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Career Resolutions: Setting a Calendar for Career Success in 2012

Submitted by peryan79 January 3, 2012

Happy New Year!  It is time for the annual tradition of making New Year’s resolutions.  Often the theme of resolutions is to better oneself through eating better, exercising more or changing a habit that drives us crazy (this will be the year that I paste every gel into my notebook and stop using paper towels for my calculations!).  While healthy bodies and well organized notebooks are great things, we encourage you to resolve to prioritize advancing your career.  Do you need to make a decision about what to do after your training?  Do you need to network more and/or more efficiently?  Do you need to develop skills to make a successful transition to the next step in your career? 

We all know that resolutions often do not see success beyond the second week of February.  Saying that you are going to make your career a priority in 2012 is not enough.  You should also make a plan for how to do that.  Below we have sketched out a timeline of things to do in 2012 to make sure that you are ready to face that next step. 

January:  Meet with your PI to discuss your career.  Yes, it can be scary.  We will be posting next week with some tips to conquer that fear and get the most out of such a meeting.

February:   Meet with a Career Counselor.  We have two on staff here at OITE, and they are really good at their jobs. 

March:  Create a “Networking Map” and update and improve you LinkedIn presence. 

April:  Use a conference to build your network. 

May:  Attend the annual NIH Career Symposium and use that information to figure out what is next.

June:  Set up at least two informational interviews.  If you need some tips on how to go about that, check out our blog post here.

July:  Make a decision on the where you want your career to go.  Then, figure out holes you still have in your CV or Resume and find ways to fill them.

August:  Create your Job package.  Whether for an academic position, a postdoc, or a career transition, you will want to have a competitive application.  OITE staff is well equipped to help you with this process.

September:  Practice and improve your interviewing skills.   

October:  Be prepared to negotiate a job offer.  Know what to ask for and how to improve your chances of getting it.

November:  Prepare for the transition to your new job.

December:  Celebrate your Success!  Even if you have not found that perfect job yet, you have stuck to a plan that will benefit your career in the long run.  Be proud of that and take some time to pat yourself on the back…then get back to work. 

This list may contain topics with which you are uncomfortable or unfamiliar.  Do not fret!  We will be checking back in throughout the year with tips and advice on how to be successful following this career development calendar.   Also, you can always write us a comment, or contact us through LinkedIn with questions and concerns.  We would love to hear from you.

Discussing Your Career with Your PI

Submitted by peryan79 January 9, 2012

From the Archive: original post from Jan, 2012

Many trainees find having a conversation with their PI scary. Discussing your career path and next steps? Even scarier! You may be unsure that you have enough data to actually say this is the year that you will move on.  If you are going to be a PI you may not be sure if will be able to take part of your project with you.  Perhaps you do not know what reaction you will get if you say you want to take a different career path than staying in academic research.  All of these factors can persuade you just to not have the conversation at all. 

One thing we know is that this conversation is often more scary in our mind than in reality.  We have expectations of what the PI will say, and then when the conversation actually takes place it typically goes much better than we had played it out in our heads.  Most PIs actually have good intentions and just want you to be successful in your career.  Before you start booing, we are aware that some PIs are tougher than others….BUT many of us suspect that our PI will not approve of our choices, but we never actually give them a chance to have a conversation about where we plan to go next.

So, here is a way to start. 

  • Make an appointment to sit down with your PI.
  • Have this conversation away from the research group (think the coffee shop/Zoom). 
  • Plan ahead to make sure you get what you need out of the conversation.
    • Do you need to discuss what part of your project you can take with you if you leave?
    • Can you discuss the direction you would like to see your own lab go in as you move into your own PI job?
    • Who do you need to meet to make your career dreams come true? AND does he/she know any of the people and can they connect you?
  • Be bold!  This is YOUR career. 

Your PI may not have the knowledge or network to help you, especially if you are moving away from the bench.  If he/she doesn’t, that is OK!  You have many other resources around you.  However, you might be surprised by who your PI knows in different fields and at different companies.  Your PI wants you to be successful.  Not just because that is part of being a mentor.  But also, because successful alumni/alumnae reflect positively on a PI, both for recruiting top postdocs to their lab and for positive reviews from their departments. 

If it really is not your PI that you want to talk with, consider who else you might be able to discuss your career with.  Do you have a mentor outside of your lab?  Have you considered talking with your Lab Chief or Institute Training Director?  While your PI likely knows you the best and, you also need to find someone you are comfortable with and who can have an honest conversation about your career path.

NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 8 - NIH Alumnus to NIH Tenure Track Investigator

Submitted by peryan79 January 17, 2012

This is the eighth 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.

NOTE:  During the interview for this profile, Dr. Milner noted that he had some exciting findings his lab was submitting for publication.  Those findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine and highlighted in the NIH e-clips.

Name: Joshua Milner

Current position: Tenure-track investigator, Laboratory of Allergic Diseases, NIAID, NIH

Location: Bethesda, MD

Time in current position: 2 years

Summer student project: Immunology research with Michael Lenardo at NIAID

Clinical fellow in allergy/immunology in William (Bill) Paul’s lab at NIAID

My story: I worked in Mike Lenardo’s lab for 3 summers right after high school. I had a few other internships, and when I did my residency after medical school, some of my projects involved collaborating with NIH researchers. Then I came back here for a fellowship in 2003.

Job search in a nutshell: The third year of my fellowship, I was approached by a major international medical center. I wasn’t anticipating that. For M.D. fellowships, that’s classically the time to get a job, but it was too early to get an NIH job. I liked what I was doing at NIAID enough that I was willing to wait to see if I could get a job here. I interviewed for that medical center job but I basically turned it down because it seemed too early. Still, I thought if I was approached by one place, I’d better contact others. I really didn’t know if I’d be able to stay at NIAID.

