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Academia's Biological Studies in War Time

Careers in Science From the Field

Dr. Luis Salicrup is an International Health Science Officer at the Fogarty International Center (FIC) of the National Institute of Health (NIH). In addition, he has worked as a scientific researcher for NIH, as a director of a quality control division in the private sector, and has 10 years of teaching experience at the university level. Originally from Puerto Rico, he has also lived and worked in several Latin American countries, in addition to the US.
Dr. Salicurp has a BA in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico, an MS in Immunology from the University of Maryland, an MA in International Management from Rutgers University, and a PhD in Microbiology from a shared program sponsored by Rutgers University, Princeton University and the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

What is your profession?

International Health Scientist Administrator, as such, I am the Program Officer for the Americas.

What are the responsibilities of your position?

They are very broad. My major responsibilities include:
-Coordinate all of the NIH international biomedical and behavioral research and training for the US, Canada, and all of the Latin American and Caribbean countries;
-Coordinate programs with other US federal agencies, regional and international organizations, universities, research institutions and the respective domestic science, technology or health agencies of the other countries;
-Develop policy positions with respect to the NIH biomedical research activities and programs in the Americas;
-Overall management of NIH activities in the region conducted under a framework of bilateral and multilateral cooperation, including forming new partnerships;
-Provide the FIC Director with advice, guidance, and assistance regarding biomedical research in the Americas;
-Serve as an information resource for the 27 divisions of NIH;
- Manage the Pan American Felowship Program (PAF) that brings post doctoral fellows from several Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries to the NIH laboratories for two to three years.

Can you describe a typical week in your position?

For me there in no typical week, because each week could be different. For example:

Week 1 – work with different institutes on developing a particular initiative for Latin America and the Caribbean
Week 2 - meetings with officers and senior management at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and other possible partners in LAC countries and/or regional and multilateral organizations
Week 3 – host a delegation of senior scientists or people from the Ministry of Health of different countries (Brazil, Argentina, etc)
Week 4 - Travel to those LAC counties where we have current initiatives and programs or to other countries where we are in the process of developing possible new cooperative research and training activities.
Week 5 – work with other NIH institutes and different countries to plan various workshops for scientists
Week 6 – attend a professional conference
Week 7 – catch up on paperwork and reports, write issue papers representing the US policy on that topic
Week 8 – represent NIH at various interagency commissions

What are the most important personal satisfactions connected with your occupation? dissatisfactions?

Satisfactions: I very much like working with scientists and students from developing countries, in this case Latin America and the Caribbean. I feel that we are making an important contribution in terms of reducing the disease burden internationally and reducing health disparities in the world. It is very satisfying to be of some help to a lot of people and to help them make their governments aware of the importance of science, technology and health, specifically biomedical and behavioral research, for economic and social development.

Dissatisfactions: I wish we could do more. After all, the NIH is a US governmental agency so there is some bureaucracy. Sometimes we would like things to move at a faster pace, but I think that is an issue with which any agency, international or national, has to deal.

What is the greatest benefit of working in this field?

You have the opportunity to meet a lot of people and make a lot of contacts, something that is always helpful. You have the opportunity to work with people at different levels—from researchers to students to people at a very high level in international agencies or the ministries of health and science in the different governments.

You have the opportunity to travel, to see other countries and cultures, and to work with them.

What are the biggest challenges facing your field?

There are great challenges in terms of what will be the agenda in the coming years. The agenda will continue to include infectious diseases, but chronic disease are taking over. I think that there are going to be many challenges for people coming up in the field, including how to approach and develop activities related to [chronic diseases]. Then we have new diseases that might arise, as in the case of SARS. We have the situation now of biodefense, which has a very important international aspect.

Another challenge is in the field of genomics. The human genome was sequenced, part was done in the private sector; but it was also done at the NIH Human Genome Institute, but what now? What will be the applications or implications of that around the world?

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

People Skills - Your ability to work with people is important. I think it is important that you tend to be people-orientated and that you be aware that you have to provide support and services to a lot of people.

Analytical Skills - You have to analyze many situations and sometimes make conclusions based on your evaluation.

Oral and Writing Skills – We have to do a lot of oral presentations in national and international forums. We have to write a lot of documents and reports.

Language Skills – It is my experience that when you know more than one language it really makes a difference in the way you interact with people.

Awareness and Sensitivity to Cultural Differences – You really have to understand and respect the realities of the different countries and cultures that we interact and also convey that message to the many scientists and adminisrators tahat we laso work in the US.

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?

Try to have an internship or fellowship, such as the AAAS Congressional Fellowship. Also talking to people who are in the field is very important.

What type of education background is required?

Depending on where you go, it is very important to have the science background. In places like the NIH, World Health Organization and many parts of Center for Disease Control and Prevention, you will need a doctorate degree. It is getting so competitive, at least in the case of NIH, you have to remember that you are working with a lot of people who have an incredible track record, some Noble Prizes and so on. The credentials help one way or another.

A combination of a scientific background with international relations and management would be very good. I think the academic background is very important combined with practical experience.

What are the typical entry-level job titles and functions?

What entry-level jobs are best for learning as much as possible?
Program specialists - support program officers, collect data, research, organize information, database management, and provide general support with programs and projects.

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

At NIH, salaries for Program Specialists and Officers might range from approximately $30,000 to $125,000. In the case of professional societies and NGOs, salaries may range from approximately $30,000 to $75,000.

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

Broaden and expand your horizons. Look at different opportunities and become informed about these opportunities. Try to talk to people for advice or suggestions.

Submitted by: Liz Walsh, Education Program Coordinator