This Is Halloween

by J. Michael DeAngelis

Author’s note: A version of this blog originally appeared in 2012.  I was unfortunately reminded of this particular entry today after hearing about some very poor behavior from a student during their job search process.  Perhaps Halloween just brings out the worst in some people?

When I was little, I had what I think was the greatest record collection a four year old could have. One of the crown jewels of my collection was a Walt Disney’s Trick or Treat, which retold one of the great Donald Duck cartoons of all time:

Oh, Donald, you irascible mallard!

“But Michael,” I can hear you say, “what does this have to do with Career Services?” Well, there’s a lot that we can learn from Donald, especially when it comes to attitude. Donald thinks pretty highly of himself. His refusal to give Huey, Dewey and Louie any candy stems not just from selfishness, but from a feeling of superiority. The unabashed glee that Donald has in outsmarting his nephews and Witch Hazel is comically evident throughout, but what’s funny in a cartoon is often destructive in real life.

Now, obviously, I don’t think that any of you are planning to stick firecrackers in your recruiter’s suitcase. Still, I have seen many people on the job hunt sabotage themselves because, consciously or un, they exude a Donald Duck like attitude. I see this not only here at Penn, but also in my second career in the theater arts.

There is a very fine but distinct line between having confidence and being smug. For example, I was recently looking to hire a small staff to work with me on a project outside of Career Services. A young woman came to interview for a position and, on paper, she seemed perfect. Her resume was good and she seemed enthusiastic about the project. Within in minutes, however, my feelings had changed. She spent the entire interview talking about how she and her friends had been “robbed” at a local awards ceremony. She began by saying that she was smarter than anyone on the awards committee and that her level of experience should have made her their top consultant. I was immediately turned off. Talk about overselling yourself. Worse, she continued by openly bad mouthing those who had won awards – including people I considered friends. If she hadn’t done so already, this sunk her. A real Donald Duck.

Be proud of what you’ve done. Feel free to speak of your talents and achievements. Wow potential employers with everything you bring to the table…but be mindful of ego and hubris. In the interview room, don’t be a Donald Duck or, as the song says, “your nightmares will come true.”

Money, Money, errr…, Money?

Dr. Joseph Barber

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a funding version of LinkedIn, where you could provide details of what you wanted to be funded (e.g., you, your travel, your research), and then connect directly in a personal, one-one-one kind of way with relevant groups, organizations, or even individuals who had money they wanted to provide. Let’s call this wonder-website that doesn’t yet exist “FundIn”. Using this made-up FundIn website, and once you had created your personal and professional narrative on the site, you might even be approached by people who stumbled upon your profile, who see the great potential in your work, and who reach out to you to see if you would like to be funded. FundIn would be a melting pot of grant and fellowship seekers, professional associations, non-profits, foundations, private institutions, businesses, crowd-sourcing ventures, and philanthropists.

Talking of funding, surely venture capitalists would want to provide funding to this FundIn site because it would offer something that doesn’t currently exist, a one-stop shop for people seeking funding, and for entities trying to fund the best and most worthy individuals and groups. It would save everyone significant amounts of time. Since we all know that time = money, then FundIn would be an enterprise that is itself worth funding. Join me for a second in picturing this rosy future where FundIn is up and running, where researchers, scholars, and non-profits are easily finding the funding opportunities they seek, where there are thriving networks of people seeking funding connecting with those who have successfully received funding so that they can learn from any best practices, and where I have an enormous house somewhere in the vineyards of California funded by creating and bringing into existence FundIn

OK…, well that’s enough daydreaming. Let’s get back to the real world and figure out what you can do in this reality to navigate the rather more complicated and time-consuming process of seeking funding – a process that unfortunately doesn’t result in me having a large house in California…

A good starting point for your funding search are the funding pages on the Career Services website. You can link to the main funding page directly here. There is lots to see and do on this page, and we encourage you to explore these resources in more detail. You will find a couple of databases of funding sources – these are a good starting point for your exploration. Since the world of funding is a changeable one (money comes and goes, deadlines change, and so on), make sure you confirm any details you find in these databases by double-checking the details on the website of the founding source itself. We wouldn’t want you to miss any deadlines! Additionally, you will want to check out the online subscription we have to The Grant Advisor by visiting the online subscriptions page of the Career Services website. And don’t forget we also have some real, touchable, reference books in our Career Services library relevant to funding opportunities for you to look at. Stop by one day and browse some of these resources – while you are at Career Services you can drop in for walk-ins or make future appointments to speak with an advisor about seeking funding (or any other career-related topic) – and that’s not a bad way to make good use of your limited time!

