Review of ResearchGate

March 24, 2014

Screen shot of a user profile on ResearchGate. The user profile highlighted is Ijad Madisch, one of ResearchGate's founders.Recently a few trainees have inquired about ResearchGate, so we decided to take a further look at this site. It was founded in 2008 by two physicians who discovered that collaborating with a friend or colleague (especially one across the world) was no easy task. They created this website with the intent of helping make scientific progress happen faster.

ResearchGate has been described as a mash up of familiar social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn because it contains profile pages, groups, job listings, the ability to leave comments as well as “like” and “follow” buttons. However, this social networking site is designed exclusively for scientists and researchers. According to ResearchGate’s site, there are four million users and their primary aim is to:

• Share publications
• Seek new collaborations
• Ask questions and hopefully receive answers from like-minded researchers
• Connect with colleagues

ResearchGate is free to join and members can upload copies of their papers. All papers will be searchable, which also allows users to track and follow the research publications of others in their field. Researchers are encouraged to not only upload successful results but those from failed projects or experiments, which are stored in a separate but still searchable area. The official mission of this site states: We believe science should be open and transparent. This is why we’ve made it our mission to connect researchers and make it easy for them to share, discover, use, and distribute findings. We help researchers voice feedback and build reputation through open discussion and evaluations of each other’s research.

Some critics of ResearchGate argue that even though the site states that there are four million users, it seems there are a lot of inactive profiles. Another criticism has focused on the fact that there hasn’t been much buy in from senior researchers meaning a high percentage of users are students or junior researchers. If you decide to create a ResearchGate profile, make sure you tailor the notification and privacy settings associated with your account since some members have complained about unwanted email spamming.

At this point, ResearchGate shouldn’t be the only site you use for networking, but it can be another helpful tool to connect with like-minded scientists/researchers and additionally it can be another way to help promote your work. As with any site, the more effort you put in, the more you will likely get out of this resource.

We would love to hear your thoughts about ResearchGate! If you have used it, what do you see as the pros and cons? Do you have any recommendations for future users?

**Compilation of Readers’ Reviews**

* In addition to networking, it is extremely useful as a research tool. A couple of points:
-When users sign up the website automatically adds the publications that have your name and appear in your profile, it also continues searching and when one
publishes an article it is also added automatically.
– It also suggests to connect with people that you cite and people who cite you so it is a tremendous tool to keep up with people in your field.
– People can ask questions about experiments and also get immediate feedback if they have questions about a publication instead of having to wonder.
– It allows you to follow senior investigators the same way one can follow a celebrity on Twitter, but there are no tweets and unless you ask a question all the conversations are personal,
there are no “wall postings.”

* It seems to be getting some traction with senior investigators. In the future, it may become more relevant to academia than perhaps LinkedIn.  Within ResearchGate, it is easier to connect with senior investigators because requests are not sent to connect, rather one just “follows” researchers.

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What’s Luck Got to Do With It?

March 17, 2014

Image of a green four leaf cloverIn celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, we decided to take another look at what luck really looks like.  If you search the word “luck” on this very career blog, many of the results include interviews with NIH alumni who have attributed some part of their career to luck. This is a small example which reflects a larger sentiment.  Many individuals feel that their career path has unfolded by chance and they somehow just got lucky.

In fact, there is actually a Career Development Theory of Planned Happenstance pioneered by Dr. John Krumboltz which supports this. You can read more about this theory in his book, Luck Is No Accident: Making the Most of Happenstance in Your Life and Career; however, this approach emphasizes the role of chance and taking advantage of unplanned opportunities that come your way.

The previously held belief that a career path unfolds as a set of steps within a linear process is constantly being challenged by today’s job market. So, how can you use planned happenstance to help create your own luck and turn seemingly random events into productive opportunities? According to Krumboltz’s theory, there are five critical skills to develop and utilize:

  1. Curiosity
    Explore learning opportunities — topics, occupations, hobbies and activities that are of interest to you.  Attend a presentation, sign up for a class, or do an informational interview. Increasing your exposure to more things increases your chances of discovering a new opportunity.
  2. Persistence
    There will be many barriers along the way — both internal (indecision, self-doubt) and external (job rejections, layoffs). The key is how you persist in your career exploration.
  3. Flexibility
    Sometimes the dream job appears at the wrong time or in an inconceivable location. Being flexible means being open to opportunities even when they don’t match our preconceived “ideal.”
  4. Optimism
    Avoid negative language that is global in nature such as “Things never work out for me…” or “I can’t ever do that because…” Verbalizing negativity contributes to reinforcing a cycle of despair.
  5. Risk Taking
    Challenge yourself to take risks that are manageable (but somewhat scary) to you. Taking a risk can mean any number of things to different people. For some, it could be changing their career path entirely; for others, it could mean talking to someone they consider intimidating. Whatever risk means to you, realize it is often a necessary aspect within self-discovery and a job search as well.

