Career Options Series: Bioinformatics

May 23, 2016

Thank you to all who voted! According to the poll, the career path you wanted to see highlighted was Bioinformatics. The second runner up was Education and Outreach, so we will be highlighting that field next in the Career Options Series.


What is Bioinformatics?
The fields of bioinformatics and computational biology involve the development and application of tools to make biological discoveries. Bioinformatics is being introduced to high school students in biology classes. There are undergraduate, masters level and Ph.D. programs that train student in these fields. See the International Society for Computational Biology  (ISCB) for examples of degree programs in bioinformatics and computational biology. In addition, some people enter the field as a biologists and some enter as computer scientists/engineers. According to ICSB, a solid background in both biology and computer science is extremely helpful.

Sample Job Titles
Data Analyst; Systems Analyst; Informatics Analyst; Software Developer; Biostatistician/Bioinformatician; Computational Biologist; Research Scientist; Bioinformatics/Staff Scientist; Gene Analyst; Research Assistant/Associate; Biologics Database; Programmer/Administrator; Computer Analyst/Programmer; Molecular Modeling Assistant; Software Engineer; Post-doctoral Fellow; Research Scientist; Senior Scientist/PI; Professor/Assistant Professor; UNIX/Linux Programmer; Computational Genomics Specialist; Bioinformatics Specialist
* Information compiled via an Indeed search in the Bethesda area

Sample Work Settings
University laboratory/faculty; Nonprofit Biomedical Research Institution; Pharmaceutical Company; Information Technology (IT) service provider; Biotechnology Company; Government Agencies; Government Contractor

Sample Employers
The Jackson Laboratory
Sanofi
Abbott Laboratories
Digicon
University of Nebraska Medical Center
Medical College of Wisconsin
New York Genome Center
University of Rochester
Leidos
Memorial Sloan Kettering
ACGT, Inc
OMNITEC Solutions, Inc
GenePeeks
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Craig Venter Institute
Department of Health and Human Services
National Human Genome Research Institute

Potential Topics/Areas of Specialty

  • Sequence analysis
  • Gene and protein expression
  • Structural bioinformatics
  • Network/systems biology
  • Computer science
  • Software development
  • Database management/programming

 Key Skills
-Computer programming knowledge – Python, Perl, Ruby, or R http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2791169/

-Basic knowledge of UNIX operating system http://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000589

-Good communication skills
http://bioinfonecia.blogspot.com/2011/06/10-useful-bioinformatics-skills-to-have.html

-The ability to multitask

-A working knowledge of biology/genomics

-Data visualization skills

How to get started
Internships e.g., Summer Internship at NIEHS, NCI, NHGRI

Professional Organizations
International Society for Computational Biology
The American Medical Informatics Association

Additional Resources
The National Center for Biotechnology Information
National Human Genome Research Institute
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Biostars Message Board

 

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OITE’s Career Options Series gives you a snapshot overview of different career paths. The goal of this series is to help you explore a variety of different options by connecting you to new resources.  A large part of making a good career decision is done by gathering information about that field.  We encourage you to follow up this online research by conducting informational interviews with individuals in each field.

 


Revealers and Hiders: Discussing Vulnerability in the Workplace

May 16, 2016

Discussing one’s weaknesses in the workplace can be a challenge, especially in the rigorous environment of research and academia. In a competitive atmosphere, students/trainees want to appear confident and skilled, and are hesitant to give off the impression that they are unable or unwilling to complete a task. Instead of communicating effectively, students often decide to cover up their weaknesses in hopes of learning new skills to move past them.

But is this strategy effective?

Dr. Brené Brown is a professor and researcher at the University of Houston who studies vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Her decade-long research on shame, composed of focus groups, interviews, and journal pages, showed a separation between people who had a sense of worthiness – who believed that they were worthy of love and belonging, and people who instead felt more shame and fear. Analysis of qualitative data from this cohort showed that they in fact live differently from the shame cohort– they live whole-heartedly. They had a sense of courage – as Brown puts it, “the courage to be imperfect.” This ability to “own weakness” gave them a sense of authenticity, and a capacity to be compassionate to themselves, which in turn led to a better sense of connection and compassion towards others.

