About half of US-trained PhD holders go on to work in academia, but the others go on to find work outside of academic research. At her Rock Talk blog, Sally Rockey, the deputy director for extramural research at the National Institutes of Health, writes that the agency has a new initiative to better prepare trainees for a variety of careers. "Especially in challenging financial times, it is important to not only prepare trainees for a diverse set of career outcomes, but to leverage existing resources and enlist additional support from the potential beneficiaries of NIH-supported training — the employers of PhD scientists," she writes.
The program, called Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training, or BEST, aims to give out 15 awards through the NIH Common Fund this fiscal year to "¬support the development of new and innovative methods for preparing graduate students for the full breadth of research and research-related careers in the biomedical, behavioral, social, or clinical sciences," Rockey says.
The application deadline is in May.
It's the last step to getting a doctorate, and the thesis defense strikes fear into the heart of many a candidate. But, Bitesize Bio's Laura Fulford writes that it doesn't have to be an unpleasant experience — she says she enjoyed hers.
Of course, you do have to be prepared, and Fulford offers some tips for doing so. The first two things she says to do, though, are to relax and to do something fun — outside of the lab and away from your dissertation. While she says that it's important to go over and be familiar with your dissertation and any corrections that may need to be made to it, she adds that you should remember that "you are the expert; you know your stuff, remember that."
"This is the moment all the blood sweat and tears has been leading up to," Fulford says. "Enjoy your moment in the spotlight." And, she adds, don't forget to plan a party or night out for afterward.
Before accepting a job offer, Joanne Kamens, the executive director of Addgene and a career development expert, says there are a number of questions that scientists should ask themselves, the NatureJobs blog's Catherine de Lange reports. "Asking the right questions before making that decision means you can base your choices on rational thinking rather than gut feelings," de Lange adds.
Many of those questions deal not with compensation, but with the atmosphere of the lab. Researchers, Kamens says, should try to picture themselves in that setting to determine whether they think they'll fit in and be challenged as well as learn new skills.
"Will the work challenge you? Are there resources in place to help you cope with the pressures and maintain a good work-life balance — what support is available?" de Lange writes. She points out, though, that to answer such questions, a bit of self-knowledge is necessary. "To answer these questions you need to know yourself and what suits your style, so take some time to consider that before setting out to gather this information," she says.
There is a gender imbalance between in the upper echelons of academia, and Bitesize Bio's Judith Brouwer says that it is not due to a lack of interest in science by women. "The number of men and women who start their studies is approximately equal … but the percentage of females declines rapidly as we move up the academic career ladder," she writes.
One reason for that, she adds, is that some women take time off or work part-time at the beginning of their careers — perhaps to accommodate maternity leave — and that is not taken into account when their academic records are reviewed. Additionally, she notes that a number of studies have found evidence of gender bias in hiring processes.
Brouwer presents, though, a number of steps to try to rectify such gender imbalance in academia. For example, she suggests that researchers careerd be judged according to the time they spent working rather than by the number of years that have passed and to develop target numbers for women in higher levels of academia.
Some science, technology, engineering, and math fields have quite a few women in them pursuing advanced degrees, while other fields lag behind, Under the Microscope writes.
According to National Science Foundation data from 2008, women make up nearly three quarters of graduate-degree earners in psychology and medicine, and about half of biology PhDs. However, in computer science and engineering women comprise about 27 percent and 21 percent of PhDs, respectively.
Then, drawing on data from an Economics and Statistics Administration at the US Department of Commerce report, Under the Microscope notes that employment of women in STEM field typically has not kept pace with the increasing number of women earning STEM degrees — women hold about 24 percent of STEM jobs, most of which were in the physical or life sciences. "Women who do receive STEM degrees are less likely to work in STEM jobs than their male counterparts, the report adds. "And while women working in STEM jobs earn less than their male counterparts, they experience a smaller gender wage gap compared to others in non-STEM occupations."
The University of California, San Diego, is looking into adding 1,000 PhD students, studying a variety of disciplines, to its ranks, reports The San Diego Union-Tribune. The focus, though, would be on graduate students in science, engineering, and medicine.
The chancellor, Pradeep Khosla, says that such a move would bring UCSD closer in line with Berkeley and UCLA in terms of the number of graduate students, and keep UCSD as a highly ranked research school.
Khosla adds that most doctoral students could be added at little cost to the school itself as the students' tuition and stipend costs would be derived from faculty research grants. "PhD students would cost the principal investigator, but they don't cost the institution," Khosla says.
While women make up nearly half of biomedical graduate students, they don't make up the same proportion of professors, and an unnamed scientist writes at The Guardian that part of the issue could be that women aren't treated fairly. A Proceedings of the National Academy of Science article that appeared in September found faculty members treated male and female students seeking a lab manager position differently, despite the CVs being identical other than the name on it.
"Several non-scientists found it hard to believe that the same CV could be evaluated so differently, and with such serious consequences in terms of pay and mentoring. Yet since the beginning of my career, I have always been acutely aware that I need to do better than a man to stand a chance of being hired ahead of him," she writes, adding that "several people welcomed what they saw as concrete data to support their observations."
While the PNAS study itself suggested that there should be efforts to educate faculty members about such subtle bias, The Guardian writer says additional steps should be taken. "Since this study shows that the discrimination occurs, at least in part, at the stage of the evaluation of the paper application, I would insist that hiring committees shortlist the 'best' female applicants. Such positive discrimination is controversial," she writes. "However, if 100 candidates apply, and six are shortlisted, how hard would it be to ensure the top two female candidates are also shortlisted?"
