For Current Trainees
MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR NIH EXPERIENCE
In the twenty-first century, successful scientists need strong communication skills: you must be able to teach, in the research environment and perhaps in the classroom; you must collaborate effectively; and you must function well both as a manager and a leader. Furthermore, you must understand the career exploration process, the importance of networking, and effective job search strategies. These core competencies are at the heart of a successful research career and also represent the transferrable skills needed to make transitions to the non-bench careers that are critical to the success of the entire scientific enterprise.
Your NIH training should focus on development of science, professional, and career skills. You should take the time to assess your strengths and weaknesses, the activities you enjoy most, and the values that underlie your actions. There are many ways to contribute to the scientific enterprise and only you know the career paths that are right for you. The NIH offers a wide array of career development opportunities for you to use as you develop your own specific strategies for success.
Whether you are a summer intern who will be spending 8 to 10 weeks at the NIH, a postbac who will be here for a year or two, or a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow conducting biomedical research at the NIH for three to five years, your time here will be finite. To make the most of your NIH experience, you must plan your time wisely and begin essentially immediately to develop the skills and expertise that you will need to succeed during the next phase of your career.
The NIH Office of Intramural Training & Education (OITE) encourages you to focus your energies in three major areas:
- Doing outstanding science
- Attending to your career/professional development
- Exploring and contributing to the community around you
Clearly, science must be your first priority. But it would be a mistake to overlook or short-change the other two areas. OITE offers programs and services to help you develop professionally. We encourage you to work with other trainees in the summer, postbac, GPP, or postdoc community to get to know the DC area and help make it a better place.
Career and professional development begin with knowing yourself. Consider completing the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), an assessment tool that will help you to understand your psychological makeup in terms of intellectual preferences: how do you take in information about the world around you, how do you make decisions, where do you get your energy? You can also make an appointment with a career counselor for help with self-reflection and increasing your self-awareness. Making solid career decisions depends on understanding what skills you possess, what interests excite you, and what values add meaning to your life.
If you are not already firmly committed to a particular career path (or perhaps even if you are), the next step in career/professional development is career exploration. What options are out there? What are various careers really like, and how does one prepare for them?
It is important to recognize that self-analysis and career exploration will not be restricted to the beginning of your career. In today's world, you are likely to change career directions multiple times, and each transition will require that you return to these activities.
There is broad agreement that core competencies provide an excellent way to look at career/professional development. Core competencies are primarily blends of skills and experience that future employers and/or educational institutions will be seeking. Specifically, you should aim to build competence in
- Career exploration and job search skills
o Grant writing
o Communicating in English (if you are not a native English speaker)
- Teaching and Mentoring
- Leadership and Management
We offer programming in each of these areas.
Make a Plan
Because doing great science must be your first priority, you should NOT attempt to attend every workshop the OITE or your IC presents. You need to think about your career goals and the skills that will enable you to reach them. Which skills do you already possess? Which do you need to strengthen? What sorts of activities/experiences do you need to add to your CV or résumé to make you a good candidate for the job or program you are aiming for? If you don't yet have defined career goals, you will need to spend some time exploring career options before beginning work on developing skills.
To help you through the process of making a plan, one effective approach is to create an Individual Development Plan (IDP). The IDP is becoming standard in postdoc and graduate education. Here are two resources that you can use:
- A free, online resources on the Science website, called myIDP . This tool is written specifically for scientists to help them understand their skills, values and interests and how those align with potential career choices
- A model IDP, developed by FASEB, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, at http://www.faseb.org/portals/0/pdfs/opa/idp.pdf.
You may want to talk with your PI/supervisor about your goals, both short-term and long-term and also scientific goals and career goals. Enlist her/his help in determining the activities that will best help you to meet those goals. Goals can be as simple as presenting a poster at Postbac Poster Day or as complex as developing a teaching portfolio. Write down both the specific goals and a timeline for achieving them. Then, revisit your IDP periodically, perhaps every six months, to ensure you are making appropriate progress and to revise as appropriate.
Take Advantage of ALL Available Resources
Many career/professional development resources are available both here at the NIH and in the broader scientific community. Take some time to identify and explore those that will most benefit you. A partial list includes
- The Training Office in your IC
- Scientific Interest Groups at the NIH
- Videocasts of prior OITE workshops
- The OITE Careers Blog: sign up to follow the blog and get an informative blog post delivered to your email once a week.
- Career development activities in your professional societies
- Informational interviewing
- The NIH Career Symposium
Explore and Contribute to the Community around You
Having a community with which to share the NIH experience is often a large part of feeling comfortable here. The NIH is home to many organized communities. Take a moment to check them out. And there's one more thing. If you are also a parent, please take a look at NIH resources for parents who are also trainees.