In October 2016, former NIEHS Intramural Research Training Award fellow Katie Pelch, Ph.D., transitioned to her new position with the nonprofit group The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX), which is one of the NIEHS Partners.
As a research associate, Pelch conducts systematic reviews of scientific literature on endocrine disrupting chemicals, particularly those associated with oil and gas drilling. She also reviews research on health conditions, such as autism, that have been linked to prenatal exposure to endocrine disruptors, and creates information resources for other groups to use.
Pelch received her Ph.D. in 2011 from the University of Missouri, where she researched how chemicals that behave like estrogen in the body, such as bisphenol A (BPA) and ethinyl estradiol, affect the female reproductive disease endometriosis. While at NIEHS, Pelch studied chemicals similar to BPA in the National Toxicology Program (NTP) Office of Health Assessment and Translation (OHAT), under Kris Thayer, Ph.D.
Working on systematic reviews with an interdisciplinary team helped prepare Pelch for her current career at TEDX. “It was a natural fit and an easy transition, because they were working on systematic review, specifically on endocrine disruptors,” said Pelch. “The work that I did in OHAT was good training for this position.”
“Katie brings a unique yet complimentary skill set to our team, with her research on BPA alternatives and her experience with systematic review,” said TEDX Executive Director Carol Kwiatkowski, Ph.D.
Reaching out to your network
According to Pelch, she learned key skills at NIEHS, including networking with other scientists. “We may work on reviews where we are not the experts, so learning how to communicate effectively with experts [to get the data we need] is a good skill.”
Pelch took advantage of NIEHS resources to improve her networking, such as the NTP flash-interviewing and flash-mentoring events. Feedback from senior researchers at those events provided her with valuable insights. “And it’s always good to practice your elevator speech,” she added, “you never know when you’re going to need it.”
Scientific conferences were another way Pelch made new contacts. She met Kwiatkowski at a Gordon Conference while a trainee.
Pelch recommended that trainees explore a range of career paths. “During graduate school, I didn’t know about government or nonprofit jobs, or different types of translational research,” she said. Choosing to do her fellowship at NIEHS positioned her for discovering careers beyond academia and benchwork.
For trainees moving beyond their postdoctoral fellowships, Pelch emphasized that they should consider careers in nonprofit groups. “There are so many different nonprofits that could use Ph.D. level scientists on their team,” she said. “There are many different kinds — focused on diseases, the environment, or affecting policy. It’s a largely unexplored job field.”
(Samantha Hall is a postbaccalaureate Cancer Research Training Award fellow in the National Cancer Institute Center for Cancer Research Laboratory of Toxicology and Toxicokinetics, housed at NIEHS.)