Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

What a Difference a Generation Makes

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch July 11, 2022

With five generations together in U.S. workplaces for the first time (Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, Millennials, and Gen Z), communication styles and cultural differences between the generations are emerging.  According to NPR, there are even generational differences in how emojis are interpreted. Take for example the “thumbs up” emoji, “older people” literally interpret this as an affirmative/yes, but “younger people” see this as passive-aggressive and even a close cousin of the middle finger!

While many organizations are renewing their diversity efforts, according to Gentelligence only 8% of organizations include age as a part of their DEI strategy. And organizations that do address it often simply encourage generations to focus on their similarities denying their differences altogether.

A multi-generational workforce has an ability to blend the unique experiences and skill sets of each generation into one shared mission. However, with this blending can come some challenges, especially when it becomes evident that each generation possesses a different mindset and attitude about work.

If you are affiliated with the NIH, you can watch a great seminar by Lynne Lancaster on What a Difference a Generation Makes here.

She addresses questions like: who are the Traditionalists, Baby Bommers, Generation Xers, and Millennials in today’s workplace and what makes them tick? How are generation gaps creating bottom line strategic issues when it comes to recruiting, retaining, and managing the generations? And more.

If you aren’t at the NIH, but are interested in learning more about generational differences in the workforce, the book Gentelligence lays out a framework for moving colleagues away from generational conflict and toward a productive embrace of differences. The authors suggest four main practices including: 1. Identify your assumptions 2. Adjust your lens 3. Take advantage of differences and embrace mutual learning 4. Guide people to share knowledge and expertise to they can grow together. According to authors, “We have become so entrenched in generational name-calling — or, conversely, so focused on downplaying the differences that do exist — that we have forgotten there is strength in age diversity. Especially at a time when we are wrestling with so many changes to the way we work, it’s incumbent on leaders to embrace intergenerational teams as a key piece of the DEI puzzle and to frame them as an opportunity to be seized rather than a threat to be managed.”


Depression and Depressive Disorders

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch July 18, 2022

This text is based on a presentation entitled ‘Depression and Depressive Disorders.’ This is the third part of a six-part seminar series from OITE entitled ‘Mental Health & Wellbeing of Biomedical Researchers’ focused on mental health, which aims at providing strategies and tools to help participants support their own mental health and that of others.

As humans, we all feel down once in a while. It is very common to feel sad, overwhelmed, lonely, or discouraged at times. Challenges in our personal lives like grief, stress, trauma, and loss, as well as communal events such as the pandemic or societal events can affect our state of being. Sometimes, however, we don’t know exactly why we feel this way. This could be cumulative effects of life events and experiences, our physical state like hormones, fatigue, and hunger, as well as other mental health issues.

There are things we can do to help take care of ourselves when we are feeling down or depressed. We can start with our physical self by attending to our eating, sleeping, and physical activity and by avoiding unhelpful or risky self-medicating. Self-care also includes allowing space for our feelings, practicing self-compassion, noticing and reframing our negative thoughts, and letting go of what we cannot control. Connecting with others, with nature, and the positives in our lives are also important elements of self-care.

When we are unable to practice self-care, or even with self-care, are not able to manage these symptoms, it is time to seek additional help and support. Depression is more than feeling down. The down feelings last a long time and the experience becomes painful, distressing, and all encompassing. Our ability to function, to take care of ourselves, and to participate in our own life is impaired. Depression can impact our thinking, feeling, and functioning, including symptoms such as

  • Negative feelings and negative mood – hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness.
  • Cognitive functioning – decreased ability to think, remember, concentrate, decide.
  • Negative thinking – focus on problems, self-criticism, thoughts about death and suicide.
  • Low energy and motivation – exhausted, drained, overwhelmed
  • Loss of interest or pleasure – feel disconnected from activities, interests, relationships
  • Avoidance behaviors – pull away from both stressors and supports. Isolate
  • Sleep issues – trouble falling asleep and staying asleep or difficulty staying awake

While recognizing these symptoms is the first step, acknowledging our struggles can be hard at times. The biomedical research field is rigorous, and many trainees share feelings of shame and guilt for having depressive symptoms. Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness; in fact, it takes a lot of strength to prioritize yourself and your wellbeing. Meeting with a wellness advisor at OITE can be a wonderful step towards feeling well and connected once again. They will first help you figure out what is working and what is not working so far, and then create a plan with you that is specific towards your needs. Not only can they also give you some education and tools to aid with your mental health, but also help you find further resources, like psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy can be a wonderful space in which to work on improving your quality of life. The relationship that you can have with a therapist can be the foundation to help you deal with the thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that you deal with on a day-to-day basis. Therapy can help you recognize how past experiences, trauma, and cognitions show up in your life, and what you might be able to do to make your life better. The therapeutic alliance can help you develop techniques to cope with the depressive symptoms so you can feel connected to your work, to those around you, and to yourself. While it can be daunting to find a therapist, you want to find a space where you can feel comfortable with the person. In thinking about a safe space, you may want to consider their demographics, therapeutic style, and treatment modalities. At times, treatments for depression can also include medications.

Medications to treat depression can work on their own or in combination with psychotherapy. The two most common types of drugs to treat depression are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These medications can be subscribed by psychiatrists or primary care providers to treat both depression and anxiety. Oftentimes, it takes time to figure out the correct combination of medications for your body. However, at times, these first-line treatments do not work. There are also alternative treatments, like ketamine, that are becoming more common these days.

Embarking on the journey of getting help can cause anxieties around managing workplace dynamics. We all have the right to take care of our needs during the workday. It might be helpful to have a conversation with your PI about what’s going on. While this can be difficult, it can help to set expectations around productivity and goals. If you are not sure if you should talk to your PI or how to do it, you should consult with someone like an OITE advisor first. Program administrators can also help you make work place decisions and explore your rights under the American Disabilities Act and give appropriate accommodations.

Treating depressive symptoms is a process. Integrating treatment modalities into your life can be challenging, but there are ways to overcome these symptoms. While this can include self-care, psychotherapy, medications, or talking to an OITE advisor, the first step towards healthy striving is recognizing our struggles. This can help us move through our struggles and be present with our life.

If you are a trainee at the NIH and you’d like to make an appointment with an OITE Advisor, please email [email protected].