LinkedIn and Tuned-In: How Social Networking Helped a Post Doc Alumna Find an Industry Job and Her Authentic Self

July 17, 2017

Post Doc Alumna:             Anu Nagarajan, PhD

Industry Position:            Senior Scientist

The OITE interviewed a NIH postdoctoral alumna who successfully landed a position in industry.  She shares her career exploration process, job search strategies, and knowledge that she gained about her employability as a professional scientist.

OITE:   Tell me the story about how you began to search for career options as post doc.

Anu:   In 2015 I started to feel a bit lost as a post doc.  I needed mentorship and wanted to know more about a broad range of related careers.  Simultaneously, because I had a newborn, I was also struggling with making a career choice for my family.

OITE: How did you go about getting the help you needed?

Anu:   Job search is a job in itself and managing multiple active projects in the lab, while figuring out strategies to manage both family and work left me feeling like I could not invest the much-needed time to do a job search. I did some soul searching and determined that there was a mismatch between my personality/values and the career and the work life balance I was seeking. It takes a while to figure out which components of your skills and interests you want to carry forward in your career, especially when you are trying to figure out a new career path for yourself.  So, I met with an OITE Career Counselor and began to learn about myself, my skills, and MBTI and I learned that I can do a lot of things that aligned with my values and personality.  These included, education, outreach, helping, mentoring, giving to others plus research in the sciences.  When I told my career counselor that I did not have the time to search for a job on top of my other work commitments, my career counselor advised me to create a Linked In account in order to easily explore jobs and easily create an online network.  I put in all the skills I have and want to carry forward.

OITE:   That is true, social networking sites like LinkedIn are potentially efficient ways to increase your visibility and connect virtually with colleagues and potential employers.  Was it difficult to complete your profile?

Anu:  It was hard for me to do this because I had to put my accomplishments out there!  At that time, I didn’t feel I was strong enough, honestly because when you are juggling at lot at work and personally, it’s hard sometimes to see how many skills you actually have. So at that time I didn’t feel that I was “up to the mark. “

Shortly after I completed my profile.  I felt good about my achievements as I populated the skills sections with science and other accomplishments. Soon after, people began endorsing me on LinkedIn and began adding me to their Profile which was great!  I added peers, faculty, and members into my LinkedIn network. I also joined the professional groups, where I went to grad school, worked previously, and professional organizations.

OITE:  What else did you learn by using LinkedIn?

Anu:  An unanticipated side effect of this was that is that I became more confident of myself!  I got 4 papers out, I went to conferences, and added researchers and representatives that I met from pharmaceutical companies to my LinkedIn links. I also started using the NIH Alumni Database. I met a professor on faculty at a local university who added me to his LinkedIn page who later became a key link to several more opportunities.

Talking to other people was so motivating to me!   To see how other people viewed me was huge!  This helped me to stay motivated, have a more realistic idea of who I am.  I realized that I am good at a lot of things.   The first thing I wish to share is that it is important to reach beyond your immediate lab group to gain perspective on your strengths. Your lab group might be great in giving feedback about your work, but you need a wider network of people, other scientists, mentors, and peers to endorse your skills and later promote you.

OITE:  How did LinkedIn help you land an industry position?

Anu:  I got a message through LinkedIn from an HR manager at a major scientific company who asked if I am interested in the company, to send her a CV and she set up a meeting with one of their group leaders.   I agreed, and during the discussion, I learned more details about the position and the areas of expertise they were looking for. The group leader was also in the same professional network as my other peers, so they already knew about my background and training.

Next, the HR manager and group leader invited me to give an on-site job talk to the group about my research and met meet one-on-one with the scientists, all of whom had PhDs and postdoctoral experience.

OITE: Was it a traditional job talk format like in an academic interview

Anu:  Yes, it utilized a job talk format.  Since this is a software company whose products are used by pharmaceutical companies for drug design, I focused my talk on my problem-solving skills, where I highlighted several methods I have used over the years to address many scientific problems, including some related to drug design.  Their science is solid and accomplished.  I hold them in high esteem.  Their products are state of the art and I have used them before as well.

After this interview, I proceeded to candidacy. I provided my references who included my doctoral academic advisor, a mentor and senior professor who knew my skills, and my current PI at NIH.  The following week, I was offered the job by the group leader who said, “we’d love to have you, we hope you will take the job!”

