Blog Category: Education

Alternate Careers and Networking: It is the Ruby Slippers - You’ve had the Ability all Along

By: Kelly K. Andringa, PhD, MBA, University of Alabama at Birmingham Division of Nephrology Program Manager

As Michelle mentioned last month you don’t want to be nearing the finish with your postdoc (or perhaps even your graduate training) without having a career goal or target in mind. These goals and targets can change, but you should have some idea where you’d like to start. Sometimes these goals aren’t the same as your mentors and you might not have any idea exactly how to get where you want to go. This is where you need an active network (something else Michelle mentioned) to help you out. 

Networking is discussed ALL the time as the vital part of any career path, not just science. If your career aspirations take you away from the traditional academic faculty track you will need to reach out and talk to others who have those roles you’re interested in. “Alternate careers” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot. The statistics about obtaining an academic faculty position look daunting (see this video from Dr. Sally Rockey about the average age of faculty and R01 PIs in academia over the last 20+ years) and lead people to think about exploring other options. Now, let me be clear, I thoroughly enjoy my “alternate career,” it is in no way my “back up plan.” I haven’t taken the positions I have after my postdoc because I was discouraged from being faculty, I went into this career path fully aware of what I was getting into and what I was giving up. I definitely think that careers in academic research are possible and people who want them should absolutely go for them. I am not that person.

During my graduate training I had 5 projects going, I needed a bit of help narrowing my focus. About the time of my qualifying exams, my mentor and I had a good sit down about my career goals and aspirations. Although I had initially gone to graduate school with the goal of running my own lab and working on more tolerable therapeutics for cancer treatment, I had started to realize I had skill sets that would be better utilized outside the lab. Fortunately, my graduate and postdoctoral mentors were open to those discussions about careers outside of academic faculty positions. Thankfully, I’m reasonably willing to talk about the things I want/need regardless of the outcome, but not everyone has mentors that are supportive of other career paths. Luckily, Science Careers (sponsored by AAAS) has an online IDP (Individual Development Plan) to help you determine your interests and get them down ‘on paper’ so you have a career plan going forward that you can modify and discuss.

Clearly, there are a number of “alternate careers” out there and I’m hoping there will be more blog posts about some of the other ways people utilize their PhD’s outside of academia. I can only speak to my area of interest, I’m in Research Administration. What do I do every day?? Well my daily tasks are varied and no day is the same. I’m currently a Program Manager at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I assist in the management of a multi-institution P30 grant that has three research areas with about 7 different core facilities involved with those areas. There is also a pilot grant program as well as educational components for seminars, workshops and training experiences. I also assist in the management of an NRSA postdoctoral training grant that currently funds 5 trainees, plus a number of other tasks for my boss and my division. Here is what I enjoy most about my job; I get to talk about all different kinds of science and research with so many different people. I help direct faculty interested in utilizing our core facilities to the correct people, I get to read about new and exciting research directions via the pilot studies proposed, and watch young scientists transition their careers where they want to go, it’s great. I do miss the bench work, but I think my skills are best utilized in helping others reach their scientific research goals.

So how did I get here? We have to take it back to networking, as Glinda told Dorothy; you’ve had the ability all along you just wouldn’t have believed me. In those original discussions with my graduate mentor, he mentioned that one of his classmates from graduate school was a program officer at NIH. He sent her an email asking if she would be willing to talk to me about her career and what her job entailed. Here’s a hint, informational interviews are a great way to connect with people who have jobs you’re interested in. This is not a time to pester them to get you a job or pass around your CV, this is informational, you are inquiring about their job, how they got there and what they do on a daily basis. I sent a number of emails and had friends send emails to people who had jobs I was interested in learning about. I talked to program officials at NIH, associate vice presidents of small and large universities, directors of sponsored programs, program managers from my university and others in compliance offices (IRB, IACUC etc.) about their jobs. Networking is important, don’t be pushy, and ask when a good time is to call. Have a number of questions ready but don’t plan to take up more than 30 minutes of their time (maybe less), they can make it go longer but you shouldn’t be the one keeping them on the phone for hours, they’re busy and you want them to remember you were sensitive to their time.

So you’re likely thinking, great advice Kelly, but does it really work? In fact yes, it does work. One of those informational interviews I had was with someone who also had transitioned from a postdoc to grants management. A year after I spoke with her, her division was looking for someone to manage and ARRA funded multi-site project. She contacted me to see if I was still interested in administration and if I would like to interview for the job. So see, making a good impression while learning about someone else’s job got me an “in” for an interview. Networking won’t necessarily get you the job. Your education, training, and knowledge will get you the job; networking can help get you in the door.

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Category: Education

The 5 Rules of Career Success for a Young Scientist

By: Michelle Booze, Postdoctoral Fellow, Children’s Health Research Center at Sanford Research - @DrMLBooze, @sanfordhealth

This past March I had the opportunity to attend the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) 2015 Annual Meeting. What I learned there helped me to focus on my future as a scientist. Are you getting the career help you need to determine your future? Luckily, there is a wealth of information out there to help you along your journey. The following are 5 rules to get you started down the right path to your dream career.

Rule #1: Don’t be this person

This information was presented by Sarah Cardozo-Duncan (@sarahcarstrat) and James Gould (@HMSpostdoc) during a workshop at the meeting. It is important not to be the person who:

  1. Is near their end date before they think about their future
  2. Is unsure of what marketable skills they have
  3. Has an inactive network
  4. Has little or no mentor engagement
  5. Has an unknown career target or goal
  6. Has an unpolished career story
  7. Has unreal expectations

Rule #2: Know what you want to do with your degree

It is very important that you take time to think about where you want to be in your future. It’s never too late to figure this out and start pursuing your goal. Don’t set unrealistic goals, but don’t hold back either or you might not reach your full potential!

