NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Assistant Professor

July 22, 2015

**TWO-PART SERIES — Part 1: Job Overview**

Name: Veronica Irvin

Job Title & Organization:  Assistant Professor; Oregon State University, College of Public Health

Location: Corvallis, Oregon

How long you’ve been in your current job: Started in September 2014, so I’m in my second term.

What is your role as an Assistant Professor like?
It’s a tenured track position, broken up between teaching, advising, research, scholarship and service. The first few years I have a reduced teaching load to get introduced to the system and develop my course syllabi.

What courses are you teaching?
This term I am teaching Program Evaluation for MPH students where they design an evaluation plan for a real-world health program. They work with a stakeholder in the community at a health department, a non-profit or a community organization, who is implementing a health program. The students design an evaluation that fits around the needs and the timing of the project, including some of their outcomes. It gives the students experience working within the community and a realistic picture about what timing and financial constraints are in a real-world setting.

The other course is a writing class for undergraduate students. In our university, they want to give students a chance to learn writing not only from the English Department but also learn what is common in your specific genre or discipline. Seniors will actually do a writing course with non-English department faculty to learn writing methods. The university actually provided me with a course on how to learn about teaching writing.

How did you come to choose this as the next step after your postdoc? Has a tenure track faculty position always been your goal?
I have always been leaning toward academia. That is where I was from prior to my postdoc. I really enjoyed my postdoc at the NIH and I was really thinking about whether I wanted to stay in more of an administrative role within research or go back to academia. In academia, I really liked the idea of working with students one-on-one and I liked the prospect of having a little bit more freedom about what your research will focus on. I really did miss working with students which is what I had done prior to the NIH as a graduate student.

What do you consider the most important skills that you utilize in this role?
Definitely writing skills and it is important to listen and understand the priorities of not only the students you are working with but also with the community organizations you are engaging. If I really want a student to have another opportunity with a community organization or a clinic, I really have to stop and think, “Why would this clinic want this student?” I need to make sure it wouldn’t be a time burden for them and analyze the benefit that each party could receive from this partnership.

What about soft skills?
How to write effective emails and how to have a one-on-one discussion with a student are some skills I use a lot. Many times, things come up in a student’s personal life which they have to come and talk to you about. Or, it can be a discussion on grades and having to explain why they may or may not get an ‘A.’ So, I think those conversation skills and being able to respond to emails whether it is department-wide or between you and a student are very important.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I really enjoy engaging with the students and working to tailor the program for each student. There are some students who want to do more statistics/design versus students that want to do more community outreach/organization. It helps to tailor their courses and research experiences to help them be better prepared to land a job.

The university is the number one employer in the community so there are a lot of bonds between the university and the community, which is great. For me, it has been a process of starting slow and trying to make and establish those connections. That has taken a few months and I am still not quite there yet, but relationship building can take time.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
Moving the research that I was doing at the NIH and trying to get it started up here. Finding out what will and what won’t work here has been challenging. One of the challenges is that we are located in a smaller city so for a lot of health promotion or public health research, you are now working with a smaller representation of the population. I have been trying to adapt whether I can do some of the research from OSU but with a population that lives elsewhere or can I tailor some of my research questions to match the population that lives here.

How has the orientation to this role been? What has the process been like for new faculty and how have you been supported?
There are lots of orientations and at our university, they gave us no teaching the first term in order to give us time to go to all of these new meetings, whether it was meeting with the IRB or others.

But it is important to note that I asked about this during my interview. It is important to ask good questions during your interview. My university actually has a formal mentoring program for new assistant professors. So, when I came in the fall, they worked with me to identify two faculty members who I wanted to work with for either teaching or research. So, I meet with them separately at least once every other month. The goal is to become tenured in five years, so they also help you make sure you are on the right track for that. I speak with my mentors about what I have done and my goals for the rest of the year so that I can make sure I have had a successful first year on the track to becoming tenured.

***

Next week, we will post Part 2 – Job Search.

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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.


