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Goal Setting and Planning

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch January 4, 2021

This "From the Archive" post is perfect for those of you sitting down to make new year's resolutions right now. If many of those resolutions are career-related, you might also want to check out the post "New Year - New Career". Happy 2021, all!

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

There are times when life is a sprint and times when it is a marathon. Even a job search can feel like both! Do you set a steady pace for the long haul ahead or do you put everything you have into it for a short time? A PhD is a marathon with a few sprints embedded in it. Advancement to candidacy is one of those sprints. It can be okay to sacrifice a few hours of sleep the week leading up to that meeting, but it is not okay to sacrifice sleep, and ultimately health, for an entire 4+ year of a PhD. Progressive goal setting and planning is one strategy for achieving success without the sacrifice of mental/physical health and it can be tailored to any goal.

Steps for progressive planning:

  1. Generate S.M.A.R.T. goals
  2. Break down large goals into increasingly smaller goals
  3. Reflect on progress/challenges regularly
  4. Re-evaluate and adjust when needed
  5. Rinse and repeat

Planning can be overwhelming often because we tend to set huge far off goals or so many tiny tasks that its impossible to complete them all. It can help to break down larger goals into incrementally smaller ones. For example, a 5 year plan can include a 1 year plan, a 3 month plan, or even weekly and daily plans. This kind of approach can help us focus on what’s immediately tangible without losing site of the bigger picture. Below is an example of this method, but it can also be drawn or sketched as a road map or timeline as well.

If you aren’t the DIY type right now there are many options for guided journals and planners.*

Another essential component of progressive goal setting is some form of reflection. The ideal time to reflect can be arbitrary and practical or very personal. It’s the reflection and the value it holds, not the schedule that is important. Reflection is critical because it keeps us on track, but also because it allows time for re-evaluation and adjustment. Understanding that goals can change, that strategies can shift, and that we can move tasks around helps to relieve some of the pressure and stress associated with setting goals. This strategy can help us find the middle ground where there is balance and where little by little can become a lot. OITE hosts groups that touch on similar topics such as self-compassion, stress, and health for trainees.

*The NIH does not endorse these specific products and has no affiliation with the respective companies


Preparing for Graduate School Interviews

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch January 11, 2021

Applying to graduate school is a long process and if you have been invited for an interview, you should take a moment to congratulate yourself. Now, the next step is to prepare for this very important meeting. Preparation is key to understanding the types of questions you might be asked as well as preparing your own questions to ensure that this program will be a good fit for you. Of course, you are hoping to be accepted to programs to which you have applied; however, it is also extremely important to remember that graduate school is a serious commitment. You are embarking on the start of a very specific training path and graduate school is often a hefty time commitment of anywhere from five to seven years. Faculty and administrators will be assessing if you are emotionally and intellectually mature enough to take this commitment on. Likewise, you should be evaluating during the application and interview process if this will be the best next step and the best program for you both professionally and personally.

While it is impossible to know exactly which questions will be asked (hence your anxiety), there are some general and commonly asked questions which you should review. The OITE has a list of interview questions and Science Careers has posted a google document with an extensive list of questions that might be good for you to ask of the program.  You should always have questions prepared for the interviewer.

Since we are still in the midst of a pandemic, your interviews will likely all be conducted online. There are special considerations to think of and prepare for in regards to virtual interviews. The OITE Director, Dr. Sharon Milgram, has offered advice for the 2020/2021 graduate school interview cycle in a comprehensive video which you can find on YouTube here. Please, take some time to listen as you will definitely gain great insights from this talk.

If you are a postbac at the NIH, remember that you can also seek help from career counselors as you prepare for your interview. We wish you all good luck on your upcoming interviews!


Yearly Hiring Cycle for Non-Academic Jobs – Jan & Feb Peak Months

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch January 18, 2021

As we begin a new year, it can be helpful to know the best times of the year to look for a new job. The academic job market has a unique timeline with the majority of positions being posted in late summer/early fall. For non-academic jobs, we have often remarked that hiring tends to happen on a rolling basis.  Even though that is true, according to this Indeed Career Guide, there are optimal times of the year to be searching for positions. Here is what you can expect season by season:

As you may have suspected, hiring tends to slow down for the holidays. In fact, December is historically the slowest month for hiring throughout the whole year. This is in large part because many people take leave during this month and there tends to be a more relaxed feel to most departments as the year ends.

Quite conversely, January and February are the top months to get hired. Much of this comes from a renewed spirit in the new year as well as a renewed budget. While many job seekers tend to report a lull during the first half of January, this tends to disappear by February.

The late momentum from the winter hiring tends to extend through the spring months of March, April, and May. Often managers feel a pressure to bring people on before the summer period.

