Environmental Factor, June 2007, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Fellows Network at NIEHS Biomedical Career Fair
By Eddy Ball
The NIEHS Trainees Assembly (NTA) held the tenth annual NIEHS Biomedical Career Fair(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/careers/research/nta on April 27 at the RTP Headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The all-day event attracted over 300 non-tenured, non-permanent scientists in training at NIEHS, EPA and several universities in the Carolinas. The NIEHS Office of the Scientific Director (OSD) was a major sponsor of the Career Fair, which featured a keynote address, company and organization exhibits, a networking luncheon and panel discussion sessions on public- and private-sector employment opportunities.
The annual Career Fair is a valuable service for pre- and postdoctoral fellows because it fills a void in most training programs, according to Friederike L. Jayes, D.V.M., Ph.D., chairperson of the 2007 NIEHS Career Fair Committee. Nationwide, only between 20 and 30 percent of postdocs end up in tenure-track academic careers, which is where most of the emphasis in their training is placed.
"We get a lot of technical and scientific training in the labs at NIEHS," Jayes said, "but in order to land a job [in today's market], we really need to improve on a lot of other skills and techniques as well.... It really hampers people trying to be competitive out in the field because they don't know what they want or how to prepare for it." The Career Fair helps to bridge this gap by exposing trainees to people working in different scientific careers - and by showcasing emerging occupations, such as medical science liaison.
Although some companies may have been recruiting at the event, Jayes emphasized that "this was not a job fair." Instead, the Career Fair focused on networking interactions for young scientists. Trainees had an opportunity to meet people from companies that have other than tenure-track jobs and gather information on the many different opportunities for scientists.
Throughout the day, trainees could ask people about how they prepared for the jobs they hold, what the jobs are like, what other skills and backgrounds are required, and, finally, what companies are looking for in applicants. "Since there are usually four panelists in each session, people get different points of view." Jayes explained. "Trainees also form networking connections during the Career Fair, which is something they can build on."
The Fair opened with a talk by Middle Tennessee State University Chemistry Professor Preston J. MacDougall, Ph.D. His keynote address, titled "Communicating Science: Can You Hear Me Now?" set the tone for the day. MacDougall underscored the importance for scientists to develop a facility for communicating what they do to non-scientists among the general public and in the organizations where they work. Young scientists, MacDougall said, need to develop as well the same kind of flexibility every worker needs in the years to come and learn to adapt to an evolving economy.
In addition to funding by NIEHS OSD, the Career Fair was made possible by support at the Event Sponsor level by the NTA, EPA and National Postdoctoral Association. Several biomedical firms and non-profit organizations also helped sponsor the event at the Gold, Silver and Bronze levels.
Trainees interested in volunteering to plan next year's Career Fair can contact the NTA by e-mail(mailto:NTA@niehs.nih.gov.
In planning for the Career Fair, the NTA Organizing Committee picked nine areas for small-group panel discussions. Each panel included three to five specialists working in the area under discussion along with an organizing committee member moderator from either NIEHS or EPA. Trainees had the opportunity to sit in on at least three sessions, as well as speak individually with industry representatives at display booths.
Panel Discussion sessions this year focused on the following areas:
- Medical Science Liaison
- Medical and Science Writing
- Contract Research Organizations
- Government Agencies
- Industry - Applications Focus
- Teaching Careers
- Clinical Research
- Industry - Small/Start-Up Companies
During lunch, attendees had the opportunity to sit at one of 42 tables, each with one panelist or speaker and seven trainees. There attendees could engage in small group discussions in an informal setting and ask panelists more about their work.
The Role of the NTA at NIEHS
The NTA is a liaison between trainees and the institute. It works closely with the NIEHS Office of Fellows Career Development(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/careers/research/fellows/index.cfm and sponsors several social and career events each year, trying to give trainees a sense of community and identity within the Institute.
The NTA maintains a website(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/careers/research/nta/ with event schedules, helpful information about working as a trainee and links to resources for fellows. The group also co-sponsors an RTP Postdocs Blog(http://rtppostdocs.blogspot.com/ and offers a listserv(mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org where NIEHS trainees are can register with the group and join a mailing list.