NIH OITE Alumni: Where Are They Now? Director of Career Services

October 17, 2016

dumsch_amandaName: Amanda Dumsch

Job Title & Organization: Director of Career Services; SAIS Europe, Johns Hopkins University

Location: Bologna, Italy

What was your job search like?
I wasn’t actively job searching; however, a former boss emailed me a link to an open position at SAIS Europe.  I didn’t pay much attention to it at first and I actually sat on the email for over a month. Then, one day while I was at the National Career Development Association Conference, I suddenly decided it couldn’t hurt to send in my cover letter and resume. The process moved seemingly quickly after that.

How did you make the decision to take an international job?
It was actually a difficult decision for me because I was in an enviable position. My job as a career counselor at the OITE was fantastic. I was happily employed in a job that I liked working alongside people I respected. So, I worried and wondered. How could I walk away from that? I also lived geographically close to my family, so the prospect of moving an ocean away – on a different continent – stressed me out.

Making the decision took time and I did a lot of things to help get clarity. I made pros and cons lists; I journaled about it; I spoke to career counselors; I talked to trusted colleagues; and I conferred with loved ones constantly.  I even reread some of the very blog posts that I had written about decision-making, including:

Making a Career Decision? Use the CASVE Cycle

3 Decision-Making Tips

Decision-Making Activity — Prioritizing Grid

As a feeling decider, the decision ultimately came down to a gut feeling that this was the right next step for me in my life and my career. Sometimes stress and worry still kick in though and I panic, What if I made the wrong decision?  But, I try to take a moment to breathe and remind myself that I can always make a new decision if needed in the future.

What have you learned from this process?
There is an adage “opportunity knocks at inopportune times” and I have often thought about this line because it felt so applicable to my situation. Perhaps more than any other time in my life, I had committed to multiple projects through the end of the year. So, moving felt very disruptive to all of the plans (professional development courses, the NYC marathon, trips) that I had scheduled.

As a planner, it can be hard for me to make adjustments when something new comes up, but I learned to be more flexible and adaptable. The fact that this something new was so life changing felt exciting… and stressful.  I remind myself that almost everyone struggles with transitions and even positive change can create stress.

Any final thoughts?
While at the NIH, I had almost 2500 individual appointments; in these meetings, I had the chance to meet with trainees at all levels – postbacs, graduate students, and postdocs. I met smart and ambitious individuals doing remarkable work at and away from the bench.  Many of my meetings focused on transitions; helping people transition both to and away from the NIH.  I was constantly impressed by the trainees that I had the privilege of working with and I was especially struck by the visiting fellows.  Their courage to move to a different country, learn a new language, and adapt to a new culture was inspiring to me.  I look forward to experiencing a new way of life in a new part of the world, but the people I met at the NIH will always be dear to me.

Advertisements

NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Public Health Informatics Fellow

August 1, 2016

Image of Raymond FrancisName: Raymond Francis Sarmiento, MD

Job Title & Company: Public Health Informatics Fellow, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Location: I am the first and only CDC fellow based outside of Atlanta. I have been based in Cincinnati, Ohio since 2014 because I joined the fellowship program with a lot of health informatics experience primarily because of my prior NLM fellowship. The Public Health Informatics Fellowship (PHIF) program was looking to pilot test how to send out a fellow into the field, if you will, so they asked if I was willing and I said yes. They wanted to try and see if that could be a successfully proven approach in providing informatics technical expertise and support to CDC institutes located outside of Atlanta.  I would say that the whole experience has been a success so far, not only in terms of my work here within my institute (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or NIOSH) but also for the PHIF program as well.

How long you’ve been in your current job: Nearing the end of my two year fellowship at CDC

Postdoc Advisers, IC:
Dr. Paul Fontelo (medical informatics training director at Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications) and Dr. Clement McDonald, Director of the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications at the National Library of Medicine (NLM), U.S. National Institutes of Health

What was your career progression after NIH like?
After finishing my two-year postdoctoral clinical informatics fellowship at the NLM, I moved to an applied training fellowship on public health informatics over at the CDC. I’m currently at the CDC, doing work on occupational health surveillance, epidemiology, electronic health records, data analytics, and natural language processing.

