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The Card Game

Submitted by Lori Conlan October 3, 2011

Business cards are a valuable tool in the professional community.  The art of the business card is one that allows you to leave a lasting memory with a new connection.

Here at the NIH, fellows often talk about the challenges in getting business cards.  Don’t let that stop you though.  Making your own is not difficult.  You can use a good quality paper and template from Avery (with a laser printer), the R&W business card services, or online vendors such as VistaPrint or others (I even found one that had science images by using Google).  One thing, don’t use glossy paper, people like to write on business cards and the gloss prevents that.  Your personal  investment in this networking tool will be anywhere from $10 to $40, not bad for about 500 cards!
The second question we often hear is: what should it look like?  Pick up a few cards and see what you like.  What font do they use?  How large is their name?  When you add your title make sure it is something that everyone will understand, for example write postdoctoral fellow instead of IRTA fellow.    Your contact information should be something that you will actually use, a personal email and phone are fine.  A street address is not as critical these days, and it is your choice whether to add that.  We have started to see urls to personal, albeit professional, websites and LinkedIn profiles. 

One of the best cards I have seen recently was from a postdoc who used an image of her work.  It was a terrific conversation starter as she described her research interests and how that figure was a key piece of data in solving a scientific mystery.

Now that you have the cards, what do you do with them?  There are typically two methods of exchanging cards.  When you are in a meeting with people you do not know cards are often exchanged in the beginning of the meeting.  Once you sit down, line the cards up in front of you in the order that people are seated.  This way you can address people by their name.   In large networking events cards are usually given after the conversation starts to lead somewhere.  You can definitely lead the card exchange by saying, “This is a terrific conversation and I would like to follow up with you, do you have a card?”

Here are a couple of other tips; keep them protected, the last thing you want to do is hand out a card that looks like it has been chewed on.  Replenish your stash of cards often so you are not caught without them.  Use the two pocket rule, have your cards in one pocket and the cards you collect in another pocket, then you avoid the embarrassing mishap of handing out another’s card as your own.  Also, if you have a plastic name badge holder it is a fantastic place to store cards if you are lacking pockets.
Any tips on business cards you would like to share??

NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 3 - Pharmaceuticals

Submitted by peryan79 October 18, 2011

This is the third in a series of profiles about recent NIH postdocs who have found an array of jobs, from academia to industry to communications and beyond, in the U.S. and abroad. What do they do now, and how did they get there? What challenges did they face, and what advice do they have? Read on to find out.

Name: Thomas Paul

Current position: Bench science, working on epigenetic drugs at a pharmaceutical company

Location: San Diego, CA

Time in current position: 9 months

Postdoc: Epigenetics of acute myeloleukemia with Linda Wolff at NCI

Job search in a nutshell: I researched which companies were doing what I was doing and pursued them. I looked at job boards, and I used the networks I’d built through serving on committees and also friends, colleagues, people I used to work with—basically, using anyone I knew who had any access to any company to put the word out that I was looking and to let me know if they had any options available. I got one interview through a salesperson who came to our lab.

How I got my job: Talking to people at a conference, telling them I had expertise in what they were doing. They had no openings then, but two months later I got an email saying they did.

Planning is everything: I think it’s important to establish a plan when you start your search and to follow through on it. When I was getting close to the time when I needed to start looking for jobs, I worked out a Plan A (a research job at a company doing what I was already doing) and a Plan B, C and D. It was motivating for me; I knew what to do on a daily basis to be effective. I spent maybe one hour a day doing nothing but trying to fulfill the plan.

Career development really helped me, because it made me aware early on of what I needed to be doing. By the time I was finishing my postdoc, I had already met people and knew how to be a competitive candidate. If you start in your last year, you’ll be surprised how much catching up you have to do.

Network, network, network: Just putting things online is not going to work. You have to go out and get it. It’s not a total waste of time—I got some hits through online applications—but most everything was generated through networking. Talking to people in the field also lets you know what they’re looking for in a candidate.

I met lots of people who helped me. That includes people at other companies I’d pursued jobs with but didn’t get. It’s never an easy thing to be rejected, but it doesn’t have to be nasty. The people who rejected me became my mentors. They recognized that I had talent even though I wasn’t the right fit for their positions. It’s important to keep your options open and not burn any bridges.

Biggest frustration: There was a two- or three-month lag between beginning the search and getting hits back. I put all this work into it, and I wasn’t hearing much. Then things started coming together.

Making the choice: I ended up with a lot of options and offers, including other fellowships and non-bench positions. Then I started getting more interviews! You have to make quick decisions. I fell back on my Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. I got my Plan A, which was great.

Day-to-day: What drives me is an opportunity to really produce something. Here, that means cancer drugs that could save people’s lives directly. It’s a corporate environment. In addition to bench science, I write reports, keep an online notebook and do training.

The upside: I’m in a position I like that is similar to my postdoc, and I can grow. I’m using what I knew and I’m learning a lot.

The downside: The trade-off was geography. I have a family, and it wasn’t in our plans to move to the West Coast. One piece of advice someone gave me is that when you’re starting out, you have to be willing to sacrifice some things. I heeded that.

