Non-Traditional Careers for PhDs – 5 Alumni Share their Stories

By Vinam Puri

iJOBS recently organized a panel of 5 Rutgers Alumni who graduated with PhDs and went on to pursue non-research jobs. Moderated by Dr. Janet Alder, the panel shared their unique stories including their career paths and day-to-day activities of their current position. This post will capture the experiences shared by all panelists.

Anna M. Dulencin is the Sr. Program Coordinator for Science and Politics Initiatives at the Eagleton Institute of Politics. She is responsible for developing programs that explore how science, technology, and politics intersect.

Anna graduated from Rutgers with a Ph.D. in Neuroscience and took a break to think about how she could make a difference with her skill set. She stayed very proactive during her break and continued networking, which helped her at several stages of her career path. She developed an interest in politics and got in touch with NJ Chief of Staff to see how someone with her background can be useful. This led to a job offer in DC but she could not accept due to relocation issues. During this process, she connected with a Scientist who helped her transition to Montclair State University as a Biomedical Research Consultant. She shared an interesting point from her networking experiences –

“If you ask people for money (jobs), you get advice and if you ask them for advice, you get money (jobs).”

While at Montclair she started attending workshops at Eagleton Institute out of her interest in politics. She became aware of an opening for a coordinator, applied, got accepted and has made tremendous progress in the initiatives she is working on.

For Anna, most days at Eagleton Institute are focused on the Eagleton Fellowships and Workshops. She works on how to run these events in the best possible way by expanding on issues that could engage scientists in a civic way. A lot of her work includes organizing and managing the various details of these events.

Dawn Lee is a Scientific Director at Scientific Solutions. For Dawn, graduate school was a time of self-reflection and she was able to focus on some key factors – she is passionate about science and communication and she wanted a break from research. She started attending iJOBS events and learned about medical writing through an old contact.  Realizing that she wanted a role that is more connected to science she secured a job as a Medical Writer, which involved writing for publications and she absolutely loved that. She stayed in that role for 5 years and had opportunities to help pharmaceutical companies liaise with PIs in order to communicate science. She then got curious about the other side of the Pharma industry and wanted to do something that was patient-focused and had more impact on the end game. She found medical affairs to be an area that is patient-focused, involved a wide range of projects, more than just writing, and something that involved creative innovation. She now has many years of scientific communication and medical affairs experience.

A lot of her daily activities involve receiving client tasks, signing contracts and Statement of Works, agreeing on deliverables by applying her project management skills, resourcing tasks to writers and quality control. She has to do a lot of client consultation and show them better options to communicate their content.

Her suggestions to the attendees include tailoring the resume to fit target that the employer seeks. She emphasized not being afraid to apply to jobs that require some experience. This is where all those years of doing extra activities in the lab could become really helpful.  Most organizations need to see a sense of responsibility, a pro-active personality, and organizational skills that most PhDs already have.

Fatu Badiane-Markey got her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology from Rutgers last Fall and is currently working in Communications at the Rita Allen Foundation. When Fatu was in grad school preparing to take her qualifiers, she realized that she truly loved science, but she did not want to stay on the lab bench. Soon she started as an iJOBS trainee and found out about science policy. She got fully involved in both by starting to write for the iJOBS blog and participating in the Eagleton Fellowship. While the blog strengthened her as a communicator, the fellowship was an eye-opening experience for her. She learned how the government works and she understood how much of an impact research can have.

Having learned about her inclination to work in the communication area of science, she started applying for jobs a year before defending. She was introduced to some policy jobs in DC, but she was more interested in local policy. She also applied to science writing positions coming from the experience of writing and editing for the blog. When she found out about a communication position at an NPO, she tried to learn more about the foundation and really liked what it did. The Rita Allen Foundation supports research and the environment around research; it provides grants and helps researchers conduct biomedical research. Her position combines her science policy interest with generation of engagement through communication. She has been at the job for less than a year and completely loves it.

Fatu’s day at the job involves general and science communication. She gets to reflect on the researchers work and generate communication for a variety of audience. She does outreach activities and identifies potential funding receivers. A lot of her effort is on generating interest in the audience through content in various formats and to connect the community to science.

An assistant professor at Montclair State University, Bob O’Hagan, learned about different career paths through iJOBS. However, he did know that his number one career choice was academic research the alternative would be working for a Non-Profit Organization. While on a job hunt he did not send out a lot of applications, but he knew the location has to be NJ. He heard back from a few jobs but honed in on undergraduate schools. Bob had no teaching background and knew it was going to be challenging for him so he started doing demo lessons to get feedback, which helped him get selected for the current position. His advice on job applications is to keep fine-tuning your application package. It is important to look at the details of the posting and tailor your application.

Bob’s day at the job involves a lot of teaching prep; he is constantly looking for new ways to teach. Since he is going to start his own lab, a lot of his time also include ordering items needed to run the lab.

