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Environmental Factor, September 2015

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NIEHS fellow begins career as assistant professor

By Shannon Whirledge

Headshot of Winuthayanon

“NIEHS allows postdocs to focus on the science, and provides great resources and opportunities to trainees for career development," said Winuthayanon. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

In July, former NIEHS trainee Wipawee “Joy” Winuthayanon, Ph.D., began her new career as an assistant professor in the School of Molecular Biosciences at Washington State University, where she will continue her research on estrogen action in the uterus and oviduct during pregnancy.

Preparing for the job search

Winuthayanon joined the NIEHS Receptor Biology Group, headed by Ken Korach, Ph.D., in 2007 as a predoctoral fellow, and she stayed on as a postdoctoral fellow, using her time at NIEHS to beef up her resume. Winuthayanon authored several papers, four of which were featured as Intramural Papers of the Month. One of them, a 2011 publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was highlighted by the Faculty of 1000 as a must read.

She also volunteered to teach students as part of the NIEHS Scholars Connect and Citizen Schools programs. She said that these experiences confirmed her desire to teach and strengthened her abilities.

Teaching was just one of the many opportunities that prepared her for the job search, Winuthayanon said. She also took part in professional career development classes through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Intramural Training and Education and attended the NIEHS annual career fairs, where she received help with learning how to network.

“No one likes networking, I think, but I talk to people when I am at a professional society meeting,” she said. In fact, Winuthayanon learned of the job posting for her current position while networking at a recent Gordon Research Conference.

Lab support for success

Winuthayanon credits Korach and senior biologist Sylvia Hewitt, as well as her co-mentor Carmen Williams, M.D., Ph.D., for helping her meet people in her field and achieve her goal of landing an independent research position at an academic institution. “I wasn’t sure that I could do it, but they encouraged me,” she said.

Williams, who leads the NIEHS Reproductive Medicine Group, cited Winuthayanon’s focus on research as a key strength. "Joy was unafraid to dive in and learn new techniques needed, so she could follow the path her research was taking,” Williams said. “She wasn't intimidated by the unknown. Rather, she reveled in it as an opportunity to explore."

Williams highlighted Winuthayanon’s proposal for a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Pathway to Independence Award as another important aspect of her training. Even though the proposal wasn’t funded, it received a very positive review and contributed to her success as a job candidate. “Going through this process gave her the beginnings of a research plan for her job seminars, and, of course, the framework for a future NIH grant proposal in her new position,” Williams said.

Big goals reached in small steps

Now that Winuthayanon has achieved her goal, she is able to reflect on the skills that helped her along the way. “The most important part is to have great time management skills,” she said. “Set a big goal, break it apart into smaller tasks, and achieve those tasks one by one.”

These skills will serve her well, as she moves forward in her long-term career plans. “[My goals include] pushing the science forward, publishing, winning grants, helping people in my lab to succeed, and gaining tenure,” said Winuthayanon.

(Shannon Whirledge, Ph.D., is a research fellow in the NIEHS Laboratory of Signal Transduction.)

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