My Education: BS in Biochemistry, SUNY Binghamton. Ph.D. Bio-Organic Chemistry, University of Virginia
My Prior Experience: I worked as a Research Chemist at Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC where I developed a research program utilizing DNA as a biomaterial, and other applications of DNA in biosensors. Prior to that I was a Research Fellow, also at the Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, working on postdoctoral research fellowship sponsored by the Office of Naval Technology. I initiated a research program for application of antisense DNA technology to problems of military interest such as the development of biofouling control agents; regulation of parasite gene expression; and improvement of DNA-based biosensors. Before that I was a Senior Scientist for a company. My job there involved the design and preparation of synthetic nucleic acids with potential therapeutic applications.
My Company: I work for the Office of Naval Research, which is an executive branch agency within the Department of Defense that provides technical advice to the Chief of Naval Operations and the Secretary of the Navy. The Office of Naval Research (ONR) coordinates, executes, and promotes the science and technology programs of the United States Navy and Marine Corps. To achieve this, we fund science and technology research, across the basic, applied and advanced development spectrum, to provide the Navy and Marine Corps with new capabilities and to avoid technological surprise.
Job/Career Overview: I have a non-traditional job for a person with a Ph. D. in a scientific discipline. My job involves identifying research areas in biology and biotechnology that can potentially help provide new capabilities to the Navy and Marine Corps.
University professors develop scientific research proposals, which they send to me for review. I read the proposals and decide of the proposed research will help my program or not. If it will, I may provide funding to that professor to carry out that research. I also attend and sometimes speak at scientific conferences, which gives me an opportunity to learn about, and meet the people performing the latest research.
The specific technical areas I work in are marine biofouling control, microbial fuel cells for sustainable energy, synthetic biology for sensing and manufacture of high-value products (such as fuels), and development of diagnostic and drug delivery devices for traumatic injury assessment and treatment.
I typically have a lot of e-mail to respond to - often it's from scientists asking if I can look at their research ideas and tell them if I'm interested or not. Sometimes I have to respond to email asking me to provide information about my research programs to my management or to other DOD program managers.
I also have to prepare Power Point briefs about my program to present at meetings or conferences. I'm also responsible for completing paperwork to provide the funding to the research performers.
Although not done daily, I also have to think about what new programs I might want to develop - I have to study what science is being done by reading published papers and talking to scientists, as well as think about how that kind of research could help the Navy. Sometimes I have to write articles about the work I support, or talk with newspaper or even radio journalists in interviews about the research I help support and how I think it can help the Navy.
More Insights: As mentioned above, I have a non-traditional job for a Ph.D. level scientist. I have worked in laboratories in a few positions, but decided that the stress of always trying to attract research funding to support my research was too much for me. Scientists who work as professors at universities, Federal research labs and other research institutions generally have to write grants to obtain funding for their work. In my job I get to provide the funding to others to enable them to do their research, which suits me much better.
Some people might miss working in a lab, with the daily challenges, surprises and discoveries that can occur. In my position, we can still work in a lab part-time if we want to (but I don't). I found that I love talking with scientists, often brainstorming with them about their ideas, or suggesting new collaborators for them to connect with. My passion for scientific thinking has been fulfilled in this way.
I don't think there is much I would change about my job or how I am doing it.
I think that the most important personal qualities in this job are to be passionate about science, to able to admit when you don't understand something, and to not oversell what you think your science program can accomplish. You also need to be comfortable speaking in front of people as well as writing clearly and persuasively.
I think a student might find it surprising how much I can get done with just a computer and phone - that's really all I need to get my work done!
I rate this career 10 out of 10.
The best part of my job is talking with scientists about what they do, and attending conferences. I love to learn about new scientific accomplishments!
The worst part of my job is having to do administrative work delegated to me. Sometimes it feels as though I provide the same information over and over again.
1) Become comfortable with speaking in front of audiences, from a few people to a few hundred
2) Take scientific writing courses - learn how to write persuasively about why certain areas of research are important and will have an impact.
3) Be familiar with computer applications like Word, Power Point, Excel, Adobe Acrobat as these are used a lot.
4) In my field, its better to be trained more broadly across several sub-areas within a scientific discipline than to be a narrowly-focused expert in one sub-area.