Meet my former student, Sasha McGee, PhD, MPH. I met Sasha when she was still exploring her career options. After writing two papers while working as an intern in my research training programs, Sasha strengthened her credentials to pursue a career in epidemiology. Sasha is now a Senior Infectious Disease Epidemiologist at the DC Department of Health. Read about how she went from MIT doctoral graduate in technology to a meaningful career in public health.
One of the greatest challenges I faced while pursuing my education was not knowing what I wanted to do—professionally that is. I knew a lot about what I did not want to do (e.g., to do bench-work, to teach), but only had the faintest ideas of what I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted to do applied work that related to health, but exactly what that meant in terms of a career, I did not know. And so despite having no end goal in mind, I wrote essay after essay about my intended career path (nothing more than wild guesses really!) for various applications when they asked me the dreaded question. I even went as far as obtaining my doctoral degree based on these carefully crafted paragraphs. But after all those years of education—a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and doctoral degree in Health Sciences and Technology—I reached a point where I decided I needed to figure out this question of what I really wanted to do once and for all.
I began researching careers in public health online fairly early on since it fit the criteria of being an applied field. After years of conducting research, I wanted a career in which I would be able to clearly see the impact of my work. I also knew that I did not want to just sit in front of a computer all day, but be able to interact with people. Initially, I thought that global health would suit me since I loved to travel. I began arranging meetings to learn more about this field, to get career advice, and explore masters of public health degree programs. I also attended some conferences in order to learn more about what was going on in the field and explored companies where I could potentially work. However, there were two major hurdles I soon discovered when it came to transitioning to this field. First, no one understood what my graduate degree was or meant when they reviewed my resume. Second, although I had a doctoral degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, no one wanted to hire anyone without any work experience.
I will cut out the painful parts, but needless to say I spent a great deal of time and effort trying to get a job without making any progress. Unfortunately having been in school all my life had not prepared me for how to successfully apply for jobs and I discovered there was a steep learning curve. I was able to arrange an internship (unpaid) at a local health department, which was an invaluable experience for me in terms of being exposed to public health. I also did a bit of consulting work, worked as a medical assistant, and completed a short-term research position similar to the kind I did in graduate school. Given my lack of progress in the job hunt, I decided I would return to school to get a master of public health degree sooner than I had initially planned. I reached out to a college classmate who I had spoken with previously to assist me in selecting a specific focus area since he was pursuing a doctoral degree in public health. It was through my discussion with him that I first learned about the field of epidemiology. It seemed interesting and to be a great fit for me given my analytic nature. After a great deal of internet research to understand exactly what epidemiology was, I was able to write the essays for my applications and my classmate kindly reviewed them to make sure it sounded like I knew what I was talking about. I ended up pursuing my master of public health degree in epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Finally, I was not just going to school, but rather I was preparing myself for my career. It was a great experience!
I am grateful to God for enabling me to do everything I have done, every opportunity He has provided, and for sustaining me even when my career was at a standstill. As I think back over my journey, certain things have been invaluable to my educational journey and career—first and foremost of which were strong writing skills. I have had to write countless essays, cover letters, responses to questions, etc., while pursuing various opportunities. At times I needed to be able to clearly and concisely convey information within tight word limits. Other times I had to persuasively answer pointed questions to make a case for my qualifications. In some cases, I was given free rein to address a question or topic and needed to compose an essay or short statement that would powerfully impact the readers and make me stand out from the rest of the applicants. Initially I felt daunted by each writing task, but after a while I began to see the various writing assignments as a sort of friendly challenge—something that could be conquered, although it often required a great investment of time.
I learned another invaluable lesson from my advisor as I was pursuing my doctoral degree. When giving presentations, tell a story, don’t just present information (e.g., data in my case). This is actually also equally applicable when writing scientific articles. The tendency is to share everything—I definitely had that tendency. However, as exciting as the data are, when they are presented in the form of a story they are far more memorable to your audience.
Currently, I am a Senior Infectious Disease Epidemiologist at the District of Columbia Department of Health. I absolutely love my work. I wish I could say it was a smooth journey once I figured out what career I wanted to pursue, but there were still more bumps along the way. As I share my experiences and encourage students and early career professionals who are just starting their journey, I realize how many others are experiencing the same challenges I did. Don’t despair; you are not alone in your still trying to figure it all out! Perhaps like me, you also have not yet been exposed to the specific field you will ultimately choose to pursue. I encourage you to take your time to investigate various career options online, talk with people to learn about potential career paths and get advice about careers you are considering, and to gain work experience along with your education.
