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Standing Room Only at NIEHS Biomedical Career Fair

By Eddy Ball
June 2009

Photo of Allison Schorzman, Ph.D. and Dana Handcock, Ph.D.
The Career Fair worked like a well-oiled machine, and there were few signs of the hard work behind it, such as this conversation between Schorzman, left, and Industry-Big Pharma Panel moderator and NIEHS Epidemiology Branch Fellow Dana Hancock, Ph.D. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Photo of Peter Fiske, M.B.A., Ph.D.
Fiske flashed his winning smile several times during his engaging presentation. His charm and wit helped breathe new life into advice his audience may have heard several times before - but probably didn't find as relevant as when one of their own spoke from experience. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Photo of workshop
Many of the workshops and sessions attracted standing-room-only crowds, including this workshop on résumé writing for non-academic jobs featuring Lori Conlan, Ph.D., of the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Photo of Lake Paul, Ph.D.
NIEHS Mass Spectrometry Group Fellow Lake Paul, Ph.D., was eager to learn presentation strategies for putting his training in structural biology to work. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Photo of James Smedley, Ph.D.
Like his colleague in the Mass Spectrometry Group, NIEHS Fellow James Smedley, Ph.D., seemed to hang on Conlan's every word. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Photo of Ravi Metlapally, Ph.D.
"Networking" was the word of the day - a message that wasn't lost on Duke University Postdoctoral Fellow and Research Associate Ravi Metlapally, Ph.D. left. Metlapally spent some of his break time chatting with a representative of biotech company Athenix. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Photo of Jenny Noonan, left, and Sheila Newton, Ph.D.
Even science policy has its lighter side, as demonstrated by panelists EPA Congressional Liaison Jenny Noonan, left, and Sheila Newton, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Office of Policy, Planning and Evaluation. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Ever since it debuted in 1997, the annual NIEHS Biomedical Career Fair has always been a timely and popular event, and the 2009 career fair on May 1 in the Research Triangle Park Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conference center was no exception. Several sessions drew standing-room-only audiences, eager for insights into how they can succeed in an evolving job market, and, between sessions, the halls were packed with people establishing relationships that may one day help shape their careers.

According to members of the NIEHS Trainee Assembly (NTA), the 12th annual Biomedical Career Fair drew 267 students and trainees from the Triangle and beyond for a day filled with career development and networking opportunities. NIEHS Career Fair Committee co-chair Allison Schorzman, Ph.D., described the event as "the culmination of efforts by several generations of trainees and generous support by the NIEHS Office of the Scientific Director and other public- and private-sector sponsors."

The program began with welcoming remarks by Schorzman, Harold Zenick, Ph.D., director of the National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory in the EPA Office of Research and Development, and NIEHS Deputy Scientific Director William Schrader, Ph.D.

Keynote speaker Peter Fiske, M.B.A., Ph.D. (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2009/june/docs/fiske.pdf)  Download Adobe Reader (71 KB) , set the tone for the day with his talk on "Putting Your Science to WORK: Practical Career Strategies for Young Scientists" (see text box). Fiske is chief technology officer for the venture-capital green-technology companies PAX Mixer, Inc. and PAX Water Technologies and author of the Sciencecareers.org (http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/) Exit NIEHS, monthly column "Opportunities" (http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/2006_12_01/noDOI.14810613655784669913) Exit NIEHS for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

During the hours that followed Fiske's talk, attendees could choose from among three workshops and nine career-specific panel discussions. These sessions ranged from résumé/CV writing, presentation skills and government application tips to discussions of alternative opportunities for trainees in policy, teaching, entrepreneurship, communication, big pharmaceutical and other careers. Instructors, moderators and panelists included former NIEHS postdocs in various careers, government and educational professionals and people from various private sector companies with opportunities for people with Ph.D.s in science and technology.

Not surprisingly, networking, which is a stumbling block for many trainees and job seekers, was a theme that ran throughout the event. Schrader opened the meeting with an exercise in taking the initiative to meet new people, and participants could attend a networking lunch where they were strategically seated with session speakers. Between sessions and workshops, attendees could visit and mingle in the exhibits area where biomedical companies, government agencies and professional groups were on hand to offer information and a chance to meet people who just might be a link to an unexpected opportunity.