What is your day to day like in this role?
The work that I do is a mixture of public health project management as well as conducting research on improving public health using informatics techniques and problem-solving frameworks. In a typical day, I connect with key project stakeholders, including the software engineering team, content development and management team, and internal and external users. On a near daily basis, I communicate the progress we have made on each of the projects to the respective project managers and team leaders. As a team, we work together on improving our health information systems, mostly occupational health surveillance programs and consumer tools, that have been developed here in NIOSH.

How did you find this opportunity?
It was something that I had known about prior to my NLM fellowship because I had previously applied to PHIF in 2010. When it was time to move forward with my career, I felt the need to gain more applied informatics training experience, particularly in public health, mainly because I wanted to expand my horizons in terms of being able to find and apply practical informatics solutions to real-world public health problems.

For individuals who are interested in a public health informatics fellowship, do you have any insights on what would make them a competitive candidate?
Being able to show that you possess a strong foundation in terms of understanding health informatics concepts and that you are competent in your statistical analysis skills are things that are strongly desired for PHIF candidates. A candidate’s willingness to learn is also a critically important qualification.  Aside from those, having previous research and/or evaluation experience will help the would-be fellow succeed in PHIF.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
My favorite aspect is being given the chance, on a daily basis, to gain valuable experience and exposure to the workings of public health surveillance and epidemiology as it is conducted in the United States. I value my time and experience here because I believe it will help me in the long term especially when I return to the Philippines, which is my home country. Working in one of the top public health institutions in the world and the premier public health agency in the United States has given the chance to collaborate with the top scientists in the field and this has helped me understand the best practices in terms of implementing informatics solutions to public health problems.

Your work sounds like an intersection of two very popular fields – public health and health informatics. So, what are you hoping to do next after your fellowship?
After the fellowship, I intend to return to the Philippines because I am highly interested in establishing the public health informatics field back home. At present, there are no companies or government agencies in the Philippines that focus on using health informatics frameworks and solutions to local public health problems. Another idea is to join the Philippines’ Department of Health as a public health informatics expert or maybe even be our country’s health informatics czar as the Philippines continues to develop and successfully its national long-term plans for e-health and telemedicine. In addition, I am also open to opportunities where I can apply both my clinical and research expertise, maybe in roles such as Chief Medical Information Officer, Senior Health Data Scientist, or Clinical Research Director who deals with clinical informatics projects.

What are the most important skill sets that you utilize?
Definitely, effective communication skills and the ability to constantly improve are critical skills one needs to use every day. By effectively communicating your message to your intended audience, particularly to key stakeholders and champions who will can greatly influence the outcome of your project, your project is likely to succeed and meet your target outcomes. I cannot emphasize this enough.

For somebody who wants to go down a similar path like yours and get more experience in both clinical and public health informatics, what would you recommend to them?

I would say that the most crucial thing for early career scientists is to identify a mentor or scientist who you would like to emulate or model your career after.  If you do your research and are able to realize that “Yes, this is the career arc that I want to experience… This is the career that would help me grow into the best version of myself as a scientist.”, then by all means do everything you can to try to connect with that individual. Take advantage of what you can learn from your mentors. Ask for the necessary support and guidance that you will need for you to be on your way to your desired career path.

Another thing, especially for foreign nationals who are experiencing living in the United States for the first time, is to not be afraid to contact the “fathers” or “mothers” of your chosen field. Often, we feel intimidated so we hesitate in doing this, but you truly won’t know if they will be open or not to helping you unless you try. If everything falls into place, then you have taken that first big leap of working toward your goal to becoming the best scientist that you could possibly be.

Furthermore, constantly improving yourself and looking for ways to build your capacity in areas where you feel you need to improve — maybe in machine learning, maybe in regression analysis, whatever it may be – will contribute immensely to your future success.

When you look at your career to date, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I probably would have applied for the NLM fellowship a few years earlier in my career. Being on the same career trajectory but on an earlier timeline, I would have likely been working on helping to improve the public health agenda in the Philippines a couple years earlier. But overall, I have no regrets, only a profound appreciation of what I have been given and how much I can contribute towards helping my home country.