Charles Song is a recent graduate from Rutgers with a Ph.D. in Neuroscience who is now working as a Senior Analyst at Flywheel Partners. In the 3rd year of his Ph.D., he started thinking about his future career. He calls this his “Interest Finding Stage” where he started paying attention to the things that he found interesting. That is when he realized he needed something more than bench science. As an iJOBS trainee, he attended events to find out what kind of jobs he could do with a Ph.D. He found out about a lot of options but to avoid getting overwhelmed, he decided to eliminate the options that he definitely did not want to do. Not being a native English speaker, he ruled out writing as a career. However, he was interested in the business of pharma and also had an interest in investments.

The next phase involved “Bulking up his Resumé”. When he realized he had little to put on his resumé other than his publications, he started to do more to bulk it up. He joined iJOBS Phase 2 and got a short-term internship. He got a mentor who he would meet once a week and shadow at his job at an NYC consulting company. This is where he developed an interest in the area of consulting and joined the consulting club at Rutgers. He took a consulting class and participated in case competitions that demoed what his projects could be like and even won a contest in Princeton. He also got selected for a 3-day program by McKinsey & Company where he worked on another case with a group. He did all these as he was finishing up the last stage of grad school.

In his “Application” phase, he started to get interviews but no offers for some time. He really refined his resumé strategy and made it a constant process to get people to review and act on tips received and kept it to one page. He incorporated buzz phrases and keywords to tailor for the industry. Being an international student, he also had the challenge of visa issues and to overcome that challenge he made sure he prepared really well for his interviews. His case contest experience really proved useful as he was able to use it for his interview presentation at the company that hired him.

Charles’s regular day at the job is divided into two main activities – working on the projects and managing projects, with the former taking up 60-70% of his time. His work includes content creation, preparing client materials for review, putting together launch strategies and some excel coding. The other part of the job requires constant communication and coordination to align with the vision of the organization with that of the client.

As I prepare for a leaving graduate school, I think this event opened me up to a number of possibilities and experiences that can help me shape my next step in career development. Let us know if you found something in the 5 stories above that influenced you in any way.

This post was edited by Maryam Alapa.

FDA’s role in expediting the development of novel medical products

By Huri Mücahit


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as the name suggests, is the primary regulatory organization for food and drug safety, including biologics and medical devices. However, surprisingly, the FDA regulates much more in the name of protecting public health, such as cosmetics, veterinary products, and tobacco products. The range in regulatory jurisdiction speaks to the long history of food and drug regulation that came about in response to the highly unregulated nature of medicine production in the early 1900’s, resulting in the death of 22 children due to contaminated vaccines. Since then, several laws have been passed requiring the licensing and inspection of food and drug manufacturers, as well as mandating the demonstration of not only safety, but also efficacy of a drug. Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., Director for Biologics and Research Evaluation, discussed the FDA’s history and approval process in this iJOBS seminar.


Of particular interest to Ph.D. students in the health sciences, is the FDA’s role in promoting the development of products that address the public’s unmet medical needs. The agency addresses these needs through several factors, such as extracting user fees for each application examined, so that performance metrics can be placed on the FDA to ensure timely review. In addition, to further facilitate drug and biologics development, sponsors of the applications, which are typically pharmaceutical companies, can ask for OrphanDesignation, apply for Priority Review vouchers, or apply through any of the expedited development programs. As the first category suggests, the Orphan Designation covers treatments for rare diseases affecting less than 200,000 people, and it features tax credits, 7 years of market exclusivity, and user fee exemption. Priority Review vouchers can be applied for neglected diseases of the tropics, rare pediatric diseases, and for medical countermeasures. This option ensures the review process will be completed within 6 months rather than the standard 10, however, the sponsors must demonstrate significant improvement in safety or effectiveness. Additional programs targeting treatments for serious conditions, like Fast Track, Accelerated Approval, or Breakthrough Therapy, may offer advantages such asrolling reviews in which the committee will review components of the application as they are prepared, approval based on surrogate endpoints, or extensive guidance from the review committee. Finally, sponsors can also be granted the Regenerative Medicine Advanced Therapy Designation (RMAT), if they provide cell therapies, tissue engineering products, or human cell and tissue products.


While the FDA has many paths to approval for new treatment applications, the agency naturally follows a standard process to ensure safety and efficacy of the treatment. This might include an initial information meeting between the FDA and the sponsor to go over the application procedure and provide guidance on the types of studies required prior to clinical trials. If the results look promising once the necessary pre-clinical trials are conducted, a manufacturing process will be developed, keeping with Good Manufacturing Practices. A second meeting might then be scheduled to propose Phase I trials and protocols, which, if approved, will be used to generate data for further review. Upon proving that the treatment has the potential to address an unmet need, the FDA will assign a specific designation, such as RMAT or Fast Track, and review the additional data produced from Phase II and III trials, as well, as manufacturing protocols. Finally, after a series of informal, mid-cycle, and late-cycle meetings, an advisory committee consisting of experts within the field will meet to grant or deny approval. This committee may also require post-marketing studies to be conducted to further test the safety of the treatment. If the sponsor fails to complete these studies, the FDA has the authority to rescind approval.


