The Training Page


Making the Most of Your NIH Experience


In the 21st 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 as 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 the 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, a postbac, a graduate student, or a postdoctoral fellow, make the most of your NIH experience. You must plan your time wisely and begin almost 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 and Education (OITE) encourages you to focus your energies on three major areas:

  • Doing outstanding science
  • Attending to your career and professional development
  • Exploring and contributing to the community around you

Career and professional development

Career and professional development begins with knowing yourself. Consider completing the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator, an assessment tool that will help you to understand your psychological makeup in terms of how you take in information about the world around you, how you make decisions, and where you get your energy. You can also make an appointment with an OITE 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 and 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 many times, and each transition will require that you return to these activities.

Core competencies

Core competencies provide an excellent way to look at career and professional development. Core competencies are primarily blends of skills and experience that future employers and/or educational institutions will be seeking. You should aim to build competence in career exploration and job-search skills; communication; writing; speaking; grant writing; communicating in English (if you are not a native English speaker); teaching and mentoring; and leadership and management. OITE offers programming in each of these areas. For details and links, go to

Make a plan

Because doing great science must be your first priority, you should not attempt to attend every workshop that OITE or your institute or center (IC) presents. You need to think about your career goals and the skills that will enable you to reach them. If you don’t yet have defined career goals, you will need to spend some time exploring career options before beginning to 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). Here are two resources: A free, online resource on the Science website, called myIDP; and a model IDP developed by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

You may want to talk with your PI or supervisor about your personal goals, both short-term and long-term, and also about scientific goals and career goals. Enlist her/his help in determining the activities that will best help you to meet those goals. A goal can be as simple as presenting a poster at Postbac Poster Day or as complex as developing a teaching portfolio. Write down both your 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 your IDP as needed.

Take advantage of all available resources

Many career- and professional-development resources are available both 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; NIH Scientific Interest Groups; videocasts of prior OITE workshops; the OITE Careers Blog; career-development activities in your professional societies; informational interviewing; and the NIH Career Symposium (the next one is on May 11, 2017, 8:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m., at the Natcher Conference Center, Building 45; to register go to

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. And, if you are also a parent, take a look at resources for parents.

For more information, visit the OITE website at