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Putting Love of Science to Work

We love to share people’s success stories – especially those in which the North Carolina Biotechnology Center plays an active role. The NCBiotech Jobs Network did just that recently as an Ohio-based contract research and testing company expands its year-old Durham operations. Camargo, needed workers – including a research scientist. Kristi Norris, Ph.D., met Camargo’s vice president of drug development, Gary Barnette, Ph.D., at one of these free monthly get-togethers, and soon thereafter he hired her. Kristi shares her story here, with a few final comments from Gary. -- Jim Shamp, NCBiotech director of public relations

The Right Place the Right Time for the Right Job

Research Scientist Kristi Norris Photo Courtesy of Kristi Norris

I have been interested in science since I was a young girl. My father, Jim Norris, is a principal investigator at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, where I grew up. As far back as I can remember, I was tagging along with him to work on the weekends, where I earned a quarter for each box of pipet tips I filled.

My love of science grew as I did, leading me to study biology as an undergraduate and then earning a Ph.D. through a joint program at the National Institutes of Health and George Washington University.

Prior to finding my position at Camargo Pharmaceutical Services, I was a post-doc for several years at Duke in the Pharmacology and Cancer Biology Department. Throughout my graduate experience, I loved science- reading about it, talking about it -- and imagined that I would follow in my dad’s footsteps and become a PI.

Over time, though, I found myself drawing away from the academic route. One of the major issues was that I found myself too far removed from the drug development process. I wanted to make an impact on drugs moving from early through to late stages, witness their clinical development and see them become FDA-approved, marketed products that have a direct impact on the lives of patients.

But what kind of job does that? To be honest, I didn’t know and I wasn’t even sure where to begin to find out. To start, I began attending networking events and trying to meet people working in industry. Very few people are naturally talented networkers, and I was also not one of them. Once I began, I found it to be surprisingly painless. There are a lot of great people in our area, and many are excited to share their job search stories. Without the strategies of the people I met, the knowledge gained about the different career options and the confidence that comes from knowing there IS a light at the end of the tunnel, my job search would have been infinitely more difficult.

Doubting the Network Routine

I started out a skeptic, thinking that the people who found their current job through networking were just a lucky few. However, in the end (spoiler alert), it really did end up that networking helped me move into my current position.  

There are a number of steps in the job search “protocol”, and each could consume an entire post unto themselves. In brief, I started with research, as that was what I was most comfortable with. I read books and articles about different types of jobs in industry to see what fields I found most interesting.

I then began applying for jobs, basically anything that sounded interesting. This was a lot of work, as you have to very specifically tailor your resume to include all of the key words and even key phrases in a job ad, as well as to create a cover letter that properly highlights why you would make a great scientist, writer, clinical specialist or zookeeper -- whatever it is you are applying for.

I needed advice on how to narrow my search, so I talked with Molly Starback, the head of Duke postdoctoral services, and Christine Warrington, a founding member of Women in Bio and mentor extraordinaire. I should point out that I actually met both of these women through networking. They encouraged me to get out and talk with people in order to narrow my job search and helped me set up an initial set of informational interviews.

All of these steps (research, job applications, networking and interviewing) sound like a lot of work because they are. Looking for a job is practically a full-time job, and I already had a full-time job. In my experience, the stress of the job search was actually eased by networking because the people I met along the way were so helpful and supportive. We were all familiar with the same stress, so it was easy to relate. There seemed to be a collective “pay it forward” attitude among the individuals I met at these events. Someone had given them support and guidance and they were then passing their strategies on to me.

Biotech Center Provides the Links

It was through my interactions at other events around the Triangle that I heard about the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. I attended my first event there in September of last year. In November, I went to a second event focusing on research strategies for the job search. This event was where I met Gary Barnette, the VP of Drug Development at Camargo. He was surrounded by people during the networking session, and I found myself hanging back. It is one thing to go up to someone and give them your spiel, but it’s quite another to do it when 5 or 6 other job seekers are standing by listening.

With encouragement from one of the Jobs Network organizers, Deborah Thompson, I finally went to speak with Gary toward the end of the networking session. When I went up to him, I had a rough image of the type of job I was looking for, but I was still exploring the different options in industry and had really only nailed down a few key aspects of what my ideal job would entail.

Once I spoke with Gary about the Research Scientist position at Camargo, I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do. I forwarded him a resume that evening and was thrilled to begin the interview process the following week. I have only worked at Camargo for about a month, but I have already gained a wealth of knowledge and am really enjoying both the work and the company.

Sometimes I am amazed by how everything worked out, how going to one event led to such an amazing opportunity. The most important thing that I learned during my job search is how important it is to put yourself out there, even when it feels like hard work. I am incredibly grateful to the individuals at the NC Biotech Center, especially Deborah Thompson, for their support and encouragement during my job search, as well as to my mentors and the new friends I acquired along the way.

…And Gary Barnette Adds:

I have attended the NCBiotech Jobs Network functions on three occasions since taking my position at Camargo Pharmaceuticals Services in North Carolina late summer of 2012.

These functions are well attended by qualified candidates for a variety of positions. Each visit I have made to the Jobs Network has resulted in productive discussions at the function and follow-up discussions afterward in many cases.

When I attended the Network function in November 2012, I was able to meet a large number of credible candidates. From this meet, I received 10 to 15 CVs, resulting in a number of telephone discussions and four on-site interviews for three different positions.

We were, and are, excited that we were able to match a specific need within Camargo by hiring Kristi Norris to the position of Research Scientist.

There is an incredible pool of talent in the Triangle area and I appreciate so much the efforts of the NCBiotech group to provide a conduit between this great talent pool and the hiring managers in the area.

I encourage any hiring manager in the Triangle area to take advantage of this valuable resource -- a high concentration of quality people.

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