Analyzing the NIH Alumni Database: Where are our NIH postdocs going?

March 13, 2017

In the OITE we are often asked about the career paths of former postdocs. While we do not conduct mandatory exit surveys, we do have some data from the OITE NIH Alumni Database. This database is populated as fellows leave the NIH. To date it contains about 1100 entries. Of those, 639 contain career information that we have been able to analyze. Caveat: this information is only from former trainees who have voluntarily created entries in the database; it does not capture the full range nor percentage of actual career paths*.

PDAlum Figure 1
We began by comparing data on our intramural research program (IRP) alumni to the data published in the 2012 NIH Biomedical Research Workforce Working Group Report (BWF). This report analyzed a post-training workforce of 128,000 people in terms of six categories. Academic Research/Teaching accounted for 43% of the workforce, followed by Science-Related, non-Research (individuals employed by industry, government, non-profits who do not conduct research) and Industrial Research at 18% each. The Non-Science-Related workforce employed 13%, and Government Research accounted for an additional 6%. Two percent reported they were unemployed.
In Figure 1 we show that fractions of IRP alumni who have continued in Academic/Research Teaching (39%) and Industrial Research (14%) were similar to those in the national BWF survey. However, far more IRP alumni continued in Government Research (15% of NIH IRP vs 6% in the national survey) and Science-Related, non-Research (33% of NIH IRP vs 18% for the national survey) careers, while far fewer went on to careers in non-Science-Related professions (< 1% vs 13%). No one in our alumni database reported that they were unemployed.
Our percentage of alumni staying in government research is higher than the national average (15% vs. 6%). This is not surprising that some fellows choose to stay as staff scientists or become tenure track within the IRP. The information of what careers are considered non-science related was difficult to find. Our analysis of alumni careers suggests that science-related non-research careers are more common than the national average.
Dissecting the Academic Research/Teaching data provides us with more information about what types of positions are held in this sector, Figure 2.

PDAlum Figure 2

This category includes only positions directly associated with research or teaching; careers in academic institutions in offices such as tech transfer, policy, academic affairs, etc. are counted in the Science-Related, Non-Research category. Three-quarters of alumni in this sector are in academic tenure-track or tenured positions. In fact 192 total alumni in the database are tenured or tenure track faculty (185 are in academics and 7 in government research). From this data we predict that 30% of IRP alumni have tenured or tenure track faculty positions.
The data for the Science-Related Non-research careers demonstrates the breadth of career options that are available for PhD-trained scientists, Figure 3. We binned careers based on the job titles that were submitted to the alumni database. Discerning the exact jobs of the 25% of reported careers in program management/analysis is challenging. The titles range from program coordinator to manager, director and advisor. Similarly, it is very likely that the 5% of alumni that report working in grants (as program officers, analysts, or review) is low due to the lack of precision in the job titles within the program management/analysis category. The data still provide evidence that program administration (making sure that science runs) is a common career choice. Science policy is a career path selected by 20% NIH of reported alumni. These careers are in all sectors, but are mainly spilt between the Federal government and non-profits (i.e., professional societies). Other career choices reflected in Figure 3 show the breath of career choices for NIH postdocs.

PDAlum Figure 3

If you want any addiional information about the careers in these categories we suggest that you explore the alumni database. As a current fellow with an OITE account you can search the database: Additionally, you can use the contact information in the alumni database to set up informational interviews as you plan your career post-NIH.
In 2017 we hope you will help us with this data project! Are you an NIH alum? If so, join the database or update your earlier submission. Last year around 800 people logged-in to the database and updated their information. But we still have too many gaps. 460 postdocs, for example, have an alumni database account that include no information about their current position. Only have ~20% of our postdocs* actually contribute to the database. The OITE really does want to know where you are! Current and future postdocs want to be able to see career trends and how training at the NIH might influence their career choices. So join the database or update your record now:
*The database was built in June 2010. We estimate that 800 postdocs per year leave the NIH. Therefore the maximum sample size could be ~5200 alumni. With 1100 reporting that represents 21.2% of the potential sample size.

To learn about the full range of services and programs offered by the Office of Intramural Training and Education, visit us at


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 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.


Where Do I Begin? Industry Careers for Scientists

February 13, 2017

One of the most challenging questions that developing scientists must answer is, “Should I pursue an academic or industry career?” For some, the pursuit of an academic career  is their path of choice.  For scientists who wish to pursue industry careers, the answer is more difficult to come by because they lack sufficient knowledge of how to pursue the variety of careers in industry.

