Announcer: From the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, this is All About Grants. Today we'll be discussing considerations for predocs thinking about a fellowship, with our special guest, Dr. Rod Ulane.
Megan Columbus: Welcome to today's edition of All About Grants, I'm your host, Megan Columbus from the communications office of the Office of Extramural Research. Today I have with me Dr. Rod Ulane. Rod is currently serving as NIH's research training officer, but he's had other experiences in the university setting as well. Rod can you tell us a little but about that?
Dr. Rod Ulane: Sure, before coming back to the NIH, I was an associate dean at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and ran the MD/PhD program, responsible for graduate programs, and I was also associate dean for Medical Education at NYU Medical Center and ran the MD/PhD program over there.
Megan: And you said before you came back to NIH, which means you've been here before.
Rod: Yes, many years ago, more than I want to admit, but I was here as a research scientist in developmental biology where I was in both the Child Health Institute and The National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic diseases.
Megan: Doing research yourself?
Megan: Good. So you've got a perfect experience again to talk about considerations for predocs thinking about a fellowship, which is our topic for today. So, Rod, if I'm a predoc and I just entered grad school, what would the next three to five to seven years look like for me?
Rod: Ok, well optimistically hopefully it would be five years, but it could be seven years. Well, the first thing you would be confronted with, of course, is taking some fundamental course work that will lay the foundation for you doing your research project with a mentor. During the time you're taking these courses, you will be looking for an area of science to work in and a person who you will work with in that area of science, which is probably the most important decision you will make in those five to seven years.
Megan: So, what should I be looking for in that person, in that mentor?
Rod: Ok, yes, and by the way, you put it very well. You should probably be looking even a little more towards the person rather than the area of science. It works out in many instances that the chemistry between the mentor and the mentee is much more important than the particular area of science. As long as you're generally in an area of science that you enjoy, having the right mentor is really key to you being a successful graduate student.
Megan: What kind of funding support should they have? Do I need to care about that?
Rod: Well, ideally you shouldn't have to care about that. You have enough worries about taking care of your course work and coming up with a good research project and really learning good science. Almost all graduate schools have mechanisms in place to support graduate students with a combination of institutional funds, research grants of the mentors and institutional research training programs. However, having said that, you should be looking for mentors who are well supported, mainly because you're going to be doing science in that laboratory and that science does need money to be carried out and so you should be looking for a mentor who does have good research support.
Megan: Does it matter if that research support is from NIH at all?
Rod: No, not necessarily, although NIH is certainly one of the gold standards and certainly, if you were interested in the biomedical sciences, the majority of biomedical science is supported by the NIH.
Megan: One of the things clearly I know that I'm going to have to do in the future is grant writing and I'm wondering at what point in the game do I need to start getting experience?
Rod: That is an excellent question. You should probably be thinking about that after you've been in the laboratory for maybe six months.
Megan: Oh, so early on?
Rod: So, early on, yes. And one of the best ways to gain grant experience is for you to write up your own research proposal and apply for an NIH fellowship.
Megan: So, I assume that I would be working with my institution as I develop this application?
Rod: Yes, you will actually be mainly working with your mentor on this application. Meanwhile you're being supported by your mentor's research grant, or the institutional funds. But, it's an invaluable experience for you to write an application for fellowship. In addition to that, once you're beyond your graduate school studies, having this on your CV is very important. It shows that you have gained independent support and peer reviewed support.
Megan: As they start looking ahead and thinking about a postdoc, what should I be thinking about and how should I be preparing for that, and what should I be looking at in a postdoc?
Rod: Well, here again, in close collaboration, and this is why it's so important to select the right mentor, because again the definition of a mentor is someone who is actually invested in your career, not just an advisor in science but an advisor in your future career. And your mentor and you and your interactions over the years, you'll get to know each other very well, the mentor can certainly recommend individuals that you should be working with once you've earned your PhD degree.
Megan: You talk about a mentor. In lots of fields, you have all kinds of mentors for different reasons. Would you recommend putting all your eggs in one basket or spreading them out a bit?
Rod: (Laughing) It depends on the individual, but you know there are mentors and then there are advisors. And the advisors are usually a team of people if you are working on a project that involves maybe some mathematical analysis of a biological problem, you may have an advisor in math. But your mentor, as I said before, is the person that really is invested in your career, is very interested in seeing you succeed. That could be one person, it could be more than one person; but it's usually one person.
Megan: That mentor can help me with the networking that I understand is very important at this point in time?
Rod: Yes it is. Going to national meetings, meeting your mentors' colleagues, it's extremely important. If you ask most postdoc doctorate students, ask most senior faculty members, this is how they came upon their postdoctoral experience is through networking.
Megan: At this stage of the game, do I need to be aware of NIH at all?
Rod: Absolutely, as we mentioned, as you brought up before, the practice of writing grants, applying to NIH for a fellowship is very important. You should be aware of NIH as you're looking around for a postdoctoral position too, because here again you'll be expected to write a grant application for a postdoctoral fellowship. You don't necessarily need one but sometime during your postdoctoral experience, it's extremely important for you to have applied for and received a fellowship.
Megan: And I assume at the national scientific meetings I'll see NIH staff there and maybe it would behoove me to talk to them at those meetings and start making contacts?
Megan: Great. Are there other resources out there for me that I should be thinking about at this point in time?
Rod: Well, again, you could be looking at the NIH website, but you know you don't even have to restrict your applications for fellowships to the NIH. There are many other private foundations-Doris Duke Foundation, Sarnoff Foundation, Burroughs Wellcome come to mind, Howard Hughes Medical Institute. All offer different kinds of fellowships, and you should be looking at those also.
Megan: Great. Well, thank you for your time today. I appreciate having you on the program. For NIH and OER, I'm Megan Columbus, until next time.
Announcer: For more information on fellowships and training opportunities, please visit grants.nih.gov/training. That's G-R-A-N-T-S dot N-I-H dot gov forward slash T-R-A-I-N-I-N-G.