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Biology and Security
Careers in Science From the Field
Dr. Mark Smolinski is Senior Program Officer of
Biological Programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a private
organization concerned with the threat and spread of nuclear, biological,
and chemical weapons.
How would you define your profession?
I am a medical epidemiologist who concentrates
on global public health policy and program development, predominantly
in the area of biological preparedness and emerging infectious diseases.
Can you describe a typical work week as Senior Program Officer
of Biological Programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiative?
In this field, no week is ever typical. Generally, my week is filled
with attending meetings on behalf of NTI that relate to science
and security, or global surveillance for infectious diseases. Most
of the time, my attendance at these meetings is either in a speaking
capacity, or as a content expert in policy discussions. Other activities
include reviewing grants and proposals for funding that are sent
to NTI for consideration; developing programs in collaboration with
other foundations or grantees; writing; responding to press inquiries;
and international travel.
How has your previous experience helped you with your current
job at NTI?
I have had the privilege of serving at the local, state, and federal
governments in various public health leadership positions within
the United States. This cadre of opportunities has given me various
perspectives in developing policies and programs on an international
level, that will have to be executed by the various levels of government
within recipient countries. In addition, I have been an active participant
in several field investigations of public health epidemics, which
has given me invaluable insight into real world capabilities and
What part of this job do you find most satisfying?
Knowing that my work is contributing to the betterment of society,
and improving the health conditions of developing countries across
What is the most challenging part of working at NTI?
One of the greatest challenges is finding the political will within
governments of various nations to address the challenges of emerging
infectious diseases and bioterrorism preparedness.
What skills are most important for your job?
Diplomacy, public speaking, ability to write clearly, and understanding
and supporting policies and programs based on science.
What kind of education is most important for a student interested
in this field?
An education in the health sciences, preferably with a masters in
public health, or public policy.
How do you remain "up-to-date" in the field of
biological safety? Do you recommend any magazines, websites, etc.
regarding important issues?
Reading the literature is essential. Good sources are Science, the
Proceedings of the National Academies, as well as the plethora of
information available on the Internet through the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the World
Health Organization, and others, including the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
Do you have any advice for students interested in pursuing
a career in your field?
Seek out opportunities for internships within various governmental
agencies or foundations that are doing work in the area. Attend
local, national, or international conferences on the issues. The
contacts made during these early career development opportunities
Submitted by: William Yoon, American
University, spring/summer 2004 intern