I am NIMH: Q&A with Mauricio Rangel-Gomez
Mauricio Rangel-Gomez, Ph.D.
Division of Neuroscience and Basic Behavioral Science
What is your name and job title?
My name is Mauricio Rangel-Gomez, Ph.D. I am a program officer in the Division of Neuroscience and Basic Behavioral Science (DNBBS). My program focuses on the neural substrates of learning and memory and is one of the oldest programs in my division. Memory is what makes us human.
Your work relationships must be reciprocal. My job has allowed me to grow as a scientist, and I owe it to the people in my division and the institute to help them grow.
How would you summarize what you do?
My job is very diverse day to day. The goal of a program officer is to translate the research priorities of the institute and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) into NIMH-supported research and help make sure the research projects we support are giving us results.
My work starts by talking to prospective researchers to determine how their research ideas align with the institute's priorities. Once we've had that initial conversation, I work with the researcher until they submit their application for review. If the researcher's application is awarded, I will continue to support and advise them throughout the process. I also provide guidance to NIH leadership so they can make informed funding decisions.
I'm also involved with many other things, not only related to my program. I'm committed to mental health disparities and global mental health, and I'm involved in many activities in that area.
For example, I lead a subcommittee on suicide prevention within the Mental Health Disparities Team, supported by the Office for Disparities Research and Workforce Diversity (ODWD). I also support efforts on capacity building and reciprocal learning on the Global Mental Health Team. I also just got accepted to the 21st Century Scholars Program, which fosters diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility for new, or relatively new, professionals that come to NIMH.
How did you come to NIMH?
I will have worked at NIH for 2 years in June. My trajectory has been nonlinear, and my career has taken many turns. I started in academia and always wanted to think about how to support research from a broader perspective—a higher-level type of thinking. I always had my eyes on working at NIH, but it was during my postdoc at the University of Maryland (UMD) that I made the connection to the federal government.
While I was at UMD, I met several people working at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and NIH. Then I got into a fellowship called the Tobacco Regulatory Science Fellowship, which I don't think exists anymore. I worked at the FDA at the Center for Tobacco Products for 2 years. Through that job, I constantly had contact with NIH program officers. These interactions confirmed my desire to work at NIH and generate an impact from there.
I started applying, but getting here took more work. I applied three times before getting a job here. But the third time, the stars aligned, and there was an opening that fit my expertise perfectly. I applied and finally got it. And that's how I landed at NIMH. Getting where I am was a long path, but I'm super happy it worked out.
What makes you want to stay at NIMH?
I'm not planning on leaving anytime soon because of the people I work with. I couldn't have asked for better leadership. None of us are perfect, but we try hard to be there for each other, and we try to make this a great place to work. I work remotely, but I feel very close to my coworkers.
Also, over the past 2 years, I have improved substantially as a scientist and professional, and I owe NIMH a good chunk of that. Your work relationships must be reciprocal. My job has allowed me to grow as a scientist, and I owe it to the people in my division and the institute to help them grow. I think that's part of the deal—you receive, but you also give.
What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of the job is talking to researchers. That is how we build science and knowledge. It's more than looking for the taxpayers' dollars to be well invested. It's also interacting with the people that are going to be doing the research and being sure that you have a good connection with this person because, at the end of the day, they are the ones who are going to advance the science. It's a fantastic interaction, and I've grown to know them. It's just amazing.
What would you tell a friend if they were considering working here?
Just come! Working at NIMH gives me perspective and exposure to science that is difficult to get anywhere else. We hear about new discoveries, techniques, and methodologies first; you cannot quantify that with a dollar sign.
What’s one life lesson you’ve learned from your career?
Don't be afraid to make mistakes; it will get better. It will always get better if you do your part. Things work out because you make them work.
The biggest lesson is that you can learn from mistakes. I've made so many. My career can serve as an example for someone because I've made all the mistakes. The non-linear career paths give a broader perspective and make you more flexible and adaptable to change. While there are less painful routes to get to where I am, I am thankful for my path. It has made me a unique professional. If I had to give advice to my younger self, it would be to learn everything you can, and use every opportunity to grow.
What is a benefit of working here that not many people know about?
The exposure to the science. People don't always understand the level of scientific exchange that happens at NIMH. The people who work here have different backgrounds, experiences, training, and perspectives. It's a huge benefit. The program officer's job is much more scientific than administrative; people from outside of NIMH may not be aware of that.
If you weren’t doing this job, what would you be doing?
I love research and science, so I would work as a researcher somewhere in Europe. Or I would be a physician-scientist practicing neurosurgery.