As a Ph.D. student at Einstein, Todd Haim couldn't have predicted exactly where his thesis work would take him. Like many graduate students at Einstein, Dr. Haim enjoyed bench research. But he also had a passion for politics, and wanted to find a way to merge his two interests. Open to the possibility of leveraging what he had learned in the laboratory to eventually pursue a career outside of the laboratory, his interests eventually led him to the field of science policy and program management. He currently serves as a program manager at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Development Center.
Dr. Todd HaimWithout even realizing it, Dr. Haim was preparing for his current work while at Einstein, through his involvement in graduate student organizations and the constant exposure to Einstein's collaborative environment. Through these activities, he refined his ability to work successfully in teams as well as strengthen his leadership skills.
"I think that the importance of graduate student organizations is underappreciated," said Dr. Victoria Freedman, assistant dean for graduate studies in the biomedical sciences. "In addition to working intensively on his research, Todd was always working on another extracurricular project through the Graduate Student Council (GSC). He was always willing to talk to and learn from anyone to see how he could get things moving in a particular direction for the benefit of the graduate students. This career seems like a very natural transition for him."
Dr. Haim's passion for science began in high school, when an illness shocked the otherwise healthy 18-year-old. A subsequent search for an explanation led him to investigate possible causes on his own, trying to understand both what had happened to him and which therapies were available. That personal experience enlightened him to the dearth of therapies available to many patients. And, while he has long since recovered, Dr. Haim has retained an understanding of the importance of the continual development of new therapies and a passion for providing these to patients.
In college at Rutgers University, initially unsure whether he wanted to pursue a medical or research degree, it was a research experience studying the cardioprotective effects of alcohol that convinced him research was "a way to unlock the discoveries of how disease results and unlock new treatments down the road."
Dr. Haim explained "I wanted to play a role in finding new treatments and this desire was the guiding force in my career decision to pursue my Ph.D."
He was impressed by the collegiality at Einstein and decided to pursue his degree in Dr. Jil Tardiff's laboratory, in the department of physiology and biophysics, where he studied familial hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
"Todd was good at locking on to a specific question and performing thorough and thoughtful studies," recalled Dr. Tardiff. "He was truly motivated to understand the mechanisms that underlie the relationship between Ca2+ regulation and contractility in cardiac myocytes. To his credit, this is a very non-trivial undertaking from an experimental standpoint and Todd had to work through it largely on his own."
Of his research experience at Einstein, Dr. Haim noted, "Bench work really develops your ability to analyze science. You take that for granted when getting the Ph.D., but when you look back, you realize that you understand the pitfalls and complexities of bench work and therefore can understand the challenges for scientists."
Also helpful was working in a lab focused on translational and disease-oriented research run by a clinician. "He was always exposed to the other side of the translational divide and thus has a strong understanding of the inherent difficulties of real bench-to-bedside work," noted Dr. Tardiff. "Since this is an important aspect of the NIH policy goals, I think he brings some realism to the game."
Upon the completion of his Ph.D. work, Dr. Haim was offered a position as a postdoctoral fellow at Pfizer Laboratories. Following a restructuring days after his arrival, Dr. Haim became Pfizer's lead researcher on a collaboration with many investigators at Washington University, focused on the role of fatty acid metabolism in the cardiac effects of diabetes and obesity.
"Actively leading the scientific approach in collaboration with academia helped me to see what is involved in such collaborations and how the two communities need to work together." It also gave Dr. Haim an opportunity to work toward his goal of developing new high-quality drugs to help patients.
While at Pfizer, Dr. Haim recognized that the field of science policy presented an opportunity to combine his scientific expertise and his passion for politics towards "trying to change the environment to make it easier to get more high-quality and effective treatments and devices to patients." By working in the government, he would have a chance to affect the process of drug development and medical innovation.
Dr. Haim applied for and received the Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Fellowship, a three-month policy fellowship run through the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC. This experience offered him great exposure to the world of science policy and specifically strengthened his interest in policies designed to increase and accelerate medical innovation.
The next step in his career development journey was an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Fellowship. Designed to expose scientists and engineers to federal science policymaking, this yearlong fellowship placed Dr. Haim in the NCI SBIR Development Center.
He explained, "There are two types of science policy. The first is policy for science, where one develops policies that promote and strengthen scientific endeavors in the science community. The second is science for policy, where you use scientific data, such as the research of climate change, to lead you in specific policy directions."
The fellowship has given him the desired exposure to the first type of science policy, while also allowing him to successfully merge his two interests. His former mentor was not at all surprised by this career choice. "It's a good fit for both sides," she said. "The NIH will benefit from his drive, energy and focus, while Todd will be in a very dynamic position that will test him daily."
"The Ph.D. provides graduates with invaluable skills that serve them well whether pursuing careers in academia or elsewhere," observed Dr. Freedman. "We've got students who have gone into science communications, intellectual property, patent law and business development, as well as those who are teaching at the high school and undergraduate levels."
She added, "To aid students like Todd, whose interests may take them along a different career path, the graduate division now offers a career and professional development program so they can learn about the opportunities available and develop the necessary skills to pursue those paths."
For Dr. Haim, that path has led to a permanent position in the NCI SBIR office, working to fund and guide small companies that are pursuing technologies to combat cancer. "When Todd interviewed with the office, I was impressed by his breadth of experience and dedication to the field and felt that he was a great fit for our office," noted his current boss, Michael Weingarten, director of the NCI SBIR Development Center. "And we haven't been disappointed."
Reflecting on his current path, Dr. Haim said, "I'm not sure where my career will take me, but this position is an excellent stepping stone that has given me an invaluable perspective on a variety of exciting avenues related to innovation policy, federal program management and business development."
Posted on: Tuesday, January 25, 2011