Announcer: From the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, this is All About Grants.
Megan Columbus: I'm Megan Columbus, acting director of the Division of Communications and Outreach for the Office of Extramural Research. Today I have with me Dr. Sharon Milgram, director of NIH's Office of Intramural Training and Education. Sharon works with students, trainees and investigators interested in pursuing research in our intramural programs. Thank you for joining us Sharon.
Sharon Milgram: Thank you for the invitation. It's great to be here.
Megan: I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about your role here at NIH and your background?
Sharon: So, I am a cell biologist. My research interest is in epithelial sorting and cystic fibrosis, and I spend about 14 years in the academic community teaching and doing research and running graduate programs. I came to NIH three years ago, both as a senior scientist, so my lab is in the Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, and in the capacity of the director the Office of Intramural Training and Education, which is a mouthful so we call it the OITE. And in the OITE, I coordinate career development and professional programs to help scientists make career progressions from college to graduate school, from graduate school to postdoc, and from postdoc to successful scientist either in academia, industry, in a variety of ways.
Megan: And so today I'd thought we'd be talking about a couple of different ways that people could come to the NIH campus. One is in the early stages of their career in a training capacity. And then maybe get into a little bit if you are already an independent investigator what they can do on the campus here.
Sharon: Terrific, I'll start a little bit with training, and I should say that probably the key take home message is the website: training.nih.gov. If you go to that website, you should be able to find information on all of our programs from the summer internship program up to the postdoctoral program. That website also has links and videocasts of a variety of career development workshops that we've put on. I'm going to start at the more senior levels. The NIH has a very large, active postdoctoral program, with research spanning from mathematics and the physical sciences to the biological and clinical sciences. In addition, our postdoctoral programs extend into the behavioral and social sciences as well. So nearly, anyone with an interest in healthcare and healthcare research could find a place at NIH. The NIH campus in Bethesda houses the largest clinical research hospital, and that's the NIH Clinical Center, dedicated exclusively to clinical research and involves human subjects' protocols. The postdoctoral program is open to anyone with a doctoral degree, both US and international, and it allows for five years of research training on the NIH campuses.
Megan: So what's the first step for somebody who is interested? It's clearly to go to the website. Are there people they should talk to as well here on campus?
Sharon: So on our website is a list of NIH investigators that are looking for postdoctoral fellows, and they have a blurb describing their research, and that's a good place to look. But I would encourage graduate students and fellows interested in coming to the NIH to start actually from their science interests, not so much from what ads are posted. So, go to the various institute websites, and those can all be found easily at nih.gov, and look for scientists whose work excites them, and then contact them directly. In addition, NIH institutes in the intramural program have training directors and training officers that can help discuss programs within each individual institute. Something that people might not realize is that all NIH postdoctoral fellows can take advantage of all of the resources across the NIH, but they are also housed within a single institute of the NIH, and there is a variety of opportunities and programs for them within that institute. So, starting at the institute level is a great way to go. Starting at the general science level - I'm looking for people who work on cell death, or I'm looking for research on ADHD at the human level. You can start either way and make your way to appropriate training opportunities.
Megan: So when you say they are housed in a particular institute's intramural program but you say they have access to the resources across the NIH, what kinds of resources are you talking about?
Sharon: So, the NIH intramural campus, and I should actually qualify that and say that there are multiple campuses, including the largest in Bethesda, Maryland. We have campuses in Baltimore, and in Frederick, in North Carolina, Rocky Mountain labs in Montana. So each campus has a large seminar program, many symposia focusing on scientific topics, workshops on science policy and how biomedical research interfaces with important elements of science policy. We have scientific interest groups that span institutes that bring speakers and run retreats and programs for fellows to get together with NIH investigators, talk science, forge collaborations. In addition, all the career development resources are available to fellows in every campus. We have a career services center housed in the OITE, which travels to the different NIH campuses. We have a full menu of career development opportunities-the academic CAT Track to help you find a career in academia, the industry CAT Track to explore careers in industry, and a large series focused on non-bench careers in policy, law, science writing, etc. And fellows who come to the NIH have access to all of that. However, I want to come back to the one, I think, most important point and that is the resource-rich environment here to do biomedical research. We have core facilities in everything spanning from genomic technologies to computational technologies to molecular biology and microscopy, and fellows here can learn from experts in all of these areas and take advantage of these technologies and resources.
Megan: Wonderful, sounds like a good place to be. And I have to reiterate, when you first started out, you said to go check out your website. And that website was recently redesigned, and I find it particularly helpful. And I think our listeners will as well. Can we switch gears a little bit and talk about employment opportunities for more senior investigators? What they might find here? How they might go about finding? Those kinds of things.
