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Donna Vogel

Donna Vogel

Donna Vogel

on how the Professional Development and Career Office (PDCO) prepares young scientists for their futures

How did the PDCO get started?

VOGEL: It began in 2000 as the brainchild of James Hildreth, who was then the associate dean for graduate studies. He realized the assumption that students and postdocs should all become clones of their mentors was seriously flawed and wanted to create a tool that would help them transition into any independent career they chose.

Whom does the PDCO serve, and what services does it provide?

VOGEL: We serve all graduate students, postdocs, fellows and junior faculty at the schools of medicine, nursing and public health on the East Baltimore campus.

We offer daylong courses like Grantcraft, Scientific Presentations and Research Leadership, plus shorter job search workshops on topics such as resume writing, networking and interviewing. We also have a very successful program that places graduate students and postdocs in teaching positions at local universities, where they get instruction and mentoring from undergraduate faculty. And we are always available for individualized career counseling.

When did you join the PDCO?

VOGEL: I came on as director of the PDCO in April 2007. If you had asked me earlier what my most important criterion was for choosing my next job, I would have said proximity to my home in Bethesda. But I don’t mind the two trains and the bus I take to work every day because this is my dream job.

What changes have you made since you arrived?

VOGEL: One change has been to increase our emphasis on what I like to call “diverse careers.” “Alternative careers” makes it sound like academic jobs are the majority when, in truth, only about 20 percent of postdocs go on to become tenure-track faculty! I also added a leadership course in 2008 to equip trainees with the management skills they need to be successful in academia or wherever they land: interpersonal skills, organizational awareness, project management, etc.

How did your path here prepare you for this job?

VOGEL: I knew I wanted to be a scientist ever since I was little. I got my M.D./Ph.D. from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where I got excited by embryology. That led me to do a summer course at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, where I had this existential crisis about what I was going to do with all of these letters after my name.

After medical residency, I decided to do a combined clinical/postdoctoral fellowship in endocrinology and reproductive medicine at the National Institutes of Health. Once I realized that “what I was supposed to do,” i.e., being a research clinician, wasn’t for me, I moved to the grant-giving side there. While working in the reproductive medicine grant program, I was given charge of fellowship and training awards, and I found I really loved working with students and postdocs. So eventually I chose to work full time with postdocs in the new fellowship office at the National Cancer Institute.

In short, it was a long, winding road that gave me insights into many different types of jobs and scientists.

What are some of the diverse career paths that trainees have taken with help from the PDCO?

VOGEL: Five early alumni of the teaching fellows programs, including all three from the first group in 2011, are now assistant professors at universities nationwide, and they have told us the program made a big impression when they interviewed. Our learners and mentees have gone on to jobs or advanced research training in government agencies, contract research organizations and industry. Others have gone into communications, science policy, consulting and health informatics.

What is one of the challenges the office faces?

VOGEL: One of our biggest challenges is reaching the people who could benefit from what we have to offer. As a postdoc recently told us, “I can’t thank you enough for all your advice! I only wish I had learned about the PDCO earlier, while I was a student, so I’m trying to spread the word.” That said, we have much better visibility and name recognition than when I first arrived, so we’re making progress.  

What goals do you have moving forward?

VOGEL: Our long-term goal is for career education and training to be considered an integral part of research training, not an extra. When students and postdocs spend time on career development, their faculty advisors should see that time as an investment in success—not only of the trainees, but also of themselves as mentors. For that to happen, we need a culture change, but I am cautiously optimistic that that has already begun.

--Interviewed by Catherine Kolf

Donna Vogel on preparing young scientists for their futures

Donna Vogel, M.D., Ph.D., talks about the services offered by the Johns Hopkins Professional Development and Career Office.


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