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Postdocs Focus on their Futures at the 9th Annual NIEHS/NTA Career Fair

By Jennifer Perry
July 2006

Michael Ranney
Michael Ranney joins the audience during his lecture, "Scientist: Promote Yourself." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw of Image Associates)

Yu-Ying He (right), a research fellow at NIEHS, visits the company exhibits and talks with Doug Krafte (left), a representative from Icagen. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw of Image Associates)

The NIEHS/NTA Career Fair, held April 28 at the Sigma Xi Center in Research Triangle Park, gathered approximately 280 people to learn about science careers and to network with professionals from academic, clinical research, and industrial environments. For one day, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows stepped out of the laboratories, replaced their lab coats with business attire, and focused on their future careers.

Participants from the NIEHS, EPA, and local universities began their day with a lecture on the job application process by Michael Ranney from the University of California at Berkley, Graduate School of Education.

Ranney presented his personal journey through the job application process (he applied for nearly 100 faculty positions before taking his current post) and addressed the audience's questions about CVs and cover letters.

Rachel Robinson, a fellow in the NIEHS Laboratory of Neurobiology, said she enjoyed Ranney's interaction with participants during the lecture while learning skills required for searching and applying for positions.

Following the lecture, question and answer panel sessions convened to discuss scientific careers. The sessions represented careers in science communications, tenure track and non-tenure track academia, science entrepreneurs, clinical research, and industry. Panelists described their individual career paths and gave advice for success.

Bjorn Bauer, a fourth-year postdoctoral fellow in the NIEHS Laboratory of Pharmacology and Chemistry, said that he appreciated the honesty of the tenure-track faculty members as they shared their personal experiences. He left the career fair with a better understanding of the administrative and management skills he will need when he begins a career in academia.

A lunch break and a networking reception provided time for participants to seek employment and conduct informational interviews with at least 15 companies, including event sponsors Merck and Applied Biosystems. In addition, local professional organizations centered on career development were present at the event. Representatives from organizations, such as the North Carolina Council for Entrepreneurial Development and the Research Triangle Park Chapter of the American Chemical Society Younger Chemists Committee, met with participants and shared their upcoming activities.

Gerd Heimlich, a Career Fair Committee member, said his positive experiences meeting panel members and company representatives at a previous career fair motivated him to volunteer for the organization of the event. He gained a different perspective while choosing topics for panel sessions and developed more contacts as he invited panel members and companies to the career fair. The NIEHS Trainees Assembly (NTA) and the Office of Fellows Career Development at NIEHS plan the annual fair to encourage career exploration among trainees and to help them foster relationships with human resource directors and scientists at biotech companies. Deborah Swope, director of the Office of Fellows' Career Development, said "The annual NIEHS/NTA Career Fair organized by NIEHS trainees provides a key training opportunity for our fellows and their local colleagues to learn about the wide array of career options open to them as biomedical scientists. The fair also gives fellows the chance to develop career networks that can open the doors to their future career paths."

The 2007 career fair is tentatively scheduled for April. Trainees are invited to suggest panel topics, panel members and company representatives in addition to joining the planning committee. Contact Monica Horvath, Chair of the 2006 Career Fair, at for more information.

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