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Top 7 Reasons That You Should Visit A Career Counselor

Submitted by peryan79 February 6, 2012

In the beginning of January, we posted a calendar with monthly steps to move your career forward.  The February task was to meet with a career counselor.  Here at OITE, we have two career counselors on staff.  Anne and Elaine were kind enough to introduce themselves on the blog a couple of years ago.  What makes them an enormous asset for you is that they exclusively advise scientists.  They understand the career dynamics of fellows here at NIH and researchers in general.  They have a wide breadth of knowledge and experience in career counseling and have already helped hundreds of fellows take the next step in their careers. 

Whether you know where your career is heading or not, meeting with a career counselor can help you be more competitive in fulfilling your career goals.  With the help of our two career counselors on staff at OITE, we have determined the top 7 reasons to visit a career counselor.

7.            Develop the skills necessary for career success.  The truth is, even the strongest job candidates are not perfect.  There is always room for improvement, and a career counselor can help you determine where and how to improve.  Career counselors can teach you how to be assertive in getting what you need and want from your current and future jobs.  They can teach you how and when to negotiate.  They can identify holes in your professional preparation. 

6.         Get help with the job search process.  No, they will not find a job for you.  They can, however, make the process easier, more transparent, and more efficient.  Learn how to begin a job search, maximize your CV or resume and improve your chances of getting interviews.  If you are already job searching, they can help you maximize your efforts.  If you are considering changing your career path, career counselors can help you assess what you might like to do and what options exist.

5.         Clarify career goals.  Career counselors can help fellows clarify their goals by identifying significant work related values, preferences and interests.  Through a variety of assessment inventories and discussions, career counselors can help you understand yourself better and relate this self-knowledge into career choices.  With this knowledge, they can then help you make career decisions in a meaningful way. 

4.         Learn effective networking tools.  Career counselors have a litany of networking tips and exercises to be a more effective networker.  They can explain how to do informational interviews.  They can help you map out a plan to help you realize all the people you have in your network.

3.         Mock Interviews.  I mentioned above the broad knowledge and experience of our career counselors.  That includes knowing a lot of common and specific interview questions you are likely to face during your job search.  Conducting a mock interview with a career counselor gives you a chance to prepare answers, get feedback on your body language and tone of voice, and to gain a sense of confidence before heading into an interview. Mock interviews are an effective tool in reducing anxiety before and during an interview.  (Click here for a post with other tips on managing anxiety and nervousness in an interview.)

2.         To make the best of your current position.  Career counselors are trained to help you deal with difficult situations.  They are a great place to find encouragement and support when things are not going well.  Perhaps your fellowship is not turning out the way you had expected.  Maybe your relationship with your PI is strained or non-productive.  It could be that there is a coworker that you have a difficult time working with.  A career counselor can provide you guides in communicating effectively, confront a difficult situation, and help you determine personality traits and preferences that can help you understand how people work differently.               

And then number one reason to visit a career counselor is…

1.            Because it will be a valuable experience.  That is why it is on the career development calendar for 2012!

Remember, these are only the top 7 reasons to see a career counselor.  There are many more ways a career counselor can improve your career success.  For a more detailed list of what you might expect when (as an NIH trainee) you come to visit our career services center at OITE, click here.

Helpful Tips to Managing Stress and Anxiety In Interviews

Submitted by peryan79 February 8, 2012

Interviews are often essential stepping-stones to the next career stage. You know you are qualified, yet you may worry that you will be too nervous to perform well enough to get the position. If even the thought of the interview makes your palms sweaty and your heart race, believe it or not, that’s normal.  According to some estimates, as many as 40 million Americans suffer from situational anxiety

As interview season is in full swing, we are seeing and hearing a lot of anxiety from trainees about pending interviews.  With the help of our Career Counselors and our Leadership and Professional Development Coach, we have come up with a few tips on managing your anxiety during an interview.  Before the Interview: 

  • Develop confidence in yourself. Interviews are important, and may have a say in shaping your future. However, they are not the only criteria under which you will be judged for a position.  You were invited for an interview.  That in itself means you are a strong candidate and the organization you are interviewing with wants you to do well.  Often, anxiety in an interview can be linked to anticipation of the outcome.  The same symptoms of anxiety for someone fearing failure can be interpreted as excitement by someone anticipating success.  Be confident and think positive.  
  • Practice, practice, practice. There is an old adage, “Practice well, play well.”  Review common interview questions.  Give yourself a chance to practice and get feedback by participating in a mock interview with a career counselor.  Practice breathing deeply and answering questions.  Realize there will be questions that will require you to think in the moment.  If you want to pause for more than a few seconds, you might even say, “Great question. Do you mind if I think about it for 30 seconds?” Then genuinely think about it for 30 seconds and respond.  
  • Be Prepared With Good Questions.  This does more than show you have done your research.  It gives you a break from answering questions and may even give you a sense of control in the interview.  However, if you ask a question you need to listen to the answer.    
  • Get acclimated.  Do not add extra anxiety by worrying about whether you will arrive in time for your interview.  Get there early.  Plan on enough time to take a walk and relax.  Get familiar with the building and imagine being there once you get the position.  Practice your answers to common questions while you are there.  

