult to negotiate as soon as you get the offer, so I often counsel trainees to take the call, be gracious and excited, and then ask to call back at a later time that day or the next time. This way, you can collect your thoughts and get your ducks in a row. In addition to knowing the salary level of the position you were offered, it is also important to be armed with details of why YOU are the best person for the job before you call the employer to negotiate. What is it about your background and/or experience that makes you uniquely qualified for this job? That is the information you will want to present when you are negotiating for a higher salary. Language you could potentially use to negotiate is as follows: "Hello, Dr. X! Thank you for getting back in touch with me yesterday. I was so pleased to hear the news of the offer, but there are a few details I would like to discuss with you. Given the fact that I bring X, Y, and Z to this position, I am looking for a salary in the X range." At this point, just stop talking. You don’t need to hem and haw about whether you’d still take the job if the offer didn’t change, etc. Just give the employer a chance to respond. Chances are great that she will not be able to give you an answer without checking with others first. If the salary is hard and fast for that particular position, she might share that with you immediately. Either way, you will be given the opportunity to respond once the employer gets an answer re: the higher salary you requested, or when the employer tells you that the salary will not change. C = Close the deal. Once the negotiation has ended and you and the employer have come to an agreement on the specifics of your offer, get the details IN WRITING as soon as possible. I have worked with a few trainees who neglected to get their negotiated package in writing and subsequently lost some of the perks they had successfully negotiated for. If you would like to discuss your situation in more detail, consider meeting with a career counselor in OITE. Practicing this discussion will strengthen your negotiation skills—and may even increase the likelihood that you will get what you negotiate for.