NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Consultant

January 27, 2014

Name: Kara Lindstrom

Job Title & Company: Consultant, Booz Allen Hamilton

Location: Rockville, MD

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

What do you do as a consultant?
There are tons of consultants in the DC area. We almost outnumber the number of lawyers in the metro area! Generally speaking, consultants are people who assist other organizations in a common goal. I assist the military health system to increase their knowledge on traumatic brain injury and psychological health issues by summarizing current scientific literature. I also convene working groups of experts to make recommendations on standards of care for a specific clinical area.

What are the most important skills that you utilize in your current position?
Solid critical thinking skills and strong writing skills are definitely a plus. You can learn the consulting skills but you can’t learn the science skills that you get from a PhD in science. Organizational skills are important as is problem solving. Being able to anticipate problems that could arise and coming up with strategies on how to solve them. Those are a few of the top transferable skills that I am still developing.

A common impression of consulting is that it is project-based, but also team based. How much of a focus is there on team or group work?
There is a lot of focus on groups, but I don’t work in a group with just other PhDs. On our teams, we have people that are both senior and junior to us and the idea is to work as one entity with those different levels. You may be the only expert on a particular field of science and need to teach your team about this topic. In that same project, you may be the novice on another subject. So, it is a mix of assuming the teacher role and the student role – all within the same meeting. That is an important skill to have and something I use in my everyday skillset.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I like the flexibility and the fact that it is not the same thing. Similar to grad school, there is something different daily. One day, I might write a lit review and the next day, I may attend a conference or work with our clients on a strategic plan. You are constantly using different skills, so you don’t get bored. In a similar vein to how we have to assume the role of both teacher and student, I like how I get to continuously learn about new topics. I have enjoyed learning about different areas and kind of becoming an expert in a different way than I was able to in grad school.

What are some of the challenges of being a consultant?
I am lucky because I don’t really have to travel with my current job. I would say I travel once every four months. However, that is a decision that you have to make if you go into consulting: Are you willing to do the Monday – Thursday travel schedule? This issue factors into the work-life balance issue, which everyone has to contend with. You have to put limitations on what you will and will not be available for and those decisions may impact your career trajectory. This is just a fact; you just have to decide what you are comfortable with and what you value.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
The general consulting skills (i.e. project and client management, product preparation) because you get used to the world of academia, so switching into a more professional environment is something that took a little bit of effort on my part. I was hired because of my subject background and so I came in thinking I was the expert, but I hadn’t had much experience making client-ready documents. Making things look pretty wasn’t something I was used to doing. In grad school, it is more about the content and in consulting content matters but it needs to be accessible to different audiences. To do this, you have to think about formatting and what level of language you will use. Most of the time, you aren’t speaking to other experts; you are speaking to the general public. It is a different kind of writing; it is not the technical writing that you do when writing journal articles.

What was your job search like?
I graduated in November 2010 and took a little time off to finish up some work. Then, I started to research what firms were available in the area and the different types of consulting firms. I needed to decide if I wanted to go into commercial/management consulting (like McKinsey) or if I wanted to go into government consulting (like BAH). I also had to decide if I wanted to leave my subject area and go into general consulting or if I wanted to stay in my subject area and consult in that field. There are a lot of different firms and I took the time to try and get to know them. First it was identifying the target; then learning the differences within them; applying to the various companies, and finally preparing for the interviews.

What was your interview like?
I went on a few different interviews, but there were two types of interviews- the behavioral interview and the case interview. The behavioral interview is more of the traditional interview where you walk through your resume and they tend to ask situational-based questions. They want to figure out if your personality and thought process are a fit for the team. Then, there is the case study interview and this can be wide-ranging. They give you a scenario and then you have to ask questions to figure out what the problem is and what you would do to solve the problem. They can also give you numbers associated with the case where you have to figure out ratios and do some mental arithmetic. For example, this drug store is having customer service issues; what percent of their profit is being affected? Then there is a subset case interview where you come in and you discuss a journal article. It is basically like a journal club. Those were the types of interviews I went through during my job search.

How did you prepare for your interview?
There is actually quite a bit of information online. There is a book called “Case in Point” which offers a lot of different strategies to help to prepare for a case interview. It is mainly geared toward an MBA type of candidate. It is good to help you understand what type of questions could come up and it gives you the general format of a case interview, but one thing that you have to factor in is that the book is preparing an MBA candidate and you are a PhD candidate.  They don’t need you to know all these finance terms; they want you to display your critical thinking skills, so again that problem solving aspect and being able to identify a problem and organize it into some logical process in order to solve it.