During the Interview: 

  • Remember to breathe. Anxiety experts tell us that it’s impossible to panic while breathing deeply. This does not mean that you won’t feel anxious at all.  It does mean that you can re-gain access to your frontal lobes. You will short-circuit the fight-flight-or freeze response and send oxygen into your brain so you can think straight.   Practice this beforehand in stressful situations. 
  • Take it one small step at a time. Focusing on the interview as a whole may be more intimidating than considering a single question or response.  Try to think of each step as an individual task.  The handshake and greeting is just a handshake and a greeting.  The first question is just one question.  The same with the second question and the third and so on.  Breaking down each step allows you to focus on a more easily conquered task than being concerned about the entire interview. 
  • Realize that anxiety is not a constant state.  If you find yourself getting flustered or panicky during one part of the interview, then pause and breathe. Anxiety will not be constant throughout the interview.  Just like you break down each step in the interview into a single task, take on each bout of anxiety one at a time.  You may worry that you can’t recover from anxiety, but you can. Breathing and remembering that you’re the expert on your work can help.

Consider in advance how you will respond when your interviewers let you know that the interview is ending.  Thank the interviewer(s) for taking the time to meet with you.  Restate how interested you are in the position and that you look forward to seeing them again. 

To reduce post-interview anxiety, learn from the interviewer when you can expect to hear from them about their hiring decision.   For more tips on interviewing, including questions you may be asked or that you may want to ask, read our Interviewing Skills handout. For more information about interview anxiety and how to overcome it, read this article.

NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 9 - Supervisor, Assay Development

Submitted by peryan79 February 13, 2012

This is the ninth 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: Kai Cheng

Current position: Supervisor of genotyping services assay development, The Jackson Laboratory

Location: Bar Harbor, ME

Time in current position: 5 months

Postdoc: Mechanisms of axon guidance using a transgenic mouse olfactory system, with Leonardo Belluscio at NINDS

My story: Toward the end of my postdoc, I felt I did not want to do academia as a PI but I didn’t know what I’d really like to do. When I started to talk to people for informational interviews, I had no direction. I talked to my mentor. He said, I cannot advise you if you don’t know what you want to do! I started actively going to OITE for a lot of instruction. I took the Myers-Briggs and tried to form a direction for myself and know what I’d really like to do. It’s a personality test so it won’t tell you that you have to do this or that type of work, but it shows you people who are happy and successful in different fields, what kind of personalities they have. It helps you to think, Do I look like those people? Would I like that kind of work?

I discovered I wanted to go towards an industry setting, technology-based but also service-related. In academia, you have to be able to write grants very successfully. It seems to be endless. It’s not my thing. In industry, you don’t have to write grants. Also they rely a lot on teamwork, which I really like. You talk to everyone and have interdepartmental collaborations and understand the whole pipeline. With OITE’s help, I further narrowed down my direction and tried to combine it with my experience to see what would be a realistic starting point.

Job search frustrations: I didn’t really seriously start looking until I had been a postdoc for 6 years. I sent out some resumés to companies online. Some friends did that and it worked for some of them, but I’m a very unlucky guy—I sent out probably hundreds and never got any responses. So I was frustrated. Then I attended a career fair organized by OITE, and a company had organized on-site interviews with hiring managers. I really liked that company and prepared as much as I could. I did go quite far and got a second interview. Unfortunately I didn’t get that job. I heard that the person who got the offer prepared for 1 year and had 3 interviews before and that was their 4th. So I was thinking, Really, it takes that long? I really want a job now! But it takes time and patience. 

That was a tough time for me. But I kept looking. I never gave up. I kept an eye on any openings at that company and at other companies. I stopped randomly submitting resumés. When you’re targeted, you know where your strength is and you have a better chance to win. Still, it was frustrating. I even thought of going back to China, where I am from. I wanted to stay here, but the NIH has an 8-year rule and there seemed to be no backup plan for me. So I thought I have to try everything I can. 

A gamble: I got an interview in China. I went and had that. It wasn’t bad; I got quite a decent offer. Eventually, I rejected that offer. I don’t know, maybe I was crazy, or maybe I was confident I would get something here. I wanted to give myself another chance. I made the decision also for personal reasons. (I wouldn’t advise anyone else to do what I did, though!) 

How I got my job: I saw an ad from Jackson Lab and it looked like a good fit. The day after I sent in my application, the ad was removed. I thought that was not a good sign; they probably hired someone. I tried calling HR, I tried emailing. Nothing. The only thing I could do was keep looking.