Sometimes, you meet that great student who knows exactly what she wants to be when she grows up. All she needs is for you to usher her along to bigger and better opportunities. One such student who I had the privilege to mentor is Magdia De Jesus, who I met when she was very young and now she is an assistant professor with her own lab and students. In this guest post, Dr. De Jesus tells us her story. Enjoy!
Since I was 9 years old, I wanted to be a scientist and although the odds made that dream seem impossible, I can tell you that the reason why I am a scientist today is because I AM A PRODUCT OF PIPELINE MENTORSHIP! Hello, my name is Dr. Magdia De Jesus and I am an Assistant Professor, in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University at Albany, State University of New York. My research laboratory is located at the Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health.
I was born in Utuado, Puerto Rico on a very warm and rainy February morning. At seven months of age, I moved to East Harlem, New York City where I lived in a one-bedroom apartment at the Wagner public housing that is part of the NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA). Although my parents had very little education, they both knew how to read and write. My father worked very hard as a marble polisher in a factory located in the South Bronx and my mother stayed at home taking care of my sister and I. Both of my parents understood that the only way that they could give us a better future was by encouraging us to do well in school.
From the window of this one-bedroom apartment, I could see the beautiful lights of the Tri-borough bridge that connects Manhattan with Queens and the Bronx. I always wondered what it would be like to cross the bridge into Queens and the Bronx to see what the world had to offer. As a young child, I also dreamed about becoming a scientist and a professor. I became fascinated by a science TV show that I would watch every morning called Mr. Wizard’s world on Nickelodeon. My fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Victor Diaz at P.S. 206 also shared my same passion for science and he incorporated science into everything. Interestingly he did many of the experiments that I had seen on Mr. Wizard’s world.
My parents recognized my enthusiasm for science, but they were worried about letting me down as they did not know any scientists or where to even begin. I was very fortunate that my high school the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics had a very special partnership with the Mount Sinai school of Medicine. The program was called the Mount Sinai Scholars Program and it was supported by the philanthropic efforts of Edith K. Erhman. The program was unique because it took promising high school student, interested in science and medicine under its wings starting from the 10th grade. The program provided paid summer internships, an SAT PREP course and an invaluable network of scientists and physicians who opened our eyes to both the rewards and challenges of careers in science and medicine. The program also had a unique mentorship model as we not only had the program director Susan T. Cohen to guide us, but all of us had a mentor who we directly worked with and we also had a program mentor who was “our buddy”. I was very fortunate to have Dr. Mark W. Babyatsky, a gastroenterologist and scientist as my research mentor who taught me all about somatostatin receptors in the GI tract when I was 14 years old. As you can imagine it was a dream come true. I was also very fortunate to have Dr. Luz Claudio as my program mentor who is still very much present in my life as a colleague and friend.
When I graduated high school, I went to New York University (NYU) where I majored in Biology and I minored in Sociology. At NYU, I experienced several academic challenges and was highly discouraged to continue as a Biology major. My academic advisor said “you are a good student but not a great one, you should consider becoming a teacher” As you can imagine, I was devastated but this advisor’s comment fueled the fire, I knew that I was going to complete my degree and although it took me an extra semester, I became an NYU graduate with a major in Biology and minor in Sociology!
During my time at NYU, I had continued to stay in touch with Sue Cohen, the director of the Mount Sinai Scholars Program and Dr. Luz Claudio. With Sue’s help, I was part of the Child Health Plus (CHIP) team that helped recruit and insure thousands of children who did not have health insurance all over NYC. This experience not only taught me a lot about public health and networking, but it let me cross the bridge into Astoria, Queens as Mount Sinai had a satellite clinic there. At the end of the CHIP program, Dr. Claudio also gave me the opportunity to experience more public health through her environmental science summer internship program.
While participating in Dr. Claudio’s summer program, Sue Cohen asked me if I would be willing to participate in a new two-year pilot post baccalaureate program that was being developed by Dr. Terry A. Krulwich and Dr. Gita Bosch the Deans of the graduate school at Mount Sinai. I immediately said yes because I understood that this program would be my ticket into a Ph.D. program. The Post Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) gave me the opportunity not only to shadow the graduate students by taking classes but I was also given the opportunity to do my own research project in the laboratory of Dr. Krulwich. I not only learned how to do bench science, an opportunity that I did not get at NYU, but I also learned how to break down and read scientific papers. This was an invaluable skill that Dr. Krulwich pushed hard on me as she would meet me every Wed morning at 8 am in her office to do a journal club type exercise. Dr. Krulwich also gave me the opportunity to present my work at the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. At this particular conference, Dr. Krulwich encouraged me to attend any session during the last day of the conference and I chose to go to the fungal pathogens session where a renowned scientist from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine went into a heated debated with another scientist in the audience who challenged his work. I was impressed by all of these things that I had learned by going to the conference and I will always thank Dr. Krulwich for teaching me not only the science but how to build a thick skin and not let criticism break me.
