T H E   N I H    C A T A L Y S T     N O V E M B E R   – D E C E M B E R  2004

Research Festival


text and photo
by Karen Ross


The NIH Job Fair, held on September 30 during the Research Festival, featured 43 exhibitors who filled five conference rooms in the Natcher Building. The fair was well attended. Many employers had a constant stream of visitors and after only a couple of hours, some had already run out of literature to distribute. The exhibitors ranged from multinational corporations to small local biotechnology companies and included a few representatives of alternative careers outside the traditional academic and industrial research spheres. Nearly all of the exhibitors had open positions and some conducted on-the-spot interviews.


Computercraft, a local company that develops and maintains NCBI's public genetics databases, including GenBank and RefSeq, is a four-year veteran of the NIH Job Fair that has hired one or two people from NIH each year. Gene Hill and other company reps were looking for candidates for five positions and kept busy collecting résumés and conducting interviews. Hill said they planned to review the résumés and schedule more interviews the following week. He also credited OE’s Shirley Forehand with fine Job Fair organizing.

Three human resources specialists from the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS)–(l. to r.) Samuel Daniels, Elaine Tanenhaus, and Peggy Dolet (with Gloria Seelman, NIH Office of Science Education, standing)–were on hand to recruit fellows with an interest in public school teaching. Daniels explained that it’s not easy to find certified science, math, and computer science teachers, so they look for people with science or math backgrounds and guide them through the teaching certification process, which involves taking some education courses and gaining teaching experience. Of course, Daniels added, one should also "be a good communicator, have a love for kids, and . . . have a warm personality."

Last year’s Job Fair,Tanenhaus remarked, added one more NIH alum to the MCPS ranks.

Dave Henderson, an engineer for GE Global Research, came to the NIH Job Fair to promote and recruit for the company’s new Biosciences Lab, which supports the newly created GE Healthcare Bio-Sciences business. The new lab has multiple openings in biology, chemistry, and biochemistry. Henderson was seeking candidates to fill bioinformatics positions and was impressed by the NIH turnout. "I didn't know quite what to expect," he said, "but I quickly got inundated with very well-qualified people." He viewed the Fair as "a nice opportunity . . . to get name recognition [and] to attract top talent to help build the organization."


Tina Tekirian, a fellow at NCI-Frederick who hopes to land an academic position, said she was disappointed that the Job Fair was focused on nonacademic posts. She did pick up some of the nonacademic exhibitors' brochures for her colleagues in Frederick, where the career services office was recently closed. Another helpful resource, she suggested, would be a centralized source to which NIH PIs could send up-to-date university job bulletin board posts relayed by their colleagues.
NCBI fellow Damir Herman, who is seeking a position in bioinformatics or biostatistics, found a couple of promising companies at the Job Fair. "I don't expect NIH to look for my job," he said, "but they're doing a pretty good job of bringing people in . . . .[and these people] are very eager to hire."

Ed. Note: The NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education has three job-hunting sites for NIH fellows. First, go to the OITE web site; then select (1) "NIH Only" for access to "Current Outside Openings" and (2) "Careers" for access to "Virtual Job Fair" and "Virtual Career Center."



Two weeks before Job Fair, NIH hosted two workshops on gearing up for job hunting. About 50 people attended a September 13 workshop led by Beth Fischer of the University of Pittsburgh, who offered NIH job seekers advice on how to prepare themselves and their résumés for the NIH Job Fair. Attendees indicated interests in both academic and industry research in an informal poll by Fischer.

The first part of the workshop was devoted to Job Fair preparation and etiquette. The goal of the job seeker at a fair, Fischer emphasized, is to land a full interview. The best way to accomplish this goal, she said, is to do extensive research beforehand. Job seekers should come to the employer's table with questions about specific products the company is developing or about hiring patterns or career paths at the company. "You want to give them everything you can to show that you are an interested professional," she said.

Fellows would be wise to visit the NIH Job Fair website, which lists all participating companies and, in many cases, descriptions of open positions and links to the companies' websites.

Dressing nicely is also important, Fischer said, adding that in previous years some employers at the NIH Job Fair complained that the fellows looked "a little shabby."

She also advised people to attend the Job Fair with their résumés in hand–and then she launched into a discussion of how those résumés ought to be crafted. She described the differences between a curriculum vitae (CV), the traditional format used to apply for academic positions, and the industry-oriented résumé. (The CV is an exhaustive chronological listing of career accomplishments, while a résumé is tailored to highlight the candidate's qualifications for a particular job.)

To illustrate some common problems, she distributed copies of a mock résumé that was full of typographical and formatting errors as well as irrelevant information that hid the applicant's real accomplishments.

The workshop appeared to be well-received. NIAID fellow Emiko Soeda and NINDS fellow Jean Tiong, both of whom intend to hit the job market in the near future, were enthusiastic about the program. Soeda remarked that job fairs are an unfamiliar concept to her because in her home country, Japan, young scientists most often get jobs through their advisors' personal connections. Tiong liked having the opportunity to critique a résumé and planned to use her new knowledge to modify her own.

The following week, on September 21, representatives from Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, including Matt Yudt, a Ph.D. scientist who did his postdoctoral work at NIH, offered advice on landing a job at a big pharmaceutical company. The program was sponsored by FELCOM, the Office of Intramural Training and Education, and the Office of Research on Women's Health.

They stressed that people seeking positions as scientists in industry, especially in these tough economic times, need to focus on jobs that require the specific skills and education they have—and that their résumé should be tailored to reflect that. Available positions, they noted, are usually described on the company's website.

Candidates who are selected for interviews are judged on both their science and their communication skills. They normally are required to give a research seminar, and the quality of their presentation and their ability to answer questions are closely scrutinized.

Yudt added that it is helpful if candidates can suggest commercial tie-ins to their research. And they should be enthusiastic and as knowledgeable as possible about the position for which they are interviewing.

Those who hope a job in industry will offer a respite from the long hours at the bench as a postdoc may be disappointed. In addition to their proprietary work, scientists at Wyeth are expected to publish two papers a year. Yudt said he frequently goes back to the lab to work in the evenings, and that promotions come faster to those who put in evening and weekend hours.

On the plus side, he added, promotions are plentiful, salaries are good, and the research atmosphere is collaborative. n






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