The Enhancing Local Industry Transitions through Exploration (ELITE) consortium organizes visits to local biomedical research firms, giving fellows a meaningful opportunity to network and research career options. The ELITE program made its most recent site visit Sept. 26, to the Duke University Office of Clinical Research.
NIEHS fellow Tracy Clement, Ph.D., originally conceived the program in 2013, including the name. She was inspired by the pioneering program at the University of California, Berkeley. ELITE got off the ground in 2015, and the Duke visit marked one year of innovative support for postdocs’ career transitions.
Co-chairs Kristin Gabor, Ph.D., and Neal Englert, Ph.D., took charge of organizing and re-instituting this program last year, under the direction of Tammy Collins, Ph.D., head of the NIEHS Office of Fellows' Career Development (OFCD).
Effective career search tool
The design of the visits makes them especially effective as career search tools. “Our goal is to connect trainees with local industry,” said Gabor. “It is very exciting that some of these visits lead to interviews.”
“Participants get the chance to experience the company culture first-hand, and see how the employees interact with one another, which helps them better gauge the working environment,” Collins said. She added that many companies said they would give participants’ applications priority, if they chose to apply after the site visit.
Englert, now a study manager at Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings, said ELITE figured prominently in his interview and subsequent job offer. “Participation in the ELITE program helped set me apart from other [candidates].” Serving as co-chair energized his job search. “It was great to work in a collaborative environment with other committee members,” he said.
Partnership increases effectiveness
“ELITE began at NIEHS, then expanded to be a Triangle-wide partnership, with the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC) and Duke University,” Englert explained.
All three institutions generate ideas and share the work of organizing, and fellows from all three institutions may attend. Collins feels this has contributed to the program’s success. “We all share the load of planning, and we also have a critical mass of attendees, which makes better use of the company’s time,” she said.
Opportunity to prepare for industry interviews
To attend an ELITE site visit, fellows submit a cover letter to the committee, written to the company as if they were applying for a position. Collins reviews the letters from NIEHS fellows. Molly Starback at Duke and Patrick Brandt, Ph.D., at UNC take care of their respective institutions.
The best submissions lead to invitations. Fellows meet to discuss questions they might ask and review the company. Collins’ office provides NIEHS attendees with up to 20 business cards.
The site visit is like an enhanced informational interview. It may include introductions to the CEO, lead scientists, and other department heads; panel discussions; a tour; and an informal networking opportunity at the end of the visit. The representatives may ask for resumes, ask to see cover letters, or hand out their business cards, inviting attendees to return.
Duke Office of Clinical Research
At the Duke Office of Clinical Research, attendees met with Denise Snyder, associate dean for clinical research. Snyder introduced the organization and talked about her background. She also joined the informal networking session.
Other Duke employees held panel discussions, and participants were introduced to a number of department heads. Meeting with so many different employees gave participants a glimpse of the varieties of work conducted there. Representatives said they were looking to hire more employees and discussed the traits that they value in applicants.
“We are very happy about the success of this program and the degree to which it has helped fellows make informed decisions about their career choices,” said Collins. “Fellows have mentioned that these visits have demystified job ads, job titles, and the application process in general, because we frequently meet with human resources representatives as part of these visits.” She added that more opportunities were being planned in the coming months.
(Simone Otto, Ph.D., is an Intramural Research Training Award fellow in the Ion Channel Physiology Group in Neurobiology Laboratory at NIEHS.)