Environmental Factor, June 2008, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Trainees Prepare for a Changing Job Market at Career Fair
By Eddy Ball
Faced with continuing changes in their career options, postdoctoral and post-baccalaureate trainees from throughout the Triangle and beyond flocked to the eleventh annual NIEHS Biomedical Career Fair on April 25. Sponsored by the NIEHS Trainees Assembly (NTA) the day-long event was held in the conference center at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regional headquarters in Research Triangle Park (RTP) with major sponsorship provided by the NIEHS Office of the Scientific Director.
While most attendees - like the event's organizers - were affiliated with NIEHS (see related Inside photo essay) and its lakeside neighbor, EPA, students and trainees from as far away as Winston-Salem's Wake Forest University made the trek to RTP, lured by the prospect of learning how to better position themselves for emerging trends in the job market. As nearly every one of the participants was aware, less than 20 percent of trainees in the biomedical sciences will find themselves in traditional tenure-track principal investigator positions like the ones their mentors hold.
The Career Fair opened with remarks by Organizing Committee Chair and NIEHS Postdoctoral Fellow Stephanie Nick McElhinny, Ph.D., and NIEHS Deputy Scientific Director Bill Schrader, Ph.D. Attendees were welcomed to the EPA facility by Harold Zenick, Ph.D., the director of the National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory in the EPA Office of Research and Development.
The Career Fair began with the Keynote Address on "Bliss Success: Where Do You Find Yourself?" by Jane Chin, Ph.D. Chin is the founder and president of the Medical Science Liaison (MSL) Institute(http://www.mslinstitute.com/) - as well as a survivor of an agonizing five-year odyssey in search of the right career path. Chin anchored her precepts, such as "know yourself" and "know your money" and its value, with a personal narrative of false starts and dead ends that culminated when she was able to answer finally the question that had plagued her even before she left her postdoc at the bench: "What makes me feel most alive and how do I most successfully contribute?"
Throughout the day, attendees enjoyed opportunities to visit booths of sponsors and supporters representing biomedical companies, government agencies and resource/support groups, such as the Genetics and Environmental Mutagenesis Society (GEMS), Sigma Xi and the National Postdoctoral Association. The environment was especially conducive for networking, as attendees mingled with presenters, panelists and former trainees who had made successful transitions to various career paths.
During the long lunch break, many participants took advantage of the Networking Luncheon sponsored by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and a lunchtime Networking Skills workshop. Seating assignments encouraged diners to make new acquaintances and spend their lunches learning more about unfamiliar career areas or tracks.
Each attendee was also able to select up to four panel discussions or career workshops to attend. Panel discussions were organized by type of employer, such as Government Agencies, Industry and Academia; by career track, including Non-Tenure Track Research and MBA/Ph.D.; and by specific careers, among them Patent Law and Technology Transfer, Clinical Contract Research and Science Writing and Medical Communications.
The event's organizers called this year's Career Fair a great success. Schrader, a veteran of scores of such events, described the meeting afterwards as "one of the best I've ever seen by far." He praised the Career Fair for its tight organization and the "obvious satisfaction" of participants.
The Career Fair, as its organizers made clear, is not a job fair, where employers with jobs solicit resumes from job seekers. Rather, the event is a learning experience, where trainees in the biomedical sciences can expose themselves to non-traditional opportunities they may not have realized existed and learn strategies, such as networking and interviewing preparation, to help them successfully locate a position of their own.