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5 Signs it's Time for a Change and How to Take the 1st Steps

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch March 2, 2020

Post written by guest blogger Charlesice Hawkins, Detailee within OITE.

In science there is often a looming question: do you try for hundredth time or do you try something else? The answer, of course, is that it depends. It depends on what is most important, it depends on why it didn’t work, it depends on the goal, it depends on the options, and it depends on the significance. The issue is complicated further by considerations of other people, their expectations, their involvement, and sometimes their money. Change can be scary but deciding to make a change is equally terrifying. Deciding to change careers or change an aspect of one’s career follows many of the same considerations as an experiment. When its working, there is no need for change unless to improve, but short of an explosion – literally or figuratively – here are five signs that it is time for a change.

1.     Avoidance
It is common in an environment with poor fit that someone will be distracted or ignore certain tasks. It’s okay to get distracted occasionally, it can be beneficial to change focus temporarily, but active and continued avoidance of different tasks can be a sign of dissatisfaction and that it’s time for a change.

2.     Stagnation
There is value in mastering a skill or a job, but things are always changing especially in the age of technology. Our careers should foster growth, not necessarily “climbing the ladder,” but rather providing an environment for learning. Persistent boredom is a sign that it’s time for a change.

3.     Self-destruction
Self-sabotage is the extreme version of self-destruction, but there are many more subtle ways that we can undermine ourselves like continual stress, skipping meals, ignoring pain and/or problems. When a job starts to affect any aspect of someone’s health negatively, it is time for a change.

4.     Isolation
Self or forced isolation is an indicator of extreme discomfort. Whether it be due to interpersonal interactions or something like depression, isolation can not only be a bad sign, it can perpetuate many problems and should be addressed immediately.

5.     Resentment
Resentment is a natural manifestation of unaddressed issues and it is malignant; it will grow, and it will spread aggressively making change imperative.

Generally, if someone dreads going to work for reasons other than that they would rather binge Netflix or go to the beach, there is likely a problem. The first step for solving any problem is recognizing that there is one. Any of the above five signs are a strong indicator that it’s time to think about one’s environment carefully. Consider what is important and what takes priority now. Think of small changes that can be implemented to help inform future decisions or if something bigger needs to happen. Change is never easy, but it is often a platform for growth. Take time for oneself and seek outside help if unsure of what to do or how to do what is necessary. If you are a trainee at the NIH, remember that there are wellness and career resources (one-on-one appointments and workshops) available to you through the OITE.


From the Archive: Utilizing Google Alerts in a Job Search

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch March 9, 2020

Google Alerts* will email you results from various saved searches. You can customize the type and frequency of your emailed search results depending on your personal preferences. It is a free tool to use and you can save up to ten different alerts (1,000 if you have a Google account). Many businesses, especially public relations representatives, often use such alerts to keep abreast of news stories about their company’s competitors, trademarks, etc. Google Alerts can help you during a job search as well.

Here are some alerts job seekers should set up:

1. Your Name
Your online reputation often precedes your first face-to-face impression. Any job you apply for will research you online. By this point in time, you have probably Googled yourself (if not, do so immediately!). However, make sure you stay up to date about what is published online about you by creating an alert with your name.

2. Companies of Interest
Hopefully, you have identified and targeted a few key employers of interest. Keep tabs on them by creating a search query with just their name, such as “NIH” or “National Institutes of Health.” Note: you may need to save a few different variations of the same name to help account for acronyms and labeling differences.

You should also set up a search query “Jobs (Company Name)” which will email you pages where these two key words appear jointly. Keep in mind that it might not actually be a page with open jobs; however, it could give you a heads up about staffing changes which could help inform your job search. Ultimately, the goal is to draw your attention to news stories that might be beneficial for one reason or another in your search.

3. Jobs in Your Location
If you are focusing on a specific geographic area, you can create a search such as “Maryland (“new jobs”)” or “Gaithersburg (“new business”).” Remember to use the same tools and tricks that you normally employ when using a search engine. For example, quotes will ensure that your phrase is searched exactly as it is written – not parsed out word by word.

4. Set an Industry Alert
Interested in a specific industry? Set a search query according to your interests; some example might be “biotechnology” or “pharmaceuticals.”

5. Keep Tabs on Key People
Wonder when your former PI’s paper is going to be published? Curious where your previous lab mate now works? Set a search and get notified about your network’s accomplishments, especially those social media shy folks. This can be a great way to stay in the know and keep connected with people who are important to you and your career.

Like saved job search agents, Google Alerts can help alleviate some of the leg work of job searching and it is an easy way to stay up to date on topics of importance to you and your job search. Please comment on what other alert systems you have found helpful during a job search.

* Disclaimer: The online resource noted in this post is merely informative and does not constitute an endorsement by NIH OITE.


Job Search Mistakes

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch March 16, 2020

Job searching can feel like a full-time job and sometimes it is a drawn out and frustrating process for the job seeker. Make sure you aren’t extending your search by making some of these common mistakes.

Mistake # 1 – Only Applying for Jobs that are a 100% Match
Job ads are often written for that elusive unicorn of a candidate. They very contain every qualification and skill that the employer could dream of wanting. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t apply if you can’t check off every bullet. As long as you are about a 70-80% match and feel confident about the main priorities, then you should go ahead and try for it. You should let the employer rule you out, not the other way around. Too often we see trainees experience imposter phenomenon and undervalue the wide array of skills that they could bring to a position. 

