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Career Q&A: Laurel Haak

Courtesy of Laurel Haak

Laurel L. Haak has had an interesting career. She started out with traditional scientific training, earning a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the Stanford University Medical School. She branched out after a postdoc at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), joining Science's Next Wave (as Science Careers used to be called), where she served as manager of the Postdoc Network and was instrumental in creating the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA). She has won several awards, including an NIH Director's Award and the NPA's Distinguished Service Award. She was recently appointed executive director of Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID), an organization that provides individuals with a unique identifier and record for managing their research activities. We decided to catch up and learn about her new position.

"A person I interviewed with once said that my resume was 'evolutionary.' I am not sure that was a compliment at the time, but the observation is spot on." —Laurel Haak

This interview, which was conducted by e-mail, has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: Please tell me what ORCID is.

L.H.: ORCID aims to transform the research ecosystem by providing a registry of persistent, unique identifiers for researchers, integrated into a variety of research workflows (such as manuscript or grant submission) and supporting automated linkages to and reliable attribution of research objects such as publications, grants, datasets, and patents.

Q: How can people get an ORCID ID?

L.H.: When ORCID launches its registry this fall, individuals may create, edit, and maintain their ORCID ID and record free of charge.

Q: If I'm a graduate student or postdoc—or an undergraduate for that matter, perhaps doing research—should I get an ORCID ID? What are the advantages?

L.H.: Yes! The earlier you get an identifier the easier it will be to manage your record of research activities. Your ORCID ID is portable and can be used throughout your research career.

Q: How widely is the ORCID ID used at this point? Are journals using it? Is it linked to federal research grants? If not, is that imminent?

L.H.: Right now, a number of organizations are working on integrating ORCIDs before launch, including publishers, funders, and research organizations. Using your ORCID ID when you submit a manuscript or grant applications will eliminate name ambiguity and keep your research record up-to-date. Your institution may decide to create and pre-populate ORCID records, in which case your record will be waiting for you to claim it.

Q: There have been other attempts at setting up a system of unique researcher IDs. How is ORCID different?

L.H.: Other ID systems are currently in use and serve specific communities. For example, RePEC [Research Papers in Economics] is used in the economics community. Publishers such as Thomson Reuters and Elsevier have author IDs. NIH uses a Commons ID for its grantees. Some countries, like Australia and Sweden, have national researcher IDs. While these IDs are effective, they are limited by disciplinary, sector, organizational, or national boundaries. Researchers move across disciplines, between organizations, and across countries. ORCID is a way to associate these identifiers into one record. It does not intend to replace the other identifiers but to provide, if you will, a switchboard for linking information across boundaries.

We are working with the research community to embed ORCIDs into research workflows, providing a means to associate research activities with the identifier. This information can then be used to keep local systems up-to-date, which will result in accurate attribution, less time spent filling out forms, and more complete information with which to map the research ecosystem—a benefit to everyone in R&D.

Q: You have a very interesting career history. Following advanced neuroscience training, you joined Next Wave, the predecessor to Careers. Tell us what you did after that.

L.H.: From Next Wave, I took a position as program officer at the U.S. National Academies, where I supported the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP) and was study officer on a number of reports on topics including interdisciplinary research, international graduate students, and women in academe.

Laurel Haak in 2002, when she was the manager of the Postdoc Network, part of Science's Next Wave.

I then took a real leap and moved into the IT industry, working for Discovery Logic, a small start-up firm based in Rockville, Maryland. I had no job title or description for the first few months, which was nerve-racking but also empowering; we eventually settled on chief science officer. I worked with software developers and research organizations including NIH to build research management systems such as eSPA1, a system to link NIH research grants with publications and patents. I also built an analytics division, a group of very talented science Ph.D.s with whom I worked to carry out evaluations of research programs including the NIH Loan Repayment Programs, the K program, and most recently the relationship between race, ethnicity, and the NIH awards process. (See this Science Careers article.) I also was part of the management team involved in the company’s acquisition by Thomson Reuters.

Q: Tell us about your current job. Did your science training prepare you for it?

L.H.: I was the ORCID board’s first hire, and I am responsible for any number of tasks—including defining my task list. Together with the board, I am responsible for tactical and strategic operations—things like establishing a budget, testing the membership model, developing a launch strategy, engaging with stakeholders, presenting about ORCID at a variety of meetings, and communicating our vision to stakeholders. I hired and work with our technical director, Laura Paglione, who is responsible for developing use cases for implementing the ORCID registry. I also do back-office work such as determining our office location, working with the treasurer to set up payroll and benefits, and putting together a personnel manual.

A person I interviewed with once said that my resume was “evolutionary.” I am not sure that was a compliment at the time, but the observation is spot on. My science training provided the core understanding of the research ecosystem, and the need for a portable identifier. I learned about research policy, perspectives of stakeholders, and developing targeted communications while at AAAS [the publisher of Science Careers] and at the National Academies. Discovery Logic provided corporate experience developing requirements for research systems, managing deliverables, and getting a product delivered on time and within budget. Still, I am learning every day.

Q: It's hard to imagine that a typical graduate student could have even been aware of the kinds of work you've ended up doing. Were you aware of all these different possibilities?

L.H.: The Stanford graduate student office, the BioMASS medical students organization, and the local AWIS [Association for Women in Science] chapter were providing career support 20 years ago that some institutions still haven’t wrapped their heads around. We had regular “alternative” career seminars where all sorts of fabulous people came in to talk to us about the cool things they did. We had people talking about pharma research, sales, technical support, instrument design, research policy, medical illustration, science writing, grants officers, editing, the tenure track, the research track, research administration, and so on. It was very clear even then that there was no “classic” career path: If one was reasonably thoughtful, creative, and persistent, a science degree opened a lot of doors.

After grad school, I took a postdoc position at NIH and on the side was a volunteer editor for a quarterly newsletter for Women in Neuroscience [under the Society for Neuroscience]. When I started interviewing for a “real job,” I applied for jobs in academia, pharma, and biotech. A colleague sent me the post for the Next Wave editor position. I love writing, from the WIN newsletter I found I really enjoyed empowering people to make informed decisions about their career, and the Next Wave position provided an opportunity to work on postdoc policy issues. It was absolutely the right decision for me.

Q: What are the most important lessons you've learned over the course of this diverse (and still fairly young!) career? What advice would you offer people who today are finishing a Ph.D. or a postdoc in a scientific field?

L.H.: Try new things. Be adventurous. It is OK (and certainly a lot of fun) to be evolutionary. There is no “right” path for a Ph.D., only the right path(s) for you.


1 Haak, et al. (2012) "The electronic Scientific Portfolio Assistant: Integrating scientific knowledge databases to support program impact assessment." Science and Public Policy 2012; doi: 10.1093/scipol/scs030.

Jim Austin is the editor of Science Careers.

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