PREP was my bridge to the Bronx, as I chose the to go to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine to do my Ph.D., ironically, Dr. Claudio is an alumnus of Einstein. I also chose to become a graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Arturo Casadevall, the scientist who was involved in the impressive debate with the audience member at ASM. In Dr. Casadevall’s lab, I learned to do elegant science and during my six years in the program, I learned so much about science, the world and myself. I then moved on to do a postdoctoral fellowship on Emerging Infectious Diseases sponsored by the Centers of Disease control (CDC) and the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) my host institution was the Wadsworth Center, New York State Depart of Health. At Wadsworth, I learned a lot about public health and outbreak investigations under the mentorship of Kimberly Musser, the Director of Bacterial Diseases. I was also fortunate to be able to stay at Wadsworth during the recession and do a second postdoctoral fellowship sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)- Life Science Research Foundation (LSRF). My mentor Dr. Nicholas Mantis not taught me about mucosal immunology but also to become a stronger writer. Dr. Mantis also became my advocate and was instrumental in helping me obtain my current position as faculty member at the University at Albany and the Wadsworth Center continued to support my growth by providing me with the laboratory space and the tools that I needed to establish my own research program.
Currently, my laboratory is full of young, vibrant and diverse students who are eager to learn from me about vaccines and emerging fungal diseases. I have made it a point to pay it forward by sharing the knowledge and skills that I have learned with my students, with children in my community and through the Skype a Scientist program that allows me to have a small impact at the national level. So, you see, dreams are possible even when the odds are stacked against you. All you need to find, are those bridges of opportunity, those selfless mentors who walk with you throughout each leg of the journey and the mentors who will be with you for a lifetime. Thank you, Dr. Claudio for giving me this opportunity to share my story, a story that you helped develop and continue to have significant impact.
6 Surprising Careers To Consider If You Love Writing by Sydnee Lyons for HerCampus.comI am a biomedical scientist and I train others in science and medicine. Yet, I can tell you that I spend most of my time writing. Writing scientific papers. Writing grant proposals. Writing emails to colleagues. Writing plans for courses and training programs.
I have concluded that if you want to advance in science, you must eventually love writing, or be willing to do it all the time. For that reason, I wrote a book (again, I must love writing by now :). The title: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide.
For her article, Sydnee Lyons interviewed me and other professionals about careers that many people may not associate with writing, but that actually require a lot of writing. Here are the six careers that she describes and why they are great for writers:
1. Content MarketingPeople who pursue a career in content marketing spend their time creating branded content like blogs, social media posts and even video series.
Marketing executive at Graduate Recruitment Bureau, Lizzi Hart, says that she had no idea what content marketing was as a journalism student but was intrigued by a job opening titled, “Write for The Guardian and more.” Her main role is now link building and search engine optimization (SEO), which is basically getting external pages to link to the product or service she’s promoting. “It’s not the typical news pieces I thought I would be writing as a journalist,” she says, yet her work has appeared in The Independent, Business Insider and even Cosmopolitan!
Like Hart, Sarah Linney, content manager for real-estate start-up Triplemint, studied and worked in journalism before landing her job as content manager for a real estate company based in New York. Previously, she says, “I would just churn out copy day in, day out, which didn't leave much room for autonomy and creativity." Now, she produces tons of interesting multimedia content about life in the city.
A career in content marketing will consistently challenge you to stay creative and innovative in your work because every project is different!
2. PsychologistThis might come as a shock but psychologists spend quite a bit of their time writing about mental health and wellness. In fact, you've probably come across a number of online articles about human behaviors, mental processes and helpful methods for coping with life in general that were written by psychologists. Dr. Jude Miller Burke, author of The Adversity Advantage: Turn Your Childhood Hardship into Career Success, has been a practicing psychologist for more than 25 years. She writes every day, sharing her expertise in her books, articles and speeches. "I am determined and passionate to communicate the path of resilience to overcome obstacles and move on to greater happiness in life," she says. Writing allows psychologists to reach and help more people.
3. Non-Profit Grant WritingWhat could be better than using your writing skills to help others? Grant writing is an invaluable skill that requires you to be both persuasive and concise in your work. Grant writers work primarily for businesses, educational institutions and, of course, nonprofits that benefit from external financial aid. Your work can make life-saving research a reality or set into action grassroots campaigns for important policy changes.
