After finishing a PhD and postdoc in cardiovascular biology, Christina Papke found job satisfaction as a research development officer.
Now, she works at Texas A&M University in College Station, where she helps professors put together grant applications, form collaborations, and identify funding opportunities.
Tell me about your job.
It’s hard to say what a typical day is like, which I kind of like. On any given day, I might consult with an investigator about a research grant or edit a proposal.
Our goal is also to help promote collaboration among faculty. For example, we help to facilitate the formation of research interest groups, on, say, imaging or healthy ageing. We might organize a meeting where faculty get two minutes to present an overview of what they are doing, and we make program books and plan meetings to help make ideas happen.
How did you come to look at jobs outside of being a principal investigator?
I was considering what being a PI entailed and all the roles I would play. I noticed that I liked some roles and some roles I didn’t want so much. I didn’t like the constant competitive cycle, always thinking of successfully obtaining grants and working on publications and managing a lab. I didn’t want my job to define everything that I was. I had to decide where I would be the most fulfilled. That’s where I can work the hardest and contribute the most.
I realized that I could take my favorite aspects of research with me – namely, interacting with scientific ideas, communicating with other scientists, using some creativity to develop helpful resources, and helping with grant proposals.
How did you figure out your career path?
I met with our career office and read books like What Color is Your Parachute. I did some looking around on LinkedIn. Even if I wasn’t’ going to be meeting somebody directly, I could look at that person’s profile and steps in getting where I wanted to be. That was very helpful.
Also, our postdoctoral association offered a skill assessment workshop. They had decks of cards with names of different skills. You’d sort out what you were good at, and what you like to do and don’t’ like to do. One interest I took away was this idea of leading by organizing and coordinating. I realize that I really enjoy that.
Did you already have experience with that?
I had been on committees and done activities that have drawn me to this sort of thing all along. When I was in graduate school I helped organize a leadership workshop for other graduate students. I also served as the chair of a Gordon Research Seminar to put together a meeting for trainees. We coordinated what we were going to title the sessions and who we would invite to present. As a postdoc at the University of Texas at Houston, I helped coordinate a career forum where we invited speakers from nonacademic careers. I like to see an event come together and to see how it benefits research.
And were you able to use that kind of experience to excel at your job interview?
I drew on experiences in the lab and outside the lab. They liked that I had applied for postdoctoral fellowships successfully. They felt that my communication skills were good, and they were willing to train me in specific things that I would need.
It helped that I had been on a few other job interviews. Even the ones I felt did not go well were an important learning experience. And I was very enthusiastic about this opportunity; I guess it showed.
What has surprised you about working outside of lab?
One thing that was an interesting transition was when you are at the lab bench you are moving around all day. I had to change routines for being at a more sedentary job; I needed to add more physical activity. That’s not a bad thing. It gets you to the gym, or to walk outside.
What advice do you have for other job-seekers?
Network. Talk to as many people as you can. Join a professional organization. It will be an incredible resource for meeting people. Membership dues as a postdoc may look like a significant amount of money, but when looked at as an investment in the future, then it begins to make sense.
You can see the rest of this interview here.