Most importantly, Brown juxtaposed the outlook on vulnerability of this whole-hearted cohort to that of the shame cohort from her previous research, explaining “they didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating, as I had heard it earlier in the shame interviewing. They just talked about it being necessary.” As opposed to seeing vulnerability in a debilitating way, this cohort was able to utilize their weaknesses to make themselves stronger.

Research at the Harvard Business School extends upon this idea of conceptualizing and communicating vulnerability, concluding that, in fact, divulging unflattering information about oneself is perceived better by prospective employers rather than hiding it. Participants evaluated two different job applications that asked applicants the lowest grade they had ever received on a test. Revealer/Hider conditions indicated either a grade of an F, or chose not to answer. Participants had to estimate the actual grade, indicate which of the two applicants they trusted more, and select the candidate they were most likely to hire. On average, Hiders were deemed less trustworthy than Revealers, and were also less likely to be hired by participants, despite the fact that they were perceived to score higher on the exam.

Although divulging one’s weaknesses in a professional context – whether that is a job interview or on the job itself – can be hard to do, learning to utilize and effectively communicate weakness and vulnerability are crucial parts of working as a successful professional.

Mentors and colleagues can’t help you if you don’t clarify areas of need.  Doing so could lead to better suggestions and advice for your own professional development as well as an increase in your overall holistic health.


Science Careers in Industry: Top Ten Myths

May 9, 2016

Post written by Brad Fackler, MBAImage of a list with checked items. A pencil is to the right of the list.

When you have primarily worked in an academic setting, any other work path can seem like a confusing and scary venture. Many scientists consider career options in industry; however they often worry about what this transition will be like. Here are the top ten myths I often hear about an industry career in science.

1. I will have my project “yanked away.”

This thought is often repeatedly shared, but most of the industry scientists I have talked to have categorically denied this! In industry, projects often change for two basic reasons: 1. Your research was successful and the compound has moved on to a clinical trial.  2. Your project was unsuccessful and no further work is warranted at that time.  In both of these scenarios, an individual is generally given months advance notice for future planning. Moreover, you will likely be moved to a project where your skills and expertise can best be leveraged because most companies and bosses want employees who are scientifically engaged and happy.  After all, that helps with productivity in the end.

2. It is all about the money.

Funding is needed to make science happen, whether in the private or public sector and the total budgets between the two are pretty comparable. The fiscal year 2016 NIH research budget is $32,300,000,000, with this total accounting for extramural  (grants awarded to more than 300,000 researchers at more than 2,500 universities, medical schools, and other research institutions)  as well as intramural research spending.  In comparison, the sum of the top four pharma company’s R&D budgets in 2015 was $35,600,000,000. The breakdown is: Roche at $10.2B, Novartis at $9.3B, Merck at $8.2B, and Pfizer at $7.9B.

3. Industry conducts “bad” science.

Companies have to meet clear regulatory requirements by the FDA that academic labs generally aren’t held to. Development of drug therapy has virtually eliminated once common diseases like plague, polio, smallpox, tuberculosis, measles, and chicken pox. The average life expectancy after a cancer diagnosis is now greater than ten years.  With all of these advances, the average life expectancy in the US in 2015 is 80.6 for females and 75.9 for males. Compare that to the average US life expectancy 100 years prior in 1915 which was 56.8 for females and 52.5 for males. This increase in life expectancy has been attributed to better nutrition and the development of drug therapy.

4. I will no longer be able to publish.

Companies still publish findings. 5,585 science companies published 34,287 papers and 6,793 technology companies published 29,554 papers.  For example, in the first quarter of 2016, MedImmune had 40 publications. Industry scientists also report that the pressure to publish is diminished from academia and that is often viewed as a positive.

