Navigating the Shifting Academic Research Landscape: Advice for the Junior Scientist

Navigating the Shifting Academic Research Landscape: Advice for the Junior Scientist

This is a guest post from Samantha Jones, a PhD student in the Biomedical Sciences program at the University of California San Diego. Procuring a tenure-track faculty position in academic scientific research is becoming an elusive dream for an ever-increasing number of junior candidates.  With the current percentage of successful faculty applicants hovering just above 15%, the majority of those with a Ph.D. in the biomedical sciences are considering alternative career paths, regardless of their training. A new generation of scientists is questioning the usefulness of traditional, often referred to as “fossilized,” training approaches, which do little to prepare those hoping to pursue a career outside of academia.  Some mentors are attempting to facilitate the cultivation of both hard skills (rational drug design, informatics) and soft skills (networking, team management, marketing) that are valuable to the private sector, a place where most young scientists often lack the confidence to maneuver. In the case of students and postdoctoral researchers who choose to maintain an academic research career trajectory, this style of interdisciplinary training can prove equally beneficial by establishing bridges to biotech industry-mediated collaborations and funding opportunities. UCSD professor Dr. Gene Yeo employs a highly adaptive mentoring strategy, combining training in computational biology, stem cell technology, neuroscience and bioengineering to forge collaborations with clinics, drug developers and software engineers.  Yeo’s trainees are as likely to start careers in biotechnology or data science as they are to obtain academic professorships.  This mentoring style stems from Yeo’s own very interdisciplinary training, which has made him among the most successful young scientists in the RNA field.   Yeo has a considerably “bilingual” background among...
Tips for transitioning into a non-research career

Tips for transitioning into a non-research career

This article was originally published on the Careers blog and is shared here with the permission from the American Society for Microbiology. The link to the original article is found here. This article was written by policy activist Adriana Bankston. Many trainees are transitioning into non-research careers. Navigating this transition can be tricky, as the available resources are still scarce and fairly inconsistent in universities across the U.S. Various companies are offering uniform career advice to their clients in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). One of these very well respected companies, STEM Career Services, is a full service career counseling and job placement company. Their general mission is to help trainees start and sustain a career outside of academia. Dr. Josh Henkin, founder of STEM Career Services, has given numerous career workshops at national meetings. At the 2017 AAAS meeting in Boston, MA, Dr. Henkin held a workshop entitled “Transitioning into a Non-Academic Career,” which was very well attended and successful. The goal of the workshop was to explore the skills and best practices for trainees to transition out of academia. Below we summarize and highlight the main points from this session. Develop a strategic approach: What is the best approach to job searching? In the “traditional” approach, trainees typically start looking for jobs towards the end of their training (which is too late), and are oftentimes not aware of what they are passionate about, or how their skills match desired positions. Alternatively, the “strategic” approach is focused on accumulating relevant experiences (internships, part-time jobs, volunteer work, committee participation) early on. This is critical in learning what you...
What Career Awareness and Development Resources Are There for Junior Scientists? A Workshop at the 2016 ASCB meeting

What Career Awareness and Development Resources Are There for Junior Scientists? A Workshop at the 2016 ASCB meeting

This is a guest post by Future of Research policy activist, Adriana Bankston.   Introduction Career development for junior scientists remains one of the most important issues in the biomedical research enterprise. Since the perceived notion is that the role of junior scientists is to drive science forward by working at the bench, training them for career success may not be a top priority. However, recent statistics state that only 10% of trainees go on to have a faculty position (Table 3–18 in (National Science Foundation, 2014)). Therefore, training graduate students and postdocs for success in non-research careers beyond the bench must be a major focus of the enterprise. While many U.S. institutions have developed very useful career development programming in this regard, the career training landscape for junior scientists is still inconsistent across the country and may also be lacking important components to help academics transition into non-research careers.   Improving career training for junior scientists can only be achieved if we know what they need from the system. Traditionally, although this is beginning to change, junior scientists haven’t had a strong voice in the matter. At Future of Research, we want to help junior scientists transition into their desired career paths, while giving them a voice in the process. In our workshops, we asked trainees about which career resources they are currently using/finding useful, and what resources they would like to have for career success. We plan to use this information to create a resource on our website, which we hope will be useful towards improving career training for junior scientists.      Previous career workshops In...
New publications: Using Census Data to See the New Face Of U.S. Science

