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'Looking for That 1 in 1000'
Job Fair Adds Spice to 10th Festival

By Carla Garnett

On the Front Page...
A few new spices were thrown into the scientific potpourri that is NIH's 5-day annual Research Festival, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. Leading off was a Sept. 16 symposium featuring international experts on a current "hot" topic -- prion diseases, a group of neurodegenerative disorders that includes "mad cow" disease, and its human counterpart Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease. Two other symposia -- one on the genetics of complex disease and another, the NIDR Alumni Symposium, which honored Dr. Stephan Mergenhagen, the recently retired long-time chief of the institute's Laboratory of Immunology -- four poster sessions, a picnic lunch, a scientific job fair, nearly 30 workshops, and a scientific equipment show were packed into the festival.

Organizers estimate that about 5,000 attended festival events that were centralized for the second year in a row at the Natcher Conference Center. In addition, about $320 was raised for the Children's Inn via picnic lunch sales.

Successful Experiment:
NCI's Dr. Lakshmi Channavajjala (second from l), who was among the dozens of postdocs attending the Research Festival's first-ever job fair, landed an interview later in the day.

"Each event served an important purpose and, in my mind, each was successful," acknowledged Dr. Henning Birkedal-Hansen, NIDR scientific director and chair of the 1996 festival organizing committee. "Perhaps what impressed me most was the depth and breadth of science on campus. Needless to say the key to success is the quality of the science, and all of the symposia and workshop organizers did a marvelous job in putting together a string of excellent science presentations. The poster presenters also did a great job in sharing their ideas, approaches and findings with us. Personally, I learned a lot."

New for 1996 was the rebirth of an idea by original Research Festival planner Dr. Abner Notkins to invite participation in the poster sessions by ICD scientific directors and other VIPs including NIDR director Dr. Harold Slavkin, whose poster drew a constant crowd at the opening poster session.

Dr. Henry Metzger (r), NIAMS scientific director, presents his research during the festival's poster sessions, which this year were also opened to the campus's VIPs.

"As a new intramural scientist in NIAMS," Slavkin said, "I was very impressed with the collegiality of the intramural community. It is a terrific intellectual environment. A number of IRP scientists stopped at the poster and were wonderful in offering suggestions and many opportunities for collaboration. There is a convergence between clinical craniofacial dysmorphology, developmental and molecular biology, and evolutionary biology -- a new intellectual synthesis -- and this convergence was evident at the poster session. And, it was great fun!"

Already involved in a 3-lab collaboration was Dr. Ivan Fuss of NIAID who displayed results of research on ALPS, or autoimmune lympho-proliferative syndrome, that also garnered a steady stream of interested onlookers. "A lot of what we're looking into with regard to autoimmune phenomenon -- what brings it about, why it occurs -- is relevant to other people's work," he said, explaining his poster's popularity.

VIP poster presenter Dr. Harold Slavkin (second from r), NIDR director and NIAMS intramural scientist, drew a continuous crowd to discuss his work during NIH's 10th annual Research Festival.

Not necessarily seeking research partners, but excited to be showing off some new-found knowledge was Eileen Farnon, who came to NIH for a year and a half to decide between grad school and med school. Now a first-year student at Temple University Medical School, she said she will probably pursue some mechanism such as a Howard Hughes fellowship that will allow her to return to NIH in the future. She worked with colleagues and Drs. Michael Lenardo of NIAID and Henry McFarland of NINDS on her poster describing a method of measuring antigen-specific cells in multiple sclerosis. "I'm just starting med school this fall so it's too soon to choose a specialty, but I'm leaning towards infectious diseases," she said.

Another highlight of the festival was the scientific job fair that was added this year to lend assistance to NIH fellows. Representatives from FDA and several pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies staffed tables until noon on Wednesday, Sept. 18, collecting resumes, applications and scheduling afternoon interviews with prospective employees from NIH labs. About 30 open positions had been logged into a special jobs database prior to the fair.

NICHD's Dr. Alexander Karavanov explains research conducted in collaboration with scientists at the University of California.

Dr. Kong Chen of NINDS said he was interested in the pharmacology positions offered by FDA. "I was also hoping there would be more employers here," he said. "I wasn't able to stay long because I am running an experiment just now, and it seemed everybody there was crowded around the FDA table."

Recruiting for jobs in NCI's Pediatric Oncology Branch, Dr. Carol Thiele was able to explain perhaps why FDA was drawing so much interest. "This was my first job fair," she said. "I was looking [to interview] a postdoc/staff fellow. I think that people were looking for a job and didn't really care what it was about. Most wanted a 'slot' or FTE position. I spoke with about 20 people and I didn't think most were appropriate for the position, as they did not have the appropriate background. I did, however, get an application for a technician. I also have a technician slot open. I think [the job fair] would be a good format for NIH techs to see what is out there and would be a good opportunity to interview interested techs."

Another recruiter, Jeff Hallquist, director of marketing and sales for the pharmaceutical firm HRP, Inc., said his company was accepting resumes for a study director and would be ready to hire a qualified Ph.D. holder by Dec. 1. "I had a woman looking for a position come up to me and put this whole thing in perspective," he said. "She said everybody here is looking for that one job in a thousand, for that perfect fit. She was right. We're all looking for that perfect one in a thousand applicant and they're all looking for that one in a thousand employer. This is certainly a great place to start looking."

At least one postdoc was having a successful day at the job market: Dr. Lakshmi Channavajjala, a 6-year employee of NCI's Laboratory of Tumor Cell Biology, landed an afternoon interview for a postdoctoral fellowship position in biotechnology at Frederick Cancer Research and Development Center. Her colleague in the lab, Dr. Kaur Harvinder, was attending the fair just for future reference, however. "I just started my job here," she said, smiling, "so I'm a new baby on the block."

NIDR scientific director Dr. Henning Birkedal-Hansen (l) chaired the 1996 NIH Research Festival organizing committee, which selected Dr. Stephan Mergenhagen (r), a longtime NIDR lab chief who recently retired, as honoree of this year's alumni symposium. Several of his former colleagues gathered to discuss current work and pay tribute to their mentor.

Birkedal-Hansen said he sees the fair as a work in progress that will only grow more beneficial for NIH's postdocs. "I believe that the addition of the job fair will prove to be an important element of the festival," he commented. "This year 12 companies were represented. Obviously there is room to grow and expand this event, and I have no doubt that many more companies will sign up in future years. I am particularly pleased if we can assist our fellows in pursuing their career objectives in this manner."

Festival activities concluded Thursday and Friday under the big tents temporarily erected on parking lot 10D for 2 days of scientific equipment displays and demonstrations by the Technical Sales Association, which also underwrote some festival expenses.

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