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Coping With Transitions

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch May 3, 2021

Post written by guest bloggers Jenn Wiggins, Wellness Advisor at OITE and Andrea Naranjo Erazo, Research Ethics Training Coordinator at OITE.

Transitions can be composed of three stages:  the ending, the neutral zone (or liminal space) and the new beginning, and each stage is associated with its own challenges, emotions, and coping skills required for mastering the transition.  

Transitions can cause us to feel multiple emotions and at times these emotions may conflict. For example, a trainee has accepted an academic appointment that will require them to move across the country. The trainee may feel excited, yet afraid, stressed, or relieved. A hodgepodge of feelings can add to the challenge of mastering a transition.  As an individual develops realistic expectations for themselves it is helpful to develop a growth mindset. The growth mindset refers to leaning into your talent and holding the belief that this talent can be even further developed. This mindset helps to foster the ability to cope with discomfort, uncertainty and anxiety can ease the stress of the transition process. By developing and utilizing helpful coping tools, we increase our capacity for managing stressors associated with a transition.

The ending and the beginning stages require closure and growth, and these can be associated with grief and discomfort. Living in the liminal space, the space in between the ending and the new beginning, can be uncomfortable, anxiety provoking, full of uncertainty and confusion, and may lead us to want to skip over it. However, the liminal space could also be a time of exploration and growth; preparation for a new beginning.

In the liminal space, vulnerability and self-assessment can be critical for growth in this space. Vulnerability involves self-reflection, being able to open up and ask for help when needed, and willingness to shift our perceptions.

If we are stuck in the liminal space, what strategies will help us grow during this period? What do we do when our new beginning keeps moving or changing? When our goals get moved/changed and we are stuck in the liminal space for longer than anticipated?

Below are four tips for coping with external and internal stressors associated with transitions.

May these tips help you navigate transitions and encourage you to embrace this space, as life is a journey of transformations, a chance for growth and renewal.

  1. Be proactive. We often let our anxiety take over when facing uncertainty or discomfort. To help manage what is in our control it is important to be proactive. This can look like getting organized physically and cognitively, seeking out information and resources to help make best informed decisions or engaging in self-care to help moderate stress levels.
  2. Acknowledge and validate your feelings. Transitions are a natural part of life and can elicit a number of feelings. By acknowledging the realness of our feelings, we are primed to respond to external stressors with deeper understanding and care.
  3. Keep in mind that transitions do not last forever. When experiencing a chronic stressor, in the moment it can feel like the discomfort will never end or that it is too much to manage. Rather, acknowledge that transitions have a start and an end, set short term goals that allow you to successfully reach the end of the transition.
  4. Remember to be kind to yourself and that you are not alone. Engaging with compassion and utilizing resources is a great way to problem solve the challenges you may face stepping into the growth mindset.



Increase Your Confidence by Identifying Evidence of Your Skills

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch May 10, 2021

Post written by guest blogger Anne Kirchgessner, Career Counselor at OITE

Many times in career counseling, we meet with fellows who say they are not sure of their skills or how to express them to employers. Fellows also often overlook or take for granted skills that they have developed which are valuable to employers.  It can be difficult to evaluate your transferable skills. If you take time to reflect on your experiences you can develop more confidence about which skills and strengths you want to take forward in your next career step.

One way to do this is to identify skills and link them with evidence through specific examples so that you feel grounded and can truly own and honor your skills.

As scientists you know how important evidence is to prove a hypothesis.  When you consider six accomplishments that you enjoyed achieving, and write 1-2 pages for each accomplishment  about how you did what you did, you can then assess the skills you used frequently in each one of these accomplishments. This will hopefully help you gain more confidence in the many skills you have developed.  You will also have examples ready to present to employers in a job interview. This activity may also help you assess any gaps and which skills you will want to focus on developing in the future.

Deborah Knox at Life/Work Transitions has created a chart that will help you identify concrete skills that you have developed through your accomplishments.

A career counselor can also help you to assess your skills and plan for the future; NIH trainees may schedule a career counseling appointment at:


From the Archive: Maximizers – Doing Better but Feeling Worse

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch May 17, 2021

Career decision making is something that everyone struggles with at some point; in a recent blog post, we wrote about this struggle, which can lead to a tendency to drift into decisions. Turns out, there are two basic decision-making styles. Which one are you -- a maximizer or a satisficer?

Maximizers tend to take their time and don’t feel comfortable choosing until they feel they have explored every option and have chosen the absolute best. Satisficers on the other hand prefer to be fast rather than thorough and they tend to choose the option that first meets all of their needs because it is good enough. The word “satisficer” comes from the two words “satisfy” and “suffice”.

Most people tend to fall somewhere in the middle; however, people can be both a maximizer or a satisficer depending on what’s at stake. For example, maybe you are a maximizer about your apartment/home but a satisficer about the kind of car you drive. To determine your decision-making style, Barry Schwartz, Psychology Professor at Swarthmore, developed thirteen statements to help score your maximizing/satisficing tendencies.

For each statement, rate yourself as 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 7 (Strongly Agree). The higher your score, the higher your maximizing decision-making style.

1. No matter how satisfied I am with my job, it’s only right for me to be on the lookout for better opportunities.

2. When I am in the car listening to the radio, I often check other stations to see if something better is playing, even if I am relatively satisfied with what I’m listening to.

3. When I watch TV, I channel surf, often scanning through the available options even while attempting to watch one program.

4. I treat relationships like clothing; I expect to try on a lot before finding the perfect fit.

5. I often find it difficult to shop for a gift for a friend.

6. Choosing a movie to watch is really difficult. I’m always struggling to pick the best one.

7. When shopping, I have a hard time finding clothing that I really love.

8. I’m a big fan of lists that attempt to rank things (the best movies, the best singers, the best athletes, the best novels, etc.).

9. I find that writing is very difficult even if it’s just writing a letter to a friend, because it’s so hard to word things just right. I often do several drafts of even simple things.

10. I never settle for second best.

11. Whenever I’m faced with a choice, I try to imagine what all the other possibilities are, even ones that aren’t present at the moment.

12. I often fantasize about living in ways that are quite different from my actual life.

13. No matter what I do, I have the highest standards for myself.

A study published in Psychological Science in 2006 entitled, Doing Better but Feeling Worse found some differences between maximizers and satisficers.   Dr. Schwartz, author of “The Paradox of Choice” followed 548 job-seeking college seniors at eleven schools. They found that maximizers landed better jobs and their starting salaries were about 20% higher than their satisficer peers. According to the authors though, “maximizers were less satisfied than satisficers with the jobs they obtained and experienced more negative affect throughout the job-search process.”

How can this be when the maximizers seemingly should have been happier than the satisficers? In a world with seemingly endless options, so many possibilities can actually paralyze decision-making. Researching every last option can be daunting and extremely stressful for an individual. Plus maximizers may always wonder if they made the best decision.

How then can maximizers learn from the group of more content satisficers? If you are a maximizer making a decision, some strategies that might work include finding a way to narrow options down earlier in the process. You can do this by simply creating a list of your top three guidelines/priorities and adopting the first solution that satisfies them all. A big part of this decision-making is taking a leap of faith which can be challenging. For you maximizers out there, what has helped you make decisions?