Blog from March, 2019

Monday, March 11, 12 Noon – 1 PM

Applying to Medical School?
Lunchtime Session for Postbacs

NICHD postbacs who were recently accepted into MD programs will share with you their application and interviewing experiences. This will be a casual discussion and Q&A session—feel free to come prepared with questions!

Please email Dr. Erin Walsh (erin.walsh@nih.gov) if you are interested in attending.


Wednesday, March 13

Three-Minute Talks (TmT)

Individual coaching/practice sessions with Scott Morgan. Practice your talk and obtain feedback on oral presentation skills and speech development

This event requires registration. For more information, please contact Dr. Erin Walsh at erin.walsh@nih.gov.

The NICHD and NIH TmT competitions will be held on Wednesday, May 8, and Thursday, June 27, respectively.


Thursday, March 14, 3 – 4 PM

NICHD Fellows Advisory Committee Meeting

The committee meets monthly to exchange ideas and informally discuss ways we can enhance and tailor the training experience within the NICHD intramural. Please contact Dr. Erin Walsh at erin.walsh@nih.gov if you are interested in joining the group.


Wednesday, March 14, 1 PM – 3 PM

Illustration of a slice of lemon meringue pieNICHD Worklife Enrichment Committee “Pi Day” Pie Contest

6710B Rockledge Drive
Multipurpose Rooms 1425 & 1427

Pi Day \'pi 'da\ – the annual celebration commemorating the mathematical constant π.

NICHD will mark this significant occasion with a pie bake-off, open to all. Please plan to join us. You don’t have to bring a pie to participate—we need eaters, too!

10:30 a.m. – Please drop off pies in room 1417
1:00-3:00 p.m. – Pie eating/judging

If you would like to sign up to bring in a pie, please send an email to nichdwecommittee@mail.nih.gov by March 1, 2019. If you are interested in being a judge, please contact Reon.Holloway@nih.gov.

For more information or any questions, please contact the WE Committee at nichdwecommittee@mail.nih.gov.


Friday, March 15, 10 AM – Noon

“Identify the Career for You and Learn How to Build Your Network”

Led by Drs. Yvette Pittman and Faith Harrow (intramural training director at NHGRI), this workshop will introduce you to the career planning tools My Individual Development Plan (myIDP) and Active Career Exploration (ACE) and discuss how they are invaluable resources for PhD scientists. Not only will myIDP and ACE help you set professional goals and identify careers paths that align with your interests and values, they will also give you strategies on how to “build your network from zero”—all leading to a fulfilling and productive career.

For this two-hour interactive workshop, topics will include:

  • the importance of self-assessment as it relates various career paths
  • exploring career possibilities for a PhD scientist and the common mistakes of goal setting
  • making evidence-based career decisions
  • maximize your NIH training experience by networking and having an open communication with your mentor

There are 25 slots available for this workshop. If you are interested in attending, please email Dr. Erin Walsh (erin.walsh@nih.gov).

The Business of Science: Your Guide to Career Success

A new training for fellows and graduate students preparing for their professional career transition
Starting in April—Register now!

We will offer this certificate program by SciPhD as a four-day course in April and May at the NIH. Enrollment will be open for 40 NICHD trainees.

The course is designed to help academic scientists prepare for their next positions in academia, industry, or government—research or non-research. Students will experience hands-on learning of the business and social skills necessary to succeed in the professional world.

At present, the course is also offered at highly respected research institutes, such as New York University, University of California San Francisco, University of California Irvine, and the New York Academy of Sciences. Ninety percent of the people who applied for jobs while taking the course reported that The Business of Science helped them land an interview or job offer!

Throughout the program, you will have the exciting opportunity to:

  • Discover the many career paths in which having a PhD can make you a competitive job candidate
  • Develop your professional communication, mentoring, project management and negotiating skills, as well as your financial literacy
  • Research a job ad and identify the scientific, business, and social skills that the company is looking for
  • Develop a targeted resume that demonstrates your specific qualifications
  • Expand your science network
  • Take part in mock interviews that will prepare you for your own job searches

Course instructors will hone into common research practices that academic scientists are already familiar with, to help in the understanding of business concepts, and to demonstrate how your own experiences can mold you into a competitive job candidate.

