Beaker Blog

Krissa Smith, former postdoc, now research program manager at Susan G. Komen

Written by 
Jessica Moore
Krissa Smith

Krissa Smith, Ph.D., was a postdoc in the laboratory of William Stallcup, Ph.D., professor in our NCI-designated Cancer Center, from early 2010 to late 2011, where she studied the impact of blocking blood vessel growth on breast cancer development. She now manages the scientific review of grant applications for the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

What’s your job like— what do you do every day?

Over the five years I’ve been with the Komen Foundation, I’ve moved up from assigning grant applications to review committees to overseeing the whole grant review team. We awarded an incredible amount— over $40 million in funding last year. Since our review committees include patient advocates, I help train them in how to effectively understand and evaluate which proposals are the most promising.

Another important role of my job is finding effective ways to communicate the great work our scientists are doing. Every step forward is a combined effort, so it’s a priority for us to help the community understand how each step leads to the next and the progress that has been made. There are so many ways to communicate in today’s world that the opportunities are endless!

What drew you to this job?

I actually would never have thought of grants management as a career goal, but someone I knew from graduate school worked for Komen and encouraged me to apply. Since then I’ve realized how working with a non-profit gives me opportunities that are more than I hoped for. Not only do I keep up with the cutting edge of research, but I also feel like I’m making a difference—the science can’t get done without funding.

What else do you enjoy about your work?

I have never been bored! I wasn’t sure what administration would be like on a day-to-day basis, but I’ve worked through a lot of rewarding challenges. Plus, it’s nice to be the one giving out the money instead of working so hard to apply for grants!

What advice do you have for current postdocs looking for a job?

Keep up your connections. People have a way of ending up in surprising and sometimes influential places. You might be surprised at how the diverse careers of your friends from grad school and your postdoc may increase your job options and perspective.

How has your work at Komen changed you?

I’ve come to embrace pink more than I ever thought I would! I’ve also gained a deeper appreciation for including patients as part of the funding process—their perspective is really valuable.

How has your scientific training impacted your life outside your career?

Some time ago I felt lumps on my dog’s chest—and given my background I suspected tumors. It turns out I was right. The good news is that they were surgically removed and she didn’t need further treatment. Breast cancer really does affect everyone in some way – I was just surprised to have it impact my dog!