In the meantime, I went to a meeting and Jackson Lab had a booth there. According to all those instructions from OITE, you need to talk to someone. So I went there and talked to the staff. More than once. They were very nice. I asked them about the place, the city, the lab. It sounded like people really liked it there and stayed for a very, very long time. In industry, people tend to move on in a year or two, so that was a good sign. I told them I’d applied and hadn’t heard, and they agreed to put a note in their system. I got their business card. I didn’t believe it would do anything, but I knew I’d done what I should do.

A few weeks later, a colleague saw an ad from Jackson for a new opening very similar to the previous one. Then another person sent me the same ad. I thought it wasn’t a coincidence that 2 people think I’m good at this at the same time. I applied online for the job (again). I also sent an email to the person I’d met at the conference and said I’m really interested and did they know anyone I could contact for more information. I honestly didn’t expect any reply. But I got a reply and was cc’d to the person who was hiring for my current position. Then I got connected to the person who would be my supervisor. I got a phone interview. I think because of the previous interview experience at the career fair and in China, I felt more confident. I did well. A few months later I got an on-site interview. I did the mock interview in OITE for preparation. A few months later, I got the offer. 

Tough to network: It is not really my personality to go out there and talk to strangers. It was really hard for me [while I was looking for jobs]. But I don’t think I would have gotten my current position if I hadn’t talked to someone at a conference. I had to be brave. I still can’t say I’m so good at communication now, but what you need is to go up to that person at the moment when you’re confident. 

Day-to-day: My responsibilities are quite mixed. One big part is at Jackson Lab we import hundreds of mouse strains from all over the world each year. My job is to design genotyping assays for them. I have a managerial role to supervise technicians to validate the assays. That’s the majority of my job. At the same time, I do assay troubleshooting of existing strains already in house. So whenever the group that handles those mice has technical problems, they let me know. To be successful in these processes in an industry setting, you have to communicate with other groups. We have meetings and phone conversations with internal or external customers to solve assay problems. That’s the third part of my job. 

Adjustments: I miss my colleagues when I was a postdoc. I also miss the flexibility in deciding when to go to work and being able to pause here and pick it up later. Now, there is customer satisfaction to consider so you can’t leave things for long. Even if I’m not here, I have to arrange for someone else to cover for me. 

Challenges for a non-citizen: I wanted to join industry, but even now I don’t have a green card. I was very nervous about whether Jackson Lab would be able to sponsor me, but I was very fortunate and they got a nonprofit H1B. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to work.

Also, my spoken English is good, but I’m a terrible writer. That can be a barrier. You can’t always go somewhere and talk to people. At NIH, I took some “how to write science” classes. Those were very helpful, but to be honest I wasn’t a very good student! For speaking, I think you just need practice. It’s the same as for job hunting and interviewing—just do it. It was like acting in the beginning, but after you do it hundreds of times, it becomes natural. 

What’s next: It’s pretty good here. Some people don’t like services, but I do. I like helping people. And I like working in a team to solve problems. I hope I can learn to be more efficient so I can have more leisure time! But being busy is good. We’ll see if my employer will give me space to learn more things and support my career development. If everything works out, I believe I will stay here a while.

Kai can be contacted through the OITE alumni database

Scientific Seminars and Your Career

Submitted by peryan79 February 21, 2012

You know seminars are important, but honestly when is the last time you went?  We know the excuses on why attendance is not a priority.  There are only so many hours to get so many experiments done, and the seminar room is all the way of the other side of campus (and it is raining/sunny/cold/hot), there are no free cookies, it is not a topic you are interested in, etc.

Here are some reasons on why attending seminars is key to your career success, both for now and in the future:

  1. Solving scientific puzzles- you never know when a seminar may lead to an Aha! Moment to solve your challenges
  2. New techniques and procedures- technologies are being developed at a rapid pace.  No one can keep up with them all simply by reading the literature 
  3. Collaborations- could you and the speaker have a common goal that would benefit from a scientific exchange?
  4. Network- make contacts and build relationships, both within the institution and with the speaker.  This helps you to build your networking map (which we will blog about in early March)
  5. Exposure- many faculty attend seminars regularly, this gives you a chance to be seen by them and to engage in intellectual conversations.  This could be a bonus when you need another letter of recommendation, science advice, and more.
  6. Communication- you can improve your communication skills by asking questions and participating in the discussion

Regardless of your career aspirations, you need to be successful doing what you are doing now.  So make seminar attendance a priority.  Who knows where this one hour a week can lead you, both scientifically and career-wise.  In fact, we will make it a priority too.  See one of the OITE staff at WALS the next two weeks (February 22, 2012 or THURSDAY March 1, 2012). 

