ACE Your Career in 10 Hours

October 3, 2016

Albert Chen, an MD/PhD student at the University of Michigan designed the ACE plan.  ACE is short for Active Career Exploration.  According the Chen and colleagues within their four-part series on Science Careers, “ACE is your protocol for career experimentation, a logical progression of steps designed to overcome common barriers and give visible results after just 10 hours.”

Just 10 hours?

To be clear, the authors note that this means 10 hours within one month. The steps aren’t meant to be drawn out over, say the last year of your postdoc.

Here is how the 10 hours break down:

2 hours = Read and reflect
3 hours = Send cold emails to people you don’t know
3 hours = Meet people for informational interviews
2 hours = Form your career plan


Image of the ACE Plan in steps








Chen created a guide to help you within your ACE Plan entitled “Cold E-mails and Hot Coffee” which can be downloaded for free.  One of authors’ guiding principles was to create limits on how much time a person could spend in one section since it can be so easy to get stuck in an area which feels the most comfortable to you.

Many trainees at the NIH are well-versed on the first step: reading and reflecting.  Many times this equates to trying to do their own research on a career field through articles and books; however, they then have a hard time making that leap into the second and third stages – the more active phases – which include sending cold emails and meeting people for informational interviews. The read and reflect phase spans into months instead of a mere two hours.

Why do people get stuck making the leap to the second and third phases within the ACE Plan?

Well, often because sending cold emails to people you don’t know feels awkward and you worry it won’t be well-received.  Chen and colleagues understand these challenges, so they devoted a whole article on how you can do this part well.  It is extremely important to normalize this networking process because it is so key to your career development. Often the worst that happens is you just don’t hear back.

If you have attended any of our workshops at the OITE, then the ACE Plan will sound very familiar to you.  It is a new spin on common recommendations, but perhaps the time-limited approach will resonate with you.

Give it a try and let us know how the 10 hour ACE plan worked for you!

Career Options Series: Bioinformatics

May 23, 2016

Thank you to all who voted! According to the poll, the career path you wanted to see highlighted was Bioinformatics. The second runner up was Education and Outreach, so we will be highlighting that field next in the Career Options Series.

What is Bioinformatics?
The fields of bioinformatics and computational biology involve the development and application of tools to make biological discoveries. Bioinformatics is being introduced to high school students in biology classes. There are undergraduate, masters level and Ph.D. programs that train student in these fields. See the International Society for Computational Biology  (ISCB) for examples of degree programs in bioinformatics and computational biology. In addition, some people enter the field as a biologists and some enter as computer scientists/engineers. According to ICSB, a solid background in both biology and computer science is extremely helpful.

Sample Job Titles
Data Analyst; Systems Analyst; Informatics Analyst; Software Developer; Biostatistician/Bioinformatician; Computational Biologist; Research Scientist; Bioinformatics/Staff Scientist; Gene Analyst; Research Assistant/Associate; Biologics Database; Programmer/Administrator; Computer Analyst/Programmer; Molecular Modeling Assistant; Software Engineer; Post-doctoral Fellow; Research Scientist; Senior Scientist/PI; Professor/Assistant Professor; UNIX/Linux Programmer; Computational Genomics Specialist; Bioinformatics Specialist
* Information compiled via an Indeed search in the Bethesda area

Sample Work Settings
University laboratory/faculty; Nonprofit Biomedical Research Institution; Pharmaceutical Company; Information Technology (IT) service provider; Biotechnology Company; Government Agencies; Government Contractor

Sample Employers
The Jackson Laboratory
Abbott Laboratories
University of Nebraska Medical Center
Medical College of Wisconsin
New York Genome Center
University of Rochester
Memorial Sloan Kettering
OMNITEC Solutions, Inc
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Craig Venter Institute
Department of Health and Human Services
National Human Genome Research Institute

Potential Topics/Areas of Specialty

  • Sequence analysis
  • Gene and protein expression
  • Structural bioinformatics
  • Network/systems biology
  • Computer science
  • Software development
  • Database management/programming

 Key Skills
-Computer programming knowledge – Python, Perl, Ruby, or R

-Basic knowledge of UNIX operating system

-Good communication skills

-The ability to multitask

-A working knowledge of biology/genomics

-Data visualization skills

How to get started
Internships e.g., Summer Internship at NIEHS, NCI, NHGRI

Professional Organizations
International Society for Computational Biology
The American Medical Informatics Association

Additional Resources
The National Center for Biotechnology Information
National Human Genome Research Institute
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Biostars Message Board


OITE’s Career Options Series gives you a snapshot overview of different career paths. The goal of this series is to help you explore a variety of different options by connecting you to new resources.  A large part of making a good career decision is done by gathering information about that field.  We encourage you to follow up this online research by conducting informational interviews with individuals in each field.


Science Careers in Industry: Top Ten Myths

May 9, 2016

Post written by Brad Fackler, MBAImage of a list with checked items. A pencil is to the right of the list.

When you have primarily worked in an academic setting, any other work path can seem like a confusing and scary venture. Many scientists consider career options in industry; however they often worry about what this transition will be like. Here are the top ten myths I often hear about an industry career in science.

