Karen R. Peterson, Director of Scientific Career Development Office and Scientific Ombudsman
Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center (Seattle, WA)
Although Karen R. Petersen, Director of Scientific Career Development Office was graduated in Genetics in U.C. Berkeley, she preferred developing her professional career in the Pacific Northwest. “When you do hiking in California is always crowded”, she jokes.
She began her postdoctoral fellowship research in Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in 1995 and she knew from the beginning she wanted to be tied to this center for a long time. “I´m deeply in love with this place”, but she was more interested in managing people than doing scientific research, so she moved to administration department as soon as she found a good opportunity.
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center was founded in 1975 by surgery William Hutchinson in honour to his brother Fred, a famous baseball player who died from this disease in 1964. The first succesfull bone marrow transplant was conducted here in 1980. Today three Nobel laureates and more than 2.700 faculty and staff members keep on working to eliminate cancer HIV and other related diseases.
That´s precisely why Karen is happy working for non profit sector. She feels that she has a large mission here, and she works with people who has a great mission too. “I´m not excited at all about profit widgets as sales results or staff like that”.
On the other hand, this job is more academia than industry, so as she is professional and mother has enough flexibility to work on her life-balance status.
When did she begin to work for development career issues? “I started sending info about fellowships, grants and professional opportunities to my colleagues, and they get used to come to me for advice”. After a while, the Office of Scientific Career Development was created.
Her influential role has been so relevant that in 2010 Nature,one of the world most prestigious scientific magazines, proposed her to write a guide for Life Science Careers.
Karen usually dealt with conflict issues from her office, so when the previous Scientific Ombudsman retired she assumed this role too, due to the economic downturn.
Nowadays Karen leads these too roles every day. An ombudsman, figure created in Sweden, is a kind of counselor that offer advice and helps to find solutions in every kind of conflict. The causes or a conflict are not pretty different but we are all unique and depending on our core values the development could be more or less longer.
“This is the most important challenge of my job. Time management, because I need to follow some issues further long in time and sometimes I need to stop other duties for one, two or three days. After that, I´ve lost track about other different things”, explains Karen. Most conflictive months are after summer vacations and from winter to spring. “Maybe is the lack of sun”, she smiles.
Karen has no regular communication with Board Members. “Senior leaders do this job”, but I work really close with my senior leaders every day. She belongs to Giddens School Board Members, so she understands the occasional difficulties. “Every board member has the interest of the institution in his heart, but there are different passions and different points of view. Then, the conflict begins”.
Luckily, recession has not seriously affected FHCRC as big part of the funding comes from Institute of Health so no huge damaged was done to staff. “Luckily since 2009 interest in philanthropy has grown in our state, but It´s true that getting money is harder every year and we need to be really focused in our priorities”, says Karen.
For this non profit leader, her institution has a key role to play in WA state as an independent institute in healthcare research area, although she doesn´t consider it a NGO. “We act as incubators of technology for future spin off companies, so we have a positive impact in terms of job creation”.
Besides, as there is more old money in the East Coast dedicated to philanthropy, here is more young money that wants to be involved and to know how is going to be the impact of it in the community.
On the other hand, as Biotechnology in Seattle occupies a second tier in all country sector, most of the companies are small or medium sized. “When a company grows the investors want to move it to more active cities as San Diego, San Francisco or Los Angeles, so we don´t have great anchor companies, as Microsoft or Amazon, who helps us to develop non profits in Health sector”, concludes Karen.