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Making Connections at A Scientific Meeting or Conference

Submitted by peryan79 April 2, 2012

If you have been following our career development calendar on the blog, you know April is the time to plan your 2012 meeting or conference attendance.  If you are relatively new to this experience you should watch our web tutorial on attending a scientific meeting.  Whether this is your first or fiftieth conference you probably are prepared for science, science and more science.  And while the science is the main reason your boss is sending you, it should not be the ONLY reason you are going.  Conferences and meetings are great places to build your network and expand your connections.  However, it doesn’t just happen.  Here are a few tips to help you build a strong network at a conference. Before the meeting:

  • Make a list of the people you want to connect with.  There are certainly science people you want to meet, but be sure to think about making career connections. If you want to go into industry, you need to look for people in industry.  If you want to work in a specific region or city, look for people from those locales.   Make sure there are at least 5 new people on this list. 
    • Go through the conference guide and highlight the names of people you would like to meet, your boss may be useful in helping you identify people of interest.
    • Set up meetings before hand with with those you have met before and want to see again.
    • Ask your adviser and others who are also attending the conference to introduce you to people they know.


  • If your colleagues are not going to the conference, ask them if you can use their name to introduce yourself.  A classic introduction line:  “Dr. X, my mentor NAME asked me to say ‘Hello’ and introduce myself.”
  • Of course, make sure you have plenty of business cards with your latest title, telephone number, and e-mail address.

During the meeting:

  • Take notes.  Yes, take notes on the science.  But, have a separate place to take notes about people you meet.  You will meet a lot of people and keeping their names and stories all straight can be difficult.  You can use your notes for following up after the meeting.
  • Seek out the people you identified prior to the conference.  Introduce yourself.  Do not be afraid to ask them to meet you later for coffee or a meal.  If you end up eating in a large group, ask to exchange business cards.  Make notes on the back to help keep the names and people straight.
  • Talk about your research and career interests often via your "elevator," "hallway," or "office" talks.   Listen intently when others talk about their interest.  It is not a conversation if only one person is talking.
  • We also said make career connections, for those you may want another opening line: Say you want to go into industry: “I see you are with X company, I am planning to go to industry as well, can I ask you a few question about what it is like to do science in industry?”.  If you are looking to move to a particular region you would ask about what opportunities are available there, and what the job and/or science scene is like.

After the Meeting:

  • Make contact with people you met.  Find people on LinkedIn and connect.  If you do not feel confident in asking to connect on LinkedIn, e-mail and mention you enjoyed getting to know them at the meeting.  Reference your notes and mention a specific project they talked about working on or an experience they shared with you. 
  • When you write, be sure that your e-mail is professional.  This is especially true if you are interested in working for that person in some capacity in the near future.  Click here for some tips on writing professional e-mails.

Take Advantage of Every Situation: Elevator, Hallway, or Office

Submitted by peryan79 April 9, 2012

As scientists, we are familiar with giving talks.  We can give a meeting talk of ten minutes, a group meeting for 30 minutes or a department seminar of an hour.  We make our slides, we prepare notes, we practice and then we stand before our audience and present our work.  This process is not that much different than talking about yourself, but the data changes to:  Who are you?  What do you do?  What are your research interests?  What are your career interests?  Now the trick is, can you do it effectively in 30 seconds?  What about two minutes?  Now, can you expand it enough to fill 10 minutes?   

An elevator ride takes about thirty seconds.  If you find yourself on an elevator with someone you would like to make a connection with, why waste that time?  An “elevator pitch” fills that thirty seconds with an introduction to who you are.  Give your name, where you work, what you do and what your research interests are.  Also, it is good to mention why you want to meet this individual.  Are you a fan of his/her work, or interested in working for the same company?   For example:  You are in an elevator and Dr. Francis Collins (Director of the NIH) steps in.  You can say, “Dr. Collins, I love how you can write songs about science.  I’m Jane Doe, from NIXX.  I recently mapped the gene responsible for finger dexterity in guitar players and would love to continue my research as a PI at the NIH.”

You might find yourself walking with someone between sessions, or in a hallway.  This gives you about two minutes to make an impression.  While compared to thirty seconds it seems like a lot of time, it will still go by quickly.  You still need to be concise.  Still include the content from the elevator pitch, but be a little more personal and detailed.  What about their work are you a fan of?  Why would you be a good addition to their company?  Is there something about them personally that you admire?  What one accomplishment of yours do they really need to know about?       

