Do you ever wonder whether you’re on the “right” career path? If you’re in academia, the trajectory you should follow can seem pretty rigid—undergrad degree, PhD, postdoc, PI, and then the elusive tenure. Have you considered that there isn’t a single “correct” path?
That’s the message one of Promega’s Science Writers, Julia Nepper PhD, emphasized when she was interviewed recently on the HelloPhD podcast. The HelloPhD podcast offers advice to help students, postdocs, faculty and scientists navigate the hard questions they face every day related to graduate school and careers in science.
121: A Teenager Goes to Grad School, Julia offered her insight on dealing
with failure and finding a scientific career path that’s right for you. She
also shared her unusual story of starting grad school at age 17 and some of the
unique experiences she had along the way that led her to choose a career in
To listen to this podcast and learn more about HelloPhD, click here.
Today’s blog is guest-written by Susanna Harris, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
thing to hear that everything is going to be okay. It’s another to know it and
make it that way.
At the end
of a lab meeting where I had outlined my last of six years getting my PhD, my
advisor announced she would be moving the lab from North Carolina to Massachusetts
in about six months. Just when everything had settled into place, this
announcement turned my bookshelf of plans on its side once again. Suddenly, I
didn’t know what would happen next.
I chose to
go to grad school partly to challenge myself to accept uncertainty. When I
started my PhD in Microbiology in 2014, I thought this would mean reading new
papers and adjusting experiments accordingly. As it has turned out, the real
challenge has been to constantly get back up as life and graduate school knock
me flat on my ass. Yes, I needed strength to power through, but even more than
that, I needed resilience.
Today’s blog brought to you by Julia Nepper, a Promega science writer guest blogging for the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute (BTC Institute)!
“We all benefit from STEM role models. When students from underrepresented populations meet and learn about STEM professionals of color, they can see themselves as the scientists and engineers of the future. Fun, engaging science programming for children is also essential to light the spark for the next generation. A Celebration of Life, the partnership between the BTC Institute and the African American Ethnic Academy, two community nonprofits, has combined these 2 objectives for over twenty years.” according to Barbara Bielec, K-12 Program Director.
This year, the theme of the program is Sunsational!, with a number of activities related to the sun, solar energy, and STEM careers. As part of the program, students heard talks from several STEM professionals of color about their work. Mehrdad Arjmand, co-founder of solar energy company NovoMoto, was one of those speakers.
Dr. Arjmand was born and raised in Iran. His path to becoming a mechanical engineer began as a child, with him “destroying a lot of equipment” in his house. After completing his undergraduate education, he came to the States to pursue a PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he met Aaron Olson, a student who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These two discovered a shared passion for starting a business and helping their communities, which led directly to the founding of NovoMoto. The name derives from Portuguese for “new” (novo) and Lingala—a language spoken in Congo—for “fire” (moto). Continue reading “Empowering Communities with the Light of the Sun”
Scientific investigation is an iterative process, for which reproducibility is key. Reproducibility, in turn, requires accuracy and precision—particularly in measurement. The unsung superheroes of accuracy and precision in the research lab are the members of your local Metrology Department. According to Promega Senior Metrologist, Keela Sniadach, it’s good when the metrology department remains unsung and behind the scenes because that means everything is working properly.
Holy Pipettes, Scientists! We have a metrology department?! Wait…what’s metrology again?
Metrology (the scientific study of measurement) got its start in France, when it was proposed that an international length standard be based on a natural source. It was from this start that the International System of Units (SI), the modern metric system of measurement, was born.
Metrology even has its own day: May 20, which is the anniversary of the day that the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) was created by the Meter Convention in Paris in 1875. The job of BIPM is to ensure worldwide standards of measurement.
Concepcion Sanchez-Cid didn’t know she wanted to be a scientist when she was older. She grew up with a love of music and played the violin, but her curiosity and eagerness to learn drove her down the path for a career in biomedical research.
Hear more of Concepcion’s story:
As a Master’s student at the University of Granada, Concepcion studied biotechnology and landed an internship at the Promega Europe Training and Application Lab (PETAL) in France. She worked with the Applications Team to develop protocols for DNA and RNA extraction from soil. When she decided to pursue a PhD, she received a sponsorship from Promega and enrolled as a student at the University of Lyon while also remaining an employee at PETAL.