The certificate program schedule: four, full-day sessions (9 AM – 5 PM) as follows:

Session 1

Business of Science, and CommunicationsMonday, April 1

Session 2

Developing People, Negotiating with your Advisor, and Building Effective Teams

Monday, April 15
Session 3

Applied Communication & Networking, and Financial Literacy

Friday, May 3
Session 4Negotiating Total Compensation & Leadership Styles, and Project Management, Wrap-up & GraduationMonday, May 20

If you would like to register, please contact Dr. Erin Walsh (erin.walsh@nih.gov).


Registration Open for Annual NICHD Fellows Meeting

The 15th Annual Meeting for Postdoctoral, Clinical, and Visiting Fellows and Graduate Students will take place on Friday, May 31, 2019. This year’s retreat will be held at the William F. Bolger Center in Potomac, MD. 

This meeting will allow you to step away from the lab for a day to network with your NICHD colleagues, participate in a career exploration session, and learn more about the recent developments in our intramural research programs. More details soon to follow.

Registration will open on Monday, March 25th at http://retreat.nichd.nih.gov.

Don’t forget to sign up early; space is limited to 110 fellows!


Are You A Budding Photographer? Check This Out

Vector illustration of a cameraThe NICHD Office of Education is seeking a fellow with photography experience for the upcoming fellows retreat. Your photography of the event will appear in the retreat recap issue of The NICHD Connection this summer. If you are interested, please contact Nicki Swan (jonasnic@mail.nih.gov) for additional details.


Communicate Your Research to the Public

Did you know? The NICHD Office of Communications posts intramural research findings on the institute’s social media accounts. They’re looking for fellows to discuss their work and pose for pictures in the lab, to offer a behind-the-scenes look at research. If you are interested or have biomedical art images to share, please contact Linda Huynh, PhD, at linda.huynh@nih.gov. Check out this profile of Dr. Keiko Ozato that Dr. Huynh recently authored!

If you have an accepted manuscript that is potentially newsworthy for the general public, please email the office’s press team at nichdpress@mail.nih.gov before the paper is published. Include a copy of the manuscript and a brief, plain language explanation on why the work is important.


NIH Grant Writing Course

Are you planning to apply for a NIH research grant in 2019? There are various application due dates for NIH grants, and we are offering a grant writing course that’s just for you!

In collaboration with three other institutes, we are offering an NIH Grant Writing Course for fellows this May. Led by Dr. Paula Gregory (Professor, Department of Genetics, Louisiana State University), this course will help students prepare a successful NIH grant proposal, with special emphasis on the career transition “K” grant series. With high reviews from past participants, NHGRI has offered this course for several years, and as a result, many of their fellows have been awarded NIH grants!                      

In a small-group setting, classes will combine didactic presentations with group discussions, assignments, and proposal writing. A distance learning component will allow you to submit writings between the in-person meetings and receive edits and valuable feedback. Participants will also conduct an NIH mock study section. During the process of scoring real grant applications, trainees will learn about the review process and the key aspects of a successful application.

Below is the schedule for this on-campus course (must attend all sessions):

  • May 2: 1 PM - 4 PM
  • May 3: 9 AM - 12 PM
  • May 23: 11 AM - 4 PM
  • May 24: 9 AM - 12 PM
  • May 30: 1 PM - 4 PM
  • May 31: 9 AM - 12 PM

There are four spots available for NICHD fellows. 

If you would like to join this course, please email Dr. Erin Walsh at erin.walsh@nih.gov and indicate which NIH grant you are planning to apply for.


Clinical and Translational Research Course for PhD Students and Postdocs

The annual Clinical and Translation Research Course at the NIH Clinical Center is accepting applications beginning February 1, 2019, for this summer’s course, which will run July 8–19, 2019.

