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NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Field Application Scientist

Submitted by Lori Conlan April 16, 2013

Name: Jill Hesse, PhD
Job title and company: Field Application Scientist, GenoLogics
Location: Raleigh, NC
How long you’ve been in your current job: 9 months
Postdoc advisor, IC, and subject: Richard Paules, NIEHS, micro-RNA’s role in damage response

What do you do as a Field Application Scientist? We joke that I drink coffee and run my mouth professionally, but basically my job is divided into two parts: on the pre-sale side, I visit customers and give them demonstrations with high-level information on how my company can help them and their science. On the post-sale side, I help coordinate the implementation of their software and provide computer training to get the customer into the software to get the information they need.

What was the hardest thing about transitioning into your career from bench? I think the interesting thing about moving from bench science is there’s a fear that you’ve never done anything other than bench science, and we know that we are really good at bench science, but what if I am not good at anything else? The second thing is that it’s just a different mindset. Science is very much a you’ll-get-there-when-you-get-there pace. When you go to industry positions, there’s much more of an immediate timeline and things move at a faster pace than the research environment.

What is your favorite aspect being a Field Application Scientist? I like being a Field Application Scientists for two reasons: One, I get to talk about science at the 10,000 foot level. Instead of talking about your favorite mutation or protein, you get to talk about things really affecting critical research and clinical trials. The work also changes all the time. With research, you might get one particular little tiny thing that you do over and over and over again everyday – now I talk to different people all over the country about different things every day.

What was your job search like? I knew relatively soon after coming into my post-doc that I didn’t want to stay at the bench forever, so I started looking to see what was out there and explored what my options were so I’d be ready for the right job when it came along. After I decided that something in the sales side of the world would be interesting, I started looking at field application jobs. They’re a good way to get your foot in the sales door. You can take the science you know and apply it to whatever technology a company happens to sell.
I’m actually one of the very few that applied for a job on-line and had a recruiter call me instead of an HR rep. I had a really good experience with the recruiter. We did a couple of interviews before ever getting passed on to the company that I currently work for. She did some of the initial vetting and helped me throughout the process with the scheduling and giving me interviewing pointers, telling me the most likely interviewers and what they might ask. It was great.

What soft skills are needed for this position? In this job, you need the ability to talk with anyone about anything, including talking about science to talking about items that I’m selling to talking about what happened today in the weather. For researchers, getting out and learning not to be afraid to talk to people is really useful. Additionally, anything you can do that will show that you are a self-starter. Teach yourself to do something new or get a certification you didn’t need for your post-doc. People I interviewed with found it interesting that I had the initiative to learn things on my own, like some basic bioinformatics I taught myself to analyze a data set. These jobs tend to move fairly rapidly. Sometimes you’ll be given a project and told “just work things out”. The fact that you can learn something and not afraid to do so will translate well.

Last bits of advice: Everybody is given advice that you need to network, you need to get out more, and you need to meet people. While I didn’t get my job that way, going out and doing all that networking was very important. I had been involved with the NIEHS Training Association (NTA), which broadened my network my network of postdocs, faculty members, and staff at NIEHS. My involvement as the postdoc representative on several NIEHS wide committees gave me the opportunity to learn more about how government science works and exposed me to people I might not have otherwise met. Additionally, the committee work helped me develop skills in talking and negotiating with my superiors. When I got my job, my previous experience networking had made me unafraid of people even if I didn’t understand their science. Networking is useful, both for getting the job and in developing skills that we sometimes miss at the bench, such as talking about things that aren’t specifically related to our science.

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