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Interviewing Virtually

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch June 1, 2020

Video interviews are now the rule, not the exception. With many companies still moving forward with hiring decisions, phone and video interviews have become their main solution.  Even before COVID, many organizations were implementing pre-interview assessments which ranged from sample work/skills tests to personality assessments. Given how involved and lengthy job applications can be, once you finally score an interview, it is deserving of a mini celebration! So, what types of virtual interviews can you expect?

Phone Interviews

Phone interviews are still taking place and are often used as the first screening tool of a candidate. Usually during a phone call, you are speaking with a representative from Human Resources and this is their initial screen of selected candidates during the first round of evaluation.  

Prerecorded/One-Way Interview
Interview questions are presented via a secure link and the candidate has anywhere from five seconds to one minute to prepare and record their response. Often these are videos of your responses. Sometimes applicants are able to review before they submit, but not always.

Two-Way Live Video Interview

This format is more akin to an in-person interview but just online. Candidates are often speaking with the hiring recruiter/manager/committee via Skype or Zoom either in a panel format or in multiple one-on-one sessions.


As with an in-person interview, the key to success often falls to the preparation. You should take the time to do external research on who you’ll be meeting and the company/department itself. Also focus on internal preparation – know your resume, key skills, and have a very solid answer to the “Tell me about yourself” question. This introductory “pitch” is now your virtual handshake and should be strong and confident.

Virtual communication though requires special considerations and adjustments. It is not going to be as easy to build a rapport with your interviewers due to your limited ability to read body language and facial expressions (especially if it is phone or they don’t share their video).

With all of this in mind, here are a few key considerations for virtual interviews:

Test your technology beforehand
Make sure to familiarize yourself with the platform that will be used for the interview. Test your internet speed and see how your audio works with headphones or through a test call.

Find a quiet place for interview day
This might be one of the biggest challenges with interviewing during quarantine especially if you have kids, pets, or even loud neighbors and construction nearby. Do you best to find a space where your distractions will be minimized. And while you are testing your technology, see if you can mute your computer notifications for a period of time.

Use professional and personable body language
In interviews before COVID, they usually started (at least in North America) with a handshake and a greeting. It was an important cue that often signaled the start and end of a discussion and helped establish the relationship. Now, it will be important to find other pleasant yet professional ways to greet and exude enthusiasm. This can be as simple as smiling and giving a confident wave with eye contact.   

Eye Contact
If you want to make sure the person knows you are looking at them, you might actually want to look in the camera and not at your computer screen. Depending on your computer/camera configuration, you might need to adjust so that “eye contact” feels more natural.

Dress Professionally – Top and Bottom
Err on the safe side and dress professionally not only on top but on bottom as well. Most of us have seen the video of the reporter who went on air without pants on. If for some reason you need to get up and close the door or move your camera, remember what could be in the shot.

As with any interview, you will want to present the most polished and professional version of yourself while being authentic and genuine. Remember though, that all of the old interview “rules” still apply.  Sometimes in an online setting, while interviewing from home, people are lulled into a false sense of comfort or casualness. Don’t be late to your meeting, don’t speak negatively about your current employer/boss, be prepared to articulate the value you could add, and always follow up with a thank you.


Becoming an UpStander – The Importance of ByStander Power

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch June 9, 2020

The “bystander effect” occurs when the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency situation, against a bully, or during an assault/crime. Generally, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is for any one of them to provide help to the person in distress. People are actually more likely to take action when few or no other witnesses are present.

However, we all play a role in creating a safe public space and supporting each other when harassed or in threatening situations. Many different things count as harassment, including: intimidating looks/staring, comments about appearance, vulgar gestures, following someone, saying racist, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, and transphobic slurs.

It is important to remember that people experience public space differently. How safe and/or comfortable we feel depends in large part on our identities – who we are, how others see us, and if we have experienced harassment before. Your privilege and your vulnerability can change depending on the situation and space. You may feel a certain part of your identity – race and ethnicity, gender identity, class, language, ability, religion, etc  - is threatened in some spaces and celebrated in others. In some spaces, your privilege gives you more power than others.

Even if in a position of privilege, some of the most common reasons for not coming to the aid of a victim and taking action include:

  • Fear that the personal risk of harm is too great
  • Feeling that one doesn’t have the strength or other traits needed in order to be able to help or fear you’ll make it worse
  • Assuming you can’t make a difference
  • Detaching yourself from the problem or assuming “it’s a cultural or familial thing”(This is the most common reason people don’t intervene when they witness spousal or child abuse.)
  • Inaction from others thwarts your own momentum and makes you question the severity

Bystander intervention is powerfully important and can sometimes be as simple as remembering the 5D’s.

