September 2010

A Job in Career Development

As my graduation date drew closer, I still had not picked a path. Plus, I was not yet ready to leave research. What I really wanted was to broaden my scientific horizons and to try something new. I carefully explored postdoc labs, as I really wanted to have a supportive mentor who understood that I did not wish to go into academia. I had forged a great relationship at conferences with Marlene Belfort at the Wadsworth Center and knew that her lab would be perfect. Marlene was a successful scientist who also understood work-life balance. Her lab had a genetic focus but also did traditional biochemistry. I liked the flexibility of projects and the camaraderie in the lab.

Turning Point

My turning point in choosing a career came in the summer of 2003. One day, I received two envelopes in the mail. The first contained the scores from my NRSA grant application, and the second was from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. My grant had made the funding line, and AAAS was offering me a position as a program manager for Science’s NextWave, the precursor to the current ScienceCareers.org. I had a choice to make: continue to do research or move and take a job planning career events. My husband, also a scientist, had just started his postdoc. For his career, it was important for us to keep our postdocs, so I decided to take the grant.

Now, however, I knew what I wanted to do, and, more importantly, I learned that the type of job I wanted existed and was accessible! While planning all of those career talks, I found that my passion was career development. I planned the next two years of my postdoc wisely. I worked hard at the bench and published a few more papers. Papers are the currency in science, no matter what job you take in the end, and any employer would want to see demonstrated productivity, no matter what the field. In my lab, if you brought in your own fellowship money, you were assigned a technician, which gave me the opportunity to gain supervisory experience. I continued to be involved in the postdoc association, planning events and helping the new group get started. I followed what was happening in postdoc education by being involved with the National Postdoctoral Association, and, most importantly, I continued to build my network.

Helping the Next Generation of Scientists

When my fellowship ended, it was time to find a job. I relied heavily on my network and was eventually connected with a job at the New York Academy of Sciences, running their global career development program— Science Alliance. The job was amazing, and it really fit my personality and passions. I went around New York, the country and the world, giving talks to prepare postdocs and graduate students entering the job market. I was recruited to the National Institutes of Health a few years later to join its Office of Intramural Training and Education as the director of postdoctoral services.

My current job focuses on combining people and science. My scientific background gives me credibility and allows me to understand the challenges of working in a lab and searching for a job. I plan career events almost weekly on topics, both at and away from the bench. I give presentations that focus mostly on skill development: “How to write a CV/resume,” “How to succeed in an interview,” “How to manage a job search,” “Improving lab dynamics” and more. I also plan events on career exploration, inviting fellow scientists in all career fields to come to the NIH to share their experiences. Most of the talks I have given are archived on our website at www.training.nih.gov. My mission is to give postdocs the resources to find a career that will satisfy their ambitions.

Throughout my journey, I have kept my scientific network close. I rely on them to field questions from my fellows and to look for new ideas for novel career development content. I love to travel around the country giving career development talks and representing the NIH and its support for the next generation of scientists. Plus, all of the traveling gives me an excuse to connect with my network, in person, while I’m in town for business. Never forget how small the scientific community is, and use its size to your career advantage.

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