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What inspires you? 

For some NICHD trainees, the answer to that question is the excitement of being the first person to know something. For others, the answer involves seeing how research impacts society. For me, I realized it was the wrong question. It’s not what, but instead who, that inspires me. 

Every year, I draw an enormous amount of inspiration from the career panelists during the annual meeting for NICHD fellows. I love hearing about the winding career paths that begin in one direction, only to twist and turn and eventually lead somewhere unanticipated but utterly fulfilling. These scientists, who find passion in what they do, are inspiring. We have captured a snapshot of this in our annual Q&As with the retreat career panelists. Learn about what they do and why they enjoy it in “Career Speaker Highlights from the 17th Annual Fellows Retreat.” Continue to the career keynote recap, written by postbac Ashley Pratt, to learn about opportunities and strategies for a successful career in science. 

Another source of inspiration is each other—your current colleagues in the NICHD training program. Leadership sees this too, and it was evident in this year’s NICHD Intramural Scientific Retreat. Check out the many training-related highlights from the day. 

Now that you’re all inspired, visit this month’s Rep Report and November announcements to learn about the research and career development activities designed to help you succeed on your own career journey—wherever it may take you. 

Your Editor in Chief,
Shana R. Spindler, PhD

This newsletter is for NICHD fellows and by NICHD fellows. We want to hear from you! Please send your questions, comments, and ideas to our editor at 

NICHD fellows joined together virtually on September 29, 2022, to attend the 17th Annual Meeting for Postdoctoral, Clinical, and Visiting Fellows and Graduate Students. During the career panel break-out sessions, fellows had the opportunity to rotate through career panels on research programs in academia and government, industry, and science administration. We followed up with career panel speakers to capture important information about their career fields, their favorite career features, and the most frequently asked questions during the retreat. Check back next month for the full retreat recap!

Read more about this year’s career panelists on the 17th Annual Fellows Retreat Website!

Research Programs in Academia and Government

Yvette Yien, PhD

Associate Professor, Department of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

Yvette Yien

Yvette Yien, PhD

What does someone in your career field do?

I think “academic PI” is a capsule term that is used to describe such a diverse range of jobs. While “teaching, research, and service” are the three legs of every academic career, the amount of time an individual spends in each  varies greatly—everyone almost seems to have a different job. In my current position, I spend the vast majority of time on research (benchwork, writing, collaborations) and mentoring my lab. Administrative paperwork also takes up time.

What is your favorite feature about your career?

Without doubt, the friends, trainees, and colleagues that comprise the academic community. While experiments only work a small percentage of the time, I always get much joy and support from  the people I work with!

What was the most common question asked about your career during the retreat?

Paraphrased: How do I get a PI job and stand out in this job market? My answer: It really depends on the position and if you mesh with the position. In general, many institutions are looking for someone who is doing interesting science and can communicate how it will advance the field. Your work should be feasible in the context of the institution, and your skills. At the in-person interview, we are all looking for a strong colleague and collaborator. While grants and “high-impact” papers certainly get you noticed, they are not required. Rather, having a unique perspective on your field and knowing how you will tackle scientific challenges with rigor is essential.

Jason Wester, PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Neuroscience, Ohio State University College of Medicine

Jason Wester

Jason Wester, PhD

What does someone in your career field do?

I am a tenure-track assistant professor in a medical school, so most of my time is devoted to overseeing the lab, managing on-going research projects, mentoring graduate students, and writing grants. But I also have responsibilities in formal teaching and service (university and department committees, grant review, manuscript review, etcetera).

What is your favorite feature about your career?

It’s an amazing opportunity to be given the resources and freedom to build a research program entirely of your own design. It’s also very rewarding to recruit talented new lab members and watch them succeed and grow as scientists.

What was the most common question asked about your career during the retreat?

There was a lot of interest in what academic search committees are looking for in a candidate and how to approach the job search. In general, departments want to hire someone who can clearly articulate why their research program is exciting (not just that there is a gap in knowledge somewhere, but why we really need to fill it) and that they have a practical plan to build and execute it (this may sound cliché, but it’s hard to do). Many also want to find faculty who will bring new questions and approaches that are underrepresented within the department, while at the same time being a good fit with the existing faculty to facilitate collaborations that enhance on-going research. My approach to the job search was to carefully research the department for each job ad, and genuinely ask myself if I thought it was possible to meet those two criteria before applying.