This course is ideal for graduate students or postdocs who are interested in learning about how PhD scientists can contribute to translational research. No prior clinical experience is required.

For a course overview, eligibility requirements, application submission and selection process, please visit the course website (Clinical and Translation Research Course).


The 2020 FARE Competition for Intramural NIH Is Now Open

An opportunity to win a $1500 travel award

The FARE (Fellows Award for Research Excellence) competition provides recognition for outstanding scientific research. The 2020 winners will receive a $1500 travel award for a scientific meeting you plan to attend during the 2020 fiscal year. Eligible fellows may submit an abstract online starting February 13, 2019 through March 13, 5 p.m., at http://www2.training.nih.gov/transfer/fareapp.

The FARE 2020 competition is open to postdoctoral IRTAs, pre-IRTAs, visiting fellows, and other fellows with less than five years total of intramural postdoctoral experience. Abstracts will be evaluated anonymously based on scientific merit, originality, experimental design, and overall quality/presentation.

Find more information at https://www.training.nih.gov/felcom/fare.


Recruiting NICHD Postdoc & Graduate Student Judges for the 2019 NIH Postbac Poster Day!

Please contact Dr. Erin Walsh at erin.walsh@nih.gov if you would like to help judge the NICHD postbaccalaureate fellows' posters in May. We would like to recruit a few postdoc and graduate student judges to visit about five posters each, and attend a meeting to select the three “best poster” winners for 2019. This can be a great learning experience for both the judges and postbac trainees!

Postbac Poster Day will take place on Thursday, May 2, at the Natcher Conference Center (Building 45) from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. For more information about the event, please visit https://www.training.nih.gov/postbac_poster_day.


Genetics Policy and Genetics Education Fellowship Opportunities

From the American Society of Human Genetics website:

Applications are currently being accepted for the 2019 Genetics and Public Policy, and Genetics Education and Engagement fellowships. 

These fellowships are cosponsored by the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).

The Genetics and Public Policy Fellowship is designed as a bridge for genetics professionals wishing to transition to a policy career. This unique fellowship provides three separate types of policy experience: within NHGRI’s Policy and Program Analysis Branch; on Capitol Hill serving elected officials in the Legislative Branch; and at ASHG in the non-profit science advocacy sector.

The Genetics Education and Engagement fellowship program is designed for genetics professionals (or life scientists with substantial experience in genetics or genomics) who: have an advanced degree, are early in their careers, and are interested in developing and implementing genetic and genomic literacy, engagement, diversity, and/or professional development initiatives for audiences at all educational or career levels. The fellow will participate in rotations at the NHGRI and ASHG, and typically a third organization involved in genetic and genomic literacy, engagement, diversity, or professional development.

For more information, and to apply, visit Genetics & Public Policy Fellowship and Genetics Education & Engagement Fellowship.


Save the Dates: Applying to Medical or Graduate School Soon?

Lunchtime Sessions for Postbacs
Monday, March 11 & Wednesday, April 17 (12 noon – 1 p.m.)

The Office of Education is hosting two panel sessions to answer your questions about applying and interviewing for graduate or medical school.

On Monday, March 11, postbacs who were recently accepted into MD programs will share with you their application and interviewing experiences.

And on Wednesday, April 17, hear about the experiences of postbacs who were recently accepted into PhD or MD/PhD programs.

Topics may include: what to consider when selecting programs to apply to; tips for preparing a strong application; interviewing tips and strategies; key factors to consider when choosing a program; how to handle being wait-listed; and what panelists wish they had known or done differently during the process. Feel free to come prepared with your own questions!

To register, contact Dr. Erin Walsh (erin.walsh@nih.gov).


