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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
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 organizationprograms,
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
What part of this job do you personally find most satisfying?
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
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
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
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 $30,00080,000 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 jobswhat's exciting
and what's frustratingcan also be very helpful.
Submitted by: Silvia Hou, 2003 Summer