Exert a little pressure: I interviewed at several other places, and made it clear what they were offering. I also had mentors who were trying to help. The uncertainty was tough. There was not a clear path to become faculty here. They were finally able to cobble together a way for me to become a staff clinician and partner with a clinical lab, and I decided to stay for the time being.

Taking that last step: The next year, I was accepted to NIAID’s transition program for fellows who want to move to tenure-track. Right at that time, I kind of hit it big: I got a Nature paper. After that, I felt more confident, although I still didn’t know if I’d get a tenure-track position. But it turned out I only stayed in that transition program for a short time because NIAID conducted its first IC-wide tenure-track search—where the whole IC advertised and said you could pick the lab—and I and a few other folks were accepted. I didn’t think twice about accepting.

That was 2009. All told, it was a two-year process.

The upside: What I do specifically is patient-centered science. The opportunities to do that are so much better here because of the way the Clinical Center is set up. We get interesting, unique patients and look at their cell pathways and the biochemistry related to the conditions they have. By looking at these rare cases, we hope to learn more about common allergic diseases.

A major issue for me is work/life balance and spending time with family. I have 4 kids. The flexibility here is great. In an outside position, if nothing else, I’d be spending more time writing grants and performing mandatory, time-consuming clinical duties. Of course, you could have a great balance but not be doing good work. If I weren’t being productive, I’d have to reevaluate.

Necessary compromises: The career path in academia was clearer. There was the attraction of being in major medical centers that focus on clinical immunology, where there’s a tremendous intellectual and scientific community and where I had made lots of relationships. Certain types of patients are also much more available out there. Also, here, things can work more like individual fiefdoms. I’d like to push to have more interaction between labs and a more academic-type environment here.

The transition: As a fellow, I was just doing 1 or 2 projects in another person’s lab. As a tenure-track researcher I had other people doing projects for me. It was a quantum leap difference. Now I am a manager of people and of a program. I’m very extroverted so I wasn’t as worried about that. Being fairly young, I was a little worried about hiring people older than me. And I clearly remember walking through my empty lab and saying, “What the heck do I put on these shelves?” I was petrified. But it was a quick transition. I talked to more experienced folks who were either a few years ahead of me or who were far senior.

It would have been useful to have different templates for startup purchasing. The instruction on how to hire a postdoc often comes after you’ve hired a postdoc. There is mentorship about how to get tenure, and rightly so, but not about how to set up a lab. I recommend asking lots of questions of lab chiefs about what they do. Because I was from here, I was able to do this a little more informally.

Full circle: My lab is 2 doors down from Mike Lenardo’s where I worked back then. Now I have my own summer students. Frankly, it takes work! I now have an even greater appreciation for the people who took me on when I was a student. But I want to make sure I have them because that’s how I got my start. I’ve had 3 so far, and I’m starting to get “repeat offenders.”

Make it your own: People [at the NIH who are looking to make the move into tenure-track positions here] should show they know how to use the power of the NIH intramural program and show what their unique mark is in using those resources. I had been working with mice as a fellow. The research that led to the Nature paper was in patients. I hadn’t done human research, so I found a lab that worked with patient samples all the time. I brought together different groups, which is what was needed to do something this translational. You shouldn’t just expect that if you do good work, you’re going to be rewarded; you have to do your work. Be creative, independent, and make it your own. Chart your own course.

Joshua can be contacted through the OITE alumni database

The Branching Career Pipeline: What, You Mean I Have Options?

Submitted by peryan79 January 30, 2012

New data about career paths for biomedical PhDs has been published by a group led by Cynthia Fuhrmann and Bill Lindstaedt from the University of California, San Francisco (essay in CBE-Life Sciences Education). They report data they have collected from graduate students in biomedical PhD programs at their school career centers.  The statistic that jumps off the page is that 71.2% of all graduate students polled were “strongly considering” a career that was outside of scientific research.  The non-scientific research careers were broad ranging (business of science, science policy, education-related, writing, etc.). 

There is a nice summary of the paper on Bio Job Blog that you can read by clicking here.  This poignant sentence should fuel the conversation to reshape graduate education and training: “Fuhrmann and Lindstaedt’s current study clearly shows that tenure track positions are no longer traditional career options for most graduate students and postdocs and paradoxically they have actually become a ‘nontraditional or alternate career route.’”   

Here are some other points not presented at Bio Job Blog that we find of interest.

  • When asked to choose a single career path, students could select a particular career or select “still considering a range of options.”  Selecting “still considering a range of options” was interpreted as having low confidence in a career choice. Students entered their first year with high confidence in their career choices with 51% of students being certain of their career direction.  By the second year, confidence in career choices had decreased dramatically, with a mere 33% of students indicating they were certain of their career choice.  While confidence increased every year after the second year regression, only in the year of expected completion was confidence as high as first year graduate students. 
  • That decrease in confidence between years one and two is followed by an increase in the number of students changing their career goals in their third year, with the largest change being away from desiring to be a tenure track PI and towards non-research careers.
  • The changes in confidence and the changes in career choice were both statistically independent of gender. 
  • The reasons provided for the change in career choice were “negative perceptions related to the career path” (91%), “inadequate quality-of-life or work-life balance” (33%) and “difficulty getting funding” (24%).  Less than 25% of respondents indicated positive factors encouraging them to pursue a different career choice.

All these data are interesting and certainly validating for those who are having or have had the desires to move from the “traditional” career path for a bioscience PhD.  However, the impetus behind the study and the publishing of the results is to drive home the point that there is a need for graduate education to evolve. That is why here at OITE we not only provide a variety of resources for career exploration, and career development workshops and seminars, but we work on changing conversations to support all career paths.