Save the Date: NIH 24th Annual “Take Your Child to Work Day”

Thursday, April 25, 9 AM – 4 PM

Bring your children in grades 1-12 and inspire them to explore career paths in science and public service at our nation's biomedical research agency. Together, you and your children can choose from over 100 activities, from exploring NIH labs and technology, to being a hands-on genetic researcher, to learning about the day-to-day life of social workers, chemists, dieticians, peer reviewers and more. Activities are available at on- and off-campus locations.

Children in grades 6-12 will also be able to register to volunteer to help with activities and may be able to earn Student Service Learning (SSL) credit, if offered by your school or school district. Please check with your school's SSL coordinator to find out if this volunteer opportunity meets your school's requirements. 

Encourage your co-workers, your supervisor, and your colleagues/friends to participate and mark your calendars. Key registration dates are listed below: 

March 21 at 12 noon: Pre-registration (Site opens for you to enter your child/ren's information and preview activities ONLY).

**This year's registration will be conducted in two phases.**

April 4 at 12 noon: Registration Phase 1 (Register child/ren for up to 2 limited space activities each).

April 10 at 12 noon: Registration Phase 2 (Register child/ren for up to 2 additional limited space activities for a maximum of 4 limited space activities).

More information will be sent out in March, so look for upcoming announcements via e-mails and Twitter.

The Office of Research Services, Program and Employee Services is the primary sponsor of TYCTWD 2019. Please e-mail any questions and comments to Take-Your-Child-To-Work@nih.gov.

If you are on Twitter, please follow @NIHEmplSrvcs for more TYCTWD information and announcements (by using #MyNIHDay), plus find out about all of the other employee services we provide to assist you with balancing work and family.

For more information and registration, please visit Upcoming OITE Events.

  • Improving Mentoring Relationships (March 6)
  • Translational Science Training Program (March 11 & 12) 
  • Grant Writing 101 (March 12) 
  • Postbac Seminar Series (March 14) 
  • Becoming a Resilient Scientist (March 15) 
  • Tune In and Take Care: Managing Stress and Promoting Wellbeing (March 20) 
  • Work Place Dynamics IV: Team Skills (March 20) 
  • Scientists Teaching Science Online 9-Week Pedagogy Course (March 25)

We are happy to welcome new fellows to the NICHD family. If you arrived recently to the NICHD and would like us to introduce you in our quarterly “Meet Our New Fellows” column, please contact our editor, Dr. Shana Spindler, at Shana.Spindler@gmail.com

Saikat outdoors with the Hudson River and New York City skyline behind him

Saikat Ghosh

Postdoctoral Fellow

Hometown: Kirnahar, West Bengal, India
PhD institution: Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Mohali, India
NICHD mentor: Dr. Juan Bonifacino
Area of research: I am interested to know how polarization takes place in neurons in light of membrane trafficking.

John outside with greenery, water, clouds, and a distant skyline in the background

John Millerhagen

Postbac Fellow

Hometown: Prior Lake, Minnesota
Undergraduate institution: University of Wisconsin, Madison
NICHD mentor: Dr. Amir Gandjbakche
Area of research: My research uses functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to discover more about the motor system in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, under the direction of Dr. Amir Gandjbakche, in the Section on Analytical and Functional Biophotonics.

Rep Report logoAs the current NICHD Basic Sciences Representative, I represent NICHD postdoctoral fellows at the Fellows Committee (FelCom) meeting every month and share the latest news with you here. Do you have a concern or question that you want brought up at the next meeting? Contact me at suna.gulay@nih.gov!


Your NIH-wide committee, FelCom, is coming up with creative ways to disseminate important information and social activity news:

  • Please check out Bethesda Postdocs and DMV Postdocs to connect with your fellow trainees.
  • Turning Fellow-L listserv into an “opt-out” system is in the works. This way, new postdocs will be automatically subscribed to the email list, and then have the chance to unsubscribe if they wish.
  • Want to learn more about FelCom and its functions? Join us for our next meeting on March 7, 4 p.m., Building 1, Room 151.

The Fellows Award for Research Excellence (FARE) 2020 competition closes on March 13. Don’t miss your chance to win this prestigious, $1500 travel award.