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For Ph.D. students interested in working with the FDA, those within epidemiology or biostatistics fields have the highest chance for employment immediately following their defense. However, to be a hired as a regulatory reviewer or research reviewer, post-doctoral research associates are preferred. Additionally, since the laboratories and the majority of offices are housed in the main facility in Silver Spring, Maryland, these positions are only available at this site. If the applicant wishes to remain local, there are inspector positions available throughout the country. The FDA also provides internship opportunities for interested students from a variety of backgrounds, including undergraduates and post-docs.


Overall, the FDA is a crucial agency in aiding the development of drugs and biologics and ensuring safety and efficacy of these treatments. Given the sheer number of drug applications received, Ph.Ds. have a wealth of opportunities for employment in reviewing these applications or conducting lab work within the FDA. Ultimately, these opportunities provide a medium to enact significant change and guide the path for new treatments.


Edited by: Jennifer Casiano-Matos and Monal Mehta

This blog post was written after attending the iJOBS Career Seminar: Jobs at the FDA on June 13th, 2019.


iJOBS 2Actify Workshop: How to design a magnetic and focused LinkedIn profile


On June 4, 2019, I attended a LinkedIn workshop by 2Actify offered by Rutgers iJOBS. This workshop was focused on helping design a LinkedIn profile, by making it more attractive with the necessary information for recruiters. The 2Actify program was founded by Penny Pearl, a Rutgers’ alum, dedicated to helping others prepare for their future.

Job searching can be very stressful and time-consuming. When seeking a job, you might encounter several challenges such as not knowing where to start, who to approach, or even figuring out the right words to use in your application. The 2Actify workshop emphasized that the job search is a step-by-step process composed of the 3-C’s: Collateral, Connections, and Conversations.

  • Collateral: Build your profile
  • Connections: Network and create relationships
  • Conversations: Start conversations with your connections that could potentially help you find a job

The 2Actify workshop was divided into two parts:

  1. How to make a magnetic and focused LinkedIn profile
  2. How to find a job through referrals


With Penny’s help, attendees went through the important parts of a LinkedIn profile that should make it more eye catching. First, your profile will need to be visually attractive. Penny advised that having an adequate picture of yourself, such as a headshot, is important. Also, LinkedIn gives you the option to have a cover image. This image should reflect who you are as a professional. Second, make sure to adjust these 3-key settings within your profile page:

1) Turn OFF the “Notify your network” button. This way every time you make a change to your profile your whole network will not be notified. Unless is something important that you really want to put out there.

2) Make your profile visible. The popular opinion is to have a private account, so that  only people you know personally would approach you. However, this is not helpful if you want recruiters to look at your profile! Often, recruiters will simply look at profiles that match a certain skill set they have in mind. So, if you are job hunting, having visible profile is the best option.

3) Get notified by email when you have received a message. This way you can be more aware if anyone that tries contact with you.

Penny also discussed key sections in your profile that a recruiter would definitely look at.

  • Tag Card and Headline: What you do and who you do it for.
  • Summary or “About”: This section would be outcome based. Let them know how you would respond in different situations, and what makes you the best candidate. You should use first person when writing, use easy scan categories, and describe your skills using key words.
  • Experience: Here is where you lay out all the experiences you have had in similar job markets.
  • Accomplishments: This section will allow recruiters to see how your accomplishments have helped you and the people you have worked for succeed and look good.
  • Recommendations: Penny advises to have at least 5 references. You can ask people to talk about one of your most outstanding skills.

Be active in your profile. Share articles you have written or read, and share at least one article a week. If you aren’t in the habit of doing so, you should start scheduling to read and share articles on your profile. This will help you to get more connections, which eventually can become referrals. It is better when you are referred to a job as this shows loyalty and confidence to the recruiters.

The 2Actify workshop is more than a 2-hour workshop, it is a whole program! If you are interested in this program you can access more info at

Hopefully following these tips will make the career searching process less stressful and time-consuming!

This article was edited by Eileen Oni and Monal Mehta.

A visit to the Institute of Life Science Entrepreneurship

Written by Vinam Puri

The Institute for Life Science Entrepreneurship (ILSE) is a non-profit organization at Kean University, NJ whose mission is to accelerate life science discoveries by supporting startups in the field. In May 2019, Rutgers iJOBS organized a visit to ILSE to help future entrepreneurs get initial guidance through interaction and advice from a panel.

When entrepreneurs start out with life science companies in the NJ area, they do not have many resources. This is mainly because of how new startup culture is in the area. That being said, the ILSE institute is unique in that it is an incubator space that provides laboratory space for startup companies that may not yet be ready to invest in a space of their own. Additionally, ILSE is also an accelerator that supports scientists and entrepreneurs that may not have the contacts or expertise required to start to their ventures. Specifically, ILSE also contains a Genomics and Bioinformatics center called Microgenomx, that provides services like sequencing, metagenomic analysis, and functional bioinformatics analyses. In collaboration with the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), ILSE has formed the ATCC Center for Translational Microbiology (ATCC-CTM) which conducts innovative research in the areas of microbiomes, antimicrobial resistance, genomics, and bioinformatics analyses as well as industrial microbiology.

