Career Perspectives: Erica A. Siebrasse, Education and Professional Development Manager, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB)

Please describe your current position.

I am responsible for the ASBMB’s education, professional development and diversity initiatives. I report directly to our executive director and have two people who report to me.. While my position is multi-faceted, it is most succinctly described as project management. I manage projects ranging from building career resources for graduate students and postdocs to coordinating programming for our annual meeting.

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

I was already working at the ASBMB as a science policy fellow when this position opened and was not actively searching for jobs at the time. However, when I made the transition from the bench to the science policy fellowship, I started looking and applying almost a year  in advance due to fellowship deadlines.

Erica Siebrasse

How did you learn about your current position?

Since I was already working at the ASBMB, I knew the position would be open after my predecessor quit. I also was able to talk with her about the position before she left.

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

When I was preparing to transition away from the bench, the single most useful resource was informational interviews with scientists working in different non-research positions. I talked to approximately 50 people over the course of a year or so. This was very helpful in figuring out what path I wanted to pursue and helping me understand the positions to which I was applying.

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

I went directly from college to grad school. I have a PhD in molecular microbiology from Washington University in St. Louis. I defended in June 2014 and started at the ASBMB as the policy fellow in August 2014. I transitioned into my current position in February 2015.

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

Postdoc training is absolutely not required for positions of this type. My doctoral training makes my job easier and also enables me to be more effective. That said, I would not have been able to successfully apply for this position without the experience I gained outside the lab. I helped lead a large volunteer K-12 outreach program in grad school, which enabled me to gain skills in non-technical communication, leadership, and project management.

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

I started approximately one month after my interview. I did not experience any barriers.

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?

The interviews for my current position were fairly casual. I already knew my interviewers (CEO, CFO). However, I thoroughly prepared for these interviews. I researched all the current projects within the departments and developed ideas for improving and expanding these efforts. Since my interviewers already knew me, they focused on my ideas for specific projects they were hoping to initiate.

Did you pursue any other position or career path prior to being hired in your current position? If so, what factors led to your ultimate job choice?

No, I was not actively looking for a position.

Has your career trajectory followed the path you had expected when you started graduate school?

No. When I started grad school, I thought I wanted to teach and have a small lab at a primarily undergraduate institution. About halfway through grad school, I realized the research questions in which I was interested were not conducive to a primarily undergraduate environment. I also wasn’t interested enough in research to pursue an R1 faculty position. I had the papers, fellowships, etc. to support pursuit of this path, and I had a fabulous grad school mentor and overall experience. However, my heart wasn’t into a long-term career in research. So, I started doing informational interviews and researching other career paths.

Is there anything about your current job that you had not expected before you were hired?

I was not sure if I would like the people management part of this job (or if I would be good at it). However, I’ve really enjoyed this aspect. I can’t say if I’m good at it or not though!

Are there any particular skills or experiences you wish you had before you started?

In hindsight, I wish I had more program evaluation experience, especially in statistics. This isn’t necessary for my current position, as I seek out collaborators, but it would be helpful.

How do you spend an average workday?

I spend about 10-15% of my time away from the office—either in downtown D.C. or traveling on behalf of the society. I represent the ASBMB at various education-focused events (e.g., National Academies’ meetings) and lead career workshops, among other events. When I’m in the office, I spend the majority of my time on the computer. Managing volunteer work is a major part of my job, so I spend a fair amount of time on teleconference calls and email conversations. I also meet with my employees to discuss their projects and with other staff members to coordinate various aspects of my projects (e.g., marketing). Finally, I spend a substantial amount of time working on the projects themselves. For example, I draft slides for a workshop, write an IRB exemption application to collect survey data or prepare a flyer for event promotion.

What do you like the most about your work?

I really like that each day is different. I always have several projects on which I’m working, and they’re usually diverse.

What do you find the most challenging about your work?

Member volunteers are critical to my work. Without their hard work and expert knowledge, these projects would not be feasible. However, coordinating many different people who have differing opinions and different schedules can be challenging.

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

Excellent communication skills—both written and oral.

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

I think any personality can adapt to be successful, but it certainly helps to be interested in working with and meeting new people. You don’t necessarily have to be “outgoing,” but I think it would be difficult to be a total introvert in this particular position.

At any point, do you regret not having pursued a career in the academic field?

No, never. I really enjoy my career path and this position. I get to work on projects in which I’m interested, use my best skills, and I have a wonderful work-life balance.

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

Talk to other people in positions like mine. Networking is key. If you do, you’ll find out about jobs sooner and have a better idea what hiring managers are seeking in candidates.

This blog post presented by COMPASS, ASCB’s Committee for Postdocs and Students).

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