Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles…With a Plan, You’ll Get There

Submitted by Lori Conlan October 1, 2010

Let’s see…what happened first? Traveling to my sister-in-law’s wedding in Baltimore, our train hit a downed tree, causing the brakes to go. The train came to a stop safely, but could not resume service and had to be towed away by another engine. Hearing the announcement that this process would take several hours, a few passengers and I decided to hop out and share a cab to our final destination, where I had to catch a connecting train.  We got into the cab, and 10 minutes into the drive hit a traffic jam on the highway due to what looked to be a serious accident. We passed the accident and reached the train station about 30 minutes later, but I had missed my connection and needed to transfer my ticket to the next train out of the station. I boarded the new train, and we ended up sitting for an hour, waiting (ironically!) for the passengers on my original train, as Amtrak had arranged a bus (for free) to transport passengers from the accident site to this station. The train FINALLY pulled away, destined to make it only to the next major station, where we had to sit for an additional hour for engine repairs. The final delay came at the next major city, where we had to “re-hang” some cables that had “fallen off” the engine. (And doesn’t that language just inspire confidence?) Anyway…I made it to Baltimore safely, and in plenty of time to help my sister-in-law with cooking and a few last-minute wedding details. Undoubtedly, there have been times in your life when you made a plan that did not work out quite as you had imagined—maybe even around travel. Still, having a plan—whether or not you follow it to the letter—may reduce stress about how to get where you’re going.

Drafting a plan for your research may make lots of sense. In fact, you may have already gone through this exercise with your advisor. What about planning for your career? Have you ever considered mapping out a career plan? The career planning process is similar to developing a research plan. To start, you might consider the rubric developed by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). FASEB calls on trainees and their faculty mentors to work jointly to draft an Individual Development Plan or IDP. According to FASEB, an IDP is meant to assist the trainee with all aspects of professional development as a scientist, including a research agenda and a career plan. The steps outlined by FASEB in drafting an IDP include the following:

  1. Conduct a self-assessment.
  2. Survey opportunities.
  3. Write an IDP, share with mentor and revise.
  4. Implement the plan, revise as needed.

With your faculty mentor or on your own, begin to draft your own IDP. To conduct a self-assessment, spend some time thinking about what aspects of science you enjoy most. What grabs you? What motivates you? What skills do you enjoy using? To learn more about yourself, your values, and your interests as they relate to potential careers, schedule an appointment with a career counselor at OITE.

For the second step (survey opportunities), explore careers of interest to find a match for your personality, values, and interests. Read through articles on Science Careers to learn more about options for Ph.D.-level scientists. Through your research, find out what you need to be competitive in particular fields.

Finally, identify any gaps that exist between your current skills/training and your career of interest, and develop a strategy for acquiring the skills you need - in other words, draft a plan. Be sure that your plan includes a long-term goal, short-term goals related to your long-term goal, and deadlines. Discuss your ideas with your faculty advisor, mentors, family, and friends. Sharing your plan with other people will keep you accountable and (hopefully) moving forward. And if you find in the implementation of your plan that your career(s) of interest no longer grabs you, you will still have grown through the process. Revamp your plan, recognizing that this process of tweaking and adjusting will continue throughout your professional life.

Good luck drafting your plan—and here’s to the journey!

Who's Hiring Now? Check Out Regulatory Science

Submitted by Lori Conlan October 5, 2010

While news on the job market is still grim, there are a few areas that are growing in spite of the down economy - some of which have more jobs than viable candidates to fill them. One such sector is regulatory science, a field that has been growing steadily for the past several years. Regulatory science includes:

  • Regulatory affairs
  • Regulatory writing
  • Risk management
  • Compliance
  • Regulatory law