Concepcion says that the balance between both worlds—academia and industry—provide her with technical skills and a unique support network that has helped shape her PhD thesis work. “Working at a university and a company at the same time…you get very different feedback from people that are very specialized, and they really know what they’re doing, so at the end you integrate everything,” she says. “It’s one of the things I appreciate most about my PhD.” Continue reading “Curiosity and Collaboration: A PhD Journey”
Today’s guest blog is written by Aparna Shah, a Post-Doc at Johns Hopkins University. Aparna visited the Promega campus in Madison, Wisconsin on January 18, 2019 and offered to share her experiences.
I don’t recall ever having won a contest before, let alone the grand prize! In fact, I did a double take when I first read the email informing me that my SciArt submission had been selected as a winning entry for the Promega Art Contest for Creative Scientists. What did I win, you ask? A free trip to Madison, WI to meet with the team behind the contest and explore Promega’s headquarters!
I first heard about the contest on the HelloPhD podcast and considered participating primarily to support the SciArt movement. A couple of days later, I came across a perfectly-timed tweet about the contest that nudged me out of procrastination mode and reminded me to follow through with it. I’m going to take a second here to pitch both HelloPhD and Twitter to you. Regardless of whether you’re an undergraduate student interning in a science lab or a senior postdoc, the HelloPhD podcast is incredible at calming you down while you’re on the roller coaster ride called academia. As for Twitter, I can think of several pros for using it. But in the context of this post, it is one of the best resources for discovering opportunities that match your interests.
A recent PNAS article tracked the careers of
scientists in three different fields based on research paper authorship. They
found that, over a 50-year span, there was a dramatic reduction in how long
scientists remained in each field, which they termed “survivability.” More than
half of the scientists that started out in the 1960s published in their field
for an average of 35 years, while about half of scientists starting in the
2010s published in their field for an average of 5 years1. Tracked academic
researchers were classified into three categories: transients (authors who had
only one publication during their career), dropouts (authors who stopped
publishing at various career levels), and full-career scientists (authors who continue
to publish in the field). Overall, the data showed that there are an increasing
number of transients that contribute to scientific papers. Thus, the authors of
the PNAS article concluded that the demographics
in those academic fields are shifting toward scientists who leave the field
quickly. The observed increase in the number of scientists who are temporarily
in academia makes sense, given the number of PhDs relative to the limited
number of faculty positions and permanent staff scientist roles. However, the
terms “survivability,” “transients,” and “dropouts” give the impression that
leaving academia means that these scientists have ended their career or failed.
If you’re a student in a research lab, discussing career options with your PI can be a tricky topic to navigate. Whether real or perceived, many students feel they cannot bring up the subject of a career in industry with their PI because they will lose credibility as a serious researcher. In labs where thinking about careers outside of academia is taboo, students can’t get all the information they need to decide what career path is right for them.
This dilemma became very clear a few weeks ago when I served as a panelist for a career workshop about jobs in industry at the iGEM 2018 Giant Jamboree. The workshop participants were extremely engaged, and we fielded questions well after the official end time. Since I know there are other students who could benefit from information about science-related careers in industry, I’ve compiled some of the questions and answers from the workshop. Continue reading “Building a Career in Science: Academia or Industry?”
As a first-year grad student, I was so excited to start my thesis work. I brainstormed to make a list of experiments to try and then discussed them with one of the senior grad students in the lab. As I enthusiastically explained the goals of my experiments and what I was planning, he gave me a strange look. Puzzled, I asked for some feedback. He told me that, while these were good ideas, almost all of them had been published. Hence, my first lesson learned from grad school: immerse yourself in the field by reading relevant papers and then plan some innovative experiments to move forward. It’s critical to have a deep knowledge of your field of study—not just to be a good grad student, but to see what is being done and then build on it, or take a totally different approach to innovate.
Reading papers is a big part of keeping up with the latest research. And attending conferences can give you a sense of current work before it’s published. However, I’m sure that, at least once, you’ve heard a cool talk at a conference and then quite a while later, haven’t seen the corresponding paper (so that you can read about all the ins and outs of what they did!). Why would this be? They may have been discussing the data early on in their project. Or perhaps they submitted a manuscript and the review/publishing process is taking a long time. Maybe the data were so surprising that they felt they needed to do a lot of follow-up work to support their conclusions. Or maybe their PI takes forever to write/comment on manuscripts. Etc.
The sooner that you can find out what is going on in a field, the sooner you can design smart, relevant experiments. What can be done to get cutting edge work out there to facilitate the progression of a field as a whole?