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.


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

September 16, 2013

Graphic of an academic diploma that states "Master of Science" and graduation capGetting the right degree for the career you want is not as easy as you might think.  Many believe a PhD is always better than a master’s degree.  However, depending on what you want to do, having a master’s degree can put you in a better position to get a job.  Just like any decision, it is important to consider all the factors before making a decision on which degree is best for you.  There are distinct differences between most master’s degree programs and PhD programs.

Degree Purpose: In general, a PhD program is not designed to get you a job. It is designed to train you to be a researcher and to contribute something novel to your field.  A master’s degree program is designed around the job market.  Most master’s degree programs aim to train a “marketable workforce,” with assignments that mimic the functions of professionals in the field.

Time to Completion: Master’s programs are on average one to two years.  A PhD is usually much longer, averaging four to seven years to complete depending on your field of study.

Student Body: Since master’s programs often tailor class offerings around the schedule of a working adult, your classmates are likely to be current professionals in your field.  Because of this, they provide a great network for finding employment.  In a PhD program, your “classmates” are likely to be dedicated researchers whose day-to-day lives are very similar to yours.  It is still important to build a network with your peers — that network will ultimately prove to be valuable.

You will also want to make sure you know the different types of master’s degrees that are available.  There are three main types of master’s degrees in the biomedical sciences.

Master’s of Science – Field:  These are knowledge driven degrees that are designed to provide an advanced education in a broad scientific discipline such as genetics, biochemistry, virology, etc.  These programs often have a research component that make them attractive to those interested in a research position either in academia/government or industry.  They provide students with a deeper understanding of the entire field as opposed to teaching specific skills or techniques.

Master’s of Science – Specialty: Skills-driven approaches have become increasingly popular.  Master’s degree programs in specialized disciplines such as biotechnology, bioproductions, regulatory affairs, etc. are designed to prepare you to do a specific job with little additional training. The curriculum is heavily project-based which gives students the experience of performing job duties typically required in the workplace.

Professional Master’s:  A hybrid of the other field and specialty based programs, degrees like the Master’s in Public Health or Public Administration are knowledge and skill driven programs that prepare students to apply their knowledge to a broad range of professions.  These degrees often have sub-specialties to better prepare students for jobs in their desired sectors.  An example of such is the Professional Science Master’s.

Getting a master’s degree is not settling for something less than a PhD.  In fact, many B.S.- and M.S.- level positions are growing in industry. They are different degrees that serve different purposes.  You have to decide which one serves your career aspirations best.


Two-Part Series on Government Jobs – PART TWO: WHICH FEDERAL AGENCIES & CONTRACTORS HIRE SCIENTISTS?

September 9, 2013

Piece of paper with the words "Government Jobs" in boldWhich agencies hire scientists?

While the OITE is an NIH entity, great science happens in other divisions all across government.  Almost all of these places hire scientists for both bench and non-bench positions.  Non-bench positions can include: science administration (grants management from almost every agency, managing research programs, career development training), science policy (how innovative science is completed and promoted), regulation (determining if a drug is safe or an agricultural product is good for the environment).

Here is a list of government agencies hiring biomedical scientists. The list is not complete, and we would love your feedback on ones we missed!

National Institutes of Health (NIH): The NIH hires scientists for both bench and non-bench positions in the intramural research program (IRP), as well as non-bench positions within the division of extramural science, which manages the grants process in order to fund science around the country and the world.

Department of Health & Human Services (HHS): As the parent agency of the NIH, this organization hires scientists to do administrative jobs understanding how to improve health care and fund science for America.

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC):  This agency is tasked with disease prevention and protection.  They have labs to understand the mechanisms of diseases and infectious agents, both at the bench and through epidemiology.  They also have administration jobs to help set policies and run the organization.

Food & Drug Administration (FDA): Most of the time people think of the FDA as only regulatory review; however, they have writing jobs, policy jobs, and science administration.  In addition, the FDA does a large amount of bench research in areas critical to the FDA mission. View more details here.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA): The USDA has the Agriculture Research Service, it’s division of lab positions.  There are also many laboratories across the US and the world to test our food supply safety.

National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA): NASA has an entire division set aside for biological research.

Department of Defense (DOD): The Department of Ddefense has many research programs housed in each branch of the military, and you can apply as a civilian (or opt to join the service).  These research programs focus on welfare of the military (protection and prevention), and also general labs for hospitals and forensics.  Also, there may even be faculty opportunities at the Academies.

Public Health Service: This is an all officer core tasked with protecting public health.  They have opportunities for scientists, clinicians, dentists, nurses, vets, and public health people.  (Note: at the moment they are only recruiting for medical officers).  Scientists in this group work all kinds of jobs both at the bench and away from the bench in the NIH, CDC, EPA and other government agencies.

