05 Oct Beyond the Lab Bench
Postdoctoral Researcher Session – Welcome & Keynote + Technology-focused Careers Beyond the Lab Bench
- Jayan Rammohan, Ph.D., NIST Post-Doc Association
- John A. Fraser, CLP, RTTP; Assoc. VP, Research (Ret), Florida State University; Past President, AUTM
- Walter Copan, Ph.D., Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director
- Ernesto Chanona, Senior Manager, Office of BioHealth and Life Sciences, Maryland Department of Commerce
- Javier Atencia, Ph.D., Entrepreneur, founder of PathOtrak, LLC; former NIST Post-Doc; Research Professor, UMD
- John Curry, Ph.D., Entrepreneur, founder, acting CEO, CTO, Parman Tech, LLC; former Senior NIST Scientist
NIST is known by many as America’s innovation agency because we focus as part of our core mission on innovation and competitiveness. Some of the industries of the future focus areas of this which include structural biology engineering biology, advanced communications IoT quantum science and engineering and artificial intelligence, all these domain areas have massive career opportunities associated with them, whether in academia, in the federal sector in the private sector, or elsewhere.
A couple of pieces of pieces of advice I can offer you from my journey, everybody’s journey is somewhat different. Number one, find out what the core program is all about. Find out what it’s about and get into it. It might not be a perfect program, but you will learn some business ideas and theories which will be helpful. Maybe just as important, it’ll help you to prepare emotionally for what you’re getting into, and it’s going to help you to meet people that will be able to help you in one way or another down the line.
Number two, if your goal is to have a business that’s any more extensive than a single lemonade stand outside of your house, you’re going to need a team, and this team is going to be made of people who know things that you do not know, and there are plenty of things that you do not know. At the very beginning, that team might be one person who is working part-time, but that team is going to play a strong part in your successes or failures as an entrepreneur.
Number three, funding is very important. If you’re coming out of the NIST venue, then obvious places to look are TEDCO and also the NIST SBR program. One of the most difficult questions you’re going to face is where are you going to conduct the work of your business, especially if it’s a technical work. So for most startups that are right at the very beginning, there’s just not enough money to pay for commercial space that you’re going to need.
Find people who have already started down the path that you are contemplating and get to know those people. Learn as much as possible from them, because they know things or have had experiences that can really educate you.
Be honest with yourself about whether you have the sustainable drive to do this for the next 5 to 10 years. And it’s not just the length of time but inevitably you’re going to go through real challenging points, real difficulties that are going to make you say, this is never going to work. And you just simply have to have a drive and a desire to get you through those rough patches. And when you do get them, it’s amazing how fast they disappear in the rearview mirror, but they will happen to you. So be prepared.
Be prepared for change because our career journeys will almost inevitably lead us to certain junctures where you just feel that it’s time to move on. It’s a new passion that takes on. It’s a reason to leave where you are currently. And, so for a postdoc early career people having this opportunity to learn one on one another, to reach out to mentors, was an absolutely essential part of the journey.
QUESTION: Do you have advice on green cards?
Going through the immigration process can be pretty challenging. One word of advice for anyone out there who has an I-485 in progress, reach out to your Congressperson and let them know what’s happening. But before you do that, you need a really compelling reason why they should be paying attention to you. I was at the Cancer Research Institute on a fellowship, and I needed to be a permanent resident. I needed to be able to receive it to open up my postdoc slot.
Senator Van Hollen was my representative, and I explained my situation and my green card was in the mail. It took nothing at all, but I made it very clear that I had a time issue.
QUESTION: How can postdocs moved from a lab to tech transfer?
Apply for a tech transfer fellowship program. There are some inside the NIH and other government agencies. NIH has tech transfer classes that are open to the community.
QUESTION: Do you have advice for a person with a lot of experience but doesn’t want to move into an entry position. And they haven’t experienced enough for a senior position in industry.
It’s all about building relationships based on your background and on your interests. You may need a stepping stone to get to a more senior level role, but as soon as you build those relationships with the kinds of companies that you respect, you will find that new doors start opening up within your network.