Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

How to Increase Your Career Luck

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch August 1, 2022

On this blog, we’ve shared a few posts about luck, including “What Luck Really Looks Like”  and “What’s Luck Got to Do With It”. We’ve talked about luck because, of course, it plays a part in a career. But, there are also ways you can increase the amount of ‘luck’ you get. The more action-oriented you are, the more likely that you will inadvertently create opportunities for yourself.

Take as an example, a postdoc who cold emailed three new people a week for the last three months. She set an aggressive goal for herself which took her out of her comfort zone. But she did it! And in the process, she has found a new career mentor, got invited to collaborate on a project, and has spoken to somebody in industry who said they’d be willing to refer her to a job.

This is a good example of increasing your luck surface area.  Do things – even if you don’t see the clear connection now. Being action-oriented today helps increase new opportunities tomorrow. Your future lucky self will thank you!


Key Interview Questions to Ask a Potential Manager

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch August 15, 2022

Sometimes job seekers forget that they should be interviewing a future boss as much as they are being interviewed. Make sure you prepare questions that will help you assess management style and cultural fit. Pay attention to any red flags you see or feel during your interview as well. Here are some questions to ask your next boss:

What have you learned about yourself, or your leadership style based on feedback you’ve received from members of your team?

This question in particular will give you insights into the type of leader they are and if they are even open to feedback. Anybody who has a hard time answering this question will likely also struggle with feedback on the job. You can use this answer to assess if they would be the right manager for you.

Can you describe your communication style? Specifically, how do you communicate with your team members? Do you schedule one-on-one sit-down meetings, do you hold weekly meetings, or do you prefer to communicate via email?

Disconnects in communication tend to be the number one source of conflict in a work setting. Make sure you have a clear understanding of style and preferences coming in. Establishing these norms early on will make it a lot less stressful for you as you acclimate to your new role.

Can you please tell me a story that speaks to your lab culture/team dynamics?

People tend to say the “right things” in an interview setting. They will speak about the great work/life balance, culture, etc. but if they can’t back these words up with examples, be wary.

How will the new hire be trained? Please tell me about the onboarding process?

Admittedly, this can vary a lot depending on the size and sector of the organization; however, no matter the setting, each manager should be thoughtfully considering the process for getting a new employee on board. Even asking the question in the interview indicates to the manager that you expect them to help with this process.

What constitutes a workday? What are the policies on working from home, flex hours, or being ‘reachable’ after hours?

The pandemic and working from home has permanently altered the way we work. Have a clear understanding of the expectations before committing to a job that might not be the right fit for you.


How to Plan Anything & Everything

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch August 22, 2022

The simplicity of the A-B-Z Framework makes it applicable to anything and everything. It can help you make plans for a work project, a professional or even a personal goal. So, when you have a goal in mind and you are thinking about making a plan, figure out these three things:

A. Where you are right now

B. Your next step

Z. Your end goal

A simple example to help explain it further could be that I want to find a staff scientist position at the NIH. That becomes our Z – our end goal. So our A-B-Z plan might look like:

A. (Where you are): My current job is a postdoc at the NIH

B. (Your next step): Do informational interviews with staff scientists at the NIH to hear what worked for them

Z. (Your end goal): Landing a staff scientist job.

Once you’ve written this down, stop planning and execute on B. Once you do B, you’ll get a better idea of the many other steps (C, D, E, F, G….) needed to get to Z.

This framework is helpful because most people get too caught up in the details and over plan, mapping out every single step along the way. Doing so actually overwhelms and we encounter the analysis paralysis and never end up taking any action. The key to this framework is B – what is the next thing I can do RIGHT NOW?


Tips to Unravel Our Social Anxiety Spiral

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch August 8, 2022

Post Written By: Sara Hunter, Wellness Advisor, OITE 

We are wired as humans to connect. This is a basic need, driving our desire to be seen and valued by others through reciprocal interaction and acceptance. As a result, we are primed to be on alert for potential rejection in social situations which can cause anxiety as we become hyper-aware of people’s perceptions of us. In general, this feeling of anxiety is a normal and healthy emotion that all humans experience. It’s a way our brain signals to us to pay attention to something important and even prepare for action. However, this normal sense of anxiety can become disordered when we experience disproportionate feelings of distress around anticipated judgment or rejection in social situations. In response to this distress, we often begin to avoid taking calculated risks in our career or engaging in meaningful interactions which can have lasting, negative impacts on our personal and professional lives.  

Anyone who has ever experienced social anxiety knows that the spiral it takes us down is tightly wound and hard to escape. The spiral usually starts with some automatic negative thought patterns that show up in the form of self-doubt or mind-reading, assuming others are perceiving us negatively, and it ends with an experience that we store in our memory as evidence that we aren’t equipped to deal with potential rejection and should avoid such interactions. In response to this stressful input, our bodies begin to clench up, our hearts beat intensely, there is a tension in our chest or stomach, and if we’re one of those lucky ones, we may even experience sweating in places we didn’t previously think possible. This physical dysregulation leaves us with a sense that our body has betrayed us and can fill us with feelings of shame (i.e., there must be something wrong with me). As a last ditch-effort we may call on common proverbial words of encouragement, like “just calm down and be yourself” only to quickly realize that this is not only an ineffective way to get at the problem but is also a contributing factor in our minds going completely offline, making it more difficult than normal to formulate sentences and engage in critical conversation. 

