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URMC / Education / Graduate Education / URBest Blog / October 2020 / "Following the cues: trusting your gut in science and life"

"Following the cues: trusting your gut in science and life"

By Tara Capece, Ph.D., MPH -Scientific Review Officer with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

My career path as a graduate student began the way many do – with the belief I was going to stay in academia. I loved pouring over the literature and writing (and editing and re-editing…) papers and grant applications. I especially enjoyed brainstorming for the best questions and experiments for projects. I checked all the academic boxes, and my path was set. Until it wasn’t. I left the lab I had spent countless hours in each day to enjoy a much-needed vacation after defending my thesis in May 2016. Upon re-entering the lab, I realized picking up pipettes no longer brought me joy. It wasn’t that my love of science was missing; I still wanted to read, write, and think critically about scientific problems – just not the ones that required my presence at the bench. I took the Individual Development Plan (IDP) to reassess my options: scientific review officer, scientific editor, and scientific writer. As far as I knew, scientific review officers were usually famous PIs with 30+ years of operating a lab (AKA, the pipette needed to be picked up). 

I agonized for months over the decision to leave the academic pursuit, feeling guilty and afraid to disappoint others. A wise friend gave me some simple advice: decide your next step the same way you decided on URMC – follow your gut. She was right. During my URMC interview 6 years earlier, I met my future advisor (unbeknownst to us both), Minsoo Kim. We shared the same excitement and passion for research. I knew I didn’t want to experience anything less and told him I was going to join his lab. I declined all other graduate school offers and waited 4 very long months before URMC accepted me. Two months later, I started in his lab and never regretted it. 

Here I was, 6 years later having to make the same decision and do what I knew was best for me – follow my gut. Ultimately, I knew a postdoc position would buy me time while I gained experience. I interviewed for 3 scientific editor positions and 6 postdoc positions. Seven of those interviews ended with me telling them I didn’t think we were a good fit for each other. Just as I was settling for a postdoc position across the country, a NIAID Investigator approached me with a postdoc offer I couldn’t refuse. I again trusted my gut and moved to Washington, DC. I had a great experience at the NIH and deeply appreciated their emphasis on work-life balance. Two years into my post-doc, I saw an internal advertisement for scientific review officer positions at the NIH - an email I would have never received if I didn’t trust my gut and was instead across the country doing my postdoc. I applied, and here I am today: a very happy Scientific Review Officer. Those who seek my career advice are asked the same question: what does your gut say will bring you a happy and satisfying life? Do that. 

Eric Vaughn | 10/8/2020

myHub Sponsored Event: Career Story: Tara Capece, Ph.D. - “Taking my passion in reading and writing to my work as a scientific review officer.”

Tuesday, October 13 | 12:00 am-1:00 pm | Zoom Event

Dr. Tara Capece, a 2016 SMD Ph.D. graduate from the Immunology, Microbiology and Virology (IMV) program will share her academic and career journey from graduate student to postdoctoral research fellow to her current position as a scientific review officer.

Need accommodations for this event?  Contact at least three business days prior to the event.

Katherine Bognanno | 10/8/2020

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