NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Staff Scientist

March 4, 2014

Name: Anna Burkart Sadusky, PhD

Job Title & Company: Staff Scientist, Omeros Corporation

Location: Seattle, WA

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

Postdoc Advisor, IC: Jurrien Dean, MD; NIDDK, Development Biology Lab

What do you do as a Staff Scientist?
As a Staff Scientist, I initiate, direct and execute technology development projects.  Basically, I design and perform experiments at the bench utilizing hypothesis driven research.  These experiments include cell-based assays as well as animal research models to support our drug discovery pipeline.  As a Staff Scientist, I am expected to work independently and maintain a broad knowledge of state-of-the-art scientific principles and theories.  I am expected to write technical reports and present my findings to the research team on a routine basis.  I am also tasked with presentations to directors and senior members of the company, including the executive board.  As a small business, we are eligible for a number of public and private grants, so additionally, I am involved with grant writing to obtain funding for various research projects.  Our company also protects our intellectual property by filing a number of scientific patents, and I am responsible for writing the scientific background for several of these patents.

What do you research?
I was hired primarily to support G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) research and development.  GPCRs mediate key physiological processes in the body, and of the 363 characterized GPCRs, only about 46 are currently targeted by marketed drugs.  These GPCR-targeting drugs represent 30-40% of all drugs sold worldwide, thus there are a number of GPCRs that still could be targeted for drug development.  Omeros uses a proprietary high-throughput cellular redistribution assay to identify small-molecule compounds that target GPCRs.  It is our hope that these small molecule compounds will lead to the development of drugs that can act at these receptors which have been linked to a broad range of indications, including cardiovascular disease, asthma, diabetes, pain, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, learning and cognitive disorders, autism, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and several forms of cancer.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
Having such a broad scientific focus has been the hardest transition for me.  In graduate school and my postdoctoral fellowships, my research was focused to one field, namely reproductive physiology.  At Omeros, I am expected and relied upon to become the expert for several different research areas, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and metabolic disorders.  Even within cancer, my projects have targeted esophageal cancer, glioblastoma, and leukemia.  At Omeros, I have to be knowledgeable about these different research areas and I have to be prepared to leap quickly from one project to the next.  Additionally, although I have input on these research projects, ultimately the executive board makes decisions regarding which projects move forward through the drug discovery pipeline.

What are the most important skills that you utilize in your current position?
A strong understanding and foundation in the principles of cell and molecular biology are essential requirements for my position.  Being able to think critically and creatively is also important.  Staff scientists are hired because of their PhD training.  They are expected to work independently and efficiently.  Management and senior staff make important decisions regarding the direction of discovery research by relying on their scientists.

Flexibility and adaptability are also important.  As I mentioned before, as a staff scientist I balance several different research projects and I have to be prepared to move quickly between cancer research to central nervous system disorders to metabolic disease.  I am constantly reading papers to keep current with these research areas as well as up to date with research methods. 

What are the most important soft skills needed for your position?
Presentation skills are extremely important. I meet with many different people on a weekly basis, some of whom do not have a scientific background.  Therefore, my presentations must change depending on the audience, whether they are scientists, company board members, outside business people, or patent attorneys.   In any given week, I can present the same information multiple times with different presentations every time.

Writing is also an essential skill for this position.  As I mentioned previously, grant and patent writing are tasks that I am assigned.  Since we are a smaller biotech company (~100 employees), we are all extremely busy.  People rely on my writing abilities and do not have the time to rewrite material that leaves my office.

My best advice to postdocs is to sharpen these soft skills during your postdoctoral fellowship.  Force yourself to select oral presentations instead of poster presentations when you sign up for conferences.  Look for opportunities to write not just scientific papers, but also grants or articles for the general public, such as in newsletters or magazines.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I love that I am constantly learning in this position.  I get to research new techniques and explore such vastly different areas of science, which is very exciting.  Also, there is an immense satisfaction knowing that your research can one day lead to the development of drugs that can treat human diseases.

What was your job search like?
About six months before I moved to Seattle, my husband, who is an active-duty Army officer, found out that he would be stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), located approximately 40 miles south of Seattle, WA.  I started my job search immediately because I was unsure about the Seattle biotech job market.  Over this six month span, I applied to any science job that popped up in a 70 mile radius of JBLM, and in total I applied to close to 80 jobs.  I found many of the job postings online.  Additionally, I had been a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington in Seattle from 2005-2006, and I was fortunate to have developed and maintained a professional network here in Seattle.  These connections in Seattle kept me apprised of job openings and in some cases forwarded my resume directly to hiring managers.