The Foundation for Advanced Education in Science (FAES) Health and Wellness Fair will take place on March 29, 11 a.m. - 2 p.m., in Building 10, FAES Terrace. Information on gym membership discounts, R&W classes, mindfulness meditation classes, and massage therapy will be available.

Mark your calendars for the 12th Annual NIH Career Symposium on May 10, 2019. Register for this and other OITE events at the Upcoming Events page.

Looking to add leadership and/or outreach experience to your resume? Want to serve your community while improving your soft skills? Here are a few opportunities for you:

  • FelCom Social and Outreach Subcommittee (SOS) is looking for new members. Email co-chair Sarah Hawes with the subject line “SOS membership” if interested.
  • The National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) currently has a few opportunities to get involved and help your fellow trainees nationwide. Contact FelCom’s NPA liaison Helena Fabryova to learn about these.

Have a happy and productive month!

By Anshika Jain, PhD

We have several skills up our sleeves as researchers; yet, we often struggle to market ourselves when it comes to a job search. Kelly Leonard, CEO of Taylor-Leonard Corporation, conducted a three-hour seminar on December 14, 2018, to educate fellows about the power of LinkedIn and its successful use for career development. As a consultant, she has helped several businesses leverage LinkedIn to advance their professional brands and communicate effectively with their ideal market. 

According to Ms. Leonard, LinkedIn is important—48% of recruiters post jobs on LinkedIn exclusively. She explained that recruiters prefer candidates with a complete profile, as this offers the recruiters an opportunity to learn more about a candidate, beyond what is submitted on a resume. To this end, she recommended a series of steps to update your LinkedIn profile.

Ms. Leonard emphasized the significance of “brand” and said that each section in your profile helps to build your identification and network. It is therefore important to have a strong profile header, a background or summary, and a list of your experiences in chronological order. While the categories of education, organizations, and certifications have their own significance, she stressed that having an exhaustive list of skills (at least 50) and expertise makes it easier for your profile to pop up in a recruiter’s search. Furthermore, recommendations and endorsements add credibility to your profile and reflect your network. She also mentioned that while endorsements have “limited value,” they can be viewed as “soft recommendations.” However, giving and getting recommendations add more value to your profile.

Ms. Leonard spent a significant amount of time on customizing the profile header, as this block makes the first impression. She mentioned that what makes your profile attractive is a professional headshot, a background banner (a graphic that describes your profession to engage the recruiter at one glance), and a short, compelling headline. Include your contact and personal information, along with your personalized LinkedIn URL. It is important to have an effective summary with a value-based headline. This includes a two or three paragraph summary highlighting your accomplishments. In Ms. Leonard’s words, an effective summary communicates how you can save money, make money, create efficiencies, solve problems, and bring the company peace of mind.

Ms. Leonard also emphasized the importance of joining groups and connecting with group owners and members on LinkedIn. She explained that groups are a focused networking tool, a great source of information, an outlet to share your knowledge and expertise, and a source for the next opportunity. A group ownership can provide you a great way to build your community.

Lastly, Ms. Leonard advised us to learn about Boolean search logic for LinkedIn advanced searches (using keywords with the conjunctions AND, NOT, and OR—just like you would in PubMed). By doing so, you can create search alerts to get updates from target industries. With a little maintenance and discipline, you can adopt an operating rhythm to keep your LinkedIn network updated and working for you.

To sum it up, here are the key takeaways from the workshop:

  1. Ensure your profile is 100% complete
  2. Optimize your profile
  3. Create advanced searches—focus on jobs and people
  4. Compile a list of organizations/companies to “follow”
  5. Adopt an operating rhythm
  6. Stay encouraged!

