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Environmental Factor, February 2013

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Research fellow begins career in medical writing

By Monica Frazier

Jeffrey Stumpf, Ph.D.

Stumpf first learned of newsletter writing opportunities at the 2010 NIEHS Biomedical Career Fair during a session on careers in science outreach. During the 2 ½ years he contributed to the NIEHS monthly newsletter, he built an impressive portfolio of writing samples for his job search. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS research fellow Jeffrey Stumpf, Ph.D. began his new position Jan. 2 as a medical writer with MedThink SciCom in Raleigh, N.C. MedThink SciCom provides a range of scientific communication services for clients, including publication planning and writing; developing scientific platforms; and facilitating collaborations.

As a research fellow in the Mitochondrial DNA Replication Group in the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics headed by William Copeland, Ph.D., Stumpf characterized mutations in DNA Pol Gamma found in patients with mitochondrial disease, using yeast as an effective tool to test mitochondrial DNA replication in vivo. This work gave him the opportunity to communicate his research in a variety of ways, which he said was instrumental in his career path.

NIEHS career development support

The transition from bench scientist to his new role as a medical writer will be smoother because of experiences Stumpf gained through NIEHS. Extracurricular activities, such as volunteering to give a talk on DNA and mutations to a general audience — an opportunity advertised at a seminar he attended — helped him realize his goal of effectively communicating science to various audiences (see story).

With Copeland’s support and encouragement, Stumpf made a habit of embracing other opportunities made available to NIEHS fellows to practice his communication skills, including giving talks at international and local conferences (see story), as well as in high schools.

NIEHS Office of Fellows’ Career Development Director Tammy Collins, Ph.D., is in the unique position of being both the leader of career development at NIEHS and Stumpf’s former labmate. Collins explained that embracing the available career support at NIEHS as Stumpf did is a great way to develop skills for any career path, particularly invaluable skills in such areas as leadership, management, and communication. Sometimes, these activities also help trainees discover new interests and connections.

“Because Jeff was proactive in taking advantage of opportunities at NIEHS, he ultimately discovered a talent and passion that may have otherwise remained latent,” Collins observed.

The eFactor experience

Of all his non-bench activities, Stumpf was most passionate about his regular contributions to the Environmental Factor. He enjoyed the challenge of covering a variety of stories, including papers of the month, retirements, seminars, and awards. When asked about how writing for the newsletter changed his interests and career perspective, Stumpf said, “The foundation of my interest in scientific writing came solely from my experience in writing with the eFactor.”

Before becoming an eFactor contributor, Stumpf’s non-research interests centered on teaching. “When I started writing articles for the eFactor, I realized that I [also] enjoyed the challenge of communicating difficult and complex scientific topics in a coherent and even entertaining way,” he explained.

Stumpf noted that the constant practice of writing articles on different topics helped him develop confidence in his writing. He was especially candid about the mentorship he received from newsletter editor Eddy Ball and other members of the Office of Communications and Public Liaison, crediting their support with playing an important role in his decision to consider writing as a career option.

“Eddy inspired me to continue on this path and ultimately convinced me that I can write about science for a living,” Stumpf said.

(Monica Frazier, Ph.D., is an Intramural Research Training Award fellow in the NIEHS Mechanisms of Mutation Group.)

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