Christina Disbrow works as the founder of and grant writer for All Write, All Write, All Write, a boutique firm that strives to provide administrative and fundraising support to small nonprofits. “I’ve always loved to write and help people. Nonprofit grant writing has allowed me to combine both of these passions into a career,” she says. Grant writers must be able to explain how their cause will benefit from the grant and why it deserves to be considered. This process requires vision, persuasiveness, creativity, motivation and attention to detail. It’s a lot like putting together a compelling narrative!
4. ScreenwritingWriting for film or television might seem like a long shot, but if you’ve always had a passion for creative writing, it might be worth looking into. Screenwriters have a knack for storytelling; they know how to turn action into words with ease and precision. As a screenwriter, you can write scripts for feature films, television shows, commercials and even video games. It’s not just about creating interesting and naturalistic dialogue; some scenes may have no dialogue at all. At its core, screenwriting is more about documenting a visual story in great, descriptive detail. Creating interesting characters, developing backstories that span years, writing tear-jerking monologues—that’s what screenwriting is about. This is no easy career path but it is certainly rewarding.
Daphne Mallory and her daughter Sabya Clarke work together as screenwriters. Mallory says she has always been committed to telling stories and has written for The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine and others in the past but her true joy comes from writing science-fiction film and TV scripts. Mallory says that she and Clarke, who studies filmmaking at the California College of the Arts, have written three television pilots, several short films and even an original feature film.
5. AcademiaYou might think that your professors have it easy only showing up to classes a few times a week but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Professors spend the majority of their time working on their research and trying to get their work published. In fact, to get tenure, professors are required to have a minimum number of scholarly books and articles already published.
Dr. Luz Claudio, author of How To Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide and tenured professor of environmental medicine and public health, says, “Most of [my] time is spent writing scientific papers for publication in peer-reviewed journals and writing grant proposals to support [my] projects.” In fact, she recently tracked her work activities and found that almost 70 percent of her time is spent writing.
Another common misconception is that writing for academia is boring or restrictive, but it’s actually far more liberating than you might think. You can pursue a career in academia in almost any specialization: philosophy, Italian literature, neuroscience, media studies and so much more.
6. Public RelationsPublic relations is a lot like advertising. You’re tasked with selling a favorable image of your client or brand and much of your work revolves around getting them featured by the appropriate media outlets. That’s why public relations specialists must be excellent writers. Suki Mulberg Altamirano, founder and CEO of Lexington Public Relations, says, “Good writing is essential to successful media relations. You’re constantly leveraging this skill from writing pitches to creating client dialogue.”
PR specialists working at an agency often write and pitch multiple press releases in one day! And because they work closely with the press, they run on tight deadlines. When a news outlet requests a client biography or a descriptive write-up about a product you’ve pitched them, you’ll need to get back to them as soon as possible before they move on to the next thing to meet their own deadlines. If you can be persuasive in your writing and quick on your feet, this is the job for you.
For over 20 years, I've had the opportunity to mentor hundreds of students. Most of them have been from "underrepresented" or "minority" backgrounds. Many former students stay in touch with me over the years. So many of them tell me that I am the only minority professor that they encounter during their formative years of education, so we have an affinity, an unspoken understanding that we can do more, contribute more, achieve more. But that is not always expected. My students are children of immigrants, or immigrant themselves. They are people of color, they are seen as "disadvantaged" by their professors. Yet, sometimes all they needed is one good break, one mentor who looks like them, one great opportunity, one exciting experience, one person who cared, and this helps them to achieve the highest levels in their fields.
Today in this guest post, I introduce you to Carlo Canepa, MD, one of the students who I mentored as an undergraduate in my International Exchange Program. He was a child immigrant from Peru, not too different from the immigrant children we hear about today. Now Dr. Canepa travels to remote parts of the world bringing ultrasound technology as an emergency medicine physician. He is currently working with the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation http://chcc.gov.mp/, in Saipan, in the Northern Mariana Islands. Here is his story.
My name is Carlo Canepa and I am an Emergency Medicine physician. I was born in Lima, Peru, and when I was 4 years old, my family fled a Maoist uprising to come to New York. I was raised in lower Manhattan. Although our family did not speak English, we fit right in with all the other families in the neighborhood and at my elementary school. There were kids from all over the world in my Kindergarten class. In another city, it may have felt like a disadvantage to be an immigrant, but in Manhattan in the 1980s, I fit right in. Being the child of immigrants also meant that we were all learning how to live in the US at the same time. We did not know about the SATs, how to apply to universities, or what a great college essay looked like. Again, this could have been a disadvantage, but it just meant that as a teenager I had to learn the system for myself and figure out how to make it work for me. Because I did not know any better, I only applied to 4 schools. I was lucky that Columbia University accepted me and gave me a very generous scholarship to attend.
