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 »

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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.

Read the rest of this entry »


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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NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 15 – Investigator I and MRI Head – Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research

June 18, 2012

This is the fifteenth 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: Erica Henning

Current position: Investigator I and MRI Head, Global Imaging Group, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research (NIBR)

Location: Cambridge, MA

Time in current position:  1 Year

Postdoc: Translational imaging and stroke with Lawrence Latour and Steven Warach, NINDS

Job search in a nutshell: When I started the job search process, I was on the “typical” academic track. My goal was to obtain an independent investigator position. I applied for jobs in both academia and industry between fall 2009 and spring 2011. I have found that the keys to obtaining any position are skills and expertise, company ‘fit’, and networking.

I consulted my network of colleagues and various job websites. In addition, I searched individual pharma and MRI company websites for preclinical imaging positions. I would say that I spent 1 to 2 hours each day searching and applying for positions. Some links I found helpful were Science Careers, Nature Jobs, Academic Keys, USAjobs, and the ISMRM [International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine] Career Center.

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A Fellow’s Perspective: What I Learned Serving On A Committee

June 11, 2012

Post written by a guest blogger Ahmed Kablan, Postdoc at NIDDK.

This past eight months, I have had the privilege to work with more than 20 other fellows and the OITE staff to organize the 5th annual NIH Career Symposium.  Serving on the planning committee was a valuable experience.  Some of the key things that I learned by volunteering as a committee member are:

  • The importance of teamwork and time management: In order to work well with your team it is crucial communicate clearly to avoid duplication of effort.  My time management skills have improved, resulting in increased productivity. By learning to prioritize the issues at hand and work with a team my life seems more manageable.
  • To practice leadership skills at all times: You don’t have to be in leadership position to build your leadership skills. Each one of us had the chance to take the lead on certain issue, or bring new ideas to the group.
  • To step out of my comfort zone: Getting out of the lab, talking to other fellows, and doing a different kind of work helped me discover skills I didn’t know I had, such as communicating my complex science in simple and plain language. I was also able to see how skills I have learned in the lab are applicable in other settings. Skills such as planning a project, explaining it to the other key players and justifying the resources needed to complete the project, or the ability to communicate effectively with people of broad educational backgrounds. 
  • How to build a network and witness why it is important: You have heard it a million times, but networking is an important skill to develop. What is not always apparent is how easy it can be.  Attending the Career Symposium social events was great. The atmosphere was relaxed and everyone was there to network. I was able to connect with the speakers and other attendees.  That let me see how we as a committee had used our network to make this event happen.  The success of this event relied on the ability of committee members and OITE staff to identify potential speakers and be connected to them enough to invite them to come. Your network helps you get where you want to go.  In this case it helped us put together successful and dynamic panels.
  • The value of using social media effectively: I have used LinkedIn more in the past few months than I did in the first six years after I joined.  I used it to advertise and start discussions around the information presented at the Career Symposium.
  • How fulfilling it can be to be a part of something like the Career Symposium: Working on the committee to organize the Career Symposium was personally fulfilling. I have benefitted first hand from a previous NIH Career Symposium, so by participating in this committee I hoped to help others find similar career guidance. Giving is really highly rewarding.

If you want to help next year, look for an announcement in September.