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Genetics and Race:
Current Research and Societal Impact

Careers in Science From the Field

Sujatha Byravan, PhD, is Executive Director of the Council for Responsible Genetics. She is a molecular biologist by training, with a PhD from the University of South Carolina and post-doctoral experience at the University of California at Los Angeles. Several years ago, she moved out of basic biological research because of various ethical concerns. She has since worked as a science writer, freelance journalist and director of an international program on environment and development (LEAD International). She has published a number of scientific papers and is the author of
numerous articles.

What is your profession?

I am a molecular geneticist by training and have worked in the area of environment and development. I am currently Executive Director of the Council for Responsible Genetics.

What are the responsibilities of your position?

I am in charge of everything in the organization—programs, communications, fundraising, staff, strategic developments and partnerships. I, of course, work with the staff and the Board of Directors on these various areas.

Can you describe a typical week in your position?

A typical week might consist of research and grant writing for development, discussion and planning for the magazine GeneWatch, seminars and discussions with a visiting speaker, some administrative work, and campaign work to raise funds from individuals. As you can see, it involves a range of activities and perhaps no single week is really typical.

What part of this job do you personally find most satisfying? Most challenging?

I find learning about the issues; interacting with various people, and considering how they will impact people's lives together with the implications for policy the most satisfying.

As most people will say, raising funds for a progressive group can be very challenging, especially when the economy is doing poorly.

What is the greatest benefit of working in this field?

I think that learning about the issues and meeting people, together with the opportunities posed for bringing about change are the greatest benefits.

What are the biggest challenges facing your field?

The biggest challenge has been fundraising in this economy. Getting the message out to the right audience is also a considerable challenge.

What are the skills that are most important for a position in this field?

Understanding the science and the politics, being able to grasp and interpret biotechnology developments as the field moves forward, and knowing how to raise funds in a committed but small progressive organization are important skills for the position.

What kind of experience, paid or unpaid, would you encourage someone to gain if s/he is interested in pursuing a career in this field?

I would suggest having an internship in an organization that does the work that they would like to be involved in. This is the best way to know what you are getting into before you make the leap.

What type of education background is required?

A graduate degree in the natural sciences and/or political science is a good degree to fall back on for this position. Work experience in a non-profit certainly adds value. I can also think of other degrees that could be useful, like a law degree specializing in intellectual property rights combined with a natural science undergraduate degree.

More than anything, the person should be able to learn quickly, and bring a wealth of knowledge in one of these areas, so they can contribute while they learn by doing.

What are the typical entry-level job titles and functions? What entry-level jobs are best for learning as much as possible?

The position of program associate is a good entry-level position in a medium- or large-sized organization.

What are the salary ranges for various levels in this field? Is there a salary ceiling?

Salaries may range from $30,000–80,000 depending on the position, the market, and what the organization can afford.

What special advice do you have for a student seeking to qualify for this position?

If compelled to give advice, I would say the same to all students. It might be best to identify what area or kind of work attracts or draws you. You then need to identify people who do that kind of work, and figure out if you want to have the everyday life they have. Talking to people about their jobs—what's exciting and what's frustrating—can also be very helpful.

Submitted by: Silvia Hou, 2003 Summer Intern