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.

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NIH GPP Alumni: Where are they now? Postdoc Fellow

May 19, 2014

Name: Julien Debbache, PhD

Job Title & Organization: Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Zurich

Location: Zurich, Switzerland

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

PHD Advisor, IC: Heinz Arnheiter, NINDS (Now NIH Emeritus); Individual Partnership Program (Rennes 1 University, France)

What do you do as a Postdoc?
I lead two main projects on two very different topics. One is dealing with the Wnt signaling pathways in melanoma using in vivo mouse models. The other is looking at the physiological roles of adult Neural Crest derived stem cells in healing of the skin upon injury, again using in vivo mouse models.

Since June 2013, I have supervised one PhD student and will mentor a new one starting June 2014. I am also more loosely supervising two other PhD students in the lab, playing the role of “scientific consultant” for their experimental strategy and troubleshooting.

I am involved in some of the institute’s teaching activities by helping with the histology courses. I will become the animal research representative for our group, which means that I’ll be the contact person for the state veterinary office if they have questions about our experimental procedures.

What are the most important skills that you utilize in your current position?
Analytical skills, especially since I’m working with such different projects. Of course there is some overlap between them, but the biggest challenge is trying to digest the context and the particular differences between all the projects.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
Mentoring and helping people out. During my time at NIH, I realized that my greatest satisfaction came from the help I felt I was bringing to people more than from the results I was directly generating. I did not have the chance to mentor anyone directly then, even though I was helping out postbacs and summer students as well as a few postdocs from neighboring labs. But the time I spent helping people was truly rewarding on a personal level.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this position? What are some of the challenges you faced?
The hardest part of this process has actually been outside of the lab. Science-wise, Switzerland is very similar to the US — relatively good funding opportunities for labs and for fellowships, good collaborative networks between labs and universities and good international diversity among the students/fellows. So professionally, given the generous funding situation in Switzerland, there hasn’t been much of a difference from my previous work environment besides the outstanding support I had the chance to benefit from during my time at NIH. OITE/GPP has played a major part in the success of my PhD and I have never been able to find anything which relates to the level of support/help/advice I received at the NIH.

The language has been and is still a big problem outside the lab. Zurich is located in the German speaking part of the country and I have struggled a bit with it. Also my experience in the US made me appreciate the incredible convenience the American society offers its citizens and that is far from being the strongest attribute of Switzerland, even while living in the biggest city of the country. I’ve come back to the US twice since I left NIH for conferences and tourism, and I do feel “homesick” for quite some time when I return to Switzerland afterwards. So I would say my biggest challenge has been leaving the American lifestyle I got used to enjoying for five years.

What was your job search like?
Fortunately, I have been lucky enough to always get the position I was looking for. For my master’s degree, my PhD and now my postdoc lab, I only sent one application. In all instances, they were spontaneous applications, not openly advertised positions on websites or journals. I just wrote an email saying I was looking for a position and was interested in the work they were doing.

How did you come to choose this as your next step?
I went to a conference and attended a lecture from the lab I’m currently working in. I found their research highly interesting and it matched the idea of what I wanted to do after working for five years in developmental biology.

What are the most important soft skills needed for your position?
Critical and collaborative thinking. I no longer think of my work as solely mine but shared among the people I work with, and I think I get more satisfaction out of it because of this mindset.

How did you prepare for the interview?
I gave my interview presentation three days after my Thesis Defense so I just had to prepare for that one. I gave the same presentation, which was actually better spoken at the interview than at the defense.

Any last bits of advice? If you had to do your search differently, would you change anything?
Well, I now have a different approach to the type of job I want to do in science, so I would probably look for what I want now. But I don’t regret anything I have been through since these steps were essential to allowing me to figure out what I really enjoy doing in science. I would certainly tell people not to stay stuck with a job they do not enjoy waking up for. Sharon Milgram once told me, “With a PhD and enough motivation, you can practically do anything you want.”

