The Who, What, Where of Careers:


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What does this person do? 

  • Research: Reads literature, identifies gaps, develops hypotheses, conducts protocols to test hypotheses, analyzes data, presents major findings at national and international meetings, and publishes findings in scientific journals
  • Science Writing: writes content for specialists/non-specialists and presents it online or in-print in the format of articles, videos, podcasts, pamphlets, and magazines
  • Program Officer: collects incoming grants/applications, organizes reviewers based on expertise to assess the grants/applications, and identifies large areas in science that need to be funded and researched to advance society
  • Regulatory Affairs: reviews and approves new drug/medical device applications for clinical studies and marketing 

Where does this person work?  

  • National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Education and Experience Requirements:


Education & Experience

Lab Technician

  • Associate’s, BS, or MS in science related fields 
  • Some research experience

Postdoctoral Fellow

  • PhD in science related fields

Research Scientists

  • MD, PhD, or MD/PhD in science related fields
  • Postdoc experience

Science Writer

  • BS, MS, or PhD in science related fields
  • Experience varies
  • Some positions may require a journalism degree

Grant Administration/Program Officer

  • MD, PhD, or MD/PhD in science related fields 
  • Some administrative experience

Regulatory Affairs

  • MS, MD, PhD, or MD/PhD in science related fields
  • Experience that complements education


What to Consider before Entering the Profession: 

  • Teaching may be limited to small groups of trainees who are learning specific scientific methods/protocols
  • You may conduct research and/or manage a team that does research
  • There may be more administrative duties like scheduling, organizing, and leading meetings based on your position
  • There are a lot more rules and regulations in government positions to ensure that the ethical and legal requirements are followed

Other information:

  • If you work at the FDA, you spend 50% of your time doing research and the other 50% doing regulatory work, i.e., reviewing applications.
  • Grant writing is optional; you can write grants so that you can obtain funding to do the research of your choice. Otherwise, if your research is funded by the government, you may be assigned projects by department heads.



Want to learn more? Check out the additional resources.

From Academia to National Labs and Federal Air Force Bases

wpafb gateIn this issue of Microbe Mentor, I interview Dr. Bryan Crable. Dr. Crable is a Research Scientist at UES, Inc. in Dayton, OH. UES, Inc. is a subcontractor providing scientific talent to the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. He is currently working on microbial degradation of polyurethane and corrosion of underground fuel storage tanks.

Ph.D. to the FDA: From a Student to Government Research and Regulatory Review

Untitled 3With trained Ph.D. scientists surpassing available academic scientist positions, students want to know what their non-academic career options are in regards to research. While students know about industry research, government research is an option that includes aspects of regulatory review, the process by which products/drugs are approved for human clinical trials and marketing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). We break down how one student transitioned from academia to government, the differences between the two sectors, and how to get involved in regulatory review once inside the FDA. She also goes on to share her passion for getting more women into science.  

Microbiology Career Profiles: Program Director at National Science Foundation with Matthew Kane

Matthew Kane manages the grant proposal review process and oversees funded projects at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Learn more about what he does, how he got to his position, and what you should do to get there. 

A Career in Government: Principal Investigator and Regulatory Affairs at the FDA

What are the other options available for grad students besides academia and industry?

Students are probably most familiar with industry; however, there are many other career options available. For this blog, we chose to highlight a government position at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which includes both research and regulatory components.

photo 0163061631ntdsvgWe interviewed Dr. Karen Elkins, Supervisory Research Biologist in the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) at the FDA. She received her B.A. in Chemistry from Wake Forest University and went on to complete a Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology from Duke University. After completing two postdocs, she became a researcher at Walter Reed and then moved to her current job at the FDA.

Sarah Studer Shares her Story of Being a Science and Technology Policy Fellow

SStuder Resized2Sarah Studer is an ORISE Fellow in the Fuel Cell Technologies Office with the Department of Energy. As the only biologist in the office, she helps to translate biological research related to hydrogen and fuel cells so that others in the office can understand what’s going on and why it’s relevant. She recommends building your skill sets not only in the lab or classroom, but also outside of the lab by pursuing your interests. Check out her profile to learn more about what she does as a science and technology policy fellow.

A Career in Biodefense

A Career in Biodefense

Vincent Racaniello interviews Maria Marinissen and David Howell from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and Edward You from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to talk about their careers in biodefense.

Microbiology and Biosafety in Space

Rocket science is synonymous with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). A little known fact is that life science also plays a crucial role at NASA by ensuring the health of the astronauts and a successful human space flight program. Microbiologists, immunologists, biochemists, chemists, and toxicologists are among the many life scientists actively involved in crew health protection and environmental monitoring onboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Transitioning into a Second Career: Teaching to the FDA

When I moved to Colorado seven years ago, I never dreamed I’d find such a great new career! I had been a secondary science teacher in Mesa, Arizona for 16 years encouraging students to develop a love of science and to pursue careers in science. Then, in 2002 I was hired by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Denver District Laboratory as a counter-terrorism hire to help protect the American public health. Suddenly I became a working scientist doing all the cool things I had told my students they could do one day if they pursued a career in science!

From Amerithrax to the CDC Bioterrorism Lab

During my years as a Navy microbiologist, I received training in the rapid detection of biological agents and it became my scientific interest. I became involved in teaching a three day course, among others, on identification of biological, chemical, and radiological agents. I was, in fact, teaching one of these classes, in Wilmington, Delaware, in September 2001. I taught all my classes on September 10, and the next morning, I reviewed the material with the students and sat down in the classroom while the next instructor took the podium. Soon enough we all learned the dark reality.

Food Microbiologist at Work

I supervise the microbiology section of the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Consumer Analytical Laboratory (CAL) which is the regulatory laboratory for the State of Ohio. It analyzes products collected by the Meat, Food, and Dairy divisions’ state inspectors.