Career Services works in partnership with the Graduate Student Center on many different types of programs – including one on “Navigating the Grant”. You can find previous funding presentations given at the GSC-organized Navigating the Grant conference here.

It is helpful to know what the different sources of funding are

• University (Department, School, student associations; student government)
• Professional associations
• Private foundations/individuals
• Advocacy organizations

…and what is typically funded:

• Types of research: humanities, social sciences, interdisciplinary research…
• Types of people: minorities, women, researchers from certain countries or backgrounds…
• Types of activity: travel, dissertation completion, fieldwork…

…because you don’t want to leave any stone unturned when it comes to finding the right source of funding for you. Look to your networks to find out what funding sources your peers and other Penn alumni have found. Connect with people who have already been awarded the fellowships and grants you are seeking, because they can offer you great insights into the process, and can talk about how they made a convincing argument to be funded. And above all…, always take the time to talk with grant coordinators and administrators. They are knowledgeable about every aspect of the process, and can tell you what types of proposals usually get funded, and even offer advice about how you might put forward the most compelling submission.

Remember…, the reason FundIn will be such a successful social networking platform (when someone decides to develop it) is that it connects individuals like you not only with information about funding opportunities, but also with the people connected to the funding sources (administrators, previous awardees, grant coordinators). It is the combination of knowledge about the different sources of funding that you can research, and the specific advice you can get from actual people (who can answer your specific questions) that will increase your chances of securing additional funding.

My Penn Path: Mary Xia

Last spring, we asked several current Penn students in the College of Arts & Sciences to talk to us about their summer internship experience.

We hope these brief interviews give you some insight into the many opportunities and career fields that await you out in the world!

Today’s interview is with Mary Xia, CAS ’16

xiaTell Us About Yourself

Name: Mary Xia
Hometown: Livingston NJ
Year/major/minor: Class of 2014, Major in Biology, Major in Computer Science, Minor in Nutrition

Favorite class/experience at Penn
Many. There are just so many opportunities to do pretty much anything here. One event (out of many) is being a Move-In Green Leader during move-in. We all recycled 20 tons of cardboard from solely move-in week in August 2013.

Where did you work and what was your job title?
I spent the summer between my Junior and Senior year participating in the Food Science Summer Scholar Program at Cornell University. I worked in a sensory research lab, focusing on how diet-restriction affects mouse taste receptor expression.

How did you get involved in your summer position?
I applied online to food science internships and jobs.

Did you have any background with this subject/field before?
I have been researching human taste receptors and taste perception at the Monell Chemical Senses Center since my second semester at Penn, and I have been interested in food science and nutrition since middle school. There was still a lot of novel material, especially as I was working with mice for the first time and on different pathways and lab techniques. However, food science is a really broad topic, ranging from sensory to food safety (microbiology) to food processing techniques (chemistry, engineering) and more. The scholars and I all had completely different projects across the spectrum, so there was definitely a lot to learn.

What was your favorite part of the experience?
Everything! Cornell’s Food Science department is incredible, and the entire program was extremely well-planned and diverse. I not only picked up how to get taste buds from mice tongues, but also had the chance to tour Kraft’s and Pepsi’s headquarters and learn about the industry. Most of the other scholars came from universities with Food Science programs, and it was fun to explore Ithaca with them. We also had a fantastic trip to Chicago for the annual Institute of Food Technologists Expo, a conference where thousands of food companies and academics gather to discuss food. I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better summer (except for more data/results).

