This summer, I had the opportunity to go to the Marine
Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. MBL was founded in
1888 as an institution that focuses on research and education. Woods Hole is
located on Cape Cod and has rich biodiversity that is the focus of the resident
researchers and the many others that travel there each summer. It was here that
new model organisms were discovered, allowing significant advancement in
various fields. For example, squid have large axons that allowed researchers to
expand our knowledge of neurons.
Over 500 scientists from over 300 institutions in over 30
countries come to MBL each year as trainees1. There are 19 advanced
research training courses for pre-and post-doctoral scientists in development, reproduction,
cell physiology, microbiology, infectious disease, neuroscience, and microscopy.
Faculty that teach the courses are leaders in their respective fields. In
addition, MBL has a neuro-physiology fellowship program through the Grass
Foundation that allows early-stage researchers to come to MBL for 14 weeks to
I used to love taking magazine quizzes to learn more about myself. I thought it would be fun to create a quiz to help you find out what scientific career path may be the best fit for you. Be open-minded while taking the quiz and remember that this is just for fun!
1. My greatest strength is:
a) My artistry b) My perseverance c) My attention to detail d) My problem solving skills e) My personality- I get along with everyone
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.
As adults, we can all attest to the benefits of attending professional conferences. They provide us with opportunities to present and share with others, network, and renew and refresh in our field. For some of us, that first conference, at the college or early employment level, may have contributed significantly to a sense of ourselves as professionals. But what does it mean to someone younger?
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…)
When I was in grad school and pictured what a role in industry would look like, the first thing that came to my mind was a Research and Development (R&D) Scientist. My life as a grad student and as a postdoc revolved around benchwork, so that must be the case in industry too, right?
It really wasn’t until I started working at Promega that this image of a scientist in industry was completely turned upside down (in a good way). Here are some roles that a scientist can assume at Promega: Senior Scientist, Research Scientist, R&D Group Leader, Production Scientist, Technical Services Scientist, Product Manager, Strategic Marketing Manager, Client Support Specialist, Client Support Consultant, Clinical Technical Consultant, Field Support Scientist, Applications Scientist, Scientific Instructional Designer. The list can probably go on for a while, but it makes the point that there are a variety of interesting positions for scientists in the biotech industry. Continue reading “BioTech Scientists through a Different Lens”
For this posting, I had promised to include some commentary on ACTION.
What can someone pursuing a doctorate in the biosciences DO during that time to widen the possibilities of employment in the future? In general, the process of obtaining the doctorate has been criticized for taking too long and not doing enough to prepare students for what they will do when they graduate. Considering these criticisms, it seems wrong to create additional check-boxes on the student to-do list leading up to graduation. Therefore, these things are not in addition to what is already expected, but are instead the same things that are already happening re-focused. Continue reading “Broaden Your Horizons While Pursuing Your Doctorate—You Will Be Glad You Did”
This week I gave notice that I would be terminating my employment at Promega. This was a very difficult decision as I have really enjoyed the past six years here. While I am leaving Biotech, I will not be leaving science all together. Over the past few years, I have used my research, analytical, and organizational skills to assist various non-profit organizations in the community. My primary focus will be on reform of the criminal justice system and racial disparities. Spreading the word about this decision has resulted in a number of responses (overwhelmingly positive) including the comment that I am going soft! This got me thinking about where the terms hard and soft science came from. Continue reading “She’s Going Soft! – A commentary on “hard” and “soft” sciences”
Do you remember what it was that first inspired in you your life’s passion for science? Was it collecting bugs, frogs or other creatures as a child? Or maybe that first chemistry set—the one that had your mother hovering behind you with a fire extinguisher. Perhaps it was a parent or teacher that first sparked something in you that never dimmed. Whatever, or whoever, it was that first kindled your interest in science, no doubt there have been times when you wished that someone would offer you some advice on how to navigate through the modern, rapidly changing world of science.
On this past Saturday, I took a trip to my local library on a quest to get just exactly that. To be specific, I was going to check out a copy of Edward O. Wilson’s Letters to a Young Scientist (1). Although I haven’t had time to read more that the first chapter, the advice that he offers at the end of that chapter struck me as good advice to any young (or not so young) person:
Times are hard. Unemployment is high. Networking and maintaining job-relevant connections is more important than ever. Employers literally get hundreds of applications for each job posting. One of the most useful ways to make yourself stand out in a crowd (besides things like credentials and resumes) is to have a personal recommendation. In my last post, I talked about the importance of making small talk (no matter how scary it seems!). Here, we’ll take it a step further. Once you’ve met new people and added them to your contacts list and perhaps your social networking sites, how can you use these contacts to help you achieve your goals? Continue reading “Networking for Scientists Part II: How to Get a Job (Hopefully)”
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