Regulatory scientists may work in any of these areas, evaluating potential products and trials, mediating among various parties, finding common ground, and gaining consensus. According to the article All in the Details: Careers in Regulatory Science Exit Disclaimer on the Science Careers website, "The field [of regulatory science] requires expertise from scientists in a variety of disciplines, including physicists, life scientists, chemists, and engineers. FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration], a natural home for regulatory scientists, offers employment in more than 30 distinct disciplines, including research science, pharmacy, statistics, veterinary medicine, nursing, and clinical medicine." "Regulatory science is an area that usually has more jobs than qualified candidates," the author goes on to say. "Some areas are falling far short of filling regulatory affairs (particularly positions that require Spanish or Japanese language skills), biomarkers, and diagnostic testing [are] areas that are especially strapped for applicants." Skills necessary to be successful in this field include:

  • Project management
  • Organization
  • Negotiation
  • Communication
  • Ability to learn from the experience of others
  • Teamwork

The Regulatory Affairs Professional Society (RAPS) Exit Disclaimer website includes this list of skills and other relevant tips and information on entering the field. The RAPS 2010 Scope of Practice & Compensation Report for the Regulatory Profession is especially helpful, showing salary information by degree level, certification, type of employer, and more. For Ph.D.-level candidates, the salary for Associate positions start in the low $80K's, while Manager-level positions move into the $120K range. While there are jobs available, training is still required. There are graduate certificate and degree programs Exit Disclaimer in regulatory science, as well as a certification process. Regulatory Affairs Certification (RAC) Exit Disclaimer is a recognized credential sought by many employers. Another point of entry to consider is a fellowship in regulatory affairs. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, for example, offers the Commissioner's Fellowship Program, a 2-year fellowship that combines coursework with the development of a regulatory science research project. Before investing time and potentially money into training for this career, meet with regulatory professionals and find out all you can about their work, their own career paths, and the ins and outs of the profession. RAPS has several local chapters Exit Disclaimer, many of which have their own LinkedIn Exit Disclaimer groups. Check out a group in your area, or email the chair directly to set up a coffee or lunch meeting, or even a phone call. The more you know, the better prepared you will be to step into this exciting career!

Tomorrow's Professor: Preparing for the Academic Job Market

Submitted by Lori Conlan October 7, 2010

During the AAAS talk last week on the academic job market, I was encouraged by the opinions shared by current faculty. I imagined that the academic job market was as bleak--if not more so--than the non-academic market. On the paraphrase the speakers, "the best people are still finding jobs." Still, you must put your best foot forward to be a standout candidate on the academic market. If you find the entire process of applying for academic jobs overwhelming, or are not sure where to start, check out the OITE workshop held last month for an overview of the academic job market and tips on preparing your application package. You might also want to view the OITE videocast on this same topic from the fall of 2009. Additionally, appointments with OITE's trained career counselors are available to plan your next steps. Think about the documents you need to submit. Are you satisfied with them? How many people have you shared them with? Consider having your PI review your CV, letter, or entire packet, and remember that staff within OITE can review them as well.

For tips on writing/editing your CV and letter, check out these OITE resources:

Also, check out this blog post for the review of a real CV from a trainee interested in teaching-intensive faculty positions. If you would like to see more CV and letter samples and read more about the academic job market, take a look at the 4th edition of the Academic Job Search Handbook Exit Disclaimer, the standard bearer on this topic. This book is also available via OITE's circulating library. Visit the 2nd floor of Building 2 to check it out.

When should you be lining up letters of recommendation? When are positions typically posted? When should you put together and practice your job talk? For a comprehensive timeline of the academic job search, check out this OITE resource. To prepare for a potential interview, don't miss OITE's upcoming workshop, Academic Job Interviews, taking place on December 6, 2010, from 3-5pm in the Natcher Conference Center, E1/E2. This workshop is the second in the CAT tracks series on academic jobs.

The third session in the series, Academic Job Seach: Recent Success Stories, is a panel discussion featuring former NIH fellows who will share their experiences with the academic job search and answer questions on applications, interviews, negotiating, and getting started with the teaching, research, and/or patient care responsibilities. This program will take place on February 1, 2011.

