Research and Funding

Following IRP Fellows: Making the transition from postdoc to career researcher

May 21, 2011

(Published in LINKS: Minority Research & Training - Spring 2011)

You are on the seemingly paved road to a tenure track research position at a university. You excelled in your science courses and earned your Ph.D. You even landed a postdoc research fellowship. Fast forward 3 years and now what? Update your curriculum vitae and send out applications to every research position you can find? Try to extend your fellowship?

Each year a group of research fellows at the NIA Intramural Research Program (IRP) must ask themselves these questions. NIA’s annual FARE (Fellows Award for Research Excellence) Day & Career Symposium is a program developed by the Office of the Scientific Director to help fellows better understand their options.

The day includes a:

  • Question and answer session with a panel of former NIH fellows who have taken a wide variety of career paths
  • “Skillz Blitz”—25-minute sessions covering various topics such as how to prepare an academic package, ace an interview, and understand the American culture
  • Poster session featuring winners from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) intramural program’s Fellows Award for Research Excellence
  • Keynote address—the 2010 speaker was Joseph Buxbaum, Ph.D., M.Sc., from Mount Sinai Medical Center

Taking a Different Path

For many people, a career is a journey rather than a destination. If you ask your colleagues, teachers, and friends how they arrived at their current position, you may be surprised by what they say. Whether by choice or necessity, many people who planned on life as a university researcher have often found it necessary to pursue another path. So, to encourage its research fellows to start thinking more broadly about career options, NIA, in partnership with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), invited former NIH fellows to participate in a panel discussion sharing how their career goals evolved during and after their fellowship.

Panelists included:

  • A science liaison working in communications and science policy for the Association for Research in Vision & Ophthalmology
  • An assistant professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  • The Associate Director for Population and Applied Genetics, Division of Basic Neurosciences and Behavioral Research at NIDA
  • A NIH-funded researcher and practicing physician in internal medicine at a Baltimore clinic for the uninsured
  • An associate professor at the Community College of Baltimore County, School of Mathematics and Science
  • A senior research scientist at Martek Biosciences, a marine biotechnology company
  • A Commissioner’s Fellow at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Each panelist provided advice on how to make the most of the NIH fellowship and how to cultivate the skills necessary to succeed as a research scientist. There were a few common recommendations: get a well-rounded experience—the fellowship is a time to do research and to learn how to manage a laboratory. Also, network in and out of the laboratory—look for role models working outside the traditional tenure-track university position; they might have a unique perspective that can help you broaden your job search.

Panelists also had advice about when fellows should start their job search and tips for finding a position. The takeaway message: start looking early and keep an open mind. Finally, panelists warned fellows to be aware of application cycles and be patient, as it can take 2 years to land a job.

Page last updated: February 26, 2015