As a college student, I did know which career I wanted to pursue. I knew that I did not want to sit behind a desk, that I wanted to use my hands, and that I wanted to be able to travel as part of my job. I have always been an intellectually curious person and I wanted lifelong learning to be part of my career. I also knew that I wanted my job to benefit others and to be a force for good in the world. I wanted a social mission to be built-in. Medicine was not a natural choice. No one in my family was a physician. I had no one to emulate. My decision to become a physician was calculated and long-deliberated.
In the year before I was to enter medical school I was chosen for the Mount Sinai International Exchange Program for Minority Students by professor Luz Claudio. This program, and Dr. Claudio in particular, opened my eyes to the possibilities of what a career in medicine and research could be. I was assigned to a research project in Santiago, Chile, to conduct research on the health of healthcare workers. Alongside local mentors, I helped design a research project that included both qualitative and quantitative elements. I interviewed dozens of nurses at three different hospitals about their illnesses and what factors played a role in their decision to go to work while feeling ill. After completing the interviews, we compiled the data and analyzed it. The results indicated that the sick-leave policy (if you were ill for less than 3 days you were not paid) was playing a significant role in why nurses would go to work while feeling ill. And we discovered that they went to work while suffering from a variety of different diseases, some of them serious, a majority of them infectious. I presented my research findings at the International Congress on Occupational Health in Cape Town, South Africa, during my first year of medical school. The program was an amazing opportunity from start to finish, one that exposed me to research methodology, analysis, and presentation. It also taught me that the opportunities are out there; you just have to be willing to take a chance and to do the necessary work to take advantage of them.
The skills I learned during that summer research project set me up for the rest of my career. The following year I went to Liberia to work on another research project on community health workers and their role in the HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis epidemic occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa. This time, I did not have an in-person mentor to guide my research. Much of that summer was spent using the skills I had previously learned and applying them to a new project. This time in a much more rural and resource-poor environment. It was an extremely difficult few months, with no running water, no steady electricity, and I experienced a lot of weight loss. But I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the hardship and I knew that it was the kind of medicine and research that I wanted to practice: the highest need in the toughest conditions.
I went on to graduate from Weill Cornell Medical College and finished an emergency medicine residency at New York University and Bellevue Hospitals, where I served as a chief resident in my final year. I then returned to Mount Sinai to complete an emergency ultrasound fellowship and last year I completed a wilderness medicine fellowship at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Throughout those years I have had the opportunity to teach hundreds of scribes, medical students, residents, physician assistants, and even other fully trained physicians and nurses. While I continue to seek out mentors for myself, I have transformed into a mentor for others. I have conducted research focused primarily on the use of ultrasound in the emergency department and in austere and resource-poor setting. I have published several book chapters and cases in textbooks and am in the process of publishing several more research papers in journals. I have had the opportunity to work throughout the world in Chile, Liberia, Nepal, Rwanda, Madagascar, and the Western Pacific Islands.
Writing does not come easily to me, especially scientific writing. It takes me a long time to compile the information, organize my findings, sit down and type it all out. But it is an important component of where I would like my career to go. I know that if I want to be a successful academic emergency medicine physician, research and scientific writing will be an integral aspect. But sometimes the most difficult things are the things that are most satisfying when they are completed. I do things precisely because they are hard. It gives me great satisfaction when I achieve them. The same is true of pursuing a career in academic medicine. It is not easy, but it is greatly satisfying.
At this point in my career I get to decide where I work and what I focus my time on. My formal training is complete, but my education continues. I am 34 years old, but I continue to spend weekends in the library and at the coffee shop, reading papers, writing manuscripts, and thinking about what I want to do next. I get to pick my projects now, which is great, but it also means that it is on my shoulders to see each project through to its end point. I chose to live on a small island in the western Pacific for my first post-training job so that I could learn how to develop my clinical skills and to give back to a community that is in great need. I plan to continue working in poor and under-served communities, but also focusing my research on the projects that I find interesting. I have been extremely lucky to benefit from excellent education, training, and mentors. Now it is my turn to pay it back to those who have not been as fortunate and to those who come after me.
Guest Blog Post: Mayara Fontes, was a student in my International Research Training Program. Originally from Brazil, she has a Master’s Degree in Economics from University of Massachusetts. After completing her Master’s Degree, I sent her to work with my colleague, Dr. Leslie London at University of Cape Town, South Africa. The international research experience and the mentoring that we were able to offer Mayara opened new horizons for her career path. After her summer internship a few years ago, Mayara returned to South Africa to pursue her doctorate degree. Here is Mayara’s account of her educational trajectory from an unsure student, to a published research author, to a student with a clear career path and a bright future in the field of international health economics.
