NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Senior Scientist

Name: Amir Zeituni, PhD

Job Title & Organization: Senior Scientist, Global Science & Technology

Location: NASA HQ

How long you’ve been in your current job: Since July 2013

Postdoc Advisor, IC (when at NIH): Dr. Carole Long

What do you do as a Senior Scientist?
I work as a Senior Scientist for a contracting company called Global Science & Technology in support of the Space Biology Program at NASA. My daily responsibilities change all the time, but basically I help the program executive do a lot of scientific analysis to make sure we have programmatic balance. The program executive in NASA fills the role of the program director/ officer at the NIH. We fulfill the role of science management: writing solicitations for science to be done on the International Space Station, and then hold peer-review panels to have the community evaluate the proposals we get.

Personally, I helped write the research funding announcements (RFA’s) or NASA research announcements (NRA’s) I don’t look at budgets but I will make recommendations and suggestions based on the types of science proposed to the program executive. In December and February, we just released two NRA’s back to back which is somewhat unusual for Space Biology. This requires a lot of writing to ensure that everything goes through legal, procurement and international affairs. We are finishing one of those calls now. What’s great is that we are involved in expanding a program and there are many exciting experiments being selected to be conducted in space. Since NASA is an engineering organization, we need to make sure that our biology work in space can be executed to the satisfaction of our PIs. This leads to a lot of lot of back and forth discussion and collaboration with the PIs and the engineers.

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

1. Critical thinking and analysis
2. Oral and written communication – I am on teleconferences and email all the time, so you really have to have a good presence.
3. Overall, you have to possess a good foundation of basic science research and what makes a good experiment and how to write a good grant.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I love the people I am interacting with; it is a really good community here. I also love that it is challenging and that everything is new, so it feels like a lot to learn.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
Basically I was trained as a microbiologist and an immunologist and the scope of what we are looking at here is huge. I’m looking at all life sciences, so everything from cell science to plants to invertebrates to rodents to humans. We are interested in all of it and it all falls under the umbrella of Space Biology. So, you really just have to get caught up and become proficient in a lot of different fields and sub-disciplines.

What was your job search like?
I was looking for program manager or senior scientist type of positions. I definitely wanted to transition away from the wet bench, so I was looking at what I could do in order to leverage my strengths and find a position that would make me happy. I spoke with a lot of different people who were either scientific review officers or program managers/executives at the NIH and in industry. I settled with something in the government that would be a good fit. After having more follow up discussions, they all basically admitted that in order to get your foot in the door, you have to be a contractor for a couple of years first and then you would be qualified and competitive for a position, sometimes the organization they contracted for would open up a position for them.

How did you identify this company and come to choose this as your next step?
I looked at the NIH OITE website a lot because they would post a lot of job opportunities. I also looked at Indeed.com and LinkedIn and had a search parameter that fit that bill. I had a couple of first and second round interviews with different contractor and different government agencies. What really helped me though was that I saw a position posted and then I got an email from another person in my network about the same position, so I used him as a referral to get in.

What was your interview like?
It started off with a phone interview and where I talked about my science and my general qualifications. That ended up being about a 45 minute conversation with one of the HR recruiters. I was then invited to interview with the manager at the contracting company, which was a more involved interview. I believe that was a three hour on-site interview. Then, I was invited to interview with the potential client and after that I had a follow up interview with the contractor. For this position, I had four interviews in total. I applied for the job in February and I started in July.

What are the most important soft skills needed for your position?
Interpersonal communications through and through – it’s how you interact with people and how you identify who will respond to different types of communication better. Knowing how the client likes thing and how I can get information from other entities is very important. For example, if I need something form person X, I fire off an email; however, if I need something from person Y, I will give them a call.

Any last bits of advice? If you had to do your search differently, would you change anything?
The only bit of advice is to do a lot of informational interviews. They really helped because I learned how to talk the talk essentially. Plus, it is a safer environment so you can ask a lot of the dumb questions that will probably not get you a job offer. I was doing a couple of interviews concurrently, so I ended up applying and learning from those mistakes, which all helped me eventually land this position.

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