Graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and postbaccalaureate fellows from NIEHS and surrounding research institutions gathered April 29 for the 19th annual NIEHS Biomedical Career Symposium, held at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
The event, which was organized by a planning committee (see text box) co-chaired by NIEHS trainees Rachel Krasich, Ph.D., and Peter Thompson, Ph.D., hosted more than 60 speakers, panelists, and human resources (HR) representatives.
Opening remarks were given by NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.; EPA Deputy Director for the Human Health Risk Assessment Program Annie Jarabek, Ph.D.; and Krasich. Birnbaum emphasized the importance of inspiring and training the next generation of scientists. “Trainees play a really critical role at NIEHS in helping us achieve our mission,” she said.
“We had a record number of registrants this year,” Krasich said. “And for the first time, we invited HR folks to hold informational sessions, where participants could hear what their companies look for in candidates.”
Keith Micoli, Ph.D., director of the postdoctoral program at the New York University School of Medicine, inspired the more than 400 scientists present at his keynote address, “Beyond the End of the Road: Career Advice From the Wilderness.”
Drawing on the challenges of his ten-day solo backpacking trip, Micoli covered lessons about brainstorming, workplace values, transferable skills, and perseverance. “On the trail, I learned several lessons,” he said. “The first one was commit to your goal.”
“A very large number of people each year fail to get to the start of the Appalachian Trial. They hit this eight-mile climb and they quit,” he continued. “And I know a lot of people in science who had ideas about what they would do, and then they dropped out because it was too hard.”
Micoli advised the audience to write down specific goals and do something every day to move their careers forward. “Having some idea of where you would like to end up helps you make a sensible choice as to what your next step will be,” he said.
“In my first postdoc, the career advice I got was, work really hard, publish papers, and the future will take care of itself,” he said, quoting advice familiar to everyone in the audience. “And I guess I was proven right. The future takes care of itself — it doesn’t take care of you.”
The rest of the day included such workshops as “How to Avoid Self-Sabotage and Win at Salary Negotiations” and “Tips for Building a High-Impact Resume,” along with panels about careers in drug development, science policy, academia, contract research organizations, science communication, and more. Attendees also had the opportunity to consult with experts about their CVs, and network with trainees and professionals who shared their interests.
Lauren Wyatt, a graduate student at Duke University, appreciated the resume workshop led by Tammy Collins, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Office of Fellows' Career Development. “It’s always hard when you’re inside your bubble in science to try to articulate your achievements, so that people in any industry or field can understand them ,” said Wyatt, adding that she will use Collins’ approach to writing about accomplishments in her own resume.
NIEHS trainee Christopher Lavender, Ph.D., said he was grateful that the event showed him how to make himself more marketable. And Natalie Holman, a fifth-year graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), had high praise for the event. “I thought it was going to be more like a job fair,” she said. “But I was excited to see that it was more about development and getting me ready for the next step.”
(Emily Mesev is an Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) postbaccalaureate fellow in the NIEHS Intracellular Regulation Group.)