- Interview Overview
Interviews by: Asma Khan
Editing: Jamie Joseph
1. Please list your previous department at UC San Diego and provide a brief description of the research you conducted?
At UCSD, I was a postdoc in the Department of Psychiatry. The research I conducted employed pharmacological and genetic manipulations to evaluate corticotropin releasing factor (CRF)-induced anxiety-like behaviors in mice. One project in particular tested the hypothesis that CRF hypersignaling during development affects vulnerability to anxiety-like behaviors in adulthood.
2. Please describe your current job profile?
My current title is Senior Research Associate in the Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience at The Rockefeller University. One of my primary responsibilities is to direct a mouse behavioral assessment core facility, which provides a centralized source of access to mouse behavior equipment, resources, and expertise. The behavior core is utilized by approximately 15 scientists to evaluate behavioral phenotypes in mouse models of CNS diseases (including Alzheimer’s disease, Depression, Parkinson’s disease, PTSD, ADHD, and Autism).
In addition to overseeing the daily operations of the core and advising investigators on their behavioral studies, I conduct independent and collaborative research on stress-induced mouse models of depression and age-related changes in cognition.
3. What made you decide to transition into your current position?
There are 3 reasons why I decided to transition into my current position:
- I had achieved my postdoctoral goals (i.e. to acquire a behavioral pharmacology skill set, to obtain grant funding, to publish).
- I wanted to acquire formal management experience to supplement and enhance my scientific training and background.
- As a graduate student and postdoc, I thought deeply about which aspects of a scientific research career I find most rewarding and enjoyable vs. those which are less so. Then, I sought out opportunities that would allow me to capitalize on the enjoyable aspects. For me, this meant finding positions that would emphasize and value behavioral neuroscience experiment design, technique, execution, and analysis. Obtaining a behavior core position “fit the bill” in this regard.
4. Apart from the research you conducted, do you feel like anything in particular has helped you to acquire your current position?
When I was considering pursuing behavioral core/management opportunities, one thing that was particularly helpful was speaking directly to folks who held the similar type of position – i.e. the “informational interview”. There is no better way to get an honest sense of what a job entails than by chatting with people who live it! For me, the informational interview conversations confirmed that I was targeting the correct positions, which helped instill confidence during the interview process and beyond.
5. Please list some of the most striking similarities and differences between your post-doc and current position?
Similarities – In both my postdoctoral and current position, I conduct behavioral neuroscience research centered on animal models of neuropsychiatric disorders.
Differences – In my previous position, my scientific training and behavioral neuroscience skill set were utilized primarily for the purpose of conducting my postdoctoral experiments and projects. However, in my current position, my training and skill set allow me to work directly with multiple investigators to advise, support, and advance their behavioral inquiries and investigations. These interactions have generated more formal leadership and management responsibilities, as compared to that which was necessary in my postdoctoral position.
6. Is there any specific challenge (during the entire process of transitioning) that you would like to highlight and if so how did you overcome it?
I accepted my current position after 4 years as a postdoc and so one challenge I faced was determining whether or not that was the right time to make the transition (i.e. should I accept this position now or should I wait and see what other interesting opportunities might arise during an additional year on the job market).
The reason this was a challenge was because both options were scary! It is scary to leave the nice, known confines of postdoctoral study (especially at UCSD!), and especially when you are venturing out to try something a little different. It is also scary, however, to hold out for the possibility of new job opportunities, especially when there are real considerations regarding the job and economic climates and time limitations. Talking to my mentors, making many pros/cons lists, doing a “gut check”, and ultimately taking a reasoned, rational leap-of-faith help me overcome this challenge!
7. Please describe your goals and ambitions for the next 5 years?
There are two goals I hope to achieve within the next 5 years:
- I am fortunate in that the resources at Rockefeller University at large, and in the behavior core specifically, are phenomenal. Thus, one thing I hope to do is utilize these resources, to the best of my ability, to develop novel mouse behavioral tests with the goal of further advancing research in animal models of CNS disease.
- My current responsibilities directing the behavior core are rewarding and so I’d love to have the opportunity to continue working in a similar capacity, but perhaps at a larger scale (i.e. across universities, in an industry setting, or in an independent consulting business environment).
8. What do you feel you could have done more, as a postdoc, to help prepare you for or acquire your current position?
This is tough question because one can always think back and say, “I wish I had mastered just one more behavioral assay skill”, or “I wish I had attended one more networking event”, etc, etc. However, at a certain point one just needs to “go for it”, and move forward with the knowledge that being a hard working, dedicated, and resourceful person will help overcome any perceived deficits, and will help you to succeed at new positions.
9. What do you feel is the most important advice you can give to a current UCSD postdoc in order for them to obtain a position such as yours?
Two other general bits of advice I’d offer current UCSD postdocs would be the following
- Take some time to really think about how you wish to spend your time. As a scientist, what do you most enjoy doing on a day-to-day basis? What is most rewarding – is it generating the experimental ideas, design/execution, analysis, writing/editing, presentation, teaching, etc. Once you have thought this through, try to find the position(s) that best approximates what you enjoy. At the end of the day, if you find yourself in a career where on more days than not you enjoy what you do, then this pleasure tends to shine through, and then the rest just sort of falls into place.
- While leaving the postdoc and transitioning into a new position can certainly be scary and stressful, don’t lose hope and stay strong! Rest assured that the same tenacity and fortitude that was needed to earn your Ph.D. and complete your postdoctoral studies will most definitely serve you well and carry you far, regardless of the path you choose.