How St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is adapting its recruitment in a world changed by COVID-19

A portrait of Deanna C. Tremblay, Senior Postdoctoral Recruiter
Deanna C. Tremblay, Senior Postdoctoral Recruiter

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital's?current Senior Postdoctoral Recruiter, Deanna C. Tremblay, talks to ResearchGate about how the organization attracts top postdoc researchers, and how their talent strategy has evolved to meet the challenges of COVID-19. Founded in 1962, the mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is to advance cures and means of prevention for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment. Consistent with the vision of its founder, Danny Thomas, no child is denied treatment based on race, religion, or a family's ability to pay.

 
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ResearchGate: What is your role at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and what are your day-to-day responsibilities?

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital: My day-to-day responsibilities are quite variable, but typically involve identifying talented graduate students at scientific conferences and university career fairs, evaluating candidate applications, scheduling interviews, and organizing our annual professional development events, the St. Jude National Graduate Student Symposium and Future Fellow Research Conference.

ResearchGate: How have your responsibilities changed since the virus outbreak?

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital: In the midst of the rapid responses to the COVID-19 pandemic St. Jude has instituted a suspension of new hiring and active recruitment efforts. We, like many institutions across the world, are having to take unprecedented measures to ensure our patients, staff, trainees, and research progress are protected during this global crisis. In light of this situation, we have paused all applications for postdoctoral positions.

Although our day-to-day responsibilities have shifted dramatically, the postdoc recruitment team at St. Jude has been viewing this downtime as an opportunity rather than a setback. Like many other talent acquisition specialists who find themselves in a similar position, we have taken advantage of multiple training opportunities that have enabled a deeper analysis of current recruitment styles and trends. As a result, we have identified a few outdated recruitment approaches and collaborated on solutions for the future, which we are excited to roll out soon! Although unfortunate, the pandemic presents an opportunity for recruiters to pursue certifications they may not otherwise have time for. Our team has taken advantage of training programs offered by the Recruitment Education Institute, the National Institutes of Health Office of Intramural Training & Education, as well as free online Ivy League courses.

ResearchGate: Normally, how many postdoc roles does St. Jude fill in a given year? From what areas of sciences does your team recruit?

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital: In previous years, St. Jude currently employed 270 postdoctoral fellows and would normally hire between 70-90 new fellows each year across a variety of research training areas. Candidates interested in pursuing postdoc training in any of the following areas are encouraged to apply: Bioinformatics, Biostatistics, Cancer Biology, Cell & Gene Therapy, Cell & Molecular Biology, Chemical Biology, Computational Biology, Developmental Biology, Diagnostic Imaging, Drug Discovery, Epidemiology, Genetics, Hematology, Immunology, Immunotherapy, Infectious Diseases, Neurobiology, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Proteomics, Psychology, Radiation Oncology, Stem Cell Biology, and Structural Biology.

Left, Melvin Thomas, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Pathology; Right, Jeffery Klco, MD, PhD, Associate Member, Pathology
Left, Melvin Thomas, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Pathology; Right, Jeffery Klco, MD, PhD, Associate Member, Pathology

ResearchGate: Can you share a general summary of the contributions that postdocs make to support the work being done by St. Jude?

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital: The primary focus of postdocs at St. Jude is to advance basic and translational research for catastrophic pediatric diseases. Exciting recent contributions include development of a 3D map of the genome, cracking the mystery surrounding the most common genetic cause of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and discovering key biological switches in the immune system that can be used to treat cancer. Being a postdoc at St. Jude is not just about the science though, as our fellows are incredibly generous with their time and dedication to both the children of St. Jude and students across the city of Memphis. You can easily find postdocs running the St. Jude Marathon, providing interpreter services in the clinic, serving cake during patient birthday celebrations at the Target House, and dolling out candy during our annual Halloween event. Our postdocs are also dedicated to help build our local STEM pipeline by volunteering in local school science fairs, mentoring high school students during the annual St. Jude Science Scholars of Tomorrow Symposium, and teaching advanced undergraduate courses at Rhodes College.

Left, Rebekah Honce, Graduate Student, Infectious Diseases; Right, Leonardo Estrada, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Infectious Diseases
Left, Rebekah Honce, Graduate Student, Infectious Diseases; Right, Leonardo Estrada, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Infectious Diseases

ResearchGate: Please tell us about your typical process for recruiting and hiring postdoctoral talent.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital: At St. Jude we take a somewhat unique approach to recruiting and hiring. For starters, we are the only institution that we are aware of that employs a recruitment team that is comprised of scientists dedicated to identifying postdoc talent. With many years of research experience shared between the recruitment team members, we are readily able to identify top talent when participating in scientific conferences, and we can effectively disseminate research opportunities to prospective candidates while exhibiting, participating in career fairs, or visiting universities. We also employ a variety of online sourcing and social media-based approaches. Prospective candidates can follow our Twitter handle @StJudeResearch to learn more about research advances and opportunities.

