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Careers in
Biomedical Research

by Reinhold J. Hutz

My general areas of research are reproductive physiology and endocrinology. I work with various species, including non-human primates. My work occurs primarily, though not exclusively, in a laboratory setting with cell and tissues cultures.

The rhesus monkey and other non-human primates serve as focus of study because, e.g., female rhesus reproductive function is very similar to that observed for women. I don't necessarily consider myself a primatologist per se, but a researcher using primate tissues. I am also keenly interested in conservation of non-human primates and their habitats, and therefore frequent the International Primatological Society and other national and international conferences.

In terms of careers, my colleagues venture forth into conventional academia, work as reproductive physiologists at zoos, work for pharmaceutical companies, and head the basic side of human in-vitro fertilization (IVF) laboratories and clinics.

An advantage of using primates for study is the similarity to human structure and function. However, I am also interested in evaluating specific differences in reproductive function that various primates show, so I wish to study non-human primates for their own unique reproductive capabilities. A disadvantage of using primate tissues is the difficulty of procuring tissues, accessibility and ethical considerations (for example, the invasiveness of the research, if such a research approach is followed). This disadvantage manifests itself in a downside of the field, which is that there are relatively few positions available and a scarcity of primates generally. IVF positions are an exception.

My specific field of study is somewhat narrow (encompassing ovarian function, steroidogenesis, follicle selection and effects by estrogens and environmental pollutants), but is a definitely feasible undertaking with appropriate training, and the important personal attributes being ambition, industry, passion and compassion. One typically requires a Ph.D. with some post-doctoral training, but not always for IVF laboratories. There is no one typical career path in this line of study. One place to start is to search Primate Info Net to find out about the Regional Primate Research Centers and other primate laboratories worldwide. The rewards are manifold, especially the knowledge that a biomedical contribution is being made that may enhance the quality of life for both human and non-human primates.

Employment prospects can be quite good if one is willing to forsake lofty remuneration in some quarters (IVF is again an exception). My salary is derived from a University academic year salary, extramural grants for summer salary, and speaking engagements. Annual compensation may be from less than $40,000 in academia upon initial employment, to over $100,000 for certain IVF situations.

In order to search for potential employment, I'd suggest scanning journals such as Science, the American Society of Primatology (ASP) website, etc . Contact people (potential employers and workers in the field) via the Web/email/phone/postal mail and discuss your interests. You will find most researchers to be amiable, accessible, responsive, and helpful. Look up names and areas of interest in the membership directories for IPS and ASP. Also consult the International Directory of Primatology. Contacts are usually quite willing to put you in touch with appropriate people who may have positions available, or know of someone who does. Major contacts would be at the eight NIH-sponsored Primate Centers, which are very visible and accessible via the Web. However, an even easier initial approach to take is to work as an undergraduate researcher, work-study student, volunteer, etc., in a laboratory of a scientist using non-human primate models. If the researcher is worth her/his salt, you will be incorporated into the overall life of the lab, and be included in treks to conferences where you will be exposed to the wonderful world of primatology and other areas, and be able to meet the investigators working in the area.

The future for employment prospects is always difficult to assess, but it is expected that non-human primate models will continue to be used as models for AIDS and other human disorders (including reproductive dysfunction), and that therefore this field will thrive.