Consequently, our strategies to mitigate the discomfort described above often include avoidance, intense rumination to try to rid ourselves of past mistakes, numbing through alcohol or other substances, and perpetual worry to try to predict and protect against future anxiety-provoking scenarios. As you might have already guessed, none of these tactics work well. At least not in the long run. In fact, these avoidant behaviors only reinforce our unhelpful belief that these social interactions are too overwhelming and that we can’t handle them, creating a feedback loop of a heightened anxiety response when these situations inevitably present themselves again.

So, instead of perpetuating our social anxiety by avoiding social situations, public speaking engagements, presentations, or other critical interactions we’ll have in our personal and professional lives, we need to find useful ways to build our tolerance for this discomfort we experience and employ practical strategies in the moment to move through it. Here are some simple tips to unravel that spiral we get stuck in when dealing with social anxiety:

  1. Interrupt the unhelpful thoughts driving your social anxiety and begin to create a more nuanced narrative of who you are that’s built on actual evidence. Say these out loud to a trusted other or even to yourself to interrupt the shame-cycle that anxiety takes us down. Remember, just because you feel awkward or inadequate in certain situations doesn’t mean that you are. Or just because you’ve had a difficult interaction in the past doesn’t mean that that same scenario will play out again each time.
  2. Expose yourself to situations that provoke social anxiety. Yes, that’s right. Move toward the very situation you want to avoid. Build a hierarchy of tolerance, starting first with the small social anxiety-provoking stressors and building up to the stressors you tend to avoid all together. Slowly start climbing that ladder. 
  3. Regulate your body. To effectively practice social skills and be actively engaged with others, you have to first calm your nervous system. The best ways we know how to do this are through deep breathing, like the 4-7-8 technique or square breathing as well as grounding skills, like 5-4-3-2-1 or mindfulness to bring us back to the present moment. Practice these skills outside of times of stress so that you have experience with them.
  4. Let go of perfection. Develop a growth mindset by asking yourself what skills or supports you may need to acquire to engage in social situations more effectively. None of us get it exactly right every time so stop making the unrealistic assumption that you should.
  5. Practice coping ahead of time. Think of who you may want around as a source of support when you’re in an uncomfortable social situation or what skills, including but not limited to, breathing, grounding, reflective listening, and mindfulness, you might employ in moments of distress.
  6. Write down goals that are connected to moving through your social anxiety. Start small and make them realistic. Remember to take note of your accomplishments and growth along the way. This also helps get at the important reflection of why you’re wanting to change the way you relate to your anxiety in the first place. What things are you missing out on that are important to you because of your social anxiety? Make these things part of your goal list.
  7. Get support. Social anxiety is one of the most common problems people experience so you are not alone, but that doesn’t mean you have to be plagued with this forever. If you feel like you’ve tried to interrupt this pattern but with little success, consider seeking help in the process. Exposure therapy and CBT are common, evidence-based interventions therapists use to help people move through their anxiety.
  8. Practice patience and compassion as you begin to engage socially in new ways. This is not easy and will take time, but it is certainly worth it. 
  9. Focus your attention outward. Social anxiety can make you feel like there is a microscope on you at all times, and so one way to minimize this intensity is to focus on others. Begin to build important communication skills, like curious questioning and active listening. This not only a great way to connect with others and help them feel valued, but it could even help alleviate some anxiety that the other person may be feeling as well.
  10. Complete a cost-benefit analysis of changing your relationship with your anxiety. How is your social anxiety serving you? And what are the costs, personally and professionally, of staying stuck in your same socially anxious patterns? Do the costs outweigh the benefits for you? If so, write these out somewhere you can see regularly as a reminder that this change will be uncomfortable but worth it for you.

If you are a trainee at the NIH, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the OITE Wellness Team at [email protected] if you need support. We are here to help. 


Quick Tip: Your Job Search is a Three-Legged Stool

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch August 29, 2022

When you are job searching, it can be helpful to think of your search as a three-legged stool. The three legs stand for:

  1. Functional area (ex: immunology, education, public health)
  2. Sector (private, government, non-profit)
  3. Geography

Sometimes we work with job seekers who are looking to make a total career pivot, but they find they aren’t having much luck making the changes they hope. Recognize that it can be very difficult to change all three legs of your career at once. We suggest starting with one or two to begin that transition, especially if you are finding that your job search is becoming a long-drawn-out process.

Remember that if you are a trainee at the NIH, OITE Career Services is here to help you strategize our career path. Don’t hesitate to make an appointment with a career counselor.