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Scientists must do science to be happy. What do we have to change to ensure that all scientists can have successful careers doing science in some form? There is a lot of talk about the state of scientist training in the US and around the world. There are rumors that we are training too many scientists and some propose radical changes to the way we view the graduate school and postdoc training years.
There is no doubt that there are too many scientists in the pipeline were they all to pursue jobs in academia. Certainly funding for academic research and training is getting tighter and competition is fierce. However, I believe there are plenty of great jobs out there for science PhDs. The problem is that too few of these trainees are sufficiently prepared during their 6-12+ (!) years of training to get jobs. They are not exposed to the vast non-academia career landscape and there is insufficient (or no) emphasis on developing transferable skills to enable pursuit of these diverse opportunities after training.
One of the best recent discussions of this apparently worsening crisis recently appeared in eLife: "A Fair Deal for PhD Students and Postdocs" by Dr. Henry Bourne, Professor Emeritus at UCSF. Dr. Bourne has some radical (and some not so radical) suggestions for defining the problem and for finding solutions. Even better than just reading this article - you should join Dr. Bourne in Boston on October 2nd when he will be the keynote speaker for the upcoming "Future of Research" conference. You can register for the conference here.
The Future of Research conference is organized by postdocs for postdocs. I am delighted to see enterprising early career scientists taking an active part in creating their own opportunities for career development and networking. Aside from the importance of the topics to be discussed, the organizers are building valuable skills and meeting new people by working together on the event planning and execution. I am seeing many similar examples of science trainees taking a proactive role in their non-bench training. Grad students at Washington University founded a successful consulting company called The Balsa Group. University of Pennsylvania has the Penn Biotech Group and PBG Healthcare Consulting. I know of many schools that have completely student/postdoc-driven biotechnology clubs such as Penn State, Berkeley and Harvard. Students also partner with independent career organizations to get the grants and programs they need such as at the Postdoc Career Development Initiative (PCDI) in the Netherlands.
There are many academic administrators who are finding ways to provide new types of career preparedness training for their scientists. I have worked with some great postdoc and grad student career offices in the last few years. However, some organizations are woefully behind and some just don't have the resources to do enough. There are still university research departments that have no formal career resources for science trainees at all.
For grad students and postdocs interested in taking matters into their own hands, there are some easy ways to get started. I am happy to work with any group of trainees interested in designing career exploration programs or peer mentoring groups. But for now, you can click here to register and join your postdoc colleagues in envisioning the Future of Science.
Attend the Symposium on the Future of Science:
- A postdoc-organized symposium on the future of the scientific endeavor
- October 2-3, 2014
- Boston University Jacob Sleeper Auditorium, Boston, MA
- Register on Eventbrite (This is a free event)
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