This OITE Archives post will help scientists to answer this question by providing suggesting the following OITE Archives to begin gathering information about career paths for scientists.    To begin, read the following articles about moving from Industry to Academia and the Top 10 Myths about careers in industry discussed by guest blogger, Professor Brad Fackler.

Next, read through several of the recently published OITE Career Options Series blogs about popular careers for scientists. The information is still relevant and worth reviewing as part of your career decision-making process.

For those who have an interest in working abroad, here are several blogs that will open your eyes to career global opportunities for scientists

If graduate or professional school is needed as part of the pathway to an industry career the following posts will be helpful.

Will a Master’s Degree Get You Where You Want to Go?

Getting In: Everything You want To Know About the Graduate and Professional School Applications

We encourage you schedule informational interviews with NIH alumni and scientists employed in industry to learn more about how they made the transition.  Schedule an appointment with a career counselor to learn more about careers and how values, interests, skills, and lifestyle and how they factor into your decision.   Finally, attend our various career development programs such as the NIH Career Symposium to gather career information from NIH alumni help you make this important career choice.

On the Road Again: Actively Forging Your Career Path

September 26, 2016

Image of green mountains and a roadPerhaps more so than ever, it seems that finding a well-paying and rewarding job can be a difficult task for young adults. According to analysis of the 2014 Current Population Survey, median income for people between 25 and 34 has decreased in every major industry since the Great Recession, with the exception of the healthcare industry. In addition, the underemployment rate for recent college grads is still at its highest point since the year 2000 — about 7 percent.  According to the New York Fed “the share of underemployed college graduates in good non-college jobs has fallen sharply, while the share working in low-wage jobs has risen.” In a tough job market, where rewarding work experience which also pays well is hard to find and highly competitive, here are a couple of ways you can take your career path into your own hands.

Perhaps one of the hardest tasks of finding a career is the process of taking your own concepts of a field of interest, work preferences, and vision of your future, and boiling it down to workable tasks toward achieving concrete goals. One effective strategy is the Active Career Exploration Strategy (ACE) in exploring your preferences and connecting with employers. We will discuss the ACE plan in depth in next week’s blog, but in the meantime as an exercise, try allotting 2 hours of free time toward strategic career exploration. Start with some self-reflection: think about all the components of a job/career that most matter to you, and try to make a list of the three most important points. From this list, start researching potential careers that interest you, and make a workable list. Keep in mind that you may come across a career you did not know existed (for example, if you like biology, but are not interested in working in the lab, perhaps bioinformatics is a field worth looking into.) Once you have found a career that seems of interest, start looking for people to contact in order to learn more. LinkedIn is a great tool to find professionals to contact for informational interviews, and you can also spark curiosity by looking at TedTalk videos related to your field of interest. Once you have found someone whose work you are interested in, start drafting questions for them, and contact them for an informational interview.

Another important skill to have in all steps of career exploration is to understand the competition in your field. Whether you are applying to a job in the private or public sector, research or non-research, getting a sense of the relevant and in-demand skills is absolutely crucial to being a competitive candidate. This can be done by reading articles online, speaking to friends and family working in a similar career, and especially by setting up informational interviews. Once you have gotten a sense of what these skills are, you can make sure to highlight these skills on your resume if you already have experience in this skill, or invest time in learning the skill in order to become a more appealing candidate.

Although knowing your skills and preferences is crucial in finding a good career match, one very common misconception is that finding this match is solely up to you. To the contrary, Jeffrey Kudisch of the Robert H. Smith School of Business suggests that the best way to finding a good job is to assemble a “job search work team,” or “a group of people committed to helping each other” find optimal career matches and professional success. Kudisch explains this optimal career team as being between five and eight people who are centered around a central career focus or niche, yet not too similar in their skills and outlooks. Team members must also complement each other in their skills and outlooks, and must also meet regularly to set and work towards measurable, attainable goals. With an optimal job search team, you can utilize knowledge and wisdom beyond your own in order to find what career works best for you.

No matter your field of work and level of experience, job searching and career planning can be an exhausting and even terrifying experience. Despite this, it is important to remember that you have the power to find a rewarding career path for yourself, and there are always resources available to help you find the perfect career if you get lost. For additional resources, check out the OITE Careers Blog, or schedule an appointment with OITE’s Career Services Department.