 


Review of ResearchGate

March 24, 2014

Screen shot of a user profile on ResearchGate. The user profile highlighted is Ijad Madisch, one of ResearchGate's founders.Recently a few trainees have inquired about ResearchGate, so we decided to take a further look at this site. It was founded in 2008 by two physicians who discovered that collaborating with a friend or colleague (especially one across the world) was no easy task. They created this website with the intent of helping make scientific progress happen faster.

ResearchGate has been described as a mash up of familiar social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn because it contains profile pages, groups, job listings, the ability to leave comments as well as “like” and “follow” buttons. However, this social networking site is designed exclusively for scientists and researchers. According to ResearchGate’s site, there are four million users and their primary aim is to:

• Share publications
• Seek new collaborations
• Ask questions and hopefully receive answers from like-minded researchers
• Connect with colleagues

ResearchGate is free to join and members can upload copies of their papers. All papers will be searchable, which also allows users to track and follow the research publications of others in their field. Researchers are encouraged to not only upload successful results but those from failed projects or experiments, which are stored in a separate but still searchable area. The official mission of this site states: We believe science should be open and transparent. This is why we’ve made it our mission to connect researchers and make it easy for them to share, discover, use, and distribute findings. We help researchers voice feedback and build reputation through open discussion and evaluations of each other’s research.

Some critics of ResearchGate argue that even though the site states that there are four million users, it seems there are a lot of inactive profiles. Another criticism has focused on the fact that there hasn’t been much buy in from senior researchers meaning a high percentage of users are students or junior researchers. If you decide to create a ResearchGate profile, make sure you tailor the notification and privacy settings associated with your account since some members have complained about unwanted email spamming.

At this point, ResearchGate shouldn’t be the only site you use for networking, but it can be another helpful tool to connect with like-minded scientists/researchers and additionally it can be another way to help promote your work. As with any site, the more effort you put in, the more you will likely get out of this resource.

We would love to hear your thoughts about ResearchGate! If you have used it, what do you see as the pros and cons? Do you have any recommendations for future users?

**Compilation of Readers’ Reviews**

* In addition to networking, it is extremely useful as a research tool. A couple of points:
-When users sign up the website automatically adds the publications that have your name and appear in your profile, it also continues searching and when one
publishes an article it is also added automatically.
– It also suggests to connect with people that you cite and people who cite you so it is a tremendous tool to keep up with people in your field.
– People can ask questions about experiments and also get immediate feedback if they have questions about a publication instead of having to wonder.
– It allows you to follow senior investigators the same way one can follow a celebrity on Twitter, but there are no tweets and unless you ask a question all the conversations are personal,
there are no “wall postings.”

* It seems to be getting some traction with senior investigators. In the future, it may become more relevant to academia than perhaps LinkedIn.  Within ResearchGate, it is easier to connect with senior investigators because requests are not sent to connect, rather one just “follows” researchers.


Taking Ownership of Your Career: Developing an Individual Development Plan (IDP)

February 6, 2014

Silhouetee of a person looking at arrows pointing in different directionsHave you drafted a career plan? Do you know if you have the required skills for your dream job? Figuring out the next step in your career and how to prepare for it can be stressful. But developing a plan, early on in your career, will help guide you through this process of identifying and achieving your career goals.

This year, the OITE will be dedicating its blog to help you develop a Career Success Plan, focusing on a variety of core competencies that are critical for your career development, the first being career exploration and planning. This is where creating an individual development plan (IDP) comes into play. But, what is an IDP? And why it is so important?

An IDP is a personalized document developed to help you define your career goals and implement strategies to help you accomplish those goals. There are many ways to develop your IDP. In fact, some universities, organizations, and/or institutes may have their own IDP documents in place. No matter what stage your career is in (postbac, grad student, postdoc) or what career path you are pursuing, an IDP can help you focus on short and long term goals with an action plan to follow. Remember, that as your career progresses, your plans might change, so you can always come back and review your goals adjusting them to your current situation.

Developing an IDP requires time and effort. So it is important that you not only think thoroughly about your career by doing an honest self-assessment but also, by being committed to applying the strategies established in your plan to reach your goals. To help you build your IDP, we discuss briefly the some important elements of the IDP.

