The Way Will Open

This morning I had the pleasure of attending our graduation ceremonies, and hearing John Legend’s inspiring commencement address. That followed a weekend at my son’s college graduation at another university, where it was a pleasure to hear from additional commencement speakers, student speakers, deans and dignitaries. I have heard so much wonderful advice, heartfelt stories, lessons learned. And now I have to write a blog post for graduation day.

What is left to say? Only that all of us at Penn are so proud of you, our graduates, so lucky to have had the chance to work with you over these past years. We are confident you will do well, wherever life and your education take you. I hope we in Career Services and others here at Penn have helped you take this first post-Penn step. If you are still looking for or deciding on that first opportunity, let us know. We are here to assist, and our office remains open in the summer.

What if you are unsure if you have made a good choice in a first job, or a graduate program? Please know that there is not just one “right” choice. Move ahead and, to quote a Quaker saying, “proceed as the way opens.” What this means is “to undertake an action without prior clarity about all the details, and with a respect for the ambiguity of the process. There are things we don’t know, and can’t know. There are many paths. If you are not immediately on the right one, take a different one. As you go, you will gain the clarity that will inform your next choice, and the one after that. As one of the commencement speakers said, you can’t connect the dots of your life looking forward, only in looking back. So good luck. Do well (and do good). Trust that the way will open for you, as it has for so many other Penn graduates over the years. Congratulations.

And…, but…, so…, it’s story time

Dr. Joseph Barber

If you want to integrate a little drama or intrigue into any situation where you are talking about your research to a broad audience, then consider using the “and…, but…, so…” technique. It can be helpful in signposting the different parts of the narrative arc that you want people to engage with.

AND: this word helps to make connections between different facts, perspectives, occurrences, or experiences. Humans like to see how information is connected, and so there is nothing better than a few “and” words here and there. However, using “and” too often turns your research story into a shopping list, “…and peas, and carrots, and soup, and hedgehogs…”, and that isn’t interesting at all.

BUT: the use of the word but signifies DRAMA. Cue the spooky music. The other day, I was at the shopping mall, and I was looking for a new pair of shoes, and I was in the clothing department of Macy’s, BUT… I didn’t know that someone had cloned killer dinosaurs and released them into the mall the night before. Try replacing the word “but” in the last sentence with “and”. You can hear how the drama vanishes!

SO: you can also use “therefore”. If you’ve added some drama, then people will automatically start thinking about what happens next. Was I eaten by dinosaurs, did you research answer the question you had, were you able to find the data you needed? The “but” phrase is about challenges and obstacles. The “so” phrase is about you and how you overcame them, and about how you were changed by this experience.

Here is the theory in action. You might want to turn the volume down for the first video shown within the following video if you happen to be at work.

don’t blow your cover…letter!

If an employer has not previously met you, your application materials will shape his or her first impression of you. How you present yourself through your writing can make or break your candidacy. Take for instance the dreaded cover letter. Not only should your cover letter be error free, it should set the right “tone.” It’s easy to wrestle with how to highlight your qualifications without coming off as arrogant. After all, you want to show that you’re qualified for the job and someone who will make a great addition to the team! The first cover letter excerpt below illustrates the fine line between confidence and arrogance.

“As you will see from my resume, I have worked in the mental health field for many years and know that you will not find a candidate more knowledgeable about issues impacting children today. I am highly regarded in my current field placement and have been told by multiple supervisors that my skills will certainly be an asset to future organizations. “

Take two. With a bit of revising, an improved version reads something like this:

“With over five years of relevant experience working with children and families in the outpatient setting, I am confident that my clinical skills and passion for delivering quality mental health services will serve me well in the clinical social work position. Most recently, in my role as… “

As you’ll see in the second example, the applicant includes a brief statement of his own skills and interests rather than the praise of supervisors to begin highlighting his qualifications. Don’t forget that your references will do some talking, too. In a competitive job market you want to show you have the skills and experience as well as the ability to work well with others. As you create your own materials for the job search, be sure to review the sample documents and guides available on our website and schedule an appointment with a career advisor for assistance. We’re here all summer!

Working as a Medical Scribe: An Increasingly Popular Gap Year Job

by Mia Carpiniello

Are you wondering what to do during your gap year(s) before enrolling in medical school? Check out to this report from National Public Radio about the recent boom in medical scribe positions:

Paper records are falling by the wayside as medical electronic records have become mandatory under federal law. Doctors now have to input their notes into a computer to create a permanent digital record. Medical scribes assist with this time-consuming task by taking electronic notes alongside a doctor during her interactions with patients. As the NPR story highlights, medical scribes are in high demand these days with scribe staffing companies expanding. If you’re looking for extensive exposure to patients and physicians, this could be a rewarding and challenging gap year position for you.


Jobs Are Like Soccer?

600px-Soccer_ball_svgBy Barbara Hewitt

My daughter plays on a travel soccer team and yesterday we had an away game. The hour-long drive there was fun – everyone was in a good mood…the sun was shining (after a morning of rain),…and life was good. Not so much on the way home, after we got clobbered by the opposing team, my daughter got hit in the mouth after just getting her braces on, and worst of all (in her mind), she had to play goalie for most of the game because the team’s other goalie has been out for most of the spring season with a broken arm. While she is a pretty good keeper and the team really needed her in this role, it definitely isn’t her favorite position. We had the “pleasure” of listening to her complain most of the way home about how she doesn’t think it’s fair that she always has to play goalie, she’d rather play offense, she’s tired of losing, and on and on and on. (Any parent with a “tween” knows how this story goes….). Of course, there wasn’t much I could say as a mother that she as a daughter wanted to hear, but it occurred to me that the advice I gave her really wasn’t that different from the advice I give individuals in the working world…and since it is my day to write a Penn and Beyond post here goes….

Most jobs are a mixed bag. You may love your colleagues but dislike the commute. You might adore the work with clients but hate all the resulting paperwork. You may enjoy the new challenges every day but dislike the bureaucracy of the office. No job is perfect, but (just like a soccer team!) there are certainly ways to make your working life more productive and positive.

Be versatile. Make yourself valuable to your organization by being able to contribute in a variety of ways. Just as a soccer player who can play defense and offense can be especially valuable to a team in need, you can be more valuable by being able to fill in and cover an area when necessary. Cross training so that you will be able to fill in for a colleague who may be ill, cover a presentation on short notice, or run a systems report will make you a more valuable asset to your organization.

Be a team player. Instead of always thinking about yourself, don’t forget what the larger team might need. In our office, no one loves to clean the refrigerator, staff the front desk when our receptionist is out, or cover Saturday programs. Still, if everyone pitches in and takes on these tasks occasionally, no one get stuck with all of them and the effort is appreciated and recognized.

Be positive. Minimize the complaining and be a positive force. Constant negativity in an office (or on the soccer field!) can drain morale and lessen creativity. Be sure to add energy to the office instead of sapping it.

Ask for what you want. Of course it is important to do the job you were hired to do….but don’t be afraid to let your manager know if there are other tasks you would like to take on (aka “other positions you would like to play”). Are there new skills you would like to learn? A project that sounds interesting and fun? A conference you would like to attend? Your manager can’t help you reach your goals if he or she doesn’t know what they are. You may not get everything you request, but if you are someone who has shown versatility, demonstrated that you are a team player, and exhibited a positive attitude, chances are you will be more likely to be approved to work on assignments that pique your interest and those in which you will excel.