So… I sort of fell off the #NHBPM wagon. The goal was to write 30 blogs posts in 30 days. And I promise, I had every intention of doing just that. But yet, it’s now December 3rd and I only wrote/published 3 posts. I feel sort of bad about that. But not too bad, because I had a REALLY good reason for not posting:
I GOT A JOB!!!
It was a very long hiring process, one that honestly stretches back to last December when I applied for a public health policy research position on a team working on Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As it turns out, I didn’t get that job. But my resume did catch the eye of the team lead, who also serves as the acting branch chief for the Health Systems and Trauma Systems Branch in the Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention (DUIP), which is a part of the larger National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC). When the next possible opening on the TBI team came up in May, she got in touch with me and we had a phone interview that went great.
And then I didn’t hear anything more all summer, other than assurances that NCIPC/DUIP were re-organizing and they’d be in touch. In the mean time, I continued applying for other jobs (and hearing nothing… ), researching possible fellowship opportunities, and networking, networking, NETWORKING. Anyone that I came into contact with who had even the most remote connection to a place I wanted to work or experience in the fields I’m interested in, I was all over it. In August, I spent over an hour chatting up a very nice woman who happened to work at the CDC while hanging out at my friend Kristin’s pool. And that conversation was where I learned about ORISE fellowships.
ORISE is an acronym, that stands for Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, a Department of Energy (DOE) institute focused on recruiting scientists and engineers to work on a whole host of health, science, and engineering issues. ORISE itself is a physical place located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee that is managed by the Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) consortium. However, not all ORISE scientists work in Tennessee. Rather, ORAU also sponsors a series of ORISE fellowships at a number of member institutions and partners, including at the CDC here in Atlanta.
So, what does this have to do with my new job? Well, as part of the big reorganization over in the NCIPC/DUIP, a team working on public health policy relating to prescription drug overdose (PDO) was relocated into the Health Systems Branch, which, as I noted above, is currently under the direction of the head of the TBI team that I interviewed with. The PDO team happened to have openings for two ORISE fellows to work on a two year project evaluating a series of state-run prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs). And my contact, who was still looking for a way to bring me in, recommended that I apply for the position, which I did.
And then I didn’t hear anything for over a month.
Thinking that the lack of communication meant the fellowship was a long shot at best, I soldiered on, pursuing networking opportunities with a commitment that could best be described as “relentless fervor”. As part of this pursuit, I figured out a way to attend the Network for Public Health Law Conference here in Atlanta in mid-October. The conference was awesome and I learned A LOT. But more importantly, I met A LOT of people who were generous with their time and really went out of their ways to help me build my networks within the public health field. As it turns out, one of the people that I met at the conference just so happened to work on the PDO team at the CDC. And he went back to his team lead and talked me up, effectively moving my resume to the top of the pile.
[Side note: When you are looking for a job, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, will tell you “It’s all about who you know!“. I was told this three separate times at my dental cleaning in early October alone. Reluctantly, I admit that they’re right. But what people don’t tell you is that you, and you alone, control who you know. So if your current network isn’t generating promising leads, get out there and meet new people!]
Shortly after I got back home from my networking trip to DC (like I said, relentless fervor!), I had a phone interview with the PDO team lead and another senior member of the team. It was on a Friday morning, it lasted 27 minutes, and I had no idea if they liked me or not. After a weekend of trying to convince myself I didn’t blow it while simultaneously preparing for another networking meeting with a public health lawyer at the CDC the following Monday (RELENTLESS FERVOR), I received an email on Monday morning that basically said “Congratulations on being selected as an ORISE fellow! Here’s 800 pieces of paperwork we need to start working on to get your hiring approved and processed.”
I was FLOORED. But I was also cautious. In all of my networking meetings, I had learned that opportunities with the federal government can fall apart just as easily as they come together. So I tried my best not to say anything until everything was finalized (although my mom leaked it to my 94-year-old grandmother who then posted about it on my Facebook wall… ), which happened the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. So while I was stuffing my face with turkey and potatoes and pie, I was also incredibly grateful that after a long, frustrating search, I had FINALLY landed a fantastic position where I will get hands on experience learning how public health policy is set at the federal level.
I’ve now been at work for a little over a week and I’m still really excited, even though all I’ve gotten to do so far is paperwork and background reading. I hadn’t really considered working in drug abuse policy, but I’m finding the material stimulating and intriguing. Prescription drug misuse and abuse is a huge public health problem across the country right now and different states are trying different things to counter it. My job, then, in a nutshell, will be to help figure out which interventions and controls are working (and why) and which aren’t (and why). It should be a fun challenge and I know I’m going to learn a lot!
