Diedre Ribbens

Diedre Ribbens is a science writer, editor and communicator based in Minneapolis. She earned her Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Connect with her on LinkedIn or by Email.).


Consider a job in biodefense

3/17/2017 3:55:14 PM

Looking to use your background in microbiology or chemistry in an edgy career? Look no further than biodefense! There’s a whole research community engineering ways to thwart potential bioterrorism agents.  

Before you explore biodefense jobs, it’s helpful to learn some of the specific acronyms associated with the business of keeping ordinary citizens safe.

A primer on some of the important acronyms in biodefense:

Biosafety level (BSL)

BSL refers to the level of containment precautions required for a laboratory that handles dangerous biological agents. The more dangerous the biological agent, the higher the BSL number.

  • BSL-1 facilities are for biological agents that pose a minimal threat to healthy individuals. There’s pretty much no special containment or procedural requirements for BSL-1 facilities.
  • BSL-2 facilities are also pretty typical labs. They handle agents such as pathogenic E. coli, Toxoplasma gondii, etc. that can cause mild disease in humans.
  • BSL-3 facilities are housed in buildings with appropriate containment controls and require special training and handling precautions for the biological agents. BSL-3 agents can cause lethal disease in humans, such as SARS coronavirus, Rickettsia rickettsii and West Nile virus.
  • BSL-4 facilities handle extremely lethal biological agents that can easily be aerosolized or that have no available vaccines or treatments. At BSL-4 facilities, all labs are set up as cabinet-style or protective suit laboratories. Airflow in and out of BSL-4 labs is tightly controlled, and the entrances even have airlocks! The biological agents handled at BSL-4 facilities are Ebola virus, Flaviviruses and new, uncharacterized, potentially dangerous pathogens.

Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA)

DTRA, pronounced “DIT-trah,” also known as “America’s Shield,” is a center that safeguards the nation from weapons of mass destruction, including biological agents and chemical threats. DTRA invests in (funds) basic science research as one way to prepare for and combat these threats. DTRA has several “solicitations” or research grants available to support basic science research under its J9-Research and Development Directorate.

The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID)

USAMRIID is an organization whose goal is to research and develop medical solutions to protect military service members from biological threats. USAMRIID manages a number of BSL-3 and BSL-4 labs to conduct this research and partners with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization


Battelle (Frederick, Md.) seeks a science lead to coordinate projects at its BSL-3/4 high-containment facility, liaising with government staff partners. Battelle’s research studies focus on host-pathogen interactions with “high consequence viral pathogens” to evaluate animal models and medical countermeasures. Requires an M.D., D.V.M., or Ph.D. in microbiology with extensive experience in infectious disease research, as well as eight to 10 years of experience working in a BSL-3/4 laboratory.  

USI (Lorton, Va.) seeks a biological scientist with an emphasis in microbiology to assist and advise the DTRA Chemical & Biological Department. Specifically, the scientist will support the Diagnostic, Detection, and Disease Surveillance Division (J9 CBA) using both scientific and project-management skills. Working with a multidisciplinary team, the scientist will design and execute biological defense research projects, developing “theories for understanding, characterizing, and organizing natural phenomena into a systematic and meaningful pattern for research into potential new products of inventions.” Requires a Ph.D. plus nine years of experience in a related discipline.

CEVA (Lenexa, KS) seeks a scientist to conduct and oversee microbiological analysis of clinical lab samples. The scientist will collect samples for serology, histopathology and bacterial/virus isolation, as well as for molecular biology analyses, including the isolation and identification of microbial species from samples. Requires a bachelor’s degree or M.S. in microbiology, immunology or biology, as well as three to five years of work experience in a microbiology laboratory.

General Dynamics Information Technology (Frederick, Md.) seeks a drug-discovery subject matter expert for its Therapeutics Development Center, which is focused on “establishment of an internal U.S. defense pipeline of therapeutic drugs to backup current and future clinical candidates.” This group is an arm of USAMRIID and is a collaborative effort among government, contract researchers, clinicians and academic experts. Requires a master’s degree in a scientific discipline or a Ph.D. in a relevant field of life sciences.

General Dynamics also seeks a virology scientist to work as a principal investigator and “conduct basic and applied research on current and emerging viral threats in support of the biodefense and infectious disease program.” The scientist will be responsible for conducting studies in BSL-3 and BSL-4 laboratories as well as seeking funding from DRTA and other funding agencies. Requires a master’s degree or Ph.D. in virology, as well as eight to 10 years of scientific research experience.