During my job search, I was also fortunate to have attended several biotech job fairs in the DC metro area.  At one of these job fairs, there were companies present that had offices/locations in Seattle and I was able to speak directly with hiring managers for these Seattle locations.  These hiring managers were helpful because they told me that the hiring landscape in Seattle was very insular and that the PhD job market was saturated.  Many of the hiring managers mentioned that their companies were only interviewing Seattle-area applicants, and some job postings included that only local residents should apply.  In my cover letters I would emphasize that I was relocating to the area, including a specific time frame for my relocation, and also including a Seattle area mailing address (which the sellers of our house agreed to let me use two months before we closed on our house).

I found the job posting for Omeros online and sent my cover letter and resume to the email address they provided for the hiring manager. The hiring manger reached out to me after reviewing my materials and invited me for an interview the first week following my relocation.

What was your interview like?
I actually had a total of three different interviews.  In my first interview, I met separately with three people, including the supervisor for this position.  All three were interested in my research background, specifically regarding the scientific design and approach for my projects.  They also inquired about my reasons for pursuing a career in biotech and for my relocation to Seattle.  They were extremely interested in my publication record, specifically how involved I was in the writing, submission and review process.  Each interview lasted approximately 30-45 minutes and after meeting with all three people I was asked for a list of references.  After contacting my references, I was invited back for a second interview to give a presentation on my postdoctoral research at the NIH.  I met with all the senior scientific research staff, essentially everyone with a PhD in the company, including the original three people I had met during my first interview.  For my third interview, I was invited to meet directly with the CEO of the company.  Following all three interviews I was then offered the position.

In hindsight, how would you have done your job search differently?
In hindsight I probably wasted a lot of time applying to positions for which I was overqualified.  Because my job search was remote and geographically limited to Seattle, I applied to any scientific job posting in the Seattle area.  However, my experience in biotech has shown me that when a position lists a bachelor’s degree as the education requirement, there is little chance they will a hire someone with a PhD.  I probably could have eliminated about a quarter of the jobs I applied for if I had focused solely on the jobs that required a PhD.

I also would have reached out to more people for informational interviews.  I mistakenly believed that I had to meet with people in person for these informational interviews and rather than expanding my professional network, I relied mostly on prior connections.  In the past couple of years, I have been contacted for information interviews by numerous postdocs, and nearly all of these have been over the phone or email.

Any last bits of advice?
At the PhD level, you are no longer merely hands at the bench anymore. You will eventually play a larger role in making decisions for guiding research down the company pipeline.  Your time at the bench will diminish and you have to be prepared to go from the bench to the boardroom.

For your job search, don’t be afraid to reach out to people.  Most people are willing to share their experiences and to offer help.  It’s up to you to establish those connections.  Lori Conlan always emphasized the importance of networking.  Listen to her and take advantage of OITE and all of their resources!

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2014 Career Success Plan

January 10, 2014

Here at OITE, our continued resolution is to help trainees become skilled in a variety of core competencies.  We view these four competencies as vital to your career development.

They include:
1. Career Exploration and Planning
2. Communicating
3. Teaching and Mentoring
4. Leading and Managing

Our goal for the blog this year is to cover a variety of resources and projected outcomes for each of these core competencies.

One of the first we will tackle is career exploration and planning.  This often involves four phases: Exploration, Preparation, Action, and Adaptation.  You will most likely go through these steps more than once because one’s career development very rarely follows a linear projection. Look next week for a blog on the topic of career exploration and planning, specifically individual development plans.

Hopefully, by covering all four of the core competencies, we will help to establish a thematic framework as you continue to read the blog throughout the year.  We will label and categorize each new post accordingly, so that the blog becomes a searchable site for you to easily navigate.  In addition, we hope this gives you some inspiration as you set your own new year’s career goals.  For a more detailed view of the graphic, please click on the image to enlarge.

Diagram of four core competencies; including: Career Exploration & Planning, Communicating, Teaching & Mentoring and Leading & Managing


The 3 Most Important Factors of a Job Search: Networking, Networking and Networking

November 14, 2013

Image of stick people with dotted lines connecting each individual to anotherIn real estate parlance, it is said that the three most important factors in maximizing the value of your property are location, location and location.  Networking carries a similar importance, especially for those preparing for a career beyond NIH, or your current institution.  Many good jobs are filled by candidates who have been identified prior to that job being officially posted.  Therefore, the more broadly your net of contacts can be cast, the better your chances of receiving advanced information on positions which are of interest to you.

