By Nickolas “Nick” Chu
Covid-19 and the resulting stay-at-home orders have presented trainees with setbacks to their research endeavors, especially for benchwork-dependent projects. However, time away from the lab has afforded us with an amount of downtime that some haven’t experienced since high school. To capitalize on the time at home, some postbacs have started to explore scientific careers outside of the lab. I interviewed my peers Lily Nguyen and Frances Fernando who are doing just that, to jump start my own career exploration. They have agreed to share their stories with the broader NICHD community to connect with other trainees in the same boat.
Postbac fellow Lily Nguyen has taken advantage of this time to explore careers in science policy. Like many who aim to enter graduate school, Lily had been working under the assumption that her career path would lead her to work in academia. Without a strong interest in becoming a PI, however, she attended this summer’s OITE career fair to explore other options.
Lily was drawn to the career panels related to science communication and policy—having played an active role in student government during her time in college. From Lily’s experience in student government, she discovered her excitement in writing policies to enact systemic change. By listening to the panels and following up with informational interviews, she felt reassured that individuals with a background in science are not confined to research or benchwork.
Encouraged by the possibility of combining her interests in science research and policy, Lily is developing skills important for a career in science policy. Currently, she writes articles for the NIH Catalyst in order to improve her scientific writing skills.
One of the NICHD Connection’s own contributors, Frances Fernando, has also taken the opportunity to explore her career options. Frances has always had an interest in global health and had wanted to be a physician since childhood. Now, during the worst public health crisis in recent history, she has reevaluated her goals. Her consistent interest in multidisciplinary approaches to problem solving coupled with her growing interest in health systems has set her on a new path towards global health program development.
Frances views the degree to which the pandemic has afflicted the US as “a symptom of major issues in our health system.” She feels that people are most aware of public health’s role in society when systems are broken, with dire consequences for society’s wellbeing. Frances now sets her sights on acquiring a Doctor of Public Health in order to better develop our health systems.
My own career exploration during this pandemic is what inspired me to write this article. Since I was young, I have been fascinated by science and research. And like Lily and many others who plan to go to graduate school, I assumed I would eventually work in academia. I enjoy doing research, teaching others, and sharing my excitement for discovery. However, I am also interested in areas that may make me better suited for a career outside of a lab setting.
While exploring different careers, I have considered becoming a psychologist or psychiatrist because I enjoy working with people and helping them through their problems. However, my love for learning and discovery nudged me towards a career in research. Now, with more free time available to me, I have been reflecting on my interests and career goals.
I have realized that I enjoy regularly working in teams and communicating with others. I also enjoy teaching, learning, and problem solving. To find alternative careers that may better combine my interests, I am currently exploring opportunities related to science communication, writing, and career counseling. While I haven’t settled on a specific goal just yet, it’s comforting to know that others like me are rewriting their futures too.