If you would like to learn more about interviews before the December workshop, check out last year's OITE presentation and accompanying videocast on the same topic, or read through the OITE handout on academic interviewing.

Once you reach the negotiating stage, you will need to be prepared with all the information necessary to secure a fair package. For more guidance in this preparation, attend the 4th OITE workshop in the CAT tracks series, Evaluating Positions and Negotiating Offers, taking place on March 2, 2011. Last year's slides and videocast are available through OITE for viewing, as is a sample offer letter, which may prove very helpful if you are unsure of what to look for.

Once you have accepted a position, you might consider the following to assist you with the transition to full-time faculty work:

  • Transitioning Successfully from Postdoc to Faculty, OITE workshop (3-16-2010)
  • Tomorrow’s  Professor: Preparing for Academic Careers in Science and Engineering, Rick Reis. Available via OITE's circulating library.
  • Tomorrow's Professor listserv Exit Disclaimer (helpful resource for all faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and administrators)
  • At the Helm: A Laboratory Navigator, Kathy Barker. Available via OITE's circulating library.

Best of luck exploring and preparing to enter this challenging and rewarding career!

There's No Place Like Home: Making a Smooth Transition to a New Place

Submitted by Lori Conlan October 12, 2010
mom and child on mall image

When we left North Carolina 4 years ago, I worried about the impact our move would have on my then three-year-old son. He was very close to a small group of friends, enjoyed his daycare situation so much, and I was worried that uprooting him might be too stressful. My friends and family all shared the same response to my concern: "He's so young, he won't remember a thing!" Well, four years later, he still gets teary from time to time about missing his "friends from North Carolina." Leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar is difficult for all of us. We miss our old friends, familiar haunts, favorite activities. It is tough to move to a new city, new neighborhood, new school, new job - and to leave the familiar behind. Add to this other irksome details of moving - buying a house, selling a house, finding an apartment, packing, unpacking, finding your way around a new job, new community - and you've got a recipe for stress. All of these pieces can be triggers for stress, which is why moving is so often mentioned as one of the top stressors in life. What is the best way to deal with the stress of moving? There are several resources available, some within OITE and the NIH, that will help you to stay sane and slowly build a sense of community in your new place.

  1. Get organized. Being organized, developing lists, and checking things off/getting things done will help you to move forward and get to know your new surroundings. Find the nearest drugstore, the cheapest gas station, the best bank for you, etc. Gather phone numbers from the parents of your child's new classmates and seek referrals for pediatricians and dentists. Visit your town/city's website to find out about recycling/trash pick-up, car registration, and other important information for new residents.
  2. Join in. Think about the activities you took part in at your former place of residence, and get involved in your new space. I have always been an avid hiker, so I looked into hiking groups in Connecticut after we left NC. The sooner you engage in activities that you enjoy, the better your chances of meeting like-minded people.
  3. Branch out. If you are not typically one to approach someone you don't know, give it a shot. Introduce yourself to someone new at a lecture, standing in line for coffee, or anywhere else you happen to be on campus. Connecting with people will help you to become more fully integrated in your new community.
  4. Maintain old ties. Keep up with friends and loved ones after you get settled. While your relationships will change because of the distance between you, keeping in touch with old friends will help you through difficult moments in the transition.
  5. Use available resources. There are many resources available to you via OITE and the NIH to help you manage the stress involved with relocating. Be sure to check these out!
  6. Give it some time. It may take several months to a few years to become acclimated and truly feel a part of a new community. Give yourself a chance to readjust, and you will eventually feel at home in your new location!