I negotiated for two weeks to evaluate the offer. During this time, I obtained more input about their research by talking to other members of the team. I also talked with my partner about the offer and what we needed for our family.

OITE:  When you talked with them, did you decide to negotiate?  If so were you able to negotiate everything that you needed?

Anu:   Yes except I must relocate to the city where they are headquartered.  However, I negotiated a later start date so that I had time to locate housing for my family. I also received time to attend conferences, publish, to work from home and telework which will contribute to work and family balance.

OITE:  What words of wisdom would like to share with fellow scientists from your experience launching a career search and landing an industry position?

Anu:   My main message is, feel confident about yourself and your accomplishments. A person who didn’t know me reached out to me through LinkedIn.  Networking is about being yourself and knowing what you are capable of.  It is important to have people who are impressed by you and promote you in your network.  Finally, I learned that I interviewed more confidently because I was being my authentic self.

As scientists, we have a one-track mind and think we only a few career options that will work for us. But once I started talking to people, I figured out what my priorities were in terms of what values, skills, and interests I wanted to carry forward in my career. OITE workshops and staff were a huge help!  Look up people on NIH Alumni database and cold contact them for informational interviews. Usually, people are open to informational interviews because you are from NIH. It’s not weird (I used to think so).

Please visit the OITE for more information about career counseling and other services for NIH trainees and fellows.  We also encourage fellows and our readers who are not with NIH to access services through your college or university or in your communities.

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3 Tips for Optimizing Your LinkedIn Profile

August 28, 2014

For better or worse, LinkedIn has become the new résumé and whether you like it or not, you are being searched online. Generally, only the top four or five results are being reviewed, so it is imperative that you use your LinkedIn profile to optimize your online presence and control your professional branding.

Not on LinkedIn? Well, your lack of a presence says something too, especially with 60 million users in the United States. If a recruiter can’t find you on LinkedIn, they might falsely assume you aren’t tech savvy or that you have antiquated views of the world of searching for work.

When utilized during a job search, LinkedIn can be a powerful tool and it is crucial to make sure your LinkedIn profile is professional and up to date.

Here are some more tips for optimizing your LinkedIn profile:

  1. Upload a photo.
    Many people have concerns about uploading a photo to LinkedIn, especially since photos aren’t usually included on résumés or CVs in the United States. Worries about ageism, racism and sexism obviously trump more innocuous concerns about simply not being photogenic.  Ageism, racism and sexism are all extremely valid concerns within any job search; however, the benefit of a photo is that it makes you human and not just a hyperlink. Profiles with photos get clicked on seven more times than those without.An image of a LinkedIn page with yellow and orange spots showing where recruiters looks the most. Further highlighting the importance of a photo on your profile can be seen in a study done by Ladders which used heat maps to review the eye tracking techniques of thirty recruiters over a ten week period. They found that recruiters spent 19% of their total time looking at your picture. Where did they look next? Your summary, so…
  2. Avoid long, boring summaries.
    Your summary is not meant to be a data dump or a novel of long paragraphs that will potentially overwhelm, or worse, bore the reader. There are two possible solutions. Solution A. Keep it simple with one sentence, which will hopefully encompass great keywords and will encourage the reader to keep scrolling down to read more. Solution B. Use an overarching key statement and then bullet points.
  3. Make sure your groups add to your brand.
    Groups are a great way to connect with like-minded individuals; however, being a member of too many disparate groups can begin to dilute your professional branding. An easy fix is to go in and make some of your group memberships invisible. To do so, simply go to the group section within your profile and you will see a visibility setting which you can adjust by unchecking the box “Display the group logo on your profile.”

Finally, another way to optimize your LinkedIn profile is quite simple: use it more. The more you use LinkedIn, the better it works. By doing some searches for jobs, groups and even people, LinkedIn will begin to recognize what you are looking for and it will offer suggestions. An additional way to increase your visibility is to participate more by asking thoughtful, professional questions to your groups and/or by commenting on industry-specific articles.

With that advice in mind, what other LinkedIn tips could you share? Feel free to share any comments in the OITE NIH Intramural Science group on LinkedIn.