The iJOBs visit to ILSE began with a panel introduction of the institute led by Dr. Sam Kongsamut, who is the executive director of the Entrepreneur Center. Each member of the panel was distinguished in his/her area of expertise and had unique experiences leading to their current positions. The panel members each shared their experiences, and attendees interacted with them to learn with respect to their own specific interests. Other panel members included Dr. Neal Connors, the Director of Research, Dr. Bob McLaughlin, Vice President of Research and Dr. Ajay Kumar who is the Vice President of Program and Alliance management – ILSE and CTM, and Dr. Holly Sutterlin, the Director of Biology and Prokaryotics Inc., an antibacterial discovery organization and one of the incubator’s residents at ILSE. Also present was Dr. Keith Bostian who is the CEO of ILSE. Dr. Bostian’s background is a unique mix of academia, industry, and entrepreneurship. He shared his journey of becoming an entrepreneur and deciding to give back to young For prospective future entrepreneurs, this was a great set of people to seek advice from and there were many interesting discussions that took place.

After the presentation, the iJOBS attendees were broken into two groups for tours around the institute. This was where we got a chance to interact with some of the members of the incubator startups. One such company was MDSeq Inc. This company is developing a proprietary molecular diagnostic platform. Fortunately, they were kind enough to let us in their space to give us an overview of their work. During this visit, the students were able to meet and interact with Dr. Terry Roemer, the founder and CSO at Prokaryotics. Dr. Roemer shared his unique journey and advice to young scientists preparing to enter the industry. One particular piece of advice he emphasized was –

“If you want to enter the industry to help with the science, you better be good at it!”

He stressed how important it is for young scientists entering the industrial workforce to bring something new and valuable to the organizations we work for. This is key to how we can stand out and make a difference.

Overall, we learned that there is a facility close to us in New Jersey, one which can help us with our entrepreneurial goals and give expert guidance and direction to increase our chances of being successful at forming independent life science startup companies. Everyone we met with was very helpful and willing to provide any help to connect students to employment opportunities in the many organizations they work with.

This article was edited by Brianna Alexander, Eileen Oni and Monal Mehta.

Meet the Blogger: Monal Mehta

Hello everyone!

My name is Monal Mehta, and I am finishing the 4th year of my PhD in Neuroscience at Rutgers University. I have actually been contributing to the Rutgers iJOBs blog since 2017, but am just now finally getting around to writing a post introducing myself! Time has really flown by since I arrived at Rutgers in 2015.

My interest in the brain was sparked when I was young, before I even knew the field of neuroscience existed. I was fascinated that humans all had the same organ – a brain – but everyone was so different, from their thoughts, experiences and memories, to their likes and dislikes. From there, I had a deep desire to learn more about how the brain works and wished to gain insight on how an organ makes you who you are.

Before coming to Rutgers, I did my undergraduate work at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey studying neuroscience. I quickly got involved in Alzheimer’s research, studying the insulin deficiency that is often seen with the disease. Because my liberal arts school was very small (no graduate students or post docs), I was able to gain an immense amount of hands on experience. I learned how to dissect embryos from pregnant rats, plate primary cortical neuronal cultures, and different cell viability assays. It was here where I fell in love with bench work. I enjoyed mastering new techniques, caring for my cells, and thinking of new ways to combat neuronal death in the presence of an insulin deficiency. By the time I was close to finishing my degree, I knew I wanted to continue doing research and go to graduate school.

After graduating, I came directly to Rutgers to begin my PhD in Neuroscience. I went from researching neurodegeneration to researching neurodevelopment! Now my research questions involve figuring out the developmental differences between individuals with and without autism. Specifically, what is going on in brain development that leads to this disorder? To study this, we use patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), an approach that is coming out of its infancy and possesses great power for personalized medicine.

So what do I plan to do after graduate school? Not sure! You might think a student finishing their 4th year would have an idea, but that is not the case. I have many interests, and it has been hard to narrow them down. I love bench work, so I could potentially be happy doing a postdoc, or transition to the industry/biotech world. However, I am also interested in the overlap between business and science, so maybe consulting, or venture? I am looking forward to attending more iJOBS events and opportunities during my final years of graduate school in hopes of discovering my passion. For now, I remain undecided, but am excited to find a career path that brings me joy and is stimulating!

I hope you enjoy reading my blog posts, and coming along with me on this journey through graduate school to figuring out my career!