My name is Mayara Fontes Marx. I am originally from Brazil but moved to the USA when I was 18 years old. When I arrived to the USA, I could not speak or write in English. I started to study English at a community college where I participated in student clubs, served as a mentor, and received many accolades including a study-abroad scholarship to China. To continue my education, I transferred to the University of Massachusetts, Boston, where I graduated in 2014 with a Master’s in Applied Economics.
Even though I had graduated with a master’s degree, I must say that I was completely lost. I knew I wanted to continue to do research, but I did not think that I had enough experience to pursue this path. It was then when my mentor, Eduardo Siqueira, advised me to apply to the International Exchange Program for Minority Students at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, directed by Dr. Luz Claudio*. Reading more about the program and their alumni, I felt like a minority inside of a minority program because my background was in economics and I had little experience in the medical sciences. However, I was determined to be part of this great program and had mentors that believed in my capacities and supported my application.
I was fortunate to be selected to participate in the International Program and work on my own research project under the supervision of Dr. Leslie London at the University of Cape Town. One of the requirements of the program is to write a report in the form of a scientific paper worthy of publication. I never thought of myself as being a great writer, specially writing a scientific paper in my second language. I was not aiming for publication, but just to have the program requirement done. However, my mentors had a different plan. They gave me the support and the strength to pursue the most exciting accomplishment that an aspiring researcher could have- having their research published in a prestigious international journal.
It was because of that perseverance, determination and outstanding mentoring that I finally, after three years, published my first scientific research paper as a first author. The excitement of collecting my own data, analyzing it, and co-authoring a manuscript, strengthened my passion for research and it became clear to me that a doctoral degree would be the path towards achieving my future career goals.
Looking back, I remember the exciting challenges that I enthusiastically embraced. During those years I faced struggles, but they have helped shape the person that I am today. The Mount Sinai International Program also connected me with amazing PhD mentors in South Africa, Dr. London and Dr. Ataguba, whom I would not have met if it hadn’t been for the Mount Sinai International Research Training Program. My main career goal now is to work for a research non-profit organization doing health policy analyses. I really believe that research can improve people’s health. With perseverance, determination and my mentors backing me up, I am certain that I can accomplish my future goals.
No one gets very far in academia without mentors. This is partly because mentoring is built into the structure of academic life.
If you are very lucky, sometimes you can get the perfect mentor assigned to you. Or maybe you just happen to meet someone who would be a perfect mentor for you. But why leave this important part of your career development to chance? Be more intentional about finding your perfect mentor. To help you, here are some of the characteristics to help you find the perfect match.
Currently, I am looking for a mentor to help me improve my public speaking. Here are some of the criteria for my ideal mentor:
This is the third in a series of blog posts about mentors. To download a Free Checklist Meeting with A New Mentor, click HERE.
Dr. Luz Claudio is a Tenured Professor of Environmental Medicine and Public Health and the author of How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide and the Spanish edition: Cómo Escribir y Publicar un Artículo Científico: La Guía Paso a Paso. She has also created the Notebook for Seminars and Lectures. In the books, she teaches young scientists how to publish their research and take effective notes. She also translates environmental health research into information that everyone can understand by publishing fact sheets on her website: DrLuzClaudio.com. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely her own and may not reflect those of her employer, colleagues or associates.
"Won’t you be my mentor?".
Asking that question can be as awkward, and scary as asking "will you marry me?"
Approaching someone to be your mentor can be a very intimidating proposition. After all, this potential mentor is someone you admire, otherwise, you would not be approaching them. They are an expert. A master of their domain. And here you are, asking them to take time out of their busy schedule to mentor you. How do you even do that?!
I have been a mentor to hundreds of students and emerging scientists. I have also been a mentee, and currently, have two mentors whom I meet with regularly. One mentor helps me with career issues within my department and the other advises me on issues outside of academia. I am now in the process of finding a third mentor to help me with expanding my business life outside of academia, especially regarding public speaking. So I understand how you might feel when you first approach a potential mentor. Here are some tips to help you approach a mentor with confidence:
So be specific when you approach a potential mentor. Be clear about what you want to learn from them and why. And be open to listening for unexpected advice. Clarity, preparation, and open-mindedness will help you when you approach a new mentor and will take the awkward out of what can be a very uncomfortable first step.
This is the second in a series of blog posts about mentors. To download a free checklist about the things to discuss on your First Meeting with A New Mentor, click HERE.