Developing and cultivating your network of contacts is critically important whether your career plans are in the academic setting or in industry.  For those of you at the NIH, who are planning a career in the academic setting, networking is more straight-forward in that the people with whom you are in contact every day are often key components of your network.  For those who desire to move into a career in industry, networking will involve going beyond your normal day-to-day routine.  In this case you will need to build a network of contacts that are working in industry and doing similar jobs to those of your interest.

There are some tools available that can help you establish and maintain contacts outside of your current work environment.  LinkedIn can be used to identify and communicate with people in industries and companies that you have targeted.  Your University’s Alumni Database as well as the NIH Alumni Database can be good resources for finding industry contacts as well.  In addition, contacting these alums can provide insight on the issues associated with the transition from academic labs to industry.  Once you have identified potential contacts, an informational interview is an excellent way to discover more about a company and develop a contact (hopefully an advocate) within the company when job openings occur.

Another way to bolster your network is through attending conferences.  Not only do you have a chance to meet industry scientists who are in the same field as your area of expertise, but you also can take the opportunity to meet the business people from the companies who are displaying at the conference.  Both the scientific and business people within the companies can help you navigate the HR policies and procedures when there are job openings.  In addition, attending trade association get-togethers can also be a good way to build your network.  These are the same conferences and meetings that you would normally attend; use them as an opportunity to meet the people from industry.

One final thought; start your networking today!  So many people say that they want to get their next job now, so it is time to start networking.  Networking should begin the day you start in your present position.  Your network of contacts can take years to build and cultivate.  It is often the case that a contact you meet for one particular purpose can play a role in your career months, or even years later.


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Communications Manager

August 12, 2013

Name: Benjamin Porter, PhD

Job Title & Company: Communications Manager, Office of Communications; The University of Texas at Dallas

Location: Dallas, Texas

How long you’ve been in your current job: 3 months

Postdoc Advisor, IC and subject: Alan Koretsky, NINDS, Behavioral fMRI

What do you do as a Communications Manager?
Basically, my job is public relations — I handle both internal and external public relations matters for the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas. When researchers do interesting work or if they just received a grant or published a paper, I will write up a story for the University website. If we think it could be a bigger news story, then we try pitching it to a newspaper or TV station. Similarly, if there is a current events topic going on at a time when it makes sense for an expert to comment, then we will also pitch our faculty as experts. A recent example is the explosion at the chemical plant in West, Texas. We were able to pitch a chemist who could explain the basic science behind that event.

What are the most important skills that you utilize in your current position?
A lot of it is listening and being able to interpret what is being said. One of the reasons I was hired is because I have a PhD, and I am able to understand the science behind what the faculty are doing. I can then take that and translate it into layman’s terms. I can also understand the faculty’s concerns in talking to the media and the fear that they might be misrepresented.  On the other side, I understand what the media needs and what they need the faculty to say, and I can interact between the two parties well.

I write press releases and internal newsletters, so being able to write and edit goes a long way.  I am currently learning AP style and how to write for the news, but these are things you can pick up as long as you have the basic skill. Writing for the NIH Catalyst or the Record are great ways to practice writing for the public.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
For me, I like to be absolutely certain about what I’m doing and know that I am doing it well, so not necessarily knowing every aspect of the job and having to keep asking people if this is correct has been an adjustment. But I think that comes with transitioning careers.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I love getting to hear about everybody’s research and getting to meet with the faculty. There are about 80 faculty members that I work with and getting to meet all of them and hearing what they are doing is great. Then I get to brag about them, which is also fun.

What was your job search like?
My job search was weird. I started off looking for a job in DC because I was planning on going into science policy. I spent the last year of my postdoc getting prepared to find a job in science policy – making all of the connections and laying the groundwork. Then, the sequestration came around and my wife’s job at the Department of Defense became less stable. It was no longer feasible to live in DC and provide the life for our kids that we wanted, so we decided to move to Dallas because of our family connections here. I shifted my career path somewhat, but the part of science policy that I really liked the most was promoting science, which I still get to do.