Conduct a Self-Assessment

Self-assessment helps you identify skills, interests and values that are key to finding a career that fits you. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your skills (such as communication and leadership), interests (such as mentoring and designing experiments) and values (such as fast-paced environment and flexibility) will all help you evaluate your needs and priorities in your career.

Explore Different Careers

Once you understand your needs and priorities, how do they relate to possible career paths? With so many career options, you want to make sure that the career path you choose matches your skillset and interests. You might also find a career path that you didn’t think about before but fits your needs. When exploring career options, networking and informational interviewing play a critical role to understand those careers that you are unfamiliar with and learn insights of the job.

Set Goals

Now that you have explored different careers, what is your plan to get there? This is where you should develop your short and long term goals that are SMART. By doing so, you will hopefully establish a timeline to stick to your goal.

Implement Plan

Finally and most importantly, is to put your IDP in ACTION! Remember, you are in control of your own career. If you don’t take it seriously, no one else will.

Even though you can complete an IDP by yourself, you should choose a mentoring team that can guide and advise you through this process. Mentors play a critical part of the career planning process not only because of their personal and professional experiences but also because they can: provide feedback about your skills; help you reflect on your interests and values; and keep you motivated and focused.

* Science Careers has a web-based career-planning tool called myIDP that can help graduate students and postdocs develop their IDP. SACNAS-IDP also provides advice on how to build a IDP for undergraduate students

** Disclaimer: This blog is informational and does not constitute an endorsement to Science nor SACNAS Website by NIH OITE


Two Part Series: Part 1 – Identifying Mentors: Why it Matters?

November 21, 2013

Picture of two people holding puzzle pieces. One reads "Mentor," and the other reads "You"You have probably heard the word “mentor” many times and how important a mentor can be for your career, but how can you identify suitable mentors for you? This is a question that many trainees ask themselves. Identifying a good mentor is not an easy task and it takes time and dedication.

So, where do you start? First of all, you need to understand what a mentor is and what mentoring means. A mentor is more than an advisor. S/he is someone who supports and guides you throughout your career imparting his or her knowledge and expertise. Most importantly, a mentor will encourage and motivate you to think and develop your own ideas and career goals.

Who can be a mentor? Actually, anyone! But choosing one might depend on your career stage and your career goals. If you are an undergraduate student interested in medicine, a mentor can be a physician currently practicing medicine. But if you are interested in academia, it can be a faculty member at your institution. If you are a graduate student, it might be a postdoctoral fellow or your principal investigator (PI). If you are a postdoc interested in science policy, you might want to ask someone with experience in the policy arena to be your mentor.

Mentoring is about building a relationship of support and trust with someone who is willing to share their experience, skills and guidance to help you develop both professionally and personally to achieve your goals. Finding good mentors is critical to your career development and your mentoring needs will change over time, so it is a continual process. So, here are some tips to help you in your search:

Find a mentor whose career or experiences are of interest to you.
In order to find a beneficial mentor, it is very important to ask yourself: Where do you want to be in several years? What are your career goals? What are your strengths and weaknesses? You’ll want to look for mentors whose experiences and career accomplishments align with your goals and whom you can learn from.

Choose mentors who provide guidance and constructive criticism.
A good mentor will provide guidance and supportive feedback. S/he will help you grow professionally and personally by working together to enhance your strengths and improve your weaknesses. A good mentor values learning and fosters critical thinking. Therefore, s/he will encourage you to come up with your own ideas and will challenge you to bring out your full potential.

Seek multiple mentors.
Don’t feel restricted to have only one mentor because you feel you will hurt your mentoring relationships by having multiple mentors. In fact, you should have several mentors because each individual can be a valuable resource depending on their unique experiences and how those experiences fit your needs and interests. For example, you might need a mentor to help you develop your teaching skills and another one to advise you on your research project. Of utmost importance, is finding a mentor who is committed and willing to take the time to share their expertise and skills with you. If unsure, start the dialogue early and ask if they are willing to be a mentor to you; however, keep in mind that mentors often develop organically over time.