5 Tips for a Successful Summer Internship
OK. Summer is here. Some of you will just chill by a pool somewhere. But many more of you are also starting your summer internships.
Summer internships are beneficial to your academic and professional career. For some students, they can be truly life-changing. Internships are an opportunity to learn from professionals, try career options, and meet new mentors. Whether you have already secured a great internship or whether you’re still looking for one, take a moment and think about how to become a successful intern so that you can get the most of out of your experience. After all, landing an internship is just a beginning, and it is up to you to make it a productive experience. Here are some tips:
1. Be humble: As talented as you may be, one thing to remember is that you are there to learn. So be open to feedback and guidance from your supervisor and colleagues, because “true humility is staying teachable, regardless of how much you already know”.
2. Act As If: While I say humility is important, this notion shouldn’t be mistaken as permission for you to be passive or uninvolved. Rather, it’s crucial that you remember that you’re part of the organization, even if it is only temporary. Act as if you are an employee. That means to be mindful of punctuality, your attire, and other common office courtesy and rules. Get involved in life as a member of the organization.
3. Engage: Your supervisor will be more willing to offer you challenging and fulfilling tasks if they believe that you genuinely care about the work that you’re doing. Take notes, ask questions, and share your ideas so that they know that you’re interested. Establish a good relationship with your supervisor, and meet with them regularly so that you can keep track of how you are performing, and make sure that both of your expectations are being met. Show enthusiasm and interest in the work. No one will want to teach you if you appear uninterested.
4. Communicate, and communicate well: Communication skills are a highly valued asset that many employers look for in job candidates, and this applies to interns as well. Think about how you’re communicating with your supervisor and colleagues, both verbal and written, and explore ways to improve it. It is also important that you ask questions if you are unsure about any aspects of your work. Do not assume anything, especially if your action could affect other people's work. It is better to be the annoying intern who asks a lot of questions than the intern from hell who broke a major piece of equipment. Know how, when, and to whom to ask questions and you will be fine.
5. Keep in touch. Before your internship is over, make sure that you leave all of your work in order and provide a summary of all work products. After you finish your internship, make sure to let your mentors know where they can reach you if they have any questions about your work. Send a note of appreciation. Don’t just disappear after your internship is complete! Make an effort to stay in touch with your supervisor and colleagues, by sending them updates or checking in to say hello. Your supervisor is a very valuable contact to maintain. You might want to ask them for advice or for a letter of recommendation later on. Contacting your internship mentor only when you need something from them will not be well received.
Internships can be very rewarding, productive and can have a big impact on your life and career. Here is a great opportunity for you to shine.
This is the first in a series of blog posts on internships and mentors. To download the Free Checklist for Meeting with an Internship Mentor, click HERE.
Diversity in the workplace is starting to be more than a buzzword. Many companies are making diversity one of their top priorities. Amazon, the biggest retailer in the world, recently announced that it will nominate women and minorities to its board of directors.(1) Amazon said in a statement that:
"...diversity will benefit companies by providing greater access to talent, harnessing existing talent more effectively, and improving decision making by reducing groupthink and similar psychological biases."
The issue of "groupthink", defined as "the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility" is more common in non-diverse workplaces, to their detriment.(2)
If you are a hiring officer, chairman, or leader at your workplace, consider how you can get ahead of your competition by hiring people of diverse backgrounds. Here are some ideas to help you improve diversity in your workplace.
Stop with the Excuses Already! Stop saying that you can't find good minority candidates to hire. That is no longer a good excuse. Although there are still small numbers of us in some sectors, particularly in academic STEM fields, there are at least some minority if you know where to look. For example, I direct a research program for minority graduate students. Every year, I receive 400-600 applications for 10 spots. There are many great candidates in that pool of applications. Similarly, if you advertise broadly you will be able to attract a diverse group of candidates.
Learn about Diversity: Incredibly, it is 2018 and many leaders don't know what we mean when we talk about diversity and even worst, they don't know how diversity may benefit their organizations. An increasing number of business leaders and academics are becoming aware of the evidence that shows that diversity in their teams can improve their revenue, but this knowledge is not yet widespread in many organizations.(1)
Train Staff: Researchers at Montana State University conducted a randomized controlled trial to test whether they could improve hiring of women faculty in science and technology positions. In the study, search committee chairs in the intervention group received training on gender bias and work-life integration. The researchers found that the search committees that received this training were much more likely to hire women for faculty positions as compared to the search committees that did not receive this training.(3)
Outreach: Advertise positions available in your institution broadly, particularly through organizations for minority professionals. Many professional associations and societies have chapters for underrepresented minorities in their profession and they can help you advertise through those channels.
