Scientific Careers in the Federal Government

Broadening the definition of a “successful scientific career” is a key theme of the NIGMS training strategic plan as well as the NIH Biomedical Workforce Working Group Report.

To help graduate students, postdocs and even faculty become more familiar with the range of opportunities available to those trained for research, I participated in a 2013 ASCB meeting Exit icon  panel discussion with ASCB Executive Director Dr. Stefano Bertuzzi about science careers outside academia. We had a lively Q&A session about our reasons for leaving bench science, how our previous experiences have helped us in our current positions, and what one needs to do to prepare for careers in science policy and research administration.

Not too long ago, some might have considered me a science “dropout” because I left academia for federal work as a program director. I may no longer have my own lab, but I think about science every day and help researchers obtain funding for their work. I’m happy that I made the transition.

If you’re considering a science administration career in the federal government, here are a few tips to help you find available opportunities.

Job vacancies for individuals at all career stages are posted on USAJOBS.gov Exit icon. The Overview section of each announcement will tell you how many vacancies the job announcement intends to fill. Without going too far into the minutiae, the site has an advanced search Exit icon feature that lets you find open positions by salary, location, keyword and more. One search field is Occupational Series Exit icon. The series that may be of most interest to Feedback Loop readers are 0601 – General Health Science, which includes most scientific administration jobs at NIH, and 0401 – General Natural Resources Management and Biological Sciences, which includes science administration jobs at NSF. Both the 0601 and 0401 job “families” include bench science positions, as well.

As of today, the 0601 and 0401 series offered more than 80 open positions. While not all of the jobs may be relevant to you, this gives you an idea of the scope of the federal science and health mission.

Last year, Mitzi Kosciulek of NIH’s Office of Human Resources wrote about applying for scientific administration jobs at NIGMS. Some of the general principles she outlined are applicable to any federal job search. For example, as part of an effort to speed the hiring process, many USAJOBS postings are open for only 5 days. For that reason, consider creating a profile, building a resume in the system and uploading your academic transcripts so you’re ready to roll when the right job opportunity presents itself. Once you have a profile, you can save your most pertinent search specifications and then ask the system to send you new “hits” by e-mail.

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