Environmental Factor

April 2011


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Postdoctoral trainee launches career in health care communications

By Archana Dhasarathy
April 2011

Sophie Bolick, Ph.D.

During her time at NIEHS, Bolick also took advantage of training offered by the Office of Fellows' Career Development(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/careers/research/fellows/), headed by Diane Klotz, Ph.D. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Jack Taylor, M.D., Ph.D.

Taylor holds joint appointments in the NIEHS Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis, where Bolick worked with him, and in the Epidemiology Branch. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Sophie Bolick, Ph.D., left NIEHS recently for a position at MedThink Communications, a health care communications company in Raleigh, N.C. She spent the last four years as an Intramural Research and Training Award (IRTA) fellow with NIEHS Principal Investigator Jack Taylor, M.D., Ph.D., in the Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology Group(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/atniehs/labs/lmc/molecular/index.cfm).

The journey from pipetting to writing

At MedThink Communications(http://www.medthink.com/) Exit NIEHS, Bolick will be placing aside her pipettes and will instead undertake various aspects of medical writing, including preparing abstracts, posters, and manuscripts.

Trained as a bench scientist, her transition to a writing career began in early 2010, when Bolick was exploring career options away from the bench. She decided to gain this experience by working with Eddy Ball, Ph.D., editor of the Environmental Factor. As readers of the newsletter will recall, she was a regular contributor, authoring one or two articles every month.

Along with her coverage of science events at NIEHS, Bolick also created a regular column of her own in the newsletter, featuring success stories about the trainees who transitioned to new careers. "Sophie is good at what she does, she's creative, and she meets deadlines. What more could an editor ask?" said Ball. "With the many trainee success stories that she wrote, it's especially fitting that the newsletter is featuring a story about Sophie's own career development path," he added.

Bolick also worked with Environmental Health Perspectives science education and outreach program manager Bono Sen, Ph.D. With Sen's encouragement, she taught a module in the "Teach the Teachers" workshop, and updated and summarized research articles for the classroom. "I enjoyed working with Sophie very much. I appreciated her initiative and her eagerness to learn new skills and broaden her skill set - very important for postdocs looking to enter into non-traditional fields," said Sen.

These experiences at NIEHS earned Bolick encouraging reviews and positive comments from people, and she realized that she enjoyed writing. "There are a number of opportunities at NIEHS for fellows who want a career in science writing," said Bolick. "Working with Eddy Ball and Bono Sen was great, because they are flexible about letting you work as little or as much as you want, without it interfering with your laboratory research," she said.

Networking and mentoring play important roles in career success

Bolick also credits her mentor, Taylor, with being very open-minded about letting her pursue her various interests outside the laboratory. "Without his support, it would have been very difficult for me to make use of these opportunities," she said. Taylor concurred. "I think the key aspects of Sophie's success were taking advantage of training opportunities and networking. Her active involvement in the NIEHS Trainees Assembly (NTA)(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/careers/research/nta/), the journal club, and ongoing participation in career fairs really helped her in thinking about, and developing a network to look for, job opportunities on a wider scale," he said.

Developing a network played a major role in landing her the job at MedThink Communications. Bolick contacted Pratibha Hebbar, Ph.D., a former NIEHS trainee who worked at MedThink, for an informational interview to learn more about her job. And the rest, as they say, is history.

(Archana Dhasarathy, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow in the Eukaryotic Transcriptional Regulation Group in the NIEHS Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis)

A molecular epidemiologist at the bench

Following her education in the Netherlands and Florida as a molecular biologist, Bolick switched to molecular epidemiology following her move to NIEHS. In Taylor's laboratory in the Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology group, she analyzed global and gene-specific methylation as a determinant of breast cancer risk in the Sister Study, work currently in preparation for publication. Bolick also collaborated with the Bladder Cancer Consortium by contributing genotyping data acquired and analyzed using TaqMan assays.

In addition to research, Sophie found time to organize the journal club for the Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis, teach a graduate level module on "The Molecular Basis of Cancer" at North Carolina Central University, chair a session of the Summers of Discovery Curriculum Planning Committee, and participate in a variety of NTA-sponsored activities. All of these activities, coupled with her research in the lab, helped her build a strong skill set and multidisciplinary knowledge base that prepared her for the career path of her choosing



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