The one caveat, though, is that as a guest researcher at the CDC, my understanding is that I need to be careful what I choose to blog about here. In terms of “reporting” on the fundraising and awareness events that I try to take part in on a regular basis, I think I’m fine to keep blogging away. Likewise, fundraising for private organizations like American Cancer Society and Komen for the Cure. However, there are obviously confidentiality issues relating to the work I’ll be doing at the CDC, so beyond what I’ve shared in this post, I probably won’t write much about that specifically. Additionally, I need to be careful that any health and science posts (like my “cancer awareness month” series) are not misconstrued as approved by or representing any kind of official position by the CDC, ORISE, ORAU, or the Departments of Energy and Health and Human Services. A simple disclaimer should do the trick, but I’ll probably err on the side of caution for a while just to be safe.
Finally, I strongly suspect (although I haven’t seen it confirmed anywhere yet) that I am not supposed to do any public advocating or politicizing on issues pertaining to government-funded research, including the current state of said funding and the potentially detrimental effects of sequestration on it. It is something of a conflict of interest to be advocating for protecting/increasing CDC funding when said funding levels have huge implications for the future of my fellowship and whether or not I get hired on as a permanent CDC employee. So PLEASE. Since this is the only thing I’ll be writing publicly about sequestration from this point on, do me a favor and look it up. Look up the effects that an 8% across the board cut in funding will have on NIH, NSF, FDA, AHRQ, and yes, CDC. If you do nothing else, read through this report from Research!America. Read the info that AAAS (especially this report), CIBR, and the Society for Neuroscience have compiled on the issue (note, those links will take you to their sequestration pages). This letter by the Coalition for Health Funding is also worth a read, as is this ACS CAN blog post on sequestration and breast cancer research. Read the Cures Not Cuts! website. And CONTACT YOUR REPRESENTATIVES. The US government funds the vast majority of biomedical research in this country, research that will find the cures for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, diabetes, and yes, someday, cancer. These potential cuts to research investments will have ramifications for decades. We’re falling behind already. We cannot afford any more budget cuts to our science and research budgets and everyone needs to make sure their representatives know it. This PDF from Research!America includes sample letters, tweets, and Facebook posts that you can use as inspiration. Do it for me. Call it a “Congratulations on the new job!” present.
So that’s my biggest news. But I do, actually, have other news as well, this time on the volunteering front. The day before I found out that my fellowship was approved and I had a start date in place, I was asked to be on not one, but TWO important committees at the Atlanta affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, with whom I’ve been volunteering at health fairs and fundraising events since late last winter.
First, I will be serving as the Safety Chair for the Atlanta Race for the Cure which will take place at Atlantic Station in May (registration is now open!). That means that I’m responsible for lining up the medical and ambulance support for the race as well as making sure everyone is where they should be and everything runs smoothly on race day. As I’ve gotten more involved with the local running community here in Atlanta and I’m pretty comfortable with the medical community here as well, it’s kind of a perfect fit! Organizing, race planning, and health care – it’s a perfect fit! I thought I had my first planning meeting for Race for the Cure committee tonight (we meet on the first Monday of each month), but it turns out that doesn’t start until next month. As best as I can, I’ll try to post updates and you can be sure that come spring, I’ll be recruiting as many people as possible to take part in the race!
Second, I will also be serving as a member of the Community Grants Review Board, something I’ve been wanting to do for years. For those who don’t know, 75% of the money that the Komen affiliates raise throughout the year (including through the Race for the Cure) stays with the affiliates and is redistributed throughout the local communities in the form of community support grants. The majority of these grants go to fund breast cancer initiatives and patient support work at local healthcare providers, community support centers (like YMCAs) and cancer support organizations. I’m thrilled that I now have the opportunity to help direct how Komen Atlanta chooses to use their funds. I have grant review training on Thursday and will have until early January to review my assigned grants. Then in late-ish January, I will get together with the rest of the reviewers to decide on which grants to fund for 2013-2014. I’m really looking forward to experiencing this aspect of Komen’s work from the inside and as best I can, I’ll try to keep everyone posted. However, to avoid conflicts of interest and all of that, I will need to keep the specifics of much of this work private as well.
So that’s how the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 are shaping up for me. After my defense last December, I thought my whole life would just start moving forward immediately. I fully expected to have a new job in place well before I graduated in May. I never anticipated that I would be unemployed for as long as I was. Moreover, I had no idea how restricted I would be financially because of my lack of a job, which, in turn, restricted the charitable work I was able to do. In short, throughout most of 2012, I felt stuck in the mud when I all I wanted was to be finally moving forward. Well, after almost a full year of fighting to get unstuck, I can proudly say: I AM UNSTUCK. I have a new job that I’m really fired up about where I’m going to learn a lot about public health policy, law, and hopefully communications from inside the federal government. I have two great volunteering gigs where I’m going to have a real influence on how a large breast cancer not-for-profit does their work. I honestly haven’t been this excited for the coming year in such a long time. It’s such a great feeling to finally be on my way!