By Joycelyn Radeny
Are you a PhD student or postdoctoral fellow looking to join the workforce soon? Are you interested in non-faculty positions in academia? If you answered YES to both questions, you have come to the right place!
On the 29th of September 2022, iJOBS had the privilege of hosting a career panel focusing on non-faculty jobs for PhDs in academia. 9 panelists from diverse career fields shared information about their current roles, how they found their jobs and advice to individuals looking for non-faculty jobs in academia.
Panelist: Alexandra Walczak, PhD
Career role: Supervisor of Laboratory Operations at Rutgers University
Dr. Walczak is responsible for coodrinating and instructing sections of a microbiology course. Before her role, she was a teaching assistant for the microbiology course, and started her transition into her current role by being a part-time instructor, helping the previous course coordinator. Dr. Walczak plays a pivitol administrative role to ensure smooth running of the course. Some of her tasks include: running the course management system, developing exams, liasing with learning assistants, assembing/disassemling laboratory supplies needed for experiments, teaching, designing laboratory experiments and working with teaching assistants who assist with experiments. To prepare for her role, she attended several teaching assistant workshops and assumed various leadership roles while in graduate school. Dr. Walcazak also mentioned that individuals at Rutgers who are interested in being science educators should look into the INSPIRE postdoctoral program offered by Rutgers University.
Panelist: Christine A. Marshall, PhD
Career role: Instructor in Biology and Assistant Dean of Faculty at Phillips Academy, Andover, MA
Dr. Marshall developed an interest in teaching during her PhD training. As a postdoctoral fellow she had the opportunity to train undergraduate, graduate, and high school students in developing research projects. After exploring various career paths, including teaching at liberal arts college, Dr. Marshall stumbled upon a teaching opportunity at Phillips Academy. Phillips Academy is a private co-educational secondary school for boarding and day students. Here, Dr. Marshall began her career in secondary education as an instructor for a 12th grade research based elective where she helps students in developing research questions and conducting experiments. This exposes school students to research at an early age and instills the confidence needed to continue with the pursuit of research at an undergraduate level. Students collaborate with research facilities outside of the school but conduct all experiments in school, under the supervision of Dr. Marshall. Furthermore, she accompanies students to conferences/poster presentations. Dr. Marshall is involved in designing curricula and electives in the biology department, a unique advantage that often takes many years to do as a faculty member at an undergraduate or graduate institution.
Panelist: Jessica McCormick-Ell, PhD
Career role: Director, Division of Occupational Health and Safety at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) . Director, National Biosafety and Biocontainment Training Program at the NIH
Prior to her current role, Dr. McCormick-Ell worked as a biosafety officer at Rutgers University. Her interest and career in health and safety began prior to her graduate school training when she worked as a researcher and technician in a biological safety level 3 (BSL-3) facility. Biological safety levels are important for categorizing infectious agents and enforcing protective measures to ensure appropriate handling of infectious and hazardous biological materials. Dr. McCormick plays a managerial role in supporting the health and safetly of all staff and students affiliated with the NIH who work with biosafety level 3 and 4 agents by implimenting safety policies and conducting risk-assesments/evaluations. Dr. McCormick also oversees occupational medicine and community health and wellness programs. Furthermore, she is the institutional contact for dual use research. Dual use research encompasses the use of research to provide intended beneficial solutions, while simultaneously cosidering the potential missuse of research for harmful purposes. For individuals who would like to pursure a career in biosafety and biocontaimement but lack experience, Dr. McCormick advised enrollment in the National Biosafety and Biocontainment Training Program Intramural Research Training Award (NBBTP/IRTA) offered by the NIH.
Panelist: Pragati Sharma, PhD
Career role: Associate Director, Commercialization Funding in the department of Innovation Ventures at Rutgers University
Dr. Sharma’s main goal is to support the research performed by innovators at Rutgers and help turn their research into real-world impactful services and solutions. Prior to her current role, Dr. Sharma was involved in the field of chemistry, chemical biology, and structural biology, with the goal of venturing into biochemistry, molecular biology, and drug development. She then stumbled upon an opportunity for a technology transfer fellowship at Rutgers University. The Innovation Ventures Technology Transfer Fellowship offered by Rutgers University is a good place to start for individuals interested in intellectual property law, technology transfer or business development. Dr. Sharma’s experience during the fellowship was instrumental in solidifying her interest in technology transfer and provided the foundation for her current role.
Panelist: Tatiana Litvin-Vechnyak, PhD
Career role: Associate Vice President of Innovation Ventures at Rutgers University
Dr. Litvin-Vechnyak’s main role is to oversee patenting, licensing, startup creation and commercialization funding. Dr.Litvin-Vechnyak prepared for her current role by being a part of the Innovation Ventures Technology Transfer Fellowship. Her role focuses more on managing the team that comprises innovation ventures as opposed to working side by side with researchers. For individuals interested in managerial position, Dr. Litvin-Vechnyak adviced learning about emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is an essential skill, often not culvitated in the PhD training program. According to psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer, founders of the definition, emotional inteligence involves the capacity to assimilate emotional information for cognitive activities such as reasoning. The Mayer and Salovey model bases emotional intelligence on four abilities: accurate perception/expression of emotion, use of emotion to facilitate thinking, understand emotional language/use emotional information and regulate self/others’ emotions for growth/well-being. Individuals should take advantage of numerous online resources or books that teach aspects of emotional intelligence.
