By Uma Srivastava
Starting a job or fellowship at a new location can be daunting, much more so when it is at the National Institutes of Health. Sometimes it is intimidating for new lab members to express how they are feeling when they first arrive at the NIH. In this “Thoughts of a Postbac” column, I want to share how a junior trainee feels, recently out of college, while the experience is still fresh in my mind. This might help graduate and postdoctoral mentors get a junior trainee off to a running start, as my lab did for me.
Waking up every morning without the fear of missing a quiz or forgetting to submit an assignment is incredible. However, it also brings about a new set of responsibilities. As I was completing my master’s degree at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, I had various options for the next step in life: I could start working at a local research company or I could take the big step and move. I chose to leave the good ole’ South and its southern hospitality for a new chapter at the NIH. I had never visited the NIH before and didn’t even know anyone who worked on campus; I was entering uncharted territory. To say the least, I was apprehensive, frightened, and intimidated.
As I entered the NIH Campus on a bright and early Monday morning, I was overwhelmed by the sheer size and magnitude of the facilities. Everyone was super focused, walking in with mugs of coffee and reading the morning news on their tablets and iPads. I overheard conversations ranging from science to politics to cultural affairs. Walking into my new lab, I told myself I would take full advantage of every single opportunity that came my way. I told myself I would be open to new ideas and new people. Everyone in my lab greeted me with open arms and gave me a warm welcome.
Settling into a new lab is challenging, not knowing where everything is kept and whose lab bench is where. You want to ask a great deal of questions, but you don’t want to harass or bother other lab members. My biggest fear was finding my way around building 10. The Clinical Research Center (CRC) is massive, and one wrong turn can get you totally lost. Every time I accompany my mentor, Dr. Chris Wassif, for meetings, he takes a new route to the destination (I told him that I would put research on the back burner and create an app for this building!). I quickly learned and memorized the paths for the few places I needed to go. Apart from that, building 10 is still a mystery and will probably remain one for years to come.
The best part about being at the NIH is the exposure to abundant intellectual and social opportunities. So many unique and interesting lectures take place every week with plenty of other events to meet postbacs like me. Most important, I’ve enjoyed meeting people from different cultures and ethnicities.
To say the least, my first few weeks have been exciting. I hope to apply my experiences as an NICHD trainee to my future endeavors. Working at the NIH has allowed me to see that science is important and every small and minute experiment does make a difference. Settling into a new location can be a little challenging, but with the right team, a fresh trainee has bright prospects ahead.