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Trainees Look Ahead to a New Year

By Eddy Ball
September 2008

Wilson
"I'm hoping that when you leave here and think about the presentation, you'll remember what I said about the commitment of the senior leadership to your training and your careers and your life here at the Institute," Wilson told the trainees. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Nick McElhinny
"The NTA has influence on all levels of the administration, both here and at NIH," Nick McElhinny explained. "You need to let us know what you want to happen as far as training and workshops, so we can communicate with the appropriate people." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Ramos
Ramos also serves as NIEHS representative to the National Postdoctoral Association, an advocacy group that lobbies Congress and employers on behalf of trainees. "Membership is free," she added. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Klotz
As Klotz explained, new workshops have been developed to complement fellows' experiences at NIEHS with training that they normally would not receive in the lab. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Klotz and Adair
Klotz and Adair, above, urged trainees to complete the surveys available at the meeting and online. "The survey is really the best way for you to give us information on what you want out of your training experience," she explained. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Abee Boyles
Steering Committee member Abee Boyles, Ph.D., above, represents the Epidemiology Branch. Most of the committee's lab representatives attended the meeting. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

The NIEHS Trainees Assembly (NTA) (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/careers/research/nta/)held its first General Assembly of the 2008-2009 year on July 25 in Rodbell Auditorium. The event gave trainees an opportunity to hear NIEHS Acting Director Sam Wilson, M.D., and NIEHS Office of Fellows Career Development (OFCD) (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/careers/research/fellows/)Acting Director Diane Klotz, Ph.D., discuss NIH and NIEHS resources for trainees, learn more about what the NTA can offer trainees from Steering Committee members and offer suggestions for training and activities for the year.

The meeting opened with a welcome from Steering Committee Chair Stephanie Nick McElhinny, Ph.D., who introduced Wilson, the keynote speaker at the event. An NIH fellow himself early in his career, Wilson reinforced the NIEHS senior administration's commitment to quality training for the non-tenured and non-tenure track fellows. "I can't think of a group here at the Institute that we in the senior leadership are more dedicated to and more excited about than your group," Wilson said.

As Wilson talked about the importance of research at NIEHS and the critical need to network and "leverage the strengths of the Institute," he reflected on the aspects of scientific investigation that he cherishes most. He encouraged his audience to make time for "what's really fun for you" in science.

"For me, it is reading about research progress... and making time to have a really peaceful, solitary experience of thinking about what I've read and wondering what the answers could be," Wilson said. "Make sure you carve out enough time to have fun and develop those lines of thinking."

Following Wilson's talk, Steering Committee members Rose Ramos, Ph.D., co-chair, and Jennifer Adair, Ph.D., joined Nick McElhinny in a series of short presentations on the mission of the NTA and its collaborative advocacy and training activities. Ramos covered several of the networking, career development and support initiatives sponsored by NTA to further its mission - as well as the ways NTA represents trainee interests at the NIEHS, NIH and national levels in such areas as training and education, working conditions, career development, taxes and stipends.

Adair discussed the volunteer opportunities available for trainees who want to get involved and said that "volunteering opens up excellent networking opportunities." The Steering Committee strives to include a representative from each of the Institute's labs, Nick McElhinny added, and the 12th Annual Biomedical Career Fair, sponsored jointly by NIEHS and the US Environmental Protection Agency and scheduled for May 1, 2009, will need volunteers in a variety of roles.

According to Nick McElhinny, the NTA prides itself on its good working relationship with OFCD, which is part of the Office of the Scientific Director in the Division of Intramural Research and a direct link to NIH trainee education and support resources. "The NTA and OFCD work together toward a common goal of providing resources for training and career development, but they approach this goal from different vantage points," she explained.

Echoing the theme of working together for a common goal, Klotz described her role as OFCD acting director. "The purpose of my office existing," she said, "is to give you opportunities to get the information you need to go further in your career." She pointed to the curriculum vitae workshop and the K99/R01 grant-writing workshop as examples.

Klotz announced that in addition to existing workshops OFCD will offer sessions on alternative career options such as Teaching at the College Level, Academic Track Series and Industry Track Series in the coming year. OFCD also plans to offer Leadership Training and Laboratory Management Training, two workshops that she said are pertinent to both tenure-track investigator and alternative career development.

Rebecca Long, Ph.D.
The event attracted new postdocs, such as Rebecca Long, Ph.D., who can benefit from working with Klotz on an Individual Development Plan at the outset of her fellowship. Long works with Stavros Garanziotis, M.D., head of the Matrix Biology Group. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Jeffrey Stumpf, Ph.D.
Veteran postdocs, such as Jeffrey Stumpf, Ph.D., also learned about new training that can be useful as the time for a job search approaches. Stumpf works with Bill Copeland, Ph.D., in the Mitochondrial DNA Replication Group. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Career Development Opportunities for NIEHS Trainees
by Rosemarie Ramos and Stephanie Nick McElhinny

Over the past year, career development programs for trainees at NIEHS have continued to grow with continued support from the NIEHS Office of the Director and Office of the Scientific Director. These programs offer trainees opportunities to develop skills that will help them stand out in a highly competitive job market:
  • A new collaboration between the NTA and the Environmental Factor which provides a way for trainees to hone their non-technical writing skills - For those who have been in the job market or will be in the near future, this has become a highly sought-after skill (even for biomedical scientists). The opportunity is similar to that offered by a program developed a year ago for NIH fellows on the Bethesda campus which has been very well received.
  • Career Counseling specifically for postdocs available on a regular basis under the leadership of Sharon Milgram, Ph.D., director of the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) - Trainees can meet individually with a professionally trained career counselor who understands the challenges facing today's postdocs as they make their next career move. The service includes advice on preparing a CV or resume, converting a CV to a resume and developing effective interviewing skills.
  • Individual Development Plan (IDP) counseling with Diane Klotz to help trainees outline career goals and determine what steps they can take to meet those goals - Klotz's unique background and experience as an NIEHS postdoc, scientist and the former president of the National Postdoctoral Association has given her insight into the special needs of fellows here at NIEHS.
  • An in-depth course on teaching at the college level - This course will cover course design, teaching philosophy and much more, virtually everything bench scientists need to know to begin a career in the classroom.
  • The NTA is currently planning its second Fellows Orientation program to be held this fall.
(Rosemarie Ramos, Ph.D., is the health disparities postdoctoral fellow in the Metastasis Group. Stephanie Nick McElhinny, Ph.D, is a postdoctoral fellow in the DNA Replication Fidelity Group.)


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