Monica Chiaramonte, PhD

Director, Clinical Regulatory Writing, AstraZeneca

Monica Chiaramonte

Monica Chiaramonte, PhD

What does someone in your career field do? 

In my career field, I design, write, and manage scientific and medical regulatory content. I participate in the preparation of documents reporting results from clinical trials. 

What is your favorite feature about your career?

The favorite feature of my career is the chance to work in a multidisciplinary team comprising several aspects of the drug development process, with the main goal of helping patients, and always putting science first. 

What was the most common question asked about your career during the retreat?

Question: What shocked or surprised you the most moving from academia to industry?

My answer: 1) The inherent collaborative nature of the teams and the projects is still one of the most rewarding things I have found in industry, and I’m not sure I was fully aware this would be the case. All functional areas interconnecting and working towards one goal; when we are all in sync, it’s just fantastic.

2) I was surprised how much it meant to me that the daily work, even the smallest thing you do, has such relevant significance in the scheme of helping patients and saving lives. That kind of motivation keeps you going, even during the most pressing challenges.

Hannah Haley, PhD

Scientist, RAPT Therapeutics

Hannah Haley

Hannah Haley, PhD

What does someone in your career field do?

Medicinal chemists design and synthesize novel small molecules with the goal of discovering new therapeutics for patients. 

What is your favorite feature about your career?

It is exciting that people in my career can make very tangible impacts on the health and lives of others through our research. Additionally, my position requires constant learning, problem solving, creativity, and flexibility, which makes each day exciting.  

What was the most common question asked about your career during the retreat?

Question: How is working in the biotech industry different from working in an academic setting?

My answer: Surprisingly, there are more similarities between my role in industry and the positions I held in academia (as a graduate student and postdoc) than there are differences. My main responsibilities still include designing new compounds and routes to synthesize those compounds, interpreting data, mentoring other scientists, and working with my colleagues to move our program forward. Some of the notable differences in industry include generally tighter timelines to finish a project and consideration of business interests in project selection. 

Mariano Russo, PhD

Bioinformatician, SOPHiA Genetics

Mariano Russo

Mariano Russo, PhD

What does someone in your career field do?

A bioinformatician develops pipelines for processing and analysis of omics datasets (genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics). This includes higher level visualization and applications in the context of biological questions.

What is your favorite feature about your career?

Exploring a dataset and visualizing a certain pattern to see how it fits with my current understanding of that problem. This could range anywhere from coverage or variant distributions to genomic biomarkers responding to different treatments.

What was the most common question asked about your career during the retreat?

Question: How does someone become a bioinformatician?

My answer: A bioinformatician combines programming skills and biological insight, therefore you need to develop both in whichever order and mechanism works best for you. For example, there are many resources out there to learn data science skills, such as in R or Python, and combine them with higher level degrees in the field of your choice. Practice and years of experience are important to develop these two disciplines together and then apply them in biological context for fine tuning.

Science Administration

Una Grewal, PhD

Director, Division of Population Health Research, NICHD

Una Grewal

Una Grewal, PhD

What does someone in your career field do?

As the Director of the Intramural Division of Population Health Research (DiPHR), I provide leadership to 1) establish and implement the scientific mission, goals and priorities of the Division in alignment with those of the NICHD and the NIH; 2) identify the needs and concerns of the branches and members of the Division; 3) make strategic decisions about operations, policies, and resources; 4) introduce programs, protocols, and processes that facilitate opportunities and productivity of everyone in the Division; 5) ensure ongoing activities function smoothly; and 6) anticipate, troubleshoot, and mitigate problems. Alongside these responsibilities, my research focuses on perinatal epidemiology, including fetal growth, nutrition, and birth defects.

What is your favorite feature about your career? 

I enjoy the aspirational nature of contemplating the research priorities of the Division—what should we study, why, and how? Seeking to determine the big questions in reproductive, perinatal, and adolescent health that we want to answer in the next five to 10 years is both challenging and invigorating. In addition to this strategic thinking, I am motivated by our trainees—nurturing the next generation of population health scientists is very fulfilling. 