5. The work is not as satisfying.

Well, if you transition from an NIH lab to an industry bench science position, then you will be doing exactly the same things whether that is satisfying to you or not.  In industry positions, more emphasis is placed on meeting timelines and accomplishments, and most companies prioritize team work in a collegial work environment. If for whatever reason that doesn’t sound like a good fit for you personally and professionally, then it is might be necessary to question if industry is a good fit for you.

6. There is more career change and I’ll probably lose my job.

Most careers are full of change and even PI jobs change too (ex. Assistant – Associate – Full). Industry does offer multiple career tracks, including level and salary increases within the lab or the option to progress into management. You can also transition to other company functions.  Should you lose your job, most often companies offer placement services and severance options. Also, if working in industry, then it is likely that you are living in an area where there are other opportunities as well since most pharma and biotech companies are often clustered together geographically.

7. What if I hate it?

Many career decisions are fraught with worry. Remember that the choice you are making at the end of your training fellowship is for the next step in your career, not necessarily for the rest of your life. Pursuing an industry postdoc can help make you feel more comfortable about your decision to move into industry. Industry experience and pursuing new skill sets may help open doors to new opportunities and additional career choices, including returning to academia, which brings us to number eight…

8. I can never go back to academia.

In today’s environment, there is growing pressure to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of product discovery and development which often leads to public-private partnerships (PPP’s) and Industry-Academic partnerships like NCATS or Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP).  This has increased the flow of technology, capital, and human resources among the public, private, and academic sectors and has helped blur the lines of what used to be a bigger divide.

9. I will disappoint my PI and my graduate school mentors.

Even if it might not always feel this way, the environment is beginning to change. Faculty review panels are starting to give “credit” for non-faculty career outcomes. Similarly, PIs are starting to understand the shortage of academic PI opportunities and the benefits of multiple career options for trainees. Always remember, it is you career/life to live – not theirs. If you need help having this discussion with your boss, read this post on “How to Talk to Your Mentor about a Career Change.”

10. Not becoming a PI means I’m a failure.

It can be incredibly hard to reframe one’s internal thoughts about this; however, from an external perspective, this most definitely does not mean you are a failure. In fact, most employment statistics reveal you are in the majority. According to Sauermann and Roach (2012), more than half of entering biology PhD students had the career goal of becoming a research professor, but less than 10% of them went on to become a research professor.

Remember, that the best career advice often comes from people who are working within your aspired field/company/role, so if you are interested in industry, then talk to people doing that work. You might even find some of your own personal myths dispelled by these conversations.


How to Beat the Sunday Blues

May 2, 2016

Image of a sad-looking puppy with the words "I got the Sunday Night Blues"If you have a Monday through Friday job, then at some point in your career you have probably experienced the “Sunday Blues.” It often starts around Sunday afternoon with a slightly depressed feeling that your weekend is coming to a close. Along with sadness often comes an uptick in your level of anxiety thinking about Monday morning and the week ahead.

Sound familiar?

Many people think they are the only one who suffers from a feeling of depression/anxiety on Sunday, but this happens to a lot of people…even people who report that they generally like their jobs. Sometimes, even school children report this feeling of dread on Sundays.

Therapists and Sunday Blues sufferers have some recommendations on way you can help combat this weekly affliction. Here are some things to try out:

  1. Identify your Sunday Blues pattern.
    Recognizing that this is a common experience for many is one thing, but try assessing your own patterns and how your own anxiety/depression tends to manifests itself. Perhaps you feel lethargic or easily irritated? How have you been coping with these feelings? As with most things, the first step is having enough self-awareness to recognize that this is an issue for you.
  2. Is there an underlying issue?
    Sometimes the Sunday Blues seem like a general malaise about work, but it could also be indicative of something more. Sometimes the Sunday Blues are a natural dip in the weekly rhythm of life; however, you might be more prone to this weekly affliction if you suffer from depression and anxiety in general. The Sunday dreads could also indicate a work dynamic that needs to be addressed, whether that is a conflict with somebody in your office or the realization that you are unsatisfied and need to move on from your current job.
  3. Start preparing on Friday.
    Before you leave work on Friday, make a Monday morning to do list. Knowing that you took some time to get yourself organized for the next week can help you to feel less stressed when you get to work on Monday morning. Similarly, you might want to change your errand schedule. Most people use Sunday to grocery shop, clean, etc. which can contribute to the Sunday blues. Mix up your routine and see what works best for you.
  4. Make a new tradition – Monday Funday!
    Plan something fun for the beginning of the week. Some people like to choose one set Monday night activity, like watching a particular TV show or going to a bar’s trivia night. Or, you could change it up weekly. Whatever you do, find something in the week that you will genuinely enjoy.

What have you done to combat the Sunday Blues? Share advice with a comment below.


FROM THE ARCHIVE: Manage Your Time with a Tomato

April 25, 2016

tomatoHave you ever felt overwhelmed with all of the projects you are juggling at work, and as a result, felt that you weren’t doing any one of them as well as you could?  Perhaps you have felt swamped, juggling so many projects that you are unsure where–or even how–to start.

There is an intriguing time management tool…a tomato. Maybe you have heard of–or used–the Pomodoro Technique™, but its properties are quite simple and can be applied anytime, anywhere.

According to the website, “Creator Francesco Cirillo was a university student in Rome struggling to stay on task. He decided to challenge his powers of concentration using what he had at hand – a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato. That was the first Pomodoro (tomato in Italian). Bright red, iconic, and charmingly low-tech, it’s the perfect invitation for getting things done.”

Essentially, the technique involves writing a to-do list early in the day, setting your timer (kitchen, electronic, web-based, or otherwise) for 25 minutes, and focusing on only one task from your list during that time. When the timer goes off, you have completed one “pomodoro.” You put a check mark next to that task on your list, indicating the completion of one pomodoro, and take a 5-minute break. After that, you set your timer once again and go for another 25 minutes, again focusing on one task alone, though it may or may not be the same task you worked on previously. After completing 4 “pomodoros” in a row, you take a longer break, from 15-30 minutes.

The claims made on the Pomodoro website include:

  • “Enhance focus and concentration by cutting down on interruptions!”
  • “Boost motivation and keep it constant!”
  • “Refine the estimation process, both in qualitative and quantitative terms!”
  • “Improve your work or study process!”

This technique seemed so simple, and its claims so lofty, we had to try it out for ourselves.

Since we don’t have a pomodoro of our own, we opted for a simple online clock. Per the instructions on the PT website: list all of the projects on the “Activity Inventory Sheet,” and from those chose four tasks to list on the “To-Do Today” sheet.  Even thought the site offers worksheets, we used Excel to track projects. With the timer set for 25 minutes, we went to work. When the timer went off, we had a five minute break to grab a drink of water. We then reset the timer, and went back to work for another 25 minutes.

By the end of the day, we felt a great sense of accomplishment, having completed many pomodoros–and many goals for that day.  If you regularly struggle with internal interruptions (“What’s for dinner?” “What do we need at the grocery store?” “What time is that meeting again?” etc.), then this might be a particularly good technique for you.

We found the length of one pomodoro (25 minutes) so short that is was easier to fend off these interruptions. Conversely, the amount of time spent on one pomodoro (25 minutes) was in fact long enough to focus intently and not lose concentration on the task at hand. Further, knowing how many pomodoros a particular task actually took to complete was valuable information I used throughout the day and into the next.

All from one little tomato. Check it out and see if this time management tool works for you. If so, let us know with a comment below.


Are you a multipotentialite?

April 20, 2016

“The notion of the narrowly-focused life is highly romanticized in our culture. It’s this idea of destiny or the one true calling. The idea that we each have one great thing that we are meant to do during our time on this earth… but what if you’re someone who isn’t wired this way?”

This is what Emilie Wapnick asked in her TED talk entitled “Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling.” She coined the term “multipotentialite” and explores this topic on her website, Puttylike.