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Principal Scientist & Group Leader

June 27, 2016

Image of Joseph LeeName: Joseph Lee, PhD

Job Title & Company: Principal Scientist/Group Leader, Shire/Eurofins Lancaster Labs

Location: Boston, MA

How long you’ve been in your current job: Since November 2014 – a year and a half

IC: I was at NCI for five and then picked up by NIDDK for a year to do a research fellowship in the molecular medicine branch

What do you do in your current position?
I am the gene therapy program lead for the Analytical Development group at Shire, but I’m running it as a contractor so to speak. Officially, I work for Eurofins Lancaster Labs.  They have a professional staffing group and in that I am effectively the site manager for the Shire group. Generally, I wear two hats.  In the first, I have two groups under me – the Analytical Development and the Analytical Development Testing Group. In the second, I am also a principal scientist, where I specialize in gene therapy.

What does the day to day look like for you?
It is complicated for me because I have two departments and close to 18 people under me (not necessarily directly managing them – they are embedded within the department with Shire technical leads) for which I am responsible. So, in this role I step away from the technical responsibilities and try to help them more with their career development.  The other hat is the technical hat – I am essentially the analytical development program lead for gene therapies within Shire.

Now, one of the things you need to understand about working in big pharma is all these things sound kind of nice, but big pharma likes to divide things into a hundred different categories. This means that there can be ten program leads for gene therapy but my slice of the pie is Analytical Development. There is also somebody from Discovery, Regulatory Affairs, Process Development, Early to Mid-Stage Development. In our portion, we are responsible for CMC (Chemistry, Manufacturing, and Controls – i.e., manufacturing; leading to Investigational New Drug applications and ultimately to the clinic). We all contribute to the bigger pie as a whole.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
You know it’s kind of funny. You go through that evolution. You are on the bench as a postdoc, then you are on the bench when you are an early researcher, but eventually you wind up off the bench. I know that there are a lot of postdocs out there that don’t want to be on the bench anymore and want to directly go into administrative. But, you kind of think that after so many years of grad school and training, that being on the bench is a comfortable place where you don’t have to worry about anything but the project at hand. Eventually, you get pushed off the bench by getting asked to do more administrative or management projects.  Especially nowadays, there is an internal mandate in which secondary or tertiary development processes are outsourced to CROs (Contract Research Organizations), so you find a lot of what you do is manage your projects through the CROs. This is actually really common within big pharma – a lot of their developmental programs and the analytical parts of it get outsourced to CROs, even though some of it remains in house. It is in that capacity, that we step in and help manage it. A lot of my time is spent managing projects, typically on the phone on conference calls, which I actually enjoy.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
When you are a grad student/postdoc, there is something very gratifying about doing all of the work on your own. I was a fairly meticulous and very careful person and the quality was up to me, so when I ran my gels or did my blots or whatever analyses, the overall quality was dependent on my own time, effort and care. Now as a manager, you sort of have to convey that to your CROs and your internal research group which is very challenging because you have to find out what motivates other people.  Plus, you have to have confidence and trust in your staff to be an extension of your hands.

Did you go through a management training or on-boarding process?
There are always a few courses on management training available, but I think much of it is a trial by fire mentality. I made a lot of mistakes going through my career. You are always making a few mistakes here and there and sometimes it’s big and sometimes it’s small. It really is a continual learning process. There are some management courses offered but I think there is an expectation when you are coming in at a higher level, that you already have some management skills.

What was your job search like after your time at the NIH?
After NIDDK, I got a position at a contract research organization (CRO) called BioReliance, in Rockville. I stayed there for about three years and I started as a Senior Scientist in the Development Services group where I managed all of their custom molecular biology and assay development projects. Then from there, I got recruited to a small bioservices company up in Boston called Batavia BioServices. They (actually, my department – Virology & Molecular Biology) quickly folded after a few months. I had a feeling that might happen, so I had been quietly searching. On the same day that my position at Batavia ended, I got an offer letter from Eurofins which was incredibly lucky. I was extremely fortunate in that regard, but the thing is, you don’t lean on that type of luck (at least for me, good timing like that rarely happens).