A Day in the Life of...A Scientist in Big Pharma

Submitted by Lori Conlan October 14, 2010
test tube image
Last month, OITE launched its "A Day in the Life of..." series of interactive, online chats exploring careers in science. We kicked off the series by hearing from David Kosub, a Public Health Analyst with NIAID. To read the transcript of last month's chat, click here Exit Disclaimer.
The series will be held from 12:00 - 1:00 pm every third Thursday through December and includes Oct. 21, Nov. 18, and Dec. 16.
Today, we explored the work of a senior scientist/administrator in a large pharmaceutical organization. The text of today's conversation is below. Cheers!
EVENT: "A Day in the Life of...A Scientist in Big Pharma"
GUEST: Philip Mayer, Ph.D., Assistant Vice President, Pfizer Inc./President-Elect, American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists
DATE: Thursday, October 21, 2010
TIME: 12 pm - 1:00 pm EST
The transcript of the discussion is available here: Day in the Life of Big Pharma chat.

NIH Resources Help You Get Where You're Going

Submitted by Lori Conlan October 22, 2010
arrowed sign

Thanks to all who participated in yesterday's online chat on careers in big pharma. We had a RECORD 314 visitors for the chat! Our next "A Day in the Life of..." online chat will be held on Thursday, November 18, 2010, from 12noon - 1pm. Stay tuned for the featured career. Today I'd like to share two new NIH resources with you. One is an upcoming online chat for all trainees considering graduate or professional school. The other is a fabulous website with information on genomics careers for trainees at all levels.

1) Next week, on Thursday, October 28 at 12noon EST, OITE will be hosting:

Getting In: Everything You Need to Know about Graduate and Professional School Admissions This online chat will be hosted by Dr. Pat Sokolove, Deputy Director of the Office of Intramural Training and Education, and Dr. Bill Higgins, Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Maryland and Pre-professional Advisor for trainees at the NIH, and an expert on getting to graduate and professional school and succeeding there. Bring your questions to this live chat to learn more about the ins and outs of applying to graduate and professional school. Click here to set up a reminder email for yourself for next week's event.

2) Genomics Careers

A colleague of mine in the OITE Career Center emailed me recently about a website created by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), highlighting genomics careers. I figured it was just another list of links to different career sites out there, but I visited the site and was impressed both by the breadth of careers featured and by the clever design of the site. Genomics Careers invites you to rate careers of interest after reading about them, so you can track your favorites. It also includes a "Genomics Challenge," which I fared very poorly on, I'm afraid. The Challenge involves watching - and listening closely to -  several video clips of professionals in various fields describing their career paths. Based on the information shared, the viewer has to guess which field they are in.

This is a novel approach to learning about a variety of career options, and I highly recommend you check it out! And please pass along any great resources you come across--either within or outside of the NIH!

Sleeping with Your Cell Phone, and Other Generational Differences

Submitted by Lori Conlan October 26, 2010
girl with cell phone image

You think you're doing a great job in the lab, while your PI thinks you're slacking off because you text all the time. You thought you explained the structure and hierarchy of your department and IC very clearly to a new undergraduate in your lab, but he still gets annoyed when he is not included in discussions and meetings that take place at a higher level. You understand the needs of fellow students in your grad program and don't understand why their PIs don't acknowledge and acquiesce to them. Whence the origin of all of this conflict? This probably occurred to you while reading the paragraph above (or by reading the post title), but the individuals mentioned above are all members of different generations. Does that matter? According to a myriad of research studies conducted over the past decade, the answer is yes, it does. Particular events, social, political, and economic conditions, helped shape the behaviors and attitudes of each generation. As these behaviors and attitudes differ by group, it might be helpful to understand the differences in work style, communication style, values, and attitudes of each.