Getting a Faculty Job

August 26, 2013

‘Tis the season for academic faculty job searches.  From summer until late fall, the bulk of faculty jobs are accepting applications to fill positions that begin in the fall of the following year.  If you are considering this route, here are some things you need to think about:

  1. What kind of school do you want to be at?
    Do you want to be at a large research university (like Columbia University in NYC), a state school that terminates in a master’s program (like Eastern Michigan University), or a liberal arts environment (like Swarthmore College).  Each of these types of institutions has different expectations regarding the amount of teaching and research expected from faculty.  Different institutions/schools have different expectations for grant funding, teaching, and service. Be sure to consider the type of position you are looking for so you can prepare the strongest possible package.Another question to consider: does the location and setting (urban/suburban) matter to you? To research schools, look at the Carnegie Classifications.
  2. Find positions that interest you.
    Many schools post their openings on-line at sites including:  Science Careers, New Scientist Jobs, Academic 360, Nature, Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Cell Careers, Higher Education Recruitment Consortium, The Chronicle of Higher Education.  You should also look at your favorite schools’ websites.  Network with faculty at meetings or conferences to get the insider’s information on openings.
  3. Start to prepare your job application package.
    a.   CV – a record of your academic career.  Your CV will be tailored differently if it is a research-intensive position or if it is a teaching-intensive position.b.   Cover Letter – This is a document that is very tailored to the job for which you are applying.  This document allows you to explain why you are interested in this particular college, and how you see your research goals fitting into their overall department.

    c.   Research Plan – The goal here is to get your future colleagues to be excited about you and your science.  This document typically includes some discussion of prior research accomplishments, but you should specifically highlight the work most relevant to your proposed work.  You need to lay out a do-able research plan for the next 5+ years with a focus on explaining how the work you are currently proposing fits into your broader long-term goals. Depending on the position, you may want to explain how you will tailor your research for students at the institution; this is especially important if the expectation is that you will engage large numbers of undergrads in your research.

    d.   Teaching Plan – If you will have a teaching component of your job, this part of your application tells them about your personal beliefs on teaching and gives a description of how you teach. It should have specific examples and reflect that you understand the student population at that specific institution.

    e.   Letters of recommendation – You should start to line your letters up early.  They need to be very strong.

In this tight academic job market, one major key to success is preparation. You need to be sure you have your papers published, that you have obtained the appropriate amount of teaching experience, and that you have researched the institution to be sure it is the right fit. Starting early and getting a lot of input is key. If you are an NIH trainee (or local to the DC area) join us for the first of our series on securing a faculty job on Aug 28: Academic Job Search.  If you cannot make this event, watch our videos online: Academic Job Search Overview.


Dont Leave Us Hanging!

July 16, 2013

As you get ready to end your summer internship or your summer rotations as a grad student, don’t forget to keep in touch.

We often hear from our younger trainees that you enjoyed your summer experience.  You like the research and felt you got along great with your mentor(s). Yet, when many of you write to join the lab again the following summer or to get a letter of recommendation your feel like you never hear from the advisor or you get a lukewarm response.  “Why?” you ask,  “I did good work.”   Of course you did, you just forgot to demonstrate how much the work meant to you and how much you want to stay a part of that work.

We know that it can be hard to keep up with your labs when you leave (without feeling like a stalker).  So, here is a suggestion to get started.  Send your PI a brief thank you note within a month of leaving.   This does not need to be a long email, just a few short lines thanking them for letting you be in their research group, something valuable that you learned, and that you hope you can keep in touch.  Write a separate (and different) letter to your day to day mentor or supervisor in the lab, probably your postdoc or graduate student.

You can always follow up anytime with a quick hello, and to let people know that you still are thinking about your experience.  Once a semester is even enough.  Ask about the project you worked on and if there has been any progress.

If your research has helped your coursework or your coursework has finally made something you learned during the summer more clear, let people know.  (i.e. this week we studying signal transduction which made me think about…)

Follow pub-med-watch to see if that paper that the lab was toiling over all summer was finally published.  Then send a note to congratulate the authors.

Connect online, LinkedIn is a terrific way to make a connection.  You should ask your advisor and other labmates if they would like to be connected before you send them an invitation.  Also, remember LinkedIn is static, and not everyone in the scientific community yet uses it to its full ability.  It will not replace an active networking outreach as described above.

When it comes time to return to the research group or to ask for a letter of recommendation, remind them who you are and what you did in their group.

Good luck to you as you wrap up your summer research experience, we are glad you came!