How I Used LinkedIn to Get a Hiring Manager’s Attention

April 2, 2014

Part one of a two-part series written by guest blogger Dr. Phil Ryan, Director of Student Services at the Office of Intramural Training and Education.

I am in an enviable position because I love my job. Regardless, we should all be looking forward in our career and thinking about what the next step entails. While I am not actively pursuing new positions, every now and then a job posting comes to my attention and piques my interest. I am sure many of you have had a similar experience. Usually the scenario goes like this: you see the job title and it sounds like something that really interests you. Next, you click on the posting and read the job description and you really love what you are reading. Then, you scroll down to the qualifications section and your heart sinks a little bit. The degree and field in the education section does not match your own. The position description lists years of experience that you don’t have on your resume and the wording they use does not match any of the official titles you can list on your resume.

The truth is if you submitted your resume through the normal channels, it would not get forwarded on to the hiring manager for them to review. But, you feel certain you can do that job, do it well and really enjoy it. This experience recently happened to me and I want to share how I used LinkedIn to overcome some of these barriers in order to grab the attention of the hiring manager before I ever submitted my application.

Step 1: Get Prepared

The first thing I did was find the Web page for the department in which this position was located. In many job postings it will list the title of the person that position reports to. Sometimes, it just lists the department the position will be in. Either way, with a little searching online you can often find the director of that office or department. After I found the director of the office in which this position was located, I looked him up on LinkedIn and searched the Internet for other information on him. I found a couple articles he had written and I read them.

Then, I changed and updated my LinkedIn profile. This is one of the benefits of LinkedIn. On a resume it is hard to stray from your official titles for a position. But in the experience section of your LinkedIn profile you can highlight the activities you are involved in even if they aren’t a part of your official job. You can also include links to your projects available online, or to Web pages of organizations or events you have been a part of. You can highlight whatever projects you want to highlight in the Projects section. Most importantly, your summary can be used to clearly communicate what it is you are passionate about.

Step 2: Reach Out

Once my profile was updated and organized to make me look like a great candidate, I sent the director a request to connect. It read something like this:

“Dear Mr. Director, I am interested in the position of [position title] in your office. I have read a couple pieces you have published and really like your take on [field]. I hope we can link in to share resources and network.”

Notice that I offered up another reason for him to accept my invitation other than to discuss the position. It’s important to realize that my offer of sharing resources and networking was sincere. Even if we were not able to discuss the position, I was making a connection in a field of interest to me professionally.

Within three days we were talking on the phone about the position, the field in general, and our respective career paths. I had not even submitted my application and I was basically having a pre-interview! At the end of our conversation, he encouraged me to submit my application. Within a week of my LinkedIn request, I was on Skype interviewing with the entire hiring committee and was later flown out for an in-person interview. As a career development professional, I had to ask if my application would have made it to his desk had I not contacted him through LinkedIn. He would not go so far as to say “no,” but he certainly did not say “yes.”

The end result was I was offered the position. After careful consideration, I respectfully declined to accept the job. Why? Well, that is to be continued in another blog post….

 


The Top 4 Things You Should STOP Doing on LinkedIn

September 23, 2013

A stop sign that has fallen overBy now you have probably realized that LinkedIn can be a powerful tool during your job search, but LinkedIn is not just another social networking site – it is the professional social network.  As in real-life workplace situations, judiciousness and professional courtesy should steer all of your activity on LinkedIn.  You have worked hard to make and keep a good impression in your lab and/or office.  The same should hold true on LinkedIn; you need to make and maintain a positive, professional appearance. A LinkedIn faux pas has the potential to damage your career path, so here are a few red lights to heed to along the way:

1. Stop using LinkedIn’s auto-generated templates.
LinkedIn pre-populates most message fields; however, that doesn’t mean you should keep the generic message as your own.  Whether it is requesting a connection or congratulating someone on a new job you should take the time to personalize your correspondence.  Using the auto generated “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” misses an opportunity to tell the person why you want to connect. Make it as specific as you can; for example, “It was great sitting next to you at OITE’s Academic Job Interviews Workshop on Monday.  I enjoyed chatting about your research at NCI and I’d like to stay connected.”

2. Stop indiscriminately connecting with people.
The people you choose to connect with are often viewed as an extension of yourself, so make sure you know who they are and why they want to connect with you. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t link in with an acquaintance or even a stranger; however, if making a request to add a cold contact, you must explain why you want to connect (which goes back to point # 1).

