Name: Lillian Kuo, PhD
Job Title & Company: Scientific Program Analyst, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS)
Location: Bethesda, MD
How long you’ve been in your current job: A little over a year.
Postdoc Advisor, IC: Eric O. Freed, NCI
What do you do as a Scientific Program Analyst?
A Program Analyst means a lot of different things across NIH. For my position, I work on the Program side of extramural research where I work under a couple of Program Directors. I perform a lot of different tasks like program administration, talking to grantees, and organizing conferences. The programs we work on are cooperative agreements, which are not the traditional R01 type grants. This means that there is substantial programmatic involvement above and beyond the normal stewardship role in awards.
What are the most important skills that you utilize in your current position?
Being flexible and being able to learn things really fast because science is always changing. Science is incredibly dynamic, so I have had to learn and adapt quickly.
What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I work with a lot of people – people who do very different things. Even though I am at NCATS, I work with the Common Fund which is part of NIH OD. I work with Program Directors from about a dozen different ICs. Every IC does something different so it is really interesting to me to learn about these differences. Common Fund programs are trans-NIH initiatives, so I’m really fortunate to be able to work with such a diverse group of people. People approach problems so differently based on the scientific need. Science is so dynamic and it is always changing so it is important to tailor the programs accordingly.
What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
I had to learn a lot of stuff really fast, and that is part of being a PhD. You are trained to learn things quickly. For example, I had to give myself a crash course in bioinformatics. In retrospect, a lot of it was not too bad like learning different kinds of software programs.
What was your job search like?
I was contacted by a recruiter, which surprised me at first. I had previously applied for another Kelly Scientific position, so I was in their database. I thought the position she described was quite interesting. She thought I would be a good fit, and she was right.
Any last bits of advice?
Informational interviews are immensely helpful. OITE has a lot of really great resources to help you with that. Informational interviews are so important though because the information that you learn talking to people first-hand is invaluable. During information interviews, I have found people are really thoughtful and they will give you good information and advice which ultimately will help steer you where you need to go. I can’t tell someone what they would like, so everyone has to determine that on their own.