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Environmental Factor, October 2012

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NIEHS fellow transitions from bench to field applications specialist

By Nisha Cavanaugh

Jill Hesse, Ph.D.

Hesse credits a recruitment group with helping her get a foot in the door. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Richard Paules, Ph.D.

Working with the Paules group helped Hesse get valuable experience with leading-edge microarray and next-generation sequencing platforms. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Postdoctoral fellow Jill Hesse, Ph.D., left NIEHS this summer for a field applications specialist position at GenoLogics, a genomics laboratory information management system software company. Her new position will call upon her extensive knowledge of bioinformatics, communication skills, and experience as a detail-oriented bench scientist.

An Intramural Research and Training Award fellow in the NIEHS Environmental Stress and Cancer Group, Hesse worked with lead researcher Richard S. (Rick) Paules, Ph.D. , on ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM) kinase, an enzyme recruited and activated by double-strand breaks in DNA. Her research focused on the role ATM-dependent microRNAs play in the damage response to environmental exposure and, potentially, in predisposition to cancer. As Paules explained, “[Hesse] incorporated microarray analyses of messenger RNAs and microRNAs in her studies and was one of the first to run a microRNA next-gen sequencing project with NISC [the NIH Intramural Sequencing Center].”

In her new position, Hesse will be responsible for achieving expert-level knowledge of GenoLogics software capabilities and applications, sharing this knowledge and best training practices with customers worldwide, and contributing to the development of proposals and project plans. “I wanted to find a position that played to my strengths in communication and training, but where I still get to talk about science,” she said of her fit with the new position.

Combination of bench work and leadership roles diversified Hesse’s skills

Hesse attributed getting the job to the training she received at NIEHS. Her research project gave her the opportunity to develop bioinformatics skills that will be crucial in her new position inside a software company. As Paules explained, “[Hesse] developed considerable expertise in bioinformatics and genomic database manipulations, in order to interpret her results. … [This] was integral in making her an attractive candidate for the position.”

Additionally, Hesse took advantage of the Office of Fellows’ Career Development (OFCD) and the NIEHS Trainees Assembly (NTA) Steering Committee. The OFCD offered her opportunities to create a resume and practice interviewing skills, in addition to exposing her to a variety of Ph.D. careers.

As an active member of the NTA Steering Committee, Hesse served as a liaison with several groups at NIEHS, including the NIEHS leadership, Assembly of Scientists, and the Assembly of Laboratory Staff, to advocate for postdocs and maintain open lines of communication. Through her involvement with the NTA, she honed many of her transferable skills, including leadership, project management, communications, mentorship, and networking.

“I think networking is critical to anyone in a job search or who wants further development of his or her career,” Hesse noted. “Many people get job offers directly through networking but, even if you don’t, it is an invaluable opportunity to gain knowledge and confidence.”

A job search road less traveled

When Hesse applied for the position at GenoLogics, she was automatically listed on a recruiter’s website and worked with a recruiter at AchieveBio, a specialized search firm dedicated to providing top talent to the biotech and life science industries. While some job seekers may avoid this route, Hesse found working with a recruiter to be a valuable and positive experience, and she referred to it as advanced networking. In the initial meeting, the recruiter assessed how well Hesse would fit the position, based on her qualifications and her personality. Despite lacking any previous sales experience, the recruiter determined Hesse to be a good candidate for the position, and pushed her application forward. The recruiter also provided interview preparation support and feedback at every stage of the process.

(Nisha Cavanaugh, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow in the NIEHS DNA Repair and Nucleic Enzymology Group.)

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