Exploring Non-Academic Science Careers: Presidential Management Fellowship

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a difficult question for many people to answer. Do you want to pursue science but don’t know what options are out there? Do you have a degree in science but don’t know what your next career move should be? Are there any options outside academia? For reasons related to recent trends in funding and employment opportunities, the scientific community is looking for information regarding opportunities outside the traditional academic environment.

This series will highlight options that allow you to use your scientific expertise in ways that you may not know are out there! This is the first post of what we hope become the widely read Blog theme: Exploring Non-Academic Science Careers.

My name is Reyda P. Gonzalez Nieves. Since I was a kid, I had a passion for science. It was the one subject in school where I excelled. It was also because of science that I am able to be here today. Science saved my life, literally. Time passed and as I got older, I realized that I wanted to pursue studies in cell molecular biology. I got my Bachelor’s in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico at Bayamon Campus and my PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology from Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda MD.

I have always believed that you should pursue what you are passionate about. Early in my PhD studies, I realized that traditional academia was not for me. But…what else could I do with a PhD in science? That question kept me up many nights. I didn’t want to be away from science, but I didn’t know what direction I should take. The thought of not pursing a post-doc was crazy in the eyes of others. I started looking into different options, but in all honesty it was really hard. I was scared that I would regret my decision. Most importantly, I was scared that the outcome was not going to be ideal. I wished I had more information or a person who made a similar step outside of academia to talk to.

During my search, I found the Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF). The PMF program is administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. This program focuses on training future leaders in the federal government. It is prestigious and includes a two-year fellowship that, upon completion, offers you the opportunity to become a permanent federal employee. You will need a MA/MS, Ph.D., or J.D. degree in any academic discipline to be eligible to apply. Graduate school really trains you well for something like this, because it is a highly competitive process to become a PMF fellow.

As a PMF fellow, you have the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be a government employee in all aspects. You have the ability to make a positive impact in the agency you are appointed to work in. It also provides you with an opportunity to participate on a detail assignment, which is four to six-months as a fellow in another office or agency outside of your primary appointment. Back in 2014, the PMF Program piloted the PMF STEM track with the goal of identifying and training future STEM leaders for Federal government service. You can find all the STEM degrees solicited for the 2016 STEM track here.

I was hired in April of 2014 as a Presidential Management Fellow in the Molecular and Cellular Biosciences Division at the National Science Foundation (NSF). I currently work as a Biologist. My position is completely different from my work as a graduate student. Now, I am able to see and contribute to the other side of grant proposals. As a graduate student I applied for grants. As a Biologist at the NSF, I help the Division and Program Officers with the proposal cycle. I work on special projects for Senior Management and Program Directors. I manage the Division blog, analyze statistics, gather data, mentor summer interns, assist Program Directors during scientific grant review panels, assist Principal Investigators with Sharing Science, and much more. I have the opportunity to take classes and attend conferences to further my professional development. It has been an amazing and rewarding experience.

My advice to those who are thinking about what to do with their scientific degrees is to pursue what inspires you. If it is academia, go for it. If it is not, that’s okay. My point is that there are always hurdles along the way, but if you are pursuing something you are passionate about, it will all be worth it in the end. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to pursue something that for others seems impossible. I am very glad that I applied to the PMF program. In the end, only YOU will know what is best for you.

There is clearly a need in our community for information about Non-academic Science Career Opportunities. Our goal with this Blog theme is to show our readers alternate avenues outside of a traditional academic path. If you know of a great alternative way to use your science degree and want us to highlight the opportunity for readers, let us know!

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