How a Mentor Helped Me Succeed…and How I Now Get to Help Her

July 10, 2013

Post written by Lori M. Conlan, Director of the Postdoc Office and the Career Services Center at the OITE

This week I had lunch with the first mentor I had outside of the lab environment. In 2006, I had just left my postdoc to join a non-profit in Manhattan—the New York Academy of Sciences. I knew I could do the job running a career development program for graduate students and postdocs, but I was clueless about how life worked in an office. I started on a Tuesday, and by Friday I was sent off on my first business trip to Miami. One of my colleagues, the VP of marketing and membership, went with me. Through out the entire trip she explained the rules of the trade and actively engaged me in business meetings with university leaders. She was never officially charged to be my mentor, nor did I specifically ask her to be my mentor—it was a relationship that grew organically due to the integrated nature of our work. Over the next year or so this terrific mentor helped me learn to develop successful marketing campaigns, improved my non-technical writing, taught me how to be persuasive, and most importantly how to navigate office politics and big egos. I always knew that she was giving me more than she was receiving, but she has always been passionate at mentoring the next generation. We loosely stayed in touch after she left the organization, a common thing that happens with networking and mentoring. I was always appreciative that she smoothed the transition from the bench to the desk, but never knew how I was going to give back in the circle of networking.

Fast-forward seven years. She and her husband are moving to DC for his job and she is looking for connections here. Now, I am happy to be on the other side giving back to the networking relationship. We chatted about what her passions are and how she can relate her skill sets to those passions. She went away from lunch yesterday with broader ideas about the types of places she would like to work, specific venues in DC, and even a few introductions. I know she is a master networker, and has met with tons of people as she explores what is next in her career, but I did feel like I gave back a bit for all the good she did for me years ago.

When I talk with fellows about finding mentors, they often ask, “But what do I have to offer them?” So, as you ponder setting up mentoring relationships and you wonder about how you will give back to the relationship—don’t underestimate what you may be giving back in the future. Mentoring always leads to positive outcomes for both people in the relationship. And what those positive outcomes are changes as your lives change. I hope you too find a mentor that you can connect with for years to come.  And don’t worry if you lose touch, these good mentoring relationships can always be re-invigorated no matter how long you have been apart (even seven years in this case).

Check out the OITE’s other blog posts for more on mentoring and networking


If I Could Do One Thing Differently in My Career…

June 10, 2013

Post written by Sharon Milgram, Director of The Office of Intramural Training & Education.

One of the fun things I get to do as part of my job directing the Office of Intramural Training & Education, is to give talks on the NIH campus and at universities across the United States.  Students ask me all types of questions about my career; how a physical therapist became a cell biologist, what I like about my previous faculty job and my current administrative job, what I don’t like, what I look for when I hire new employees, etc. One question always gets asked– what I would do differently if I could do it all over again. I always give the same response – “I would have learned more about leadership and management earlier in my career”.

Yes, I got my faculty job based on my science — the papers I published, the grants I wrote, and the way I communicated enthusiasm for protein trafficking. But, I was successful in that job because of the hard work and dedication of the many students and staff who worked with me. When I communicated my expectations clearly and dealt with issues calmly and up-front, my lab ran more smoothly and I got more work done. Therefore, my success depended on my science skills AND my management/leadership skills. The same is true now in a completely different setting. My success in the OITE depends on others doing their best work.  It is critical that I work continuously on my management and leadership skills.

There is broad agreement that scientists must develop strong interpersonal skills to do effective team science and to transition from training to management positions (at and away from the bench). Yet, we don’t always find the time to be trained in these areas. Many students, postdocs and mentors find little value in “soft skills” training.  They believe that a successful career in science is determined predominantly by publications, patents, funding, etc. However, the book Lab Dynamics (Cohen and Cohen)* surveyed scientists and found that nearly two-thirds reported that interpersonal conflict had hampered progress on a scientific project between 1-5 times in their career. Furthermore, many of our alumni share that managing and leading a team is one of the earliest challenges they face.