Understand that mentoring is a two way street.
A common misconception is thinking that mentoring is one sided. Often, a successful mentoring relationship benefits both sides. It can be a rewarding learning experience for both the mentor and the mentee. You should feel confident that you are contributing to the relationship, as your success is also your mentor’s success. Moreover, as you move up in your career, you might become a valued colleague for your mentor and you can also pay it forward by mentoring others.

Remember, like in every relationship, finding a mentor takes time and dedication. Once you find it, you need to cultivate and foster that relationship, but how do you do that? Be sure to check the blog for the second part of this series in which we will discuss how to cultivate and maximize your mentoring relationship.


Boo! Why Job Searches are So Scary

October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween from OITE!Image of two bats, a ghost, a pumpkin and the word "Boo!".

Today is a day for tricks, treats and all things spooky. While we hope you will enjoy the spirit of this holiday in your personal life, we also invite you to think about your professional life and what part of the job search scares you.

Job searching can feel like navigating your way through a haunted house – it can be riddled with false doors, creepy detours, and hair-raising events.  As proof of this, read some Job Search Horror Stories as shared by OITE staff.  Many questions can come up during a job search: What in your professional past, if anything, haunts you? How spooked are you by networking? What eerily hard questions have you received during an interview? How frightened are you about finding the perfect job?

The questions and doubts that arise during a job search are very common.  You are opening yourself up to new opportunities, which is often synonymous with change. Plus, you are putting yourself and your professional accomplishments out into the world for consideration.  You are pulling back the mask; on a superficial level, it is easy to understand how the job search can make an individual feel vulnerable, exposed, and anxious.  The anxiety and risk aversion associated with this process can cause individuals to procrastinate.  Like a ghoul you can’t shake, there can be a nagging voice in your head reminding you that you need to be doing more.

Brain research has repeatedly shown that humans try to maximize rewards and minimize threats – we often condition ourselves to avoid pain or resistance.  Often times, we also avoid what is most important to us.  Many scientists tend to be perfectionists, and this can be a debilitating attribute for a job search. We all want to choose the perfect job, create the perfect resume and negotiate the perfect salary.  Fear that we will fall short can cause us to avoid those activities and procrastinate.

Take some time today to think about the ghosts of your job searching past.  Remember that there are a lot of “tricks” to job searching, so be sure to utilize the “treats” from OITE. We are here to help you at every stage along the way and can hopefully begin to help demystify a scary process.


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Assistant Professor at UPenn

September 30, 2013

Name: Elizabeth Grice, PhD

Job Title & Company: Assistant Professor of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania

Location: Philadelphia, PA

How long you’ve been in your current job: 1 year, 8 months

Postdoc Advisor, IC: Julie Segre, NHGRI

What do you do as an Assistant Professor?
It’s varied. When I first started, I did a lot of stuff setting up my lab and hiring people. Now, that I’ve hired people and they’ve become accustomed to the lab and I’ve trained them, they are a lot more independent. So, now I spend a lot of my time writing grants and manuscripts. I have found that I spend a fair amount of time traveling and talking about my research with people at other universities or conferences.

What do you research?
We work on microbiome, especially related to skin health and disease. One area that we focus on is wound healing and how the microbiome influences wound healing. We recently published a paper in PNAS showing that an arm of the immune system called complement actually modulates the skin microbiome and vice versa.  So, that was kind of cool to get my first big paper since my start in my lab.

What are the most important skills that you utilize in your current position?
I think the writing skills are really important as are the communication skills. Oral and written communication skills are key because a big part of your job is selling your research so that you can get funded and get publications.  The other part, which I didn’t necessarily anticipate, is being able to manage people. Right now, I have six people in my lab and I am responsible for them and I have to be sure that they are doing their jobs. Being able to successfully manage a research program really depends on these two skills. Of course, on top of this, you need to have ideas and an excellent scientific background.

How did you develop your communication and management skills?
I wrote a K99 grant which helped a lot. I realized that this is what I wanted to do because I really enjoyed writing the grant and I did enjoy writing the manuscripts when I was a postdoc. This was one of my favorite parts. I didn’t enjoy the bench work as much as much as taking my ideas and putting them into a coherent story.

