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Observations from a Former ARS Researcher: A Monthly Blog  

By: Moushumi Paul



 I am a former ARS researcher.  I have a Ph. D. in Chemistry and began what has been a satisfying and productive career as a research chemist with ARS in 2006.  Working for ARS has allowed me the opportunity to do interesting and impactful research in a number of interdisciplinary fields, and it has provided me with amazing resources, technology and coworkers, all of which have made my time here very enjoyable.  As with any job, there have also been challenging moments during my time with the Agency that have led to difficult situations, awkward interactions and missed opportunities.  Knowing what I know now, I realize that many of these could have been handled differently, and, while I cannot know for certain, the eventual outcomes would may have been better overall.  While I enjoyed my time as a researcher with ARS very much, if I had the benefit of hindsight in those instances to do things differently, I might have enjoyed my time even more. 


        About four months ago, I left my position as a research chemist and moved into the ARS Office of Outreach, Diversity and Equal Opportunity (ODEO) in a new role as a scientific advisor.  One aspect of my job is to utilize my previous experience as a researcher with ARS to influence new programs and policies and to help make the experience of working for ARS better.  One of my tasks has been to reflect on my time as an ARS scientist and assemble a list that I think could benefit an incoming SY - things I wish someone would have told me, or ways in which I would have handled certain events differently.  With that in mind, I’ve come up with a few “Dos” and “Don’ts” that I believe can make the experience of being an ARS researcher better and can hopefully lead to an increase in professional success.  Below you’ll find Part I of the list of “Do’s” - please check back next month for Part II, and monthly thereafter for the “Don’ts” and future blog topics.




A final note: this blog is a work in progress, with the goal of providing information to new ARS scientific hires that they will find interesting or helpful to them in their careers.  This page can also serve as a resource for students, interns or prospective employees who are interested in information relating to ARS employment.  So if, as you’re reading this, you have suggestions or comments and would like to contact me or my colleagues at the ODEO, feel free:  We are happy to take suggestions for future blog topics, webinars, career development opportunities, etc., that would be useful to you in your current or future career as an ARS researcher.



Dos for Success as a Research Scientist with USDA-ARS (Part I):


Do find good mentors:

All new researchers hired by USDA-ARS are assigned mentors whose roles are to council you and help you navigate what can be an overwhelming transition to Federal employment.  When I started with USDA-ARS, I was assigned mentors.  They were nice people who had been scientists with the agency for a long time.  They were not necessarily the people whom I would have chosen to help me with my career.  Because the probationary period for my position was three years, I was assigned to them for that long as well. Rather than rely solely on my designated mentors for advice and counseling, I had unofficial ones who were people I met and got to know, who related to the challenges that I was facing, and with whom I felt comfortable. These coworkers became highly valuable resources who helped me sort through many of my ARS and career questions.


Do ask questions and if needed, ask for help:

            There are a number of aspects to government employment that can seem quite confusing when you are a new employee.  Setting up performance standards and individual development plans, all the different training requirements, all of the forms that completing - these can be overwhelming.  It is important to know what each of these intimidating requirements actually is and how it affects you – this information makes them much less intimidating!  For instance, my first set of performance standards was a mess because I was unsure of what they were and how they would be used down the line.  If I had really understood that these are the metrics, of my own choosing, by which I will be evaluated each year, I would have been better about choosing them and therefore setting myself up for better success.


Do learn to communicate effectively:

            As a researcher, writing skills are fundamentally important.  The purpose and impact of your work can not be fully disseminated unless you can effectively communicate its importance and necessity.  Effective oral communication is also important, both when presenting research results to an audience as well as when interacting with fellow colleagues.  Being able to clearly and succinctly express yourself can limit misunderstandings and miscommunication in the workplace - this will make your life so much easier!



Don’t forget to check back next month for Dos for Success as a Research Scientist with USDA-ARS Part II!  Until then, if you have any questions or comments, contact us at  See you soon!