As a fourth-year postdoc, I still felt unsure what career path was right for me. I had ruled out academia but found it challenging to know if alternative careers would be a good fit without ever having the chance to try them out. I heard about detailing as a way of exploring government careers and decided to learn more about this unique opportunity.
A detail is essentially an internship for current government employees or fellows that is done in another government office to try out a position before making a career transition. It is an excellent way to explore a job role and get hands on experience. Often, if the detail goes well and the office is hiring, this can lead to a permanent position after completion of the detail.
I spoke with Dr. Erin Walsh in the NICHD Office of Education about the possibility of detailing, and she walked me through different NIH offices that one could explore. After some consideration, I asked Dr. Walsh if it would be possible to detail with her. I have a passion for teaching and mentoring and wanted to learn more about a career with the Office of Education.
I spoke with my PI about it, and she was happy to support me in taking advantage of this opportunity. We discussed what level of time commitment would be appropriate for me to balance progressing my lab work while also experiencing the full range of work being done in the Office of Education. We settled on a three-month detail, during which I spent one and a half days working for the Office of Education each week, with the remaining time spent working in the lab.
During my detail, I was able to learn a great deal about the day-to-day work done in the Office of Education. I participated in career advising sessions and mock interviews with trainees, and I had the opportunity to help develop new programming for the office, such as creating an Individual Development Plan (IDP) and Annual Progress Report System for postbacs, while also helping to revamp the NICHD Intramural Research Fellowship (IRF) application, scoring system and review process. This gave me valuable experiences in science administration and mentoring, which will be applicable to any future career.
Ultimately, my detail helped me realize that while I love mentoring, and I found work with the Office of Education very fulfilling, I really want a career where I am still actively engaged in scientific analysis. So, after completing the detail, I decided to take a position at the FDA as a pharmaceutical scientist in the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. In this position, I will combine my scientific knowledge with the science administration skills I developed during my detail.
If anyone is interested in learning more about doing a detail, including with the Office of Education, I would encourage you to speak to Dr. Walsh (firstname.lastname@example.org) or feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to hear more about my experience (Lauren.Walling@fda.hhs.gov).