Diversify and Empower your Committees: It is particularly important that search committees for positions available are diverse and have the mandate to consider qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds. This is important for at least two reasons. First, a search committee that is racially and gender diverse will distribute announcements for positions available through their networks which are more likely to be diverse as well. Second, candidates who are underrepresented in the fields may find it encouraging to see that the recruiting team is diverse. No one wants to be the only underrepresented minority in a team, so minority candidates may be more likely to accept a position in a team that has more diversity.
Create and Implement a Diversity Policy: Make sure that when you advertise positions available, that you include an equal opportunity statement. And mean it! We have all seen the now ubiquitous: "Equal opportunity employer". But companies that value diversity are being more explicit advertising their employment policies. For example, Google includes this statement:
“At Google, we don’t just accept difference — we celebrate it, we support it, and we thrive on it for the benefit of our employees, our products, and our community. Google is proud to be an equal opportunity workplace and is an affirmative action employer.”
Boston University gives examples of more proactive language for improving recruitment of underrepresented minority faculty, such as:
"BU is committed to building a culturally diverse faculty and strongly encourages applications from female and minority candidates. Women, minorities, individuals with disabilities and veterans are encouraged to apply. BU is dedicated to the goal of building a culturally diverse and pluralistic faculty committed to teaching and working in a multicultural environment and strongly encourages applications from minorities and women. Candidates should describe how multicultural issues have been or will be brought into courses. Candidates should describe previous activities mentoring minorities, women, or members of other underrepresented groups."
Lead by Example: Create a culture of diversity by showing that you GET IT. As a leader, you set the tone for your organization. Show that you support a corporate community of inclusion. You can do this by supporting, promoting and encouraging diversity. Start by looking around your organization and ask yourself if it reflects the population outside company's door.
Increasing diversity and equal access to opportunity in your workplace is not charity, diversity benefits all.
I care about diversity in academia. Makes sense since I am a senior faculty, I am Latina, and I am a tenured professor at a large medical center. Is it self-serving that I want to see more women and underrepresented minorities in senior faculty positions like mine?
Yes, maybe it is self-serving. But perhaps not for the reasons that you might think.
True, we underrepresented minorities and women want equal opportunity and fairness. And of course, it would be nice if discrimination, racism, and unconscious bias didn't exist. But I also see the need to increase diversity in academia as a missed opportunity. Diversity in the workplace is turning out to be a secret sauce for success in organizations. And I do want my organization to be successful.
Evidence-based research in the business sector shows that diversity can improve the bottom line. A 2009 study showed that "racial diversity is associated with increased sales revenue, more customers, greater market share, and greater relative profits.(1) More recently, a study conducted by McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, found that companies that were ethnically diverse were 35% more likely to perform better than the national median for their industry. They also found that companies that were gender-diverse were 15% more likely to be making more money than the median.(2)
In spite of this and other evidence, many leaders are resistant to increasing diversity in their teams. According to a paper by Ellison and Mullin, this resistance comes from the fact that people enjoy being with other like-minded people.(3) It is human nature.
In their paper, Ellison and Mullin wrote that:
--“The more homogeneous offices have higher levels of social capital" but ..."higher levels of social capital are not important enough to cause those offices to perform better. The employees might be happier, they might be more comfortable, and these might be cooperative places, but they seem to perform less well.”--
I understand this to mean that resistance to diversity may come from a level of comfort that individuals in a homogeneous group have from being with each other. Diversity challenges that level of comfort and "happiness", even when it can measurably improve productivity and profits. This is fascinating and sad at the same time. So you are telling me that leaders in homogeneous teams like to be with each other so much that they will prefer working with people who look and think like them, even if diversifying would make their organization more successful? Really? Wow!
I want my organization to be more diverse, not just because I would enjoy my work more if I could be with others who are like me, but also because I want us to be more successful. I want us to have the faculty and staff to respond to more diverse research opportunities and to be able to reach out to many different populations.
If diversity is good for business, is it good for academia?
I don't see why it wouldn't be.
So, yes. I'd like to see more diversity in the research workplace. Yes. It would make me happier to see more minority women faculty, but I would also hope that by bringing different perspectives, abilities, and resources, underrepresented minorities can make our academic institution more successful.
So I ask, please don't do us a favor. Diversifying your workplace is not a charity case. Diversity is good for you, even if at first it might be a little uncomfortable.
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Dr. Luz Claudio is an environmental health scientist, mother and consultant, originally from Puerto Rico. She is a tenured professor of environmental medicine and public health. Luz recently published her first book: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide. Dr. Claudio has internship programs and resources for young scientists. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely her own and may not reflect her employer's views.