NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Health Science Analyst

Name: Danielle Daee

Job Title & Organization: Health Science Analyst, Office of Science Planning and Assessment, NCI

Location: Bethesda, MD

How long you’ve been in your current job: Since August 2012, so not quite two years.

Postdoc Advisor, IC (when at NIH): Kyungjae Myung, NHGRI

What do you do as a Health Science Analyst?
In our office, we do a lot of portfolio analysis, evaluation, program coordination and strategic planning. I largely focus on program coordination, portfolio analyses, and program evaluations.

Our office responds to requests for information about the NCI portfolio, which come from various interested parties like NCI senior leadership, NIH, and Congress. For example, how much are we spending on gastric cancer? What kinds of investments do we have in that field? Often, these requests require us to contact individual programs in NCI to coordinate and consolidate a response from across the Institute. I also coordinate the annual update of the Cancer Snapshots (http://www.cancer.gov/researchandfunding/snapshots), which requires coordination across the Institute and taps into my scientific expertise and writing skills.

In addition to smaller requests, we are often asked to create more comprehensive analyses of the NCI portfolio and to evaluate aspects of NCI’s return on its investment. These efforts involve a variety of analyses of grant data, clinical trials data, and bibliometric data. Our office also consults with individual programs to help them assess and/or evaluate their own portfolios.

What are the most important skills that you utilize in your current position?

Organizational skills are extremely important because there are a lot of meetings (so many!) and you have to juggle multiple projects that progress in parallel. On top of that, I do many activities that require scientific expertise and data analysis expertise using Excel.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I get to touch a lot of different types of activities. I do a lot of portfolio analysis and I also do quite a bit of science writing. Our office is within the Office of the Director, so we get a broad view of what NCI is doing and I appreciate that big picture perspective.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career? What are some of the challenges you face?
I would say that the hardest part was finding the best way to organize myself and stay organized. It took me a while to get there. Also, there’s a lot of institutional knowledge that you need in order to perform well in this position. It’s something that you develop over time, but coming out of the lab it was frustrating that I couldn’t just read bunch of papers to get up to date on this field. NCI is a huge Institute and I needed to be involved in multiple projects, go to a lot of different events, and listen to a lot of folks to get a feel for what is happening across the Institute. I’m nearly two years in and I’m still learning new information every day.

How did you come to choose this as your next step?
I did a detail in the NIH Office of Extramural Research. At the time, I was just interested in getting any experience outside of the lab. In my detail, I got a taste of how things function outside the lab (meetings, meetings, meetings!) and became familiar with the systems that are used to analyze and track applications and applicants. When I saw this posting on USAJobs, I recognized a lot of the things that they were asking for, so it seemed like an obvious fit.

What was your job search like?
I set up some canned searches on USAJobs, Idealist, and Science Jobs. Each day I would get an email with a list of jobs that had opened up. I also periodically checked contractor sites like Kelly Services or other companies that I thought would be a good fit (like HHMI). I searched for maybe a year before I found something. I applied to anything of interest. In all, I applied to 21 federal jobs and several non-federal jobs before I got a job. Although I got a few non-federal interviews, this position is the only federal position for which I was interviewed. I think I suffered from not having a well-structured federal resume—developing one is an art!

Did you change your resume for each job?
I tweaked my resume to fit the jobs that I applied for. I would say that by the time I got to the negotiation phase for the job I ended up getting, my resume was not written in a way that allowed me to get everything that I could have potentially gotten. That was one lesson learned from the process. I wish I would have seen this videocast (http://videocast.nih.gov/Summary.asp?File=18452&bhcp=1) a few years ago when I was applying.

Once you made it through the first rounds, what was your interview like?
I had two panel interviews. My first interview was the senior staff of my particular branch and then the second was the senior staff across the office. The interviews were really good. I honestly think that once you get past the USAJob and HR-process, the interview isn’t that hard. The hardest parts are getting referred and getting an interview. Getting referred is very, very hard, but having a good federal resume helps.

Did you utilize your network in this job search?
I didn’t know anyone in the office directly. Contacts made through my detail helped because my current supervisor actually knows the person that I did my detail with and was familiar with her office’s work. He realized that the work in his office would be very similar and I think that was a key factor for getting an interview. That would have been post referral though, so I don’t know how I got referred.

What are the most important soft skills needed for your position?
There is a fair deal of networking and interpersonal skills necessary to be really successful. The type of work we do requires a lot of coordination so you have to nurture a lot of good will with the people you are reaching out to for information.

If you had to do your search differently, would you change anything?
Yes, I think I went into this entire process a little too naïve. I am still naïve about a lot of the different types of positions that are available at the NIH and I think I should have done much more of a thorough informational interview process to see what is out there.

I went to job fairs and events from OITE, but I never had a really good handle on what these job descriptions meant, especially when looking at USAJobs. Right now, I am in a great position because I get to interact with so many people, so I can have a better sense of what is out there. Honestly I don’t know how I could accomplish that as a postdoc. The only way I think I could have gotten this information would be through informational interviews with a bunch of people not knowing whether I would be interested in what they did or not.

There are a lot of different titles on USAJobs — Program Analyst, Health Science Analyst, Health Program Analyst, Health Program Administrator, etc. I spent a lot of time worrying about what each title meant and who would be a good fit for that position. I don’t know if there is a formula at the HR level that says how these roles are differentiated; my sense is that there is. If we had more information about that, it might empower postdocs to go out there and seek out people who are in the roles that they are most interested in.

Any last bits of advice?
NCI and NIH and all of the other Institutes are filled with former postdocs that somehow got out of the lab and they are so willing to help out other postdocs who are trying to do the same. So, by reaching out for informational interviews, you will find that there are many more receptive people than you might expect.  Also, end every informational interview with one question—“who else would you recommend I talk to?”—and keep the process moving.

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