What was the most common question asked about your career during the retreat?

“What does your typical day look like?” In my role, I have found that there is no such thing as a “typical day.” I do have certain routine activities, such as meetings that occur at the same time every week. Otherwise, my schedule tends to vary a lot from day to day. Some days unfold as planned, where I spend my time on science administration and my own research. On other days, my attention can be occupied entirely by a crisis of the moment. Flexibility, and the ability to pivot on short notice, are essential requirements of the position.

Suna Gulay, PhD

Technology Transfer and Patent Specialist, NCI 

Suna Gulay

Suna Gulay, PhD

What does someone in your career field do?

Technology transfer managers work at the intersection of science, business, and law. Specifically, we 1) help scientists gain access to valuable, proprietary research tools, devices, diagnostics, and therapeutics from outside entities via transactional and collaborative agreements and 2) facilitate further development of academic inventions and the eventual public availability of the end products via patenting and licensing.

What is your favorite feature about your career?

My favorite feature of technology transfer is the interactions with various stakeholders, such as scientists, lawyers, patent examiners, and industry business development contacts. I gain a lot from the different perspectives held by each stakeholder, whom I did not have a lot of access to previously as a bench scientist.

What was the most common question asked about your career during the retreat? 

One question that stood out was: “What are the skillsets necessary for an entry level position in your line of work?” The panel answers focused on developing hard skills, such as seeking detail positions or joining relevant training programs. For my specific line of work, I highly recommend NCI's Technology Transfer Ambassadors program, FAES classes on technology transfer, and NIH technology transfer fellowship positions (provided by NCI or NIAID). Most scientists are also eligible to take the Patent Bar Examination, although this is not a necessary certification for finding a job in this arena. Certain soft skills are absolutely crucial for a career in technology transfer, and these were not mentioned in detail during the retreat. Attention to detail, meeting deadlines, working efficiently in a team, written and oral communication skills, problem solving skills, decision making skills are all essential to technology transfer, and likely to other science administration career paths. Luckily, many scientists already possess these skills, but these are important to point out in application materials and during interviews.

Richa Lomash, PhD

Scientific Project Manager, Division of Preclinical Therapeutics, NCATS

Richa Lomash

Richa Lomash, PhD

What does someone in your career field do?

I manage preclinical drug development projects. This involves continuous engagement with several partners such as researchers, subject matter experts, clinicians, contract research organizations, regulatory affairs specialists, and strategic alliance groups. We manage logistics, resources, and most importantly project communications, to ensure proper development and a smooth transition of a lead candidate to a drug that can be used for clinical testing in humans. 

What is your favorite feature about your career? 

Seeing that I can utilize my scientific training to potentially benefit human health is very humbling. 

What was the most common question asked about your career during the retreat?

Question: What steps are needed to improve your resume for a non-bench role?

My answer: Explore different opportunities and volunteer to enhance your soft skills. These could be as simple as mentoring, helping to organize a seminar series or career panel, or volunteering at the NIH Career Symposium.

Elena Schwartz, PhD

Program Director, Coordinating Center for Clinical Trials, NCI

Elena Schwartz

Elena Schwartz, PhD

What does someone in your career field do?

Program directors (PDs) manage diversified grant portfolios, including individual and institutional grants, create new funding opportunities, review progress reports, and communicate with the principal investigators on grant applications. Also, PDs have opportunities to conduct various scientific meetings and workshops, write review papers, manage the clinical trials review process, and many other tasks. 

What is your favorite feature about your career? 

I enjoy reviewing the portfolio of research directions in my area of interest and identifying a gap. Then, being able to contribute to filling this gap with new funding opportunities, clinical trials, training, etcetera.

What was the most common question asked about your career during the retreat? 

Question: What does your typical day look like?

My answer: I have a 30%+10% rule. 30% of my daily schedule is regular meetings, the next 30% is communication with my team and planned tasks, and the last 30% is any instantaneous tasks that require my immediate attention. The last 10% is any exciting activity I choose based on my scientific and professional interests. This could be scientific meetings, lectures, training, and other fun activities.

