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Career Catalyst Series: Reproductive Scientists as Grant Program Officers

career-catalyst---program-officers.jpgThe Center for Reproductive Science (CRS) hosted its penultimate Career Catalyst for 2022 on November 11th in a seminar focusing on the role of Reproductive Scientists as Grant Program Officers. Trainees explored the career path of program officers, which act as a liaison between scientists and application review committees, providing administrative and technical assistance in preparing and submitting grants, vastly improving the chances of successful funding. The invited panel of experts shared their experience and advice for pursuing careers as program officers in an hour-long informal discussion, providing perspectives from both, government, and private sectors, and exposed our CRS members to a new career direction.   

Our first panelist was Dr. Travis Kent, PhD, a program officer at the Fertility and Infertility Branch at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Dr. Kent graduated from Washington State University completed his postdoctoral fellowship at the Jackson Laboratories and was an American Association for the Advancement of Science & Technology Policy Fellow. He then began his career as a program officer in the Contraception Research Branch (CRB), focusing on novel contraceptive development, end-user behavior informing contraceptive design, and basic science aiding in contraceptive development.

Our CRS alumni panelist Dr. Candace Tingen, PhD joined the Gynecologic Health and Disease (GHD) Branch at the NICHD in 2015. She received her Ph.D. from Northwestern University and served as Director of Research Programs in the Institute for Women’s Health Research at Northwestern University. Transitioning to federal service, Dr. Tingen was selected as an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow and worked in the Office of Research on Women’s Health. Before coming to NICHD, she was team lead for science policy and evaluation in the Office of Science Policy, Planning, Data Analysis and Reporting at the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. As a program officer at NICHD, Dr. Tingen provides technical leadership, guidance, and management of a research grant portfolio that focuses on the physiology and pathophysiology of human female reproduction and benign gynecologic diseases, including uterine fibroids and menstrual disorders.

Our final panelist, Dr. Stephen Ward, PhD,  received his PhD from Washington University, followed by a post-doctoral research fellowship at the Harvard School of Public Health. After his fellowship, Dr. Ward worked as a consultant, providing technical support for non-profit, government, and commercial programs, particularly focused on drug discovery projects for global health. Since 2009, he has served as a Program Officer within the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Discovery & Translational Sciences team, managing a portfolio of programs related to early stage-drug discovery. His work has focused on developing new tools and novel biological approaches to rapidly accelerate discovery and development of new therapies, particularly in the areas of neglected tropical diseases, pediatric diarrheal disease, and family planning.

The panelists candidly shared their career journey with our members. While Dr. Tingen knew she would be a reproductive scientist since high school, Dr. Kent and Dr. Ward’s careers took different routes, though all ultimately converged to the same field. They talked about the importance of mentor-mentee relationships, and how necessary it is to be honest and upfront about goals and expectations. As is always emphasized, they talked about how networking will inevitably open doors to new and undiscovered opportunities the importance of building a community. They also stressed on the importance of science policy and encouraged our members to look for fellowship opportunities and to explore different career paths. While academia tends to focus more on the depth of a topic, they explained how their roles involved looking into the wider breadth of science, and how important both these aspects are for science to progress. Overall, it made for a stimulating discussion, with CRS members at various points in their careers bringing insightful questions for our experts. Grant writing is an indispensable part of a scientist’s career and can be a long, and often difficult process. Telling the story of your research in a way that resonates with and stands out for a review committee is a formidable skill, and program officers work to bridge this gap through their expertise – all ultimately working towards the common goal of pushing for progress in science. We look forward to more such insightful and lively discussions through our Career Catalyst Series in the upcoming year.