When I was at the NIH, I didn’t network like I should have. When I look back at my career planning and what I tell postdocs now is that it really is about networking, networking, and more networking.

As somebody who admits they didn’t network like they should have, what do you think then was the key to your success? Can you point to something that helped you get to your position now?
A lot of postdocs leaving the NIH will hear a refrain, “Well, you don’t have any industry experience.” I mean that is really what you are going up against. Recruiters and employers want to see that you have that specific kind of experience. You have to be fortunate to be able to get your CV to the right hiring manager. Like everybody else did in the beginning, I went through the three phases of applications. I did the carpet bombing approach where I flooded everybody and everything – Monster, Career Builder, etc. LinkedIn at that time wasn’t as sophisticated as it is now, but I went through hiring lines in all sorts of places to submit my CV. And that didn’t work so great.

Then, I went into specific companies. For example, I looked at Genentech and looked at who was working on specific projects in terms of the industry/academia type of basic/translational research and I found emails in scientific manuscripts and I started writing directly to these PIs in industry. You can always figure out how to find their email or contact information. That proved to be a little bit helpful and that got me a few hits.

However, the biggest one is contacts. One great source that a lot of people don’t realize or recognize is the account managers. The way I got into BioReliance is that I knew one of the account managers/sales person through BioReliance because she was formerly at LifeTech and I had a good rapport with her. So, when I saw that BioReliance was hiring for a scientist, I inquired through her and she as an account manager sent it to the right hiring manager.

How did you respond to the interview question about industry experience?
This specific hiring manager really liked my “go get ‘em” attitude. However, during the on-site interviews, I was constantly challenged with the line “Well, you have no industry experience.” That is always difficult to overcome and it is very dependent on the hiring manager. Personally, I got mixed results, but generally I inferred that they could have a really good scientist with little industry experience or they could get a lousy scientist with a lot of industry experience. But, if you hire both of us, in six months, I’ll have industry experience and still be the better scientist. So, as a company you have to decide what is more important to you – the science or the industry experience. You have to be able to convey that to your interviewer in the nicest way possible. Like I said, that explanation got mixed results. A few interviewers thought it was arrogant, a few loved it – funny thing is that the ones that thought it was arrogant turned out to not have the advanced degrees and had to claw and work their way up.

In hindsight, is there anything you wish you had done differently? Any last bits of advice?
I had a great time at the NIH as it offers you an environment to pursue many directions in research and you are less imposed with the budgetary component like if you were in a university. With that being said, where you go next will be up to you – whether that is industry or academia.  You need to have a plan and you need to have contingencies if something doesn’t work out. One thing for certain, no matter whether you are in industry or academia, your career can be cut short because of budgetary constraints or reorganizations of departments.  Personally, I have never felt or allowed myself to be so comfortable that I don’t contingency plan for the worst. I have been fortunate because I always do have a plan if something bad were to happen. It is like a game of musical chairs and you kind of understand that the music is going to stop at some time – if you have good instincts, you can anticipate when the music stops.

If you are good at what you do, you’re constantly going to be contacted by recruiters. That is why LinkedIn can be so helpful. There seem to be two types of recruiters. One who finds you through LinkedIn and the other who finds you through internal databases like Monster/CareerBuilders or other sites. The ones who find you through LinkedIn are pretty sophisticated and tend to search more for executives, principal scientists, director level positions. The ones at Career Builder and Monster are going to lump you in with the keywords on your resume and they’ll inquire about your availability for contractor positions more at that associate scientist level.

LinkedIn is an incredible resource so I always suggest that everyone maintain their account

Any last bits of advice?
You need to learn how to manage people. At some point, you will be put into a position where you manage people and I think that you have to be very serious about getting to that level where you become a manager. You have to take it at heart that you are dealing with somebody’s livelihood as a manager. You have to be responsible for them but you also have to be accountable for you what you do and how you could potentially affect their lives and their livelihood. It’s easy to push somebody around and expect them to do all sorts of stuff for you, but you have to make sure that they are getting something back from it.  If they sense that they aren’t getting developed professionally, then you will lose one and then you’ll lose another and so on. People will see that you are an ineffective manger and once they take your reports away from you, then you are on the island.