If you were successful with your 30 second talk in the elevator, or your two minute stroll you may get invited for a longer conversation while getting a cup of coffee.  This is where you can provide more details about your expertise in a particular field.  Elaborate on your project and how you see it moving forward.  Or, discuss your career desires.  If you want to join their company, you need to know why. Be specific and be unique.  Everyone wants a good paying job with benefits.  Why are you uniquely qualified to join their company or institution?  Also, have prepared one or two thoughtful questions about the person or company. 

These short networking speeches need to be delivered concisely.  Write out notes for each one.  Decide ahead of time what you will say if you find yourself in one of these situations.  Then, just like you would with your scientific talk, practice it with people you know.  Get their feedback and practice it some more.  Then start taking advantage of every situation you find yourself in, regardless of how much time you have. 

NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 13 - Educational and Career Development Program

Submitted by peryan79 April 16, 2012

This is the thirteenth 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: Mary Litzinger

Current position: Manager of educational and career development programs, The American Association of Immunologists

Location: Bethesda, MD

Time in current position: 6 months

Postdoc: Tumor immunology and immunotherapy with Jeffrey Schlom at NCI

Finding a path: I did preclinical research as a postdoc at the NIH. I was actually there for so long—7 years—that I was promoted to a research fellow, an employee position. While I was there, I always knew I wasn’t interested in pursuing the research end and becoming a PI. I enjoyed science, but I was disenchanted with doing all the nitty-gritty details. I started thinking about non-bench positions like scientific journals and science policy.

Set yourself apart: While I was a trainee, I attended a lot of the career events held by OITE. Something that came out of many of the speakers was that a lot of scientists want to move beyond the bench, so you have to set yourself apart by showing why you want to make that transition.

I became involved with a science policy discussion group at the NIH. It was only a couple of months old. The leaders of the group had been approached by someone at AAAS who was interested in putting some of the discussions on their MySciNet website. I had an interest in getting some writing credits that weren’t scientific journal articles, so I got involved in posting material on the blog. I know that set me apart when I applied to jobs. It’s important to do as much as you can, even though it can be difficult to find the time.

Job search in a nutshell: I didn’t start actively looking for positions until late last year. I applied for some grants review positions, some science policy… not a lot. My actual job search wasn’t very long. I stumbled upon this job early in the process. I know that was quite fortunate in the current job market. I stayed local; I didn’t even have to move.

I initially leaned toward something in government because it has more permanency and good benefits. I was familiar with some professional organizations because my grad school and NIH mentors were members, but I hadn’t thought to look at job openings at AAI or other associations.

How I got my job: I saw a job ad on the NIH listserv that AAI was looking for someone with a Ph.D. to look at incoming articles, assign reviewers and write summaries. I got an interview for that. I think they liked me, but they offered that position to another candidate. During the interview process, though, it came out that they had another position open for a manager of educational programs. That position definitely interested me. I applied, and got it.

A lot of other people find jobs through networking. I applied to this one blind. They did recognize my grad school mentor, who is an AAI member, on my CV. And even though my NIH mentor was not a member, they knew of him by reputation as well.

One thing I know helped me get the initial interview is they were looking for someone with a breadth of immunology knowledge, like someone who studied one area in grad school and another in their postdoc, as I did. I didn’t come in with any of the business or management experience they were looking for, but the position had been open and they hadn’t found anyone who met all their requirements, so they were willing to train me.

Day-to-day: I handle a number of educational and career programs. I do planning for the career development sessions at the annual meeting and administering the awards that coincide with it. I also help plan the immunology courses we offer each summer and a summer research program for high school teachers. The day-to-day schedule changes a little depending on the time of year. In the summer, the emphasis was on the courses, and my duties included responding to inquiries, managing materials for printing, and arranging details on site. In the fall, we got ready for the annual meeting—planning the career development sessions, vetting applications for the awards and responding to applicants. Year-round, I will do some writing for the AAI newsletter. AAI is approaching its centennial, so I recently worked with our staff historian to write a piece on the first article published in the Journal of Immunology, and the plan is for me to write more about the history of AAI as well as other topics. Part of my job is keeping up with the career programs that other organizations and societies are offering and deciding if these would interest our members. We also cover policy issues that affect our members.

Hindsight is 20/20: If I’d known where I would end up, there are things I would have done to be better prepared now. I could have honed up on business skills. Currently, I help suggest speakers for career development sessions and courses. Sometimes at the NIH I was busy doing research to the exclusion of other things, but there were so many talks offered every week. Now, I wish I’d gone to more of those and seen how good different people were at speaking. At the same time, I didn’t know what position I’d end up in. I think it’s important to think about your career plan as early as possible so you can start career development.

