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.


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.

 


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.


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Project Manager

June 1, 2015

Name: Martha Sklavos, PhD, PMP

Job Title & Organization: Associate Research Project Manager, MedImmune

Location: Gaithersburg, MD

How long you’ve been in your current job: 8 months

Postdoc Advisor, IC (when at NIH): Dr. Ligia Pinto

What do you do as a Research Project Manager?
I perform strategic management of drug projects within the preclinical drug development pipeline for MedImmune, but I do this by wearing several hats. I use my problem-solving and critical thinking skills every day to identify risks and opportunities to deliver on project based goals and work with several other people on the project team. There are three project leads: myself (research project manager) a scientific co-lead (oncology, infectious disease, etc) and a protein engineering co-lead. The rest of the team is comprised by functional team representatives (toxicology, translational medicine, PK, etc). The research project team must engage senior management to execute the project plan in alignment with the overarching strategy of the therapeutic area (oncology, infectious disease, etc). Thus, I’m an organizer, facilitator, mediator, and a scientific consultant. My role is to see the long-view of the project and steer the team to appreciate long-term (clinical) as well as short term (research-driven) project goals. I often comment on the science and brainstorm and give suggestions, but I am no longer at the bench at all.

I optimize delivery by challenging team members on assumptions for time, costs, and risks for each project. I am accountable for efficient milestone achievement (steps in project progression to the clinic), monitoring and mitigation of changes to plan and budget, risk assessment, and reporting progress to stakeholders. I am the hub of project information and I must be a model of collaboration. A desirable trait for a research project manager is a person who can get along with everyone because teamwork is EVERYTHING in industry. You cannot accomplish anything on your own, unlike academia. You are no longer operating in a vacuum or on an island and everyone is dependent on one another to achieve project goals.

What are the most important skills that you utilize in your current position?
This isn’t a direct skill like graphing data but it really is communication. Everything is communication – you are emailing, having phone calls, going to in-person meetings, having teleconferences, and video conferences every day. It is a meeting culture here. Sometimes I have meetings all day, which is good but can also be a challenge because you still need time to process and do the work that came out of this meeting. Most of the time, I am running those meetings, so my day is intense in that it requires full engagement.

Another beneficial skill would be the ability to deal with change and ambiguity because it is a constantly changing and shifting environment. Each week can look different. The nice thing about being a project manager is that you are really plugged into upper-level management and upper-level decisions. Part of your job is to help take strategy or revisions back to your project teams to relay that information and field questions. You are plugged in to what is really going on in the company.

In industry, team members share a common goal. In academia, I found this wasn’t even the case with certain co-authors! When I was managing my projects in academia it could be quite difficult, let alone the authorship aspect, to figure out. In industry, while people are all working on different projects, the teams that they are working on are all striving toward a common goal and everybody is very motivated and invested.

Because I am not directly at the bench anymore, I have a little bit more flexibility. I can work from home if I need to, which is nice. After all, it is hard to do bench work from home! In industry, they know happy people are productive, so they support flexibility if say the weather is bad or you have a sick child. If you are running a meeting, there are avenues you can use to run a meeting remotely as well. There is built in technology if life happens and you can’t get into the office to run the meeting in-person.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
My favorite part is that I love being a problem solver and I love being a scientific consultant. I really enjoy being able to look at data and add to the science even though I am no longer performing the experiments. This could mean suggesting a different mouse model or that they look at a different marker on a cell that they didn’t consider. Before I knew this position existed, I was struggling because I knew I wanted to go into industry, but wasn’t sure there was a place for me and I would have to either be the hands doing the science or fully on the business side of the science. I was attracted to industry because it is bench to bedside, which can be difficult to see/achieve in academia. It wasn’t until I went to an NIH career fair event, where I listened to a panelist who was a Research Project Manager speak about their job. That is when the light bulb went off for me as it combined many aspects of what I wanted.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?

For me, I was fortunate enough in my postdoc (even though I was still the hands at the bench) that I still did a lot of project management for my studies which involved inter-disciplinary teams. I had an advantage in that I was already working cross-functionally with biostatisticians, epidemiologists, and clinicians and I was the immunologist that was also the project manager. I had a little edge coming from that experience, but what has been different is the industry atmosphere which is a thousand percent different than academia. It is instrumental that you can work and be productive within a team, and that you can functionally and productively work with people with very different personalities. It is also really important for this role to be a problem solver and a critical thinker.

What was your job search like?
It was a process because even though I knew I wanted to go into industry, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to be doing; plus, I knew it was difficult to get into. So, the NIH Career Symposium actually helped give me some focus and helped me narrow my net. Then, I was able to seek out research project managers and ask them about their jobs to see if that is really what I wanted to do.