By Katie Wendover

The words “you can do it” served as a consistent message for those gathered on January 7, 2019, at the NICHD Annual Postbac Course to hear Dr. April Walker speak about a career in family medicine. Dr. Walker trained in a medical degree (MD) program at Howard University and said she knew she wanted to go into family medicine since she was in medical school. Currently, Dr. Walker works as a primary care physician for Unity Health Care and serves as the Regional Director of Medical Education for the A.T. Still University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona (ATSU-SOMA). During the workshop, she discussed the day-to-day activities of a primary care physician and why she pursued a career in family medicine.

Primary care physicians (PCPs) at Unity Health Center see an average of 22 patients for 15 minutes each during a work day. This schedule is not the only thing that makes for a demanding workload; as Dr. Walker said, “anything can happen at any moment.” However, the stresses of her job have not diminished Dr. Walker’s love for her profession, as she remarked to the postbac fellow attendees, “I think everyone should do family medicine!”

In a typical day at the clinic, staff at the Unity Health Care center begin their shift with an 8 a.m. huddle. At that time, they complete patient rounds, during which members of the clinical team can talk about concerns they have for certain patients. Afterwards, PCPs see patients until 4 p.m., when they have their last appointments and take care of unfinished work before the clinic switches to its urgent care services at 5 p.m. Among the most common cases at the health center are physical exams, colds, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, asthma, strep throat, and ear infections. When talking about her experiences, Dr. Walker described that one of the benefits to a career in family medicine is the variety of activities one gets to do.

Why pursue a career in family medicine? Working in a community clinic provides vital outreach to people in need of care. The patients seen by Unity Health Care have often been dismissed by other physicians and, as Dr. Walker says, “[we] are the listening ear.” According to Dr. Walker, the rewards of practicing in family medicine include mentoring, saving lives, being a “role model for your community,” or even just receiving a hug and a smile.

It’s a demanding profession, but in return, a primary care physician has flexibility with one’s schedule and roles that extend beyond doctor, into professor, therapist, team leader, director and much more. In the words of Dr. Walker, “you can do it...it’s just about time management.”

Dr. Walker welcomes any questions directed to her email at awalker@unityhealthcare.org and said to be on the lookout for a shadowing program in the area through ATSU-SOMA.

Dr. Kate Monzo is a teaching fellow for the Integrated Life Sciences program at the University of Maryland (UMD) and a biology teacher at Montgomery College (MC). Before transitioning into a teaching career, Dr. Monzo worked in Dr. Brant Weinstein’s lab for three years—from 2010 to 2013—as a postdoctoral fellow. While there, she studied mechanisms of lumen formation in sprouting angiogenesis in zebrafish. Check out our Q&A with Dr. Monzo to learn more about her post-NICHD career:

Kate Monzo with 5 of her students in front of a whiteboard with scientific diagrams

Dr. Kate Monzo (third from left, top row) with her students in the Integrated Life Sciences program at the University of Maryland, College Park

After your postdoctoral work, tell us about your next career move. What was the path you took into a teaching career?

I am not unlike many scientists who have faced the challenges of starting a family and continuing research. I made the decision to leave the bench when we decided to have a second child. Although I did not want to commit to a full-time position, I wanted to stay connected to scientific research in a career that allowed for flexibility.  

My first part-time position was designing and teaching with a team of postdocs at the UMD. We were specifically hired by the Integrated Life Sciences (ILS) program, which is an undergraduate biological sciences-focused Living and Learning Program in the Honors College. ILS students live and take core classes together for their first two years, and most have aspirations to attend graduate or medical school. I have been an ILS teaching fellow since 2013, teaching the cell biology and now genetics and genomics courses.  

As my children are getting older, my schedule is opening up to teach more courses. Last year, I also started teaching Principles of Biology at the MC Rockville Campus.

You have the unique experience of lecturing at a four-year research university and a community college. For fellows who are interested in teaching at either of these venues, can you describe the similarities and differences between the two? What aspects do you like or dislike about each teaching environment?

In my experience, both ILS at UMD and the Biology Department at MC want their entire faculty to feel supported, which is pretty special. The financial compensation is competitive for the area, and the facilities are top notch. Most importantly for me, collaboration between faculty is encouraged at both venues.

