Getting Started With Government Research

Career Paths
Government Research
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Although few people enter PhD programs intending to work for the federal government, there are several avenues for holders of graduate degrees to use their skills in federal service (note however that most federal government jobs are limited to US citizens). Federal jobs for PhDs exist in a wide range of fields, from scientists in government labs to policy analysts doing research for Congress. Opportunities with the federal government exist for graduate students in virtually every field. Jobs with the federal government offer an opportunity to conduct research that will directly influence policy, and often include additional benefits rarely found in the private sector, like opportunities for early retirement, travel, and continuing promotion.

This guide will explain the process of searching and applying for federal employment. The highlighted jobs are only a small selection, chosen merely to give you an idea of what you, as a holder of a doctoral degree in the biological sciences, might expect to do in a government job. Certainly, many more opportunities exist, and you may even be at an advantage for certain positions which do not necessarily require a doctorate (holders of doctoral degrees start at a higher pay-grade for most federal jobs than do people with only bachelor's or master's degrees). The federal workforce is facing rapid turnover in the next decade as an ever increasing percentage of government employees reach retirement age.

As a result, the number of federal vacancies is and will remain high in the coming years. Additionally, many federal agencies have expanded hiring to help them confront the new challenges facing America in the 21st century. Much of this hiring is being done through such special programs as the Presidential Management Internship (PMI). How to find a federal job Searching for federal jobs is relatively easy, since most federal agencies have websites with detailed information about their activities and provide information on applying for a job. Other general websites (listed below) concentrate information about jobs in several different agencies. Many federal agencies also recruit actively on campus. Check with your Gradate Career Services to find out which agencies will attend career fairs or conduct interviews. If you are already interested in working for a particular federal agency, the best way to begin looking for a job is to go to the agency's website and look for the career section. Generally, to apply for a federal job, you must send your application materials (resume and cover letter) directly to the agency. Be sure to follow any specific instructions on the agency website.

This guide is merely designed to highlight a few federal opportunities available to PhD students, but is far from comprehensive. If you are interested in federal employment, check out some of the generalinterest websites listed below, or go directly to specific agencies for more information. General resources: Office of Personnel Management (OPM): Create a profile and resume, look for federal government vacancies A listing of all federal job vacancies open to outside applicants, site includes FAQs, tools for matching openings to applicants Partnership for Public Service: Presidential Management Intern Program (PMI) PMI is a two-year long program open only to finishing graduate/professional students. The goal of the program is to "groom talented people for upper-level management positions in the federal government." Applicants must apply through their university in their last year of graduate study. The application process is quite competitive, and begins with nomination for the program by your university. Students nominated by their university then proceed to a national evaluation and assessment process. Selected candidates can apply for PMI positions at a number of executive branch agencies. Available positions depend on the agency and vary widely.

All include training and rotations to other agencies or branches of the federal government. One of the main benefits of the PMI program is that it simplifies the hiring process. Finalists are invited to a special federal government job fair and receive aid in looking for a job (drastically cutting down on the paperwork and bypassing the complicated civil service job application process). PMIs are hired at the GS-9 level of the civil service pay scale, which corresponds to a salary of $36,000 per year (n.b., holders of doctoral degrees who take civil service positions through the standard hiring process start at the GS-11 level, at a salary of $44,000 per year; however, they have to navigate the hiring process independently, often waiting several months between application and hire). Getting started: The first step is getting nominated for the program by your university.

Contact your Career Center for more information. Monster Public Service The Monster internet job hunting service has a special section for government jobs, in collaboration with the Partnership for Public Service. Go to Jobs for natural scientists--students in MB&B, MCDB, Microbiology, Genetics Because of the ongoing biotechnology revolution, more and more public policy has to address our changing understanding of the natural world. Consequently, the federal government needs an increasing number of trained biologists to advise it on policy making. At the same time, the federal government provides the majority of funding for biological research in the United States, much of which actually occurs in government labs. The largest employer of biologists, particularly molecular biologists, is the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which includes the National Institutes of Health (NIH, see below), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), among others. Biologists working for these agencies do both pure and applied research that focuses primarily on curing disease. In many ways, HHS scientists' research is comparable to that done at research universities.

Besides the various components of HHS, biologists can often find federal work with doing forensic science with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. Spotlight on: National Institutes of Health (NIH) In addition to providing the bulk of funding for biological research in university labs, the NIH spends approximately 10% of its budget (that is, about $2.25 billion per year) on research projects undertaken in its own labs, principally at the Institutes' headquarters in Bethesda Maryland. NIH scientists often collaborate with colleagues at universities, consequently, NIH research remains at the academic forefront even as it seeks to address critical issues of public health. Numerous independent research institutes in Bethesda comprise the NIH. It is in these institutes, which include the National Eye Institute, the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (there are 27 such institutes in all) that the NIH's basic research is conducted.

Moreover, a part of the research conducted by the NIH's scientists is clinical, rather than lab-based. Each institute makes its own decisions about research funding priorities, allocating money between researcher-initiated projects at universities, training, and "intramural" research programs conducted within the NIH's institutes. Often, more than one institute will be involved in research on any given topic (e.g. Alzheimer's disease), so job seekers may have multiple options for getting hired in their field. Some research is focused on specific diseases, although about half of the money appropriated by the NIH to its institutes goes to more general research in the hopes that it will ultimately lead to discoveries with therapeutic potential.

The NIH's various institutes also play a catalytic role in promoting research innovations among outside scientists, organizing seminars to discuss promising avenues of future research and exchanging ideas about approaches to issues affecting public health. As a federal agency, the NIH plays a larger role in setting the nation's agenda for biomedical research. NIH scientists thus also interact with Congress and the public to set future priorities and to ensure public oversight of the Institutes'expenditure. NIH scientists are hired and promoted similarly to their counterparts at research universities. Researchers join the NIH on a tenure-track basis, or are hired as tenured senior researchers.

Overall, the NIH itself employees around 1,000 tenured and tenure-track scientists, almost entirely at its main campus in Bethesda. NIH Internships for graduate students The NIH also sponsors two internship programs aimed at graduate students in the biological sciences. The Predoctoral IRTA program provides facilities for graduate students to conduct dissertation research at NIH labs, or provides a year-off experience for those seeking to try their hand at different kinds of research. Additionally, the NIH sponsors a summer internship program in biomedical research, which allows graduate students to continue or expand their dissertation research in one of the NIH labs. There are also a number of postdoctoral fellowship programs at the NIH, more information about which can be found on the NIH website. Other possibilities: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Food and Drug Administration Federal Bureau of Investigation