New publications: Using Census Data to See the New Face Of U.S. Science

One of the key challenges in our work pushing for reform of the academic system and the scientific enterprise is convincing those resistant to change that there is a problem. Part of the issue in dealing with this is the debate about the quality/quantity of data available about the scientific workforce; with almost no tracking of career outcomes for graduate students and postdocs, and the variable degree to postdocs are administered in the U.S. hindering data collection efforts, a key argument against reform is the scarcity of data with which to make informed changes.   To combat this, we have started working more closely with those in science policy and the social sciences who work on these issues, and recently teamed up with labor economists at the U.S. Census Bureau/NIH to look at the U.S. biomedical workforce using census data. We have produced a comprehensive analysis of the historical size, shape and demography of the biomedical workforce in our working paper, “Preparing for the 21st Century Biomedical Research Job Market: Using Census Data to Inform Policy and Career Decision-Making” which is discussed in our comment in Nature out today, “The New Face of Science in the U.S.”. Our hope is this analysis will be of use to policy-makers, and can also help to inform junior and senior scientists alike (particularly in academia) about the realities we currently face.    We used the Integrated Public-Use Microdata Series-USA (IPUMS-USA, University of Minnesota) dataset, which contains data from both the decennial census and the annual American Community Survey (ACS), to look at biomedical scientists in the U.S. (for more details on the methods, see Appendix...
Advocating for Science Symposium Travel Awardee Holly Hamilton: Advocating for a Brighter Future of Research

Advocating for Science Symposium Travel Awardee Holly Hamilton: Advocating for a Brighter Future of Research

  This is a guest post written by Advocating for Science Travel Awardee, Holly Hamilton:     Path Towards Advocacy My journey to science advocacy began with a few wobbly steps of self-exploration. I voluntarily started to help evaluate trainee needs at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Smithville, TX. The main needs were for career development and a stronger sense of community. Meeting these needs with professional development workshops, social hours, and one-on-one meeting with trainees helped me to see my path forward. I realized that I wanted to direct trainees towards satisfying careers. The feeling I got from helping students see more appealing “alternative” career options was something like a lightning storm of serotonin in my head that led to pleasant tingling feelings on my scalp. This was in stark contrast to the mind-numbing boredom I had typically felt during scientific talks. With that disparity I realized that academic research was not for me. Helping others recognize their strengths, fill skill gaps, and identify jobs that were personally fulfilling was my thing. After that I think I just assumed everyone would be just as excited about trainees getting into satisfying careers. Current Attitudes in Academia Instead I ran into an invisible barrier preventing people from exploring life outside of academia. It wasn’t a barrier created by a few chromogens, but rather an attitude maintained by most academics. Along with this vague discontent with career exploration there were more defined concerns and assumptions as follows. “If we drastically decrease the number of students and postdocs working in labs, then the biomedical research enterprise will collapse.”...
Advocating for Science Travel Scholarships – Part 5: Interview with Sridhar Vedachalam

Advocating for Science Travel Scholarships – Part 5: Interview with Sridhar Vedachalam

The “Advocating for Science” symposium and workshop is taking place at MIT September 16-17, 2016, to enable junior scientists to advocate for science. The purpose of the meeting is to give an opportunity to those with a passion for advocating for science to develop their advocacy skills, meet like-minded junior scientists and develop focused efforts together to effect positive change. To try to extend this meeting beyond the Boston area, we recently put out an application call for travel scholarships for attendees from further afield. Following interviews with our Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute Travel Award Recipient, Alex Erwin, and Advocating for Science Travel recipients Holly Hamilton, Katherine Simeon, Adriana Bankston, and Tess Eidem, here is our next interview with Sridhar Vedachalam:     Sridhar Vedachalam is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Johns Hopkins Water Institute at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. His research is centered on water and wastewater infrastructure issues including assessment, planning, financing, use, and regulation. He is particularly interested in understanding how individuals and municipalities make decisions on water infrastructure. Sri received his PhD in Environmental Science and MS in Mechanical Engineering and Environmental Economics, all from The Ohio State University.   Tell us a little about your career path so far and what you are currently working on. I have had a convoluted path to where I am today. After my undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering, I worked for a year at India’s largest construction firm. I came to The Ohio State University for an MS in Mechanical Engineering, and during that time got involved in student advocacy and community activism. These engagements got me interested...