NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 3 – Pharmaceuticals

This is the third in a series of profiles about recent NIH postdocs who have found an array of jobs, from academia to industry to communications and beyond, in the U.S. and abroad. What do they do now, and how did they get there? What challenges did they face, and what advice do they have? Read on to find out.

Name: Thomas Paul

Current position: Bench science, working on epigenetic drugs at a pharmaceutical company

Location: San Diego, CA

Time in current position: 9 months

Postdoc: Epigenetics of acute myeloleukemia with Linda Wolff at NCI

Job search in a nutshell: I researched which companies were doing what I was doing and pursued them. I looked at job boards, and I used the networks I’d built through serving on committees and also friends, colleagues, people I used to work with—basically, using anyone I knew who had any access to any company to put the word out that I was looking and to let me know if they had any options available. I got one interview through a salesperson who came to our lab.


How I got my job: Talking to people at a conference, telling them I had expertise in what they were doing. They had no openings then, but two months later I got an email saying they did.


Planning is everything: I think it’s important to establish a plan when you start your search and to follow through on it. When I was getting close to the time when I needed to start looking for jobs, I worked out a Plan A (a research job at a company doing what I was already doing) and a Plan B, C and D. It was motivating for me; I knew what to do on a daily basis to be effective. I spent maybe one hour a day doing nothing but trying to fulfill the plan.

Career development really helped me, because it made me aware early on of what I needed to be doing. By the time I was finishing my postdoc, I had already met people and knew how to be a competitive candidate. If you start in your last year, you’ll be surprised how much catching up you have to do.

Network, network, network: Just putting things online is not going to work. You have to go out and get it. It’s not a total waste of time—I got some hits through online applications—but most everything was generated through networking. Talking to people in the field also lets you know what they’re looking for in a candidate.

I met lots of people who helped me. That includes people at other companies I’d pursued jobs with but didn’t get. It’s never an easy thing to be rejected, but it doesn’t have to be nasty. The people who rejected me became my mentors. They recognized that I had talent even though I wasn’t the right fit for their positions. It’s important to keep your options open and not burn any bridges.

Biggest frustration: There was a two- or three-month lag between beginning the search and getting hits back. I put all this work into it, and I wasn’t hearing much. Then things started coming together.


Making the choice: I ended up with a lot of options and offers, including other fellowships and non-bench positions. Then I started getting more interviews! You have to make quick decisions. I fell back on my Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. I got my Plan A, which was great.


Day-to-day: What drives me is an opportunity to really produce something. Here, that means cancer drugs that could save people’s lives directly. It’s a corporate environment. In addition to bench science, I write reports, keep an online notebook and do training.


The upside: I’m in a position I like that is similar to my postdoc, and I can grow. I’m using what I knew and I’m learning a lot.


The downside: The trade-off was geography. I have a family, and it wasn’t in our plans to move to the West Coast. One piece of advice someone gave me is that when you’re starting out, you have to be willing to sacrifice some things. I heeded that.


What’s next: We have a two-year-old, and another baby on the way. Life never gets easier! But we’re happy out here in San Diego. We’re ready for whatever life throws ahead of us.

Thomas can be contacted through the OITE alumni database.