If possible, take an indirect approach to de-escalate the situation. This could take the form of starting a conversation with the person or finding another way to draw attention from them. Some examples are: asking them for directions or time, dropping something, or speaking loudly around them.

Find someone in a position of authority (a bus driver, train operator, flight attendant, teacher) and ask them for help. If such a person is not nearby, ask another bystander for help in the situation. You can also ask the person being harassed if they are okay and if they want you to call for help.

If you aren’t able to help intervene in the moment, you can check in with the person afterwards to see if they are okay and if there is anything you can do to support them helping to illustrate that they aren’t alone. This is especially important if they seem very rattled by the situation. An example of language to use would be: “How are you doing now – is everything okay?” “Can I help you get to where you need to go? Or can I call someone for you?”

Take the direct approach and speak out against the harassment. Be firm and clear when stating that the behavior is inappropriate and to leave the person alone. Many people feel they need to assess their own safety first before taking the direct approach.

Especially as we have seen recently, it is important and helpful to document and have a video of the incident. It can help the target but always ask the person what they want done with the footage and never post it online without their permission. If possible, film people and notable landmarks that can help identify the location and harassers.

Together, we can end hate and harassment by all playing a role to make not only work but public spaces safe for all. Part of creating a safe environment is speaking up when you experience or witness intolerance, mistreatment, or bias in action. Microagressions and discrimination need to be called out and not observed silently. We hope you will also take some time to watch this video from an OITE event: Moving from bystander to updstander: take action to combat harassment and aggression.


How to Stand with Black Colleagues as an Informed Ally

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch June 15, 2020

In a Medium article entitled “Maintaining Professionalism in the Age of Black Death is…A Lot” the author, Shenequa Golding, quite simply enumerates: “Your Black employees are exhausted. Your Black employees are scared. Your Black employees are crying in between meetings.  Your Black employees have mentally checked out. Your Black employees are putting on a performance.”  Similarly, in a Huffington Post article, “This is What I Want to Tell My White Professors When They Ask ‘How Are You Today?’” Nolen describes her experience as a Black woman at Harvard Medical School where she feels she is forced to leave her personal experience at the door for the sake of “professionalism” and she often reminds herself to: “Smile; Sound articulate; Don’t intimidate; Don’t talk about race; Definitely don’t talk about racism.” 

The recent murders of Floyd, Taylor, Arbery, and countless other named and unnamed victims are acute examples of a daily fear with which Black people in the United States live. For centuries, Black people have been victims of police brutality, inequalities, and systemic racism. And yet with all of this, Black people across the U.S. go to work and move about their day. Just with an added weight on their shoulders, minds, and souls.

Many allies (whether friends, colleagues, fellow trainees, PIs, bosses) question how they can best support at this time. Here are some ideas on how to show up for your Black colleagues right now:

Acknowledge/Speak About What’s Going On 
It sounds like a simple step; however, during tragic times, many people fear they’ll say the wrong thing, so they end up saying nothing at all.  To acknowledge that you are aware of what is happening and are open to talking with your staff as a group or individually is helpful to all of your staff and colleagues.  Even simply checking in and asking how someone is doing is helpful. Silence is often viewed as being complicit with racism and keeping your mouth shut is worse, especially if you are in a leadership position. Your team is often looking to you for direction and guidance. If you go about the day with a “business as usual” attitude, it could feel callous, cruel, and dismissive of this trauma. Black staff and trainees, those of other cultures, and those who have African-American family members, are experiencing yet another collective trauma and need to be given permission to have time and space to process these events without worrying about maintaining composure at work or losing their jobs. 

Check-in and Listen
Truly listen in a way that doesn’t make the conversation about you or a need you might have to validate your own worldview and experiences.  This can be difficult if you feel like these are being challenged or if you feel uncomfortable. Listening open-mindedly will be nearly impossible if there is a denial of White privilege and how you/others may have benefitted from the structural racism that undergirds American society.  Empathizing, or recalling how you have felt when you have been disrespected, not heard or not helped about something important (even life-threatening) will be important to consider and remember. Especially at this moment, people are dealing with a lot of stressors and have multiple things going on at the same time like learning how to work from home, research, applying to grad/professional school, child/family care. All of this on top of the stressors of disturbing news coverage can be extremely overwhelming.   Part of truly listening would also mean not making any assumptions or sweeping generalizations about your colleague’s experiences with race and racial injustice. It is also important not to expect comfort from Black colleagues for your own distressing feeling about what is occurring.

