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Environmental Factor, March 2012

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Staff from NIEHS participates in UNC career development program

By Robin Arnette

Sheila Newton, Ph.D., and Michael Humble, Ph.D.

Newton, left, and Michael Humble, Ph.D., a health scientist administrator in the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training, geared up for the afternoon. (Photo courtesy of Robin Arnette)

Sophie Bolick, Ph.D., and Harriet Kinyamu, Ph.D.

Bolick, left, and Harriet Kinyamu, Ph.D., a staff scientist for the NIEHS Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis, reminisced about the Institute during a quick break. (Photo courtesy of Robin Arnette)

In the search for a satisfying career, students generally concentrate on doing well academically, but understanding what it takes to land that perfect job is just as important as acing exams. After all, if you could ask Bill Gates how he became an entrepreneur or pick Steven Spielberg's brain for movie-making advice, wouldn't you take advantage of the opportunity?

The University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine attempted to give graduate students and postdoctoral fellows a similar opportunity by holding its second annual Career Blitz Jan. 25 in Chapel Hill. Sponsored by the UNC Training Initiative in Biomedical and Biological Sciences (TIBBS), the event featured 22 Ph.D.-trained scientists from a variety of traditional and non-traditional career paths. NIEHS was well represented, with nine current or former staff members serving on the panel (see text box). TIBBS Director Erin Hopper, Ph.D., and her supervisor Patrick Brandt, Ph.D., are also former NIEHS employees.

“The TIBBS program was started at UNC in 2007, to give graduate students opportunities to explore a variety of career options open to scientists and to develop the non-bench skills required for success in those careers,” said Brandt, who is director of Science, Training, and Diversity. “Nearly 100 students and postdocs participated in our first Career Blitz event held in February 2011.”

Hopper joined the TIBBS team in November 2011, and the NIEHS ties that she and Brandt share meant that they had a ready-made pool of scientists to choose from. Hopper said she relied heavily on the scientific expertise at the Institute, inviting scientists from policy, grants administration, and basic research. Based on the students’ excitement, the planning paid off.

“This year's event was a great success, with twice as many registrants as last year,” Hopper said. 

Sheila Newton, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Office of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation, was one of this year’s panelists. She believes that these kinds of programs are important and play a vital role in career development.

“There are so many ways in which scientific training can be an asset in the worlds of policy, science management, regulatory affairs, and journalism, to name a few, yet it’s often difficult for students to learn about these career options,” Newton said.

Making an impact

The scientists were grouped into eleven categories, with a pair from each career path stationed in adjacent rooms in UNC’s MacNider Hall. Students interested in a particular career could visit a room and hear a brief presentation and then ask a variety of questions, such as the scientist’s current job responsibilities, the route they took to their present position, and what happens during a typical work day. The sessions were staggered, so that the professionals could speak to students in large groups or have informal one-on-one discussions.

At the end of the program, students were asked to fill out evaluations, and they overwhelmingly gave the TIBBS Career Blitz high marks. Here are a few responses to the question, “What did you find most beneficial about the career blitz?”

  • “The spectrum of careers was quite broad.  Since I do not know what I want to do after graduating, it was helpful to see a broad range of jobs and narrow down my choices,” one wrote.
  • “Getting to ask questions of the people who are out in the work force and actually getting real, honest answers,” noted another.

Although the students got a lot out of the sessions, the panel participants did as well. Sophie Bolick, Ph.D., a medical writer with MedThink SciCom, is a former NIEHS postdoc and contributing writer to the Environmental Factor. Having been in the work force for a little over a year, she could empathize with the students.

“The UNC Career Blitz was a great experience from the other side of the table,” said Bolick. “Students and postdocs alike were very receptive to our suggestions and comments, and came prepared with great questions, which made the experience a lot of fun.”

Two UNC representatives, seated behind a table covered with snacks and water.

UNC representatives Ann Marie Bartholomew of the Office of Graduate Education, left, and Ashalla Freeman, Ph.D., director of Diversity Affairs, staffed the snack table in the refreshment room. (Photo courtesy of Robin Arnette)

NIEHS staff speaking to students, seated around a table

Donna Baird, Ph.D., right in red, is a principal investigator in the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch. She and Kinyamu helped students prepare for a research career in a government lab. (Photo courtesy of Erin Hopper)

2012 TIBBS Career Blitz Panel

Following is a list of the career paths and science professionals at the Career Blitz. The names of current and former NIEHS staff are in bold.

Research in Big Pharma
  • Richard Peterson, D.V.M., Ph.D.
  • Jennifer McCafferty, Ph.D.
Research in Small Biotech
  • Kelly Mercier, Ph.D.
  • Jimmy Smedley, Ph.D..
Teaching-Intensive Careers
  • Kassy Mies, Ph.D.
  • Christopher Roy, Ph.D.
Research in Government Laboratories
  • Donna Baird, Ph.D..
  • Harriet Kinyamu, Ph.D..
Science Writing and Editing
  • Robin Arnette, Ph.D..
  • Sophie Bolick, Ph.D..
Science Administration and Outreach
  • Joshua Hall, Ph.D.
  • Amanda Marvelle, Ph.D.
Science Policy and Grants Management
  • Sheila Newton, Ph.D.
  • Michael Humble, Ph.D.
Intellectual Property
  • Karthik Gopalakrishnan, Ph.D.
  • Nathan Letts, J.D., Ph.D.
Business Development and Regulatory Affairs
  • Brandy Salmon, Ph.D.
  • Ayoola Aboyade-Cole, Ph.D.
Principal Investigator, Academic and Nonprofit Institutes
  • Kathy Franz, Ph.D.
  • Alison Harrill, Ph.D.
Research Roles in Academia
  • Allison Schorzman, Ph.D.
  • George Dubay, Ph.D.

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