To help you start developing your management and leadership skills, the OITE has developed the “Workplace Dynamics” series. The workshops focus on: 1) increased awareness of self and others using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®; 2) communication styles and influencing others; 3) conflict dynamics; 4) team theory; and 5) diversity training. Our goal is to help you gain greater self-awareness and an appreciation that others may approach conflict and group work differently. We hope that by providing a language to discuss these differences, you will be better able to manage yourself and work across differences in the workplace. We use examples that resonate with scientists and combine didactic material with interactive group work. We know that trainees appreciate the interactive group work, but that they also like helpful resources they can access from home. I have listed some of these resources at the bottom of this post in the hopes that readers not currently at NIH can benefit from the reading the material as they seek similar programs on their campuses. Those of you currently at NIH – summer interns, postbacs, grad students, postdocs, clinical and research fellows – take advantage of these workshops now. The Summer/Fall Workplace Dynamics series starts in June.  Find our more and register here.

References:

Lab Dynamics: Management Skills for Scientists, Cohen and Cohen (2005) New York: Cold Spring Harbor Press

MBTI: http://www.myersbriggs.org/

Type Talk at Work (Revised): How the 16 Personality Types Determine Your Success on the Job by Otto Kroeger, Janet M. Thuesen and Hile Rutledge (2002) Delta

Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (Tuxedo NY: Xicom, 1974) and CPP TKI product page

Eckerd College Center for Conflict Dynamics: http://www.conflictdynamics.org/

Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader: How You and Your Organization Can Manage Conflict Effectively by Craig E. Runde and Tim A. Flanagan (2006) Jossey-Bass

Crucial Confrontations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler (2004) McGraw-Hill

Feedback That Works: How to Build and Deliver Your Message, CCL, 2000

Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition; Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman  (2006), Bantam

Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (2000) Bantam

Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, Third Edition by Maurianne Adams, Warren Blumenfeld, Carmelita Castaneda and Heather W. Hackman (2013) Routledge

 


Preparing for the Application Season

June 3, 2013

Regardless of whether you are planning on applying to Graduate School or Professional school, a successful application requires preparation.  If you remember one word from this post, remember “Early.”  Take your exams (GRE, MCAT, LSAT, GMAT, etc.) early.  Get your letters of recommendation lined up early.  Write your personal statement early.  Have someone look over your materials early.  Submit your applications early.  When you get an interview, show up early.

For those applying to graduate school:

You will want to have your GRE taken by the end of August or beginning of September.  This means you need to start studying now.  In particular, you need to go back and review your high school math.  If you don’t use, you lose it.  The chances are that you haven’t used much of what will be on the test in your four (or more) years of undergrad.  You need to take practice exams…lots of them.  Much of successful test taking is being comfortable and familiar with the format.  Reading about the format is not the same as practicing it.

So why do you need to get your GRE done so early?  So you can know whether or not to retake the exam.  If you are unsure whether your scores are strong enough for a particular program, ask the Director of that program.  Unlike Medical School, these programs are trying to recruit you.  Most of the time, the program directors will respond directly to your e-mail asking about the strength of your application.   Writing in with your scores early shows that you are prepared and organized.  Writing in late, shows just the opposite.

For those applying to professional schools:  This specific material is written for Medical School applications, but the principles apply to all professional school applications.

Submit your AMCAS as soon as possible (note, that is another way to say “Early”).  Ideally, you want to submit it with in two weeks of the opening. Do NOT wait for your MCATs.  You can always add more schools later depending on where your scores make you most competitive.  Your odds of acceptance decrease the later you submit your application.  You simply do not look prepared if your application comes in right before the terminal deadline.  Also, medical schools review applications in waves.  The sooner your application is in, the fewer competitors you have for the most number of invitations.

Once your applications are in, pay attention to your e-mail.  Even if you are on vacation, check it daily.  You want to get your secondaries turned around and back to the schools quickly.  You need to show that you are eager to get in and that you are organized enough to turn things around quickly.  If your secondary sits in your inbox for a week while you are relax on vacation, you look eager to relax on vacation and not attend medical school.

For all applicants:

Nothing is as valuable as face-to-face interactions with representatives of the schools you are applying to.  If you are in the Washington D. C. area, the NIH hosts a “Graduate and Professional School Fair” on July 17 in Bethesda.  This is really a first chance to meet admissions officers and make a strong impression.  There will be 153 programs in attendance to meet with postbacs and students as well as informational sessions geared toward specific disciplines such as med schools, dental school, pharmacy school, psychology programs, PhD programs in biomedical sciences.  If you are in the area, this really is an opportunity you do not want to miss.