The Training Page


Collaborating for Success

“If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk together,” observes an old African proverb that symbolizes the value of collaboration, said National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Training Director Wendy J. Fibison at the 10th annual NIAID Fellows Workshop. Postdocs and graduate students, some of whom had come from as far as NIAID’s labs in Hamilton, Montana, had gathered on April 11 for a day of activities that promised to help them learn how to begin “navigating collaborative avenues for career success.”

To get things started, NIAID Deputy Director Hugh Auchincloss presented a review of the institute’s research achievements, including studies on antiretroviral therapies for patients with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV); the development of vaccines; and the importance of continuing basic-science research.

Trainees were then provided a variety of career options beyond the bench during the “Career Options” panel discussion. Panel members—whose jobs ranged from senior lead reviewer at the FDA to the China Media Project manager for the American Institute of Physics—advised the trainees to build their communication, teamwork, and networking skills.

Gaia Vasiliver-Shamis (Director of Career Development at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta), who said she got her job through networking, urged trainees to “play well with others in the sandbox” and learn how to interact with their managers. She also encouraged trainees to think about the workplace culture when accepting a job. Other panelists spoke about the importance of time management, conducting informational interviews, prioritizing work, and enrolling in networking and other classes for self-improvement.

The panelists also described successful experiences during their job search as well as useful lessons they had learned throughout their careers. In response to the question, “What things would you have done differently as a postdoc?” some shared that they wished they had explored opportunities away from the bench, tried new things so they could break out of their comfort zone, and networked more. It was refreshing to hear the similarities and differences among the panelists’ experiences. Given the challenges of the job market, trainees were inspired by the words from FDA’s Cynthia Chang, who commented, “Your career and your job do not define you.”

The trainees enjoyed a networking lunch with invited guests and former NIH postdocs and afterwards attended a “Research Management” panel discussion that also echoed the theme of collaboration. The three panelists—a medical science liaison at AstraZeneca, an assistant professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine (Indianapolis), and an investigator at the National Cancer Institute (NCI)—shared their strategies for landing bench-specific jobs including formulating e-mails, assessing career websites, maintaining a visible LinkedIn profile, and relying on word of mouth.

NCI investigator Joe Ziegelbauer advised trainees to “learn how to quickly immerse” themselves in their new environments. The “Research Management” panelists also encouraged trainees to master and merge more than one field such as bioinformatics with their research, improve their time-management and grant-writing skills, and actively build their own niche.

In his keynote address, Keith Micoli (Director of the Postdoctoral Program at New York School of Medicine in New York) urged trainees to take purposeful steps towards their future goals. He likened the journey after postdoctoral training to a challenging solo 125-mile hike that he completed in roughly 10 days. His hike taught him valuable lessons including the importance of being committed to your goals, knowing the difference between needs and wants, understanding the requirements of success, doing your best, and never giving up.

The workshop was sponsored by the NIAID Office of Training and Diversity. The theme, speaker selection, and program were almost entirely executed by the NIAID Fellows Workshop Planning Committee, which was led by NIAID postdoctoral fellow Caleb McKinney and NIAID graduate student Jessica Hostetler.