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Environmental Factor, March 2013

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NIEHS fellow transitions into private-sector translational research

By Aleksandra Adomas

Jennifer Sims, Ph.D.

Sims said she hopes the transition to industry will not be a very difficult one in terms of laboratory duties, and considers learning more about clinical studies and regulatory affairs a welcome challenge. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS trainee Jennifer Sims, Ph.D., left her lab last month for a translational research and development research associate position at Expression Analysis, a Quintiles company specializing in genomic services for pharmaceutical, biotechnology, academic, government, and nonprofit markets.

Power of networking

An Intramural Research and Training Award fellow in the NIEHS Eukaryotic Transcriptional Regulation Group, Sims credits the power of networking with making her job search successful. “I never knew how many connections I had,” she declared, explaining that a childhood friend submitted a general referral for her to Quintiles. Another friend, familiar with Sims’ line of work, suggested Expression Analysis as a company that could be a good fit. Finally, it was a next-door neighbor who submitted her resume to Expression Analysis and assured her, “It’s a person and not a computer who will look at your application.”

While preparing for a career transition and planning her next steps, Sims attended many of the career exploration workshops offered at NIEHS and mentioned, in particular, a seminar by Sharon Milgram, Ph.D., director of the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE). “Sharon’s words about a success rate of 1 in 4,000 among people applying for jobs online, as compared to 1 in 12 among those using networking, stuck with me,” Sims recalled. Consequently, she reached out to her personal connections and talked to co-workers, collaborators, friends, and acquaintances.

A successful mix of experience and communication skills

If networking was the most significant factor that landed Sims a job interview, it was the right mix of skills, experiences, and ability to communicate that contributed to securing a job offer. During her four years at NIEHS, she worked with lead researcher Paul Wade, Ph.D., on understanding the role of chromatin remodeling complex, Mi-2/NuRD, in chromatin assembly and structure maintenance during replication.

This cell cycle research, coupled with her graduate work on epigenetic transcription regulation at the University of Southern California, provided her with experience in a diverse skill set of molecular biology techniques, including next-generation sequencing. On top of that, Sims believes that her ability to communicate science in lay terms was crucial while interviewing with bioinformatics, quality control, and regulatory affairs specialists. “All of them liked that I could explain my research to them,” she said.

Sims will be able to apply those skills to designing clinical trials at Expression Analysis, working out test assays, and communicating with customers to better understand their needs.

Sims gratefully acknowledges the advice she received when considering different career options from her mentors in the Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis (LMC), Wade and lead researcher Karen Adelman, Ph.D., of the Transcriptional Responses to the Environment Group. Sims also took advantage of various opportunities to gain leadership and outreach experience, which included participating in the NIEHS Summer Internship Program, becoming a North Carolina DNA Day ambassador, and organizing the LMC Journal Club.

Sims said she is also grateful to the other fellows in the Wade laboratory for their advice and encouragement. “I think that having a great support system within the laboratory is necessary for success inside the lab, as well as preparing for a career outside NIEHS,” Sims concluded.

(Aleksandra Adomas, Ph.D., is a research fellow in the NIEHS Eukaryotic Transcription Regulation Group.)

Sharon Milgram, Ph.D.

Milgram and colleagues in OITE have helped provide NIEHS trainees with career development training and counseling opportunities, complementing those provided by the NIEHS Office of the Scientific Director and NIEHS Trainees’ Assembly. (Photo courtesy of Sharon Milgram)

Paul Wade, Ph.D.

“Jenn’s work made a major contribution to our understanding of how cells copy epigenetic information during the process of cell division,” Wade said. “Her unique skill set and perseverance allowed us to address this difficult issue at a very fundamental level.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

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