A lot of people have the misconception that industry scientists are kind of a second-class scientist pool. Make no mistake about it – that is not true at all. Industry wants top talent, from the scientists to the project managers and all the way up. Once I decided that this was really what I wanted to do, I knew I had to make myself competitive for this hiring process and it was suggested to me that I get a PMP, which is a project management professional certificate to help me show intent. I had never been in industry before and they wanted someone with 5-10 years of industry experience, so I knew that was going to be a hurdle that I had to overcome. Showing the intent by getting this certification, which was a process in itself, was extremely important.

I also took advantage of as many NIH and OITE services that I could – I came in for resume reviews and I went to a lot of events, like the Translational Science Training Program and Workplace Dynamics. Workplace Dynamics has proven to be especially helpful given how much I work in teams now.

Can you tell me more about the PMP?
The actual PMP material and exam is structured as if you work on a construction job rather than in scientific/clinical project management. Even though it was a departure from a research project manager’s subject matter, it was helpful because a lot of the general concepts will be used every day as a pre-clinical or clinical research manager. For me, that was key because even when I was interviewing, I had several people directly ask me, “Are you applying for academic jobs?” They wanted to make sure that I was committed and that I didn’t view this as a backup plan. Having a PMP allowed me to be taken seriously and get an interview. The PMP is not a very simple process. First, you need credit hours of project management coursework that is either vetted through a university or through the project management institute. I was able to take an online course through GW’s School of Business. That accounted for the majority of the credits that I needed. I was also very fortunate because I was a Leidos postdoc. Leidos has an entire Project Management Office with the full support of project management instructors who are basically on retainer. They have frequent seminars which were a huge help. When I first went in to learn about the test, the whole office there worked to explain it and show it to me and point me to other resources. They had a two-day boot camp for studying for the exam which I was able to complete. That was absolutely one of the best resources available to me.

In order to actually be able to sit for the exam, you need 4500 hours of project management experiences. Your grad student and post-doc hours qualify because you are working on thesis and research projects and, of course, you were managing your progression (http://www.pmi.org/certification/project-management-professional-pmp.aspx). Again, Leidos had instructors that I could send information to. I would write a little blurb and they would give me feedback about how I had classified my experiences. You had to classify them under headings like planning, execution, monitoring, controlling, and different aspects of project management. Plus, you also had to put references down because they can audit you.

After all of this, then you can take the exam. I believe the exam was around $500 and that part I had to pay out of pocket but it was clearly well worth it to prove my interest in my career path and actually has set me ahead of some who have been in industry for years. My company wants their project managers to have PMPs, even those who have been doing it for years without the credential. The exam was four hours long and all multiple choice questions. It is intense. The instruction manual was about 400-500 pages long. It is like learning another language, or at least it was to me, with the different terminology and way of thinking. It is set in a perfect project management world where everybody always does everything according to process.

What was your interview like?
I had five interviews – two phone and three face-to-face. I got hired for my background in science but more so they wanted to make sure that I was going to be capable of soft skills like conflict management and working with different personality types. At the interviews, they asked over and over again about situations where I resolved a conflict, or a situation when you weren’t happy with an outcome and what would you have done differently. Also, it was no secret that I had no industry experience but. I tried to parlay any examples that I had which could relate to drug development into my answers. In the interview, they are really looking for a good mind with the knowledge and they can teach you the rest.

In hindsight, would you have changed anything about your search?
I just wish I had known earlier what I wanted to do. I think my postdoc was a huge benefit giving me that extra experience but there are people in my position who don’t have a PhD and haven’t done postdocs at all. So, they aren’t necessarily required and I think it is good to know that. While it would be nice if you have an extra ten papers on your resume, I don’t think that was a deciding factor. Doing a shorter postdoc won’t be held against you. For me, I am glad I did it because I felt like I had to get all of the science and bench research out of my system before I moved on.

Any last bits of advice?
Network like it’s your job! Your next job will depend on it. I stayed in touch with a contact I made from an NIH Career Fair and I followed up and spoke to her every few months. Now I sit next to her. She was the contact who told me about my job opening. I had no intention of interviewing at the time I learned of the job opening, but an opportunity came up and I couldn’t pass it up.

Another thing that was really helpful for me was the Healthcare Business Women’s Association (HBA). I had no idea they existed until I saw them on an NIH message board on LinkedIN. They have women in science scholarships and they will support your membership to HBA for a year and you get your own mentor. There are women like me who were pretty early in their careers, but there are also women who are professors who have PhDs, or women who have MBAs, there is a whole range of members.

