By Megan L. Sampley, PhD
How does a postdoctoral researcher—who has spent innumerable hours in the laboratory—parlay years of training into a career path such as scientific editing, grant review, or program management? To address this most mystifying question, the Bethesda Chapter of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) hosted a panel discussion on April 7, 2011, in its annual series titled "Careers in Policy, Programming, and Review."
The featured panelists consisted of four scientists who had, indeed, accomplished just that feat: Drs. Margaret Ames (acting director, NCI Office of Science Planning and Assessment), Della Hann (deputy director, NIH Office of Extramural Research), Yuan Luo (scientific review officer, NIH Center for Scientific Review), and Sacha Vignieri (associate editor, Science magazine). After giving a short biography and summary of their respective career trajectories, each panelist answered questions from NIH trainees interested in learning more about non-bench careers in science.
Perhaps the most important unifying bits of advice from the panel members were to maintain flexibility of interests, develop a broad skill set, and, of course, to "network, network, network." Each member agreed that the most competitive candidates on the job market demonstrate strong communication skills, both written and oral, as well as the ability to see the "bigger picture" of scientific research—those social, political, technological, and fiscal/economic matters relevant to designing, funding, and implementing effective research programs.
Also present at this event were Drs. Susan Daniels (acting director, Office of Autism Research Coordination) and Sharon Milgram (director, Office of Intramural Training and Education), who were honored by AWIS-Bethesda with awards for excellence in mentoring. Both women emphasized that postdocs can expand their skill sets by seeking involvement outside of the lab in the greater NIH community. Dr. Milgram advised that this can be accomplished by utilizing the resources offered by OITE, where young scientists can receive counseling on career options that will enhance their competitiveness in the scientific marketplace.
AWIS-Bethesda continues to advocate the interests of women for greater career opportunity and pay equity in the science, engineering, and technology fields. Additional career development seminars will be scheduled throughout the year. More information can be obtained at http://www.awisbethesda.org.