Dynamis Inc. (Fort Belvoir, Va.) seeks a biological scientist with a background in microbiology to work at the DTRA headquarters “providing scientific analysis and program assistance on a variety of current and emerging applications addressing concerns in the area of biological warfare defense as well as assist in shaping the strategy and overall program portfolio.” The scientist will help design and execute research projects as well as help develop patent applications. Requires a Ph.D. plus nine years of experience in a related field, as well as people and project-management experience.

Laulima Government Solutions (Ft. Detrick, Md.) seeks a biodefense regulated laboratory analyst to work in its USAMRIID laboratory. The analyst will “conduct studies…and support a variety of laboratory-based activities associated with FDA regulatory compliance, analytical method optimization and validation.” Requires a bachelor’s degree in biology or a related field, 10 years of experience and the ability to work in biocontainment environments.

Sandia National Laboratories (Livermore, Calif.) seeks an R&D laboratory support technologist to conduct “chemical, biological, or physical experiments…and [perform] qualitative and quantitative analyses.” This department of Sandia conducts research “at the interface between materials science, biology and medicine.” Requires a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering or chemistry and at least five years of experience in sol-gel chemistry.

Looking for more jobs posts or for other tips on how to search for jobs? Check out the additional posts by searching your area of interest or geography on the ASBMB Careers Blog. As always, we’d love to hear your feedback or suggestions. Leave a comment or reach out to ASBMB on Twitter or Facebook!

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10 real-world skills scientists bring to the workplace

3/10/2017 5:18:23 PM

Think that a scientific education means you’re limited to working a lab your entire life? Think again! If you’re considering a move away from the bench, your training as a researcher means you have tons of skills you can apply in a business environment. When you are preparing your application or interviewing for a nonresearch position, consider highlighting some of the valuable qualities embodied by those who conduct scientific investigation.

10. Teamwork and collaboration

Research is inherently a collaborative activity. It requires you to partner with your lab mates, your research mentor, other research groups, and core facilities, among others. Business activities are collaborative, too. Being able to clearly outline your role and duties in a group project, execute your tasks, report your progress, and see how your piece fits into the bigger picture are all important teamwork skills you pick up while working in a research lab.

9. Mentoring

Many people who work in a lab end up with experience as a mentor. As an undergraduate researcher, you may mentor newer students. As a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow, you mentor junior students at all levels. Forging relationships, giving guidance, and managing your workload while helping others are all skills you’re acquiring when you mentor. Mentoring is also important in a business context. Many companies have formal mentoring programs for their employees, in fact. Drawing attention to your experience as a mentor in the lab is a great way to demonstrate your compassion and leadership on your job applications.

8. Teaching

Being able to teach someone is another great skill many graduate students and postdoctoral fellows acquire. You have to have confidence in your knowledge of the subject and understand the subject on a deep enough level to explain it to a nonexpert and answer that person’s questions. You also have to be able to tailor information to the learning styles of your students. Teaching also demonstrates patience. Including your teaching experience on your application will show that you have capability and that you’re ready to apply it in a business setting.

7. Project management

In a lab, you’re responsible for managing and planning your own experiments, estimating how long your work will take, and running simultaneous projects or experiments. The same concepts apply to business project management. If you can do all of that in the lab, you have demonstrable evidence that you can do it in the business world.

6. Independent learning

Most scientists are naturally driven to learn and are able to seek out information for themselves. Being self-directed in your learning and knowing where and how to find new knowledge is essential in any field. If you can motivate yourself to learn, you’ll quickly catch up in your new business role. Additionally, when you’re starting a new project, you’re able to gain independence more quickly, showing your value to your new business team.

5. Clear and concise writing

Communicating your research almost always requires writing. As a scientist, you are trained to write in a way that conveys the important information without being overly verbose. You can organize your thoughts in a logical way to tell a story. Being able to write well can be applied to almost any profession, especially in the business world. As a bonus, scientists can write for a variety of audiences

4. Designing amazing PowerPoint slides

Posters, research presentations, group meetings -- the list of places your research intersects with a PowerPoint slide is endless. Being able to use PowerPoint and understanding the principles of creating a great presentation are incredibly valuable in the business world. Telling your story while keeping your audience engaged is not always an easy feat with PowerPoint, and your doing so will be enable you to win over the business world.

3. Public speaking

Another way of presenting your research is to get up in front of an audience and tell your story. Believe it or not, all of those times you were able to articulate your thoughts to a crowd were great practice for the business world. Oral presentations, leading meetings, or even just voicing your opinion in a group are great examples of ways that your public speaking skills transfer outside of the lab environment.

