NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 2-Science writing

September 23, 2011

This is the second in a series of profiles about recent NIH postdocs who have found an array of jobs, from academia to industry to communications and beyond, in the U.S. and abroad. What do they do now, and how did they get there? What challenges did they face, and what advice do they have? Read on to find out.

Name: Jennifer Crawford

Current position: Technical writer, Office of Communications and Education, NCI

Location: Macon, GA

Time in current position: 1 month

Postdoc: Tumorigenesis and prolactin signaling in breast cancer, with Barbara Vonderhaar at NCI

My story: I didn’t think I wanted to do research, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I thought I’d see what panned out. I joined AWIS [the Association of Women in Science] and went to OITE career events. I did a personality assessment with an interest inventory, and a lot of things came up in communications—talking about science rather than doing science. 

I didn’t realize this right away, but I like to finish things. I want to point to something in my hands at the end of each day and say, “I did this.” Being in the lab, nothing ends. Even when you publish, there are always more questions to answer and more you could do. That’s great if that’s what you like to do, but if you’re like me, it can be frustrating. My favorite thing in grad school was sitting down for one month and writing my dissertation—saying why I did what I did and what it means. It made me think, well, maybe writing is something I want to do. 

Network, network, network: I sent out a lot of emails trying to figure out what to do. I went on informational interviews. Everybody was really open to talking about what they work on. I talked to people who did policy, communications, journal editing… It didn’t require hours and hours—just meeting people for lunch or grabbing coffee and asking what their day-to-day is like, what they like and don’t like about their job. You’ve got time in your day to do that.

Change takes effort: People recommended that I get some experience. I got involved with the NCI Knowledge Management mentoring program and did some writing for OITE. That was the first year they had the career symposium, and I helped write and edit articles about it. I wrote an article about Community College Day for the NIH Catalyst. I did lots of small articles like that. I was surprised how many people were happy to let me write something for them.

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Job Searching in an Uncertain Economy

September 14, 2011

If you are currently searching for a job, it’s hard to avoid pessimism about the state of the US and international economies.  Even so, it is important to be realistic and flexible in your job search. It is also important to be positive and targeted.  Through research about employers, and networking with professionals in fields that interest you; you can identify and possibly create new opportunities for yourself.

It is important to network and seek advice from people who work in job settings and career areas that match your goals.   

How can you do this?

  1. Some ways to identify professionals to contact for informational interviewing include LinkedIn (don’t forget to use groups like the NIH Intramural Group on LinkedIn or ones specific to your career path), the NIH Alumni Network for fellows who have left our hallowed halls and other professional association/society networks (utilize your membership to search for fellow members, it gives you a good starting point for your conversation). 
  2. Informational interviewing can help you tremendously, for a primer on the topic see this handout:
  3. Ask for help: if you are an NIH Intramural fellow make an appointment with an OITE Career Counselor
  4. Read other articles with suggestions about planning your job search.  Science Careers and are the pioneers in publishing career information for scientists.  For fellows looking for a career in academics, the Chronicle of Higher Education has always been a resource for career hunting (There are also many new kids on the block such as, New Scientist , and more.  Do you have a favorite that we have not listed?
  5. Learn from books about networking: Power Networking by Donna Fisher and Sandy Vilas and Networking for People Who Hate Networking by Devora Zack are two good options available in the OITE Career Library in Building 2.
  6. Review the OITE Upcoming Events Calendar for career panels and presentations:
  7. And past events that have archived material:

Any more suggestions for our intrepid readers?

NIH Alumni: Where are they now?

September 9, 2011

This is the first in a series of profiles about recent NIH postdocs who have found an array of jobs, from academia to industry to communications and beyond, in the U.S. and abroad. What do they do now, and how did they get there? What challenges did they face, and what advice do they have? Read on to find out.

Name: Nicholas Mitchell

Current position: Assistant professor at St. Bonaventure University

Location: St. Bonaventure, NY

Time in current position: 10 months

Postdoc: Adult neurogenesis as a potential therapy for cognitive deficits, with Henriette van Praag at NIA

Job search in a nutshell: I went to the NIH after completing a one-year visiting professorship. I decided to do a postdoc largely based on the realization that I needed to retool and complete my research training to be competitive for tenure-track faculty positions at undergraduate institutions.

I was really aggressive in my job search, going to sources within and beyond the NIH. I asked people in academia and industry about what key functions and tasks were required to be successful in the jobs I was interested in. I interviewed for faculty and administrative positions in academia. I also considered alternate careers that emphasized the business and managerial sides of science. Ultimately, I chose academia because I thought it encompassed most of what I was looking for.

Go back to the beginning: For people struggling with finding a job or choosing between options, go back as far as you need to to identify the people who excited you. That should give some indication of where you want to go. I honed in on becoming a professor by listing my five most influential role models. They were coaches, teachers and professors. Open yourself up to all the people you’ve encountered and the career possibilities available to you.

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Families and Training: Finale

September 2, 2011

For the final post of our conversations with NIH trainees about having a family during their training period we asked:

Do you have any advice for NIH trainees thinking about starting a family?

Their answers: 

Anna: Find a daycare that you are 100% comfortable with. Accept that your child is going to get sick and you will have to miss some work. Plan ahead with your spouse what you are going to do if the child gets sick or if the child’s day care is closed for whatever reason. If you can afford to have people help you out at home (ie- a house cleaner), do it.

Natalie: The key thing is learning how to stop thinking about kids while at work and to stop thinking about work with the kids.

Michael: Surround yourself with other cooperative colleagues, and your chances of success are improved.

Mark: To keep my productivity at normal-ish levels has taken discipline.  I prioritize ruthlessly—taking on only maybe 1 in 10 projects that are brought to me.  I say no to bad projects even if it hurts my relationships with mentors.  The way I figure it, a post-doc only has his/her time.  Allocation of this scarce resource is the only determinant of whether a post-doc succeeds.

Stephanie: I was a postdoc for a little more than two years before my first son was born. This gave me time to get acclimated to the new lab and model organism, and bring one project to completion. I think it was a great decision to give myself a little while to adjust to the postdoc before bringing a baby into the mix.

Liz: I once attended a work-life balance seminar where an audience member asked the panelist how to know if when it was a “good time” to start a family since each stage of the research career track comes with obstacles.  The panelist responded: “The best time to have children is when you and your partner decide it’s time to have children.”  Her response resonated with me because there’s clearly no one correct answer.

 What advice would you add?