Donna L. Vogel, MD, PhD
Tell us about your career:
I call myself a “Scientific Career Educator.” I am retired from full-time employment but have not disappeared. An endocrinologist by training, my clinical and research interests moved in the direction of reproductive biology and infertility. My first job out of my postdoc was as a program officer at NIH. I ran a grant program for 13 years, and in addition, was given responsibility for fellowship, training and career development grants for my entire Branch (brought to you by the letters T, F and K). Realizing that was the part I loved the most, I switched Institutes to head a new office for intramural fellows. After several twists and turns, I found my dream job as director of the Professional Development Office at Johns Hopkins Medicine. There I worked with grad students, postdocs, and early career faculty in the Schools of Medicine, Public Health and Nursing. We did workshops, courses, individual advising, and created some innovative programs of which I remain very proud. The subject matter was largely professional skill-building for finding and thriving in an independent career in science. I maintain a part-time appointment at Hopkins and do a few classes and workshops a year.
What is your educational background? When did you join AWIS?
I have an A.B. in Chemistry from Bryn Mawr College, and MD/PhD (developmental biology) from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. After residency in Internal Medicine, I came to NICHD for a fellowship that combined clinical endocrinology with a research postdoc. I joined AWIS (Bethesda Chapter) during one of my several job searches. It might have been 1986, 2000, or 2004; I don’t remember exactly.
What are some of the professional accomplishments you’ve achieved in your STEM career?
While I was managing the Reproductive Medicine grant program in NICHD, I worked closely with the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH). Having worked on two K12 (a type of grant supporting career development) programs in Obstetrics and Gynecology, the ORWH Director asked me to create a K12 program covering the whole spectrum of women’s health. While the vision was Dr. Vivian Pinn’s, I made it real. This was in 1999, and the result was “Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health” or BIRCWH. It is still going strong and I am very proud of the over 600 junior faculty members, MDs and PhDs, men and women, who have been supported by this trans-institute grant program.
At Johns Hopkins, I confronted the disconnect between what grad students and postdocs were learning and what they needed to succeed in a career. While they got superb scientific and technical training, they had very little exposure to interpersonal and professional skill building. I created several courses to fill the gap. Some were on communications skills: giving talks, and writing papers and grant applications. A course I’m especially proud of is “Research Leadership,” a series of sessions covering topics such as career advancement in different sectors, mentoring, working in teams, and project management. I also developed a Teaching Fellowship, now collaboration between Hopkins and the University of Maryland, in partnership with several primarily undergraduate institutions in the Baltimore area. This program provides postdocs the opportunity to learn modern pedagogy from award-winning faculty, with coaching, mentoring, and real classroom teaching experience. In an academic job market where hires will be expected to teach but few postdocs are taught how to do it, our program participants are much better prepared and have been quite successful.
How do you define leadership?
You can’t lead by yourself, and you can’t lead without a goal. So leadership is the ability to produce the best results from a group – usually measured as progress toward a goal, or accomplishment of a task. Important components are listening, building genuine enthusiasm for the work, knowing what motivates the members of your team, and knowing what it takes for you and your team members to understand each other.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned from your journey so far?
There are many paths to success in a career in science.
Don’t close any doors- keep your options open.
Your goals and priorities will change. Accept and expect this.
Pay attention to your personal values – they carry a lot of weight in choosing a career in which you will thrive. It is often easier to know what you don’t want than what you do want.
Apply for jobs that don’t sound exactly like you. You may be the best candidate; the employer just doesn’t know it yet.
There is no such thing as talking to too many people. Every job I’ve had, except one, I got through networking.