3. Stop clicking on things!
With just a simple click of a button, you can quickly and easily endorse the skills and expertise of your connections; however, this doesn’t necessarily mean you should.  An endorsement can be seen as baffling if you are endorsing an individual for something you have never witnessed them doing first-hand.  An endorsement can also feel more annoying than gratifying to the recipient if this is an area that they practiced years ago. Many also wonder, “Are you secretly expecting an endorsement or recommendation in return?”  In an effort to continue advertising the endorsements feature, LinkedIn frequently groups your contacts together and asks if you would like to endorse them all for skills they have on their profile in one fell swoop.  Use your best judgment and think before you click.

4. Stop doing nothing.
Doing too much on LinkedIn – reposting every article you read online that day or asking everybody for a recommendation – can be overwhelming to your connections and it can create a negative online impression.  Equally bad is doing nothing at all. If you are job searching, this could even be worse. So, take the time to set a well-cropped, professional headshot as your profile photo (note: pictures of you on a beach, holding your cat, or with a group of friends do not set a good first impression of you as a serious professional).  Update your contact information, your headline and then get out there! As with any social network, the premise is to participate, so don’t be afraid to contribute to the conversation.


LinkedIn Endorsements: What are they?

December 3, 2012

In Sept 2012, LinkedIn added a new feature to their site to allow anyone to endorse anyone else.  LinkedIn suggests that this new tool can be a way for you to recognize the good work done by your connections.  http://blog.linkedin.com/2012/09/24/introducing-endorsements-give-kudos-with-just-one-click/

While the premise of the endorsement is positive, the way we see them being implemented is diluting their value.  Here in the OITE many of our inboxes are being filled with eager readers endorsing us.  While we love feeling smart, we question the value of endorsements when people are acknowledging us for skills they have never seen us use.  For example:  fellows have been endorsing our science skills when some of us have been away from the bench for over 8 years!  How do you know the quality of our science techniques when we don’t even know the quality of our science techniques anymore?  Forbes mentions in a recent article that in the first month over 200 million endorsements were added, and on average they see an additional ~10 million endorsements every day.  In the social media sphere, google “LinkedIn endorsements” and you will see a flurry of activity about the value of endorsements, and most of the commentary is not overwhelmingly positive. 

We urge you to save endorsements from just being a popularity contest, only use these “easy clicks” for people you are really familiar with.  Not all of your first degree connections can you honestly judge the value of their skills that they have listed.  In regards to choosing to “one-click” an endorsement for someone, heed the old adage, “Just because you can, doesn’t you mean you should.”


Link In or Miss Out: 10 Tips on Using LinkedIn Effectively for Your Job Search

September 1, 2010

computer guyYou’ve heard it all before, from a lab mate, a friend, maybe a relative: “You’ve got to use LinkedIn more! It’s the best way to connect with old friends, network with other scientists, find a job,” etc. If you’re currently LinkedIn but not sure you’re using this networking tool as effectively as you might be, you’re in luck. Many articles have been written on this topic in the recent past, and I have pulled together 10 useful tips from several, including an especially helpful article Exit Disclaimer, below:

1. Be sure your LinkedIn profile is complete and current. This will increase your visibility on the web, as it will assist friends, family, recruiters, other scientists in finding you. Hiring managers often search the site to find suitable candidates for available positions. Also, consider adding a picture, as this will give your profile currency–but be sure to include one that is professional, and not a graphic or an inappropriate picture of you.

2. Configure your profile settings to the most accessible. People will not be able to find you if they cannot access your profile. Check your settings by clicking on “Edit Contact Settings and “Edit Public Profile Settings” under “Edit My Profile.”

3. Join the NIH Intramural Science Group on LinkedIn. Through this group, you will hear about jobs, upcoming NIH events, jobs, interesting discussion threads, jobs, new OITE resources, and more…jobs.

4. Continue to add connections. Work hard at building your network, including people you have known through high school, college, or your graduate studies. Every time you add a connection, your network grows exponentially.

5. Answer questions to demonstrate expertise. Under the “More…” drop-down, click on “Answers,” and search for technical terms in your field. You may find a post you can respond to quickly–and look like an expert without a whiff of self-promotion.