It is easy to think that you may be something special – well educated, highly trained. You are part of this great ‘fraternity/sorority’ of researchers seeding academia and industry.  It is up to you, but it is better to, at least try to be, a good person.  Paraphrasing a quote…the measure of a person is not how they treat their superiors, but how they treat their subordinates.

Good luck to all!


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Founder/CEO, Neural Bytes, LLC

May 31, 2016

Name: Antonio Ulloa, PhDImage of Antonio Ulloa

Job Title & Company: Founder/CEO, Neural Bytes, LLC

Location: Washington, DC

How long you’ve been in your current job: Founded Neural Bytes in 2012


Postdoc Advisor:
Barry Horwitz, PhD, IC: NIDCD

After your postdoc, what was your career progression like?
I knew I wanted to be independent and follow my own ideas, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. My wife and I ended up moving to London. I had an advisor/friend from Spain who I had a lot of success writing grant applications with, so we got together during one of his visits to London and we decided to write something together. We wrote a few grant proposals together and he got one of the grants later on. I enjoy writing grant applications and the stress of having to meet a deadline.  All of this was in the field of robotics. But, it essentially was a freelance thing. He encouraged me to register a company in England, so that I could join the consortium formally. But, I’m not a business person so I didn’t understand why this was so important. While we were waiting to hear about the grants, I became a stay at home dad to our two children.

When the kids were a little older, I eventually founded my first company, Alpha Brain Technologies, which I registered in England. The goal of that company was to make games and applications for iphones and ipads to help people with the acquisition of a second language. For me, it was to use everything I knew about how the brain processes language since I had a lot of knowledge about that from my time at NIDCD because I did fMRI experiments and computational modeling, etc.

I really enjoyed creating the company and I used the resources in London for starting a business. Google had a program to help small businesses start and they gave you a website for free web tools and advice to help you. It was very fulfilling but not financially rewarding.

Is that company still in business?
No, after seven years in England, we moved back to Washington, DC so I shut that company down. And I opened a company in the US. This time I wanted to create computational models of the brain for researchers to use in the labs. I knew that most neuroscience labs do empirical work and that they often don’t have computer scientists on site. It is becoming more and more common that people have to pose some computational hypothesis for how things work, not just the results of their empirical studies. So, the idea of the company was to create software for those labs to use which was user-friendly.

Did you utilize any resources in the United States to help set up your business?
Yes, it was very different from setting up a business in England. What I have now is an LLC – a limited liability company and those don’t exist in England. But, I used a lot of resources through the Small Business Administration (SBA) and I also used a lot of resources through Score.org. They have lots of workshops and one-on-one meetings.  That was great at the beginning, especially when you don’t know where to go, what to do, or how to start. They gave a lot of advice by phone, email, Skype, and in-person. They also have videos online that you can watch to help you.

Plus, an accountant. I had a hard time finding an accountant who I was able to ask basic questions to because there were basic concepts that I didn’t understand and I wanted to have a sense of how things worked. I did finally find one and it has worked out well. Accountants are a great resource to ask questions to and some of them have great websites/blogs with basic questions to help you as well.

What does a general day to day look like for you?
Since I started the contract with the NIH in April 2014, I spend a lot of time at the NIH. I would say half of my time is at the NIH. I generally go there in the mornings and spend 4-5 hours on the project that I have with them. The project will update a specialized software tool for brain modeling by making it more accessible to neuroscience researchers without computational experience.  I have also given them ideas on how to upload that to an open repository. There has been a move recently to move everything to a more open science and having data and source code uploaded to public repositories.  Mostly my contract involves writing software and giving them solutions for their research.

How did you win this contract? Was it a difficult process?
Yes, it was. I had something very specific in mind to build this research tool software, and then I had some ideas about how research was done at the NIH, but even so I had to do a lot of research about who was doing what. So, I ended up just approaching people and/or emailing them. I would give my business card and proposal. Many people said no, but then it just worked.