Following are the four generations currently in the workforce:

Traditionalists (b. 1900-1945): 75 million people

Boomers (b. 1946-1964): 80 million people

Generation X (b. 1965-1980): 46 million people

Millennials (b. 1981-1999): 76 million people

Where do you fall? What about the people in your lab? Your PI? Once you identify the particular generation a person is a member of, you can explore characteristics common to that group to understand differences between you. In When Generations Collide: Who They Are. Why They Clash. How to Solve the Generational Puzzle at Work, authors Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman conducted surveys and focus groups among different generations of people in the U.S. Based on the data they collected, they describe the generations this way:


  • Like consistency and uniformity
  • Are conformers
  • Prefer conversations that stay with “appropriate topics”
  • Are disciplined
  • Are past oriented and history absorbed
  • Believe in law and order, right and wrong
  • Are best described as loyal


  • Believe in growth and expansion, change
  • Think of themselves as the stars of the show
  • Pursued personal gratification often at a high price to themselves and others
  • Best described as optimistic, competitive

Gen Xers:

  • Are self-reliant
  • Want balance
  • Like informality
  • Unimpressed with authority
  • Are technologically savvy
  • Best described as skeptical


  • Have always been included in major family decisions
  • Expect to be involved in high-level discussions/decisions at work
  • Look for ways to collaborate
  • Respect authority
  • Think their hyper-involved parents are “cool”
  • Best described as realistic

More recently, the Pew Research Center conducted a study of 2,020 adults in the U.S. earlier this year, with an oversample of Millennials. The Pew acknowledges that, "while generations may have personalities, they are not monolithic. There are as many differences within generations as there are among generations." Still, I think it is worthwhile to take a look at the data they collected this year on the different groups. When asked about identity, the characteristic most often cited (24%) by Millennials as being unique to their generation was the use of technology. While this characteristic was also cited most frequently among Gen Xers, the percentage was much lower--only 12% of people in this group selected this trait--and this trait was not even among the top five responses listed by Boomers.

And while older generations may use technology regularly, none has so completely fused their social lives into technology as the Millennials. For example, three-quarters of Millennials have created a profile on a social networking site, compared with half of Xers, 30% of Boomers and 6% of Traditionalists (whom the Pew study refers to as "The Silent Generation"). Additionally, a full 83% of all Millennials sleep with their cell phones on or next to their beds, vs. 68% of Gen Xers, 50% of Boomers, and 20% of Traditionalists.

And in terms of frequency of technology use, 80% of Millennials reported texting when asked about usage in the past 24 hours, as compared with 63% of Gen Xers, 35% of Boomers and 4% of Traditionalists. Among those who texted in the 24 hours preceding the survey, the median number of texts sent and received by Millennials is 20, vs. 12 for Gen Xers and five for Boomers. And within the Millennial generation, there are a sizeable number of power-texters. A quarter (25%) say they sent more than 50 messages in the previous 24 hours. 50 a day! This Gen Xer can't even imagine.

So what does all of this mean for the environment you work in day to day? If we revisit the scenarios described at the beginning of the post, it may be now easier to understand why a PI who doesn't text regularly feels frustrated by a trainee who texts 50 times a day. Or why a new undergraduate expects to be included in high level discussions. Or why a PI may not see needs perceived as urgent by her graduate students as requiring immediate attention.

How can we mitigate misunderstandings across generations? As with most workplace tensions, conflicts, annoyances, and perceived differences, clear and consistent communication is key. Communicating your wants and needs - as well as communicating back to your supervisor what he/she wants from you - will be essential to making progress in science personally and lab-wide. Keep channels open to avoid misunderstandings, and focus on team/lab goals and outcomes, in addition to your own.

And if you get a chance to read the Pew Report, check out the percentages of tattoos by generation. Can you guess which generation sports the most? :)

Getting In: Everything You Need to Know about Graduate and Professional School Admissions

Submitted by Lori Conlan October 28, 2010
This online chat, hosted on Thursday, October 28, 2010, featured panelists Dr. Pat Sokolove, Deputy Director of the NIH's Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE), and Dr. Bill Higgins, Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Maryland, Pre-professional Advisor for trainees at the NIH, and an expert on getting to graduate and professional school and succeeding there. The full transcript of the chat is available here.