Name: Lindsey Perkin
Job Title: Research Molecular Biologist
Company: Agricultural Research Service, USDA
Job description: A typical day includes lab work, data analysis, and manuscript writing. In the first couple years of my current post-doc, I would spend most days entirely in the lab collecting data. Now I have transitioned to mostly data analysis and writing manuscripts. Although there are always more experiments to be done! I also spend some time writing grants.
I travel occasionally for scientific meetings and other training opportunities. Working as a government scientist is very similar to academics. The main differences are no teaching responsibilities, more progress reports, and less flexibility in your research questions. What I mean by this is that we are given target questions and problems to address by the USDA. We do get to be creative as to how we address these problems/questions.
What were your graduate studies in? What aspects of your graduate training do you feel have made you more successful in your position? My graduate work was in biology. More specifically, I studied thermal phenotypes (cold and heat tolerance) in Drosophila melanogaster. My position was part of the Ecological Genomics group at K-State, so it included molecular biology, genomics, and aspects of ecology and evolution.
My training in grad school was very applicable to my first and current post-doc position. My research questions have changed, as well as my study organism, but the skills I learned in the lab and writing as a graduate student are still very applicable.
What was your career path after leaving graduate school? After receiving my PhD from K-State, I moved to Atlanta, GA for a post-doc at Emory University. From there I came back to KS to start a second post-doc with the USDA (my current position).
My post-doc position did not require previous post-doc experience. However, a full-time scientist position does require research experience outside of graduate school (could be post-doc or industry experience) as well as publications.
There are many positions at the USDA Agricultural Research Service that do not require post-doc experience, such as a lab tech or a supporting scientist.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job? What are your favorite aspects of your job? The most challenging part of a government job is keeping up with the paperwork! There are always performance reports and training to do.
My favorite part of the job, is the research. The questions I am addressing are focused on directly helping our agricultural problems and it it easy to see the importance of my work. I find this very rewarding.
Do you have any other useful advice for graduate students interested in your field that hasn't been covered yet? I think a government post-doc is a great way to get research experience and it generally pays better than an academic post-doc. However, if your goal is to become faculty at a university, it may not be a perfect fit. For example, there are no opportunities to get teaching experience and as a post-doc you are not allowed to be lead on a grant. I'm finding that both of these things make you less competitive for a assistant professor position. Universities tend to look for a combination of great research and publications, but also teaching experience and money.