American Society for Investigative Pathology, July 2012, Vol 4, No. 2

Jayne Reuben, PhD - Steps to Job-Seeking Success

Jayne Reuben, PhD Dr. Jayne Reuben
Clinical Associate Professor
Department of Biomedical Sciences
University of South Carolina
School of Medicine-Greenville

Dr. Jayne S. Reuben earned her PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences with a specialization in Pharmacology and Toxicology from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU). She received a 2002 UNCF-MERCK postdoctoral fellowship to train with Dr. Peter A. Ward at the University of Michigan Department of Pathology. While at Michigan, she was a charter member of the Michigan Postdoctoral Association and an Executive Board member of the National Postdoctoral Association. Dr. Reuben currently serves as a member of the FASEB/MARC National Advisory Board and the ASIP Committee on Career Development, Women and Minorities.

Tell us about your current position at USCMC
I am a clinical associate professor and founding faculty member in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine-Greenville (USCSOM-G), which is housed on the Greenville Hospital System main campus. At USCSOM-G (http://www.greenvillemed.sc.edu/index.shtml), I am part of a collaborative faculty developing a student-centered medical curriculum for the M1 and M2 year modules. Most of our content will be delivered in a non-lecture format, so we spend much of our time working on team-based classroom activities and methods of assessment.  The questions that we write for formative and summative assessments are vetted collectively by the faculty (including clinical) in order to provide real-world relevancy to the material that we present.  So for now, my primary focus is on medical education; however, I continue to be actively involved in biomedical, clinical and educational research endeavors. 

What were some factors that inspired you to follow this particular career path?
I come from a family of academicians so I was exposed to education as a career early on.  (I tried to fight it but here I am.) I have always been tutoring and teaching others since high school and I got very interested in activities and practices that enhance cognition while studying pharmacology as a graduate student.  As a Kaplan instructor, I started paying closer attention to the strategies employed to prepare students for standardized tests.  These interests coupled with my own desire to be more efficient in my own learning and teaching led me to learn more about pedagogy and metacognition.  From my perspective, teaching students about metacognition (J. Flavell, 1976) involves helping them engage in behaviors that facilitate learning as well as refrain from those that detract from learning in order to enhance their achievement during assessments and to equip them to be life-long learners after they graduate. 

You have had a very successful career this far, what keeps you motivated?
First, I still have so many more goals to reach.  Second, I grew up in a family dedicated to service to our surrounding community. I remember my mother telling me that that I should always leave a place better than when I arrived and I have tried to live up to that standard.  Third, the idea that I can help someone else achieve their dreams is quite intoxicating. As wonderful as it is to work with really bright students who excel from the very start, there is an unmatched sense of accomplishment and pride when I have helped a struggling student become more proficient and confident in my discipline. I facebook with quite a few of my former students and it is great seeing them become successful especially those who may have struggled as students.   

What are some ways graduate students can learn about available postdoctoral positions?
1. Networking is very important. Network with their peers, the faculty and anyone of interest that they meet; you never know who will be able to help you.
2. Many institutions have career development offices that are available to graduate students, postdocs and alumni.
3. The FASEB society (especially ASIP) websites are great resources.
4. Don’t limit your searches to traditional or discipline-specific opportunities. Inquire about customizing your postdoctoral experience to generate innovative approaches to research and clinical problems.  
5. Conduct informational interviews; they are valuable in learning about new opportunities and directions. 

How did you learn of your current position and how did you prepare for the interview?
I have alerts sent to me on a weekly basis from various sites but I found the advertisement for my current job in The Chronicle of Higher Education.    What may seem obvious is that I followed the directions regarding the interview and material required for submission.  (If you have questions, do not hesitate to make contact with the prospective employer.) I had a practice phone interview before the actual screening phone interview and  I spent about two months working on my presentation because it wasn’t the general research presentation interview. I read the institutional documents that were sent, visited the institution’s website and even read newspaper articles about the development of the school. During the interview day, I even modified my presentation based on the additional information that I received.

In your experience, how relevant is a diverse CV in obtaining an interview?
One should have both diversity and focus evident on the CV. Diversity of activities will provide clues about your range of skillsets and attributes but there should be an area of focus that establishes you as an expert in a particular field.  Please note that it is important sometimes to tailor your CV (order of information, additional details about pertinent activities) depending on the job description and the organization’s mission. You can also summarize your assets in the cover letter or initial letter of inquiry. (This is when informational interviews and background research about the company come in handy.) 

When entering a new field of research or changing careers mid-stream, what factors are important to emphasize to interviewers and potential employees?
First, that you have already had some success in your previous field.  You should be able to demonstrate how your knowledge and accomplishments can bridge into the new area and help you be an asset to your prospective employer.  Second, you must be willing to accept constructive criticism as you make your transition and work with others as a team.

What are some of the ways in which a candidate can distinguish him/herself from the pool of applicants?
A difficult question because you don’t usually know who is in the applicant pool.  In summary, be cutting edge and bring unique skills to the table.  Be capable of clearly delineating how your goals and objectives align with the target company, lab or organization.  Information either gleaned from preliminary conversations with the potential employer or former employees as well as your own research about the company will definitely give you greater insight. 

In an interview, how honest should a candidate be in terms of their personal research interests and goals (desire for autonomy), potential work-life conflicts, etc.?
First, you must “take a long dip in lake you” (not mine unfortunately). Honest self-assessment is so important to identify your values and skills as well as any potential deal-breakers pertinent to your happiness and success.  Come to the table with key points that you want to convey but provide information when it is appropriate to the topic of conversation.  Never speak beyond your limitations but emphasize your potential and plans for a positive outcome in the position. After this self-reflection, if you honestly know that you would not accept a position if it were offered, please do not waste the search committee’s time and resources.  As a biomedical PhD, I still wrestle about not being “research intensive” but I finally decided that I would be happier in a different path.  I have had so many wonderful things happen for me and I haven’t looked back since.  I occasionally get twinges of longing, which is why I try to collaborate as much as possible. In conclusion, I think that an individual has to be honest about measures of success in the context of his or her value system.

With respect to job searches in general, what in your opinion are some important things for the job seeker to consider?
1. The market for your skillsets and the climate in general. We are in an uncertain economic times so you must be strategic. 
2. Develop short- and long-term goals but be willing to modify them as your priorities change. 
3. Open yourself up to new possibilities and don’t be so rigid in your thinking. I actually have modified the 5 NIH criteria for use in job searches and in my professional activities. 
4.  Make sure that the organization’s values are in alignment with yours?
5. What perks are available?  Salary & compensation package, Professional growth opportunities, work-life balance, flex-time and any other key factors (especially the intangibles) that are important to you.

Do you have any additional advice for trainees?
Ask for the opportunity to teach classes, facilitate small group discussions, develop content and supervise the training of others to develop management skills.  Surround yourself with great mentors, friends and colleagues who can help you network and provide support when needed; be honest with them about your goals and expectations.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Learn how to recognize and use constructive criticism. Be open to the life lessons and professional development skills that can be learned from each new experience. Learn how to advocate for yourself. Learn to be an effective leader and follower. Learn how to negotiate and resolve conflicts.  Be active in your professional organizations and ask for responsibility; you will come in to contact with many people who are willing to help you find your way.  As you climb up the ladder of success, be a role model and always help someone without expecting favors– just do it because it is the right thing to do. Have confidence in your abilities and in some way, leave every place you work better than when you arrived. Good luck. jreuben@ghs.org