2. Data organization and analysis

Being able to collect, organize and analyze data, as well as draw connections between different pieces of information, are common to both science and business. As a scientist, you’re practiced in this skill, so you can use it in almost any field, including business. Additionally, being able to manage and analyze large amounts of data using Excel, statistics, and other tools can be very useful outside the lab.

1. Problem-solving

Ah, the scientific method! A logical, organized approach to solving problems. News flash: Science is not the only field with problems to solve. There are tons of problems to solve in business contexts! As a scientist, you have the ability to identify and articulate the problem to be solved, select variables that affect the outcome, and methodically test solutions will make you stand out in a business environment.


Looking for more jobs posts or for other tips on how to search for jobs? Check out the additional posts by searching your area of interest or geography on the ASBMB Careers Blog. As always, we’d love to hear your feedback or suggestions. Leave a comment or reach out to ASBMB on Twitter or Facebook!

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Looking for a science policy position?

3/3/2017 3:54:50 PM

These are interesting times in politics, and scientists are finding different ways to influence local and national discussions about science policy. One important way, of course, is to commit to science policy work full time. In case that interests some of you, this week I’ve rounded up science policy openings.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (multiple locations) seeks several public health analysts. These analysts will research and analyze published literature on public-health-related programs and communicate their findings via internal papers. The analysts will serve on committees charged with “reviewing and developing public health policies, procedures, and guidelines” and will prepare congressional testimonies, responses to requests for information, and more. Requires a minimum of one year of specialized experience in this area of public health analysis.

Ripple Effect Communications (Rockville, Md.), in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, seeks a science program and policy specialist with a background in cancer biology. This analyst will evaluate programs eligible for the Knowledge Management and Special Projects Branch at the National Cancer Institute. Requires a bachelor’s degree in a related discipline and 10 or more years of experience in policy, legislative affairs, or a related field.

Strategic Analysis Inc. (Arlington, Va.) seeks a policy analyst to support the Department of Defense Science & Technology leadership committees and their Reliance 21 planning process. This support entails researching information to facilitate the S&T committee’s planning guidance, as well as interfacing with other branches in the government that are stakeholders in the DoD S&T committee’s activities. Requires a bachelor’s degree and two to three years of experience.

Leidos (Bethesda, Md.) seeks a health science policy analyst to analyze data and produce reports, share information, and coordinate meetings with external stakeholders, such as the National Institutes of Health. This position requires a “broad knowledge of biomedical research areas so as to be able to conduct literature searches,” as well as experience reporting on data analysis and coordinating subject matter expert panels.

Navigant Consulting Inc. (Chicago) seeks a life sciences advisory intern. The ideal applicant will be majoring in business, science, biomedical engineering, or healthcare policy and planning and will have demonstrated already their interest in consulting for the life sciences industry. The position will require the intern to support all stages of consulting project work, including interviews with subject matter experts and thought leaders, literature searching, data analysis, and paper/presentation preparation.

IBM’s Watson Health division seeks a deputy chief officer of the life sciences (ideally located in the northeastern United States, but no location was specified). Although this job may require more experience than many readers of this blog currently possess, if you happen to hold an M.D. or D.O. and have at least five years’ experience working in a life science company, with additional experience in a senior clinical role and business development or consulting, this sounds like an amazing opportunity. The deputy chief officer will “provide clinical leadership in the design and development of solutions and engagement with key stakeholders to support meaningful use of Watson Health solutions.” The officer will accomplish this by developing product insights, executing client opportunities, and engaging the external market and IBM network.

The Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center for International Security (Washington, D.C.) seeks applicants for its Science and Policy Fellowship. This fellowship is paid for four months and is a “part-time research and thought leadership position hosted in the Brent Scowcroft Center’s Strategic Foresight Initiative.” Besides getting professional training in leadership skills, the fellow will promote science and technological innovation and enhance diversity in the foreign policy space. Requires a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field and demonstrated interest in policy development.

The American Society of Human Genetics (Bethesda, Md.) seeks a science policy analyst. The analyst will “help fulfill the Society’s advocacy role by conducting analyses on policy issues affecting genetics; developing policy statements consistent with ASHG’s policy platform; and coordinating policy and advocacy-related events.” This includes tracking research, federal legislation, and court cases related to the society’s policy platform, as well as drafting statements to communicate to the media and other stakeholders. Requires a bachelor’s degree in genetics or public policy; a master’s or Ph.D. is preferred.

Looking for more jobs posts or for other tips on how to search for jobs? Check out the additional posts by searching your area of interest or geography on the ASBMB Careers Blog. As always, we’d love to hear your feedback or suggestions. Leave a comment or reach out to ASBMB on Twitter or Facebook!