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Creating your networking map

Submitted by Lori Conlan March 5, 2012
Networking image

For your 2012 Career Plan, the March topic is to work on your career network.  In the past alumni spotlights, 9 of 10 have mentioned networking as a key component of getting their jobs.  You know that this is an important part of your professional skills, but the task often seems daunting.

Understanding who you know and how they can connect you to who they know is a bit like a treasure hunt.  Think of your map as a set of concentric circles.

The first circle is people from your research group.   Add to the list everyone in your group now, and those that have left before you (even if you did not work in the lab at the same time you share the common thread of your boss). The next circle is often overlooked: people in your scientific life.  Write out the people in the groups on your floor (and if you have not yet met those people—go and meet them now).  Next add in folks in your Lab/Branch and people from your Institute that you have met at retreats.  Then, add to this list people from past labs.  Add your classmates from graduate school, including those that were 2-3 years ahead of you that you interacted with.  

Further out is people in your scientific community.  Folks you have met at conferences, or who at least were at the same conference and are on the attendee list (you can always say: “We both went to AACR in DC in 2011, sorry we did not get a chance to meet….”).  Also here would be people your current or past bosses know, or other people in the closer circles. Finally, don’t neglect the final circle…people in the community.  You never know who your mom/neighbor/friend etc knows.   People have used a family member who is secretary at a law firm to find connections in industry or connected fellows with their neighbors who share similar interests.  Add all of these people to your map. Construct your map….and we will be back with how to utilize it next week.  We will chat about how to add to your map, use it at conferences, for informational interviews and more.

NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 11 - Senior Consultant

Submitted by peryan79 March 12, 2012

This is the eleventh 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: Rebecca Dunfee

Current position: Senior consultant, Booz Allen Hamilton

Location: Arlington, VA

Time in current position: 2 months

Postdoc: How pandemic influenza interacts with the host antiviral response, with Jeffery Taubenberger at NIAID

My story: Up until about 7 months ago, I thought I was going to be an academic researcher running my own lab. I had been a postdoc for 3 ½ years then and I knew I would have to start looking for a job in the summer. I knew I wouldn’t be competitive for an academic position because I had almost no publications or abstracts at that point from my postdoc, having switched topics between my Ph.D. and my postdoc in a field that became highly competitive. I didn’t want to do another postdoc. So I considered other career options, such as science policy.

I wasn’t really thinking of consulting. I thought in consulting you work tons of hours and don’t do anything interesting. Then OITE had its annual career symposium. I’d always gone to the academic sessions in those events, but this time I tried different ones. In the consulting session, the presenter said it’s really about problem-solving. That was a revelation for me. It was exactly the kind of things I like to do. I started considering consulting as a career path.

How I got my job: OITE had its career fair in June. I thought, I’ll just go and see what sort of companies are there and pass out some resumés. I really didn’t think I’d get a phone call. That’s not how it’s supposed to happen. You’re supposed to know somebody who knows somebody. But [Booz Allen Hamilton] called 1 month later and said they’d like to interview me. We had a phone interview. Three weeks after that they set up an in-person interview. Then they offered me the job.

When I got the first call, I was still making the decision to go into consulting. The phone interview was scheduled quickly, so there was not a lot of time to prepare and I was not really ready for some of the questions. When they called me back to ask to do the in-person, I realized I’d done pretty well. Then I talked to people in consulting about what they do every day. To me, it sounded like a lot of fun.

I say just throw your resumé out there and see what bites. Fashion it and get it out there. One person could look at it and say, “That’s who we want.”

Making the choice: I didn’t expect to find something so quickly, but it was too good an opportunity to pass up. I had some friends who were consultants so I had a ballpark idea of what the firm should be offering, and it was competitive. I thought, in a year if I decide it’s not for me, I can go back and do another postdoc and I won’t have lost anything. It was perfect timing. My lab was pretty big but funding was drying up, and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to finish my research before my postdoc ended. I had a few projects I passed on to people.

Day-to-day: It depends on the client, what needs to be done and when it needs to be done. Some is very related to my background in virology—talking about detecting viruses that might be out in the environment or how to assess a biological threat. A lot of my day is spent answering emails. Some is editing other people’s grant proposals. A lot of writing, ranging from slide presentations to short criteria to classify a grant and, as needed, writing white papers. I helped with a meeting and did everything from running a mic around to talking to poster presenters about what they’d found since last year.

The upside: Almost everyone in my office has a Ph.D., and that’s unusual in a consulting firm. That appealed to me. It’s still a bit of an academic feel, being surrounded by smart scientists, but it’s a different environment. The money is also very good. It’s a revelation, coming from a postdoc position, that your time is actually worth money!