Edited by Eileen Oni and 

“Interviewing and career acceleration strategies” a workshop by William Soliman, PhD

Written by: Abla Tannous

In today’s world and market, hard skills are not the only determinants of success and career progress. Soft skills, such as how you interact with others and market yourself, are also main contributing factors to how your career trajectory could be shaped. This is how Dr. William Soliman, the founder of the Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs (ACMA), began his workshop on interviewing and career acceleration strategies. Dr. Soliman has over 20 years of experience in medical affairs. We were lucky enough to have him come to Rutgers, upon an invitation from iJOBS (, to help us prepare for the future steps of our careers. This is not my first time attending a workshop by Dr. Soliman. A few years back, he gave us an introduction and overview about medical affairs (also through iJOBS). Dr. Soliman is an engaging and captivating speaker, and I knew this workshop would be very informative.

To have a successful career, being a subject matter expert is not enough. You must also develop a holistic view of the market and its dynamic changes.  For example, the pharmaceuticals industry is now more global than ever before, and there are new emerging pharma markets around the world. Therefore, global awareness is key in this industry. Another thing to be mindful of is emotional intelligence. It has been shown that emotional intelligence or EQ (emotional quotient) are strong indications of career success. Emotional intelligence is about effectively understanding and dealing with one’s own emotions and those of others. Elements of a high EQ are self-awareness and the ability to maintain composure under certain situations. Studies have suggested that emotional intelligence accounts for a large majority of achievements. It allows you to “respond” rather than “react” in certain social situations. This results in the ability to build better relationships, better coordinate with others and increase engagement.

Understanding emotional intelligence leads to the next part of the workshop: interviewing skills. Emotional intelligence comes into play when knowing what hiring managers are looking for. A manager wants to know that, if someone is hired, they will make their team better. Thus comes the importance of your aptitude to interact with others and how you present yourself. Some of what hiring managers are looking for are your abilities to understand the needs of the team and putting them first, though not at your own expense. Such a balancing act is an important part of putting your emotional intelligence in action at your workplace. Giving a positive and genuine image during an interview goes a long way. A simple thing such as smiling can make a big difference in defining the image you project about yourself. Communicating effectively and articulating clearly what you want will show that you are a confident candidate who knows what they are looking for. Communication is not only about what you say, as more than half of communication is body language. During an interview, or any social situation, your body posture will tell a lot about you. Avoid postures that might show arrogance, over or under-self-confidence. For example, simply sitting straight and slightly leaning forward would demonstrate that you are confident while also conveying your high interest in the position. Play close attention to the tune of your voice and the words you use. If during your interview you say something along the lines of: “That would be a perfect fit for my background,” while emphasizing the underlined words, you would highlight your interest in the position and your confidence in your background.

Elements of career success-William Soliman Workshop

When you are on the job market, you need to leverage all of your resources. Make sure you are a member of LinkedIn and expand and maintain your network.  Check the online profiles of the companies you are seeking, and learn all you can about them. What have they been up to recently (you can find that under their latest news section)? Who are their investors? What are the current trends in their industry? Such information helps you in understanding the company’s culture, their interests and future directions. During an interview, asking questions related to recent news about the company is one way to make yourself stand out. Finally, prepare for the interview questions. Most interviews put a lot of focus on behavioral questions. The most important question is: “Tell me about yourself”. This is your first opportunity to market yourself and showcase your brand. Make sure to speak about your background in a way that directly relates to the position. For answering other interview questions, do not overgeneralize and make sure to have specific examples ready. Emphasize on describing the situation in your example, what you did to address it and what were the outcomes. Even in answering questions that may not be favorable (e.g. what is your weakness?), use a positive tone and show how you worked on addressing the issue in a way that does not hinder your productivity. Lastly, always have questions ready for your interviewers at the end of each interview.

In summary, by clearly defining your goals, educating yourself about the position and the company/institution you are targeting, and preparing for the interview questions, you can set yourself up for success and career advancement.

Junior editor: Maryam Alapa

Senior editor: Monal Mehta

iJOBS StrengthsFinder workshop: Putting our strengths to use

by Vicky Kanta

Finding a job that perfectly matches our personality is a difficult task. Graduate students and postdocs are constantly surrounded by a multitude of career choices. However, what makes this search even more complicated is that many of us are not even aware of our innate abilities. For this reason, a recent iJOBS workshop helped us find and familiarize ourselves with our individual strengths.

The workshop was led by Dr. Susanne Killian, Senior Associate Director of the Graduate Student Career Development center at Princeton University, and Amy Pszczolkowski, Assistant Dean of Professional Development at the Princeton Graduate School. Both Susanne and Amy have extensive experience in career development training for students and faculty. At their current positions, they help students with their individual career plans and assist them with finding exciting career opportunities.

This workshop was based on StrengthsFinder, an online questionnaire by Gallup, based on the self-help book by Donald Clifton and Chip Anderson. It is based on decades of research in social work and positive psychology and has been extensively used in corporate settings as well as higher education. StrengthsFinder asks a series of questions about what is important to us, what we like and dislike, and how we would react in different hypothetical scenarios. Through these series of questions, it assesses our innate strengths (called “themes”), which are things that occur naturally to us, without any effort from our end. Some example of “themes” are Communication, Context, Analytical, Focus, etc. All of them are associated with certain characteristics that are explained in detail in the book and online.