Panelist: Lisa Lyu, PhD
Career role: Assistant Director of Licensing in the department of Innovation Ventures at Rutgers University
Prior to her role, Dr. Lyu worked as an assistant professor in the department of pharmacology. She developed an interest in technology transfer and patent law after attending a presentation about technology transfer. Subsequently, Dr. Lyu also completed the Innovation Ventures Technology Transfer FellowshipRutgers University, to gain hands-on experience that propelled her into the current position. As a part of the licensing team, Dr. Lyu works with innovators/researchers with the aim of marketing their research discoveries. Dr. Lyu and her team help innovators with documenting information about the invention, which serves as the first step of the patenting process. The licensing team also evaluates commercial potential and patentability of the innovation. Furthermore, the licensing team works with lawyers to advise innovators on matters pertaining to intellectual property protection. Dr. Lyu and her team work closely with the business and marketing team to help identify industry partners interested in collaborating with Rutgers to develop and commercialize innovations. They are also involved in contract negotiation between research scientists and business partners.
Panelist: Diane Ambrose, PhD
Career role: Executive Director of Research and Sponsored Programs at Rutgers University
Dr. Ambrose’s responsibilities include preparing grants, reviewing grant submissions to make sure they meet federal/Rutgers requirements, processing of awards and managing sponsored programs. Sponsored programs are research or training projects that are funded by various sponsors such as the NIH. Additionally, she oversees operations and ensures that the right policies are in place. A major aspect of her job is problem-solving and liaising with chancellors/research deans on research administrative topics. To prepare for her current role, Dr. Ambrose credits her experience in technology transfer coupled with the skills she learned during her PhD training (e.g., conducting research, writing grants) as major building blocks.
Panelist: Tracy E. Scott, PhD
Career role: Special Projects Coordinator in the School of Graduate Studies at Rutgers University
Dr. Scott’s main role is to facilitate projects that maximize students’ positive experiences in graduate school. She credits the iJOBS program at Rutgers for helping her learn about about her current position. Dr. Scott also plays a supportive role in different departments within the school of graduate studies. Some of the support offered entails; compiling data on the jobs/companies graduate students are involved with post graduation, conducting research on PhD students’ satisfactions or needs, and prodiving graduate students with information about the various resources of support available to meet their needs. Dr. Scott is also involved in assisting with training grant applications. Dr. Scott’s role allows her to collaborate with various departments on an administrative level, in addition to being a strong advocate for graduate students.
Panelist: Jessica Shivas, PhD
Career role: Director of imaging and cytometry at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, NC.
Prior to her current role, Dr. Shivas was the director of the imaging core facility at division of life sciences and human genetics institute at Rutgers. As core facility director, Dr. Shivas is responsible for: ensuring optimum function of equipment, training individuals on how to use equipment, helping students/faculty design experiments that are suitable for the equipment of interest, coordniating purchase of new equipment and writing grants to fund equipment. Prior to her role in core facility management, Dr. Shivas worked in the microscopy industry as an application support specialist. As a support specialist, Dr. Shivas trained researchers on how to run experiments that involved microscopy. Dr. Shivas credits her experience in industry as a foundation that prepared her for the job as a core facility director.
Words of wisdom
After the panelists provided information about the roles and responsibilities of their jobs, they were asked to reflect on some of the challenges they faced when deciding on career paths during graduate school or postdoctoral training. Most of the panelists shared that they were unaware of the opportunities regarding non-faculty jobs within academia when they were in graduate school. They also mentioned that contrary to recent times, leaving traditional faculty paths in academia was a taboo! Panelists further provided some helpful tips for current graduate students and postdoctoral fellows that are summarized below:
- Do not be afraid to take risks, pursue your interests and grow your network
- Take advantage of internships offered. If internships are non-existent, talk to the chair of the department of interest to facilitate volunteer oportunities or the creation of an intership program.
- No matter how divergent your background is from your career of interest, the essential skills learned in a Phd program such as grant writing, project management, data analysis, critical thinking, synthesizing information to generate next steps and troubleshooting are transferable.
- Career panels provide information about the duties of specific jobs that you may be interested in and also a great way to grow your network and get referrals. Keep an eye on the iJOBS website to know about upcoming panel discussions and other helpful resources.
The experiences shared by the panelists serve as encouragement to individuals who are seeking non-faculty career paths in academia. If you are intereted in a non-faculty career, now is the time to be proactive! Explore opportunities to learn about non-faculty jobs and how you can enhance/tailor your skillset to your desired job today so that you can set yourself up for your dream career tomorrow.
This article was edited by Junior Editor Soumyadipa Das and Senior Editor Shawn Rumrill
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