Our ILS students are incredibly high achieving. Many have worked in research labs before they entered university (maybe in some of your labs!). It is so much fun, but often exhausting working with highly motivated students. Sometimes we need to slow down to make sure that everyone deeply understands, and has not simply memorized the basics. The classes are larger, so it takes extra effort to get to know the students personally. 

I have always wanted to work with students at the community college level. Although there can be unique challenges to teaching students who have different out-of-school pressures (work, family care, food insecurity), teaching at MC isn’t too much different from teaching at the university. The main difference is recognizing that many students don’t have a solid foundation of chemistry or biology from high school. So, we end up spending a bit more time working on that foundation. Having small class sizes is essential for getting to know how to best serve the students. 

The number one take away I have after teaching for an honors program at a major university and for a community college is that every single student deserves quality, committed educators. For fellows who are interested in teaching in either venue, they should be prepared to be flexible, as each group of students brings a unique set of challenges and strengths.

What’s your typical day like?

I have two young children, so my day typically begins with overseeing packing of backpacks and lunches and making sure everyone takes a trip to the bathroom. 

One aspect of teaching that has been important to my family is the flexibility. I am physically on campus a couple days a week while my children are at school. Preparations for class activities, lectures, exam writing, etc usually happens at night, once everyone has settled in. 

I try to be very accessible to students, so I answer emails throughout the day as needed. Some of our MC students have challenging schedules or family commitments that make it difficult for them to attend office hours or tutoring sessions. I try to offer these students alternate times to meet on campus or online. 

When did you start thinking about going into teaching?

As a graduate student, I knew I wanted to teach or at least that I would really enjoy the teaching aspect of being a research scientist. I remember listening to another postdoc comment about how naïve we all were in grad school. The idea that we would all go on to have our own research labs was absurd. There just wasn’t enough money and not all of us had good ideas. “I guess I could just teach,” someone said with a hint of shame. I remember feeling completely offended and sympathetic at the same time. 

Something changed once I starting to learn more about the process of learning and how important effective teaching can be. Once I realized and took to heart that teaching wasn’t a “consolation prize” for a failed scientist, I committed to being an educator (at least part-time at first).

How did you find your positions?

I was fortunate to have participated in a teaching workshop* for NICHD fellows, hosted by Dr. Boots Quimby of the ILS Program at UMD. Dr. Quimby invited five postdoc fellows to design a flipped honors-level cell biology course for ILS. Taking on this course was a unique opportunity for us, as not many young scientists are given opportunities to develop new courses. Our goal was to create a course that was based on data analysis and problem solving. We recorded lectures for the students to study on their own time, then guided them through problem-solving activities based on real data. It was quite a challenge, but we all worked well together and were excited to be part of a new project.

I was also fortunate to have developed a close relationship with the students and administrators of ILS and was offered an opportunity to teach and modify the course on my own. All together, I taught the honors cell biology course for five semesters. This semester, I am teaching the honors genetics and genomics course for ILS.

Please describe the application/hiring process. Did it take a long time?

Again, I have been incredibly fortunate and often feel I was at the right place at the right time, especially with my ILS position. I submitted an application for a part-time position at MC at the end of winter break last year, expecting to be put into a pool of candidates for the following fall. I was surprised to be called in for an interview the next week. The Biology Department at MC offers a rigorous program, and from what I understand, they are interested in applicants who have some teaching experience. So even though I slipped in at the right time, it definitely helped that I had some teaching experience.

Which skill sets from the lab best apply to teaching? 

I don’t think I was especially good at it at the time, but having experience giving an engaging and interactive lab meeting is a great tool to have in your teaching toolkit. As scientists, we learn how to give a talk about our specific research interests. I always found the best talks were able to break down complicated topics into digestible pieces. These are the talks that made me ask questions or try to incorporate the topic into my own research. That’s what we want to do for our students!

