This month The NICHD Connection chats with Dr. Kristofor Langlais, a health science policy analyst at the NIH. Before his transition into policy, Dr. Langlais completed three years of postdoctoral work in the Kassis lab, Program on the Genomics of Differentiation. There he studied the epigenetic control of development genes by Polycomb and Trithorax group.
Dr. Langlais generously offers his experience with science policy and a bit of advice for interested fellows:
What is your current position, and what does it entail?
I am a Health Science Policy Analyst in the Office of the Director, Office of Science Policy, Office of Clinical Research and Bioethics Policy. This is a Federal position. I work mostly in the Genetics, Health, and Society Program, assisting in the development and implementation of NIH’s Genomic Data Sharing Policy. This policy provides a framework for the sharing of sensitive human genomic data to the scientific community while protecting research participant privacy and ensuring responsible use of the data in line with the participants’ informed consent.
My job involves a wide variety of activities, such providing scientific input on policy development and interpretation, staffing key policy governance committees, drafting internal and public communications, analyzing trends regarding data access and use, and developing solutions to improve the various management and administrative challenges of a data sharing program that involves a large number of stakeholders and participants from across the NIH. In addition, the rapid advances occurring in genomic science, sequencing technologies, and bioinformatics mean that we need to stay current on the science and trends and be ready to make modifications to the policy or to our procedures as needed to ensure broad and timely data sharing while striking a balance with research participant protections.
When and where did you learn about this career field?
I learned about it from reading the policy forum in Science and from attending the 2008 AAAS Annual Meeting. At the meeting, I attended many science policy-related talks and spoke to attendees working in policy.
How did you find this particular job?
I discovered this job through a colleague who I met in the NIH Science Policy Discussion Club. He began a job in the NIH Office of Science Policy after his NIH Management Fellowship. I now share an office with him.
Please describe the application/hiring process. Did it take a long time?
The application and hiring process was a bit shorter than I expected for a federal job. Within two weeks of the application deadline, my application made it through the initial HR process and I “made the cert,” meaning my materials would be passed on to the Office of Science Policy for consideration. I went through two days of interviews, and not long after I received an informal offer. I believe I actually started work six weeks after I accepted the offer.
What’s your typical day like?
My typical day involves a lot of work on the computer, formal meetings, and informal meetings with colleagues to brainstorm and discuss issues. I am part of a pretty tight team of six people, and while one of us will lead a given project, we are all significantly involved with each other’s work. So to boil it down, my day consists of writing and other computer work, and talking to people. Since the governance of the policy involves people from across NIH, I get to talk to and work with a lot of great people beyond my team.
Did you do anything in particular at the NICHD to prepare you for your career transition?
Yes, I did quite a lot. I got involved with things outside the lab that interested me. I was on Felcom, helped organize the NIH Career Symposiums and NICHD Fellow Retreats, started the Science Policy Discussion Group, worked with the National Postdoc Association, wrote for The NIH Catalyst, and—by far most significantly—I arranged a full-time three-month detail in the HHS Office of Global Affairs to gain experience in health policy, build skills, and get experience that I hadn’t been able to get anywhere before. This experience was absolutely crucial to my being able to apply and get my current job. It also helped me figure out if I really wanted to work in an office environment. I also arranged several informational interviews with the directors of various policy offices around NIH, prior to my detail.
What are some of the future career options for someone in your position?
I think the experience I am getting in this office will allow me to go in a number of directions. I can probably move to research administration leadership at a university or stay in government and move up to a position of leadership anywhere within HHS or even in another department. Experience in science, policy, and government is pretty valuable to many employers, so there are probably many options, but I haven’t thought too hard about them yet.
Do you have any advice for fellows who are thinking about entering this career field?
Yes, you should first speak with many people who are at various career stages in policy. Set up informational interviews, meet people at the science policy happy hours, find other NIH fellows interested in policy, go to policy-related talks, etc. Read the science policy sections in Science, Nature, and other journals. If you are still interested, you will then want to gain some relevant experience to allow you to make the jump. You should apply to the known policy fellowships, but you need not rely on these if you can arrange for a good detail and fill in other gaps by getting involved with activities outside the lab. I would be very happy to provide more information about this if you contact me. Also, be on the lookout for an article on doing details in an upcoming issue of The NIH Catalyst (early 2013).