1. I will have my project “yanked away.”

This thought is often repeatedly shared, but most of the industry scientists I have talked to have categorically denied this! In industry, projects often change for two basic reasons: 1. Your research was successful and the compound has moved on to a clinical trial.  2. Your project was unsuccessful and no further work is warranted at that time.  In both of these scenarios, an individual is generally given months advance notice for future planning. Moreover, you will likely be moved to a project where your skills and expertise can best be leveraged because most companies and bosses want employees who are scientifically engaged and happy.  After all, that helps with productivity in the end.

2. It is all about the money.

Funding is needed to make science happen, whether in the private or public sector and the total budgets between the two are pretty comparable. The fiscal year 2016 NIH research budget is $32,300,000,000, with this total accounting for extramural  (grants awarded to more than 300,000 researchers at more than 2,500 universities, medical schools, and other research institutions)  as well as intramural research spending.  In comparison, the sum of the top four pharma company’s R&D budgets in 2015 was $35,600,000,000. The breakdown is: Roche at $10.2B, Novartis at $9.3B, Merck at $8.2B, and Pfizer at $7.9B.

3. Industry conducts “bad” science.

Companies have to meet clear regulatory requirements by the FDA that academic labs generally aren’t held to. Development of drug therapy has virtually eliminated once common diseases like plague, polio, smallpox, tuberculosis, measles, and chicken pox. The average life expectancy after a cancer diagnosis is now greater than ten years.  With all of these advances, the average life expectancy in the US in 2015 is 80.6 for females and 75.9 for males. Compare that to the average US life expectancy 100 years prior in 1915 which was 56.8 for females and 52.5 for males. This increase in life expectancy has been attributed to better nutrition and the development of drug therapy.

4. I will no longer be able to publish.

Companies still publish findings. 5,585 science companies published 34,287 papers and 6,793 technology companies published 29,554 papers.  For example, in the first quarter of 2016, MedImmune had 40 publications. Industry scientists also report that the pressure to publish is diminished from academia and that is often viewed as a positive.

5. The work is not as satisfying.

Well, if you transition from an NIH lab to an industry bench science position, then you will be doing exactly the same things whether that is satisfying to you or not.  In industry positions, more emphasis is placed on meeting timelines and accomplishments, and most companies prioritize team work in a collegial work environment. If for whatever reason that doesn’t sound like a good fit for you personally and professionally, then it is might be necessary to question if industry is a good fit for you.

6. There is more career change and I’ll probably lose my job.

Most careers are full of change and even PI jobs change too (ex. Assistant – Associate – Full). Industry does offer multiple career tracks, including level and salary increases within the lab or the option to progress into management. You can also transition to other company functions.  Should you lose your job, most often companies offer placement services and severance options. Also, if working in industry, then it is likely that you are living in an area where there are other opportunities as well since most pharma and biotech companies are often clustered together geographically.

7. What if I hate it?

Many career decisions are fraught with worry. Remember that the choice you are making at the end of your training fellowship is for the next step in your career, not necessarily for the rest of your life. Pursuing an industry postdoc can help make you feel more comfortable about your decision to move into industry. Industry experience and pursuing new skill sets may help open doors to new opportunities and additional career choices, including returning to academia, which brings us to number eight…

8. I can never go back to academia.

In today’s environment, there is growing pressure to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of product discovery and development which often leads to public-private partnerships (PPP’s) and Industry-Academic partnerships like NCATS or Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP).  This has increased the flow of technology, capital, and human resources among the public, private, and academic sectors and has helped blur the lines of what used to be a bigger divide.

9. I will disappoint my PI and my graduate school mentors.

Even if it might not always feel this way, the environment is beginning to change. Faculty review panels are starting to give “credit” for non-faculty career outcomes. Similarly, PIs are starting to understand the shortage of academic PI opportunities and the benefits of multiple career options for trainees. Always remember, it is you career/life to live – not theirs. If you need help having this discussion with your boss, read this post on “How to Talk to Your Mentor about a Career Change.”

10. Not becoming a PI means I’m a failure.

It can be incredibly hard to reframe one’s internal thoughts about this; however, from an external perspective, this most definitely does not mean you are a failure. In fact, most employment statistics reveal you are in the majority. According to Sauermann and Roach (2012), more than half of entering biology PhD students had the career goal of becoming a research professor, but less than 10% of them went on to become a research professor.

Remember, that the best career advice often comes from people who are working within your aspired field/company/role, so if you are interested in industry, then talk to people doing that work. You might even find some of your own personal myths dispelled by these conversations.

Review of ResearchGate

March 24, 2014

Screen shot of a user profile on ResearchGate. The user profile highlighted is Ijad Madisch, one of ResearchGate's founders.Recently a few trainees have inquired about ResearchGate, so we decided to take a further look at this site. It was founded in 2008 by two physicians who discovered that collaborating with a friend or colleague (especially one across the world) was no easy task. They created this website with the intent of helping make scientific progress happen faster.

