Not industry, not academia – how about the FDA?

I see you – I’ve been there.
You’re sitting in the lab the day before New Year’s Eve looking at what you’ve done over the last year – or last six years – and thinking about how you’re ever going to turn this postdoc or extended grad school period into some gainful career. The economy is for hell no matter where you live and you’re wondering if this is all worth it.
Well, as I’ve said before, don’t limit your options until you explore them. The US drug, medical device, food, cosmetic regulatory and safety agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), can provide a really satisfying career where you actually use an amazingly diverse amount of your interdisciplinary knowledge. In fact, FDA announced in April 2008 that it would be hiring as many as 1,300 scientists this year.
I’ve also been compassionate toward my FDA colleagues because of the agency is expected to approve new drugs as quickly as possible but then also be responsible for optimizing safety when drugs are released to a genetically-diverse population of millions. This is an ongoing challenge that requires the incorporation of pharmacology, physiology, and genetics in refining policy and review criteria.
And keep in mind that no matter how bad things get in academia or industry, drug approval and drug safety monitoring marches on.
This job in particular caught my eye:

Pharmacology/Toxicology Reviewer
Division of Clinical Evaluation, Pharmacology and Toxicology
Office of Cellular, Tissue, and Gene Therapies
Center for Biologics Evaluation & Research
Food and Drug Administration
Department of Health and human Services
Bethesda, MD

The Division of Clinical Evaluation, Pharmacology and Toxicology of the Center for Biologics Evaluation Research, Food and Drug Administration, Department of Health and Human Services, has two full time employment openings for Pharmacology/Toxicology reviewers who will serve as scientific and regulatory authorities on nonclinical data, reviewing and deciding on the adequacy of scientific research used to support human testing for biological products. The incumbent will assess new emerging therapies including gene therapy, stem cell transplantation, xenotransplantation, tissue engineering, somatic cell therapies, and tumor vaccines.
Candidates for Civil Service or Commissioned Corps appointments must be U.S. Citizens.
U.S. Citizens and non-U.S. Citizens may be eligible for service fellowship appointments.
Candidates with a degree or equivalent experience in one or more of the following disciplines: toxicology, pharmacology, immunology, physiology, cell biology, stem cell transplantation, gene therapy, and xenotransplantation is strongly desired.
Rockville, Maryland
Salary Range:
The salary range (GS-13) is $82,961-$107,854. Salary will be set commensurate with education and experience.
How to Apply:
Submit electronic resume or curriculum vitae with cover letter by January 30, 2009 to: Please indicate that you are applying to Job Code: DCEPT/Rev.
For further information, please visit our website at

The FDA accepts scientists from a diverse range of backgrounds but if you’re a fresh graduate students or postdoctoral fellow looking for something unique, you might consider the two-year FDA fellowship program for the Office of the Commissioner.
As always, we welcome any input in the comments from colleagues at FDA either in review positions or in one of these fellowships.

4 thoughts on “Not industry, not academia – how about the FDA?

  1. I’ll add that there are plenty of jobs on – use keywords pharmacology, toxicology, molecular biology, etc.
    One thing applicants need to do is answer the questions regarding the job using all the “buzzwords” because the applications are scored. Don’t assume because you have a PhD in toxicology that they know all the skills and methods you know how to do – spell it out for them in your application. every little detail.
    And I’ll add that a PhD or postdoc is not necessary to go into government – you can start a govt job at many different levels (e.g., GS11-13 are for PhDs). And another suggestion is to call up the office who’s hiring and ask if the office works with fed contractors, because that is also a way in to permanent govt work. Contractors do the same work, there’s just different pros/cons (like benefits or workhour flexibility).
    Since I’m up to 5 cents, I’ll chime in that lots of government scientists are adjuncts or have dual appointments at universities.

  2. Becca: I think “miserable” in this case is a relative view. At the G11-13 level, your degree of misery is more dependent on your immediate superior than it is on who is in the White House. Also, there is a certain personality type that does better in this kind of job than others–if you’re confrontational and a little bit sadistic with a pessimistic and cynical view of the world, such that your fellow scientists complain “you’re so negative!” when you feel you’re being a realist, you’ll do great as a regulator. Think of the most nitpicky professor you ever had, the one that marked up every essay exam with so much red ink it looked like a bloodbath, the one who knew what a pluperfect participle was and wasn’t afraid to use it–that’s the attitude. Bonus points if you especially enjoy mind games and wish you were David Caruso’s character on CSI Miami.

  3. i’ve learned that in this market, you never pass up an opportunity that may be feasible. but maryland, i can’t do. which is too bad.
    and i was once so excited to be class of ’09. [sigh]

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