An important distinction from other personality tests is that StrengthsFinder is not a skills assessment. In a neat example by Susanne, we can liken these “themes” to the experience of writing with our dominant hand; it is effortless and natural. If we then try to write with our non-dominant hand, we will definitely need to put more effort, but with practice we can get better – this is similar to our acquired skills, which we can slowly master but do not innately have.

Why is it crucial to know our “themes”? As Amy put it, “if we are not using our natural skills, then we may not be satisfied and fulfilled as a person.” Also, what makes a successful team is the ability to match people with different “themes”, who will complement each other and achieve things much more efficiently. Even though we may have an idea of our strengths, it is important to self-assess using these tools because most people may not assess themselves accurately. Furthermore, if we don’t know our strengths, we may not use them as often. Feeling like you are not using your best abilities can lead to frustration and feelings of inadequacy, so we should always ask ourselves how we can put our strengths in action.

All of the attendees had the opportunity to take the test before the workshop, so we all had a list of our top 5 “themes”. However, the interesting part would be to understand what these “themes” actually mean. At first glance, some of the “themes” were surprising; many of us got “Relator” in our top 5, even though we all agreed that graduate students and postdocs are rarely social beings. This is why it is very important to read the description of the “theme” because it may be entirely different from what we have in mind. In fact, “Relator” means having few, strong relationships, without necessarily being an extrovert. As we went through our lists, we explored some of the common elements, as well as some unusual findings. Susanne and Amy have done this workshop with many student cohorts, and said that some “themes” are always present among Ph.D. crowds, no matter the discipline. Some of these skills are “Learner”, “Input”, “Context” and “Analytical”. On the other hand, a few “themes” are almost never present in these groups, namely “Self-assurance” and “Woo”, which are usually associated with confidence and influence on people.

After this interesting discussion, we engaged in a few exercises where we had to stand up and answer a question by placing ourselves somewhere on an imaginary continuum between two extremes. For example, Susanne described a scenario where we had to go into a room full of strangers and meet everybody. The two extreme options were “Absolutely” or “No way”. It was no surprise that many of us crowded in the “No way” corner! This exercise showed us that people are usually grouped based on their top “themes” and that some “themes” often go together. For example, “Discipline” usually goes with “Focus” and “Consistency”. We then had to work on a very challenging writing exercise, where we had to think of times when we were “at our best”. It soon became obvious that this was not an easy task, but it highlighted the importance of reflecting on such times and thinking of how our strengths were put in use.

At the end of the workshop, Susanne and Amy made sure we have a good idea of our strengths and taught us how to put them in use. As Ph.D. students and postdocs, we are often too harsh on ourselves. However, we should always remember that we are already very accomplished people, among the 2% of the population holding PhDs! Thus, focusing on the actions that give us fulfillment will help us find balance in our lives. A dream career may not be easy to find, but our strengths may guide us closer towards it.

This post was edited by Maryam Alapa and Tomas Kasza

“Turning Science into Stories: memorable messages that make you stand out” a workshop by Dr. Dennis Mangan.

Written by Abla Tannous

Every year, the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine (CABM) at Rutgers University organizes a retreat where one person from each lab gets the opportunity to give a brief talk about their work. As I enjoy public speaking, I volunteered to give the talk this year. I have given many presentations over the years and thought this would be easy. Yet, this year was more challenging because I was about to give a presentation comparing technical approaches in mass spectrometry which can be difficult to do in 10 minutes and still engage the audience. I put the presentation together, including my own detailed images in illustrator, but I felt there was still more that I needed to do to improve my pitch. I decided to attend a workshop delivered by Dr. Dennis Mangan and hosted by the office of postdoctoral affairs on campus ( Dr. Dennis is the president of Chalk Talk Science ( and his talk was entitled Turning science into stories: memorable messages that make you stand out”. He started by emphasizing that scientists are problem solvers and are very effective at providing solutions. Hence, if you are a scientist stressed about giving a talk or a presentation, the solution is in your hands. You can turn your talk into a story, relax and practice.

Scientists are proficient at performing research in the lab but many times fail to effectively communicate their work to others. A big part of science is telling people about who you are, what you do in the lab and most importantly why you do it. However, a disconnect between scientists and the public occurs often when the public cannot understand, hear or remember what scientists say. Thus, scientists must turn their work into effective stories that are accessible, fun and easy to understand.

Image source:
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It might help to first define what a story is. In every story there is a problem and a goal. Actions have to be taken in order to solve the problem and reach the goal. Here is an example of how a story may be told: Beginning (setting the stage) … but one day (problem)…because of that (taking action) …until finally (solution)…and now (morale). Once scientists apply this structure while telling the public about their work, they automatically break barriers and make their science more accessible and understandable. This does not only apply while talking to the public but also when scientists communicate to each other.