How to Prepare for a Skype Interview

March 12, 2014

Image of a laptop with a Skype video conference going on between two women.It is highly likely you have or will have a Skype interview at some point in your job search.  Budget cuts are making travel arrangements for in-person interviews prohibitive, so more and more employers are conducting initial interviews via Skype or another online video service.  Employers also feel that Skype helps them get a better feel for a candidate than a phone interview allows.

Here are some tips to take your next Skype interview from awkward to awesome:

  1. Practice first!  Do a trial run a few days before your real interview with a friend or a career counselor, and make sure you record it. Your first few video calls are bound to feel a bit uncomfortable as you figure out where to look, how loudly to speak and what to do with your hands.  Analyze your tape and adjust your actions accordingly.  It may take a few practice rounds until you feel comfortable.
  2. Adjust the lighting and background in your interview room.  Think about your surroundings and what will be visible on the screen.  It is best to be positioned in front of a wall free of clutter or personal items. Also, make sure your lighting is aimed at you and not behind you; otherwise you will appear as simply a silhouette.
  3. Find a quiet space.  This can be hard to do if you are interviewing at home with kids or pets running around, but it is imperative to plan accordingly for uninterrupted interview time. Make sure you also keep other programs closed on your desktop that might ding alerts about calendar reminders or emails. The interviewers will also be able to hear these beeps.  If you are having trouble finding a space for your interview, be in touch with the OITE and, if space allows, we will do our best to try and make an office available for your interview.
  4. Dress for an in-person interview.  Make sure you are conveying the right first impression and dress as you would for an in-person interview.  Even if that means a blouse and blazer on top and pajamas on the bottom.
  5. Don’t sit as close to your computer as you normally would. Sit a little further back so that your face and upper shoulders are in the shot. It can also be helpful if you position your webcam a little bit higher so you are looking up and not down. This can be easily accomplished by propping your laptop on a stack of books.
  6. Cover the image of yourself. If you find the image of yourself distracting, minimize it as much as you can. If you still find yourself looking at your image and not the interviewer, then put a post-it note over that window on your screen.
  7. Don’t forget to smile! Smiling often comes naturally in a face-to-face interview, but it can be surprisingly difficult to remember to do in both phone and Skype interviews. Smiling can help reduce stress levels and your interview anxiety; plus, it is a subtle but powerful way to convey your enthusiasm for the position.
  8. Have notes in front of you. The perk of a phone or Skype interview is that you can have notes in front of you without the interviewer realizing it. It can be difficult to subtly look down at key points during a Skype interview, so tape notes around your screen with important points you want to make or questions you may wish to ask.

As with all interviews, be sure to follow up with a thank you note to each person you spoke with that day.


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Staff Scientist

March 4, 2014

Name: Anna Burkart Sadusky, PhD

Job Title & Company: Staff Scientist, Omeros Corporation

Location: Seattle, WA

How long you’ve been in your current job: Over two years

Postdoc Advisor, IC: Jurrien Dean, MD; NIDDK, Development Biology Lab

What do you do as a Staff Scientist?
As a Staff Scientist, I initiate, direct and execute technology development projects.  Basically, I design and perform experiments at the bench utilizing hypothesis driven research.  These experiments include cell-based assays as well as animal research models to support our drug discovery pipeline.  As a Staff Scientist, I am expected to work independently and maintain a broad knowledge of state-of-the-art scientific principles and theories.  I am expected to write technical reports and present my findings to the research team on a routine basis.  I am also tasked with presentations to directors and senior members of the company, including the executive board.  As a small business, we are eligible for a number of public and private grants, so additionally, I am involved with grant writing to obtain funding for various research projects.  Our company also protects our intellectual property by filing a number of scientific patents, and I am responsible for writing the scientific background for several of these patents.

What do you research?
I was hired primarily to support G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) research and development.  GPCRs mediate key physiological processes in the body, and of the 363 characterized GPCRs, only about 46 are currently targeted by marketed drugs.  These GPCR-targeting drugs represent 30-40% of all drugs sold worldwide, thus there are a number of GPCRs that still could be targeted for drug development.  Omeros uses a proprietary high-throughput cellular redistribution assay to identify small-molecule compounds that target GPCRs.  It is our hope that these small molecule compounds will lead to the development of drugs that can act at these receptors which have been linked to a broad range of indications, including cardiovascular disease, asthma, diabetes, pain, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, learning and cognitive disorders, autism, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and several forms of cancer.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
Having such a broad scientific focus has been the hardest transition for me.  In graduate school and my postdoctoral fellowships, my research was focused to one field, namely reproductive physiology.  At Omeros, I am expected and relied upon to become the expert for several different research areas, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and metabolic disorders.  Even within cancer, my projects have targeted esophageal cancer, glioblastoma, and leukemia.  At Omeros, I have to be knowledgeable about these different research areas and I have to be prepared to leap quickly from one project to the next.  Additionally, although I have input on these research projects, ultimately the executive board makes decisions regarding which projects move forward through the drug discovery pipeline.

