American Society for Investigative Pathology, August 2013, Vol 5, No. 2

Follow-up after the Career Development Workshop & Breakfast: Non-Traditional Career Opportunities at the ASIP 2013 Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology

Dr. Cherié Butts, an accomplished research scientist with training in academia, government, and industry, was interviewed for the ASIP Trainee Newsletter by Christi Kolarcik after she spoke at the ASIP Career Development Workshop.

ASIP Members can access Dr. Butts' presentation in the ASIP Digital Library after they login to the member access site (www.asip.org/members/). Once you have logged in, you will see ASIP Digital Library on the left column. When you are in the digital library, click on the tab Member-Only Documents to access the presentation.

For those unable to attend your presentation at the ASIP Annual Meeting, could you tell us about your career path?
I have been very fortunate to have a highly unique career path: a research scientist who trained in academic (Johns Hopkins/UT MD Anderson Cancer Center) and government (NIH) settings and worked in government (FDA) and industry (Biogen Idec) settings. These experiences provided insight into different approaches to addressing complex biological questions.

Many of the points you discussed in your presentation contain elements of a formal Career Development Plan (CDP). Did you utilize a CDP in planning your own career? If so, did it help you in deciding to switch careers and choose a non-academic path?

I have to admit that I accidentally did all the right things. I did not start off with a plan for this career path but have found that each experience has provided the skills needed for the next. I am not sure where my story will end but am sure that I will be well-equipped for the next adventure. I must also emphasize that my undergraduate experience at Johns Hopkins taught me to be strategic and to make sure each experience provides at least one new skill set.

Can you discuss the role of personality type in finding a good career fit?
I believe this is critical. Each person should assess his/her strengths and areas for improvement in seeking the type of position that is the best fit. If you love to be around people, it does not make sense to take a position working alone most of the time. Matching your personality with the type of work that you do will ensure happiness in the workplace.

With the current funding climate, do you have any advice on “blazing your own path” so to speak? In other words, we often think about going from A to B to C in our careers. What kinds of opportunities should we be aware of that might not fit this mold?
My advice is to be creative but always true to who you are. If you write a grant that is clearly outside your level of expertise, it will be obvious and less likely to be funded. If you consider how your skill set might be useful in different diseases or scientific fields and partner with experts in those areas, you are more likely to be successful. There are scores of opportunities available, but you should be careful to consider how each will help you achieve your goals.

What differences in work-life balance between academic and non-academic careers need to be taken into consideration before choosing a career path?
Industry takes work-life balance VERY seriously. That was something I had not considered when I started. You are expected to work hard and also take advantage of opportunities to relax. Companies realize an employee who works all the time is more likely to burn out. They would prefer that you take a break so that the quality and longevity of your efforts are maintained.

What advice would you offer new graduates interested in research in government or industry? Do you think it is necessary to have post-doctoral training in these arenas?
The key is to know what you want to do. Working in Government or Industry can be an extremely rewarding experience, and the best opportunities are determined by your starting point. Those with post-doctoral training are typically more likely to move up more quickly because they come with experience. I would also suggest that you tailor your CV. What people look for in an academic CV is very different from applying for a Government or Industry position.

In your opinion, what are some major differences (pros and cons) between research careers in government and industry?
A Principal Investigator in Academia, Government, and Industry are essentially the same except for the focus. In Academia, your research is largely driven by the grants you are able to obtain. In addition, if you are able to obtain multiple sources of funding, you can explore any number of scientific questions. In Government, you are not bound by grants but rather by the budget you are allotted. There are opportunities for additional funding, but the range is not as wide as in Academia. In Industry, your budget is not limited but rather the scope of the research you do. Companies are usually focused on specific diseases of interest; therefore, your molecule of interest needs to be relevant to that disease. There are pros and cons to each sector. It is up to the individual to decide which is which.

What are some of the best ways to find available post-doctoral positions and jobs in government and industry?
The short answer is networking. If you know someone in Government or Industry, they can tell you about the positions that are available…especially those that are not posted. In Government, you can go to USAJobs.com to find positions. For Industry, go to each company’s website for listings.

Can you provide some tips on the negotiation process? What strategies/approaches have you found to be effective particularly at early stages of your career when you had less experience negotiating?

  1. Do your homework. Information is available on both company and government positions/salaries.
  2. Talk to someone who works at the company or agency. Knowing the kind of skill sets they currently have and are desperately seeking strengthens your negotiation power.
  3. Don’t take the first offer, but don’t be unreasonable. Most employers assume you will ask for more than they initially offer. Be ready to justify each additional “ask” so you don’t come across as greedy.
  4. Show your passion. If they are hiring someone with excitement to do the work, they are more willing to give you what you want/need.