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NIH Director Shares Passion for Career Development and Trainee Guidance

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One-of-a-kind insights from Dr. Sharon Milgram, Director of the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education

Author: Teresa Evans | Category: September 26, 2014

As the Director of the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) at NIH Sharon Milgram, Ph.D., helps to fulfill the mission to help trainees in the NIH Intramural Research Program develop career and professional skills that will help them succeed on all career paths in the biomedical and behavioral sciences.

Sharon has an exceptionally strong academic background. She was a professor for 12 years at the University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill, where she ran a highly successful research lab in the Department of Cell & Developmental Biology. Upon meeting Sharon, you are inspired by her passion for the career development of not only trainees at NIH but also those across the globe. She works very hard to share the resources OITE has created to better prepare the biomedical workforce of tomorrow. You can find the OITE Blog Here and career development resources including informational videos Here.

During a recent meeting with Dr. Milgram, I was lucky enough to ask her a few questions regarding guidance for trainees. Her responses are highlighted below:

Q: What are the most important goals during research training that our trainees can have to prepare for their careers?

A: “Your goal should be to be an outstanding trainee; to be a part of your research team as well as focus on your own personal, professional and career development. One way to do this is through incorporating informational interviews (more info on information interviews here). Finally, it’s really important to set goals in three areas: science, career, and personal life.”

Q: How do trainees set themselves apart in this competitive biomedical workforce environment?

A: “Trainees should have a list of core competencies for their careers of interest and continually go back and review this list. It is also important to participate in programs to build on these competencies. For example, you can not just say, “I want to be a good writer”, you must go out and find an avenue to expand your writing portfolio. Again, be sure to do informational interviews to constantly assess your goals and preparation.

Q: I have heard you say that setting goals is important. How do you set strong and attainable goals, as well as stay motivated in your own pursuit of your goals?

A: “I do best when I set goals more generally and allow them to sit a few days. I then will go back to them and think through some of the things I will need to make happen to reach that goal. I prefer to avoid structured templates for goal setting; therefore, I do not use a lot of sub goals. I am often stressed by detailed lists, so I choose not to make them. Knowing yourself and how you work best will help you to find the goal setting technique that matches your personality and work style. I also return to my list and add what I have accomplished, once a week on Monday mornings. In this way, I keep what I refer to as a “Goal Journal”. Although I am not the poster child for smart goal setting, I do encourage everyone to find their own goal-setting technique that works best for them.” One place to start is with the myIDP.

Q: How do you maintain a work and life balance?

A: “This is something that I think about every day. I discuss my goals and work schedule at home with my family. Each Sunday, we discuss important things for the coming week and we put all of our family activities on our family calendar as soon as we know about them. I also put important personal events on my work calendar and indicate days where I must stick to a HARD STOP at work. If I know this at the start of the day, I stay focused and am usually able to get out the door when I need to. I also work to limit my travel and try hard not to accept too many invitations in the summer. I also suggest keeping your gym schedule on your work calendar so you stick with going to the gym, or whatever exercise helps you deal with stress. I also keep my personal (family) activities on my work calendar. This shows that these events are equally important as work activities. It is important to also protect time on vacation, although this is hard.  All of this stems from the community in which we all work, Academic Science. How do we take this community that is proud of overworking and ask for a change in lifestyle?”

Q: What do you like to do for fun?

A: "I love to cook and to experiment in the kitchen. I read cookbooks and recipes for fun but in the end, I rarely follow the directions, so when I am cooking I am always experimenting. One of my personal goals the last few years was to learn Spanish, and I love skyping with my Spanish teacher, reading the Spanish paper, or finding ways to practice. We are lucky to live in a community with a lot of Spanish speakers and I really enjoy finding chances to talk at stores, festivals, etc. I also love to go to art museums, especially to see modern art. As a family, we love to travel and we will always find the best skateboard park and the best art museum. Finally, we have a dog and I am always happy when we can use him as an excuse to get out in nature.

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