Industry is a constantly evolving landscape. This is something that Lauren Celano reiterated throughout her afternoon career keynote presentation at the 17th Annual Meeting of Postdoctoral, Clinical and Visiting Fellows, and Graduate students on September 29, 2022. Starting with the hard truths, Lauren did not shy away from acknowledging that many companies are undergoing layoffs, mergers, and other major changes right now. In light of this information, however, she asserted that a changing landscape also brings new opportunities and a diversified job market that can complement many interests and skills. An important first step, Lauren assured us, is to pinpoint the work that you find fulfilling. She insisted that from this point on, proactivity will become your friend.

Lauren emphasized features of research training, particularly within the NIH, that can make someone a desirable candidate in industry—as well as government, communications, and many other fields outside of academia. She pointed out that NICHD trainees have access to unique technology, scientific expertise, skill development opportunities, and networks within the research community. These all offer transferable advantages for roles in consulting, biotechnology, drug development, data analytics, business development, and more. 

A common barrier, Lauren noted, is a lack of awareness surrounding roles that need to be filled. Because the options are vast, narrowing down your career search can be daunting. Lauren encouraged NICHD trainees to utilize online resources, lean on networks, and explore all opportunities to learn about different careers to find specific job titles and descriptions that suit personal interests. She added that maintaining a detailed LinkedIn profile, connecting with professionals in your desired career path, and talking to people (like Lauren) doesn’t hurt, either.

During the fully virtual Intramural Scientific Retreat on September 20, 2022, NICHD Director Diana Bianchi, MD, and Acting Scientific Director Chris McBain, PhD, offered welcoming remarks that emphasized NICHD’s support of all intramural scientists—from early-stage trainees to senior level investigators. This sentiment was echoed throughout the broad array of speakers, including pre- and postdoctoral fellows, staff scientists, and tenure-track and tenured investigators. Below you will find several training-related highlights from the daylong event.

Congratulations to the following trainees who were selected and delivered a Scientific Retreat oral presentation:

  • Jorge Gomez-Deza, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Unit on the Development of Neurodegeneration
    “Blocking mitochondrial fission prevents human neuronal death after injury”
  • Nathan Williamson, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Section on Quantitative Imaging and Tissue Sciences
    “Water exchange rates measure tissue viability and homeostasis”
  • Kristen Polinski, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Epidemiology Branch, DiPHR
    “Epigenetic gestational age and the relationship with developmental milestones in early childhood”
  • Shreeta Chakraborty, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Unit on Genome Structure and Regulation
    “Impact of chromatin organization in gene regulation during embryonic development”
  • Jeremie Oliver, Graduate Student, Section on Molecules and Therapies for Craniofacial and Dental Disorders 
    “Spatiotemporal Resolution of Embryonic Palate Osteogenesis”
  • Rachel Cosby, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Section on Mammalian Development and Evolution
    “Modeling loss of the intellectual disability associated gene THAP7 in vertebrates”
  • Huang Lin, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Biostatistics and Bioinformatics Branch, DiPHR
    “Sparse estimation of correlations among microbiomes (SECOM)”

This year’s Mentor of the Year recipients include Laura Pillay, PhD, former postdoctoral fellow in the Weinstein laboratory, and Edwina Yeung, PhD, senior investigator in the Epidemiology Branch. Drs. Pillay and Yeung offered a few words of thanks during the retreat: 

Dr. Laura Pillay, Fellow Mentor of the Year

“Thank you to my former trainees. This means the world to me. My overreaching objective when I’m mentoring is to have a positive impact on my trainees’ lives, and hopefully winning this award means that I’ve been successful in that. I’ve been incredibly privileged to have benefited from excellent mentorship, especially at the NIH, so I’d like to thank my postdoc mentor, Dr. Brant Weinstein, who has had a positive impact on my life. I’d also like to thank my informal mentors at NICHD, Drs. Burgess, Rogers, and Farrell, who also had a positive impact…I plan to pay it forward and continue to develop my own mentoring skills in my new position* with my own trainees.”

*Editor’s note: Dr. Pillay is now an assistant professor at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.

