Having reached its 21st year, the Annual NIEHS Biomedical Career Symposium has become a mature gathering of research scientists, biomedical organizations, and graduate and postdoctoral career counselors. The event equips students and fellows with encouragement and practical tools for their career search. This year’s symposium took place May 4 at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
With more than 400 registrants and 80 professional guests, the career symposium is one of the key opportunities for local scientists at the graduate or postdoctoral level to explore career options and establish networking connections.
Planning committee co-chairs Heather Vellers, Ph.D., and Salahuddin Syed, Ph.D., prepared for the event with specific themes in mind. “Our major goal was to incorporate positive and encouraging messages throughout the symposium,” said Vellers.
NIEHS and National Toxicology Program (NTP) Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., and NIEHS Deputy Scientific Director Paul Doetsch, Ph.D., were both on hand to provide a warm welcome. Quoting baseball legend Branch Rickey, who said “luck is the residue of design,” Doetsch stressed the importance of designing one’s career path.
Take control of your future
The keynote speaker, Timothy Lightfoot, Ph.D., gave an enthusiastic and optimistic address, "Taking Control of Your Career: Ways to Get to and Prosper in Your Professional Life.” He said that feeling out of control is normal, but planning will let you gain control of your future and your career.
Lightfoot assured his audience that Ph.D. holders were very employable, highlighting results from a recent article on NIEHS alumni outcomes by Hong Xu, program manager and data analyst for the NIEHS Office of Fellow’s Career Development (OFCD) and Tammy Collins, Ph.D., OFCD director.
Attendees should be knowledgeable about their career choice and be honest with themselves, he said. “Find your Yoda,” suggested Lightfoot. “Someone who has the job you want 15 years from now, and go talk to them.”
Lightfoot, author of “Finding the Best Faculty Job for You,” also gave extensive insight into the academic hiring process, how to write a cover letter, and professional demeanor.
The symposium included workshops on topics of interest to a diverse audience. Career panels gave attendees opportunities to ask direct questions of experts in fields ranging from science policy to teaching at a small university.
Organizers included an expanded CV and resume review, with an additional option for attendees to have their LinkedIn profile reviewed. In addition, the event provided multiple networking opportunities.
Planning committee — opportunity for career growth
“By organizing the career symposium, I learned how to manage people efficiently and handle uncomfortable situations,” Syed said. “I learned to manage my time. It was exciting to network with industry representatives and workshop speakers and get a better idea of how to prepare for my career path.”
Being on the committee provided opportunities for career growth and networking through increased access to the invited professionals and a chance to take on a leadership role, an area in which Vellers felt she learned a great deal. She compared organizing the career symposium to assembling a bike. “There were a lot of working parts to make it all come together and flow nicely,” she said.
Collins was impressed with the leadership and dedication of Vellers and Syed. “Organizing an event of this magnitude requires strong leadership, as well as teamwork and trust amongst the individuals involved,” she said.
Syed agreed, adding, “If it wasn't for having a wonderful co-chair and amazing committee members, I don't think we could have pulled it off as well as we did.”
“The volunteers who collaborate to organize this event each year become fully immersed in an experience that highlights what it truly means to function as a team, with each person fulfilling a role that is essential to the overall symposium’s success,” Collins added. “I was so impressed with the leadership and dedication of Dr. Vellers and Dr. Syed in guiding their team, as well as the commitment of all the NIEHS and EPA team members. They all did an outstanding job!”
(Simone Otto, Ph.D., is an Intramural Research and Training Award postdoctoral fellow in the NIEHS Ion Channel Physiology Group.)