What was something you learned/did that you didn’t expect?
Well, the entire summer was a learning experience, both in and out of the lab, so it’s difficult to just choose one. One nifty procedure I learned was how to obtain taste buds from the mouse tongue. You remove the tongue, peel off the top layer of the back of the tongue in one piece (the underside has the taste buds) and then suck up the taste buds using a little glass tip. This is all done under the microscope because everything is tiny. I also gained an industry perspective on so many topics, especially at the Expo where I talked to at least a hundred different companies about their products, processing techniques, and sustainability initiatives.

What was the most valuable lesson you took away from this experience?
I really enjoyed working with my lab members; everyone was extremely passionate, intelligent, and experienced. At the same time, they were willing and eager to try new techniques, figure out protocols, and read and discuss tons more papers. Scientific research is really frustrating when expensive experiments don’t work, or when results aren’t conclusive, and it really takes a lot of mental strength and passion to pursue this career.

How has this experience influenced your long-term career plans/goals?
I am certain that I like food science and its related topics, and that it will always be an interest/hobby of mine. In the future, I might migrate towards a career in food science or sensory research. For now, though, I will be working in an unrelated field.

The Urge To Do Something (A phrase I totally stole from Carol Hagan!)

By Anne Reedstrom

This particular time in the medical/dental school application process can be a tricky one. Your primary and secondary applications are completed, your letters of recommendation are in and you’ve done everything you can be the best possible applicant. Now there’s nothing else to do but wait – for interview invitations, admissions decisions, or some kind of correspondence from schools letting you know where you stand. Just wait. Wait some more. Obsess a little. Wait. Go on line and read posts from others about their processes (We know you do it. We just wish you wouldn’t because no good will come of it.) And then you wait some more.

And then it happens. You are struck by TUTDS. The Urge To Do Something. (Carol Hagan, 2012)

TUTDS is indeed a powerful force and is very common amongst pre-health students during their application year. The challenge is to wield it carefully so that it becomes a force for good, not evil.

Another "powerful force for good."
Another “powerful force for good.”

TUTDS can take on many forms, all of which involve contacting medical or dental schools in some fashion, with wildly varying results. Channel yours in a positive way by thinking about the goal of your proposed communication and trying to see it from the perspective of an admissions officer.

Your goal, of course, is to receive an elusive interview or, the even rarer offer of admission, so think about what kind of information an admissions officer might consider useful when making this kind of decision. Remember that they do already know a great deal about you from your application materials.

Would it be helpful for them to know how much you LOVE their school? Maybe, but lots of students LOVE lots of schools, so it’s not really going to help you stand out in any way.

How about “If you admit me, I will absolutely, positively enroll. I promise.” Much to everyone’s amazement-no. This is not helpful information because no matter how much you mean it at the time, you are a fickle bunch and change your minds as often as the wind changes direction.

So what is helpful then? A substantive update that adds something new to the pile of information they already have can certainly work in your favor. A new publication, a presentation, a promotion, taking on a new project, leadership position or activity, or an honor or award—all of these kinds of things are useful pieces of information to share, especially if done with an upbeat, concise and informative manner. (more from Carol!)

By all means, add a couple of sentences to your update regarding your interest in the school. It’s a nice way to round out the letter/email, which, by the way, should be no more than a couple of paragraphs. We are happy to provide feedback on update letters/emails.

The Urge To Do Something is difficult to resist, especially at this point in the application cycle, but if you do succumb, use the power for good and for the benefit of your candidacy.

Please also see Facing Winter Break without a Medical School Interview, a blog by Carol Hagan.

My Penn Path: Sarah Mann

Last spring, we asked several current Penn students in the College of Arts & Sciences to talk to us about their summer internship experience.

We hope these brief interviews give you some insight into the many opportunities and career fields that await you out in the world!

Today’s interview is with Sarah Mann, CAS ’14

smanTell Us About Yourself
Name: Sarah Mann
Hometown: Tucson, AZ
Year/major/minor: 2014, Anthropology major concentration in human biology, Nutrition minor

Where did you work/job title?
I worked in the Laboratory of Innovative and Translational Nursing Research as a research assistant and laboratory technician under the guidance of Dr. Joseph Libonati.  The laboratory research focuses on the mechanisms by which exercise training benefits the heart in a host of different diseases including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, myocardial infarction, and doxorubicin-induced cardiotoxicity (chemotherapy drug that has cardiotoxic effects).