Educate Yourself and Act in Solidarity 
Don’t put the onus of responsibility on your Black colleagues or friends to educate you about the insidiousness of white supremacy and structural racism.  History taught in the American school system is often not a full (or accurate) representation. The Atlantic shared an “Anti-Racist Reading List” that could be a good starting point in addition to this Google document with anti-racist resources.

At this time, everybody needs to develop their own framework for action. Repeated tragedies like this are traumatizing, especially for members of marginalized groups. Each person needs to take time to process their own feelings while working to create a safe and inclusive work environment for everyone. Part of creating a safe environment at work is speaking up when you experience or witness intolerance, mistreatment, or bias in action. Microaggressions and discrimination need to be called out. Take some time to watch this video from an OITE event: Moving from bystander to updstander: take action to combat harassment and aggression.  This  OITE blog post also focuses on how to effectively stand up as a bystander. 

Part of processing these events and taking action could mean acting in solidarity, such as posting about issues on social media as a means to amplify Black voices, but we encourage you to also focus on action steps “off-line” like calling local representatives to demand justice or donating to non-profits.

If you are a government or state employee, we encourage you to follow guidelines with regards to political actions as an employee.  Prior to taking any actions, consult with your human resources or diversity offices to be informed of such policies. However, please remember that checking in with a colleague as a human being and sharing that you care about how they are doing is not a political act. If for some reason, the discussion veers to politics, you can simply say, “Thanks for sharing your opinion; as a government employee, I am going to leave it at that.”

Reach Out and Seek Support

There are many resources available through your institution or school’s diversity and inclusion, human resources and staff training offices for you personally to speak confidentially.  You can also learn about where and how to refer staff for additional support.    With regards to working with the trainees at NIH, the OITE has hosted a virtual webinar for PIs and administrators working with trainees to provide information and a space to ask questions and develop resources. Another Town Hall focusing on trainees and training issues will be this Thursday, June 18th.  A workshop that could also be helpful is “Supporting Yourself and Your Trainees”.  We have listed a variety of resources here to help give you an overview of where to begin.  The OITE has career counseling and wellness staff who meet with trainees virtually in groups to discuss this and other issues as they develop their professional identities. Refer to Upcoming Events within OITE’s website to see a listing of event under the title: “Building Resilience Discussion Groups”.


Lower Stress by Moving More

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch June 22, 2020

Most people recognize the benefits of exercise for your physical health; however, many studies have confirmed that exercise seems to be beneficial for your mental health as well. Last year, researchers at Harvard published an article in Depression and Anxiety that seems to indicate that exercise can serve as a buffer for depression, even for people born with a predisposition for the illness.

Recently, researchers from Iowa State University, Trinity College Dublin, and other institutions decided to look at how people were faring during the early April shelter-in-place mandates. While their results have not yet been peer-reviewed, they have been published at Cambridge Open Engage.

About 3,000 healthy non-smoking men and women between 18 and mid-80s were assessed via questionnaires. They were asked how often they exercised and how much time they spent sitting. Researchers compared participants’ pre-pandemic estimates to their current states in April 2020.  They were also asked about the conditions of their quarantine. Were they alone or with others? Did they go outside while adhering local public health restrictions and social distancing?

While the findings are limited, the study suggests that maintaining and ideally increasing our current levels of activities is an effective way to manage stress.  These are particularly stressful times. As Jacob Meyer, an Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at Iowa State and the study’s lead author, points out, “Exercise is hardly going to fix everything. But it can be on thing we have control over. We can get up and move.”

The Harvard study indicated that as little as three hours a week can help your mental health and it doesn’t matter whether you walk, run, or do the elliptical. Just become more active in the way you prefer. Many popular workout classes and programs have been moved online and have offered free or reduced costs during the pandemic.  The NIH Recreation and Wellness is offering many workout classes virtually.

At OITE, we have been offering weekly wellness challenges. In early April, these researchers would be pleased to hear that our challenge was: Get up and move! It is now mid-June and our weekly wellness challenge is: Uplug! Between Zoom meetings, reading and writing, online classes for yourself or the kids, and connecting virtually with friends and family, the pandemic has made it difficult to get away from our screens and sitting. We hope you are continuing to find ways to incorporate self-care into your new daily routines. Unplugging and becoming more active have both been shown to improve focus and memory, mental health, physical health, and even quality of sleep. Let us know how you are taking care of yourself; you can participate in the OITE Wellness Challenge -

  • by Twitter – be sure to tag OITE (@NIH_OITE) and use the hashtag #OITEWellnessChallenge – or
  • by email to:

Once a Scientist Podcast: Featuring OITE Director, Dr. Milgram

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch June 29, 2020

Once a trainee/graduate student at the National Institutes of Health, Nick Edwards now hosts a new podcast called Once A Scientist.  Edwards notes a few goals for his podcast, including: 1. Provide a resource for young scientist to learn about different career paths. 2. Speak with scientists from a broad spectrum of backgrounds. 3. Make science cool again. and lastly, 4. Have honest conversations.  In relation to this last goal, Edwars recentlyspoke with our very own OITE Director, Dr. Sharon Milgram. If you’d like to listen to the whole interview, the podcast is available on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, and also here at this link. The interview with Dr. Milgram is Episode #18.

