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Jonathan Gitlin, PhD

From the Bench To a Career in Science Policy

When I started university back in 1994 I had no idea I'd eventually end up working in science policy. I studied Pharmacology as an undergraduate at King's College, London, and then followed that with a PhD in Pharmacology at Imperial College School of Medicine, also in London.

My next step was a postdoc at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, and it was here that I realized I wasn't that interested in a career as a PI. Since my project had a lot of downtime waiting for mice to breed etc, I got involved with the postdoc group, the Society of Fellows. This gave me my first real experience with science policy, on a lobbying day organized by the Joint Steering Committee for Public Policy (now the Coalition for Life Sciences). I also started contributing science articles to the technology website Ars Technica (http://arstechnica.com) as a way of improving my writing.

Personal circumstances made me want to stay in the US rather than returning back to the UK, so I gave science one last try with a postdoc at the University of Kentucky. Despite a great project and a good PI, I knew it wasn't for me. At Scripps we had invited Peter Fiske to come give a talk on careers for postdocs away from the bench, and his advice was to work out what you wanted to be in five years, find out how people who had that job had done to get there, and then work on those skills in order to build the necessary resume.

Taking this to heart, I continued to write for Ars Technica, covering science policy when possible, and began attending meetings like AAAS' Science and Technology Policy Forum in order to start building a network. I also got involved with the National Postdoctoral Association, chairing one of their committees for two years, followed by a two year term on the Board of Directors, serving as Vice Chair for a year. I also taught International Science and Technology Policy as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Kentucky's Patterson School for Diplomacy and International Commerce in an attempt to broaden out my resume as much as possible.

Once I had my green card and was able to look for positions outside of academia, I was fortunate enough to see a position advertised at the National Human Genome Research Institute. I knew that a friend from Scripps had moved there to work in policy several years ago, and contacted her to see if it would be worth applying, to which the answer was yes (this proves the value in maintaining a network). Despite not having been through the AAAS Science Policy fellowship program, my resume was attractive enough to land me an interview, and I took up that position in 2009.

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