6. Use LinkedIn to search for jobs. As advertising rates on LinkedIn are substantial, most companies who post jobs there are posting for their own organization–meaning you will be contacting that employer directly–rather than a recruiting agency–if you choose to apply. To use this feature effectively, click on the “Jobs” tab, and then “Advanced Search” to find jobs that match your particular criteria.

7. Update people on your activities. Post updates on what you are doing currently (à la Twitter) on LinkedIn via the “Network Activity” box, found by clicking on the “Home” button. Using this feature may increase your chances of being found via LinkedIn’s search engine. Be sure, however, to make your updates interesting to potential readers–that is, talk about exciting new work or accomplishments, rather than how you are STILL looking for a job, e.g.

8. Filter your own contacts by location to connect with people while traveling. Click on “Contacts,” drop down to “My Connections,” and finally “Locations” to the left of your contact list.

9. Conduct research on employers of interest. Who is coming? Who is going? What skills or experiences have recent hires had that made them attractive to your employers of interest? Check this out by clicking on “Companies” from the drop-down arrow next to the search box, type in a company/organization name, and then click on “New Hires.” If these folks have made their profiles public–as many of us have–you will have the jump on the competition through knowing what was desirable to this employer in a potential hire.

10. Use LinkedIn to prepare for upcoming interviews. Using either the main search box or the “Companies” feature mentioned above, try to find the people with whom you will be interviewing and read through their profiles before your interview. Chances are very good that someone in that organization will be doing the same by searching for you.

Send along your LinkedIn tips or success stories, and I will post them here. Happy hunting!


Be Sure You’re “LinkedIn” to ALL the Possibilities

March 25, 2010

Guest author: Shawn Mullen, PhD, Deputy Director, Office of Postdoctoral Services, Office of Intramural Training & Education (OITE)

LinkedIn Exit Disclaimer can be a powerful tool in developing and maintaining a professional network. If used properly it will afford you a means to tap into potential collaborative relationships, investigate career paths, and often, establish connections that will ultimately help you find that next great position.

As someone whose professional focus is providing fellows with resources and helping them to develop career skills, I work with many fellows who are currently using this networking technology. However, I think more fellows can further tap into LinkedIn’s potential to aid you in establishing key, and potentially fruitful, connections.

While you could spend days reading articles and blogs that discuss using LinkedIn in awe-inspiring ways, what you actually need to keep in mind as you use LinkedIn to build your professional network are two simple concepts: to act strategically and to remember your manners.

LinkedIn is about being strategic and establishing quality connections that will deliver results over time. Before impetuously sending an invitation to someone to join your network (and mind you, this is very easy to do, what with LinkedIn’s convenient “People You May Know” function tempting you to hit “invite” as if it were some irresistible death-by-chocolate desert), ask yourself, “Would establishing this connection provide mutual benefit over time?” Remember, it is what both of you bring to the table that will make it a worthwhile contact.

Once you make the strategic decision that this person would be a good contact, etiquette comes into play. First and foremost, avoid sending the “out of the blue invite.” My mother taught me never to accept invitations from strangers, and for the most part that bit of advice has worked well for me since childhood. Lay the groundwork before you send that invitation. Use a mutual contact to introduce you. If no mutual contact exists, e-mail or phone, to introduce yourself and discuss your objectives. Once a dialogue has been established you can ask to send an invitation.

The other piece of etiquette you should follow is to always—let me say that again for those way in the back: ALWAYS—personalize your invite. Avoid the default language that is provided. Even (or perhaps especially) if you are good friends with the person and eat lunch with them every day, personalize the invite. Remind them of where and when you met, and include your reasoning for why you think that being in one another’s network would be mutually beneficial. A little personalized attention goes a long way in establishing connections, even electronic ones.


Five Steps to Evaluate Organizational Culture Before You Accept the Offer

February 28, 2017

One of the most important criteria to consider during the job, graduate school, or Postdoc search is to learn about the culture of the place where you are applying.   This means to gather information about the employee’s opinions of the work environment, the support and benefits that they receive, and the values that drive the organization. This is important because you will work and /or study in this environment for many years and you want to find a good fit for your interests and personal style.  But how do you assess this when you are applying?

