For the last three years, the Office of Intramural Training & Education (OITE) at the NIH has hosted an annual Career Symposium. At first, I thought this event would be a stand-in-line-for-hours type of career fair. But it’s not. Instead, the Career Symposium is a day for career exploration.
What is career exploration? Well, the NIH Career Symposium is a day for graduate students and postdocs to sample the diversity of careers available to members of the scientific community. Throughout the day, attendees hear from panels of speakers representing a variety of career types, enhance their professional skills through workshops, and network with scientists from across the country.
Last year, the variety of career panels included:
· Life in Academics
· Navigating the academic search process
· Getting academic tenure
· Research careers in industry
· Non-bench scientific careers in industry
· Careers in scientific consulting and intellectual property
· Non-tenure-track careers at the bench in government and academia
· Careers in Nonprofit Organizations
· Public policy making
· Careers guiding the direction of scientific research
· Communicating science: Careers in public relations, communications, writing and editing
· Science at the federal government: careers away from the bench
· Scientists teaching science
· Career options for clinicians
The panelists were invited by current fellows or OITE staff to represent the variety of careers, and they came from all over the country to share their experiences and help fellows consider multiple career options. Each panelist usually talked for a few minutes about his/her career path and gave a brief description of current job tasks.
The most common questions posed by fellows during the Q&A sessions seemed to be: “As a basic-science post-doc, what can I do right now to explore careers in your area?” and “You got your job though connections; what if I don’t know anyone who works in that area?” and “Being a bench scientist, how do I convince a hiring manager that I have other translatable skills?”
These questions are difficult to answer because each individual’s interests, skills and strengths, and personal limitations are different. In my previous blog entry “Spinning a good story with all the facts,” I gave examples of “extracurricular” activities that I pursued to explore alternate career options and make connections. But not every graduate student or postdoc at the NIH has the time or the “try anything” attitude to pursue these extracurricular activities.
Thankfully, the OITE helps fellows both explore careers AND make connections; fellows are invited to serve on the Career Symposium planning committee. I recently joined the planning committee for the 2011 Career Symposium and will share some of my thoughts about my first impressions next time.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Government.
Wenny Lin, PhD, MPH, is a fellow in the Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program at the National Cancer Institute. Prior to joining the Nutritional Epidemiology Branch in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics, Wenny earned her MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2009 and her PhD in Cell & Molecular Biology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2008.