NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Senior Scientist

September 2, 2014

Name: Amir Zeituni, PhD

Job Title & Organization: Senior Scientist, Global Science & Technology

Location: NASA HQ

How long you’ve been in your current job: Since July 2013

Postdoc Advisor, IC (when at NIH): Dr. Carole Long

What do you do as a Senior Scientist?
I work as a Senior Scientist for a contracting company called Global Science & Technology in support of the Space Biology Program at NASA. My daily responsibilities change all the time, but basically I help the program executive do a lot of scientific analysis to make sure we have programmatic balance. The program executive in NASA fills the role of the program director/ officer at the NIH. We fulfill the role of science management: writing solicitations for science to be done on the International Space Station, and then hold peer-review panels to have the community evaluate the proposals we get.

Personally, I helped write the research funding announcements (RFA’s) or NASA research announcements (NRA’s) I don’t look at budgets but I will make recommendations and suggestions based on the types of science proposed to the program executive. In December and February, we just released two NRA’s back to back which is somewhat unusual for Space Biology. This requires a lot of writing to ensure that everything goes through legal, procurement and international affairs. We are finishing one of those calls now. What’s great is that we are involved in expanding a program and there are many exciting experiments being selected to be conducted in space. Since NASA is an engineering organization, we need to make sure that our biology work in space can be executed to the satisfaction of our PIs. This leads to a lot of lot of back and forth discussion and collaboration with the PIs and the engineers.

What are the three most important skills that you utilize in your current position?

1. Critical thinking and analysis
2. Oral and written communication – I am on teleconferences and email all the time, so you really have to have a good presence.
3. Overall, you have to possess a good foundation of basic science research and what makes a good experiment and how to write a good grant.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I love the people I am interacting with; it is a really good community here. I also love that it is challenging and that everything is new, so it feels like a lot to learn.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
Basically I was trained as a microbiologist and an immunologist and the scope of what we are looking at here is huge. I’m looking at all life sciences, so everything from cell science to plants to invertebrates to rodents to humans. We are interested in all of it and it all falls under the umbrella of Space Biology. So, you really just have to get caught up and become proficient in a lot of different fields and sub-disciplines.

What was your job search like?
I was looking for program manager or senior scientist type of positions. I definitely wanted to transition away from the wet bench, so I was looking at what I could do in order to leverage my strengths and find a position that would make me happy. I spoke with a lot of different people who were either scientific review officers or program managers/executives at the NIH and in industry. I settled with something in the government that would be a good fit. After having more follow up discussions, they all basically admitted that in order to get your foot in the door, you have to be a contractor for a couple of years first and then you would be qualified and competitive for a position, sometimes the organization they contracted for would open up a position for them.

How did you identify this company and come to choose this as your next step?
I looked at the NIH OITE website a lot because they would post a lot of job opportunities. I also looked at Indeed.com and LinkedIn and had a search parameter that fit that bill. I had a couple of first and second round interviews with different contractor and different government agencies. What really helped me though was that I saw a position posted and then I got an email from another person in my network about the same position, so I used him as a referral to get in.

What was your interview like?
It started off with a phone interview and where I talked about my science and my general qualifications. That ended up being about a 45 minute conversation with one of the HR recruiters. I was then invited to interview with the manager at the contracting company, which was a more involved interview. I believe that was a three hour on-site interview. Then, I was invited to interview with the potential client and after that I had a follow up interview with the contractor. For this position, I had four interviews in total. I applied for the job in February and I started in July.

What are the most important soft skills needed for your position?
Interpersonal communications through and through – it’s how you interact with people and how you identify who will respond to different types of communication better. Knowing how the client likes thing and how I can get information from other entities is very important. For example, if I need something form person X, I fire off an email; however, if I need something from person Y, I will give them a call.

Any last bits of advice? If you had to do your search differently, would you change anything?
The only bit of advice is to do a lot of informational interviews. They really helped because I learned how to talk the talk essentially. Plus, it is a safer environment so you can ask a lot of the dumb questions that will probably not get you a job offer. I was doing a couple of interviews concurrently, so I ended up applying and learning from those mistakes, which all helped me eventually land this position.

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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.

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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.