We would love to have you say “hello” and let us know you are reading the blog. [polldaddy poll=5964168]   [polldaddy poll=5964175]

NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 10 – Group Leader, University of New South Wales

Submitted by Lori Conlan February 28, 2012

Name: Goli Samimi
Current position: Group Leader, Ovarian Cancer Group, Garvan Institute of Medical Research
Location: Sydney, Australia
Time in current position: ~1 year
Postdoc: Tumor microenvironment effects in ovarian cancer with Michael J. Birrer, NCI
My job: I am the group leader of the Ovarian Cancer Group at a medical research institute called the Garvan Institute. I have a joint appointment at the University of New South Wales. So I have grad students from the university and postdocs working in my group. It’s different not being on the bench—my typical day is writing. Lots of writing and lots of meetings. I’m either writing papers, protocols, grants, fellowships or grant reviews. Lots of emails. Typical for what you’d expect for a junior investigator. The hardest part is that I tend to organize my schedule for the week and it’s always thrown off, so I have to get used to not necessarily completing everything I had set out for the week. A necessary skill for sure in this kind of position is time management! Also writing and presentation skills.
My story: I joined the Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program at NCI after completing my Ph.D. at the University of California, San Diego. This is a fantastic program that provides the opportunity for postdoc fellows to spend year one of their training obtaining an M.P.H. I received mine from Harvard School of Public Health in 2006 and then began my research at NCI. I always planned to stay in academia, as I find that the environment stimulates both the investigators and the trainees. I expected to work at a cancer center affiliated with a hospital and a university.  When the time came to search for jobs, I only applied for academic positions, and mainly at R1 universities. When I got a bit nervous about my lack of prospects, I also applied to smaller teaching universities. But after visiting one, I realized it wasn’t exactly the type of research environment I was interested in.
Network, network, network: I made sure that everyone I knew was aware that I was looking for a job. Basically, when I found a job I really wanted, I checked with my contacts to see if any of them knew anyone in the department. Interestingly, the two big positions I was offered in the States were not advertised positions but instead came about from my networking at AACR, which is a big annual meeting for cancer researchers.
Read more about the ups and downs of life Down Under.
Challenges along the way: I did not get many interviews or offers. I was particularly picky about where I wanted to live (only on the west coast, or the northeast), so I think competition was a big issue. Also, I didn’t have many papers from my postdoc fellowship, which obviously hurt me as well. But I did have a good publication record from my Ph.D. and M.P.H. And although I wasn’t able to use it internationally, I assume that my K99/R00 grant helped impress the department [at Garvan] that I was able to get funded. I have also always been involved in committee work, which I think looks good, as new faculty members are expected to serve on committees.
How I got my job: The position was posted in naturejobs, and it was exactly what I was looking for. It focused on ovarian cancer in an institute that had a strong reputation, great facilities and is extremely collaborative. It was also a unique (and beneficial) situation in that I was taking over for a different leader who had left, so the research group was already present and productive—one postdoc, one grad student and a research assistant. I also brought on another postdoc when I arrived.
My interview experience was fantastic, but I think I was lucky in that the program was relatively certain they wanted me so it didn’t feel like an interview so much as a visit. They were mainly concerned with my commitment to making a big move.
The upside: I feel really fortunate that I look forward to coming to work every day. There is much more camaraderie, collaboration and support than I’ve seen in the States. I was also really lucky coming into a group that was already in existence, as the researchers are all quite independent and can get the work done without hand-holding.
Trade-offs: The system here is that everyone, including the department heads, is on five-year renewal contracts. There is no tenure, so the pressure to produce and get funding is quite high, as it is in the States. Obviously, the biggest compromise is living so far away, but it’s been fine to deal with so far.
A smooth transition: The main adjustment to moving to Australia was dealing with the cost of living. But my institute was extremely supportive about giving me time to find a good place to live. They also made the transition quite easy in that they hired lawyers to deal with visa issues, so all I had to deal with was signing paperwork and waiting. The hardest part was leaving my colleagues in my fellowship program, as they were great friends and scientists who always knew how to provide help and guidance and always supported my work.
I absolutely love living in Sydney. It’s much slower-paced, and everyone is extremely friendly and fun. It’s been great to be back at the beach (I’ve even started taking surfing lessons). Of course I miss my friends and family, but I make it back to the states two or three times a year, so between those visits and Facebook/email/Skype, we’ve kept in touch quite well.
What’s next: At this point, I am focusing on finishing up some loose ends on projects for quick papers. I am also working on getting funded so that I can commit my research group to another three to five years.
I’m doing exactly what I want to do now. I prefer to write and think and explore the science without the technical aspect. Luckily, my team is very meticulous and pays great attention to detail so it works out very well. This is my dream job. As long as they will have me, I would like to stay.
Goli can be contacted through the OITE alumni database.