Becoming Skilled and Competent: The Essentials of Presentations

February 11, 2013

One of the most common forms of professional communication is the ‘Presentation.’  No matter what career you have – professor, researcher, science policy analyst, CEO of a company – chances are you will have to prepare and deliver professional presentations.  In fact, you probably give presentations regularly already – for lab meeting, at professional conferences, for your thesis proposal, or for your job interview.  However, no matter why you are giving your talk, the goal is the same: Communicating and sharing information with your audience.  Because of this, there are some simple principles that any talk should have – and you can use these are the building blocks of any presentation you prepare.

  1. Have a story:  Every talk has a story.  Just like any story – from a book or a movie – no one remembers every detail, but just the major events.  Your goal is to construct your presentation so that people leave remembering the major points.  Start by asking yourself, “What are the ‘major events’ your audience should know about your story?  If they have 5 minutes to summarize my talk, what is it I want them to be able to say?”
  2. Plan your TransitionsSuccessful presentations are about successful transitions.  Transitions occur throughout your talk.  There is a transition from your introduction to your first major point.  Another transition occurs when you move to the next point.  Transitions also occur from slide to slide.  If you understand the story you are trying to tell, then having smooth transitions is easier.  When you are practicing your talk, think about how you will lead your audience from one point to the other.  For example, once you complete your specific aims of your experiments, your audience should know (and you should too) that the next major point to discuss is the methods used, in only enough detail for them to understand what comes afterwards – highlights from the results.
  3. You are the Presentation, not the Slides: With Powerpoint and other presentation applications today, most people prepare slides to go with their talk.  While this is not a bad thing, the slides should not be the focus of your story.  Filling your slides with the verbatim text of your presentation bores your audience, invites them to read ahead (and by doing so, stop listening to you), and in the ends, makes them wonder why you could not have just written the talk and handed it to them before hand.  You are the presentation:  You tell the story, you decide what the important aspects to emphasize are, and you direct the audience’s attention to interesting features of graphs and figures.  Your slides are tools and landmarks that help you stay on track, and remind you what major point you wanted to make at that time.  Perhaps outline your story on a piece of paper, and then create your slides to help support your story.

Here is a recent videocast of a workshop that the OITE did on Talking Science: Designing and Delivering Successful Oral Presentations

No matter what type of talk you need to give, before you start, think first about your story, how you will transition from major point to major point (and from slide to slide), and do not rely upon you slides to tell your story.   With these basics you can create any great talk!

Becoming Skilled and Competent: Start an IDP

February 4, 2013

The OITE blog has dedicated this year to being Skilled and Competent.  Keeping with that theme, in February you should assess your current skill set and compare it to your career goals.  What skills will you need to achieve your goals?  Which skills do you already posses and which do you need to improve?  How do you go about improving those skills?  It can all seem a little overwhelming, so it helps to create a plan.  When it comes to creating career plans, there is not better tool than the Individual Development Plan, or IDP.

We’ve blogged about IDPs before, and why they are good ideas.  IDPs have been used by private and government organizations for years. Human Resource managers realized that there often was a disconnect between an employee’s skill set and his/her career goals.  The IDP was used to help employees determine their career aspirations, assess their skills, and set goals to help them become more competent and successful.   In 2002 the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology (FASEB) introduced IDPs to scientists, by creating an IDP template geared toward postdoctoral scholars.  Since then IDPs have grown in popularity for helping young scientists achieve their career goals.

There are two very good options you can use to create your own IDP.  You can download the FASEB template from the OITE website. There is also a new, free, online resources on the Science website, called myIDP, which was written by career experts at UC-San Francisco, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and FASEB (Editor’s note:  While we suggest you investigate both the FASEB IDP template and myIDP to see if these tools work for you, we are not endorsing FASEB, AAAS, nor myIDP).  No matter which tool you use, you will need to set aside some time to think seriously about your career ambitions, honestly asses your current skills and abilities, and then make time to create short- and long-term goals.

Both the FASEB template and myIDP were written for advanced graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, but the concepts and exercises can be used by anyone, at any career stage.   For those of you in the earlier stages of your science career training, when the IDP ask postdocs about their interest in pursuing, say, a faculty position or industry research, you need to frame the question for your career stage.  It might be more appropriate for you to compare medical school, dental school, graduate school, or entering the workforce directly.   The specific goal of the IDP is to create a career plan that is customized for you – remember, it is an Individual Development Plan. 

The most important thing to remember is to enlist the help of a mentor, or if you are a trainee in the NIH intramural research program you can also take advantage of the OITE Career Services center, when developing your IDP.  While you need to be the driving force behind your IDP, you also need to take advantage of the resources to help you focus your efforts, and get feedback on your progress.  With an IDP, you can then spend the rest of the year becoming competent in the skills needed to fulfill your career goals.

Your Medical and Dental School Application Plan

January 31, 2013

It’s the end of January, which means if you plan to go to medical or dental school in August 2014, you need to start the process now.  You’re thinking to yourself, “What?  Most schools don’t have application deadlines until October, or even November.  Why are we talking about applications now?”  That’s a great question, and a simple one to answer: Getting into medical or dental school takes time and planning.

