Environmental Factor, June 2011, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
2011 Biomedical Career Fair draws capacity audience
By Emily Zhou
Zeller-Knuth reflected on her own postdoctoral experience when introducing keynote speaker Weibl to deliver his talk, titled “The Postdoctoral Experience: Preparing to Lead.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Lori Conlan, Ph.D., director of Office of Postdoctoral Services at NIH, addressed a large crowd of interested attendees there to learn important aspects of job search. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Government panelists John Vandenberg, Ph.D., of EPA, left, and Scott Williams, Ph.D., of NIEHS, engaged in an interactive discussion with a room full of interested audience members. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Andy Seipel, Ph.D., took notes while listening to NIEHS Program Administrator Mike Humble, Ph.D., at the Program Management short session, pondering the difficulties and rewards in this career option. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
NIEHS held its 14th annual Biomedical Career Fair April 29 at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conference center in Research Triangle Park, N.C. The event was organized by postdoctoral fellows in the NIEHS Trainees Assembly (NTA)(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/careers/research/nta/) and in training at EPA, with financial and in-kind support from the NIEHS Office of the Scientific Director and EPA.
This year, the gathering drew 382 students and trainees from throughout North Carolina for an opportunity to explore a range of job choices in the biomedical sciences and create a professional contact network as they plan for their future careers. The daylong career fair featured a keynote talk on career development strategies, workshops, panel discussions, and vendor displays.
A sharper focus on practical skills and the how of landing a job
Most students and trainees have dream jobs in mind, but, as keynote speaker Richard Weibl reminded the audience, “Luck strikes when preparation meets opportunity.” Weibl, who is director of the AAAS Center for Careers in Science and Technology, strongly encouraged young scientists to prepare themselves well to reach their goals. “Master academic, occupational, and general employability skills,” he said, particularly communications and leadership, to be able to discuss science with different audiences and inspire others through networking and productive collaboration.
“In past career fairs, we learned about career choices available to Ph.D.s,” said Corinne Zeller-Knuth, Ph.D., NIEHS postdoc and co-chair of the planning committee, “but not as much emphasis was placed on how to get them.” This year's event, by contrast, offered more interactive panel discussions on navigating through the hiring process for different career tracks, with panelists bringing different perspectives from diverse scientific and business backgrounds to share with attendees.
The planning committee sought out panelists who work in human resources or who have recently landed their jobs to share their experiences. Describing her impressions of the panel discussion on “Navigating the Process: Industry and Biotech,” NIEHS postdoc and planning committee member Cynthia Holley, Ph.D., noted afterwards, “There really was a ton of information in the session.” Holley said she had taken four pages of notes.
From networking through interviewing for the job
The career fair also highlighted 12 non-traditional off-the-bench career options available to better prepare students and trainees for their career transition. These were offered in a short session format with only one speaker each session to provide tips on how they successfully transitioned into a specific career track and what tools and skills are needed to do so. Among many inspired participants, Anirudh Ullal, Ph.D., of Duke University, said, “It is one of the best career fairs in the area that I've ever been to.”
Due to time and space constraints, many of the sessions were offered concurrently. To inform interested participants who might have missed a session, moderators of each session wrote summaries of the key points and tips covered by speakers that are available online at the NIEHS Biomedical Career Fair website.
Along with formal sessions, the career fair provided a range of opportunities for networking with speakers and company exhibitors, as well as a chance to take advantage of one-on-one consultation with career development experts to revamp resumes and CVs.
(Emily Zhou, Ph.D., is a research fellow in the NIEHS Laboratory of Signal Transduction Inositol Signaling Group.)
A network of supporters
The career fair owes an acknowledgement to many behind-the-scene contributors for making possible what has become a grand tradition at NIEHS. Diane Klotz, Ph.D., director at the Office of Fellows' Career Development(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/careers/research/fellows/) at NIEHS, was instrumental in guiding the long process of preparing for the career fair. She said she is very satisfied and considers this year's fair one of the best ever. NIEHS Deputy Scientific Director Bill Schrader, Ph.D., and the NIEHS Office of the Scientific Director(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/atniehs/dir/index.cfm) have given this event generous support.
Organizers also offer sincere thanks to the many panelists and workshop instructors, as well as exhibitors, who volunteered their time to help their young colleagues better understand how to make the job search a successful one. Finally, an event of this size would never have been possible without the work of the many volunteers from NIEHS and EPA who helped out with the career fair.