The least stressful job for 2013 is being a university professor, according to Forbes. "For tenure-track professors, there is some pressure to publish books and articles, but deadlines are few. Working conditions tend to be cozy and civilized and there are minimal travel demands, except perhaps a non-mandatory conference or two," writes Susan Adams.
Other jobs on her list include seamstress, dietician, and hair stylist. To make her list, Adams drew on CareerCast data, and Tony Lee from CareerCast notes that the least stressful jobs all give people a modicum of autonomy.
Some science professors, though, balk at their job being called the least stressful one out there. "Forbes, you're kidding, right? University professor is least stressful job?? Right before "seamstress"??" tweets May Berenbaum from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Adams also says that professors don't work a full year and get a lot of time off. Additionally, she notes that while the average pay is not high, university towns aren't too expensive to live in.
"Word. I mean, I know I spend my summers lounging on the porch drinking bourbon, you? And how you folks at Columbia, UCLA or Boston University liking those cheap college towns you live in?" Prof-like Substance blogs in response. "I'm not saying that University Professor is one of the most stressful jobs out there, but if you're going to call something cushy, it would help to understand what you are talking about."
Interestingly, a separate list published at Forbes in September calls being a biologist one of the most underrated jobs of 2012.
Outreach projects are expected of researchers by many funding groups, but there are other reasons to get involved, writes Dave Hone, a University of Bristol researcher at the Lost Worlds blog, including as a way for researchers to publicize their work or to present real data to the public.
Hone notes that studies that are covered by the media tend to become more highly cited, so that could, in turn, help researchers' careers. In addition, he says that discussing his work with a number of different audiences and in different formats has helped him. "I think my ability as a lecturer and my ability to write scientific papers has improved in part because of the outreach work I do," he says.
And then that outreach can have an effect on others. "It sounds horribly trite to say that this kind of thing inspires the next generation of scientists, but it really seems to be true," Hone adds. "Feedback I've had from students, schoolchildren, teachers, parents and others all point to the outreach efforts of various academics having a genuinely positive effect on numerous young people."
Are scientists supposed to be well-rounded? Scientist and comedian Adam Ruben writes at Science Careers that there was a shift in expectations between applying for college and applying for graduate school. Colleges, he says, "don't just want good students. We want biomedical-engineer-Civil-War-reenactor-Olympic-gymnasts who breed turtles and founded a charity while editing the yearbook!" As for grad programs, he says some wanted well-rounded students, while others want those that were laser-focused on science.
It didn't stop there, Ruben says. "Scientists with outside interests are often regarded with suspicion in the lab; we can be seen as undedicated, unfocused, easily distracted, and so divorced from the scientific frame of mind that we'll probably end up working in — oh, the shame — industry," he says.
He then kept his second job — "telling math puns to drunk people" — to himself, and he notes that many of his colleagues actually also had hobbies. "Despite what half of the grad schools told me, tunnel vision is not a virtue, he writes, later adding that for most people, "outside interests keep us sharp. We're more productive, more creative. We're happier."
The number of people who earned a science and engineering doctorate in the US in 2011 who had a job or postdoc lined up for when they finished their degree declined as compared to previous year, reports Inside Higher Ed. Data recently released by the US National Science Foundation show that 62.5 percent of life science PhD had secured a job or postdoc for after graduation in 2011 as compared to 65.9 percent in 2010 and 73.9 percent in 2001. "In every broad S&E field, the proportion of 2011 doctorate recipients who reported definite commitments for employment or postdoc study was at or near its lowest level of the past 10 years, 3 to 10 percentage points lower than the proportion of 2001 doctorate recipients reporting such commitments," the NSF report says.
The report also notes that the number of people pursuing doctorates in science and engineering has increased, Inside Higher Ed adds. In 2011, 36,264 doctorates were awarded in science and engineering while 12,741 were awarded in other fields while, in 2010, there were 34,887 science and engineering doctorates awarded and 13,147 in other fields. "Almost three-fourths of all research doctorates awarded in 2011 were in science and engineering fields," Inside Higher Ed says. "This reflects a steady increase in the share of doctorates awarded in those areas."
In many fields, Inside Higher Ed adds that there has been a slight decline in the number of years it takes to earn a doctorate. For the life sciences, it shows a median time to degree of 6.9 years in 2011 versus 7 years in 2006.
HT: Bill Hooker
The NIGMS Feedback Loop Blog has posted some helpful answers to frequently asked questions regarding so-called K awards for career development (K08, K23, K25, K99, and K12).
There are a number of points to consider when deciding whether or not to go to graduate school, and blogger Jon Wilkins lays them out in a post at Lost in Transcription. First, he says that you should consider your lifetime earning potential. He notes that while people with advanced degrees do tend to have higher salaries, but adds that "if your primary consideration looking forward is monetary, this is not the right path for you."
Wilkins then says to think about what you want to accomplish during your life. "Imagine that you have just learned there is an asteroid heading towards earth, and you have thirty-six hours to live. Would you rush to grab your Greek edition of The Republic? Would you see if you could crack that one really hard problem from this week's problem set?" he says, adding if you see yourself saying 'yes' to one of those questions, grad school might be the place for you.
But some people, he adds, will still be unsure. For that uncertain slice, he says to look into whether you could have your grad school tuition covered by a fellowship and to determine whether a graduate degree is needed for your long-term career goal. In the end, Wilkins writes that "going to grad school is a good way to find out if you'll like grad school" and if you figure out it isn't for you, you don't have to stay. "So if you think you might like grad school, give it a go, but keep the escape hatch in mind," he advises.