My job search was remote at the time, so I used my network as much as possible. I also did a lot of cold calls and cold emails to find job leads in the area.   It turned out that a friend worked at UT Dallas and promoted the school as a great place to work. Then I just applied to an online job posting and worked my way in from there.

What was the response to your cold calls and emails?
A lot of the time, I would be told that the company wasn’t hiring, but they almost always gave me somebody else to call or another direction to go. One contact always led to two or three others.  I did probably 15 cold calls and only three or four didn’t get back to me. Just be sure to be upfront that you are looking for job leads in a cold call and not necessarily inquiring for a specific position. Limiting yourself to an inquiry into if the company is hiring will result in a simple yes or no answer. Leave it more open-ended than that.

How did you find people to call?
I did a lot of informational interviews when I was in DC. I did something like 50 informational interviews. From those interviews, I was able to ask people for connections. Also, my mentor at NIH encouraged me to get involved in extracurricular activities. I joined AAAS (The American Association for the Advancement of Science) and I started the Washington, DC, Metro Area Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience, which is still running strong. These involvements helped me to meet people and develop soft skills; plus, I was very lucky to have my mentor — my success seemed like his priority. Dr. Koretsky was one of my biggest assets.

What are the most important soft skills needed for your position?
The ability to get along well with people, especially with multiple bosses and multiple demands. You have to be able to work with others and compromise with them. I did a wonderful detail with the Office of Extramural Research, which allowed me to report to both my mentor and my detail manager. Balancing the needs of two very different jobs was a great preparation.

Open and straightforward communication is hugely important in my position, as is being able to jump right in. If you are switching careers, you don’t necessarily have to be comfortable, but try to be comfortable with your discomfort.

In hindsight, is there anything that you would have done differently with your job search?
I might have started earlier and looked a little more aggressively. And by that I mean meeting people. The connections that I made in DC were fairly limited to NIH. Towards the end, I was starting to branch out to some of the nonprofits in the DC area, and I wish I had started doing that earlier. I would recommend establishing your network fairly early and making it a broad net.

Any last bits of advice?
Don’t do it alone! NIH is a fantastic resource. OITE is a fantastic resource.  The people there are really great about helping out. Get to know the folks there well and early.  Plus, with all of the informational interviews that I did at NIH, I can say that almost everybody is willing to help you.

From the over 50 informational interviews, I only had about five that never got back to me.  Of those 50, I probably only cold called five to ten people.  All of the other connections were sparked from those first few calls, so always be sure to ask the person for another connection recommendation. The informational interviews also helped make me more comfortable when the time came for an actual job interview.  NIH is a great place for career development, so use it as much as you can.


Tips on Conducting a Job Search Anywhere

May 20, 2013

Do you need to find a job in a geographically limited area far from your current location? Maybe your significant other just found a dream job, or maybe you just always wanted to live in Seattle, WA – whatever the reason, a remote and geographically limited job search poses a distinct set of challenges that require some strategizing to overcome. Here are a few thoughts that may help from a person who recently was searching for a job in Dallas, TX, while living in Bethesda, MD.  These tips are useful in any job search, but particularly for conducting a remote search.

Begin the search early. Job options tend to be reduced when they are limited by geography. Imposing boundaries on the location means relying on fewer potential employers. The more time you allow for finding a job, the better.

Use your network. Your network should be your first resource in a remote job search. Know the histories of the people in your network, and keep up with their current locations. Ask people currently or historically linked to the area for suggested companies or connections. Some of your contacts may work for a company with an office in that location and may be willing to send out feelers on your behalf. Always ask permission before using a contact’s name or, even better, ask them to provide an introduction.

Do not limit yourself to professional contacts. Talk to friends, alumni associations, volunteer organizations, members of your religious institute, or anywhere else you may find an unexpected lead. If you are a member of a professional or volunteer organization, contact the local chapters to make some connections. Seek local people at conferences. Make your job search as widely known as possible – the more exposure the better. Conducting a secretive job search poses more of a challenge, but typically you can advertise pretty broadly without you current boss finding out.

Use job Sites. Job sites will be your friend. Most career sites filter searches to a specific area or radius around an area. Check out the state labor department for local search engines. The City of Dallas website had links to six local search engines.

Know your business. If you are looking for an academic job, search all the universities. For me, looking for a job in science policy in Dallas meant searching anywhere that might have a policy/government relations office, like non-profit organizations and universities. After finding some leads, go back to your network and look for the connections. Cold e-mails to directors or assistant directors (managers) located in offices of interest can end up in future leads or even a job.  So don’t be afraid to write them a note.  None of the offices I contacted were hiring at the time, but I continued to receive several leads from the people I contacted with in those initial cold e-mails.

