After advanced training in psychology, neuroscience, and endocrinology, Lana Gent found job satisfaction as a director of science at the American Heart Association in Dallas. Here she describes what the job entails and how it uses her scientific training in a very different setting than a lab.
I started in phenomenological psychology, looking first at chimpanzees in a zoo and then how dogs were making decisions based on social influences from their species. I did that throughout my graduate school career at the University of Texas at Arlington, but there aren’t a lot of jobs in the consciousness of animals. So I started research in neuroscience at UT Southwestern Medical Center, doing stereotactic surgery on rats and mice, to understand what was happening in the brain during cocaine addiction.
After a complicated pregnancy, I decided to stay home with my daughter for a year. I went back to UT Southwestern in a different lab—my surgical skills were in high demand —this time looking at the effect of estrogen on metabolic syndrome.
How did you find this job?
I was looking at academia and at going into teaching as well as jobs as a medical science liaison; I wasn’t looking at nonprofits; it was only through a recruiter that I became aware of this position.
Why did the American Heart Association decide to hire you?
They could see from my resume and publications that I was bright enough to do the science. I gave a lot of examples of applying creative thinking in my lab, and how I brought people together to make them collaborative. For instance, I met a person tangential to our department who had mastered the technique of gastric bypass surgery in mice and rats. I befriended him and learned the procedure. He had no reason to sacrifice his time to help me, but I ended up working with him and we wrote a grant together. It was a way to get outside my specialty, and to bring new funding into the laboratories.
In my interview for this job, someone asked me what I liked least about working in the lab. It was doing the same surgery every day. On an intellectual basis, it was exciting, but on a day to day basis, it was getting mundane. I’ve never had the same day twice here. I’ve not been bored yet.
What’s your job like?
You have to wear a lot of hats. It’s the nature of a not-for-profit; there are more projects than people. You have to work with volunteers and many sorts of people. It’s a different environment than in a lab where everyone you work with is like you—focused on experiments.
I was a bit different than a stereotypical research scientist. Everyone at my lab was very heads down and focused on their project. I wanted to meet and talk to people.
What are some of your projects?
I go on video shoots and make sure that people are performing CPR properly. I worked on the CPR Kiosk project, a mannequin placed at the airport so people waiting for a flight can practice their skills. These are all things that take more than knowing the science: it’s the instruction, the implementation, and customer service to our stakeholders. We work with marketing and field operations and project management.
Any final advice?
Transitioning out of academia isn’t for everyone; you have to be honest with yourself about what you want. Once I started this position, I realized I was building a different career. I don’t get 1st author publications. You stop building your CV and you start building your resume.
Click here to read about how Gent found her first position.