"Today's trainees are sold promises that their hard work in the lab will pay off with tenure-track positions in academia," writes the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology's Benjamin Corb in a post at the organization's News From the Hill blog. "Nearly one in three biomedical PhDs will end up with a career in the private sector, and yet our community rarely if ever provides training to PhDs that will both prepare them for alternative careers and educate them on realistic employment options that will be available."
And so, Corb says, while groups like the US National Institutes of Health Advisory Committee to the Director's Biomedical Workforce Working Group have advocated for broad training options for biomedical PhDs, it is simply not enough. "If we are using NIH dollars to train PhDs for the research and academic careers we want for them but only 23 percent of them are reaching that goal, it is time to find answers to critical questions," he says.
Corb and the rest of ASBMB's public affairs team are soliciting suggestions for how to fix the PhD training problem, which they intend to submit to the NIH.
Genzyme and the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics Foundation are soliciting applications for their Clinical Genetics Fellowships in Biochemical Genetics program "to encourage the recruitment and training of clinicians for this purpose." [More.]
In return correspondence addressed to Canada's Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq posted at The Black Hole blog, Jonathan Thon highlights what he says is a terrible outlook for jobs for early-career scientists. Thon says that "while the Canadian Institutes of Health Research is taking positive steps to meet its stated goals of attracting and retaining the best researchers, the Canadian government is failing to acknowledge how truly bleak the job prospects for young scientists are in the life sciences."
He points to recommendations from two recent reports from the US National Academies and the National Institutes of Health's Advisory Committee to the Director's Biomedical Workforce Working Group as key to improving the situation for young life scientists in Canada. Notably, Thon points to the suggestion that, in order to "improve career opportunities and limit the overproduction of transient trainees, labs should replace many of their post-doctoral fellow slots with permanent staff scientist positions." He also highligts the Biomedical Workforce Working Group's suggestion that postdoctoral pay and benefits ought to be improved.
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is providing 50 students from 19 countries with $43,000 per year to develop their scientific careers. [More.]
David Allen's Getting Things Done, a bestseller in the US, primes readers on the author's views of productivity, and how to achieve it. Allen's approach emphasizes time management and focus.
For the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute's Jeff Barrett, regaining control over his work and life schedules has been a bit of a struggle. "Many of the core GTD principles have been incubating in my mind, and I'm trying to incorporate them into my day-to-day life," Barrett writes at his group's blog. One such principle, he says, is redefining productivity, such that it is not confused with being busy.
"I've come to the view that 'productivity' is anything which increases the awesomeness in the world," he says. "In science, this encompasses sitting around thinking about a new idea, writing some code, doing an experiment in the lab, staring at some new data, or writing a paper."
To Barrett's mind, one can be busy, yet unproductive. For example, while "dealing with administrative paperwork, responding to banal emails, or sitting in meetings with ill-defined agendas," he says. "We have to do these things to a certain extent — they are part of how the world functions — but they're not satisfying or fulfilling. Nobody smiles while filling in their EU grant-reporting paperwork."
Overall, he says, "the problem is that busy-ness is so much easier than productivity."
US President Barack Obama has named 96 recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, 'the highest honor bestowed ... on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers,' according to the White House. [More.]
The US National Science Foundation marks the first anniversary of Innovation Corps — its three-year pilot program to connect the researchers it funds to technological, entrepreneurial, and business communities — and announces plans for expansion. [More.]
For Marissa Mayer, the former Google executive who was recently named Yahoo!'s new president and CEO, being the only woman in upper-level computer science classes did not faze her. Speaking with the 92nd Street Y in New York City as part of its Campaign for the American Conversation program, Mayer said that she grew up "gender blind," and that she was encouraged early on to pursue science because she was good at it.
"Just asking the question" — of how to get more girls science — "I worry, sometimes, can handicap progress," Mayer told 92Y. She adds that because she never really realized that she was part of a minority group in her field, it didn't affect her success much. "If I had felt more self-conscious along the way, being the only woman, I think it would have actually stifled me a lot more," she said.
US and Canadian citizens with an MD, DDS, or DVM and who are nominated by their institutions, can apply to compete for $700,000 in research support over five years, BWF says. [More.]
Zoological Society of London's Seirian Sumner and Nathalie Pettorelli have had "enough of costly advisory committees," they say. And so, synthesizing advice from 16 female scientists in the UK and that gleaned from their own experiences, Sumner and Pettorelli share ideas for retaining women in science at Nature's Soapbox Science guest blog this week.
Their first recommendation? Dedicated mentorships. "Provide all women in science with a committed mentor or 'career champion,'" Sumner and Pettorelli say. University College London's Judith Mank adds: "We need to stop telling young women how hard it is to be a woman scientist and start telling them about how amazing the job is."
Sumner and Pettorelli also suggest that funding agencies include what they call a "family support financial supplement" in their grant application materials, and that research institutions provide internal support for women in the critical years — those in which many female scientists leave their posts for personal reasons. "Data collection is rarely compatible with family commitments — be they caring for an elderly relative or a young family, or juggling a long distance relationship," Sumner and Pettorelli say. "Yet, there is no compensation available to pay for the extra childcare a woman might need to finish her lab experiments that run on late into the night, or for a woman who wants to bring her family with her on those many months of fieldwork abroad."
Finally, the authors also suggest that research institutions provide funding to help solve the two-body problem, empower male scientists to take equal responsibility in family life, and extend additional support for scientists who wish to work part time.
"If implemented, these recommendations could ensure that the next generations of female scientists do not repeat history and bear the same, yet avoidable, costs," Sumner and Pettorelli say.
This post has been updated to correct where the original news story was published.
When the Washington Post published a front-and-center story covering the PhD job crisis — that "there are too many laboratory scientists for too few jobs," as it said — science blogs lit up with commentary.
Science's Beryl Benderly said that the reporter who wrote the story, Brian Vastag, "deserves credit for getting onto the front page a story that contradicts the prevailing media narrative" — that scientists are in short supply, and that the US ought to make every effort to train more.
At Cosmic Variance, Julianne Dalcanton says that "difficulty finding a long term academic position is not the same thing as difficulty finding a job." While the Washington Post did make mention of the low unemployment rate experienced by scientists, Dalcanton notes that information was buried. "To me, what this implies is that most of the skills mastered by PhD-level lab-based scientists are not readily transferable to other jobs, and are not easily generalized (or at least, are not perceived as generalizable by employers)," she adds.
Gene Expression's Razib Khan adds that "if a tenure track position is your goal, and you aren't going to be happy with anything else, then you should know that all things equal the odds are going to be against you." Still, he says, "in the real world everyone has to hustle now, and often it is better to hustle with a doctorate than not."
Nine early-career researchers, including some who are working in genomics, are being awarded a total of $675,000 from DuPont through the company's Young Professor program. [More.]
Prof-like Substance suggests that grant applicants speak with their program officers, yes, but also with other POs.
"Over the last few years I have had the opportunity to interact with roughly 10 [to] 15 different POs in a few different roles," Prof-like says at his blog. "Early in my career I assumed that POs shared similar agendas or at least had [a] script they were supposed to follow, but reality is very different. Whereas there are obviously certain commonalities, it is far more similar to an academic department with all its personalities and perspectives."
As such, speaking with several POs can provide an idea of who is interested in supporting certain projects, Prof-like says. "If you can find a PO who is excited about the work you are proposing, you are much better off than working with a PO indifferent to what you are trying to accomplish," he adds.