Uniformed Services of the Health Sciences University (USHSU): The medical/dental university of the armed services, which is located on the campus of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.  This is a medical school with positions for faculty member (including research programs), and other types of academic support positions.

Veterans Affairs (VA): Bench based positions will be within the hospital laboratory systems.  Non-bench jobs can include policy and administration to improve the lives of American’s veterans.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): The EPA hires scientists to understand how things in our environment will affect humans and the world in which we live.  There are bench jobs examining environmental factors to our health, both from a basic science perspective from the NC facility and also from labs strategically placed around the country.  Administration jobs can range from science policy, grants administration, regulation, and more.

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO): This organization reviews all patents submitted to the U.S. government.  Scientists review these patents according to their area of discipline.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI): The FBI hires scientists as special agents and also to do research in the core labs (such as DNA forensics).

US Congress and Executive Branch: There are policy based jobs helping us guide science through the political process both in the US and abroad.  Congress has whole committees dedicated to science (like the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee or the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee).  The Executive Branch has the Office of Science and Technology Policy and also science policy within the State Department.

***

Now, many people think that the only way to get a job with the government is to go through USAjobs.gov.  Not true!  Most offices also use a variety of contracting firms to help fill openings (for example at the NIH we often use Kelly Scientific and SAIC).  Contracting jobs are a great way to get your foot in the door and gain additional skill sets to make you even more competitive for a federal position.   They are also typically hired much faster than positions within the federal system, and may or may not have the same citizenship requirements.  Most offices treat contractors just the same as they do federal employees, so do not feel like this is not a good option to help move your career forward.

Here is a list of contracting firms to explore; again, sure we missed some but this is a terrific start. (table adapted from the Navy)

Contractors * Web Link
Alutiiq LLC http://www.alutiiq.com/
Booz Allen Hamilton http://www.boozallen.com/
CAMRIS International http://www.camris.com/
Colette Inc. http://www.colette-inc.com
Destiny Management Services http://www.destinymgmtsvcs.com/
General Dynamics Information Technology http://www.gdit.com/
Kelly Scientific http://www.kellyservices.com/global/science/
KForce http://www.kforce.com/
The Henry M. Jackson Foundation (HJF) http://www.hjf.org/
Lab Support http://www.labsupport.com/
Lab Pros http://www.labprosinc.com/
Management Consulting Inc. (MANCON) http://www.manconinc.com/
The McConnell Group http://www.themccgroup.com
The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) http://orise.orau.gov/
Research Triangle Institute International (RTI) http://www.rti.org/
Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) http://www.saic.com/
TechFlow http://www.techflow.com/
Yoh Scientific http://jobs.yoh.com/

* Posting of these contractor names does not constitute endorsement by NIH OITE.

 


The Industry Job Search is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

September 2, 2013

Professionals in business attire running toward red finish line.

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

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

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

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

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

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


In Industry, It’s About More Than Just Salary

July 24, 2013

Pondering a career in industry?  Then you need to be aware that the industry job offer may contain elements not part of offers in academia, government or non-profits; industry jobs often include a profit sharing plan.

Industry profit sharing takes two basic forms; dividends, a cash payment made to employees and share-holders based upon the performance of the company, usually on an annual basis, and equity, the actual ownership of shares of the company.  Equity in a company is granted by one of the following methods:

  • Stock grants:      A company may grant actual shares of its stock to employees.  The value of these grants is determined by the price at which the shares are traded on one of the stock exchanges.  An example: You are granted 100 shares at $5 per share. Over time if the value rises to $10 per share; the grant becomes worth $1000 after a vesting period.  Vesting is the time that you are required to hold the stock before you can sell.  If the vesting period is four years, you may sell up to 25% of your shares each year, or you can wait the four years and opt to sell all of your stocks.
  • Stock options:   If the company grants a stock option, it gives you the right to buy a specific number of shares of your company’s stock during a time and at a price that the employer specifies.  Typically this stock price is lower than market value.  As in the above example, you are granted the option to purchase 100 shares at $5 per share.  If the value rises to $10 per share, the option to you becomes worth $1000, minus the $500 you paid, or $500.  As in stock grants, a vesting period usually applies for options as well.
  • American Depository receipts (ADR’s): ADR’s are used by non-American companies whose stock trades on a foreign exchange to provide an equity vehicle for American employees.  Its value to you would be calculated in the same manner as a stock option.

Most importantly when considering a job offer, make sure to take into account the offer in its entirety, not just the salary.  The value of these other elements may comprise a significant percentage of total compensation.  In some cases, where the value of the stock has risen tremendously, many of their employees have made huge sums of money.  However in other cases, where the stock has hovered near its price at the public offering, employees have made very little.

The value that these profit sharing vehicles can add to your compensation may vary.  Make sure you connect with your Career Services Center (for NIH intramural trainees that is the OITE) to help you with the negotiation process to optimize the value of the offer you receive.


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.