Eileen Oni, a doctoral student in Rutgers' Cell and Developmental Biology Graduate Program, conducts laboratory research supported by a grant to a large consortium of scientists who are identifying genetic risk factors for alcoholism. Along with that demanding work and the daunting schedule of a grad student in a challenging discipline, Eileen has elected to participate in Rutgers’ iJOBS program, an innovative effort to help biomedical scientists prepare for careers beyond the traditional academic track.
A native and resident of South Brunswick and 2010 graduate of Rowan University, Eileen first came to Rutgers in 2009 through RiSE, a summer program for high-achieving college undergraduates from groups under-represented in the sciences. That's when she first began working in a lab run by Ronald Hart, professor of cell biology and neuroscience, who is currently Eileen's thesis advisor.
“Eileen is one of the hardest-working, most committed graduate students I’ve ever met,” Hart says. “In her current research, she’s taken cells from a repository with selected genetic variants, made stem cells, and is now making neural precursor cells and neurons to study the impact of fetal alcohol exposure compounded with alcohol risk genes on brain development.”
On top of this challenging and important project, Hart said, Eileen is fully committed to developing a career in science policy through iJOBS, which was launched in 2015 with a $2 million grant from the NIH. She is now in the program’s second phase and has chosen the science and health policy track. Her iJOBS mentor is Mary Ditri, director of professional practice with the New Jersey Hospital Association. Eileen is shadowing U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance, who works closely with the pharmaceutical industry and biotechs in New Jersey. Eileen plans to visit Washington, D.C., soon to get a firsthand look at how science-related federal agencies operate, particularly the FDA and CDC.
The iJOBS program, Eileen says, provides an opportunity to “learn the business of science, some basics about industry, and skills that graduate students don’t typically get in an academic program. It opens up people’s eyes to being more professional and the power of networking. This program is something most students need, whether they are planning an academic career or they intend to work in industry or policy.”
Professor Hart adds, “The synergy of programs such as iJOBS with our highly competitive graduate programs means that Rutgers will produce highly effective science professionals in a host of new fields.”