With a little serendipity and a lot of persistence, veterans of the NIEHS Career Fairs may one day look back on their experience there and join Fiske in saying, "Five years ago, I would never have predicted that I would end up here!"

Photo of Eric Tien, Ph.D., center, Elizabeth Roberts, D.V.M., Ph.D., of Novartis Animal Health U.S., Inc., Tien, Meg Ehm, Ph.D., of GlaxoSmithKline, and Robert Veneziale, Ph.D., of Shering-Plough
Former NIEHS postdoc Eric Tien, Ph.D., center, laughed about common mistakes applicants can make in the world of Big Pharma. Shown, left to right, are panelists Elizabeth Roberts, D.V.M., Ph.D., of Novartis Animal Health U.S., Inc., Tien, Meg Ehm, Ph.D., of GlaxoSmithKline, and Robert Veneziale, Ph.D., of Shering-Plough. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Photo of Jody White, Ph.D.
Although there was plenty of occasion for levity, attendees such as NIEHS Membrane Signaling Group Fellow Jody White, Ph.D., were also eager to get answers to their questions. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Photo of Beth Oesterling-Owens (EPA), Omari Bandele (NIEHS), Jana Stone (NIEHS), Julie Hall (NIEHS), Schorzman (NIEHS), Patrick Brandt (formerly of NIEHS, now at UNC), Sophia Bolick (NIEHS), Shweta Trivedi (NIEHS), and Eva McLanahan (EPA). Not pictured were members Andres Cisneros (NIEHS), Suraj Dhungana (Enthalpy Analytical, formerly of NIEHS) and Dana Hancock (NIEHS).
At the end of the day, the organizing committee could take a well-deserved breather. Shown left to right are postdoctoral fellows Beth Oesterling-Owens (EPA), Omari Bandele (NIEHS), Jana Stone (NIEHS), Julie Hall (NIEHS), Schorzman (NIEHS), Patrick Brandt (formerly of NIEHS, now at UNC), Sophia Bolick (NIEHS), Shweta Trivedi (NIEHS), and Eva McLanahan (EPA). Not pictured were members Andres Cisneros (NIEHS), Suraj Dhungana (Enthalpy Analytical, formerly of NIEHS) and Dana Hancock (NIEHS). Not pictured were members Andres Cisneros (NIEHS), Suraj Dhungana (Enthalpy Analytical, formerly of NIEHS) and Dana Hancock (NIEHS). (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Peter Fiske on the Ph.D. Career Quest

Fiske inspired his audience - and also kept them laughing through much of his talk - with the story (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2009/june/docs/fiske2.pdf)  Download Adobe Reader (71 KB) he has told to several groups about the ups and downs of his own career-development odyssey. After receiving his doctorate in geophysics from Stanford University in 1996, Fiske's career path took him from a White House Fellowship in public policy at the Pentagon through a research position at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories and an M.B.A. at the University of California, Berkeley to his current work in developing innovative, energy-efficient technology.

In the course of his talk, Fiske debunked stereotypes about Ph.D.s and conventional wisdom about the job-search process as he urged his listeners to reassess their skill sets. He flattered and cajoled, gave pointers for career development and networking, and offered insight into what employers really want in the successful applicant.

Fiske also introduced his 80/10/10 rule. "Spend 80 percent of your time on your job," he told his audience. Ten percent should be devoted to building networks with friends, family and colleagues - identifying the "friends of friends" who may be the connection a job seeker needs - and promoting professional accomplishments. He said the final ten percent should be spent in career development, becoming better versed both in the current job field and in areas that may be worth exploring in the future.

Among the many important messages he gave the audience was one of the simplest. Still, it takes a leap of faith for people who have invested an enormous amount of time and money in their scientific training to embrace it - only to find themselves question the goals they had pursued for so long. "If you don't like what you do for a living," he warned his listeners, "you probably won't be very good at it!"



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