The upside: Every day is new and different and a challenge. Until I’ve been here a full year, and even then, there are so many things to learn. I’m really enjoying it so far.

Mary can be contacted through the OITE alumni database.

Summer Programs to Build Your Resume and Advance Your Career

Submitted by peryan79 April 23, 2012
With summer come multiple opportunities to strengthen your resume and advance your career.  Whether you are at the NIH or somewhere else, summer programs provide valuable experience in mentoring, administration, management, and teaching.  Regardless of your career aspirations, these are key components to your resume or CV.  We have highlighted a few summer programs, workshops, and events for trainees at the NIH that we hope you will take advantage of.  If you are not at the NIH, contact your career center or postdoc/graduate student office to find out about similar programs offered at your institution.  The list can still be used as a guide for what you should be looking for. 
  • Mentor a summer intern – Ask your PI or research mentor to let your supervise a summer intern.  The interns here at NIH are bright and enthusiastic.  They can bring new energy and sometimes even new insights in to your projects.   Mentoring also gives you experience in supervising others, managing resources and people, and teaching. 
  • Workshop:  Research Mentor Training – This eight week workshop meets from 4:00 to 5:00 pm every Monday from June 4th to July 23rd.  We wouldn’t ask you to mentor a student and then not provide you the tools to be an excellent mentor.  Mentoring is not something that can be taught.  This highly interactive workshop provides the opportunity to discuss mentoring issues as they arise and develop your own mentoring style.  Those who complete all eight sessions will earn a certificate.
  • Lead a summer journal club – Journal clubs are a popular activity for the summer interns.  They are led by postdocs and advanced graduate students and cover a wide variety of topics.  This is another opportunity to mentor, teach, and gain administrative experience.  More importantly, journal clubs represent another opportunity to invest in the future of science!  The time to register to be a journal club leader is fast approaching, so visit our information page for requirements and expectations! 
  • Workshop:  Tips for Mentoring a Summer Intern and Leading a Journal Club – Want to get a jump on mentoring and can’t wait until June 4th?  Not sure if you will be able to fit an eight week mentoring workshop into your schedule?  Planning on leading a journal club this summer?  This workshop, scheduled for May 1st, will last 90 minutes, will be filled with great information, and will be taught by two experienced and dynamic presenters.  Note:  This workshop is required for those planning to lead a summer journal club at the NIH.
  • 5th Annual NIH Career Symposium – The 2012 NIH Career Symposium on May 18th will highlight the diversity of career choices available to biomedical scientists.  Whether you are a new graduate student, postdoc, or clinical fellow just beginning to consider career options or a senior student/fellow ready to look for a job, the NIH Career Symposium is for you.  Note:  If you are a postdoc, clinical fellow, or graduate student, you are welcome to attend this event, whether you are part of the NIH intramural program or not.  We just ask that you register.
  • Workshop:  Management Boot Camp - Management of people and resources is a key component to being successful as you move forward in your career.  The OITE has developed an intense course to give advanced postdocs and fellows an overview of common management concepts that are not often taught in a research environment.  The topics covered will be applicable to all sectors (academics, industry, non-profits, government, etc.).  This course requires a commitment of two full days.  Enrollment will be limited to 30 people and there are strict requirements for the application.  Be sure to read the event announcement carefully. 
The summer is full of activities.  For a complete listing of events at NIH, visit the events page on the OITE Web site.  You can also follow us on twitter @NIH_OITE for all the latest information.

NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 14 - Research Scientist, Industry

Submitted by peryan79 April 30, 2012

This is the fourteenth 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: Michael Abram

Current position: Research scientist, Gilead Sciences, Inc.

Location: Foster City,CA

Time in current position: 11 months

Postdoc: Fidelity of HIV-1 replication with Stephen Hughes at NCI-Frederick

Day-to-day: I work in clinical virology. It’s about 50 percent scientific research, filling in knowledge gaps about HIV drugs that are soon to be FDA-approved or have recently been approved. My research focus is on understanding mechanisms of action and resistance to these drugs, and how they work in combination as antivirals. The remaining half of my job involves nonclinical regulatory work, such as contributing to new drug applications to the FDA and providing clinical virology support on Phase III studies for drugs that will soon be approved. This latter part of my job involves assessing resistance mutations that may be arising in human subjects and determining the effectiveness of these drugs compared to the current standard of care.