ResearchGate has been described as a mash up of familiar social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn because it contains profile pages, groups, job listings, the ability to leave comments as well as “like” and “follow” buttons. However, this social networking site is designed exclusively for scientists and researchers. According to ResearchGate’s site, there are four million users and their primary aim is to:

• Share publications
• Seek new collaborations
• Ask questions and hopefully receive answers from like-minded researchers
• Connect with colleagues

ResearchGate is free to join and members can upload copies of their papers. All papers will be searchable, which also allows users to track and follow the research publications of others in their field. Researchers are encouraged to not only upload successful results but those from failed projects or experiments, which are stored in a separate but still searchable area. The official mission of this site states: We believe science should be open and transparent. This is why we’ve made it our mission to connect researchers and make it easy for them to share, discover, use, and distribute findings. We help researchers voice feedback and build reputation through open discussion and evaluations of each other’s research.

Some critics of ResearchGate argue that even though the site states that there are four million users, it seems there are a lot of inactive profiles. Another criticism has focused on the fact that there hasn’t been much buy in from senior researchers meaning a high percentage of users are students or junior researchers. If you decide to create a ResearchGate profile, make sure you tailor the notification and privacy settings associated with your account since some members have complained about unwanted email spamming.

At this point, ResearchGate shouldn’t be the only site you use for networking, but it can be another helpful tool to connect with like-minded scientists/researchers and additionally it can be another way to help promote your work. As with any site, the more effort you put in, the more you will likely get out of this resource.

We would love to hear your thoughts about ResearchGate! If you have used it, what do you see as the pros and cons? Do you have any recommendations for future users?

**Compilation of Readers’ Reviews**

* In addition to networking, it is extremely useful as a research tool. A couple of points:
-When users sign up the website automatically adds the publications that have your name and appear in your profile, it also continues searching and when one
publishes an article it is also added automatically.
– It also suggests to connect with people that you cite and people who cite you so it is a tremendous tool to keep up with people in your field.
– People can ask questions about experiments and also get immediate feedback if they have questions about a publication instead of having to wonder.
– It allows you to follow senior investigators the same way one can follow a celebrity on Twitter, but there are no tweets and unless you ask a question all the conversations are personal,
there are no “wall postings.”

* It seems to be getting some traction with senior investigators. In the future, it may become more relevant to academia than perhaps LinkedIn.  Within ResearchGate, it is easier to connect with senior investigators because requests are not sent to connect, rather one just “follows” researchers.

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!

Taking Ownership of Your Career: Developing an Individual Development Plan (IDP)

February 6, 2014

Silhouetee of a person looking at arrows pointing in different directionsHave you drafted a career plan? Do you know if you have the required skills for your dream job? Figuring out the next step in your career and how to prepare for it can be stressful. But developing a plan, early on in your career, will help guide you through this process of identifying and achieving your career goals.

This year, the OITE will be dedicating its blog to help you develop a Career Success Plan, focusing on a variety of core competencies that are critical for your career development, the first being career exploration and planning. This is where creating an individual development plan (IDP) comes into play. But, what is an IDP? And why it is so important?

An IDP is a personalized document developed to help you define your career goals and implement strategies to help you accomplish those goals. There are many ways to develop your IDP. In fact, some universities, organizations, and/or institutes may have their own IDP documents in place. No matter what stage your career is in (postbac, grad student, postdoc) or what career path you are pursuing, an IDP can help you focus on short and long term goals with an action plan to follow. Remember, that as your career progresses, your plans might change, so you can always come back and review your goals adjusting them to your current situation.

Developing an IDP requires time and effort. So it is important that you not only think thoroughly about your career by doing an honest self-assessment but also, by being committed to applying the strategies established in your plan to reach your goals. To help you build your IDP, we discuss briefly the some important elements of the IDP.

Conduct a Self-Assessment

Self-assessment helps you identify skills, interests and values that are key to finding a career that fits you. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your skills (such as communication and leadership), interests (such as mentoring and designing experiments) and values (such as fast-paced environment and flexibility) will all help you evaluate your needs and priorities in your career.

Explore Different Careers

Once you understand your needs and priorities, how do they relate to possible career paths? With so many career options, you want to make sure that the career path you choose matches your skillset and interests. You might also find a career path that you didn’t think about before but fits your needs. When exploring career options, networking and informational interviewing play a critical role to understand those careers that you are unfamiliar with and learn insights of the job.

Set Goals

Now that you have explored different careers, what is your plan to get there? This is where you should develop your short and long term goals that are SMART. By doing so, you will hopefully establish a timeline to stick to your goal.

Implement Plan

Finally and most importantly, is to put your IDP in ACTION! Remember, you are in control of your own career. If you don’t take it seriously, no one else will.

Even though you can complete an IDP by yourself, you should choose a mentoring team that can guide and advise you through this process. Mentors play a critical part of the career planning process not only because of their personal and professional experiences but also because they can: provide feedback about your skills; help you reflect on your interests and values; and keep you motivated and focused.

* Science Careers has a web-based career-planning tool called myIDP that can help graduate students and postdocs develop their IDP. SACNAS-IDP also provides advice on how to build a IDP for undergraduate students

** Disclaimer: This blog is informational and does not constitute an endorsement to Science nor SACNAS Website by NIH OITE

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