Rule #3: Find a valuable mentor

If you want your PI’s/Advisor’s/Boss’s job, then they are the right target for a mentor. If you want a different position, find another mentor. There are a ton of resource materials on nurturing a successful mentor relationship. Look to the societies you’re involved in, such as SFRBM, for help.

Rule #4: Make connections

An informational interview is all about getting to know someone and the place they work (and sharing a little bit about yourself too!). It’s not about flinging your CV at them (although you should have a copy ready to fling). There’s a nice entry about the Informational Interview here -

Rule #5: Know your Resources

There are a myriad of great web sources at our disposal to take advantage of.

Remember, your future is up to you. It is your responsibility to reach your own goals.

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Category: Education

Redox Theory of Aging

By: Dean P. Jones, Emory University

Click here to view the full article in the journal Redox Biology

Metazoan genomes encode exposure memory systems to enhance survival and reproductive potential by providing mechanisms for an individual to adjust during lifespan to environmental resources and challenges. These systems are inherently redox networks, arising during evolution of complex systems with O2 as a major determinant of bioenergetics, metabolic and structural organization, defense, and reproduction. The network structure decreases flexibility from conception onward due to differentiation and cumulative responses to environment (exposome). The redox theory of aging is that aging is a decline in plasticity of genome–exposome interaction that occurs as a consequence of execution of differentiation and exposure memory systems. This includes compromised mitochondrial and bioenergetic flexibility, impaired food utilization and metabolic homeostasis, decreased barrier and defense capabilities and loss of reproductive fidelity and fecundity. This theory accounts for hallmarks of aging, including failure to maintain oxidative or xenobiotic defenses, mitochondrial integrity, proteostasis, barrier structures, DNA repair, telomeres, immune function, metabolic regulation and regenerative capacity.

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Categories: Education, Redox Biology

Graduate and Postdoc Training Advice: Specialization is for Insects (thanks to Robert A. Heinlein)

By: Dr. Jack Lancaster (

For those of you who are graduate students or postdocs, it might seem like you’ve been in school forever! However, consider the three major segments of the entire time span of a career as an independent investigator:

  1. 4-8 years doctoral studies
  2. 4-8 years postdoc
  3. 40-50(?) years as director of a lab and the pursuit of whatever interests you

Check out the time differences of training compared to independence: ≈ 8-fold. So as a foundation for your future, what do you want to develop during this initial critical 12% training time?

As much as you can, eschew specialization. In spite of what your institution may have embedded in its training program, the best and most rewarding path is to, as the Biochemist and writer Isaac Asomov advocated, cultivate “A View from a Height”.

Don’t sell yourself short!

So during this critical 12% training period, challenge yourself in the most rigorous pursuits in Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry you can find because this will equip you with the tools to truly understand phenomena on the most defining (molecular) level.

Then, throughout your long career you can apply to any Biological query all these wonderful universal physical concepts that must apply to all of Biology. And the more fundamental and interdisciplinary your skillset, the more puzzles you will be attracted to to solve, and the more significant they will be. And that’s a pretty good description for the successful career of a lifelong “lover of knowledge” (i.e., PhD).

— Published

Category: Education

Top 5 Reasons Why Social Media Has Become Essential for Scientists

By: Rick Domann, University of Iowa, SFRBM President-Elect, @RickDomann


As scientists we spend an enormous amount of time and effort promoting our findings and their relevance to the rest of the world. We are competitive, and like journalists, we don’t like to get scooped on a story. Whether you’ll admit it to your friend in a neighboring lab, we are regularly vying against one another for limited funding resources, space in top tier journals, speaking engagements, and prestigious awards. So it’s no surprise we, as scientists, are skilled at promoting our work and research. Besides merely promoting your jargon-laden work to peers, it is also useful to actively engage the public to teach facts and dispel myths. Social media provides just such a vehicle to do so, and to build your professional network at the same time.

Many prominent scientists such as Richard Dawkins and Neil deGrasse Tyson have already caught on and promote their “brand” through social media to their millions of friends and followers. They don’t need to publish a peer reviewed paper or book, or attend a conference to instill us with grains of good humored wit; now we can follow them, like disciples, in real time. If academics don’t already get it, then here are the top 5 reasons that scientists should embrace social media:

  1. Promote your work – Use a tweet to draw attention to a recently accepted paper or an appearance at a conference. This publicity can lead to increased views, downloads and citations of your work. I recently tweeted about a paper that our group published late last year and that simple action yielded at least 7,000 impressions. You shouldn’t be surprised when one of your papers receives more than the expected number of literature citations solely because of this added real time exposure of the work to a relevant audience.
  2. Control the message –Don’t depend on third party journalists to put the message out there. Say it in your own words in a way that resonates more deeply and in a way that anyone in the public can understand.
  3. Become a news source for hot and trending topics – You’re an expert, and social media lets you show the rest of us you have a pulse on up and coming topics in your field. Besides original content, this kind of curated content can be extremely valuable to your audience.
  4. Engage the public – Your followers will include other scientists as well as people who have no idea what the details of your latest paper mean. Social media is just that – social – and gives you a chance to tell people why the work you’re doing should be meaningful to them. This is also a great way to help you boil down your message and see what resonates before applying for that next round of competitive funding.
  5. Network worldwide with breadth and precision – Your reach through social media really knows no boundaries. Imagine the benefits that can result if social media can help bring together international teams of scientists to collaborate to solve some of the greatest mysteries of science. In addition to its broad reach, the tools can be used to seek out individuals or groups that can potentially support your work.

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Categories: Education, Redox Biology