The other thing that I try to impress on people from NIH is that you are not interviewing with your peer group. You are interviewing with people who have no idea about the field of science. When you say I was a graduate student in this lab and I led this study, you really need to spell out what skills you used. By listing your publications, most people at NIH can look through and see what kind of a scientist you were – if you were more of a bench or a clinical scientist. But in consulting, they don’t really know that, so you need to explicitly state your transferable skills. For example, did you manage people? Did you collaborate with postdocs? Did you have any collaboration with leaders in your field? Spelling out all of those different experiences and skills are important to help your interviewers figure out what things they could use from your skill set.

Any last bits of advice?
Consulting is a very logical next step from academia. When making the transition, I kept thinking it was just a huge step, but it really isn’t that big of a jump. The people who are able to adapt to new situations end up being successful in consulting. Those who are much more black and white and need to have stability and structure don’t tend to find consulting to be a good fit for them. It has been a great move for me and I have really enjoyed it. There are lots of opportunities for individuals just coming out of NIH with a PhD to come over to consulting.

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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.


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 21 – Health Science Policy Analyst

September 10, 2012

This is the twenty first in a series of profiles about recent NIH postdocs who have found an array of jobs, from academia to industry to communications and beyond, in the U.S. and abroad. What do they do now, and how did they get there? What challenges did they face, and what advice do they have? Read on to find out.

Name: Dr Brenda Diane Kostelecky

Job title and company: Health Science Policy Analyst, NCI

Location: Bethesda, MD

How long you’ve been in your current job: 10 months

Postdoc subject, advisor and IC: NICHD, Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz, morphology changes in mitochondria and their effects on proliferation, authophagy

What are you doing now?

I am a health science policy analyst at the NCI in the Office of Science Planning and Assessment. I did a 3-month detail there at the end of my postdoc and stayed on as a contractor.

How did you decide that you didn’t want to continue doing bench science?

I didn’t want to leave science but I couldn’t see myself at the bench for the long-term. I started to look for other options by joining the NIH Fellows Committee (FelCom) Career Development Sub-Committee. Read the rest of this entry »


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 20 – Co-Director of Community College Program, Office of Intramural Training and Education

August 20, 2012

This is the twentieth in a series of profiles about recent NIH postdocs who have found an array of jobs, from academia to industry to communications and beyond, in the U.S. and abroad. What do they do now, and how did they get there? What challenges did they face, and what advice do they have? Read on to find out.

Name: Erika L. Barr

Job title and company: Co-director for NIH Community College Program & Coordinator of Special Projects, OITE, NIH

Location: Bethesda, MD

How long you’ve been in your current job: 2.5 years

Postdoc subject, advisor and IC: Laboratory of Immunology, Dennis Taub, NIA

How did you get to where you are now?

(Chuckling.) A lot of prayer. I was a biology major in undergrad. I went to a historically black college in North Carolina. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do after that so I taught sixth grade science for 2 years. I found that I enjoyed education, but wanted to teach older kids.

I talked to a former professor and mentor of mine and she encouraged me to get a Master’s in biology. That was huge because that was the first time I was exposed to real research.

I still wanted to have a small job while I went to school so I worked as an assistant coordinator with a math and science program for kids from underrepresented backgrounds.

Then, I decided to complete my PhD at Clark Atlanta University.

What did you find helpful along the way?

Networking and having awesome mentors both played major roles in my journey.

For example, towards the end of graduate school, I went to an international conference. During one of the activities, I met a PI on the bus and we began to talk. He asked me about my research and career goals, and I gave him my little elevator speech. He asked me, “Well, what do you want to do next?” I told him that attending that meeting had really made me want to do research abroad. By the end of the conversation, he had asked me if I would be interested in going to West Africa to do trachoma vaccine research. So, I did a short postdoc for him through the Medical Research Council/London School of Hygiene and Tropical Disease before coming to the NIH for my postdoc here.

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NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 19 – Group Leader, Center for Allergy and Environment in Munich, Germany

July 30, 2012

This is the Nineteenth in a series of profiles about recent NIH postdocs who have found an array of jobs, from academia to industry to communications and beyond, in the U.S. and abroad. What do they do now, and how did they get there? What challenges did they face, and what advice do they have? Read on to find out.

Name: Jan Gutermuth

Current position: Group leader (Arbeitsgruppenleiter) of the Experimental Allergy Group, Center for Allergy and Environment (ZAUM), Technische Universität München and Helmholtz Center Munich

Location: Munich, Germany

Time in current position: 1 year

Postdoc: Mechanisms of immunological tolerance and their therapeutic modulation with Stephen I. Katz at NCI

My story: I’m a dermatologist.By the time I came to the NIH, I was in a pretty lucky situation. I had taken a step away from the clinic and had done a Ph.D. equivalent, which at that time was not well-regulated in Germany. Often, our medical doctors are sent outside their institutes for some time because our mentors want us to gain some experience and then come back. This was offered to me. Of course, there’s no guarantee there will be a position for you when you go back. For me, I was not 100% sure if I would go back to the same department or somewhere else.

