Johns Hopkins Gazette | May 11, 2009
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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University May 11, 2009 | Vol. 38 No. 34
Resource: JHMI's Professional Development Office

Donna Vogel directs the Professional Development Office, which serves graduate students, fellows and junior faculty in Medicine, Nursing and Public Health.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

When the Professional Development Office opened its doors in 2001, the resource set out to better prepare biomedical graduate students and postdoctoral fellows for leadership positions and a varied job landscape. The office — a joint initiative of the schools of Medicine, Nursing and Public Health — wanted to provide JHMI's graduate students and fellows some basic research survival skills, such as writing grants and giving oral presentations.

Fast forward eight years, the office still abides by its original mission but has recently expanded its scope to include junior faculty. It has also added a Research Leadership course, which was piloted this fall.

The seven-session course seeks to prepare its participants to manage a laboratory or project, develop a budget, hire a staff and mentor students and trainees. The course also has sessions on Productivity and Career Advancement; Time Management; and You and Your Organization, which explores such topics as group culture and collaboration.

Twenty-three postdoctoral fellows enrolled in the pilot. Postdocs on federal training and fellowship awards were the initial target group, as both the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation recently added language in training/fellowship applications encouraging mentoring and career development. The current and future sessions are open to all postdocs and clinical fellows, regardless of their source of support.

Donna Vogel, the office's director since 2007, said that the course's faculty strive to offer the planning, managerial and people skills needed to run a research enterprise successfully.

"That is what we are really all about here — providing our emerging scientists with the knowledge and the skills they need to become successful in an independent career in science. And we take a broad view of what that means," said Vogel, who speaks on career issues and professional skills to individual programs on the health campus and to outside groups.

Before joining Johns Hopkins, Vogel spent most of her career at the NIH. From 2001 to 2005, she worked at the National Cancer Institute as the first director of its Fellowship Office, dedicated to enhancing the professional experience for postdoctoral fellows. In 2005, she retired from the federal government and became deputy director of the Ellison Medical Foundation in Bethesda.

Vogel said that, based on the feedback received from the fall pilot group, the office will extend research leadership to graduate and health professional students. Selected topics will be added to its existing semiannual Intersession course. Previously called Communications and Your Research Career, the expanded course, which will debut in July, will be held over five days and be called simply Your Research Career.

Vogel said that her office is working with colleagues in the Office of Faculty Development to collaborate on courses for that constituency.

In addition to the new Research Leadership course, the Professional Development Office offers a full curriculum of workshops and formal courses in the areas of skill development and career planning. Specifically, it hosts courses and tutorials in scientific communication, including "grantcraft," scientific writing and oral presentations. It also offers workshops in resume/CV writing, networking and interviewing.

Students, fellows and junior faculty can approach the office anytime for confidential career consultation. The office also hosts an annual biomedical career fair and throughout the year invites guest speakers from a wide range of scientific disciplines to talk with students and trainees.

Vogel said that while many Johns Hopkins graduates go on to academic careers, an increasing percentage seek out what she calls "diverse careers in science."

"We encourage the training and knowledge you need to succeed as an academic, but we serve people who are looking for all kinds of careers in science," she said. "Everyone needs grant-writing skills, the ability to find sources of funding. People will come here to learn about both federal and nonfederal sources of grants. Times are tough, and these days you have to cast a wider net."

Derek Haseltine, assistant director of the office, said that some students approach the office at a crossroads in their academic or early professional career.

"Some are ready to leave altogether, and we try to put things into perspective for them and place them in a position of knowledge. In that sense, you could say we're also a retention tool," Haseltine said. "Some come to us and just want a status update on their career. It's literally all over the map."

The office was established in 2000 by James Hildreth, then associate dean for graduate student affairs, and championed by the leadership of Medicine, Nursing and Public Health. Hildreth's primary goal in creating the PDO was to achieve two things: prepare students and fellows to enter traditional and nontraditional careers, and foster an environment at Johns Hopkins that would nurture innovative training programs beyond the established curriculum.

Courses and activities for students and postdocs are free and can draw up to 100 participants. For faculty, the intensive, small group classes range from five to 20 participants. Faculty courses cost between $400 and $650. Senior postdocs may take a faculty course at a 50 percent discount.

For more information on the office and a schedule of events and courses, go to


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