Step 1: Learn about and list your values

  • Factor in your personal and work values into your career decision. For example, if you value work where you have multiple work assignments, a culture that values family, work-life balance, opportunities to publish, and/or working in an urban environment, then these will become the criteria that you use when considering multiple options.
  • Meet with a career counselor who will help you to identify a broad range of important work values through the use of career assessments around values, interests and skills

Step 2: Research the organization for information about their values

  • Look for a mission and/or value statements
  • Read the job description carefully for words that give you a glimpse into the culture. For example, wording such as collaborative, team, independently, diverse, fast-paced, results oriented, balance multiple priorities, etc. shed light upon the nature of the work environment.
  • Conduct informational interviews with alumni, colleagues, PIs, Postdocs, etc. Connect via Linked In who are familiar with the organization.
  • Listen to what your mentors and colleagues say about the organization.
  • Attend the NIH Career Symposium or the 2017 NIH Graduate and Professional School Fair so that you can meet NIH Alumni, current employees, and recruitment professionals who will give informational sessions and answer specific questions about their environment.
  • Explore employer surveys such as the ones posted on the AAAS , Corporate Quality IndexThe Scientist, Science Magazine.

Step 3:  Listen closely during your interview

  • Listen carefully to the questions that are asked during an interview. Is there a common thread that gives you some insight?
  • How were you treated when you arrived to the interview? Who greeted you, were they pleasant, outgoing, distant, stressed?
  • Was the host(s) welcoming, approachable, resourceful?
  • Were there any specific qualifications that the interviewer stated about their culture (i.e. fast-paced, long days, independent, work interdependently, cultural diversity)?

Step 4:  Ask Good Questions during the Interview

  • Ask interviewers to describe the environment.
  • Learn about opportunities for professional development.
  • Ask if employees work as a team, independently, collaboratively.
  • Ask the employers to describe a typical week.
  • Ask about work-life balance.

Professional/ graduate school and Post Doc opportunities:

  • Ask faculty and students to describe the culture?
  • Learn how the curriculum structured and how students study.
  • Review OITE blogs to learn how to select a mentor.
  • Attend the second look (medical schools) and or pre-matriculation program.
  • Learn about opportunities to become involved in the community.
  • Ask about students support services are available to support wellness.
  • Are there special interest groups or student organizations? Where do participants live? Is there family housing and partner benefits?
  • How is research, conference and publishing encouraged?
  • Determine how the school /department supports diversity and inclusion.

Step 5: Create a spread sheet to evaluate each opportunity

  • List the places where you are applied on the left column.
  • Write your personal values on the top row.
  • Place a check mark and any comments in each box for each organization.
  • Analyze your results to determine which organizations one(s) have the most values.
  • Note the organizations that have the closest match to your values.
  • Factor into any additional criteria.

Feel free to visit the OITE https://www.training.nih.gov to meet with career counselors, Premedical school advisors, and wellness counselors who can further support you during this process.  Also see our events and services.

* OITE services are available to NIH intramural trainees only. Check with your home university or college and utilize the personal, career, and professional school advising resources they offer to you.

 


From the Archive – NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Biomedical Engineer/Lead Medical Device Reviewer

March 25, 2019

Name: Joshua Chetta, PhD

Job Title & Organization: Biomedical Engineer/Lead Medical Device Reviewer, FDA

Location: White Oak, Silver Spring Md

How long you’ve been in your current job: 1.5 years

Postdoc Advisor, IC (when at NIH): Joseph Frank, Clinical Center

What do you do as an Engineer/Device Reviewer?
I’m in CDRH, the Center for Devices and Radiological Health. Most people know about the FDA in its capacity as a drug regulatory agency, but it also regulates medical devices. Things like implants, pace makers and all the hardware that you would see in a hospital room – all of the monitoring devices. So, the medical devices have their own regulatory pathways. My day to day job is to review applications from companies for clearance to market a device in the U.S. In some cases, those are straightforward applications, especially if there is already a similar device on the market. In other cases, it can be more complicated, especially if it is a new device or a new technology that we haven’t seen before.

How is the workflow structured?
I am in the Dental Device Branch which I wasn’t expecting to be as interesting as it is, but we get a lot of really fascinating stuff sent our way.