From a young age, we are asked what we want to be when we grow up and there is an expectation of a single answer. However, this often discounts an individual who has many varied interests and it doesn’t take into consideration that people often have many jobs (and careers!) throughout their lifetime now.

This lack of a singular passion often causes stress for multipotentialites, especially when it seems others (PIs, fellow med school applicants, etc.) appear to have extreme focus and drive.

If you have ever felt anxious about not having one true calling, then this video is a must watch.


Career Options Series: Regulatory Affairs

April 13, 2016

OITE’s Career Options Series will give you a snapshot overview of different career paths. The goal of this series is to help you explore a variety of different options by connecting you to new resources.  A large part of making a good career decision is done by gathering information about that field.  We encourage you to follow up this online research by conducting informational interviews with individuals in each field. Search the NIH Alumni Database to find alums doing similar work.


What is Regulatory Affairs?Image of the words "Regulatory Affairs" with two figures holding a puzzle piece
A profession that functions to apply laws, regulations, and policies to the development, production, and sale of products within regulated industries, such as: food, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, energy, biotech, clinical, and health care products. Why is it needed? To make sure company businesses/products abide by applicable regulations, laws, and guidelines in every country where a product will be marketed.

Regulatory affairs requires expertise from multiple disciplines, such as: research science, physicists, life scientists, chemists, engineers, pharmacy, statistics, veterinary medicine, nursing, clinical medicine, etc.

Sample Job Titles
Regulatory Affairs Specialist, Regulatory and Quality Affairs Analyst,  Policy Manger, Scientist, Regulatory Affairs Associate, etc.

Sample Work Settings/Employers
Regulatory Affairs in the Federal Government:|
FDA
– FDA scientists review test results submitted by sponsors, so that the FDA can decide whether the drug is safe enough for clinical trials, whether the drug can be sold to the public, and what should go on the drug’s professional labeling.
USDA – Inspect food safety, and collect and analyze surveillance data of foodborne outbreak; conduct studies such as evaluations, like Child Nutrition Studies or Food Security Studies in response to the needs of policy makers and managers.
EPA –  Assess exposure, hazard and risk of chemical substances and/or toxic substances; assess risk of environmental pollutants, and develop biological indicators.

Regulatory Affairs in the Private Sector:
Industry – Gather data necessary for submission to government. Manage process of regulatory approval

Consulting/Regulatory Affairs Services – Provide evaluation of the best regulatory path. May provide outsources submissions and follow-up services.

Key Skills
– RA needs individuals with backgrounds in biology, chemistry, engineering, information technology, pharmacology, quality, toxicology, clinical sciences, writing and management
– Knowledge of science, regulations, and policy
– Verbal  and written communication skills
– Analytical and organizational skills, including the ability to evaluate potential product candidates and trials
– Project and time management skills
– Computer skills
– People skills, including the ability to mediate and find common ground among interested parties (research, production, sales, marketing, regulatory agencies, etc.) and gain consensus

How to get started
• Commissioner’s Fellowship Program (FDA)
• CDER Academic Collaboration Program (FDA)
• CATO Fellowship
• Trainings:
– The Regulatory Affairs Professional Society (RAPS) Online University
– NIH FAES Graduate School Classes (Look at current availability but previous relevant classes have     included Inside and Outside the FDA or FDA Regulation, Industry and Hidden IP)
– Master’s of Science in Regulatory Affairs programs
• Regulatory Affairs Branch (RAB), NIH, NCI

Professional Organizations
The Regulatory Affairs Professional Society (RAPS)
The Organization for Professional in Regulatory Affairs (TOPRA)
The Canadian Association of Professional Regulatory Affairs (CAPRA)

Additional Resources
OITE’s How To Series: Regulatory Affairs, including an archived video, slides, and more resources!

 

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Coming up in the Career Options Series, we want to know what you which work path you would like to see highlighted. Take a moment to vote below:


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