The public wants to hear about discoveries and the whole scientific journey. How hard was the work? What were their fears, failures, frustrations and firsts? When scientists incorporate all that, they give a personal touch to their stories which allows their audience to relate to what they are talking about. Here, Dr. Dennis compares the difference between a story and a report. Oftentimes, because scientists are data driven, they tend to give their presentations in the form of a report rather than a story. A report focuses on data, facts, methods and conclusions while a story has characters, goals, challenges, actions and human emotions. First, characters have to be defined to turn science work into stories. Characters may be anything or anyone. For example, a character can be the speaker, their model system, someone else they are working with, etc. It is the speaker who defines the players in the story. Using metaphors and analogies has a positive impact. For example: “the C.elegans glowed like ….” The same applies for employing senses such as smell, look or sound “As I was doing the experiment, it smelled like …” Adding emotions brings the speaker closer to their audience. Such emotions can be happiness or sadness about certain outcomes, or even horror or disgust by how something looked “I was thrilled to see that ….”

Structure of a report vs. a story (Adapted from the slides of Dr. Mangan)
Structure of a report vs. a story (Adapted from the slides of Dr. Mangan)

Furthermore, building mystery in the story makes it more captivating and that can be done by taking pauses or using a delayed punchline approach by saying for example: “I tested this, but before I tell you the result, let me tell you about …”  In addition, including questions spices up the story and creates more interest “I wonder what would happen if I tried this…”

A major factor that determines the successful delivery of a story is body language such as use of gestures, different voice tunes to beat monotony, and eye contact by facing the audience and specifically looking at individuals in the eye as if having a direct conversation. Also, being on time is of utmost importance. For a ten minutes presentation, plan for eight. Finally, it is crucial to practice the story in order to deliver a fluid message so rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse.

If you are still not convinced of the importance of telling your work in a story form, the workshop concludes that having this skill can help in various places and aspects of life, not just in science. It might help in building relationships, getting hired or even moving ahead in your career. It also can bring a lot of satisfaction. After all, this is what leaders do in order to deliver an effective message; they tell stories.

Edited by Deepshika Mishra and Thomas Kasza


Exit Strategies- Planning to move on

By Jennifer Casiano-Matos

As graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, our responsibilities and aims in a research lab are on a limited time frame. Graduate students usually spend 5-6 years in the lab and for Postdocs, it is dependent on many variables. Such as experience needed for the job market or career path. Regardless of your current situation, changing positions or jobs is something that all of us will experience more than once. The key is to move on gracefully and in good terms with your mentor. You may need a letter of recommendation or you might want to work with a lab mate in the future, so leaving your last position cordially is key to move to the new step.

Since being a graduate student or a postdoc is a temporary training position your mentor’s expectation is that you will move on when your training is over. This will require, analyzing what kind of mentor you have and decided when it is the best time to inform them of when you want to move on to another position. Some mentors will help you in your search for a new position, while others may not. It will be natural for a graduate student to communicate that they are going to start the job search since they need to move on as soon after they defend. On the other hand, some conflict can occur if your mentor disagrees with your selected career path. Here is where having multiple mentors becomes important. For a postdoctoral fellow, it will depend on the years that you have spent in the lab. For example, a mentor reaction to a job search could be totally different from a 4-year compared to a one-year postdoc.

Preparing to Leave

For a successful exit strategy, the first and most important thing to do is to create a timeline. To create a timeline efficiently, you will first need to answer some questions. You can start answering how much time will take you to finish the starting project? When are you planning to defend and how much time will be needed to wrap up or to hand your project to another person? Is there a time restraint? How much time will take you to get a new job? It is important to give yourself some milestones and have a clear idea of what things need to be completed before leaving. Building a timeline should go together with creating an agenda including buffer time for conference calls, interviews, networking, and future responsibilities.

Always work backward from your goal. When you are looking or applying for a certain position you need to think about what you need to do to get there. Career planning is the key to success and mapping the baby steps will help you achieve those goals. This can include new skillset, networking, mentoring your successor, and seeking mentorship in other areas of expertise. Build out everything that is needed to get that position and to complete your resume. As soon as you realize you have acquired enough skillsets for a position that you like, contact recruiters, update your profile on LinkedIn and other recruiting websites.

Check your contract. For any appointment graduate student or postdoctoral fellow there are details on how you move from your current status to the next and how much time in advance do you need to provide the notification. For example, in my case as a graduate student, my timeframe is eight weeks, however, that can differ by university and/or position. You need to notify your future employer about contract restrictions and have a clear communication if some extra time is needed for the transition. As soon as you receive an offer, communicate your plans with both parties and your supervisor should be the first person you notify that you are leaving.

Meeting with your boss/mentor. One of the hardest parts is notifying your mentor that you have an offer and it is time to move on. Don’t jump into your boss office right away. First, create an agenda for the meeting to be sure that you cover important points in your conversation and be sure to practice. During the meeting, be thankful for the opportunity that this person gave you over your time working with them. Acknowledge his/her mentorship and every opportunity given. Ask for recommendations in terms of priorities and things that are needed to be completed before leaving. Create a timeline of your remaining days in the lab and mention the deadlines that will be completed during this period. Engage with your mentor and lab manager by showing where you are leaving your work and if needed, provide training to your successor. Leave your contact information so your supervisor can contact you if needed.

