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September 2011

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Postdoctoral fellow launches career as a scientific coordinator

By Emily Zhou
September 2011

Jana Stone, Ph.D.

Stone, above, described Kunkel as a great scientist and a wonderful mentor. “I really appreciate that he was able to let me do outside-the-lab activities, which was a tremendous help.” Stone encouraged fellows, “Take advantage of career development resources available at NIEHS... and start looking for jobs early.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Thomas Kunkel, Ph.D.

“Stone is a hard-core, caring, and well-trained molecular geneticist,” Kunkel said. “She understands the science. They [staff and students at CSB] are happy to have her, and she's thrilled to be there. This job not only plays to her strength, but also is what she enjoys.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Jana Stone, Ph.D., left NIEHS July 29 for the scientific coordinator position at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy Center for Systems Biology(http://www.genome.duke.edu/) Exit NIEHS. She was an Intramural Research Training Award fellow in the DNA Replication Fidelity Group in the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics (LMG). Stone's group leader and mentor was senior scientist Thomas Kunkel, Ph.D., who is also the chief of the Laboratory of Structural Biology (LSB).

Stone's successful career transition is a great example of someone taking initiative, finding her passion, and networking in the job search process.

An excellent geneticist

Stone was trained as a yeast geneticist and molecular biologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), where she focused on mismatch repair proteins. At NIEHS, she found that yeast DNA polymerase zeta can independently insert nucleotides opposite lesions in DNA resulting from exposure to environmental agents. Her research led to multiple peer-reviewed publications in major journals.

Stone is also the recipient of a 2011 NIH Fellows Award for Research Excellence. “She has accomplished a lot experimentally,” said Kunkel, who was very happy with Stone's contribution as a scientist.

A supportive mentor

When Stone joined the Kunkel lab, she knew that her passion wasn't to be a traditional laboratory researcher. Kunkel said he encouraged her to “network and develop skills that would better position her for an alternative career of her interest.” Stone helped plan both the LMG and the LSB annual retreats as well as the NIEHS Biomedical Career fair, for which she helped organize the agenda, recruited alumni panelists, and moderated panel sessions on careers for PhDs. Commenting on her performance in those roles, Kunkel said, “She's very good at it and enjoyed it.”

But Stone didn't stop there. She got more involved with the NIEHS Trainees Assembly (NTA) to develop management and leadership skills. Gradually she found her passion in science education and outreach.

A passion for education and outreach

Stone took part in the NIEHS Summers of Discovery(https://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2010/august/spotlight-postdocs.cfm) Lecture Series planning committee last year designing curricula on environmental research for summer interns. She taught and led activities for modules on air pollution, health and public policy. Stone also helped recruit and train NIEHS volunteers for the North Carolina DNA Day program(http://ncdnaday.org/) Exit NIEHS. This outreach program, run by the UNC School of Medicine Training Initiative in Biological and Biomedical Sciences, aims to generate interest in careers in public health by having volunteers spend a day teaching high school students about breakthroughs in genetics and genomics.

Networking - the key to landing a job

Knowing her passion and having a portfolio of outreach activities, Stone specifically looked for jobs to fit her communication and organization skill set. After several interviews, she was offered the scientific coordinator position at Duke. “Networking was definitely required to successfully land my job,” said Stone. “This job was announced over email and was never posted on the Duke HR [human resources] website. By the time it appeared in the NIEHS fellows' newsletter, I had already applied.”

Stone then took the initiative to contact the person she would be replacing to ask specific questions regarding the position. “I could better target my resume and cover letter because many of the job responsibilities weren't listed on the job description,” said Stone. “It also made me feel more prepared for the interview.”

Exploring resources available at NIEHS

When asked about her advice to NIEHS fellows who are job searching, Stone said, “You have to take the initiative to find opportunities that will help you develop your skill set. Join some activities outside the lab such as the NTA.” She also suggested taking on writing opportunities, when possible, because she was asked for both technical and non-technical writing samples during her job search.

(Emily Zhou, Ph.D., is a research fellow in the NIEHS Laboratory of Signal Transduction Inositol Signaling Group.)

Stone's new role as a scientific coordinator at Duke

The Center for Systems Biology (CSB) at Duke includes about 100 faculty and students. In her new job, Stone's responsibilities include helping plan their annual symposiumExit NIEHS that, this year, will occur at the end of September. She will also be involved with administration and technical writing, including facilitating the center's grant renewal this year.

Another of Stone's responsibilities will be outreach activities. She is currently coordinating a course taught by CSB faculty at North Carolina Central University on complex genetic traits in humans and plants. She is very excited about getting CSB trainees involved in more teaching opportunities to help them in their career advancement

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