To keep from being overwhelmed or from missing an important deadline (when is your MCAT or DAT test date?) you need to create a schedule, complete with a calendar of important dates and deadlines.  OITE has put together a basic schedule that you can use to create your own, more detailed one.  The first step in creating your schedule is to go to the OITE Online Resources page and download the “Medical School Application Schedule for Admission in August 2014.” While you are on the OITE Online Resources page, take a look at the other resources OITE offers to help you with the application process.

Now that you have the OITE schedule, contact your undergraduate institution’s pre-professional advising office. Pre-professional advising offices offer a wide variety of services to assist you in getting your application together, and ensuring it is as professional as possible.  Contact your office, and let them know you are applying this year, and make sure you incorporate any of their deadlines into your schedule.

Your next step is visiting the American Medical College Application Service, or AMCAS, website.  AMCAS is a non-profit application service provided by the American Association of Medical Colleges.  You create an account, complete an online application, and select which medical schools you want to receive a copy of your application.  You create one single application and AMCAS provides that application to each school.  For those of you interested in Dental school, the American Dental Education Association has a similar service called the Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS).

Most US medical and dental schools only accept applications through AMCAS or AADSAS. Visit the AMCAS or the AADSAS website to learn about the process.  Enter into your schedule deadlines for when you plan to complete the different parts of the application.  After you complete and submit your application it can take up to 6 weeks of processing before it can be sent to your schools.  You should plan to have all your application materials ready for submission to AMCAS or AADSAS in early June. That way, if your top choice school has an early application deadline, you will not miss it.

Finally, take advantage of the seminars and other resources OITE offers.  The Application Schedule for Admission in August 2014 includes the dates of workshops on writing personal statements and filling out applications.  You can also arrange an appointment with the OITE’s pre-professional advisor.

Don’t procrastinate and try to cram the entire application process into a single month.  Instead, build a calendar of deadlines and milestones that break up the application process into small, achievable steps.

Resumes are about Results

January 23, 2013

You are reading through a job description, which starts with the following: “We are seeking an accomplished researcher to lead our transgenic mouse program.”  You think this job is perfect for you!  Your research project uses a transgenic mouse model, and for the past two years you’ve been Chair of your institute’s student led Career Symposium.  You include in your resume the research you did in transgenic mouse lines, add a one-line bullet “Chair: Career Symposium Committee,” and send it in with your cover letter.  Done.  Now you just have to wait for them to call you!

When employers advertise an open position, they are trying to find someone that can produce results and match their needs.  While you were correct to add your committee experience to your resume, simply listing it is not enough.  Your resume needs to describe, in words, the results of your work as leader, and how you achieved them.  So how do you do that?  Start by simply writing, on a piece of paper, what you did as the committee chair. Use active phrases that describe what you did and what you accomplished.  Here are some examples:

  • Met weekly with other committee members to identify topics of interest and produced 9 seminars during a 12-month period
  • Led meetings, set agendas, and ensured task completion
  • Led a team of 15 committee members and distributed people to 3 teams based on skills and expertise
  • Contacted potential speakers, providing details about your committee and the goals of the Career Symposium series
  • Coordinated travel arrangements for speakers, created itinerary, and confirmed travel & hotel arrangements
  • Managed finances to ensure the series stays on budget by tracking costs for receptions, honorariums, travel expenses, and processed reimbursements
  • Marketed seminars to NIH community, using email, websites and other social media and achieved average attendance of 150 people per seminar

Now you have a detailed description of your leadership and the results of your work on the committee.  The next step is to read through the job description again, paying attention to where there are examples of the requirements or duties of the position.  As you re-read the description, you see the following sentence:  “Successful applicants will be able to lead a small group, create timelines, communicate priorities, and manage staff to ensure deadlines are met.”  The final step is to condense the list above into two or three short, active, bullet points that describe how your experience leading the committee matches what they want. (Editor’s note: Give it a try by writing your version of the bullet points in the comment section of this blog).  This speaks directly to how you meet the position’s requirements, and is much more informative than listing “Chair: Career Symposium Committee.”

You can learn much more about career options in industry, and how to build your resume and cover letter to be competitive for these positions at theIndustry Careers Overview” seminar on January 24th, in Building 50 Room 1227 (also videocast at  Click here to register.

Academic Searches: Handling Dual Career Hires

January 15, 2013

Editor’s note: While we originally titled this the Two-body Problem, we changed it to Dual Career Hires to reflect that our partners are not “problems.”

It is interview season for academic faculty positions.  When visiting campus, one goal is determining if the institution is a good fit – both personally and professionally.  This might include considering the career needs of a spouse or partner.  In today’s tough economic times, some people fear that mentioning the career of a spouse or partner before an offer is made might remove them from the pool of competitive applicants. However, institutions want to know sooner rather than later if they need to consider accommodations or provide job assistance for a second person.  It is against federal law for an employer to ask any applicant about his or her marital or family status or to use such information in making a hiring decision. So no one can legally ask you whether your spouse will need a job too.  If you have been invited for a campus interview, though, chances are the topic will come up casually during meals or other social conversations.