Diversity Statements

September 19, 2016

In an academic job search, it is not uncommon to get questions related to diversity during your interview. You may be asked: “How do you bring diversity into the classroom?” and “How do you bring diversity to your research?” Recently though, diversity statements have become more and more standard. So along with your CV, cover letter, research statement and teaching statement, you might also be asked to provide a diversity statement.

What is this document and what should you include? It really should be a personal reflection of your feelings and your approach to being a leader and a teacher. However, teaching is meant in the broadest sense possible as you will address diversity and diverse learning/teaching methods within your teaching statement. While keeping your diversity statement on one page, here are some questions to ponder that will hopefully help you get started.

How do I bring diversity?

Reflect for a moment on your past and your identity. Maybe you immigrated to this country? Maybe you were the first generation in your family to attend college? Maybe you were an adult learner in a setting of mostly “traditional” students?  Perhaps you want to share some identifier, including:  racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, etc.  It is not enough though to simply say that you will bring diversity because, “I am black,” or “I am gay.”  Effective diversity statements tend to avoid keeping it all about you and your identity. Be cognizant of addressing other groups as well and your status of being an ally for others.

On top of reflecting about yourself, you will also want to reflect on the school to which you are applying.  Think about the students at that school. Perhaps most students are first-generation or commuter students? Maybe the school has a large number of international students?  You will want to highlight that you have done research about the school’s population and address this in your statement.

What have I done to grow in diversity?

If you are having a hard time answering this question, it might mean you haven’t done enough…yet.  Here are some questions to help you reflect: Have you actively worked to engage with new groups of people through volunteer work? Have you participated in any trainings, workshops or classes, like OITE’s Workplace Dynamics, Diversity Workshop, or the NIH Academy? Have you read any books on diversity? The OITE Library has some that might be of interest, including: Clash! How to Thrive in a Multicultural World  and/or Far From the Tree.

Throughout your document or in a separate section, you will need to detail your experiential knowledge of diversity by highlighting your own personal experiences. At this point, you might be thinking “My experiences aren’t good enough to write about.” That is a common concern and you just have to work with what you have; after all, you can’t fabricate experiences. This however might also mean that you will need to prepare more and engage in making diversity a priority.

There are lots of online resources to help you write your diversity statement. A particular few to pay attention to include:

Remember that if you are at the NIH, the OITE has a variety of programs and services to help you along the way of your academic job search.

FROM THE ARCHIVE – Industry vs. Academia: Which is Right for You?

November 16, 2015

Golden_file_cabinetThis From the Archive post revisits a decision many individuals struggle with. Should I stay in academia or should I go into industry?  According to a 2015 Nature survey, graduate students dream of academia but are keeping their career options open.  According to Nature, “The survey also revealed uncertainty and ambivalence. More than 60% of respondents said that they are “likely” or “very likely” to pursue a job in industry (see ‘Industry appeal’). And 61% said that they are “likely” or “very likely” to pursue a research job with a government or foundation, which makes it clear that many graduate students are unclear about their futures.” Science Careers held a webinar on the topic of industry vs academia and the panel discussion included speakers from both fields who took questions from an online audience of postdocs and graduate students. Even though this webinar is a few years old, there are still some very relevant points to keep in mind today.


Many of you may have asked yourselves this question at some point in your academic careers. Which job would give you the most freedom research-wise? More time with your family or for outside interests? Higher salaries? Job security?

1. What questions should you ask yourself to determine whether academia or industry is the right fit for you?

  • Do you want to stay in research or move away from the bench?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What do you enjoy doing?
  • What are you most passionate about?

2. What are some essential differences between academia and industry?

  • In academic work, you will be expected to be a self-starter, comfortable with self-promotion, and will largely work independently, developing research questions on your own.
  • In industry, you will also be expected to drive yourself, but with a view toward a common goal, and an understanding of what is expected of you as a member of a research team, based on objectives set at the beginning of your employment.

3. How can I learn more about these two worlds?

  • Conduct research on the web.
  • Talk with people you know in both spheres.
  • Attend university or institute career symposia, career fairs, panels, etc.
  • Talk with people at scientific meetings.
  • Attend any lunches, networking events, etc. after research talks on your campus.
  • Ask scientists you meet about their own career paths.

