NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 15 – Investigator I and MRI Head – Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research

This is the fifteenth 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: Erica Henning

Current position: Investigator I and MRI Head, Global Imaging Group, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research (NIBR)

Location: Cambridge, MA

Time in current position:  1 Year

Postdoc: Translational imaging and stroke with Lawrence Latour and Steven Warach, NINDS

Job search in a nutshell: When I started the job search process, I was on the “typical” academic track. My goal was to obtain an independent investigator position. I applied for jobs in both academia and industry between fall 2009 and spring 2011. I have found that the keys to obtaining any position are skills and expertise, company ‘fit’, and networking.

I consulted my network of colleagues and various job websites. In addition, I searched individual pharma and MRI company websites for preclinical imaging positions. I would say that I spent 1 to 2 hours each day searching and applying for positions. Some links I found helpful were Science Careers, Nature Jobs, Academic Keys, USAjobs, and the ISMRM [International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine] Career Center.

Network, network, network: All the phone and on-site interviews I had were based on networking. You need a strong network of colleagues who are already established in the field and who can vouch for you as a scientist. Without that, the only information any recruiter has to go on is what you’ve listed in your CV/resumé.

I started creating my network of colleagues the minute I started graduate school. The first place to start is with your advisor. My advisor was my number-one resource. He or she can introduce you around at conferences and help you get your name into the scientific community. Introduce yourself, talk to others at their posters, hand out a business card – this will help you in the long run.

The second place to start is to publish. First-author papers are important, but it is just as important to publish as a co-author for any collaborations in which you are involved. It is important to demonstrate independence and teamwork.

Tips for applying outside academia: Submitting a CV to a non-academic position is the worst thing you can do! If you are applying for non-academic positions, create a resumé that is based on the job description and the listed skills and experience. This is more work, but it will pay off.

Interviewing for industry is also different from academia. I would recommend following the acronym S.T.A.R. – Situation, Task, Action, Result. I found helpful.

How I got my job: I found the advertisement for my current position on the NIBR website and applied directly. Interviewing involved phone screens by HR and the hiring manager, an on-site interview and formal presentation, and follow-up phone interviews. When I received the offer, I did have other offers. I chose NIBR because it was the best fit for me. It offered research, people, teamwork, employee development and the ability to continue publishing.

Day-to-day: One of the most important parts of my job is to interface with the various disease and platform areas in NIBR, determine their needs and leverage imaging to guide critical decisions in the drug discovery process. A typical day includes teleconferences between our Cambridge, Massachusetts and Basel, Switzerland campuses, meeting with current or potential project partners, overseeing existing projects running in the laboratory, reviewing and analyzing data and presenting results at team meetings to provide recommendations for project direction. I also attend NIBR seminars and training sessions and national and international conferences. These keep me informed on current and future plans for imaging research as it relates to drug discovery and patient health.

Essential skills: I would say that the most useful skills in my position are communication, teamwork and problem-solving. As a manager, vital skills include leadership, project management, delegating tasks and meeting deadlines.

The upside: The level of teamwork and collaboration at NIBR is amazing and something I hadn’t experienced in academia or government. I feel extremely fortunate to have been given the opportunity to perform cutting-edge research in a fast-paced and rapidly evolving environment, working side by side with leading scientists in a variety of disciplines.

Erica can be contacted through the OITE alumni database.