Sharon: Sure. So, I think a lot of people are surprised to hear how similar the intramural NIH campus is to an academic campus. So, NIH scientists can come to NIH on the tenure-track very similar to an academic environment and move through a process of evaluations towards a tenured position. Each scientist is assigned to an NIH institute and works within a larger group, which we sometimes call branches or sections. So, for example, my lab, which studies epithelial cell biology, is within the laboratory of kidney and electrolyte metabolism within the cell biology branch of NHLBI. So, right in my environment are other scientists and other labs thinking about similar problems, some from a more clinical perspective, some in different model organisms but all together we live and do science with neighbors who think about similar things. The tenure-track hiring process at NIH is very similar to the tenure-track hiring process in an academic institution. You will be asked to provide a research plan, which really indentifies your goals for the five to ten years at the start of your career. You'll be asked to demonstrate success through publications. You'll get invited to the NIH campus to give a seminar and meet with colleagues. So, the process is very similar. Doing science at the NIH has some differences to doing science in the academic community-mainly our review process differs. So, in the extramural world there is peer review and grants. And in the intramural world, we are evaluated through a process called the Board of Scientific Counselors. BSC comes every 4 years. Actually, very well respected scientists from the extramural community come, read a report of what was done in the lab, meets with the scientist, meets with trainees in the lab to get a sense of what's happening, and the evaluation is done in that way.
Megan: So, how do individual projects get approved?
Sharon: Individual projects get approved within the broader context of the Board of Scientific Counselor review, but what is precisely done in your lab is at the discretion of the principal investigator or NIH faculty member. So, unlike where you might apply for a grant to do specific aims within a broader project, I receive a budget to tackle that broader project and can allocate resources to different aims.
Megan: So, you are funded as opposed to the project being funded?
Sharon: So, the investigator is funded as opposed to the project. That said, the peer review process within the NIH system is rigorous, and scientists who look to come here should expect to feel the same intensity and need to publish, the need to get out there and give talks at meetings, the same need to have a visible and respected reputation in the extramural world.
Megan: And what is the relationship between an intramural investigator at NIH and the extramural program? Are there collaborations between the two?
Sharon: So, NIH scientists collaborate both nationally and internationally. And, in fact, one of the things that I think is really for me exciting at the NIH is how much of a global perspective on biomedical research the intramural program has. So, I would say NIH investigators have worldwide scientific collaborations some to get samples and expand research in other areas; some are driven by students going back and forth between the extramural lab and intramural lab. But in general, there is no limitation to the ability to collaborate, and I would say most NIH intramural scientists are doing quite a bit of collaboration.
Megan: As a federal employee what are the implications for foreign investigators wanting to come work for the NIH?
Sharon: So, the NIH intramural program is looking to hire the best scientists, and we invite applications in tenure-track positions from both US and foreign national scientists.
Megan: Good to know.
Sharon. I guess I should add that we have a major new initiative to bring exciting new science to the NIH research community, and that is called the Stadtman investigators. We are doing a search across all of the NIH, as opposed to each individual institute looking for a tenure-track faculty member. You can apply for the Stadtman search, and scientists across the NIH evaluate your application. And if your applications is deemed highly competitive, then a variety of institutes will work together with you through the application process to find the best fit and the best place for you to do science. The Stadtman application process will be opening within the next two weeks and will close promptly in early October-somewhat of an early deadline. So, I wanted to take this opportunity to get that information out there.
Megan: We'd be happy to help you promote that!
Sharon: It's a great place to do science and a great opportunity for young scientists interested in coming to the NIH.
Megan: And the best way for people to find out about the positions that are available here again would be through?
Sharon: Off of our website training.nih.gov you will find a variety of jobs listed. In addition, there is terrific resources at job.nih.gov, which does explain all of the rules and requirements for what jobs require citizenship and what jobs don't. And it's really critical that you take a look at that because it's frustrating to think you may be eligible for a job you're not eligible for or to miss out on an opportunity that you are eligible for. The NIH intramural program is a very diverse and global community, and we really welcome applicants from across the world and across the scientific spectrum.
Megan: One of the things that hit me that was particularly interesting about what you said is that you don't have to have the focus be on biomedical sciences - that anything that is related, whether it be computational science, as long as you've got an interest in relating it to health, is of interest.
Sharon: I would strongly echo that. In fact, I would say that we are hungry for qualified physical scientists and quantitative scientists to bring their intellectual energy and curiosity to problems in biomedical research. Likewise, the behavioral and social science research enterprise at NIH is very vigorous and growing. And we appreciate that to solve the complex problems that our communities face we really need expertise in everything. So, I would encourage people to broadly look at the NIH as a place to work.
Megan: Great message. Well that wraps up today's edition of All About Grants. For NIH and OER, this is Megan Columbus. Tune in next time.
Announcer: For more information on intramural training opportunities, visit training.nih.gov. Again that is T-R-A-I-N-I-N-G dot N-I-H dot G-O-V. And to learn more about jobs at NIH, visit jobs.nih.gov. That's J-O-B-S dot N-I-H dot G-O-V.