Hindsight in 2020: defining moments of my career 

I’m a scientist working as a Principal Legislative Analyst in the University of California (UC) Office of Federal Governmental Relations. This is a good fit for someone who started in research, and is now working in research policy.

I guess you could say I’ve been around research my whole life. Growing up, I used to visit the laboratory where my parents worked in Romania, and later, their workplace at Clemson University. I got my BS in Biological Sciences from Clemson, and my first research experience there got me interested in a science career path. I then went to graduate school at Emory University, where I got my PhD in Biochemistry, Cell and Developmental Biology. At that time, I wanted to be an academic. So I did a postdoc at the University of Louisville.

About six months into my postdoc, I started exploring possible career options with my PhD. I ended up starting a career seminar series (CRAFT) with another postdoc. This was my first defining moment, which got me interested in how we are training junior scientists for various career options. I subsequently organized trainee-led symposia, which were ASCB-sponsored regional meetings. For the symposia, we put together an application that was greatly enriched by all of our expertise and ideas from working at different institutions. These symposia were a beneficial experience in terms of learning how to run a small meeting and ironing out all the details ourselves. Thematically, it also brought together researchers from the Midwest and provided a platform for graduate students and postdocs to present their work and establish collaborations among researchers at the conference. These events made me realize that I was really interested in training the next generation of scientists and thinking more broadly about how to provide them with resources that may not be readily available at their institutions. But at this point, I still had no idea how to turn this interest in training into a career.

To learn more about what it takes to train postdocs, and what programs existed across the country, I joined the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) and the Graduate Career Consortium (GCC), where I gained great insights into these topics from university administrators with the type of job I was considering. Within the NPA, I was first involved with the Resource Development Committee; then I transitioned to various roles within the Advocacy Committee, including co-leading the writing team, and I was later involved with events related to NPA annual meeting planning. Within the GCC, I led the PhD Career Outcomes Committee, which was also an interesting opportunity to look at the institutional data on this topic. At that time, I hadn’t been able to get my foot in the door into university administration, but I was learning more about myself and where I might want to take my career.

As luck would have it, I became involved with the nonprofit organization Future of Research (FoR), which advocates for an improved research enterprise and giving early-career scientists a voice in the process. At FoR, we had a research project looking at postdoc salaries in response to a federal labor law, and subsequently examined postdoc salaries nationwide. This was another defining moment, as I became fascinated by nationwide studies on academic issues, and how these could help us better understand larger trends in training and policy related to training the scientific workforce, in particular graduate students and postdocs. I then sought to figure out how I could make this my career goal, as I felt that I was getting closer to what I wanted to do.

Having become interested in how federal policy affects the academic system, I was lucky enough to be selected for a Policy & Advocacy Fellowship with the Society for Neuroscience (SfN). This experience taught me how to craft statements on behalf of the society, as well as plan and execute their Capitol Hill Day, and help with planning events for SfN’s annual meeting. This fellowship was another defining moment. I fell in love with advocacy and sought to obtain a position that would focus on advocating for biomedical research more broadly, while also allowing for building relationships with policymakers. I wondered how to integrate this passion for advocacy into the idea of improving the research system to benefit young scientists.

After much soul searching, and job searching, I ended up at the UC Office of Federal Governmental Relations (FGR) in Washington, DC. In this role, I serve as an advocate for UC with Congress, the Administration, and federal agencies. I also interact with experts in government relations at other universities with DC offices, as well as those from higher education associations, and staff at federal agencies and Capitol Hill. This position combines various facets of my interests: research policy, higher education, advocacy, and workforce development. This position blends all of my interests together and will be a great stepping stone for my next career move.

Adriana Bankston

In my current role, one particular aspect where my research training is valuable is in organizing events where we bring UC researchers to Capitol Hill to talk about their work, either in the format of individual or group meetings or in the format of larger events such as briefings. This type of event requires someone who is both knowledgeable about the research system, and the science-policy space. In this sense, I can help researchers explain their science to non-scientists, and thereby increase the value of their work to policymakers. I’m also one of a few individuals in the office with a science degree, which also brings valuable expertise to the team.

So the moral of the story is that you may not arrive where you first thought you would be (in my case, being a faculty member), but where you are ultimately supposed to be, and that road will likely be paved with many defining moments that will guide your career along the way.

This post represents the writer’s personal views and not the views of their employer, the University of California.


About the Author:

Adriana Bankston is a Principal Legislative Analyst in the University of California (UC) Office of Federal Governmental Relations, where she serves as an advocate for UC with Congress, the Administration, and federal agencies. Prior to this position, Adriana was a Policy & Advocacy Fellow at The Society for Neuroscience (SfN), where she provided staff support for special and ongoing projects, including SfN’s annual lobby event and the society’s annual meeting. In addition to working at UC, Adriana also serves as Vice-President of Future of Research, and is Chief Outreach Officer at the Journal of Science Policy and Governance. Adriana obtained her PhD in Biochemistry, Cell and Developmental Biology from Emory University and a Bachelor’s in Biological Sciences from Clemson University.