What are the most important skills that you utilize in this position?
I think presentation skills is a big one. Research skills is another big one. I did have to write a business proposal, but nobody really looks at it. It is really just for yourself, but it can be useful to have the skills to be able to write a vision statement and technical reports.

What is your favorite aspect of running your own business?
The independence and the flexibility in the hours. We have school-aged children so my wife and I both have to take them to school. A lot of flexibility helps with that. And I enjoy the independence because it means that I set my own goals. I know exactly what I want to do in the next five years and that is what I am going to do through my business or through a contract with my business or small business innovation grant. So, those two things are really great for me.

What has been the most challenging aspect about running your own company?
Paperwork and tax returns. There is just a lot of paperwork. I gradually eased into it, but it can be daunting because one has to have a license and a registration and a certificate of compliance, and a company number from the IRS, and a business bank account. There are lots of little things that need to happen in order to have a company which offers services.  Then, there are lots more requirements in order to have a contract with the federal government. It is a long list of things that one has to set up and keep updating every year or so.

My accountant does the tax returns but I use QuickBooks to help keep track of everything. This helps keep track of all the expenses and I can upload the receipts and categorize it. At the end of the year, I can produce a report which I give to the accountant and they’ll tell me how much I have to pay and estimate it per federal/state.

For somebody who is hoping to go down a similar path and start a company, what last bits of advice would you give? In hindsight, is there anything you wish you would have done differently?

Yes, don’t wait! I waited and I was a little too cautious. I thought that if I started a business formally that there was no way back or that if I left it alone for a few months that it would go down the drain. Or that I had to either do research or have my own business, but no, that is not the case.

True, there are several things that you need to keep up with but there is no reason to wait if that is what you want. You can have a business and you can also have your research. In fact, I could have started a business as a postdoc because I had an idea already of what I wanted to do. Even now, I have an idea of what I want to do for my research so I continue writing scientific articles and presenting work at conferences. I want both things.

Don’t be afraid to try – it can feel intimidating, but it is not rocket science.


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Scientific Program Analyst

July 21, 2014

Name: Lillian Kuo, PhD

Job Title & Company: Scientific Program Analyst, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS)

Location: Bethesda, MD

How long you’ve been in your current job: A little over a year.

Postdoc Advisor, IC: Eric O. Freed, NCI

What do you do as a Scientific Program Analyst?
A Program Analyst means a lot of different things across NIH. For my position, I work on the Program side of extramural research where I work under a couple of Program Directors. I perform a lot of different tasks like program administration, talking to grantees, and organizing conferences. The programs we work on are cooperative agreements, which are not the traditional R01 type grants. This means that there is substantial programmatic involvement above and beyond the normal stewardship role in awards.

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

Being flexible and being able to learn things really fast because science is always changing. Science is incredibly dynamic, so I have had to learn and adapt quickly.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I work with a lot of people – people who do very different things. Even though I am at NCATS, I work with the Common Fund which is part of NIH OD. I work with Program Directors from about a dozen different ICs. Every IC does something different so it is really interesting to me to learn about these differences. Common Fund programs are trans-NIH initiatives, so I’m really fortunate to be able to work with such a diverse group of people. People approach problems so differently based on the scientific need. Science is so dynamic and it is always changing so it is important to tailor the programs accordingly.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
I had to learn a lot of stuff really fast, and that is part of being a PhD. You are trained to learn things quickly. For example, I had to give myself a crash course in bioinformatics. In retrospect, a lot of it was not too bad like learning different kinds of software programs.

What was your job search like?
I was contacted by a recruiter, which surprised me at first. I had previously applied for another Kelly Scientific position, so I was in their database. I thought the position she described was quite interesting. She thought I would be a good fit, and she was right.

Any last bits of advice?
Informational interviews are immensely helpful. OITE has a lot of really great resources to help you with that. Informational interviews are so important though because the information that you learn talking to people first-hand is invaluable. During information interviews, I have found people are really thoughtful and they will give you good information and advice which ultimately will help steer you where you need to go. I can’t tell someone what they would like, so everyone has to determine that on their own.