How did you get involved in your summer position?
During January 2013, I began looking for research positions, particularly ones that would enable me to get lots of hands on experience and conduct my own experiments.  I was browsing through a list of research opportunities and came across Dr. Libonati’s lab and was eager to learn more abut his lab.  After interviewing and receiving the positions as research assistant and laboratory technician I broached the topic of a summer position with him, which he gladly offered.

Did you have any background with this subject/field before?
I actually did not have much of a background with either cardiology or exercise, though I was familiar with the cardiotoxic effects of certain chemotherapy drugs.  I had previously worked in two labs, though (genetics lab at the University of Arizona and a breast cancer lab at the Arizona Cancer Center) and was familiar with basic laboratory techniques.  While I did not have much prior experience, I did not believe that to be a hindrance at all with my work, as Dr. Libonati promotes an environment of hands-on learning.  I did have to complete a slew of primary training and become certified to work with mice.

What was your favorite part of the experience?
My favorite part of my experience working in Dr. Libonati’s lab was learning a variety of techniques that I can carry with me to different research opportunities I may have upon graduation.  I was certified to work with mice (running/training them on a treadmill for one of the research projects), learned how to perform cell culture experiments and even got to design my own – looking at the potential for glucose and insulin to mitigate the effects of cisplatin, a chemotherapy drug, induced cardiotoxicity on rat cardiomyocytes.  I also had the opportunity to learn and perform a rather unique technique, the Langendorff perfusion (isolated perfused heart assay) on rat hearts.  This technique is truly unbelievable as I watched Dr. Libonati perform surgery to excise the heart from the rat, and attach the heart to a series of tubing to perform the heart assay allowing the heart to continue to beat outside of the body (due to the infusion/flow of Krebs solution, which mimics the blood).  The Langendorff technique enables the examination of cardiac contractile strength and heart rate to be studied even during a scenario mimicking a heart attack (lowering or turning off the flow of Krebs solution).  I truly enjoyed learning all of these techniques and being able to actually conduct experiments rather than simply shadowing.

What was something you learned/did that you didn’t expect?
I did not anticipate learning about the statistical process of analyzing data or the process of writing scientific articles for publication.  However I am so grateful for having been given this experience.  I learned how to use STATA and which specific tests to run to analyze a set of data.  I also was able to participate in the process of writing a scientific paper for publication including data analysis, formatting figures, and actual writing of the different sections.  These skills are incredibly valuable as I continue to pursue my interest in research.

What was the most valuable lesson you took away from this experience?
The most valuable lesson I took away from this experience is that research does not always go the way you expect, your hypothesis may be proven wrong or even certain experiments may not run as planned.  Troubleshooting during these circumstances is essential.  Oftentimes research can be frustrating and I’ve come to realize that great determination and perseverance is needed to be successful in this field.  Success does not come without an immense amount of hard work and the drive and desire to see the project through.

How has this experience influenced your long-term career plans/goals?
My experience working in Dr. Libonati’s lab has actually come to shape my long-term career plans and goals greatly.  I have always been interested in medicine, however I had never given much thought to pursing a career in research.  After working in my lab I am confident that I want to continue performing experiments and contributing to the vast database of scientific literature.  I will be pursing an MD/PhD in my near future, attempting to combine my passion for nutrition with my interest in oncology.

What would you recommend to other students trying to pursue the Road Less Traveled?
I would recommend for other students to pursue a field of interest that truly sounds interesting to them.  That is, it is important to follow one’s passions.  I strongly believe that I felt so rewarded by working in my lab because I was very interested in the research we were conducting (looking at the effects of different chemo drugs on the heart).  Furthermore, though, and perhaps just as importantly, I think it is essential to find an opportunity that allows one to actually get hands-on learning.  While yes, one can learn by watching, learning by doing is that much more powerful.  I am extremely appreciative of my opportunity to work in the Laboratory of Innovative and Translational Nursing Research under Dr. Libonati and fellow researchers and hope that others will pursue their passions and the “road less traveled” – not just simply settling for any opportunity along the way.