What are the most important skills that you utilize in your current position?
A strong understanding and foundation in the principles of cell and molecular biology are essential requirements for my position.  Being able to think critically and creatively is also important.  Staff scientists are hired because of their PhD training.  They are expected to work independently and efficiently.  Management and senior staff make important decisions regarding the direction of discovery research by relying on their scientists.

Flexibility and adaptability are also important.  As I mentioned before, as a staff scientist I balance several different research projects and I have to be prepared to move quickly between cancer research to central nervous system disorders to metabolic disease.  I am constantly reading papers to keep current with these research areas as well as up to date with research methods. 

What are the most important soft skills needed for your position?
Presentation skills are extremely important. I meet with many different people on a weekly basis, some of whom do not have a scientific background.  Therefore, my presentations must change depending on the audience, whether they are scientists, company board members, outside business people, or patent attorneys.   In any given week, I can present the same information multiple times with different presentations every time.

Writing is also an essential skill for this position.  As I mentioned previously, grant and patent writing are tasks that I am assigned.  Since we are a smaller biotech company (~100 employees), we are all extremely busy.  People rely on my writing abilities and do not have the time to rewrite material that leaves my office.

My best advice to postdocs is to sharpen these soft skills during your postdoctoral fellowship.  Force yourself to select oral presentations instead of poster presentations when you sign up for conferences.  Look for opportunities to write not just scientific papers, but also grants or articles for the general public, such as in newsletters or magazines.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I love that I am constantly learning in this position.  I get to research new techniques and explore such vastly different areas of science, which is very exciting.  Also, there is an immense satisfaction knowing that your research can one day lead to the development of drugs that can treat human diseases.

What was your job search like?
About six months before I moved to Seattle, my husband, who is an active-duty Army officer, found out that he would be stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), located approximately 40 miles south of Seattle, WA.  I started my job search immediately because I was unsure about the Seattle biotech job market.  Over this six month span, I applied to any science job that popped up in a 70 mile radius of JBLM, and in total I applied to close to 80 jobs.  I found many of the job postings online.  Additionally, I had been a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington in Seattle from 2005-2006, and I was fortunate to have developed and maintained a professional network here in Seattle.  These connections in Seattle kept me apprised of job openings and in some cases forwarded my resume directly to hiring managers.

During my job search, I was also fortunate to have attended several biotech job fairs in the DC metro area.  At one of these job fairs, there were companies present that had offices/locations in Seattle and I was able to speak directly with hiring managers for these Seattle locations.  These hiring managers were helpful because they told me that the hiring landscape in Seattle was very insular and that the PhD job market was saturated.  Many of the hiring managers mentioned that their companies were only interviewing Seattle-area applicants, and some job postings included that only local residents should apply.  In my cover letters I would emphasize that I was relocating to the area, including a specific time frame for my relocation, and also including a Seattle area mailing address (which the sellers of our house agreed to let me use two months before we closed on our house).

I found the job posting for Omeros online and sent my cover letter and resume to the email address they provided for the hiring manager. The hiring manger reached out to me after reviewing my materials and invited me for an interview the first week following my relocation.

What was your interview like?
I actually had a total of three different interviews.  In my first interview, I met separately with three people, including the supervisor for this position.  All three were interested in my research background, specifically regarding the scientific design and approach for my projects.  They also inquired about my reasons for pursuing a career in biotech and for my relocation to Seattle.  They were extremely interested in my publication record, specifically how involved I was in the writing, submission and review process.  Each interview lasted approximately 30-45 minutes and after meeting with all three people I was asked for a list of references.  After contacting my references, I was invited back for a second interview to give a presentation on my postdoctoral research at the NIH.  I met with all the senior scientific research staff, essentially everyone with a PhD in the company, including the original three people I had met during my first interview.  For my third interview, I was invited to meet directly with the CEO of the company.  Following all three interviews I was then offered the position.

In hindsight, how would you have done your job search differently?
In hindsight I probably wasted a lot of time applying to positions for which I was overqualified.  Because my job search was remote and geographically limited to Seattle, I applied to any scientific job posting in the Seattle area.  However, my experience in biotech has shown me that when a position lists a bachelor’s degree as the education requirement, there is little chance they will a hire someone with a PhD.  I probably could have eliminated about a quarter of the jobs I applied for if I had focused solely on the jobs that required a PhD.

I also would have reached out to more people for informational interviews.  I mistakenly believed that I had to meet with people in person for these informational interviews and rather than expanding my professional network, I relied mostly on prior connections.  In the past couple of years, I have been contacted for information interviews by numerous postdocs, and nearly all of these have been over the phone or email.

Any last bits of advice?
At the PhD level, you are no longer merely hands at the bench anymore. You will eventually play a larger role in making decisions for guiding research down the company pipeline.  Your time at the bench will diminish and you have to be prepared to go from the bench to the boardroom.

For your job search, don’t be afraid to reach out to people.  Most people are willing to share their experiences and to offer help.  It’s up to you to establish those connections.  Lori Conlan always emphasized the importance of networking.  Listen to her and take advantage of OITE and all of their resources!