The Scientific Review Officer and Program Officer Career Paths

An interview with Dr. Aaron Pawlyk, Program Officer at the National Institute of Health

Dr. Aaron Pawlyk, Program Director of the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolic Diseases at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease met with students and postdoctoral fellows at the session Speed Networking for Careers Beyond the Academic Bench, where he gave a presentation about the Scientific Review Officer and Program Officer career paths. Following the presentation, I was able to meet with Dr. Pawlyk and learn more about the careers of health science administrators.

What is the difference between a Program Officer and Scientific Review Officer?

Have you ever wondered who chooses the grants available for scientists? Why does one area of research have plentiful funds while another has few grants available?  A Program Officer, or PO, reviews the state of the field for their institute and identifies areas of research which need more support. Based on their findings, they next propose and design program announcements, which are communicated to scientists.

The PO is the point of contact for scientists preparing to submit proposals and for those who have received their score and reviewer comments. A PO is a great resource to scientists as they begin the initial phases of their grant proposal, as a PO can determine if a proposal is appropriate for the institute, point out areas of interest to the institution to scientists, and comment on proposals prior to submission. They can also help scientist understand the reviewers/ comments when a proposal is not funded and help to implement the changes required for a successful proposal.

A Scientific Review Officer, or SRO, is the point of contact for grant proposals that have been submitted and are undergoing the review process. An SRO assembles reviewers from the scientific community and manages study sections to ensure fair review of a grant. Upon initial submission, they determine whether the proposal is appropriate for their group, and makes recommendations of more applicable groups, if necessary. During grant review sessions, the SRO maintains appropriate review procedures, makes sure that there is ample time scheduled to review proposals, and takes notes of the discussions for each proposal.

The position of Program Analyst is another career which Dr. Pawlyk shared during the session. While the specific roles of this position vary by institution, the Program Analyst supports their institute by evaluating the effectiveness of existing programs and reviewing past funded research for use in the development of new programs. This position does not require an advanced degree, though it is required if a Program Analyst aspires to transition to the role of Program Officer.

What are the skills needed to become a Program Officer?

Dr. Pawlyk worked for several years in industry for Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, in which he learned management skills as a senior research scientist, and as director of ALS Biopharma. These management roles made the switch easier into grant review. Scientists should think broadly when considering their own talents. He suggested that scientists consider their own management skills gained through the development and completion of a successful research project, including the organization of lab resources, advisement of undergraduate researchers, and thoughtful timing of experiments. Not all scientists receive direct training in management, though many gain experience in practice and can use their research projects as examples of their management abilities.

The ability to influence colleagues who do not directly report to you is also a valued skill for Program Officers and Scientific Review Officers. Creating successful collaborations with other scientists, the ability to develop positive relationships and to build consensus are valued skills.

Time management is another skill required by health science administrators. Managing both short and long-term schedules is important, as well as discernment to select projects and responsibilities that are worth the time spent. When managing review panels, timely review and scoring of proposals is essential.Participation in review panels and a successful history of grant awards is also a plus for a career in grants administration.

Lastly, Dr. Pawlyk recommended that interested scientists should take advantage of the career development sessions provided by their scientific societies, such as the events provided here at Experimental Biology. Of note, several pertinent sessions are occurring on Monday and Tuesday during EB2015.

Monday, March 30, Exhibit Hall B

10:30 Goal Setting, Prioritizing, Time & Stress Management H. Adams. H.G. Adams & Assocs. Inc., Norfolk, VA.

2:15 Translating Your Credentials on Paper A. Green. Univ. of California, Berkeley.

Tuesday, March 31

3:00 But I Have No Skills! J. Lombardo. Med. Col. of Wisconsin and Marquette Univ.

How do you find a job as a health science administrator? is the database where health science administrative positions are listed. Dr. Pawlyk suggests that scientists looking for jobs prepare their profile on the website ahead of time, as the duration of job listings on the site are short. When applying for a position, several essay and multiple choice questions are provided to assist employers in the interview process. Dr. Pawlyk recommended that you develop a relationship with your Program Officer, as they are a great resource for finding and applying for these positions. Program officers can also review your application to help you progress through the initial screening process to an interview.

Health science administration can be a very fulfilling career away from the bench.  Dr. Pawlyk stated that the favorite part of his position is the ability to meet research needs by creating programs and interacting with young investigators to support them in their careers. While he may not be performing research in a lab, great fulfillment may be found in providing the funding essential to achieve important biomedical discoveries by fellow scientists.


Author: ilovebraaains

I am a neuroscientist using zebrafish to study mechanisms of neuroregeneration.

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