Dr. Edwina Yeung, Investigator Mentor of the Year

“This is a wonderful surprise, and I echo what has already been said. It is such privilege to mentor a diverse number of fellows here at NIH. These past three years have not been easy. [My trainees] think I did a lot, but really, they motivated me and encouraged me through this as well. Thank you so much for this award.”

For the first time, the NICHD Scientific Retreat included a postbac BINGO competition to welcome and encourage postbac fellow attendance. Postbacs were given a series of scientific terms to listen for during the oral presentations—such as “ablation experiment” or “western blot”—and a corresponding game to play along. Congratulations to the first-ever winners of the NICHD Scientific Retreat BINGO:

  • Avani Modak (Farrell Lab)
  • Cat Rogers (Rogers Lab)
  • Celia Martinez-Aceves (Weinstein Lab)
  • Grace Biddle (Burgess Lab) 
  • Mary Elmore Demott (Macfarlan Lab)

Finally, a big thank you to NICHD postdoctoral fellows Drs. Julia Porth and Thien Nguyen for serving on the NICHD Scientific Retreat Organizing Committee and representing the training population during the retreat planning process.

Rep Report logoAs the current NICHD Basic Sciences Institutes and Centers (IC) Representative, I represent NICHD postdoctoral fellows at the NIH 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, Dr. Hyo Won Ahn, at

Extension policy for postdoctoral fellows: Dr. Lori Conlan, Director of the Office of Postdoctoral Services at the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE), wants to remind all postdocs about the 6th and 7th year extension policy, which can be found here. This temporary policy applies to all IRTA/CRTA/Visiting Fellows and is valid until July 2024. Please direct your questions to Dr. Conlan at

  • This extension will cover both the 6th and 7th year
  • The minimum timeline for these approvals is nine months, so start this paperwork immediately after starting your 5th year if you plan to apply
  • You still cannot be a trainee at the NIH for more than a total of eight years. This means that your combined time as an IRTA/CRTA/VF plus Research Fellow cannot exceed eight years without seeking an exceptional extension 
  • The Division of International Services (DIS) requests that Visiting Fellows submit extensions and other documents ahead of time

FelCom has open liaison positions! Please submit a statement of interest to both FelCom Co-Chairs Vasty Osei Amponsa ( and Marja Brolinson ( if you are interested in running for one of the following positions:

The Women Scientists Advisors Committee (WSA) invites you to join the 2022 Anita B. Roberts Lecture, a series that highlights the outstanding research achievements of women scientists in the NIH Intramural Research Program and honors the role of Dr. Anita Roberts as an exceptional mentor and scientist.

  • Speaker: Brigitte Widemann, MD, Senior Investigator and Chief of the Pediatric Oncology Branch, Center for Cancer Research, NCI
  • Title: “Advancing the Development of Effective Therapies for Children and Adults with Rare Tumors”
  • Date: November 3, 11 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
  • Videocast:

The NIH Child Care Board meeting will take place on November 3, 10 a.m.–12 p.m. All are welcome. For more information, please contact Sila Ataca (

The Wednesday Afternoon Lecture Series (WALS) subcommittee invites fellows to the 2022–2023 season of WALS lectures, on Wednesdays from 2:00–3:00 p.m. Please find this season’s schedule and details on the WALS website.

The Health & Recreation Subcommittee is planning events for this fall. Looking for updates on events or to connect with other postdocs? Check out Bethesda Postdocs Slack! Despite the name, this Slack page is for all fellows! Join with a non-NIH e-mail here.

The Fellows Safety Committee (FSC) is working on establishing advertisement avenues for FSC, which include reaching out to various Offices of Education, flyer generation, and list-serv acquisitions. Additionally, FSC is in contact with the Division of Occupational Health and Safety about planning an open house, which might include in-person activities depending on what COVID restrictions look like in the coming weeks, so stay tuned! Join the Fellows Safety Committee Listserv at FELLOW-SAFETY-COMM@LIST.NIH.GOV.

National Postdoctoral Association (NPA): All NIH postdocs and fellows receive complementary NPA affiliate individual memberships, so join now! Upload your resume or CV—there are 28,500 jobs posted on the NPA Career Center. NPA is also hosting the 2022 Race & Ethnicity Equity Summit on November 17, from 12 noon–4 p.m. EST. Find more information here.

