This is a guest post by Future of Research policy activist, Adriana Bankston.
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 May 2015, we held a workshop at the NatureJobs Career Expo in Boston to address how we can improve career awareness and preparedness for junior scientists. The expo aimed to better characterize the barriers that steer trainees towards academic science career paths and away from “alternative” careers (P. Goodwin et al., 2015). In order to overcome these barriers, we need to know what resources trainees have available, and which ones they would like to see developed. In May 2016, another NatureJobs Career Expo in Boston was held with the idea of improving career development resources for graduate students and postdocs. A summary of important issues emerging from the 2016 Naturejobs Career expo is detailed below by category.
Career development issues from trainees at the FOR workshop (2016 Naturejobs Career Expo)
- Identifying transferrable skills/ways to obtain them
- Knowledge of skills needed/how to leverage into job
- Determining important things to highlight on CV
- Translating life/work experiences into CV language
- More face-to-face interactions during this transition
- Best pathways for interaction within their network
- Connect with people in desired company/institution
- Issues for international trainees – visa/job applications
- Better synthesis of this information into useful format
- Using career development offices as an initial resource
ASCB workshop setup
In December 2016, we held an interactive Future of Research workshop at the ASCB meeting, with the goal of discussing more specifically what career development tools are/could be useful for trainees in their career transition, and how to get them. The goal of this workshop was to have junior scientists contribute their voices towards what Future of Research can do to help them succeed in their careers. We used post-it notes to ask trainees to write information about their current institution and career stage. We then asked questions about specific career development resources which they know of/are currently using or which they need/would like to see developed (below).
ASCB workshop results
The majority of attendees were postdocs (47.1%), followed by graduate students (23.5%), undergraduate students (17.6%) and other (11.8%) (below; the “other” category included a high-school student, which was encouraging to see). These data can give us a better idea of the population of trainees for whom we might need to develop career resources. We also looked at the geographical distribution of workshop attendees as an aggregate regardless of career stage, and found a fairly even distribution across the US, covering the Northeast, Midwest, South, and West (and some international) (data not shown).
Following this introduction, the main exercises from the workshop consisted in asking trainees to provide answers to the questions: 1) “What career development resources are you aware of?” and 2) “What career development resources do you feel you need most?” using post-it notes. The idea behind these exercises was to create an IDP-like mechanism by which to have trainees reflect on what it is they do/do not enjoy doing, and help them figure out what they might want to do in their careers. The resources collected from this exercise would then give us an idea of content to use in creating a database of tools to help trainees in their career transitions. We summarize the available and desired resources from trainee responses at the 2016 ASCB meeting workshop in various categories below.
Available/desired career resources from trainees at the FOR workshop (2016 ASCB meeting) (***most mentioned/useful; **also mentioned/useful; *mentioned/useful)
- University career office***
- Career counselor/coach*
- Career panel discussions
- Internship opportunities
- Navigating career development process
- Matching current skills with desired job
- Workshop/tools available career development
- Courses/advising on job search/applications
- Sources for careers besides academia/industry
- List of skills valuable outside of academia
- Opportunities at large vs. small universities
- Available resources for undergraduates
- Societies (NPA, ASCB)
- Journal “think pieces”
- None specified (general resources apply)
- Talking with mentors**
- Discussions with peers
- Informational interviews*
- Networking workshops/events
- Individual meetings with people in desired job**
- Available mentors in other fields*
- Advice to contact people about career options
- Resources for informational interviews
- Facilitating connections between fields
- Better communication with employers
- COMPASS Career Perspectives
- COMPASS Facebook Group
- None specified
ASCB workshop wrap-up
We wrapped up the 2016 Future of Research ASCB meeting workshop with some general favorite ideas, and suggested resources that might be useful to trainees. These included services such as myIDP and Versatile PhD, organizations such as the NIH BEST Consortium, and career development resources from several societies such as ASBMB, AAAS and ASCB. We hope the collection of Future of Research workshops on this topic will be useful for trainees in thinking about career resources they might need to seek, skills they might need to develop, and how to leverage their value for desired career success. This information will also provide a good starting point for us at Future of Research to begin thinking about the best strategies to help trainees reach their career goals. A more detailed write-up of these workshops will follow in due course.
We want to hear from you! Which career development resources are you currently using/are useful to you, and what would you like to have? Please comment below!