This is the twentieth 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: Erika L. Barr
Job title and company: Co-director for NIH Community College Program & Coordinator of Special Projects, OITE, NIH
Location: Bethesda, MD
How long you’ve been in your current job: 2.5 years
Postdoc subject, advisor and IC: Laboratory of Immunology, Dennis Taub, NIA
How did you get to where you are now?
(Chuckling.) A lot of prayer. I was a biology major in undergrad. I went to a historically black college in North Carolina. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do after that so I taught sixth grade science for 2 years. I found that I enjoyed education, but wanted to teach older kids.
I talked to a former professor and mentor of mine and she encouraged me to get a Master’s in biology. That was huge because that was the first time I was exposed to real research.
I still wanted to have a small job while I went to school so I worked as an assistant coordinator with a math and science program for kids from underrepresented backgrounds.
Then, I decided to complete my PhD at Clark Atlanta University.
What did you find helpful along the way?
Networking and having awesome mentors both played major roles in my journey.
For example, towards the end of graduate school, I went to an international conference. During one of the activities, I met a PI on the bus and we began to talk. He asked me about my research and career goals, and I gave him my little elevator speech. He asked me, “Well, what do you want to do next?” I told him that attending that meeting had really made me want to do research abroad. By the end of the conversation, he had asked me if I would be interested in going to West Africa to do trachoma vaccine research. So, I did a short postdoc for him through the Medical Research Council/London School of Hygiene and Tropical Disease before coming to the NIH for my postdoc here.