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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 challenges.

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 the globe.

What is the most challenging part of working at NTI?

One of the greatest challenges is finding the political will within the
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 are invaluable.

Submitted by: William Yoon, American University, spring/summer 2004 intern