Much like December, the summer months of June, July, and August tend to be a bit more challenging when looking for work. Summer tends to be a peak vacation time, and this is felt by job seekers and new hires as coordinating interview schedules can become more drawn out and the overall hiring process feels a bit longer. This can feel especially true depending on your location in the world. In many European countries, office shut down for the whole month of August.

The months of September and October tend to mimic the hiring activity in January and February making fall another productive job search period. The fall often feels like a second renewal. Often this is the start of the academic year and there is a feeling of returning to business. This high trend will continue until early November.  


Remember that each company has their own needs and different sectors may follow different trends. Hiring can still happen as needs arise which could be at any time of the year. Recognizing the peaks and the lulls can save you from feeling overly disappointed if your job search isn’t progressing as quickly during a certain period of time.


Finding Focus in the Fog - Wellness Tips for 2021

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch January 25, 2021

Post written by: Sara Hunter, Wellness Advisor at OITE

Fog can be eerie and all encompassing. It hinders our ability to see past a few feet in front of us, and it can make us question where we’re going and how we might get there. In many ways, the past year has felt like a never-ending fog, clouding our direction and blocking our connection to people and the things we care about. But like all things, including this pandemic and the political turmoil surrounding us, fog eventually fades. And on the other side of it we often find ourselves wondering, sometimes regretting, why we acted (or didn’t act) a certain way, why we didn’t get more done, have more compassion, take better care of ourselves and those we care about, or stay more grounded and engaged.

Whatever the thoughts or feelings, everyone can relate in some way because we all have seasons in our lives like this — when fog is the forecast for the looming days, weeks or even months. We can’t seem to find our focus, get things done, or gather our footing to really move in the direction we want to, personally or professionally. And unless we are intentional about moving out of these cloudier times of our lives, we can find ourselves becoming stuck which only tends to breed disconnection, self-criticism, and feelings of doubt and worry. So, as we enter a new year and hopefully brighter days, here are a few tools that can help us find our way through the fog:

Practice Radical Acceptance — This distress tolerance skill is all about identifying what we have control over, what we don’t have control over, and ultimately, knowing the difference between the two. It is not about resignation, letting people cross our boundaries, or giving up. It is about accepting the reality of what is, allowing us to be who we need and want to be in order to be as effective as possible.

Do one thing at a time – Sometimes when we feel uncertain or overwhelmed, we may fill our schedules to the brim. This feeling of being busy often appeases our anxiety or worry in the short term. However, this likely will contribute to more overwhelm and lack of accomplishment in the long-run. When we are constantly bouncing back and forth between tasks, we lose our ability to fully retain information and our productivity decreases. So, instead of doing more things at once, try sticking to one task at a time, and we likely will be surprised how much more we get done.

Contribute to a cause you care about — By stepping outside of ourselves to give back we can distract from feelings of sadness, anxiety, disconnection, or overwhelm.  This process not only provides much needed perspective but also reminds us that no matter where we are at, we all have the capacity to give to others, whether that be through our time, our skills, or our money.

Become acquainted with your discomfort by ACTING OPPOSITE to your impulses — It can be helpful at times to change hurtful or overwhelming emotions by acting opposite to the urges associated with those emotions. For example, when we feel sad it is typical for us to withdraw and not engage in activities that encourage health and connection. Thus, acting opposite would entail resisting our urge to withdraw and intentionally connecting with people and activities that promote well-being.

Create a daily grounding ritual — Rituals are habits we form that create predictability. This can be as simple as: lighting a candle before bed every night; taking a walk every morning (despite the weather); taking three deep breaths before starting the day; creating a mantra we say when we’re feeling down or unmotivated; or engaging in a daily 5-minute journaling exercise. Typically, when we feel lost in the fog, our thoughts, behaviors, and feelings either tend towards rigidity or chaos. By finding a daily practice that grounds us in the here and now we can remember that this season, like all others, will eventually pass.

Use a forward focused approach –  Instead of dwelling on where we’re at or what mistakes we have made, think about the potential solutions to the problems in front of us and who may be able to help. When we find that we are blaming ourselves or others, we likely are taking a backward approach which will create more frustration and feelings of being stuck. Think about what strengths you have and ways you’ve been resilient in the past.

Here are some questions to initiate this growth mindset if you find yourself getting stuck:

What else do you want to learn about this situation?

Are you proud of the end result? What could you do differently next time to make it better?

What mistakes did you make today that taught you something? How will you use those moving forward?

What skills/supports do you need to acquire to solve this problem? What did you do today that was difficult?

Are you prepared for the day? If not, what do you need to feel more prepared?

As a final reminder, the OITE offers a variety of wellness resources which you can find here.