iJOBS Virtual Career Panel: Jobs for PhDs in Environmental Health and Safety at Universities

  • November 8, 2023
iJOBS Blog

By Alcina A. Rodrigues


Rutgers is a research university with many laboratories focused on different areas of healthcare. These labs require lots of chemicals and reagents that are hazardous to human health and the environment. The one organization that is responsible for overseeing the use of these chemicals is the Rutgers Office of Environmental Health and Safety (REHS). REHS develops, establishes, and administers protocols for environmental management and occupational health and safety. They also ensure the University's compliance with all federal and state regulations andprovides comprehensive research support, including radiation and biological training.

As a second-year graduate student in the Biomedical Sciences PhD program trying to explore career options, I attended an iJOBS virtual career panel on September 27th. The event featured panelists Alex Ruiz, Ryan McAlister, and Ian Pracher from Environmental Health and Safety at Rutgers. To be honest, this event really changed my perspective about potential roles in REHS and related career opportunities.

The field offers plenty of career opportunities with several jobs at universities other than faculty research positions. And luckily, these jobs require skillsets and experience that can be developed during your time at graduate school!


Alex Ruiz, Executive Director of EHS and University Safety Officer at Rutgers Environmental Health and Safety (REHS)

Alex described his career path as convoluted, starting with transitioning from a faculty position to the Office of Emergency Management at Rutgers. He attributed his new position and the experience he acquired during his career to his diverse background, subject matter expertise, and multiple certifications in the field. In his current position as a University Safety Officer, it is essential to oversee the safety of the students and staff as they do their research.

Thinking from the perspective of graduate students trying to land a role in Biosafety, Alex said the skillsets that most students and technicians pick up during their time in grad school can be applied to multiple fields in the industry. He gave examples of his colleague, a biology graduate, whose research was on the identification of endocrine-disrupting chemicals and is now working in the Industrial Hygiene department. He was able to apply his scientific knowledge and chemical background to a relevant field.


Ryan McAlister, University Biosafety Officer

Ryan is a University Biosafety Officer who oversees all three main Rutgers campuses and auxiliary sites. His team works in research locations pertaining to infectious diseases, recombinant nucleic acid, and research animals. They also participate in institutional Biosafety committees, such as the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) and Institutional Review Board (IRB). He also administers and manages the Institution of Biosafety Committee, which can include work with plants, humans & animals.

When talking about his career journey, Ryan said he never missed an opportunity to learn. He started to build his skillset and gain relevant experience while in graduate school with a Biosafety Officer shadowing program, which made him stand out from the other applicants for his current role. During his PhD, Ryan did a rotation in a regional biocontainment laboratory, worked with infectious diseases, and learned technical skills that he still uses in his day-to-day life.


Ian Pracher Health and Safety Specialist I

Ian completed a master’s in public health from Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences. He talked about the importance of industrial hygiene in the proper function of a laboratory. Ian mentioned that the essential skills needed for this kind of work are “understanding federal, state, and local regulations; creating, and implementing policies and programs that meet or go beyond compliance requirements; investigating problem-solving skills and working with various groups to identify and correct problems.”

He described Industrial hygiene as a constant fight rather than an endpoint. It is a cyclic process; once you finish a project, you start reevaluating and retargeting to find areas where you can do better and improve. Ian describes his day-to-day job as filled with new challenges requiring new solutions. He is constantly learning new information that helps him identify and correct hazards. Ian loves the process of investigating, problem-solving, and sharing new solutions with his colleagues. He also reiterated the importance of getting certificates and staying up to date with the field to advance the role.


The most informative part of the iJOBS event was learning about the internship and career opportunities available to current graduate students for personal and career growth. Students have access to a variety of courses, provided internally and through third parties. Some of the specialized EHS training or certificates include the 40-hour Hazwoper Training certificate and the Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) certificate. Grad Students can participate in projects like environmental hazards and sustainability and in the IRB or IACUC review process. The REHS website has more information on hands-on opportunities with education and training programs. For opportunities outside Rutgers, information can be found on the American Biological Safety Association website job board, which has various job listings.

It was a very enlightening session, and all the panelists encouraged the participants to explore the opportunities within Environmental Health and Safety and reach out with more questions and career options.



This article was edited by Junior Editor Angelica Barreto-Galvez and Senior Editor Natalie Losada.