What’s next: We have a two-year-old, and another baby on the way. Life never gets easier! But we’re happy out here in San Diego. We’re ready for whatever life throws ahead of us.

Thomas can be contacted through the OITE alumni database.

Can you hear me now?: Phone Interviews

Submitted by peryan79 October 24, 2011

Job interviews can be both exciting and stressful.  You impressed the employer enough to be a final candidate yet you know that the interview will determine whether or not you get the job.  It is very likely that the first round of interviews will be done on the phone. Often thought to be used only for industry interviews, we are now seeing a large increase in the number of first round faculty interviews conducted by telephone.  There are definite pros and cons to phone interviews.  One of the biggest challenges is losing the nonverbal cues that help direct how you answer questions: eye contact shows interest, facial expressions convey understanding, and hand gestures help explain a concept.  So, if you are faced with a phone interview here are some tips to help you make the best impression.

First off, find a quiet space to conduct the interview and if possible use a land line as opposed to your cell phone.  You want to limit distractions and background noise.  Your goal is to be heard and to hear the interviewers easily.  Typically, there are one to three people on the other end of line.  Write down the name and position of each person as they introduce themselves so you can refer to them by name during the call (and try your best to put a voice with a name).  After introductions you will likely be asked to briefly tell them about yourself and what excited you about the position or they may dive right into asking you more direct questions. 

We have seen that interviewees tend to ramble, probably since the lack of non-verbal cues makes it seem like the interviewer is still looking for more information. Try to keep your answers to three or four sentences, and then pause. If they don’t ask another question, ask “would you like me to elaborate on that?” 

Also, be prepared for the interview.  The interview may focus on traditional interview questions, and the OITE has a list of questions here: 

For academic positions, we have collected a list of questions that other post-doctoral fellows have reported being asked in their phone interviews.  Obviously some of these questions are for predominantly teaching positions and others for predominantly research position.  A few questions apply to both types of positions.


  1. Why did you apply to our college/university/department?
  2. Briefly tell us about your career leading up to this application?
  3. Who do you envision collaborating with here on our campus?
  4. What will be in your first grant application?
  5. Do you need access to any major/special equipment to do your research?
  6. What types of resources will you need to start up your lab?
  7. Tell us how you approach developing a new course.
  8. Tell us how you deal with students who are struggling with the material in one of your courses; a spin on this is how do you deal with disruptive students in your classroom?
  9. What would you like to teach? - be sure to talk about both survey courses and advanced courses for majors
  10. Any updates on papers or grants mentioned in your application
  11. How do you focus on making your classroom welcoming to a diverse student body?
  12. How will you accommodate the unique needs of adult learners in your classroom?  
  13. Are you aware of our honors requirement and how do you think you would approach supervising honors students?

 The final question almost always is: 

  1. Do you have any questions for us?  You must have one or two, and "when will I hear back from you?” does not count.   

Job Search Horror Stories

Submitted by Lori Conlan October 31, 2011

n the spirit of Halloween, today we are blogging about job search horror stories that have happened to OITE staffers. Can you match the following events to a person in the OITE??

1. On my first interview I was dressed in my finest. At dinner I had a plate of chicken served in a sauce. As I cut into my meal I splashed sauce all over my shirt! I cleaned myself off and continued the meal and conversation.

2. I had this great pair of heels that I wore for years, I thought wearing them to my interview would be a wise choice. Wrong I was! By the time I finished the interview and walking all over campus the blisters on my feet were agonizing. I had to buy new shoes in Union Station to get home.

3. I interviewed on a super icy day, and ended up being late to the interview by a few minutes. Every time I tried to walk up the hill in dress shoes I slid back down the hill. I felt like a penguin!

4. I was so nervous that I walked into the door frame exiting the interview room at the conclusion of the interview. I got a lump on my head and was, of course, very embarrassed and didn’t get the job.

5. I had to interview on a stormy day. The train was held up at Metro Center due to an ill passenger. I called the office and explained that I would be running late. As I left Metro Center to hail a cab, my umbrella fell apart, I was soaking wet but went to the interview anyway. But I had a happy ending, I got the job!

6. I had the stock cover letter that I used as a starting point for all of my applications. I had changed the words and sent it off to company A, than re-worked the same letter and sent it off to company B. After I sent the letter I realized that I never took company A’s name out of the letter when I sent it to company B! Needless to say, I didn’t get that job.

7. I arrived for the interview to find out that two-other candidates had an interview scheduled for the same time as I did. The three of us were being interviewed by the panel simultaneously. Uggh!

8. I bumped heads really hard with a friend of mine the day before an interview. The interview was extremely tense and the lights were off in the conference room. I could have sworn I saw a bug on the table and jerked my head down looking at it. One of the interviewers caught me looking and looked down at the table as if to say “what are you looking at?” I went to the doctor the next day and found out I had a slight concussion. They probably thought I was a little crazy! I didn’t get the job!
Bonus points for matching the most people to their horror stories (perhaps even lunch with an OITE staffer?). And, add you stories in the comments!