Be flexible. Compromising a little on the job you are seeking may go a long way towards finding a position. As a person recently preparing for a science policy career in Washington, DC, where policy jobs are plentiful, now moving to Dallas, TX, where science policy jobs are next to non-existent, I had to broaden my search to jobs with similar skills requirements and career goals. After some considerable research, I found a job in the communications office of a local university requiring many of the same skills and tasks that I enjoyed in science policy.

To recap: start early, use your network heavily, use search engines wisely, cold call companies of interest, and use your network even more.

What are your suggestions or experiences for a remote job search?


You forgot your job packet email attachment– What now?

February 25, 2013

You found an awesome job posting or graduate program, crafted the perfect curriculum vitae, and created a cover letter capable of convincing the staunchest of holdouts that you are a vital addition to their team. The only problem is you remembered to attach your resume after pressing send on your cover letter e-mail. Forgotten attachments happen to everyone, but the job application process is where you are supposed to distinguish yourself as a better candidate than everyone else. So – now what?

Unlike many career advice searches on the internet, there are not a lot of professional sites with comments on forgotten attachments. The obvious action requires you to send the forgotten materials; otherwise there is no chance for success. The real question remains: How do provide the missing information while saving face?

Do you apologize for the mistake? Do you try to act as if it never happened? The best route is to resend the same e-mail (with the attachment this time) with a comment in the title about the inclusion. Do not write a long, apologetic paragraph about forgetting the attachment. This reaction makes a big deal out of a common mistake and can make you seem insecure. At the same time you need to say something to differentiate the new e-mail from the old one so the hiring manager or principal investigator does not think you are spamming them. One postdoc recently forgot to attach their resume to a cold call e-mail and recovered by simply sending the same e-mail entitled “Employment inquiry at blah with attached resume”, and received a positive response.

For the most part, human resources and principal investigators tend to be pretty forgiving. Just keep in mind they are judging you at every interaction – this can be a time to show your ability to recover gracefully from a difficult situation.

Mistakes made during the application process may come back to haunt you during the interview. Keep in mind that if you are being interviewed that the company/ principal investigator thinks you might be a good fit for them. Do not be the one to bring up a past mistake. Do not give them a reason to deny you the position. Only talk about a past error from your application process if they ask about it. Be prepared with an answer that puts you in a positive light, not something like you were too busy applying to their competitor and forgot the attachment to them.

Of course, the better strategy is to remember the attachment. Make a list of things, mentally or written down, that you always check before submitting any application. Some items to include can be; properly addressing the cover letter, attaching the required documentation, filling in the subject line, and using spell check (spell check will not reliably catch names).  Leave a comment with other items you think the email proof-reading list should include.

 

 


How I Overcame My Fear of Informational Interviewing

November 5, 2012

Post written by a guest blogger Yewon Cheon, former postdoc in the National Institute of Aging and current Program Coordinator in OITE.

“I love interviewing people!”

One day, I was full of energy, running down the hall and shouting with excitement, coming back from an interview. It surprised everyone, including me. Because I am shy and afraid of talking to people I don’t know, it was very hard for me to absorb and initiate informational interviews for my career development. I am a researcher who hates networking, but I am NOT afraid of doing an experiment.  So, I designed my new experiment: informational interviews.

When I started to treat informational interviews like an experiment I found myself enjoying this important career tool, and using it for my advantage.  Think of it like this: It is composed of a literature review (getting information about person and career), developing methods (preparing questions), an experiment (interview), data acquisition (Q&A) and data analysis (evaluating a meeting), and repetition to increase sample size and to confirm reproducibility (contact others).

Here is how I found success:

My background:

I was shy and not confident in myself, finding it easier to label test tubes at the bench rather than to talk to strangers about their careers. Informational interviewing and networking were not things I wanted to do . My career mentor gave me two names to contact for informational interviews, a handout on how to conduct informational interviews, and the encouragement to go out and try….yet, it still took me a week to connect.

I am an Asian woman. I was raised and educated in the traditional Eastern way; listening and following others is considered to be respectful, but being persistent and aggressive is frowned on. I felt that being proactive in conducting informational interviews was the equivalent of being aggressive. Read the rest of this entry »