Public Sector Careers (NIH and Beyond)

What is the public sector?

The public sector has careers in both research and science administration.

The public sector refers to the part of the economy that is run by the government. It offers a wide variety of careers paths, inclusive of other Every Month Series topics, such as science policy or regulatory affairs. Employers in this sector include federal agencies, like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, and the 17 National Laboratories supported by the Department of Energy, among others. Like academia, the public sector has positions for researchers as well as administrators of science. Researchers run labs similar to faculty in academia, with a major difference being that funding is provided through intramural funding mechanisms. Administrators are also required to have PhDs, or other doctoral degrees, and a prerequisite for the job is a love and understanding of good science. These positions are officially called "scientist administrators". Administrators oversee the process of applying for and awarding grants. Careers in the public sector are not dead-ends; administrators can move across academia, the public sector, and the private sector. Job applicants range from postdocs to late-stage scientists.

At the NIH, health scientist administrators serve the biomedical and behavioral research community by awarding and administering the thousands of grants supported by the NIH's multi-billion dollar budget. Program Officers communicate with applicants and grantees before, during, and after the grant is awarded offering guidance, advice, and information. They also identify new areas of science to foster through funding. Scientific Review Officers organize and oversee the peer review process once the application is received at the NIH. They also work with the policies and technologies that govern this process. Specific jobs of these administrators vary in each of the institutes and centers of the NIH. Both types of administrators may also interface with other areas of government, such as Congress, and foreign institutions.

Satisfaction in this work comes from strong organizational and communication skills and an enjoyment of being at the forefront of a broad array of scientific fields.

Public Sector - The Fundamentals
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Public Sector Alumni Career Paths Panel featuring UCSF alums D'Shane Barnett, MS, Ann-Marie Brighenti, PhD, and Miki Sode, PhD.

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