I took a grant writing class through NIHGRI and I also participated in Lori Conlan’s Management Boot Camp, which was really helpful. I also draw on a lot of advice from my colleagues at Penn and other professors that have labs. This can be especially helpful to get input on how to handle different personnel/management scenarios.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I really like the flexibility and the freedom and the fact that I go to work every day and get to do exactly what I want to do. Of course I have deadlines and I have to write grants, but they are all things that I am interested in and I really like that. I love that I have a goal (up for tenure in five years). I have mentors who advise me along the way and my chair is very helpful, but no one tells me what to do – I am in charge of my own destiny and my own time. I also like collaborating with people. The research in my lab is highly multidisciplinary and I get to collaborate with unique people from different areas that I never thought I would get to work with.  For example, for a proposal for the US Army, we are looking at what types of volatile organic compounds are produced from the skin microbiome and how those compounds affect the attractiveness of people to mosquitoes, which can cause diseases like malaria. So, although I never thought I would be doing this, it is fun because the team includes an organic chemist, a mosquito expert and a statistician. It is fun to draw on the expertise of other people.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
The hardest part has been managing people and I am still grappling with my style and how I should do it. I often wonder if I should be more hands on, more hands off, all the while realizing that different people respond differently to different types of management.  I never had people working for me before, so it has been something that I have had to get used to and I am still figuring it out. I actually think more senior professors are still figuring it out too – it is a challenge for all.

What was your job search like?
My job search was crazy and stressful. I applied to every place that had an opening that was within my range of interest and it also had to be somewhere my husband was willing to move. I didn’t apply anywhere where I wasn’t willing to move and I ended up interviewing at 12-13 places and the interview process is just grueling for each place. It is usually two days long; one day, you give a seminar and the next day you give a chalk talk. In between all of those, you are constantly meeting with people, even during your meals.  I squeezed all of my interviews into a short time span of three months, so it was just really exhausting.  I didn’t know how many interviews I was going to get or how many offers I was going to get; there is just no way of telling and I wanted to be sure I was going to get an offer eventually, so I just applied to a lot of places.

What are the most important soft skills needed for your position?
In a postdoc, you are so focused on getting papers out and getting your scientific skills together, it can be easy to forget that ultimately you are going to need to be able to hone your communication and people skills. I was really lucky because my postdoctoral advisor, Julie, got so many invitations to speak at different place and she wasn’t able to speak at all of them, so she would send me sometimes. That was really helpful because it not only helped me with my presentation skills, but also helped me to network and get my name out there. To get a job, you have to do a considerable amount of networking which I am not great at, but I know this was always stressed during seminars. If you do a lot of talks and posters, then people come to you and things seem to start falling into place.  My mentor did a great job thinking about my career development and introducing me to people who might be important to know. If Julie hadn’t been so proactive and such a good mentor, I don’t think I would have been nearly as successful in my job search.

How did you prepare for the interview?
I did practice the chalk talk portion, which I think is really important because the chalk talk is really your plans for your research and what direction you are going to take.  You can’t use slides, so you have to think about how you are going to communicate that and how you are going to sketch it out on the blackboard.  Practice with people who have seen and judged these types of talks before.

Any last bits of advice?
Be prepared because it’s a hard path to go down unless you absolutely love what you do and love your research. You need to live and breathe your research because it is a lot of hours and it is a lot of work. Unless you are totally invested in it, it’s probably not going to work out, you probably won’t be happy.

This is not a field you go into for the pay, but remember you have the power of negotiation. I remember reading somewhere that only 7% of women negotiate their salary and when I read that, I was right in the middle of negotiation and I made sure to try to negotiate my salary and I felt ridiculous doing it because I thought “Well, that’s enough money, it’s more than I make now.” But you can always ask for more — whether it is space, equipment, money, salary, startup funds. I think it is important to negotiate, but then again, if you ask for a lot, they are going to expect more. Always be sure you are given the resources to do the best job that you can do. You need the resources to succeed.