Job search in a nutshell: I started to look for jobs once I saw my project at the NIH was running well and I was starting to write a paper. I considered staying in the U.S. But I didn’t have a board exam in dermatology that was recognized in the U.S. and I didn’t want to do my residency again. I always maintained contact with my home department in Germany, but I was also invited by other departments to give talks based on scientific presentations. Normally that means they want to interview you. Prior to coming to the NIH, I was active in the German dermatology and allergy scene, so they knew me already. I could have joined at least three or four departments.

Network, network, network: Mostly my conversations came out of real interest. If I’m interested, I will talk to that person. It has led me to the people I need to know. I’m a little bit hurt if someone networks with me but isn’t really interested. Of course, if you’re really good at networking, you’ll do more than I do. For me, it’s like a key and lock: it should fit.

The book How To Work a Room was very helpful for me.

Also regarding networking, I became friends with the Austrian embassy attaché and representatives from the European Union in D.C. They tried to recruit me. Washington has a lot to offer. You shouldn’t only stay in your lab at the NIH. It is such a rich scene with many scientists and politicians traveling to the area.

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NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profiles 17 &18 – Assistant Professors of Medicine, University of Central Florida

July 16, 2012

This is the Seventeenth (and Eighteenth) in a series of profiles about recent NIH postdocs who have found an array of jobs, from academia to industry to communications and beyond, in the U.S. and abroad. What do they do now, and how did they get there? What challenges did they face, and what advice do they have? Read on to find out.

Names: Mollie and Travis Jewett

Current positions: Assistant professors of medicine, University of Central Florida

Location: Orlando, FL

Time in current positions: 2 years

Postdocs: Mollie: zoonotic pathogens of Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) with Patti Rosa; Travis: intracellular parasites (Rickettsia rickettsii and Chlamydia trachomatis) with Ted Hackstadt; both at NIAID’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories

Our story: We met when we were undergrads in Vermont. We moved to St. Louis together for grad school, then we moved to the NIH together for our postdocs, and now we’re at UCF. We’ve been doing the two-person thing for a while!

Application strategy: Our strategy the whole time has been to end up at the same place. We each applied to opportunities as individuals without mentioning the other person. We wanted to feel we were selected based on our own merits. In 2008-2009 when we were applying for faculty positions, we cast a wide net with the hope of getting multiple interviews. We applied separately and kept separate binders. In the end, it turned out we’d applied to many of the same places. We sent about 50 applications and had about 7 interviews each. Six of those were at the same places, though sometimes in different departments. We both had at least one interview at a place the other didn’t. At that point, we did mention the other spouse. They only had one position available, so we didn’t move forward with that process. It was a deal-breaker if we did not both get positions in at least the same city.  Read the rest of this entry »


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 16 – Media Relations Representative, JHU Medical Institute

July 2, 2012

This is the Sixteenth in a series of profiles about recent NIH postdocs who have found an array of jobs, from academia to industry to communications and beyond, in the U.S. and abroad. What do they do now, and how did they get there? What challenges did they face, and what advice do they have? Read on to find out.

Name: Vanessa McMains

Current position: Media relations representative, Johns Hopkins Medical Institute

Location: Baltimore, MD

Time in current position: 1 year 4 months

Graduate work/postdoc: Function of the protein complex g-secretase in Dictyostelium with Alan Kimmel at NIDDK

Day-to-day: I promote the basic science up at the medical school. It’s a small team. I do anything from writing press releases to leading media around with camera crews. I do a lot of Web work like design and updates, and I do a lot of Web writing. We try to promote our researchers to a non-scientific audience. We have pages called “Meet Our Scientists” where we do Q&As. That helps the general public understand the research that’s going on, or even postdocs who may be switching projects and may not be familiar with the terms. I also organize a yearly conference for science writers. And I run social media sites, like our Facebook pages. When I was looking for jobs, I wanted something that was mainly writing. This is maybe more like 30%—but that’s okay with me. I’m always stimulated. If I were writing all the time, I might get bored.

Finding the right fit: That was my problem in science—I got bored. As a scientist in training, you’re always learning new things, but after the first few years on a project, you know all the experiments you have to do and there’s nothing new. Every day felt like the same day. I felt like I was in Groundhog Day. Halfway through grad school, I started considering alternate careers. I went to all those events through OITE where people came in and talked about different jobs.

I had a friend who was in a science writing program, but I thought writing was a horrible task. I thought I might go into editing. There was an NIH group of mostly postdocs who would meet once a week and go over people’s papers and offer tips before they submitted to a journal. I enjoyed that, but I didn’t want to do it full-time. I realized I was becoming very picky.

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