ResearchGate: Does your recruitment strategy also include talent attraction? If so, how would you traditionally approach this component of recruitment?

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital: Absolutely, St. Jude is very aware that the decision to accept a postdoc position goes beyond science. Some of the key drivers in attracting postdoc talent to St. Jude include generous compensation and benefits, a healthy culture that promotes work-life balance, opportunities for professional development, and future career prospects. Our starting salary is consistently above the NIH recommendations, postdocs receive many of the same benefits as St. Jude staff, and we employ a dedicated Coordinator of Postdoctoral Programs who focuses specifically on postdoc professional development. St. Jude postdocs receive excellent training that prepares them for tenure-track faculty positions, however, we also recognize that not all postdocs want to remain on the academic track, and they are provided with resources to help them excel in their chosen career path.

ResearchGate: How have you adapted your recruitment strategy in the time of COVID-19?

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital: Although facing a hiring suspension of unpredictable duration, the St. Jude postdoc recruitment team has focused our efforts on identifying and pursuing innovative virtual approaches to continue engaging the global graduate student community. We understand that students approaching graduation are uniquely affected by uncertainty as universities, hospitals and businesses suspend hiring in response to COVID-19. Over the past few months, we have truly been reminded of the value of connecting with others, even if that connection is through a computer. With this in mind, we have initiated three virtual recruitment approaches that we hope will ease the burden of uncertainty facing graduate students today.

First, in an effort to continue engaging new talented researchers, our team has been available to chat with graduate students via the virtual career fair platform CareerEco. Second, in an effort to continue engaging with graduate students who are already in our recruitment network, we have offered complimentary CV reviews for those planning to apply for academic postdoc positions. Keeping in mind that we ask for patience with turn-around time, interested PhD students approaching graduation are welcome to forward a Microsoft Word version of their CV to postdoc@stjude.org for a complimentary review.

Finally, we are very excited to announce our latest initiative, a Coffee Talk series that brings graduate student peers from around the world together with St. Jude postdoc hosts. We invite all interested graduate students to register for our Coffee Talk series and casually engage with colleagues who have already made the transition to the postdoctoral fellowship stage of their career.

ResearchGate: How are candidates responding to your outreach during this uncertain time?

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital: We have received tremendous response from the CV review initiative, with requests coming in from across the United States, Canada, Europe, and as far away as New Zealand. We hope our feedback will empower graduate students with an extra level of confidence once they are ready and able to move forward with applications at the end of the pandemic crisis. We also look forward to growing our Coffee Talk series and are confident that it will be just as successful as the CV review initiative.

Left, Benjamin Youngblood, PhD, Associate Member, Immunology; Right, Shannon Boi, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Immunology
Left, Benjamin Youngblood, PhD, Associate Member, Immunology; Right, Shannon Boi, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Immunology

ResearchGate: In your years of experience at St. Jude, what lessons have you learned about hiring scientific talent that might be of use to other professionals also working to hire in science?

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital: Recruiters and hiring managers should strive to be active participants not just in the identification of talent, but also in the long-term follow-up. If a postdoc candidate has expressed interest in St. Jude, we want to ensure that their experience with our recruitment team is both timely and tailored to the individual. Timely responses are crucial to retaining interest. Recruiters and hiring managers should provide clear instructions regarding next steps, as well as honest expectations for how long those steps may take to complete. When scheduling interviews, it is very important to include meetings with all team members that the candidate could be interacting with should they be hired. Candidates should be offered private and confidential space to ask difficult questions about the culture of the institution and the mentoring style of the hiring manager. Another important consideration is that most postdoc candidates are moving to a new city or even a country, and it is very helpful to offer opportunities to experience life outside of the lab. Hosting meals at local restaurants and touring various neighborhoods where candidates could find a comfortable, affordable 顺心彩票 or apartment can make a huge difference in whether they accept an offer. The job fit is very important, but many candidates will still turn down the perfect research opportunity if they feel uncomfortable or unsure about your institution’s location or culture.

ResearchGate: Why do you think it is important to continue to engage with talented researchers right now?

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital: The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the global graduate student community into a very tight and uncomfortable corner. Students are still graduating, but the job market has contracted substantially. Although we hope this is a short-lived experience, it is still an incredibly frustrating position to find oneself in. We know this is a very difficult time for graduate students, but we continue to place great value in their research efforts and will happily work with them to ensure continued success. From the entire postdoc recruitment team in the Department of Academic Programs at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, we want the global graduate student community to know that we stand with you as we work together to overcome the coronavirus pandemic.
Do you need to attract and recruit top scientific research talent to work for your organization? ResearchGate Scientific Recruitment Solutions can help you.
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