Courtesy of Nick Edwards and Caroline Sferrazza, here are a few highlighted notes from the show:

Writing Your Own Story

Many science graduate programs have started to offer workshops on so-called “alternative” careers; essentially this is any career outside of academia. Sharon hates when people call any sort of non-bench work an “alternative” career, as it tends to conjure an image of a job that you take when starting a lab just isn’t working out for you rather than a choice you make to pursue what you find most fulfilling. She mentors a lot of graduate students, and in her experience people frequently enter science with a “narrow” view of what it means to be a scientist: it’s a faculty position and your own lab. These “alternative” options don’t even seem to be very clear to people at the outset, because historically a non-academic path has not been emphasized by graduate programs. However, a career in academia is not for everyone, and that isn’t simply because there aren’t enough faculty gigs to go around. Many scientists find their calling — and happiness — far from the bench. “As people land on what they want,” Sharon tells us, “they forget they wanted something else before, because it feels so right.”

When Sharon was an undergraduate, she decided that she wanted to become a physical therapist. In retrospect, she’s not sure that she actually had enough of a grasp on what she wanted from her professional life to make such a big decision. She struggled with the realization over time that she wasn’t on the right track for her own fulfillment, and when those struggles were compounded in graduate school by the difficulties many grad students are all too familiar with — the imposter syndrome, the inevitable failures — she found herself wanting to give up. However, these hardships are what shape us into the people that we become and teach us how to be resilient. Sharon credits the lessons she learned from early career challenges — along with some people who truly believed in her — with the success and joy she has found in her current position as a career advisor. 

Sharon’s mentors taught her to believe in herself enough to recognize good opportunities when they come along, even if it’s not the opportunity she thought she was working toward. This is a priceless lesson that she wants to pay forward to the next generation of young scientists. She likens every experience, positive or negative, to writing the story of your professional life rather than succeeding or failing at achieving a particular career goal. “I’ve started to try to encourage all students to think of it that way,” Sharon explains. “You’re writing a book and you don’t know the ending yet.”

Holistic Training in Science

As a mentor of graduate students and scientist herself, Sharon doesn’t only help her mentees navigate their career after they’ve graduated; she also has a lot of advice for how to get the most out of graduate school. For example, Sharon’s advice for choosing the right thesis lab emphasizes an honest assessment of that principal investigator’s mentorship style. She has seen many students enter labs with notoriously unhealthy work environments and think they’ll be the exception to the rule and fare well anyway. “I like to say we don’t ever break the mold,” Sharon advises. If you hear warnings about a lab having a “sink or swim” mentality, or that you need a “thick skin” to work with a particular advisor, believe those warnings and don’t set yourself up to enter an unnecessarily difficult or even toxic lab space day after day. Sharon has witnessed such labs churn through students and postdocs, watching a few trainees succeed while many seem to lose their love for science altogether. She’s also seen labs with healthy atmospheres that value their scientists’ personal lives — places where taking time for hobbies and families is encouraged — produce students and postdocs who are happy and fulfilled. If you ask Sharon, that’s not an accident.

Sharon firmly believes that we need to train scientists in how to be better mentors. “We know that critique drives good science,” Sharon explains, but principal investigators and even scientific peers are often not trained in how to offer that critique in a way that offers any real support or room for growth. Even worse, these assessments are often available at a few discrete evaluations rather than consistently over the course of a project, so trainees can’t course correct but rather are told at the very end how everything could have been better. “We make graduate students learn humility the hard way,” Sharon continues. “Humility without confidence is not what we’re looking for.” 

In order to become better scientists, Sharon thinks it is essential that graduate training must mean more than training as an experimentalist. As she puts it, you can be a good patch clamper, but if you aren’t a good colleague that is capable of handling and giving feedback in a professional manner, then you aren’t going to be a good trainee or future mentor. Fortunately, she has a lot of experience with the current generation of young scientists, and she believes that this is the generation who will change the culture of science for the better.