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Environmental Factor, January 2013

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Faculty position takes postdoc to remote Arctic community

By Eddy Ball

Anshul Pandya, Ph.D.

“I’ve had a good experience here,” Pandya said of his time as a trainee. “I’ve enjoyed working at NIEHS, and Jerry [Yakel] gave me a lot of freedom to explore career development opportunities, as well as take higher-risk approaches to my research.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Fortunately for NIEHS postdoc Anshul Pandya, Ph.D., and his wife, the couple knows what to expect when they move to the sublime landscape of rural northwestern Alaska this month — bone-chilling winter cold with highs most days staying well below zero, followed by a brief, but glorious, Alaskan summer they believe is well worth the wait.

Pandya is a graduate of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), where he will return to assume a tenure-track faculty position at the UAF Chukchi Campus in the state’s Northwest Arctic Borough. His wife lived in Nome before they moved to the Triangle together. After Pandya completed his doctorate in 2009, and prior to joining NIEHS for his postdoctoral training later that summer, he was an adjunct professor in the Rural Alaska Honors Institute (RAHI), which served a minority population very similar to the people in the northwestern Inupiat hub where he’ll be teaching and conducting research.

“It’s like going home,” Pandya said. “I’m really looking forward to moving out to Alaska, living in the wilderness, and being outdoors in the summers.”

Training at the bench and beyond

For the past 3 1/2 years, Pandya has worked in the Laboratory of Neurobiology Ion Channel Physiology Group headed by Jerrel Yakel, Ph.D. In his work with Yakel’s group, Pandya brought his perspective, as a pharmacologist, to research that focused on the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor channels and their role in neurological disorders. He was first author of two papers on allosteric modulators of those receptors, and a co-author or contributor on several other papers from the group.

But a teacher/researcher is not merely a source of knowledge, as Pandya recognized early in his fellowship at NIEHS. So, Pandya soon began looking for additional mentors and career development opportunities.

In 2011, he began writing Division of Intramural Research paper of the month summaries, working with Science Editor Robin Arnette, Ph.D., as well as other articles for the Environmental Factor. Later that year, he jumped at the chance to work with the NIEHS Office of Science Education and Diversity (OSED), headed by Ericka Reid, Ph.D., inspired in part by his early experiences as part of RAHI. He also served as a mentor for NIH Summer Intern Program participants in his lab group.

These off-bench training experiences proved to be helpful in landing his new job at UAF, where he will be teaching and mentoring native Alaskan freshman and sophomore students in life science courses. Writing about science outside his field gave him experience in communicating a range of topics to a more general audience.

Attending the annual conferences of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science and the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in 2011 and 2012 as a representative of OSED, Pandya had an opportunity to network, as well as learn how to explain NIEHS and NIH training and employment opportunities to young scientists from underrepresented populations.

Pandya also took advantage of opportunities to learn from outside speakers he hosted at NIEHS. “We talked about what I should do when I transition my career from a postdoc, what precautions to take, how to negotiate a package, and what to look out for during my job search,” he said.

That combination, plus proactive efforts to establish personal contact with search committee members at the institutions where he applied, led to four interviews during Pandya’s six-month search for the right position.

NANA state map

Shown in red, the sparsely populated NANA region borders the Arctic Slope, not far from Russia. (Photo courtesy of NANA Corporation)

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