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URMC / Education / Graduate Education / URBest Blog / October 2017 / Invest in Your Interests

Invest in Your Interests

Career Story by Jeffrey Harder, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow at The Jackson Laboratory

In 2006, I made a big career change.  I left a great job, where I helped run a small business, to become a graduate student in biomedical research.  In truth, the job had been a detour.  After undergrad I was to be a research assistant in a biology lab.  The summer before I started in the lab, I wrote custom software for a friend’s business.  By summer’s end, I went all-in with the business. The job wasn’t for me and five years later I needed a career change. 

After this unusual start, I have really enjoyed my career in biomedical research.  However, working outside of academia I learned a couple things about my work life that are important to my happiness and career development.  The first is that having good relationships with people at work is important to me.  I am introverted, but I enjoy collaborations and helping others.  This made my relationship with my mentor or boss and a team environment at work important for me to find at each step of my training.  The second is that much of my energy comes from curiosity and learning.  It ends up being both productive and rewarding to invest extra time in my interests. For example before grad school, I took MBA classes and biochemistry courses at night to learn business and see if research was still tempting to me. I found I consistently had passion and energy for science and to others it showed my commitment to education and grad school.

From business, I also picked up the idea to set rather broad long-term goals for myself.  Authors James Collins and Jerry Poras in “Built to Last” proposed the term “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” for strategic and emotionally compelling goals that help progress towards an envisioned future.  If I work within a broad goal, I feel flexible, and if I strive to do things well, my training and CV builds organically as far as the details.  At first I wanted to do disease research. As a Pathology grad student I studied glaucoma.  I took extra courses in Neuroscience to better understand the central nervous system and tackled extra projects related to retinal development to better learn the tissue.  As a postdoc I wanted to better understand how disease is modeled and how specific factors like genetics and diet underlie disease susceptibility. I went to The Jackson Laboratory that is a leader in genetics, genomics and using mouse models.  In this environment if I want to do a new project, I need to write a grant or train a new student.  I also follow advances in human glaucoma and create some of my own resources to study it.   Finding the right mentor and environment again helped me work toward a broad goal.

Professionally I next want to tackle a problem even more directly linked to human disease. I am currently about a year away from finishing my postdoc. I am also newly married to a fellow scientist.  Our next goal is not completely career oriented – we want to live in Europe. We have begun to identify friends and co-workers with connections in pharma and biotech companies with locations in Europe. We are excited to explore the opportunities out there.          

Come join me and my wife -- Candace Harder, Associate Study Director of Genetic Engineering Technologies -- in the Natapow Conference Room (1-9545) Friday October 6th at noon for a URBEST Career Story and pizza. 

Global Administrator | 10/3/2017

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