Chris Gunter, PhD
Associate Director of
Research, Marcus Autism Center & Children's
Healthcare of Atlanta
Associate Professor, Emory
School of Medicine
ASHG: If you could go back to when you
were a trainee, what is one piece of advice you would give
yourself for your current career?
Dr. Gunter: No one piece of advice would have helped me, so I am going
to bend the rules and share the three pieces I give all the
time as a set.
1. Network. You are constantly making connections and have
no idea now how they will be useful later. That's how I have
landed all of my jobs.
2. Be creative: if you don't see the position out there
that's right for you, make it up. I'm now in the fourth job
that I worked with the employer to create. I think this will
become only more common as science changes.
3. Do NOT let anyone else define "success" for you. Only 8%
of current PhD students will end up in tenure-track academic
jobs. Academic faculty is now the "alternative career" and
there are a whole constellation of successful careers
available to you. Don't internalize old-school thinking that
you can only be successful as a university PI.
ASHG: What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your job?
Least favorite: paperwork. Like 99% of any jobs, it's the
paperwork that constantly tries to drown you in a professor
position. Favorite: gosh, this is hard to pick. My post-doc advisor
used to say that science is all about relationships, and
coming back to academia at the same place I did my PhD has
let me pick up a number of great relationships, as well as
forging new ones. [See "1. Network" above!] I'm enjoying
working with colleagues to start new projects, and mentoring
them to pursue their scientific visions.
ASHG: What do you
think the future holds for the field of genetics?
Dr. Gunter: Two
important trends I see are computation and communication. If
I was training in genetics now, I would try to learn some
programming as early as possible. Those who are able to
manipulate large datasets to ask scientific questions are
going to have an advantage, with the plethora of large
resources being generated by NIH and other entities. Second, I think our field needs better science
communication. We've been relying on journalists or other
media to get our message out for us, or focusing on only
talking to each other in the form of publishing papers and
speaking at conferences. With the advent of crowd-sourcing
and social media, we can reach directly out to people and
explain our science. Non-scientists want to hear about your
work, and they want to hear it from you!
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