It’s always a balancing act. Spending time on one thing usually takes away from another. But while there never seems to be enough time, and there is frequently a sense of urgency to some responsibilities, I am really enjoying my job. No day is the same. I have brought new insights and fresh perspective, which is one of the qualities they were looking for. For the most part I’m allowed creative freedom in my position when around me there is a lot of repetition.

My story: During my graduate studies I admittedly did not give a lot of thought toward becoming an actual professor, and trusted instead that my experience and education would sort everything out when the time was right.  I was extremely devoted to and deeply involved in research, and later came to realize that with minimal interest in teaching large classes, a career in academia may not be the right fit.

A frustrating search: In my third year of my postdoc I began to consider careers away from the bench, including scientific/management consulting, medical science liaising, medical strategy, competitive intelligence and international affairs. However, for the most part, I was either not qualified given my level or type of experience or would not be able to maintain a good work/life balance. The non-academic scientific research jobs I found also appeared to be very rigid. The employers had a square hole and they wanted a square peg to fill it. My impression of the jobs I was seeing was that they needed someone to, for example, purify proteins, and that would be your primary role. I wanted to take my years of experience and tackle difficult problems with more creativity and diversity.

Resources: I spent a lot of time preparing myself for the job hunt and educating myself about different types of jobs. I read books and AAAS articles on the topic. Peter Fiske’s book Putting Your Science to Work really does a great job pumping up your confidence. Some of the websites I found most useful were,, and Biospace was ideal in listing all pharma/biotech companies and profiles by geography. I also catalogued research institutes where I could theoretically continue to work as a research scientist with minimal academic responsibilities. I scoured other people’s LinkedIn profiles to get ideas on how to creatively describe and quantify what I did and how to lay out my CV in a non-“generic scientist” way.

Stay in control of your time: Trying to stay on top of the job search process in addition to being productive in the lab as a postdoc and maintaining a personal life was a difficult balance. It was so easy to avoid career development and exploration and go work in the lab. Time slipped by so fast. I had to set weekly goals for accomplishing certain job search objectives, and kept organized with monthly resets and look-backs on what I had accomplished and where I wanted to be. I didn’t start talking to people until my third year, and I’m still kicking myself for not being prepared earlier.

A little luck after a lot of work: Gilead Sciences was the first place I officially applied to. They interviewed me and tenured an offer. I admittedly was very lucky. However, I had put in a lot of work to get to that point. My experience and pedigree had positioned me very well.

A whirlwind application: I had worked with a person who ended up at Gilead, and I’d invited her to a conference. Nine months later, she emailed me asking if I was still looking for a job. Then it was a whirlwind. The hiring manager emailed me the next day—I think it was a Thursday—saying he was going to be in D.C. on Tuesday and could we meet. I was traveling and still finalizing my CV, so that was a real scramble. It went well, and a couple of days later they said how about next week we fly you out toSan Francisco? Well, that was step 10 on my list and I was still at step 5! I managed to coordinate a time that allowed me a few weeks to prepare.

I practiced by researching the interviewers and coming up with a list of specific questions for each one; thinking of good questions they hadn’t heard before, preparing answers for many of the typical difficult questions, and making plans for how to divert my answers into areas where I had confidence or could tell them something that wasn’t in my CV. For my seminar, I got advice from people to start with an outline of everything I’d done and then focus on two stories about my research.

My interview experience was long and exhausting. It lasted from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and consisted of 10 different 30-minute interviews with people all over the company, a 1-hour presentation, and lunch and dinner discussions. The toughest question came from the head of the department. It was a problem-based “trick” question. Of course I ended up overanalyzing it when the answer was right in front of me. That was a bit embarrassing. I kept going over and over it on the flight back to the East coast.

A couple of days after that, they extended an offer. My start date was one month later.

Making the choice: To be honest, money was right up there. I had an idea of what it would take to get me to move toCalifornia, and the offer was a little higher than that. I liked the diversity of the job. The research was just a lateral move from what I’d been doing at the NIH. I could grow into areas I hadn’t experienced. It seemed like a good atmosphere, a good team, and the company has good core values.

Trade-offs: I’m far away from family. And there’s no more snow! I’m still carrying a J1 visa ball and chain (I’m fromCanada), and I’m trying to get a waiver to start the green card process. My wife moved out 6 months after me because she was finishing up her Masters. That was very hard. Fortunately, she was able to transfer within her company. When we discussed the move, I said, why don’t we try it for a few years? It’s an adventure. And it continues to be to this day!

Michael can be contacted through the OITE alumni database.