NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 19 – Group Leader, Center for Allergy and Environment in Munich, Germany

July 30, 2012

This is the Nineteenth 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: Jan Gutermuth

Current position: Group leader (Arbeitsgruppenleiter) of the Experimental Allergy Group, Center for Allergy and Environment (ZAUM), Technische Universität München and Helmholtz Center Munich

Location: Munich, Germany

Time in current position: 1 year

Postdoc: Mechanisms of immunological tolerance and their therapeutic modulation with Stephen I. Katz at NCI

My story: I’m a dermatologist.By the time I came to the NIH, I was in a pretty lucky situation. I had taken a step away from the clinic and had done a Ph.D. equivalent, which at that time was not well-regulated in Germany. Often, our medical doctors are sent outside their institutes for some time because our mentors want us to gain some experience and then come back. This was offered to me. Of course, there’s no guarantee there will be a position for you when you go back. For me, I was not 100% sure if I would go back to the same department or somewhere else.

Job search in a nutshell: I started to look for jobs once I saw my project at the NIH was running well and I was starting to write a paper. I considered staying in the U.S. But I didn’t have a board exam in dermatology that was recognized in the U.S. and I didn’t want to do my residency again. I always maintained contact with my home department in Germany, but I was also invited by other departments to give talks based on scientific presentations. Normally that means they want to interview you. Prior to coming to the NIH, I was active in the German dermatology and allergy scene, so they knew me already. I could have joined at least three or four departments.

Network, network, network: Mostly my conversations came out of real interest. If I’m interested, I will talk to that person. It has led me to the people I need to know. I’m a little bit hurt if someone networks with me but isn’t really interested. Of course, if you’re really good at networking, you’ll do more than I do. For me, it’s like a key and lock: it should fit.

The book How To Work a Room was very helpful for me.

Also regarding networking, I became friends with the Austrian embassy attaché and representatives from the European Union in D.C. They tried to recruit me. Washington has a lot to offer. You shouldn’t only stay in your lab at the NIH. It is such a rich scene with many scientists and politicians traveling to the area.

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Getting the Skills You Need

July 23, 2012

If you have been following our Calendar for Career Success in 2012, then July is the month where you should be making some decisions.  You have done some exploring of career options, gathered information on different jobs and interviewed a variety of people to gain a better understanding of what a particular job really entails.  You have spent the first part of the year getting to know yourself and your options.  You have broadened your ideas of what careers are out there for you.  Now it is time to start narrowing those options down to the ones you are really passionate about and to make a plan for how you are going to put yourself in the best position to successfully get where you want to go.

Here are a few practical steps you can take to get yours moving in the right direction:

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NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profiles 17 &18 – Assistant Professors of Medicine, University of Central Florida

July 16, 2012

This is the Seventeenth (and Eighteenth) 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.

Names: Mollie and Travis Jewett

Current positions: Assistant professors of medicine, University of Central Florida

Location: Orlando, FL

Time in current positions: 2 years

Postdocs: Mollie: zoonotic pathogens of Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) with Patti Rosa; Travis: intracellular parasites (Rickettsia rickettsii and Chlamydia trachomatis) with Ted Hackstadt; both at NIAID’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories

Our story: We met when we were undergrads in Vermont. We moved to St. Louis together for grad school, then we moved to the NIH together for our postdocs, and now we’re at UCF. We’ve been doing the two-person thing for a while!

Application strategy: Our strategy the whole time has been to end up at the same place. We each applied to opportunities as individuals without mentioning the other person. We wanted to feel we were selected based on our own merits. In 2008-2009 when we were applying for faculty positions, we cast a wide net with the hope of getting multiple interviews. We applied separately and kept separate binders. In the end, it turned out we’d applied to many of the same places. We sent about 50 applications and had about 7 interviews each. Six of those were at the same places, though sometimes in different departments. We both had at least one interview at a place the other didn’t. At that point, we did mention the other spouse. They only had one position available, so we didn’t move forward with that process. It was a deal-breaker if we did not both get positions in at least the same city.  Read the rest of this entry »


Get More Done: Take A Break

July 9, 2012

The title seems a little contradictory.  How is it that you can get more work done, but spend less time working?  According to a New York Times article about a study from the University of Toronto Scarborough, it is because small breaks make you more efficient.  The study authors suggests that the brain “becomes fatigued after sustained use and needs a rest period before it can recover, he explains — much as a weight lifter needs rest before doing a second round of repetitions at the gym.” 

