Environmental Factor, October 2011, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
LSB fellow makes move to private sector
By Sindura Ganapathi
Mercier is a good example of the importance of connecting with others in successful career development. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
This summer, Intramural Research and Training Award (IRTA) fellow Kelly Mercier, Ph.D., made a major transition in her career, from being a trainee in the NIEHS Laboratory of Structural Biology (LSB) Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Group, to a position as an applications scientist at the private-sector diagnostic company LipoScience. Just as Mercier had hoped, the geographical relocation to northwest Raleigh was less significant than the move from public-sector to private-sector employment.
At NIEHS, Kelly worked with NMR Group head Robert London, Ph.D., predicting functions of proteins and protein domains with unknown function through ligand-binding studies using NMR spectroscopy.
“The career transition certainly wasn't easy or quick,” Mercier said. It required all the elements that are stressed at career fairs - networking, persistence, careful planning, and a healthy measure of luck.
Networking was the key for Mercier
Meeting new people and keeping in touch with them played a very big part in Mercier's job search. She had applied for a position with Thomas O'Connell, Ph.D., at the Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences, and she'd been tentatively accepted as well. However, in the interim, O'Connell moved to LipoScience, and the job she'd almost had at Hamner was gone.
Mercier then began following opportunities at LipoScience and, when a suitable job opened up, she contacted O'Connell. “The rest was really the easy part,” she explained. “Before long, I had a job offer from LipoScience.”
LipoScience is a medical technology company that specializes in clinical applications, such as plasma lipid profiling using NMR spectroscopy. In her position there, Mercier will apply her Ph.D. work and training at NIEHS in the development of a new proprietary method for using NMR in clinical diagnosis.
“It's very challenging and interesting to do the groundwork, in a company, for a new method with the market in mind,” Mercier said. She added that she is very pleased with the work-life balance in her new role and is enjoying the close-knit working environment of a small company.
Cultivating relationships, old and new
In addition to her lab work at NIEHS, Mercier was very active in the scientific society Graduate Women in Science (GWIS)(http://www.gwis.org/) , serving as secretary and, subsequently, as president of the group's Triangle-area Rho Tau chapter. In the midst of her professional transition, Mercier was elected as the national GWIS treasurer, where she now manages the operating budget and numerous endowments. She also participated in many workshops and career fairs at NIEHS and made contacts during these meetings that proved to be very helpful.
Mercier used a very open approach in her job search and networking. She kept in touch and sought advice from her Ph.D. supervisor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Robert Powers, Ph.D.(http://chem.unl.edu/robert-powers) , who had prior industry experience. She also complemented her LinkedIn profile with many highly positive recommendations from her colleagues, highlighting her teamwork skills.
“Keeping everyone informed that you are looking for a job is very important,” Mercier noted. She gave an example from her own experience. She made an effort to forward job openings she came across to friends who were also on the job hunt, and one of them landed a director's position from one of Mercier's leads.
“It doesn't hurt to have a friend who is a director and who owes you one,” Mercier added with a laugh.
(Sindura Ganapathi, D.V.M., Ph.D., is an IRTA fellow in the NIEHS Laboratory of Signal Transduction Inositol Signaling Group.)