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Local Trainees Network at NIEHS Biomedical Career Fair

By Erin D. Hopper
June 2010

David Jensen
Jensen stressed the importance of gathering information about what he calls OPE (Other People's Experiences). He emphasized that OPE is different from advice and pointed out that using OPE requires interpretation of the information learned and analysis of how it may be helpful to the individual in his or her own career development. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Julian Preston, Ph.D.
Preston, left, listened intently as Jensen inspired career fair attendees to think outside of the box when searching for jobs. Career Fair Committee co-chairs Michelle Heacock, center, and Gosavi, right, sat in quiet observation as the culmination of their efforts began to unfold. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Michelle Block, Ph.D., left and Joel Meyer, Ph.D.
A number of former NIEHS postdoctoral trainees returned to share advice with current trainees. Among them were former NIEHS postdocs Michelle Block, Ph.D., left, an assistant professor of anatomy and neurobiology at Virginia Commonwealth University and recipient of an NIEHS Outstanding New Environmental Scientist (ONES) grant, and Joel Meyer, Ph.D., an assistant professor of environmental toxicology at Duke University. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Ranguelova, Ph.D., left, and Fiona Summers, Ph.D.
The career fair offered ample opportunities for attendees to build relationships with fellow scientists. Between sessions, Kalina Ranguelova, Ph.D., left, and Fiona Summers, Ph.D. of the Free Radical Metabolism Group at NIEHS share a laugh in the EPA rotunda. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Bono Sen, Ph.D.
Bono Sen, Ph.D., science education and outreach program manager at Environmental Health Perspectives , provided advice to attendees regarding careers in science outreach. Sen, a former fellow at the EPA, learned a great deal from the NIEHS Biomedical Career Fair during her time as a fellow and was excited to return the favor as a panelist. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

The NIEHS Trainees Assembly (NTA) ( kicked off the highly anticipated 13th Annual NIEHS Biomedical Career Fair April 30. Designed to provide information about a wide range of professions for postdocs, the event included a combination of panel discussions, workshops, and networking opportunities.

As in previous years, the event took place in the Research Triangle Park U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conference center. Throughout the day, the conference center was a flurry of activity as postdoctoral researchers and graduate students forged new relationships and gathered information about topics in career development.

Career Fair Committee co-chair Raj Gosavi, Ph.D., set the tone of the event with welcoming remarks before opening the floor to William Schrader, Ph.D., NIEHS deputy scientific director. Schrader emphasized the importance of networking and encouraged attendees to meet as many people as possible throughout the day. Following Schrader's remarks, Julian Preston, Ph.D., associate director for health at the National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory at the EPA, echoed Schrader's emphasis on networking, pointing out the challenges of competing with an increasing number of scientists for a limited number of open positions.

After an introduction by Gosavi, keynote speaker David Jensen shared his energy and excitement with the attendees during an engaging talk titled "Street Savvy Science: Aligning Your Career Goals with Job Market Realities." Jensen is the founder and managing director of CareerTrax, Inc., author and contributor to AAAS Science Careers ( Exit NIEHS, and contributing editor and monthly columnist for Contract Pharma ( Exit NIEHS magazine.

Jensen began by describing the two worlds of academia and industry. He emphasized the differences in the application process for these two fields and noted that academia follows a very strict hiring process, while breaking the hiring rules often pays off in industry.

Above all, Jensen stressed the importance of networking and encouraged attendees to use the "peer+2" rule, in which a job seeker's networking efforts should be focused on individuals who are one to two years ahead of him or her in their own careers. Such individuals will have a better memory of their transitions out of graduate school or postdoctoral appointments and are more likely to be responsive due to stronger empathy for the job seeker's situation.

Following Jensen's talk, NIEHS Postdoctoral Fellow Heather King, Ph.D., noted, "This kind of practical, detailed information about the hiring process is exactly what we need to know but don't typically hear about." King also appreciated that Jensen's address taught attendees how networking "gets your resume out of the HR pile and onto the desk of a hiring manger."

The remainder of the event was designed to allow attendees to tailor the career fair experience to their individual interests. Participants could choose to attend various panel discussions, which were held during three separate sessions throughout the late morning and afternoon. Panel discussions covered topics ranging from traditional careers for postdocs, such as industry and academia, to non-bench careers, such as business/technology transfer, communication and outreach, regulatory affairs and policy, and clinical and translational research. A number of the panelists were past NIEHS trainees who were excited to share their own experiences with current trainees and students.

John Pritchard, Ph.D., NIEHS acting scientific director, concisely summarized the importance of the career fair in his letter to the attendees - "The NTA has provided each of you with a great opportunity to learn more about career options and to be much better informed than previous generations of scientists even a few years ago." Pritchard concluded his letter by recognizing the hard work of the Career Fair Committee by saying, "The efforts that went into this Career Fair offer tangible evidence that our future is in good hands!"

(Erin D. Hopper, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow in the NIEHS Laboratory of Structural Biology Mass Spectrometry Group.)

The Career Fair Committee The Career Fair Committee, which was one of the largest in recent years, began organizing the event last September. Seated, left to right, are postdoctoral fellows Tracy Clement (NIEHS), Rebecca Heise (NIEHS), Ashley Godfrey (NIEHS), Erin Hopper (NIEHS), Melanie Fraites (EPA), Nisha Cavanaugh (NIEHS), and Lynea Murphy of EPA. Standing, left to right, are postdoctoral fellows Jorge Muñiz Ortiz (EPA), Jason Sampson (NIEHS), co-chair Gosavi (NIEHS), co-chair Heacock (NIEHS), Corinne Zeller-Knuth (NIEHS), Andres Larrea (NIEHS), David Draper (NIEHS), and Sophie Bolick (NIEHS). Not pictured are NIEHS postdoctoral fellows Sung-Yong Hwang and Jeffrey Sunman. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Career Fair Opportunities for Networking and Onsite Training

Throughout the day, career fair participants could choose to attend career development workshops on topics such as CV and resume preparation, interviewing skills, and professional certification programs. These workshops were expertly led by Lori Conlan, Ph.D., director of the Office of Postdoctoral Services at NIH, Diane Klotz, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Office of Fellows' Career Development, and Melanie Sinche, a career counselor and consultant at NIH.

One of the event highlights was the networking lunch, during which each attendee enjoyed dining with a chosen panelist in a small group setting. The lunch provided attendees with opportunities to learn more about a specific career trajectory and to make valuable contacts with like-minded peers. Various breaks throughout the day provided attendees with additional time to network with their peers and visit exhibitor booths to learn more about local organizations and companies.

This year also marked an expansion of last year's efforts toward providing CV and resume review sessions for the attendees. A total of eight CV consultants from NIEHS, NIH, Duke University, and the University of North Carolina generously volunteered to spend the day meeting with attendees to give suggestions regarding the format and content of their CVs and resumes. In future years, the content of the career fair will continue to evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of developing scientists.

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