Mistake # 2 – Only Networking with People in Power
Recently a trainee told us about an informational interview he went on with a senior executive at a company of interest. He had been so excited for this meeting and really felt that this exec was in a position to make a hiring decision. All true, but this person had last job searched 20 years ago and didn’t realize what job searching was like today. The program he had been hired through didn’t exist anymore at the company. He had very few tips or ideas to pass along. Overall this exec’s career path and job search make our trainee feel like this career was even more elusive. Yes, sometimes a referral from a person in power can go a long way; however, remember that some of the best job searching information/tips/leads often comes from peers. Don’t underestimate the power in networking with the people around you – your friends, lab mates, former classmates, and son on.

Mistake # 3 – Not Tailoring Your Documents for Computer Filters
A postdoc recently lamented that she had stayed up all night trying to complete an online job application only to receive an email rejection at 5AM. Was somebody in the office at 5AM? No! Her application was probably never viewed by human eyes. You need to revise how you write your CV, resume, and cover letter to get through these computer filters. Remember not to lie or overly exaggerate your qualifications – you will eventually be asked to support all of this supplied data in an interview. However, too often well qualified applicants are rejected by computer scanning systems simply because the applicant didn’t take the time (or didn’t know) the importance of tailoring. Many websites* will scan your resume and the job ad to tell you how well you are matching.  

* Disclaimer: The online resource noted in this post is merely informative and does not constitute an endorsement by NIH OITE.


Caring for Your Mental Health During a Pandemic

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch March 23, 2020

The current outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has created a high period of stress for people around the world. Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations; how you are responding to the outbreak depends in part on your background, your community, your support system, and any preexisting mental health conditions you may have.

It is very normal to be feeling stress during an infectious disease outbreak due to  fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones. Increasingly, as we move through the days of this situation, stress is also extending to financial fears and worry for people, especially those who are working in hard hit industries (like the service/hospitality industry). It is critical to be mindful of anxiety, as it may lead to a host of issues, including but not limited to: changes in sleep or eating patterns, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, worsening of chronic health problems, increased use of alcohol/drugs.

It is so helpful to be around others and feel our sense of community at a time like this. We need to be mindful that while we are home and isolating for the safety of ourselves and others, we risk feeling lonely, anxious, and quite down. It is important that we find ways to connect as we process the new norm (for now). Especially in times of stress, self-care is of the utmost importance, as we all work to weather this storm together. Staying attuned to physical health and any new presenting symptoms is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Equally important is our need to pay attention to our mind, emotions, relationships, environment, time, and resources.

Here are some tips to build self-care into your new environment of social distancing.

Update (and separate) your living and workspace.
We are all in an extreme version of nesting, so take some time to ensure that your space is aesthetically pleasing and/or soothing to you. Gretchen Rubin always says, “outer order promotes inner calm.” Taking a few moments to carve out and tidy up a workstation can go a long way. While you are at it, try to move toward a window to get some natural light and put up pictures or artwork that help inspire you.  See if you can find ways to separate your work and living space.  It might be helpful to have a designated home desk.  If this is not possible, find ways to separate work time from home time.  This may mean taking a walk, doing something creative, or even physically putting your computer and papers away at the end of the workday.

Reboot and recharge.
Just like our electronic devices, sometimes we need to step away to power up our energy levels again. Many people working from home find that they don’t get up as much as they used to in the lab or office. Make it a point to set a timer and stretch every 30-60 minutes. Go for a walk if you can. Open windows and get fresh air. Have lunch away from your designated workspace. Video chat a friend or colleague to feel more connected.  Figuring our what little things you can do to help you feel in control at a time of uncertainly can add a much needed sense of calm and structure into our days.

Build a routine that works for you.
Many people have been sharing ideas of schedules and activities, especially for parents now in charge of homeschooling. If it stresses you out to have every 20-minute chunk of time scheduled, then don’t do it; however, having a general routine and some order in your day can be beneficial, not only for yourself but for children as well.

Focus on calm and positivity.
There are many things outside of our individual control right now. Helping to protect publish health by staying at home is one thing we should all be doing. Often our thoughts and ideas escalate to what more we should be doing. Check your negative cognitions (“I am not doing enough”) and shift them to more positive thoughts (“This is a tough time and I am doing the best I can given the circumstances”).

While we are social distancing, try to be a good support to others and remember to be kind to ourselves.


Staying Connected with OITE

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch March 30, 2020

While we may not be on campus, the OITE is committed to continuing activities on your behalf in the virtual space. We now have a dedicated webpage to help keep you informed -  All of our online offerings will be posted here; be sure to watch for group sessions on wellness, resilience, and mindfulness meditation plus career and professional development opportunities.  We have tried to schedule events at times that are conducive for trainees on any campus to easily participate. 

We are still open for business and look forward to seeing you in our virtual workshops or during our one-one-one career counseling appointments. Appointments can easily be made online and counselors can connect with you via phone or video chat at your preference.

We'll be sharing additional guidance and resources in the coming weeks, but for now here are some ideas and tips to help you manage this moment in time:  

  1. It is important to prioritize your health and well-being.  Please take a moment to read last week’s blog post on Caring for Your Mental Health During a Pandemic and to review all of the wellness offerings still available through OITE. You can easily see these at our Upcoming Events page

  2. Stay connected with your family, friends, and labmates during this time by texting, calling, FaceTiming, videochats, etc.  Many groups are now doing virtual coffee dates or happy hours (see the article on the rise of virtual events). 

  3. Reduced social activities, no commuting time, etc. means more time trainees can spend on researching potential employers and career paths, networking, polishing up their resumes and LinkedIn profiles, etc. We are here to help and we have videos on many of these topics here and here

  4. Make sure your LinkedIn is updated! Recruiters, alumni from your programs, and other employees will most likely not be in the office, with more availability over the next few weeks. Take this time to make meaningful connections over LinkedIn, as more people will be on their computer looking for social interactions. Suggest a "virtual coffee" and set up a call, Facetime or Zoom meeting to catch up with your existing connections or conduct an informational interview