They believe in making contacts and in networking through volunteering, so I planned a Breast Cancer Event with a group of amazing women and through them I was able to meet so many people from different places (MedImmune, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, FDA, etc.) and now we all go to know each other by working together so its networking without the awkwardness because you have a shared experience. Networking can sometimes be extremely awkward but this wasn’t at all because everybody was very supportive and we got to develop relationships by working on a project together. I’m sure postdocs are sick of hearing that they should be networking but the key here is that it shouldn’t be random – it should be very focused. If you are interested in industry, HBA should be at the top of your list.


Career Symposium 2015 – #careersymp

May 11, 2015

Image of NIH Career Symposium sign in a room full of people.

This Friday, May 15th is the 8th Annual NIH Career Symposium.  Be sure to register in advance. Why should you come though? Well, it only happens once a year and it is an action-packed day! You can choose to come for the full day or only the sessions of interest to you. There will be panels, skills blitzes, a LinkedIn Photo-Booth, and the opportunity to network with speakers and peers alike.

MAXIMIZING YOUR NIH CAREER SYMPOSIUM EXPERIENCE

Prior to the Symposium:

  • REVIEW THE AGENDA
    Avoid day-of confusion by getting an idea of which panels and skills blitzes you’d like to attend. Map out your day by looking at the full schedule here.
  • PREPARE SOME QUESTIONS
    Look at the list of panelists and prepare a few questions you would like to ask. Please remember that this is not a job fair.  This is an opportunity for you to gain information about the next step in your career.

During the Symposium:

  • NETWORK
    Connect via social media and join us on Twitter that day by following @NIH_OITE. If you tweet during the event, be sure to use the event hashtag #careersymp
  • NETWORK
    Take advantage of this event to talk to people in new fields of work. Regardless of what sessions you attend or what career path you are pursuing, this event is a great opportunity to make contacts in a variety of different fields. That way, you can follow up with them for an informational interview after the event.
  • NETWORK
    Don’t forget to network with your peers as well! Introduce yourself to at least one new person at each event or session. One of the most valuable experiences of events like this can be meeting new people.

Attending the symposium is an extremely valuable professional development opportunity, so be sure to take advantage of this event. It can also feel like a whirlwind of information, people, ideas, and possibly even emotions. After the symposium, be sure to carve out some time to process all of the information. If you are at the NIH, you can follow up with the great resources offered at the OITE.


Want to get ahead? Remember where you came from!

September 15, 2014

“Good luck and be sure to keep in touch!” This is a phrase we have all said and heard. How many of us actually take the time to do it? After all, we are busy and have things to do. However, failing to maintain your relationships with your current or past university professors and program administrators can limit your career growth. Whether you are a postbac, a graduate student or a postdoc, maintaining a network with your alma mater is essential for many reasons.

  • Letters of Recommendation – You will, at some point, need letters of recommendation. Whether for graduate or professional school applications or a job (yes, postdocs are real jobs), someone is going to need to write something about you that will make someone else want to hire/accept you. A good, strong letter takes time and effort for the reference to write. While you may have been the best undergraduate or graduate researcher they have ever had in their lab, if you haven’t kept up with them for over a year, their emotional investment in you has greatly diminished. They simply may no longer possess the necessary activation energy to invest in writing that great letter. Sending an email with an update on yourself and asking for an update on their research two to four times a year will do wonders to keep them invested in you and your future.
  • Mentors matter – The value of good mentors is unquestionable in a successful and satisfying career. It is important to have career mentors outside of your current work environment. A past research mentor can easily transition to a career mentor when you move on to your next professional experience. The relationship will certainly be different, but most likely in a good way.  Supervisors and professors from your universities are an invaluable resource. They have networks of peers and past trainees. They have wisdom from years in the field. They also have a vested interest in your success. However, the longer you go without contacting them, the lower their investment.
  • They know what you don’t know – This is especially true if you are a current graduate student doing your research at an institution that is not your home university. Many programs have very specific criteria and requirements for your qualifying exam, committees, dissertation format and defense. Your research mentor may not know these finer details if they are not directly connected to the school. Having a relationship with professors and administrators at your university will help you to get the information to fulfill the requirements to do what you are here to do – graduate.
  • Favoritism – Ok, so maybe “promotion” and “exposure” would be better word choices. The point remains that those trainees who keep in touch with their programs, professors and administrators are the ones who get invited back to speak at symposia or sit on discussion panels. They are the alumni that current students get referred to about careers and the ones who get highlighted on the alumni spotlight pages on the program web sites. Every time you get invited to speak or sit on a panel, it adds to your CV or resume. Every time you speak with a current student, your reputation as a mentor grows. Every web page you are spotlighted on is one more opportunity for that perfect job to find you, especially if you link to it from your LinkedIn profile.

So much of networking is not about meeting new people. It is about making sure that the people you already know have up to date information on you. For even more information on establishing and maintaining your network, visit the OITE YouTube channel.


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Senior Scientist

September 2, 2014

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.