Keep in mind that your potential new employer is not required to offer your spouse or partner a job, so asking for one is the wrong approach.  You can, however, state his or her career interests, and that both of you would appreciate learning more about local opportunities.  Universities are realizing that addressing the needs of dual-career couples is in their best interest.  In the corporate world, unfortunately, the career needs of a spouse or partner are usually not considered at all.  Many universities have formed higher education recruitment consortiums (or HERCs).  This allows applicants and institutions to use a formal network to help find both academic and non-academic openings in the local area.  Even if the institution does not have formal services available, it is still in the department’s best interest to help.  I once compiled a list of local marketing firms and passed it along to my department’s faculty search finalist, so her husband could look for job openings.

Sometimes the university can extend an offer to a spouse or partner.  Often this requires negotiations between the Deans of different divisions or centers in the institution, and those require time.   It may also require your spouse or partner to submit a research statement or do an interview, either by phone or on campus.  The sooner the institution knows of your needs, the sooner it can start to address them.

Academic interviewing can be stressful, but take a deep breath!  The OITE has a series of videos to help you prepare.  The series includes overview of the job interview, preparing a job talk, and evaluating positions and negotiating job offers.

Career Resolution for 2013: Becoming Skilled & Competent

January 7, 2013

For 2012 we focused on your Career Calendar:  A month-by-month plan to making your career a priority.  For 2013, we will shift gears.  Instead of focusing on a future career, we will focus on the skills you use now as a way to improve your current job performance.  There are  four groups of skills that we think all trainees need to have for success in their careers.  Throughout the year, we will provide advice and point out resources that will help you become competent in these skills.

Communication:  We communicate with people everyday:  Writing papers, sending emails, giving presentations, or discussing ideas in meetings.  In almost every job, the ability to share thoughts and ideas clearly with others is a necessary competency.

Career Readiness & Exploration: Starting your career search requires a strong set of skills:  From preparing for job interviews and writing cover letters, to networking and using social media for finding jobs or opportunities for collaborations.

Leadership and Management:  Any position that requires managing people requires effective teamwork skills.  Are you the president of your student group, or supervising others in your lab?  Then you need leadership skills.  Not only do we need strong people management skills, but you also need project management skills, such as being able to set realistic milestones for your research or thesis, and then hitting those deadlines.

Teaching and Mentoring:  Teaching and mentoring skills help us share knowledge with others, and go beyond the classroom setting.  More experienced employees often share knowledge and information with newer ones, which helps the entire team or organization be more effective.

Of course, there is one last skill set that trainees need, and that would be research skills and knowledge of your specific field.  This includes having detailed knowledge of your research area, how to conduct specific experiments, and being able to apply testable, scientific hypothesis to questions in your field.  While the we cannot provide specific advice for all the different types and fields of research tacking place in NIH labs, we do think it is important that you evaluate your own skills and take advantage of resources and opportunities that allow you to develop your research competencies this year too.

A Year in Review: Calendar for Career Success

December 11, 2012

If you’ve been following the OITE blog this year, you know that in the start of 2012 we decided to help you make a Calendar for Career Success.  We picked topics, and blogged about them, giving you advice (and sometimes challenges) each month to help you drive your career.  In short, we wanted 2012 to be the ‘Year for Your Career.’

And given that it is December, it is time to sit back and reminisce about the past year – because that is what everyone does in December, right?  Some of the things we talked about this year included having conversations about your career goals.  Not just you and your friends talking about your dream job over lunch, but a directed conversation with your PI or a career counselor.  These can be tough – but worthwhile. They help you take control of your career – set a plan, and work with people that have experience and knowledge to help you create a successful career plan.

And sometimes we made you work – pulling together resources to create your job application, practicing your interviewing skills.  Because your career plan is not just a theory or a timeline on a piece of paper, but something you engage in: Thinking critically about your resume or CV, assessing your skills and abilities, and taking advantage of resources and opportunities to strengthen your career.

If you followed our career calendar for 2012 (you can find it here) then congratulations!  You deserve a good pat on the back. Even if you are in your same job now (because you weren’t on the job market in 2012) or not (despite your best efforts you still haven’t moved on to your dream job), actively working on your career each month is a great achievement.  Even people in their ‘dream’ job constantly engage in making their career a ‘priority.’  They attend conferences and network with colleagues; they think about how to either gain new skills or apply the ones they have to new questions or problems.  For these people, focus is on making their current job more interesting or more challenging, not on getting a new one.

But why should 2012 be the only “Year of Your Career?”  The answer: No reason.  Every year can be your career year.  And if you weren’t reading our blog in January of 2012 (shame on you, by the way), then there is no reason not to start working on our calendar in January 2013.  And if you’ve been with us all year long, you can continue to actively work on your career – whether you want to just be better at your current job, or get a new one.

In short, your career is an activity, not a thing.  And by setting up a career calendar, and sticking to it, you’ve decided that your career is a priority, and actively engage in having your dream career!


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