Mentoring at NIH: Self-Assessment

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

This month, I'd like to discuss the benefits of using self-assessment as the first step in mapping out effective short-term goals and a clear career plan. At first, self-assessment may feel quite stressful, you may be uncomfortable scoring yourself on areas of weakness or strength, you may not know what the given scale really means, and you may even feel uncomfortable asking others to help with such a detailed evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses. I hope that the resources mentioned below and my personal account of the benefits of this process will provide you with a better outlook on starting your own self-assessment.

Instead of starting this process alone, you may find it helpful to speak to a Career Counselor to discuss your needs (such as in the OITE for NIH intramural trainees). A career counselor can provide you with vetted assessments to evaluate your current skill set or point you toward online tools that may be beneficial. There are multiple online tools that will facilitate a self-directed assessment. For individuals in the S.T.E.M. disciplines, the myIDP resource available for free through Science “Careers” is an excellent online tool for completing a self-assessment of your skills, values, and interests. Additionally, a table of self-assessment tools for choosing a new career, developing communication and management skills, and improving work relationships is available on the Career-Intelligence website. Note that NIH does not endorse either of these self-assessment tools, and additional tools are available through different sources.


It is important to remember that the goal of a self-assessment is to gather information regarding your values, interests, skills, and personality to determine potential career paths and to identify your areas of strength and weakness with regards to selected careers. There are no right or wrong answers during this process. It is best to use a sliding scale and analyze areas of weakness and strength within yourself, instead of comparing yourself to others, since outside comparison can make the process more stressful and in the end less beneficial. Remember that none of your answers are locked in stone and that you can always return to the evaluation and adjust your scores to more accurately represent your current skill set.

Once you have completed your self-assessment, you should have a detailed list of your strengths and weaknesses. I personally like the table at the end of the myIDP resource, since it breaks down my skills on a scale of 1-5 and gives me a good overview of which areas I need to work on. With this overview in hand, you may then find it beneficial to start a conversation with colleagues and mentors to see if they agree with your evaluations.

Personally, when I completed my first self-assessment, I didn’t know what to do with my results, and I was a little apprehensive to discuss my results with my advisor or peers, since I thought that it would be like highlighting all my weaknesses. However, after discussing my results with my mentor, colleagues, and family, I soon learned that in some areas I was being too hard with regards to how I scored my skills and was inaccurately weighing my values.

For instance, after my first self-assessment, some of the areas I had noted as weakness included public speaking, writing, and applied physical chemistry. However, after speaking with other graduate students in my lab, it became clear that my weakness in public speaking was not evident to any of my peers, or even my advisor. Despite the great amount of anxiety I felt before speaking in public or asking a question at a seminar, this was not something others noticed.

Discussing my results with fellow lab members made me feel more confident in public speaking and allowed me to pinpoint resources for helping with my weakness in applied physical chemistry. In fact, these discussions led to a weekly seminar series hosted by myself and other graduate students in my department who felt that they also needed remedial studies in physical chemistry. With us taking the initiative to set up the series, upperclassmen were more than happy to attend and provide us with their expert guidance in the subject.

When I discussed my values with my family and friends, it became clear that I was underestimating the importance of a work-life balance to my future happiness, as well as my own need for frequent communication and a feeling that my work was for the good of others. These discussions of my own personal values pinpointed potential career paths, such as teaching at a primarily undergraduate institution or working at a non-profit, that would likely work well with my skills and values.

At the end of the initial assessment, the picture of myself was a little hazy and my path was unclear. After discussing my results, I was able to go back through the self-assessment and reevaluate myself, taking into account other feedback and a renewed perspective of myself. With the revised table of my current skill set, I created a plan to improve my current skills and gather new skills for my future career.

Up next, hear from my colleague on the FELCOM Mentoring Committee, Dr. Alex Szatmary, about his experiences and advice for setting S.M.A.R.T. goals.

Additional Resources

Category: Careers