So here are a few of the tips from the article:

  • Symptoms of needing to take a break are drifting or day dreaming.
  • If you are in “the zone,” keep working.  It isn’t working hard that drains your brain, it’s when you are forcing yourself to go on when you really need a break.
  • Taking too many breaks leads to procrastination.  So, be smart about it.  Everything in moderation

Here are a few ideas for break:

  • Go for a walk – Even just doing laps on your floor gets you moving and gives you a break from your work.  If you are at the NIH and don’t want to melt in this heat wave, consider walking the track in the basement of building 10.
  • Go get a coffee (or something else) with a co-worker – After all, you have to walk to where the coffee is and having someone with you makes it less likely you will just sit and start thinking about work.  According scientists who have spent time in England, many labs there still take a break in the afternoon for tea (or other beverage) for about 30 minutes.  In fact, there is often a break in the morning as well for around the same amount of time. 
  • Stand at your computer while you read the OITE Careers Blog – The article mentions that standing while doing your work can help relieve some of the brain drain.
  • Take a nap – We are aware this is not a culturally acceptable practice here in the USA, even if it is supported by science.  However, in other cultures a break in the afternoon to rest is quite common.  The Spanish Siesta is famous, and so I asked a visiting fellow and friend from Spain about how the “Siesta” works in the research community.  She pointed out the siesta is as much about food as it is about sleep.  The main goal is to sit down together around the table and have a meal as a family or group of friends.  If you can grab a siesta in that time, that’s even better. 

Working hard is a hallmark of the research profession.  Most scientists I know take a lot of pride in putting in long hours.  We are certainly not suggesting that any of us not work hard.  However, research suggests that taking breaks can help us work smarter as we work hard.  And isn’t that what we all want to do?

 

 


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 16 – Media Relations Representative, JHU Medical Institute

July 2, 2012

This is the Sixteenth 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: Vanessa McMains

Current position: Media relations representative, Johns Hopkins Medical Institute

Location: Baltimore, MD

Time in current position: 1 year 4 months

Graduate work/postdoc: Function of the protein complex g-secretase in Dictyostelium with Alan Kimmel at NIDDK

Day-to-day: I promote the basic science up at the medical school. It’s a small team. I do anything from writing press releases to leading media around with camera crews. I do a lot of Web work like design and updates, and I do a lot of Web writing. We try to promote our researchers to a non-scientific audience. We have pages called “Meet Our Scientists” where we do Q&As. That helps the general public understand the research that’s going on, or even postdocs who may be switching projects and may not be familiar with the terms. I also organize a yearly conference for science writers. And I run social media sites, like our Facebook pages. When I was looking for jobs, I wanted something that was mainly writing. This is maybe more like 30%—but that’s okay with me. I’m always stimulated. If I were writing all the time, I might get bored.

Finding the right fit: That was my problem in science—I got bored. As a scientist in training, you’re always learning new things, but after the first few years on a project, you know all the experiments you have to do and there’s nothing new. Every day felt like the same day. I felt like I was in Groundhog Day. Halfway through grad school, I started considering alternate careers. I went to all those events through OITE where people came in and talked about different jobs.

I had a friend who was in a science writing program, but I thought writing was a horrible task. I thought I might go into editing. There was an NIH group of mostly postdocs who would meet once a week and go over people’s papers and offer tips before they submitted to a journal. I enjoyed that, but I didn’t want to do it full-time. I realized I was becoming very picky.

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