NSPN Committees Host Inaugural Career Development Fireside Chat

NSPN recently hosted its first event in a series of fireside chats led by the Advocacy and Professional Development Committees. Nadine Wellington, an organizer and moderator of the event, shares some insights and key takeaways from the conversation.

On Friday, November 12, 2021, the Professional Development and Advocacy Committees hosted the inaugural Fireside Chat of their new career development series. The panel discussion, Charting Your Course: Working in a Non-Profit Organization, highlighted the important aspects of transitioning from academia to the non-profit sector. The audience was treated to an engaging and candid conversation between Dr. Yvette Seger, Director of Strategic Scientific Program Advancement at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, Dr. Jared Mondschein, a physical scientist at RAND Corporation, and NSPN panelists.

The speakers shared that the oral and written communication skills common to academic trainees are part of many transferable skills important to success in the non-profit sector. Multidisciplinary collaboration, leadership and resilience are other characteristics common to graduates that can ease their transition into industry. They also highlighted the diverse policy projects available in the non-profit sector, allowing anyone to find something that fits their skills and passions.

While Drs. Seger and Mondschein both gained post-Ph.D. policy experience through research fellowships at The National Academies and the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, respectively, this is not the only path into non-profit science policy work for early career scientists. Taking policy courses, starting or joining science policy groups and writing pieces on policy issues are other ways to demonstrate policy knowledge in the absence of fellowships or policy work experience. And while academic trainees focus on developing subject matter expertise, this depth of knowledge is not usually needed for most science policy issues. Dr. Seger also noted that though early career roles may not be a perfect fit, they are opportunities to learn and build important skills that will shape your career.

Networking was stressed as the most crucial element to building that career. “Using and abusing” networks (within reason) can help academics find jobs that aren't advertised and also expose them to novel and exciting career paths. The speakers also suggested relying on networks for more practical help, like editing and polishing cover letters, which are the first writing samples applicants submit to potential employers.

Overall, NSPN panelists were able to engage with Dr. Seger and Dr. Mondshein on a wide range of topics during the 1-hour discussion, and audience feedback was very positive. The next event in the Fireside Chat series is being planned for January 2022. We encourage any members interested in collaborating on an event to attend a meeting of the Advocacy or Professional Development Committees or contact the committee chairs at advocacy@scipolnetwork.org and prof.dev@scipolnetwork.org.

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