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Resilience: Understanding and Communicating Your Needs in the Workplace

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch November 7, 2022

Post Written By: Adeline Kerviel, PhD, Detailee at OITE

The third unit* of the OITE workshop “Becoming a resilient scientist”, presented by Dr. Sharon Milgram, focused on self-advocacy and assertiveness. She shared the idea that “Assertiveness is a learned skill built on the foundation of resilience”.

Conflict and challenging situations inevitably arise in the workplace. You may feel disappointed when an experiment doesn’t work or frustrated when your supervisor dismisses your ideas or overlooks your hard work.

Difficult emotions -- frustration, irritation, and anger -- often arise but sometimes go unrecognized. These emotions can escalate when we don’t speak up about something that bothers us or speak up too soon without preparation. Developing the skills to become a resilient scientist includes learning to advocate for yourself and communicate assertively.

Assertive communication is a direct communication style, described as firm but polite and respectful. It requires believing in yourself and your rights, including your right to set boundaries, which can be mental, emotional, physical, or material. For example, by saying “no” we set boundaries. Sometimes, we hold ourselves back from asserting ourselves. We may think we don’t have the right to be proactive or fear displeasing others. We do not know what we want or lack the skills to regulate our emotions.

When engaging in a difficult conversation, consider developing strategies to ground yourself (breathe deeply, feel your body, use an anchoring phrase…). Stay calm in the moment, and hone skills such as empathic listening (“I hear…”, “I understand…”). Use “I” statements by taking responsibility for your needs and expressing them clearly (“I would like…”, “I am asking you to…”). If the conversation escalates or turns argumentative, try “fogging” -- calmly restating the other person’s words/statements without agreeing. Developing these skills takes time and practice; for best results, start in a safe place.

Time is a great tool: take the time to journal, practice, and prepare; slow down and pause before reacting to an uncomfortable situation or unpleasant request; ask for time to respond; develop a strategy and weigh the risks and rewards of self-advocating.

Journaling can indeed help with decision-making before engaging in assertive communication. When deciding a way forward, ask yourself: “How important is it to me?” “What are the issues, the barriers, and the solutions available?” “What are the best, the worst, and the middle outcomes for me?”. And in the case you are afraid of having the conversation but really need to: “Who can help me prepare and give me knowledgeable advice?”.

If you struggle to communicate your needs and wish to become a more resilient scientist, reach out to an OITE Wellness Advisor: They can help you navigate the workplace and have the best experience possible. Also, check out the blog article “Saying “No” at Work” on the OITE Careers Blog.

*Previous blog post about Unit 1 and Unit 2: Being Proactive & Using Resources


Opposite Action: A Skill for the Emotional Regulation Toolkit

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch November 28, 2022

Post Written By: Adeline Kerviel, PhD, Detailee at OITE

Emotions can sometimes interfere with daily life, personal and career goals, or relationships. Developing strategies to help regulate these emotions can help us adapt and grow through setbacks: to make us more resilient.

In “The Field Guide to Emotions,” Dan Newby and Curtis Watkins recommend recognizing and understanding an emotion and learning to listen to that emotion instead of reacting automatically. They highlight that our ability to name an emotion can help us regulate it. Emotional regulation can be divided into three steps: pausing to check that you are correctly interpreting the emotion, appreciating that this first interpretation may not “fit the facts”, and developing the ability to sit with unpleasant emotions.

Some emotions, even unpleasant ones, help us survive. For example, fear in the face of an aggressive lion in attack mode can force us to take action: to fight or flee. But when we experience unpleasant emotions, such as anger, sadness, shame, fear, or guilt, we sometimes act inappropriately instead of pausing to interpret these emotions. For example, sadness may lead to social withdrawal, or anger may lead to becoming defensive.

Here comes “opposite action”: choosing to respond oppositely to what our emotions trigger automatically. Shame activates isolation but taking the opposite action by raising the head and establishing eye contact can move a person through this emotion. The opposite action of disgust, which activates avoidance, can be pushing through. Instead of reacting with anger, showing kindness or concern, walking away from the trigger, or communicating assertively can lead to more productive outcomes.

