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Re-Applying to Graduate Programs

Submitted by John Taborn May 7, 2018

As noted in last week’s blog about reapplying to medical school, deciding to reapply for graduate programs naturally brings mixed feelings.  You should be congratulated for the investment of time, effort, and expense that all applicants invest during the application process.  For those of you who are on waitlists for admission this cycle, there is still a possibility for matriculation this year.  Simultaneously, it is time for you to consider re-applying. Here are some things to consider: There are things beyond your control. It is common for applicants to reapply.  It is important to realize that each year, the number of students accepted to graduate programs may vary depending on a variety of matters.  In some departments a loss of funding from the department, school or institution can result in a reduction in the number of applicants who they can support in a PhD program.  Also, in any given year, the number of faculty who are available to take on new doctoral students may fluctuate.  Some faculty may have sabbaticals, take family or health leaves of absence, or even simply be overloaded with students. Ask Yourself:  What are the strengths and deficits in my application? Never reapply without addressing the problems within your previous application and interview.   Take ownership of the process and ask, “How can I improve my application in the future?”.  Often, admissions officers can give you one or two tidbits of information that can help you.  Dr. Bill Higgins, OITE’s Preprofessional Advisor, provided these additional tips to graduate school re-applicants:

  • Talk to Graduate Program Directors who have seen your application and ask for suggestions for improvement
  • Obtain suggestions from your PI about how to improve your application
  • Apply to a broader range of graduate programs that range in competitiveness and prestige
  • Obtain new letters of recommendation from PIs who know about your work and science
  • Address any grade or GRE scores
  • Make sure your stated research interests match the program’s foci
  • Get help with your personal statement from the OITE staff

Act to improve upon your application. Now that you have gathered feedback, honestly ask, “Can these problems be remedied effectively prior to reapplying or will I need more time?  Next set out to make any necessary improvements to your application.  Plan to attend the NIH Graduate and Professional School Fair on Wednesday July 18, 2018 and speak with representatives of over 160 graduate programs seeking applicants form NIH.  Feel free to make an appointment with a OITE career counselor and attend the workshops on applying to graduate school workshops and programs during the Fall and Winter of each application season.  

Why the 11th Annual Career Symposium is Awesome!  

Submitted by John Taborn May 15, 2018
The 11th Annual NIH Career Symposium is on May 18, 2018. This great event features career panels to help you make career decisions.  Register now and join us! Top 11 things on why the career symposium is awesome:
  1. You can look at what careers you might want.
    1. We have faculty, industry, government, bench, non-bench jobs to highlight. Come hear about what these folks do all day at their jobs to make sure you are ready.
  2. You could also decide which careers do not fit you.
    1. If you are unsure what is next, you can “test” careers-it is just as important to take careers off your decision tree as it is to find a career that fits you.
  3. You do have time for this---it is part of being a grad student/postdoc/fellow.
    1. One common comment we hear is “I do not have time, my experiments need me!” We get it, most of the OITE staff have PhDs….that said, part of your job as a trainee is to find a job so consider this your experiment for the day!
  4. You can hear from over 60 speakers that are attending.
    1. Many of our speakers also make hiring decisions, so you can get insider info on what committees are looking for in CV/resumes, cover letters, and interviews.
  5. You can see that most trainees are in the same decision-making process that you are.
    1. There is comfort in seeing that other trainees are also wondering about what career they want after they leave their postdoc/fellow/grad experience. You can share ideas and tips with your colleagues to make this process easier.
  6. Network with your peers
    1. Too many times trainees think networking is only about speaking to those in positions of hiring power; however, you can get great advice and insights from like-minded individuals in your peer group. The career symposium usually has over 750 in attendance, so there will be plenty of opportunity to make new connections!
  7. You should invite everyone who is a postdoc, grad student, fellow in the biomedical sciences to join us.
    1. While hosted by the NIH OITE (part of the intramural research program), everyone is invited--even if you are not in the intramural research program.
  8. You might learn a new skill in our blitzes.
    1. The end of the day features skill blitzes to help you prepare your job packages, interview, deal with the stress of being a scientist, transition to your new job, tell your boss about your career plans, and more.
  9. You have an easy place to practice networking.
    1. A few years ago, a speaker mentioned that while they had great conversations the day of, no attendees followed up after the event. Be that person that follows up!
  10. You can get a picture at the LinkedIn photobooth.
    1. According to LinkedIn’s data, LinkedIn profiles with photos get 21 times more profile views, nine times more connection requests and 36 times more messages than those without photos.
  11. You can participate by tweeting along.
    1. We will highlight comments and tips by the speakers all day on Twitter. Follow along at NIH_OITE with the hashtag #CareerSymp18
  See you there!

Saying “No” at Work

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch May 22, 2018

It can be anxiety producing to turn down work from a fellow colleague, or even worse, your boss. Sometimes, though, that is exactly what you need to do. In most work settings, especially competitive ones, employees want to be looked upon favorably as the “go-to person” or as a “good team player”. The problem happens when you take on too much and volunteer to pitch in on one too many projects. When doing so, you run the risk of not being as effective at your other tasks and it could leave you feeling stressed and stretched too thin.

If you have already fully assessed the request and plan to say “no” here are a few things to keep in mind as you say this small but powerful two-lettered word.

Give yourself permission to say “no”. Even at work. Often people agree to requested tasks or favors simply because they fear disappointing the requestor. At work, you should earnestly evaluate whether you have the bandwidth to help with the request and you should always show a willingness to pitch in; however, you can still say no. When doing so, ask if priorities should be shifted to accommodate this request or volunteer to help in smaller or tangential ways for the project. Saying no at work doesn’t mean you are a bad employee, but rather that you are aware of your own personal time constraints and want to be respectful to all involved on the project.

Say it with the right tone. This can be a hard one to do, especially if you feel stressed and overwhelmed by the request. Sometimes answers can come out overly harsh, so try not to conflate your overall feelings about your workload with this one favor. Sometimes it is best to buy yourself more time and say “Can I follow up with you in a few minutes? My mind is focused on X right now.” Then take some time to gather your thoughts and practice your approach.

Be firm with your boundary. It is equally important not to waver or appear too hesitant when saying no. Be courteous but assertive. You might say, “I’m sorry I can’t be of help right now and I will let you know if that changes in the next few weeks.” This puts you in the position to follow up instead of inviting questions from the requestor of the “If…then” variety. Don’t give the requestor false hope that your answer may change by talking too much about shifting variables. Make sure your no is firmly understood.

If saying no to requests at work (or outside of work, for that matter!) is difficult for you, then you might benefit from the assertiveness workshops. If you are at the NIH, feel free to attend the workshop entitled “Speaking Up: How to Ask For What You Need in the Lab and in Life” on June 19. The OITE also has some resources that might be helpful, including the OITE Career Library. One book you might be particularly interested in is: When I Say No, I Feel Guilty by Manuel J. Smith, PhD.