A Conscious Decision to Change Careers Should Not Be Mistaken for Failure

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.

Continue reading “A Conscious Decision to Change Careers Should Not Be Mistaken for Failure”

Building a Career in Science: Academia or Industry?

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?”

Why Hasn’t the “Alternative” Become Mainstream?

Pearl Jam, a popular alternative rock band in the 1990s (and still pretty awesome!). Photo credit: Rolling Stone Magazine.

This post could easily start out as an ode to ’90s alternative music (of which I’m a huge fan). That new and totally different sound (a la Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, Nirvana, etc.) in the 1990s eventually made its way into the mainstream as it gained popularity. (I have to say that I got a shock when I recently heard some Pearl Jam on “classic rock” radio stations. But I digress…)

Why isn’t the same true for science career paths? Science careers outside of academia are still referred to as “alternative.” Continue reading “Why Hasn’t the “Alternative” Become Mainstream?”

Does Gender Bias Still Exist in Academic STEM Careers?

Photo credit: Jane Ades, NHGRI source: www.genome.gov/dmd
Issues related to inequality are often difficult to deal with. Depending on your demographics, you are probably pretty confident inequalities exist, but when these issues are discussed publicly, attempts are often made to explain them away. Those in the majority (e.g., white and/or male) tend to feel defensive in these conversations because our privilege can evoke guilt and shame, but also a feeling of insult; we worked our tails off to achieve the positions we’re in and how dare someone say we gained this position because of the privilege our phenotype grants us by society. This feeling is understandable, however, as scientists, we must put our feelings aside at times like these and rely on the data.

A recent study out of Jo Handelsman’s lab at Yale University (Moss-Racusin, et al, 2012) looks at the underrepresentation of women in academic science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Although the numbers of women studying and graduating with degrees in STEM fields is on the rise, the authors report that the number of women hired into faculty STEM roles is not increasing proportionally. They assert that this suggests that time will not solve this issue. To investigate whether or not gender bias actually exists in hiring practices, the authors conducted a double-blind, randomized survey of 127 faculty members in biology, chemistry and physics at research-intensive universities. Continue reading “Does Gender Bias Still Exist in Academic STEM Careers?”