A submission will be assigned to an individual reviewer, who will act as the lead reviewer. Depending on the complexity of the device and the submission, the lead reviewer can either handle it on their own or call in others for consult. There are subject matter experts in the FDA whom we can ask for help. So, with respect to the review, there is the science side of it but there is also a project management side of it. I have my deadlines and I have to write my analysis and reports but I also have to get other people’s reports and compile everything to come up with a consensus.

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

Absolutely communication skills are vital, both oral and written. The ability to talk to people from different backgrounds and not only to make yourself understood but to understand where they are coming from as well. The ability to keep good records is extremely important since everything we do has legal ramifications. It is important to keep track of why decisions were made and the justification for those decisions. Emails, telephone/conference calls all need to be logged. This is essential because a lot of what we do can have an impact down the line. For example, if a device comes out and is questionable or it doesn’t do well, then it needs to be clear why a decision was made, so being meticulous with our written record is pretty important.

Of course the other thing is that you also have to have to look at data, analyze it and synthesize it. Often, you are working with short deadlines, and with test reports that may or may not include all of the information you’d like, or with studies that haven’t necessarily been designed well. A lot of the time, you are trying to do the best you can with what you have. It means relying on the scientific and regulatory knowledge of yourself and others to fill in the gaps. The process involves rigorous scientific analysis as well as trying to navigate through the regulatory framework, to come up with the best rationale to justify a decision. So there are a few constraints that make it interesting.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
There are a lot of really great things about it. First, the people that work here are great. The other reviewers come from different backgrounds. Since we review medical devices, we have everybody from engineers to clinicians, to physicists and chemists. There are all sorts of people here, so you walk down the hall and can ask a microbiologist what he thinks about sterilization. Then, down the hall on the other side is an electrical engineer who you can ask about circuits and software. That is a really, really great aspect of it – that everybody comes from a different background but we are all very much a team.

The other thing that I like is the actual science side of it – it is really interesting. There are a lot of ideas and new technology out there which people are trying to get through. It’s interesting to see how technology is progressing and how these things are moving along.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career? What are some of the challenges you initially faced?
It might sound silly, but sitting at a desk is really difficult. I was not prepared for that. I’m evaluating the data in applications, so I am pretty much at a computer most of the day. I’ve found that being at a computer can be tiring. It is not the same as being in a lab where you are running around and doing different things all the time.

The other thing, which I probably should have expected, is coming in and not knowing much. It has been difficult, but thankfully the people that I work with are all amazing. There’s a lot of experience in my branch and everybody is incredibly generous with their time and answering questions. There’s a sense that they have all been here before and we are all in this together. I like that curiosity encouraged here. However, being the new guy and dealing with the steep learning curve has been humbling.

How did you come to choose this as your next step?
I knew after my postdoc that I didn’t necessarily want to go into academic science. I had kind of burned out on basic, or even translational research. I realized I wasn’t really cut out for it. I like this because it is very much on the application side of medical research and science. It is as close as you can get to helping change the way that medicine is practiced in the United States, by making sure that new technology gets out to market quickly, but that the data supporting it is strong. From my background as a biomedical engineer, this seemed like a really interesting way to bridge that gap between the social relevance of science and what we do in the lab. I thought that was going to be cool and it has been.

What was your job search like?
I knew people here, so that helped. My wife has actually worked at the FDA for a few years and the fact that she liked her job so much made this seem like an attractive possibility, because I wasn’t necessarily thinking regulatory science until I heard her and her friends from work talk about it. It was definitely helpful to know people.

Also, I used OITE. I used LinkedIn. Lori Conlan (Director of Postdoc Services at OITE) helped connect me to people and I actually ended up getting a few job offers at the same time. So, like people say – network, network, network. 

What was your interview like and how did you prepare for it?
I did many, many practice interviews at OITE, which were all really helpful. I met with OITE to learn about what types of questions to expect and how to prepare to answer them. I find interviewing to be very intimidating, because selling myself is not a skill that I have much experience with. So I have found that practice is really important, in order to figure out how to get my points across succinctly and clearly.

The interview itself focused on creative problem solving and how I would go about doing things given certain situations, or how I had solved problems in the past, so it was actually a fun interview. It didn’t seem to focus so much on skill sets as much as personality and problem solving approach. The focus here is on having a broad scientific knowledge and a willingness to learn. Meeting with everybody and the interview process definitely sold me on the job.