Congratulations to the FY23 Intramural Research Fellowship Recipients

The Intramural Research Fellowships for NICHD Postdoctoral and Clinical Fellows is a competitive internal funding opportunity for NICHD postdoctoral and clinical fellows. The purpose of this research award is to promote grant writing among our intramural fellows while enhancing awareness of various application components for an NIH grant.

The five awardees for fiscal year 2023 include:

  • Zhenyu Zuo (Rocha Lab)
  • Adriana Golding (Bonifacino Lab)
  • Miranda Marvel (Weinstein Lab)
  • Avik Dutta (Love Lab)
  • Jong Park (Weinstein Lab)

For those of you who were not selected for this fellowship: if you are eligible, please consider submitting an application again next year. Other funding opportunities for intramural fellows can be found here.

Let Us Know about Your Recent Accomplishments

We’d love to recognize your great news from 2022—from winning a poster award to landing a new job! Please email a brief description of your accomplishment(s) to our editor, Dr. Shana Spindler (, and we will include them in our December issue.

The NICHD Innovative Culture Staff Survey

Do you have ideas or creative solutions for making work more efficient or impactful? What is your perspective and experience on innovation at NICHD? The Innovative Culture initiative is one of the M&A (Management and Accountability) focus areas that came out of the NICHD 2020 Strategic Plan, and we would like to hear from you! We’re looking at how NICHD can successfully foster an innovative culture within the institute in a way that promotes workforce development, responsive infrastructure, administrative efficiency, and an overall culture that encourages continuous improvement and idea exploration.

Last month, you received an email with a link to a survey. Your anonymous responses will help us gather input on the current culture and hear your suggestions for how we can promote and support innovation. The survey will be open until November 8th and should only take about 5 minutes of your time, so please respond as soon as possible with your honest and candid feedback.

Following the survey, we will be asking for volunteers and selecting participants to conduct focus groups that will enable us to further explore the themes and insights gleaned from your responses. If you have questions for the Innovative Culture Project Team, or are interested in participating in one of the focus groups, please reach out to

NIH UNITE: Ending Structural Racism (ESR) Activities

The NIH UNITE initiative was established to identify and address structural racism within the NIH-supported and the greater scientific community. 

The ESR Intranet includes various resources like the Toolkit, Newsletter, FAQs, and other information. UNITE Milestones and Progress and the Co-Chairs Corner (public ESR webpages) are other avenues to stay informed on UNITE efforts.

Wednesday, November 9, 9 AM–12 Noon (Virtual Event)

K Awards for Clinical Fellows (Clinical Fellows Only)

For those of you considering applying for an NIH K-series funding opportunity, the NICHD Office of Education (in collaboration with NHGRI, NIAMS and NIDCR) is excited to offer a special grant writing workshop, specifically developed for clinical fellows. 

This webinar, led by Dr. Paula Gregory, Associate Dean for Faculty & Educational Development at University of North Texas, is designed to provide support, opportunities, strategies, and resources for career development in clinical and translational research. The critical aspects of writing NIH Career Development (K) grants will be covered, including: the NIH review process, how grants are scored, writing clear and concise Specific Aims, writing the Career Development and Training sections.

The workshop also emphasizes the partnership between the candidate, the mentors and the institution that is necessary to make career development award proposals successful.

Please send an email to Ms. Veronica Harker ( to register for this webinar, and the Zoom link will be provided to you a few days prior to the session.

Thursday, November 10, 1–4 PM

NICHD DIR Tenure-Track Investigator Virtual Symposia Series
“Cryo-electron microscopy: A powerful tool in the field of structural biology” 
Hosted by Doreen Matthies, PhD

This series provides tenure-track investigators within NICHD the opportunity to organize a virtual mini-symposium to showcase their area of science to the NICHD DIR and larger NIH intramural community. These symposia are open to all faculty, trainees, and staff at the NIH.

Join the symposium at

Ongoing Events Around Campus

NIH-Wide Office of Intramural Training and Education Events
For more information and registration, please visit Upcoming OITE Events.

NIH Library Training and Events
For more information and registration, please visit the NIH Library Calendar.