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Environmental Factor, March 2013

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FDA program marks next step for NIEHS research fellow

By Mallikarjuna Metukuri

Javier Revollo, Ph.D.,

Revollo is excited about career opportunities at FDA, but he is also open to new directions in the future. “My advice [to other fellows] is to think outside the box when job hunting. There are lots of opportunities out there, not just in academia, so take advantage of whatever opportunities come your way,” he said. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Laboratory of Signal Transduction (LST) trainee Javier Revollo, Ph.D., said he hadn’t even started his job search when opportunity came knocking in the form of an email announcement from NIEHS Deputy Scientific Director Bill Schrader, Ph.D.

The message contained information about a two-year commissioners’ fellowship program with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The program offers early-career scientists and engineers a rigorous course of regulatory science training, and the chance to conduct cutting-edge research on targeted scientific and regulatory issues, under the mentorship of a senior scientist.

Revollo, who had completed a five-year visiting fellowship with NIEHS and just begun his tenure as a research fellow, decided to give it a try. “A few days later, I applied for the position, thinking that I would never hear back,” he said.

But, of course, he did, and he is now pursuing a new direction in his career in 2013, by applying his scientific training in a somewhat different way.

Comparing his experience at NIEHS with his new job at FDA, Revollo said, “The work is similar, but with much more independence and many more responsibilities attached. I am expected to perform and deliver on my own.” Rather than reinventing the wheel, Revollo said, the main goal of his team is to apply new technologies to FDA problems — in his case, genetic toxicology.

Career development at NIEHS

Revollo credits his time at NIEHS with helping him grow as a scientist and transition into his current position, in particular his scientific experience with a deep sequencing project. “I had the specific skills and experience the position required,” he said, “and I gained that experience by pursuing a side project.”

Along with the support of lead researchers, workshops and other career development activities proved helpful for Revollo. “Being at NIEHS exposed me to other career options,” he said. “I came to realize that academic positions are few and far between, so I really started to look for what else could be out there.”

Accomplishments at the bench

As a visiting fellow in LST, Revollo examined the regulation of glucocorticoid signaling in the Molecular Endocrinology Group headed by John Cidlowski, Ph.D., receiving an NIH Fellows Award for Research Excellence award for his work on Hes1 regulation of glucocorticoid signaling in 2011 (see story).

Revollo also received the Presidential Poster Award for his Hes1 work at the 2011 annual meeting of the Endocrine Society (see story). In 2012, he joined the Metabolism, Genes, and Environment Group led by Xiaoling Li, Ph.D., where he studied the regulation of Sirtuin-1.

According to Revollo, his time in Cidlowski’s group helped him learn how to be a successful scientific leader, and his work with Li gave him experience in how to successfully start a lab and become established in a crowded scientific field.

Last year, Revollo co-authored a study in PNAS with Cidlowski and staff scientist Robert Oakley, Ph.D., that was recognized as a paper of the month (see story) and 2012 paper of the year. The team discovered a mechanism by which glucocorticoids, stress hormones produced by the body to maintain homeostasis, act upon certain key cellular receptors through alterations in arrestin gene expression.

Although there are no guarantees, Revollo has reason to expect that, upon completion of his fellowship, FDA will make him an offer of permanent employment. In the inaugural class of fellows, 78 percent stayed with the agency and the remaining were hired by industry or academia.

(Mallikarjuna Metukuri, Ph.D., is a research fellow in the NIEHS Metabolism, Genes, and Environment Group.)

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