Experience mentoring students in the research setting has also been useful. Setting attainable goals and deadlines for your students is a skill that comes with practice. I am still working on this for my students and myself!

What activities or resources at the NIH helped prepare you for your career transition?

I attended a few teaching workshops offered through the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) and the NICHD Office of Education. I also met with career counselors at NIH to be sure that my move away from the bench was the best route for me. Collectively, the resources provided by NIH and the flexibility offered by my advisor were essential for helping me move on. As I mentioned above, I am so grateful for being introduced to ILS through the teaching workshop.

What do you find most exciting about being a teacher?

At the beginning of the semester I am always excited about the new people I am going to meet. I am so comforted by the thought that many of the students I have the opportunity to teach are going to go on to do incredible things.

One of the other aspects of teaching that I really enjoy is when I sit down to design a new activity or lesson plan. Finding the best way to present a concept is incredibly rewarding.

What do you find most challenging?

As much as I love it, finding the time to work on course design is challenging, and it takes a lot of trial and error. Because I only teach one course a semester, I often have to wait until the next semester to try new ideas.  

Do you have any advice for fellows who are thinking about entering a similar career field?

Try to be in the right place at the right time? Just kidding.

Before you apply for teaching positions, consider your motivations. Are you interested in teaching as a consolation prize? If so, it may not be the right field for you.  

If you are truly interested in teaching, take advantage of all the opportunities NIH has to offer. If you are able to go to scientific meetings, try to attend sessions on pedagogy. There is a great teaching conference, the Lilly Conference on Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning**, in Bethesda at the end of May.

Do what you can to practice writing and implementing short lesson plans. Be kind to yourself if your first experiences don’t go as well as planned. Putting lesson plans into practice takes a lot of practice.

This year’s Lilly Conference: Designing Effective Teaching will take place May 30–June 2.

For more information, visit: https://www.lillyconferences-md.com.

Last year the Office of Education sponsored two NICHD postdocs to attend.

Contact Dr. Erin Walsh (erin.walsh@nih.gov) if you are interested in attending this training activity.

Is it ok if current NICHD fellows contact you with questions?

Of course! I am always willing to share my experiences: kmonzo@gmail.com.


* The NICHD Connection has covered several years of Dr. Quimby’s teaching workshops. Check them out below:

**If you are interested in the Lilly Conference, check out the following article from our “Interesting Opportunity” column in the August 2017 issue of The NICHD Connection.

Editor's Note: A flipped classroom emphasizes student learning outside of the classroom prior to the course meeting. Classroom time is reserved for student interaction and the exploration of concepts in greater depth, rather than the initial presentation of content.

We have a whopper of an issue for you this month, so I’ll keep my sentiments short and sweet.

I love when we have a theme that includes something for everyone, so why not make the theme something for everyone? For fellows interested in gaining pedagogical skills—that’s just a fancy way of saying teaching experience—check out our Q&A with Dr. Kate Monzo, biology lecturer for the University of Maryland and Montgomery College. During our interview, Dr. Monzo recounts several intramural opportunities that helped her enter a teaching career and obtain the work-life balance she was seeking.

Not all fellows will enter a career that includes teaching, or even research. If you are a postbac considering a clinical career, do you know what kind of medicine you’d like to pursue? Postbac Katie Wendover recaps the NICHD Annual Postbac Course session “Pursuing a Career in Family Medicine.” Through her recap, you’ll gain insight into a day in the life of a primary care physician and learn about the benefits of a career in family medicine. 

If neither of the previous two articles meets your needs, then you might be in luck with our third piece this month. Postdoc Anshika Jain recaps the Planning and Career Exploration (PACE) workshop “Leveraging LinkedIn for Career Success.” A diverse range of companies utilize LinkedIn to find qualified applicants for open positions. Make yourself stand out with the tips covered in this helpful workshop recap.

I’ll leave you to it! 

Your Editor in Chief,
Shana R. Spindler, PhD

Question or comments? We love to hear from you. Please contact our editor at Shana.Spindler@gmail.com.