"I do bench research and regulatory work, both of which are stimulating and rewarding, and I get to work with great people. Perhaps most importantly, I think scientists enjoy working at FDA because we feel that we are truly contributing to improving public health."
-- Dr. Roger Plaut,
Research Microbiologist and Reviewer, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research
Q: Why do you think a scientist should consider FDA as a place to work?
FDA is a great place to work! First, the work we do at FDA has important impacts on public health. FDA-regulated products make up a large proportion of the U.S. economy, and everyone in the U.S .is affected every day by the decisions that we make and the research that we do. This ranges from medical products (like drugs, vaccines, and devices) to foods, cosmetics, and tobacco products. Second, everyone at FDA recognizes and respects the importance of the scientific method. Researchers, reviewers, and supervisors at all levels understand how science works and how vital science-based decision making is to the work that we do. Lastly, scientists at FDA are treated well by other scientists and our supervisors. We work cooperatively, whether it’s in small groups for bench research or as part of a large multi-disciplinary team to review an application for a new product. It’s very rewarding to interact with such a diverse group of scientists with different areas of expertise, all working toward an important common goal.
Q: Why do scientists like you stay at FDA?
Once you experience the work environment at FDA, there’s little reason to leave. Compared to my colleagues working in science jobs in other fields, we’re in a good situation. Government positions are generally considered to be secure jobs, whereas in industry, turnover can be quite high. In academia, scientists can struggle to get funding to advance or even to just maintain their positions. As a staff scientist, I’m a permanent employee (equivalent to tenure in academia). I don’t have to write grant applications, and I don’t have teaching obligations. I do bench research and regulatory work, both of which are stimulating and rewarding, and I get to work with great people. Perhaps most importantly, I think scientists enjoy working at FDA because we feel that we are truly contributing to improving public health.
Q: How do you use your science degree at FDA?
I use my PhD in molecular microbiology every day. Clearly, I couldn’t conduct my bench research without the background and experience that I gained in grad school. In addition, the regulatory work that I do (reviewing applications for vaccines, bacteriophage products, and other biologics) requires not only scientific knowledge and ability, but also attention to detail, critical thinking, reading and writing skills, and oral communication skills, all of which I developed as part of my education.
Q: How is science conducted at FDA unique from science conducted at the National Institutes of Health, academia, or industry?
Science conducted in those other environments can be focused on public health, but FDA science is more specifically focused on the products that we regulate. In the group that I’m a part of in the Office of Vaccines Research and Review, the bench science that we do is related to vaccines or other biologics, because those are the types of applications that we review. One of the mandates that we have is to facilitate the development of the products that we regulate, which can vary from engineering scientific tools or methods for others to use in their basic research to developing assays that are needed to evaluate the efficacy of products. That kind of research can contribute to the body of scientific literature in the long term, but it can also have real near-term impacts on public health by helping product developers along the path to licensure.