Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

June 2017

Trainees explore career options at 20th annual NIEHS symposium

Hundreds of attendees enjoyed networking and learning about their career options this year at the 20th Annual NIEHS Biomedical Career Symposium. Nearly 400 people registered for the April 21 event at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which shares a campus with NIEHS. Helen Chin, Ph.D. and Katie Glenn, Ph.D., both postdoctoral fellows at NIEHS, co-chaired the planning committee.

NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., and John Vandenberg, Ph.D., director of the RTP Division of the EPA National Center for Environmental Assessment, welcomed attendees.

Birnbaum noted how the symposium has grown over the years. "The year we started this symposium I think we had 68 participants," she said. "This year we have over 400 registrants for this event. I think that speaks to not only the need for career information but the excitement about it."

Developing skills for different careers

Paula Stephan, Ph.D., a professor of economics at Georgia State University, gave the keynote speech, "How Economics Shapes the Early Careers of Scientists." According to Stephan, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows are in a career climate very different from the one their advisors and professors had.

That makes it important to gain skills that are valued across different career paths, like giving effective presentations. Stephan encouraged trainees to look into skills that are valued beyond academia, like business acumen and team experience.

Her most crucial advice was to network. "I cannot emphasize enough the importance of networking," Stephan said. "In today's labor market, in which there are not a lot of well-defined positions, it’s very important." She advised using social media like LinkedIn, because companies do pay attention to profiles, and social media can help trainees navigate available jobs.

NIEHS trainee Cody Nichols, Ph.D., appreciated Stephan’s talk. "She detailed the career outlook for Ph.D.s and the holes in our training," he said.

A multitude of career paths

Participants moved from the opening talks into a day of exploring careers that need employees with doctorate degrees. This year there were nine panels of experts discussing how to enter and succeed in fields such as academia, entrepreneurship, consulting, and scientific outreach. "It was a great opportunity to learn what a career in industry entails, and about the desired skills and techniques that will help you achieve your career goals," said Thomas Hagler, a postbaccalaureate fellow at NIEHS.

The ten career development workshops were popular among attendees, who honed skills like networking, interviewing, writing resumes, and negotiating. They also took advantage of one-on-one consultations for individually tailored career advice, and curriculum vitae and resume help from professionals in a range of careers.

Expanding networks

Inspired by Stephan's message, students and trainees found many opportunities to network with hiring managers and human resources representatives from across the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. A networking lunch provided an informal opportunity to chat with experts in careers of interest.

Chin and Glenn expressed hope that trainees came away with a better idea of what steps they can take to prepare for their future careers. "Our goals for this year's career symposium were to provide an overview of the current job market for Ph.D.-level scientists and advice on how to best position yourself to successfully get a job," Chin said.

Tammy Collins, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Office of Fellows' Career Development, reflected on their efforts. "Helen and Katie did a fantastic job leading the career symposium planning team, while at the same time gaining — and putting into practice — real-world leadership and team management skills that will benefit them in any career," she said.

Serving on the planning committee is a helpful way to prepare for transitioning to a career, as Nichols and EPA postdoctoral fellow Laura Carlson, Ph.D., pointed out. "Being a part of the planning committee was great because you got to interact with the panelists more closely and get more name recognition with someone in a field in which you are interested," Nichols said.

"The planning committee is a really great opportunity for EPA trainees to network with NIEHS trainees, and it offers an opportunity to shape the content, sessions, and speakers for the biomedical career symposium," added Carlson.

(Samantha Hall is a postbaccalaureate Cancer Research Training Award fellow in the National Cancer Institute Center for Cancer Research Laboratory of Toxicology and Toxicokinetics, housed at NIEHS.)


The 2017 Career Symposium Planning Committee included, from left, front row, Thompson, Romes, McCann, Hoff, Glenn, Dzierlenga. Back row, Nichols, Krane, Belair, Kolb, Shipkowski, Damborsky, Ingle, Otto, and Chin. See sidebar for full list of members. The 2017 Career Symposium Planning Committee included, from left, front row, Thompson, Romes, McCann, Hoff, Glenn, Dzierlenga. Back row, Nichols, Krane, Belair, Kolb, Shipkowski, Damborsky, Ingle, Otto, and Chin. See sidebar for full list of members. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Birnbaum celebrated the enthusiasm for the symposium, now in its 20th year. Birnbaum celebrated the enthusiasm for the symposium, now in its 20th year. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Representatives from vendors and companies were on hand to speak with trainees about career opportunities. Representatives from vendors and companies were on hand to speak with trainees about career opportunities. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Vandenberg welcomed attendees and remarked that the diversity of research at EPA parallels the wide range of opportunities available to trainees. Vandenberg welcomed attendees and remarked that the diversity of research at EPA parallels the wide range of opportunities available to trainees. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
The panel on academic careers featured faculty from local schools, including from left, Jen Uno, Ph.D., from Elon University; Donita Robinson, Ph.D., from University of North Carolina; Sabrina Robertson, Ph.D., North Carolina State University; and Joel Meyer, Ph.D., from Duke University. The panel on academic careers featured faculty from local schools, including from left, Jen Uno, Ph.D., from Elon University; Donita Robinson, Ph.D., from University of North Carolina; Sabrina Robertson, Ph.D., North Carolina State University; and Joel Meyer, Ph.D., from Duke University. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Collins, along with Angela Davis and Nancy Delgais from the National Institutes of Health, clarified Collins, along with Angela Davis and Nancy Delgais from the National Institutes of Health, clarified "The Government Job Application Process." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Jon Hollander, Ph.D., left, health scientist administrator from NIEHS, participated in a career panel on scientific review officers and grants management. Jon Hollander, Ph.D., left, health scientist administrator from NIEHS, participated in a career panel on scientific review officers and grants management. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
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