Organize everything. My recommendation is to not leave this for the last minute. You can start with your old laboratory notebooks and organizing the boxes in the fridges and freezers in a way that your successor knows what is in them when you are gone. You will be surprised how much data and materials you had created during your time and if you leave this task for last minute this can be overwhelming and time-consuming. Creating a spreadsheet might help you to organize your lab notebooks, freezer and fridge boxes, stored cell lines, etc. In addition, this can be a good way to leave everything clear for future researchers in your lab or your mentor. You don’t want to give the impression that you are leaving right away but start in a few bits by first organizing your personal belongings that are no longer needed from your desk. Delete cookies, web forms, and saved passwords from any work computer. Save any personal documents and separate them from any job-related documents. Check contact details that you want to get in touch with in the future.

Lastly, leave in good terms. Perform at your best until the last day of your appointment and keep your work ethic impeccable. Leave in good terms with your boss and coworkers. Think positively about this opportunity and don’t talk too much about your new opportunity. Focus on what is needed to be done before leaving and what the lab expects from you. Don’t do interview duties or new job duties while you are in your current position. Don’t discuss disappointment with colleagues if something bothers you on your last days. If you have an exit interview, state problems if any, in a constructive way giving the impression that you have good interpersonal skills. In summary, close the door of this important step in your life with a thank you and publicly praise the group for the help and opportunities given.

Edited by: Eileen Oni and Deepshikha Mishra


1. NIH OITE Seminar: Exit Strategies





Where Are They Now: Ina Nikolaeva

– Deepshikha Mishra

 Ina Nikolaeva graduated from Rutgers University with a PhD in Cell Bio and Neuroscience, where she studied role of mtor pathway in brain injury and diseases for her thesis. Currently, she enjoys her role as an Associate Scientific Director at Healthcare Consultancy Group. She was a senior editor and lead blogger for the iJOBS blog and actively participated multiple programs organized by iJOBS. She shares her professional journey with us through this interview. 


  • What have you been up to since graduating? Can you tell us about your job?

Following graduation, I started out as a medical writer at a medical communications company three years ago. Since then, I’ve changed companies once and am now an Associate Scientific Director at Healthcare Consultancy Group. I still love the medical communication field and plan to stay in it for the foreseeable future.

  • What got you interested in this field?

I have always enjoyed and have been reasonably skilled at writing and communicating. Even though at the time of graduation, while I did not want to pursue bench work any further, I also wanted to stay close to cutting edge science. Once I discovered the medical communications career path, I looked no further 😊

  • Can you tell us what your job search experience? What were some obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?

Some of my main challenges involved transitioning from running around in the lab to sitting at a desk. However, I always enjoyed the writing part of lab research and so I did not have much difficulty transitioning to doing that fulltime. The other key difference – though I did not necessarily perceive it as a challenge – is that medical communications is inherently a client-based service. Although I gained many communication skills while working towards my PhD, learning to provide a service for a client was a completely new experience.

  • How is your path going so far? What are some of the differences and similarities between your current position versus your research life at Rutgers?

The first difference is that my research at Rutgers was in neuroscience, using a mouse as a model organism. My current position now involves transitioning to oncology and working with data from human clinical trials. It is a whole different beast, but there is plenty of opportunity to catch up and get comfortable with the new scientific areas before taking on projects independently. I continue to enjoy my work every day!

  • What was your involvement with iJOBS, and is there anything specific that you were able to take away from the program events that helped you secure a position?

I was very involved with iJOBS and was one of the founding writers for the iJOBS blog. Eventually, I took over as the main editor as well and kept that task up for several months following my graduation. The iJOBS’s event I found the most useful was the SciPhD program. It was extremely helpful in giving us a glimpse of what life outside of academia entails, as well as providing very useful advice for resume writing, interviewing, and other useful skills. Larry and Randy specifically gave me tips on what companies are looking for at each stage of the interview process, and my resume is STILL in the format found in their manual!

  • How did you use skills that you learned during your graduate school career to transition into your current role? Were there any specific activities that you did during graduate school that helped you gain these essential skills?

My PI always let me write my own papers and encouraged me to take every opportunity I can to present my research in talk and poster form. She also always emphasized the “story-telling” element of such presentations. When it came time to interview, these skills were extremely important, as this is exactly what interviewers look for in the presentation you give them on-site. Additionally, my work on several blogs during this period was a clear indicator that I participate in writing activities even outside of the lab. I think all of these activities put together demonstrated both my skill and devotion to writing.

  • Do you have any general advice for current PhD students preparing for the next step in their careers?

I think the most important thing is to really think about which day-to-day activities you enjoy the most and least about your current position. You should try to find a career path that fits within those parameters.

Thank you very much Ina for the interview. It was so lovely knowing you and learning about your journey. I am sure the information you shared with us is going to help so many of us. Good luck.

Edited by: Eileen Oni and Tomas Kasza