Adjustments: There are two things I’m still finding it hard to adjust to. One is time recording. Every day, we have to accurately account for our time because we’re tracking client hours. You can’t spend 15 minutes checking Gmail because that’s not recorded at the end of the day. As a postdoc, you only pay attention to time that specifically when it’s something like your reaction has to incubate for 1 hour, during which time you can do whatever you want.

The other thing is marketing. In science, you kind of market yourself in trying to convince people to give you business (money to do your science). Consulting was a little bit of a cultural transition. Now I’m marketing myself and my firm to get repeat business or new business with current clients. And I had to get used to calling myself an expert. It’s not like in science, where you have to have done your Ph.D. in some narrow subject to call yourself an expert on it. I don’t need to know as much as I think I do to call myself one now.

Essential skills: You have to be able to deal with people well. After I was hired, I asked what made those of us they had chosen stand out. They said, “You have social skills.” During my interviews, every single person asked how I dealt with difficult people. You have to try to convince people to take your point of view on a solution, but you also have to know when to back off. Also, you need to be adaptable and flexible, because what you think you’re going to do in the morning is not always what you end up doing. Being organized and good at time management. Being an analytical thinker. A lot of the time, you’re looking at science you’re not totally familiar with and you have to identify the problem. Being creative. Sometimes your client will say they want it a certain way but if you think about it and come up with a creative solution, it might be better for the problem and for the client.

A path in hindsight: In the lab, I was already a little bit of a consultant. People would come to me with problems and I would help them come up with solutions. About academia, what I actually liked was teaching students—leading students to a solution. I like thinking about problems. A lot of consulting is problem-solving, and lot of it is science-based. There is almost a teaching component to it.

Beyond the lab: I had done a lot of non-lab stuff [that prepared me well for this kind of position], even though I hadn’t set out to do it specifically for consulting. One month after I started at the NIH, I got involved with the Sister Science Club and ended up kind of running it. I learned how to set up meetings, bring in speakers and set a strategic plan. I became active in Felcom. I served on an advisory board for NIAID’s Office of Training and Diversity. I helped organize seminars and announce awards. I learned a lot of different skills. It helped me learn time management because I was doing all this on top of my research. I also got practice in communicating with different groups. I saw projects go from nothing to something concrete.

I think you should do as much as you can outside the lab. It builds your skills and network and resumé.

What’s next: It’s a little hard to say right now because I only recently started. I’m going to try to get up and running and see how I like this. There are some people who’ve worked here who now work for the client, or who’ve started their own company, or who work for other contracting firms. We’ll see what happens.

Rebecca can be contacted through the OITE alumni database

Using Your Networking Map

Submitted by peryan79 March 21, 2012

If you have been following the blog calendar, you have been thinking about your career, and maybe have even met with a career counselor.  That means (hopefully) that you have a few ideas about career options, and some questions that an informational interview might help you answer.   Now that you have filled in your networking map, it is time to ask those you know if they know anyone you could talk with.

Say you are pondering a career in industry.  Your first two circles will be the easiest place to start and will most likely yield your best results.  After you have worked through your first two circles, go through your next circle and think about people from biotech and pharmaceutical companies you have met (or even people on the attendee list that you did not meet) at conferences and meetings. Or perhaps in this circle is a professor from a past institution that you know had a postdoc transition to a company.  This is also the place to search the OITE Alumni Database for former fellows who share NIH connections.  Then the final circle, people in the community, is where you let anyone you know help you find an introduction (you never know who your neighbor knows until you ask).

Now, you ask, “I have been thinking about career paths in industry, do you know anyone who has taken this path?  Would you introduce us?”  The key here is that you need to be able to ask specifically for what you want; your network cannot read your mind.  You cannot assume that they know you need a job, and thus will introduce you to everyone in their contact list.  You have to be proactive to obtain the introductions you need.

There are definitely different degrees on connections between you and the people on your list.  Some of your contacts you have never lost touch with; these people are definitely easier to talk with and to ask for an introduction.  Others, you haven’t heard from in quite a while.  No Worries! People often use the line, “I hope you remember me, we sat next to each other in first year graduate school class”.  As long as you remind people how you have a connection, it is likely that they will engage in a conversation again.

Now that you have asked for what you need, make sure to follow our tips for informational interviews.

BTW: Here is another resource for building your networking map that leads you through the process much more in-depth.  Developmental Networking Questionnaire by Mary Higgins, HBS: 9-404-105,

And a blog post about keeping up with your connections from the ACS:

Join us in April to discuss how to use a scientific conference to your career advantage.

NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 12 - Assistant Professor, University of Colorado, Denver

Submitted by peryan79 March 26, 2012

This is the twelfth 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: Brian Berman

Current position: Assistant professor of neurology, University of Colorado Denver

Location: Denver, CO

Time in current position: 15 months

Clinical fellowship: Movement disorders with research focus on functional imaging with Mark Hallett at NINDS

Job search in a nutshell: This opportunity presented itself to me when I wasn’t looking. Less than a year into my fellowship, I met someone at a conference who was leaving the position I’m in now. I checked in to see if there might be an opening for me. Then it was a cascade. For some frame of reference, I started looking at other opportunities. There were a couple of other jobs I considered. One was near my wife’s hometown and one was in Florida. I also thought about whether it was a better idea to gain experience elsewhere first. I was definitely looking for an academic science position, but I was hoping to get some sort of transitional funding prior to taking one. I realized that I could potentially leave the NIH ahead of those plans, and if so I would need the right support.

A balancing act: I’m not sure UC Denver was thinking about other people [for this position], but they did start to become impatient [as the months passed]. They wanted an answer one way or the other. I was stuck waiting and working to get a contract at another institution so I could better compare the two opportunities. It was not easy. I had to delay UC Denver until I was certain about the other position. The timelines didn’t line up perfectly. When you start the interview process, you should try to have a number of possibilities that are roughly in the same course so you don’t have to wait long after an offer to hear about the others. For me, it was down to the wire.

Fortunately, in the end there was no bitterness. I couldn’t start before my fellowship ended later that year anyway. It was a natural starting point. I negotiated to start one month after finishing the fellowship.

Network, network, network: I went to med school at UC Denver, so I knew some people here, including the person whose position was available. I didn’t burn my bridges. Every year since I’d left med school, I had written the chair of neurology just checking in, asking how things were going and giving him an update on what I was doing. He ended up being on my hiring committee. Partway through, he retired, but I also knew the second person who stepped in.

When I was considering other options and asking people I knew about possible opportunities, it seemed most potential positions weren’t advertised anywhere. Those looking to hire would often just ask my mentor, who’s very well known, if he knew of anyone who would be good for a position.

Making the choice: One of the most important things for me was protected or allotted time to do research and not just see patients. Also the amount of startup funds for doing imaging research; it’s expensive. And feeling that I got along with people at the institution and fit in. Of the other two positions I was considering, one didn’t work out due to the amount of clinical time required. For the second, after a series of interviews it didn’t turn out to be the right fit for either side.

Necessary compromises: In this position, the downside was that I would be the only one in the department doing the research I do. I felt there might be environments more able to foster my research interests—where there would be more people to be mentors or guides and support my research rather than me being, you know, the “lone star” on my own. In the end, I felt my training had been strong enough and that I would be able to find people to be mentors. I’m pretty happy with my decision.

Day-to-day: I have about 30% clinical work. I see patients in a subspecialty of neurology. About 60% is research, including finishing work from my fellowship. The rest—which is probably more than 10%—is various administrative tasks, meetings, and teaching. Not courses, but guided training of students and residents and a fellow, and giving talks. Essentially I have a fixed schedule of 3 half-day clinics a week. The rest of the time is mine to organize. It’s a constant struggle to get better with time management. It’s about 60 to sometimes 80 hours a week, so efficiency comes into play. I try to consolidate blocks of time for my clinics and for research. For example, I have set aside Wednesday for meetings and conferences so those are out of the way for the week.

What I wish I’d known: Money’s kind of the big thing. Everything has to be paid for from some source. If you don’t succeed in securing funding, it’s not like your lab director can contribute to your salary. You may learn sometime down the road that there are people you may have to contribute salary to. You might be surprised to learn after a year that you’re responsible for providing part of a nurse’s or a research assistant’s salary, for example.

Essential skills: One important thing is being able to transmit your ideas to get people as excited as you are about what you do—to sell it to anyone you want to give you money. Even if it’s the same idea, it has to be repackaged for people differently. You need to know who you’re presenting to and how to best address that audience. You start to pick this up by practice. There’s a clinical faculty scholars program here that you have to apply for, which is a 2-year funded junior faculty mentoring program. It really can help with learning these types of things. If your institution has one, I would recommend it. It’s been very helpful in career mentorship. But I still had to find the right research mentor.

You also need a thick skin. To survive in academics, you have to publish and bring money in—and so you get lots of rejections. You have to continue to plod forward even though it feels like the forces are trying to keep you down. It takes a certain amount of fortitude and endurance.

The transition: The first couple of years are pretty tough. There’s a lot of unknowns. Then you start to get funding and it gets better. Something that takes getting used to is the amount of time devoted to clinical matters. There’s also a lot more pressure now because you’re responsible for your own future. It’s not a fixed fellowship position; your position is going to be what you make of it. You shape your future.

Brian can be contacted through the OITE alumni database.