When unpleasant emotions are felt deeply, it can be difficult to interpret them accurately and decide how to act. To build that new skill and become more resilient, take small steps. Behavioral changes can take time, so try to remain self-compassionate and appreciate every small success along the way.

If you need additional help, support, and guidance, reach out to an OITE Wellness Advisor here:

Additional resources:

 Tips and skills to become more resilient


How to Take Advantage of the Holidays

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch November 21, 2022

The holidays are approaching and believe it or not, this is a great time to reach out to your network. The holiday season and an upcoming new year are the perfect excuse to reach out and extend greetings and updates. One of the most common questions about networking is “How can I effectively maintain a connection?” Most people know the importance of keeping the lines of communication open and warm; however, many lament the fact that it can feel awkward, and they don’t know exactly what to say.

Reaching out during the holidays is the perfect excuse! It can help keep you at the top of mind and sometimes it can help to reignite a previously dormant line of communication. Don’t’ talk yourself out of reaching out to even long-lost colleagues.

Try not to use this as a veiled attempt to ask a favor. This networking interaction is not the time for a hard sell. Simply frame it in your mind as a chance to reconnect. You can use this outreach to comment on updates you’ve heard via LinkedIn about their work, share an article of interest, and even give an update about you.  Keep it short but genuine for the relationship. Here are some examples to get started:

It’s been awhile since I’ve been in touch and I wanted to see how you have been doing and give you some updates since we last spoke…

Happy Holidays! I saw that you changed companies on LinkedIn. Congrats on the new role! Would love to hear about your new position.

Happy New Year! Would be great to reconnect this year whether it is an in-person or Zoom coffee chat.

Networking remains the single most important thing you can do to support your career development, and the holidays were made for networking. Strategize accordingly and take advantage of this holiday season to expand your network and reconnect with contacts.


Writing Personal and Research Statements for Grad School

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch November 14, 2022

If you are applying to graduate programs, we highly encourage you to watch this video from OITE Director, Dr. Sharon Milgram. In this talk, she details many aspects to help you draft a compelling and successful statement.

Many programs are now asking for different types of statements. You could be asked to submit any or all of the following: research, personal statement, statement of purpose, diversity, Covid-19, resilience. Sometimes the title is unclear and different schools may use different titles/labels.

Due to this variability, be sure to read the prompt carefully and answer any of the question(s) asked of you.

We have seen that most programs usually ask for either one statement focusing on both career and research (as a statement of purpose) or a separate personal statement and research statement. However, just to make it confusing – we have also seen some programs ask for all three!

  • Statement of Purpose = Career & Research
  • Personal Statement = Experience + Career Goals
  • Research Statement = Research Goals
  • Other Additional Statements:
    • Diversity Statement
    • Covid Statement

Some notes on the main statements requested:

Personal Statement -
In this statement you should discuss your academic and career objectives and you should be specific on your reasons for focusing on this area of study and X University.  Look to the prompt for guidance on this, but if you are submitting this document in conjunction with a research statement and/or statement of purpose, then you can use this document to elaborate on your life experiences.  This could mean detailing influences, values, etc. that surrounds your purpose for seeking this degree. This document could also be an opportunity to write more about your journey through this process, your motivation, and any challenges or obstacles along the way that have helped you grow as a scientist/person ultimately making you a stronger candidate. Remember: this is still your chance to sell yourself for this program.

Research Statement -
Please provide a description of your research experience(s), including the goals of each project, approaches used, results obtained, and implications of the findings for the project and the field at large. You may choose to describe a single research experience in depth or several experiences. It is important to focus on what you did, the skills you learned, and how you would be able to add value to a research group at X University.

Statement of Purpose
What is the purpose you are pursuing ABC degree in XYZ field? What are your relevant experiences (research, clinical, courses, etc) that propel you to this graduate degree? In this statement, you should delineate your reasons for applying to the proposed program at X University and your preparation for this field of study which often means detailing your research and study interests.  Future career plans and other aspects of your background and interests which may aid the admissions committee in evaluating your aptitude and motivation for graduate study should also be noted.

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE! If any of this guidance conflicts with what you see instructed on a prompt from a school, follow the directions of the prompt. These terms are often used interchangeably and might mean something very different for each program for which you are applying.