Advice for somebody hoping to go down a similar path?
It’s tough coming from academic research, because unless you’ve been involved in the regulatory side of product development, or maybe tech transfer, I don’t think most of us have had experience with regulatory science. I guess if you worked at a regulatory consultancy or law firm that deals with shepherding applications through the FDA and the regulatory process in general that could help; however, at the reviewer level, there is an understanding that most people come in without much of a background in the regulatory side of things. The important part is to demonstrate broad scientific literacy, competency, and a willingness to learn new things and put yourself in a position where you aren’t going to have all the answers.

With that being said, I should have done more research on the regulatory process prior to my interview. I talked with my wife a lot and she explained the broad process to me. But there are resources on the FDA’s website intended to describe the process to industry, and I would recommend that people interested in working here take some time to reveiw those. But still, until you do it, it will all be theoretical and the nuts and bolts of it are often more complicated than it sounds.

How long was your search and if you had to do it again, would you change anything about your job search? 

One of my problems was that I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do. Coming from an academic science/research background, the academic path seemed clearly marked out. Anything other than that was unknown. I took advantage of the courses and seminars which OITE offered because a lot of them focused on non-bench career options. Even after that though, I still didn’t necessarily know what I wanted to do, so it would have been nice to nail down a direction a little bit sooner.

I was seriously looking for a job for at least 9 months before I finally got any offers and I was looking in a less serious way for well over a year. It was a reasonably drawn out process, but if I had figured myself out more, it might have helped me identify my options sooner. At the same time, that exploration process was important as well.

Any last bits of advice?
You know, I was told this many times but it didn’t really hit home until after the fact. However, the thing that everybody says about networking and putting yourself out there and exploring different options is really important. I struggled for a while trying to find insight into what I was looking for and that only came after a long process, so try to embark upon that sooner rather than later. Finding a good job was (for me) about knowing myself and what I was looking for in order to find something fulfilling.


From the Archive: The Industry Job Search is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

February 25, 2019

Professionals in business attire running toward red finish line.For an industry job for scientists, the interview process generally takes six to eight weeks.  Starting with an initial phone screen, successful candidates move on to an on-site interview where they usually meet with a number of people from the organization and give a scientific presentation.  Next is the final interview, during which a verbal offer may be extended.  What is not as well elucidated is how long the overall search process is likely to take.

The rule of thumb in industry is that your job search will take one month for every $10,000 of the job’s salary and generally longer for your first industry position.  The positions sought by postdocs often times have annual salaries approaching $80,000, so it is easy to do the math.  It is likely that your industry job search will last the better part of a year.

Therefore, a job search is more akin to a marathon than a sprint.  As with many successful long-term projects, it is important to set and meet interim goals along the way. Weekly and monthly objectives are recommended for your job search.   The most critical areas to make continual progress on are:

  • Develop and follow a target list of companies.
    The most common targeting criteria include: companies with a common research focus as your experience; companies within your preferred geographic locations; and companies in which you have contacts.  It is important to follow company news, which may include information on key employees, strategies and financial reports.  For smaller companies in particular, news of a large cash inflow, an initial public offering (IPO), or a licensing deal is often a harbinger of increased hiring.  Overall, this type of data can help set you apart from other potential candidates when that interview comes because you have done your “homework.”
  • Create and foster your network of industry contacts.
    Effective tools for this step are LinkedIn, in which you can sort by company name to identify your contacts within your target companies, and the NIH Alumni Database.  Informational interviews are a good place to start to acquire not only information about particular jobs or a company’s working conditions, but many other answers to the varied questions you may have.  You may even be able to get advance information on potential job openings before they are posted.  From these initial contacts it is important to then expand your network to include their contacts.  A great final question for these sessions is, “Is there anyone else that you might recommend that I speak with?”

Since interviewing for a particular job normally takes only six to eight weeks but your total job search can take upwards of a year, it is likely that you will face some disappointment along the way. Taking care of yourself is essential. Scheduling time for activities such as exercising, meditating, spending time with friends and loved ones, and speaking with a therapist and/or career counselor is often helpful to job-seekers.

This is important not only to cope with possible frustration or sadness, but also to maintain your edge during the interview process.  Feel free to connect with the OITE for guidance and support. https://www.training.nih.gov/career_services.