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Chaos Theory of Careers

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch January 27, 2020

There are many career development theories. A few we have reviewed on this blog have included Super’s Life-Span, Life-Space Theory as well as Krumboltz’s Happenstance Learning Theory. However, today we are going to be reviewing the Chaos Theory of Careers (CTC) as set forth by Pryor and Bright, 2011. According to the theorists, “The aim of chaos-informed career construction is to help clients continually explore their limits, the possibilities around them and to make sense of some of the mystery of themselves and their complex dynamical world.”

What does this mean, though, in practical terms for your own career exploration and development? Some key factors of this theory include:

Non-Linear Path

We have frequently discussed that careers don’t often unfold in a linear way. Each person’s career path is going to be unique to them. As you progress through your career path, you might find that you are a sprinter, a wanderer, or even a straggler and each one is okay.

Not in Isolation

It is important for individuals to remember that career development happens as one component within a naturally chaotic system and structure. Family, friends, culture, and environment all have an influence on the decisions you make.

Uncertain Outcome

This theory emphasizes that it is impossible to have 100% certainty about any career choice and the goal shouldn’t be assurance but rather finding a way to gain comfort with this uncertainty. With these principles in mind, this theory proposes a four-phase plan which is supposed to be flexible enough for anyone to engage. The four phases are very similar to what OITE puts forth as “Elements of Career Planning” in our workshops on Planning for Career Satisfaction and Success.

EPSA – Explore/Prepare/Start/Adapt

Explore is an active phase where individuals are focused on both their own self-discovery as well as vocational options. Prepare is the planning phase where an individual is encouraged to create short-term flexible goals while bearing in mind the impact of chance events on their progression. Start, even in the face of uncertainty, to implement planned goals – the key here is taking action. Adapt is the last phase and for CTC is perhaps the most important. It reinforces the idea that changes will have to be made as career decisions are often make with limited and changing information which requires an individual to adjust and adapt accordingly.

If you are interested in learning more about CTC, read the full abstract here.

Career Options Series – 10 Fields to Explore Further

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch January 6, 2020

The OITE Career Options Series within this blog is intended to give you a snapshot overview of different career paths. The goal of this blog series has been to help trainees explore a variety of different options by connecting you to relevant resources. After all, a large part of making a good career decision is done by gathering information about each field of interest. Here are ten careers that you can further explore within the series:

  1. Public Health
  2. Science Policy
  3. Technology Transfer
  4. Regulatory Affairs
  5. Bioinformatics
  6. Science Education & Outreach
  7. Industry Careers
  8. Biomedical Data Science
  9. Physician Assistant
  10. International Careers

Of course, we encourage you to follow up this online research by conducting informational interviews with individuals in each field. Search the NIH Alumni Database to find alums from the NIH doing similar work. Is there a field you would like us to highlight within this Career Options Series? Leave a comment and let us know what we should focus on next.  

To Postdoc or Not?

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch January 20, 2020

Many PhDs are considering next career steps after the completion of their degree. A big question on many minds is, “Should I do a postdoc or not?” Stephanie Eberle addresses this question in an article on Inside Higher Ed, “Do You Need a Postdoc?”

Eberle contends that “Many PhD students simply default to postdoctoral training as a logical next step, when instead they should be making a much more intentional choice.” This is similar advice to an OITE blog post on “Finding the Perfect Postdoc” where the very first question addressed is whether you really need a postdoc. OITE encourages you to explore what types of job are available for PhD-level scientists. There are many options available – from regulatory affairs to science writing to education and beyond. If you have confirmed your decision to pursue a postdoc, this article also addresses where to look and how to choose among postdocs, as well as a section on whether you should consider special postdocs.

Postdoc positions can provide more opportunity to practice independent research, which is especially helpful if you wish to stay in academia. In many instances, a postdoc is a necessary next step for an academic career path. However, if you aren’t sure and are using a postdoc as a chance to further explore career options, then this extra training can even be counterproductive. It often ends up delaying your entry into a desired field of choice.

Eberle encourages PhDs to avoid making fear-based decisions. She contends:

“The question of whether or not you have to complete postdoctoral training to get a job is not a good starting point. You should decide if you want to do one in the first place. Ideally, around the second or third year of your doctoral training, use myIDP, other assessment tools and informational interviews to both understand yourself and the activities and values of various career options. Pursuing a postdoc because you might regret leaving academe later is fear-based decision making, not intentional. Remember, something is pushing you away from academe in the first place. Lean into that fear and work with a coach to define and explore options.”

If you are at the NIH, you can always meet with a career counselor to discuss your thoughts, ideas, and feelings about your options.

How to Talk to Your PI

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch January 13, 2020

On the OITE Career Blog, we often write about mentoring relationships; after all, they are often vital to your success in the lab and beyond. We have written tips for mentees on managing their mentoring relationships and we have discussed how to talk about your career with your PI. Often, we are focusing on the high-level components of your mentoring relationship with your PI. Sometimes though it is important to focus on small, seemingly simplistic, tips which can help you have better conversations with your mentor. In Nature’s Career Column, Veuthey and Thompson put forth a basic suggestion in their article, “Why You Need an Agenda for Meetings with Your Principal Investigator.” The take-away tip is: Create an Agenda! 20 The authors note that they are constantly discussing with classmates/peers how their interactions go with their respective PIs and all are swapping advice on how these interactions could be improved. They note, “We have found three practices to be consistently helpful: asking our PIs about all aspects of their job; preparing an agenda for each meeting; and negotiating new experiments without explicitly saying ‘no’.” Face time with your PI can sometimes feel limited or rushed, so the point about using an agenda to organize the conversation is key. According to Veuthey, she starts her agenda with an update on her projects but will often add topics that can feel uncomfortable, like requesting funding for a summer course. As you go through your work week, keep a document where you list all of the things you want to discuss with your PI during your next meeting. Don’t rely on your memory to recall the main priorities to be discussed. The Muse actually created a google document with a template for a free meeting agenda. This agenda seems more tailored for group staff meetings, but the principles behind it can be helpful to have more productive meetings of any kind. For more effective one-on-one meetings, some prep beforehand and some thought about the overall structure required can go a long way in ensuring that your meeting doesn’t turn into a rambling chat and that topics which are important to you, like your work in the lab or your career development, can be addressed.