Monday, 15 July 2013 00:00

Sara Nitcher- Research Scientist for Battelle Memorial Institute

Written by  COMPASS Careers Subcommittee
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1. What is your current position?

Research Scientist for Battelle Memorial Institute.

2. How far in advance of your planned starting date did you begin looking for jobs?

2 years.

3. How did you learn about your current position?

Through a job posting and a friend from graduate school.

4. Were any resources (inside or outside your university) particularly helpful in your job search?

I did sit down with the graduate school Career Services advisor, and she helped me get my resume and CV in shape.

5. What was your work or educational background before you were hired?

I had a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, and was working as a postdoc in the same discipline.

6. Which aspects of your background (postdoctoral training, internships, etc.) were required for your position?

Ph.D. was required, and postdoctoral experience was recommended.

7. How long after your interview did you start your position? Were there any barriers to starting your position when you'd hoped (e.g. lack of space or funding available, time to secure appropriate visa)?

I actually interviewed twice at Battelle within a year and a half. The first time I was 6 months pregnant and the timing just wasn't right. I was hired the second time, when my child was 9 months old.

8. How would you describe the interview process and how did you prepare for it? Were there any skills or experiences in your CV that seemed to stand out?

I had a phone interview first, and an in-person interview after the phone interview. I found the phone interview challenging for a couple of reasons: first, I like to be able to see the people to whom I'm speaking to pick up on their non-verbal cues; secondly, I was speaking to a group of people rather than an individual, so it wasn't always clear to whom I was responding. The in-person interviews were easier for me. The second time around at Battelle, I spoke with a personal contact at the company prior to my interview, so I had a good understanding of what they were looking for, and was able to clearly express in my interview that I had the skills and the personality appropriate to the job.

9. Had you seriously pursued other positions or career paths prior to being hired? If so, what factors led to your ultimate job choice?

I did a lot of teaching at the community college level, and so I simultaneously pursued teaching positions as well as science writing positions. I had three serious interviews and two job offers before I ultimately started working at Battelle. I accepted one of the positions, but the job ultimately fell through due to the economy at the time. Almost two years later, I accepted the position at Battelle. I decided to work at Battelle because I knew I would enjoy learning about different areas of science, rather than focusing solely on one particular element.

10. Has your career trajectory followed the path you'd expected when you started graduate school?

No. I went to graduate school intending to teach at a small college. I am happy to have found a new trajectory!

11. Was anything about your job not what you'd expected before you were hired?

No, thanks to my conversation with my colleague, I was well informed and my expectations were met or exceeded.

12. Are there any skills or experiences you wish you'd had before you started?

I wish my advisor had been more positive about my scientific writing. I was told that I was a terrible writer, and was never given any guidance on how to improve my writing. Fortunately, I had received some positive feedback from others on my writing, which gave me the courage to apply for a job that was writing-intensive. I did worry quite a bit when I started that I was not going to live up to my new employer's expectations. I am glad I had a strong enough belief in myself to pursue this job in spite of my mentor's criticism.

13. How do you spend an average workday?

My job is to evaluate scientific literature for our clients and either summarize the findings or analyze the findings in written formats varying from wiki-based products to more formal reports. I spend most of my day sitting at my computer, reading and typing.

14. What do you most like about your work?

I love having the opportunity to learn about different areas of science.

15. What do you find the most challenging about your work?

There was a learning curve associated with entering the business world. Since I went directly from my undergraduate studies to graduate school, I really didn't have any "real-world" experience. For example, coming up with reasonable goals for my performance review was really challenging for me. My company loves acronyms, so learning the language was also challenging at first! The best challenge of my job is that at work I am seen simply as a biologist, so I am called upon to become an expert on any biological topic for our clients. I constantly work far outside my area of expertise from graduate school and my postdoc, but I love it!

16. What skills do you think are absolutely essential for your position?

The ability to critically read scientific research, and to write clearly and concisely about the findings. Having some teaching experience is useful as well. I often have to write to an audience of non-scientists, so I do call upon my experience as a teacher to help me in that capacity.

17. Do you think it helps to have a certain personality to do the work you do?

Yes. I am pretty introverted, so I really enjoy the "quiet" work of reading and writing. I also knew that I would not miss benchwork.

18. Are there any traits that would make it difficult to succeed in your position?

I think if you truly love benchwork and research-based science in one focused area, my job is not for you.

19. What advice would you give to someone looking for a position like yours?

Look for positions advertised for "science writers" or "analysts" or "medical writers". Make sure you can defend your ability to write clearly and concisely (having a sample of your writing prepared is an excellent idea). Be sure that you are ready to leave the bench for a cubicle, desk and computer! Most of all, believe in yourself and your skill set. The skills we learn in graduate school are highly translatable and valuable outside of academia!

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