4. When should I start preparing for either job?

  • It’s never too early! Even by the 2nd year of your postdoc, you should be updating your CV, participating in skills courses, taking on a summer student – basically doing things that will set you apart from the crowd on the job market.

5. Are there jobs available in industry or academia in this bleak economic climate?

  • Yes! There’s never a total hiring freeze in industry, so there are always opportunities for people who are smart, well-trained, and have good ideas.
  • In academia, positions may be slightly easier to come by in private institutions, if endowments have rebounded.
  • Universities need to maintain research vitality, so hiring will always be a priority.
  • One way of uncovering opportunities is to find out which universities are building new science facilities. These institutions will typically need new science faculty to fill new lab space!

6. Which path allows for greater work/life balance?

  • This depends on the particular company/institution, particular department, particular job.
  • While some may think that schedules are tougher on the academic side, some industry jobs also require a great number of hours during the work week.
  • Some may feel a greater sense of freedom and therefore balance on the academic side because the hours are flexible, while others may feel more balance in industry because the hours are more structured.
  • This depends largely on the person and the work situation.

7. Does compensation vary greatly from one to the other?

  • No, compensation levels are surprisingly similar based on level of experience, promotion, etc.

8. What skills are most important for me to develop before going on the job market?

  • Networking is #1, followed by teamwork, and being a thoughtful leader.

9. What are the pros and cons in academia vs. industry?

  • Benefits in academia: a sense of autonomy, an excitement around novel discoveries, intrinsic motivators, travel, getting to know people all over the world, collegial environment. Downsides: grant renewal, feeling pressure to publish or perish.
  • Benefits in industry: potential benefit to patients of what you’re working on, fairly immediate application of science, access to resources, connections to other scientists around you. Downsides: cannot always investigate areas of personal interest.

10. Any final thoughts, words of wisdom?

  • Stay true to yourself, know yourself well before going out on the market.
  • Practice what you’re going to say so you do the best job of selling yourself.
  • Start early and practice often.

Continue this conversation with professionals you meet in both academia and industry. These interactions will help you to determine what is best for YOU!

MD/PhD: Is it Right for You?

August 4, 2015

A few weeks ago, OITE hosted NIH’s Graduate & Professional School Fair. One of the sessions focused on MD/PhD programs and how to decide whether it is the right program for you. If you missed it, the presentation can be found online.

The goal of most MD/PhD programs is to create physician-scientists who aim to spend about 80% of their time on research and 20% of their time on clinical care. Most MD/PhD programs are training you to enter research-oriented careers. If you have no interest in research, an MD/PhD might not be the best fit for you. Remember also that MD physicians can conduct research and many MDs pursue research fellowships during their training. Many MD/PhD applicants falsely believe that they will spend about half of their time in the lab and half of their time in the clinic. This is not true until maybe fifteen or so years into your career.

So, how can you decide? First and foremost, allow yourself ample time to gather information in order to make this decision. Before undertaking any further education, it is extremely important for you to consider your own interests and career plans.

Is doing translational research and making discoveries really important to you? If yes, perhaps you are leaning toward an MD/PhD. Are you more drawn to basic research and the idea of running a lab within the biological science field? If yes, perhaps you are leaning toward a PhD. Or maybe you are most interested in working with people in a clinical setting? If so, an MD or other medical training program might be the best fit for your long-term career plans.

Many prospective applicants wonder whether an MD/PhD is worth it for them. Some big considerations are the financial and time commitments. On one hand, an MD/PhD program is longer and generally takes seven to eight years to complete. However, on the upside, they are generally pretty well-funded. Another consideration is the level of competition. Medical school is difficult to get into and MD/PhD programs are even tougher. There are approximately 20,000 MD students and 600 MD/PhD students. These statistics aren’t meant to deter, but rather to highlight that MD/PhD students are a unique group. It is important to be focused yet realistic. Ultimately, your path will be decided through a mix of your interests, motivations and aptitudes.

The AAMC has a lot of resources about MD/PhD programs and they have even compiled a list of frequently asked questions. It is definitely worth checking out here. However, it can often be helpful to talk through your options with mentors or advisors. Do informational interviews with people who have an MD/PhD to see if this would be the right fit for you. If you are at the NIH, you can also meet with medical/graduate school advisors or career counselors within OITE.