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Outbreaks and Safety Concerns in Biodefense
Careers in Science From the Field
Dr. Ernie Takafuji is the Assistant Director of
Biodefense Research Affairs at the National Institute for Allergy
and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Prior to his current position,
he has had a prestigious career history with the Army, holding titles
such as Commander and Director of Walter Reed Army Medical Institute
of Research, and Commander of the US Army Medical Research Institute
of Infectious Diseases. He is also responsible for helping Tripler
Army Medical Center in Hawaii build a biomedical research program.
What is your profession?
I am Assistant Director for Biodefense Research at the National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). NIAID is part
of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and is located in Bethesda,
What are the responsibilities of your position?
My responsibilities include developing and monitoring the biodefense
strategic plan and research agendas for NIAID. I represent NIAID/NIH
on several interagency biodefense coordinating committees to ensure
coordination and cooperation across Federal government agencies
and the military. I also work closely with the Department of Health
and Human Services (DHHS) Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness
Can you describe a typical week in your position?
I lead and participate in meetings, conferences and discussions
on various aspects of the NIH biodefense research program. I meet
regularly with senior policy and program staff from the NIH, the
Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland
Security, and the Department of Defense. I also meet periodically
with leading scientists and chief executives from private industry
to discuss new approaches in biodefense research and to encourage
those companies with promising ideas to apply for Federal funding.
I also frequently respond to media and congressional inquiries regarding
NIH biodefense research activities.
What part of this job do you personally find most satisfying?
Most satisfying: Knowing that the time and effort that you have
dedicated to something of great importance is resulting in products
that will enhance the public health preparedness and response posture
of the nation.
Most challenging: Collaborating and partnering with other institutions,
agencies, and departments; engaging different disciplines of science
in research on projects of national importance in a resource-constrained
What is the greatest benefit of working in this field?
Knowing that your efforts have made a difference is personally satisfying
What are the biggest challenges facing your field?
Integration of the latest advances in science and technology into
new product development in a timely and cost-effective manner.
What are the skills that are most important for a position
in this field?
Knowledge of science and/or medicine; leadership skills and training;
listening skills and consensus-building skills in highly technical
areas; ability to express your thoughts and ideas clearly in oral
presentations and through written documents (strong communication
skills are a necessity).
What kind of experience, paid or unpaid, would you encourage
someone to gain if s/he is interested in pursuing a career in this
Familiarity with how research is conducted. In my particular job
setting, familiarity with how the Federal government and Congress
work and operate is critically important, as well as appreciating
how research is conducted down to the bench level. At the NIH, familiarity
with the grants process and other funding mechanisms is important.
What type of education background is required?
An individual in my position at the NIAID should have a strong foundation
in the biological sciences and familiarity with biomedical research.
Program manager experience and graduate level education is a must,
preferably at the M.D. or Ph.D level. Not having a doctoral level
certificate will limit opportunities for leadership.
What are the typical entry-level job titles and functions?
What entry-level jobs are best for learning as much as possible?
Entry level jobs at the NIH could be in a post-doctoral fellowship
in one of NIH's 27 institutes and centers. As experiences
are gained, an individual will develop a broader appreciation of
the scope of the mission and the research processes operating at
the NIH. In my situation, I obtained my background research and
development experiences while serving in the United States Army
in various laboratory and research command positions. Since many
of my Department of Defense experiences were in biodefense, the
transition to the NIH in the area of biodefense was very smooth.
What are the salary ranges for various levels in this field?
Is there a salary ceiling?
The salary scales are in line with the Civil Service appointments
and commensurate with level of education and experience.
What special advice do you have for a student seeking to qualify
for this position?
First, obtain a solid background in one of the sciences. Second,
check the websites regularly for employment or training opportunities.
Third, recognize that the initial position within the NIH that you
will probably seek may not be your last career position, for there
are numerous opportunities for advancement between institutes and
centers of the NIH.
Submitted by: Melody Parsa 2004 intern