For Western Carolina University's Nate Kreuter, the most difficult part of a career in academia is balancing its associated responsibilities, he writes at Inside Higher Ed's Tyro Tracks blog. And that, he says, makes times management crucial.
"Whether or not your own department's expectations for teaching, research, and service are explicitly articulated, each activity will require different commitments of time and energy at different times," Kreuter says. "All three activities will persistently compete with one another for your attention and energy. But giving too much time and energy to any one category, and not enough to the other two, can spell disaster for a career."
Part of time management means knowing when to say "no," and spending the summer months wisely. "Effective time management also means reserving time for recovery, and time for fun, time for family, and time for friends," Kreuter adds.
The Obama administration seeks applicants for its on-site fellowship program, which aims to improve healthcare data access, among other things, and is set to launch in July. [More.]
Lee Skallerup Bessette at Inside Higher Ed's College Ready Writing blog this week discusses an oft-forgotten facet of "the economic realities of getting a PhD" — conference season expenses. Attending conferences can be costly, especially for graduate students, many of whom are already pinching pennies.
"Because I have a conference before the next paycheck, this week is: Let's eat everything instead of doing groceries," Bessette said on Twitter.
"As a dual academic couple, my husband and I often have to play credit card roulette to see which one we can put a cross-country plane ticket on, or which one we should bring on a trip to pay for food," she writes back at College Ready Writing. "Our conferences all happen at about the same time, and while each of us gets reimbursed (him through his program, me through my various extra-curricular activities), we don't have the flexibility to pay for everything all at once."
In responses to Bessette's Twitter message, which she has posted to Storify, some students express their shared conference-cost reimbursement grief. "The reimbursement hustle is real," Tressie MC says, adding "it's a game — will it get here [before] credit card is due?"
Terfle says "this is why academics graduate with credit card as well as student loan debt."
Tressie MC advises that not being able to afford attending a conference is "nothing to be ashamed of." Rather, she says, it may be an opportunity to speak up: "I'd love to do that but I don't have $1,500. Is that the only way to take advantage of this opportunity?"
The Philippine Star's Dominic Foo and Raymond Tan emphasize the importance of productive PhD students for running a successful academic research program. "Our personal advice is to hire one good PhD student, rather than having several of average quality. The principle of 'quality over quantity' allows one to retain focus," Foo and Tan write.
While they say that "getting a good PhD student is an essential step in establishing a thriving research career," the authors stress that PIs ought never to take advantage of their trainees. "We have seen many cases where students have been neglected by supervisors, which often ends up with delayed completion of degree/research project, or even the complete abandonment of PhD studies by the student," Foo and Tan write. "This is no doubt a waste of resources as well as the precious time of the students."
Mentoring PhD students is not to be taken lightly, the authors add. "The bottom line is to maintain a symbiotic relationship, where the supervisor gains by being able to delegate part of his or her research to a qualified apprentice, while the student gains both a postgraduate degree and the intangible skills of doing research properly," they say.
As Massimo at Exponential Book says, "your postdoc is a starting point, not one of arrival." Just like when it came to earning a PhD, "you still have to prove yourself," he adds.
A postdoctoral position is not a 9-to-5 job. "It is an opportunity for you to build the best research credentials you can. It is up to you to make the most of it," Massimo says. "Having landed a postdoc does not mean that a permanent job … is waiting for you down the road." Massimo shares tips for postdocs on choosing a project, publishing, and more.
Novelty is important when it comes to choosing a research project. "Simply accepting a project that is a mere continuation of a line of work that has existed in that research group for a long time, predates you and will continue after you are gone, is probably not in your best interest. I recommend picking something that is new for both yourself and your PA, where his/her experience and guidance can prove valuable but where there is also room for you to make your own original contribution," Massimo says. Postdocs ought not to choose projects that are a continuation of their doctoral work, he adds.
'Publish or perish' is not necessarily the case for postdocs, Massimo says. But, he adds, it is a good idea to get at least one paper out within the first year or so.
Communication is also critical to a postdoc's success, and Massimo suggests that a postdoc meet with his or her advisor once a month, at least. He also says that there is no reason not to actively engage with other postdocs in the lab. "Your fellow postdocs are a tremendous resource; you should not be afraid of sharing your knowledge with them, and at the same time you should try to learn from them as much as possible," Massimo says. "It is true that you will likely be competing for the same jobs, but … there are plenty other postdocs everywhere else in the world who will also be competing with you."
In a Q&A-style interview, Stratatech Corporation President Russ Smestad tells the Wisconsin State Journal that his career path — entering the biotech industry on the ground floor and moving up to start his own company — "would be difficult to replicate today." Smestad was hired by Cetus Madison in 1982, a time when "the biotech industry was really being formed," he says. "It was not like one could hire people already with a track record in this space."
Now, as president of Stratatech and chief operating officer of Biotech Profiles, an online database he launched to track Madison-area biotechs, Smestad says the industry looks much different. "There have been a lot of acquisitions of what I call mid-tier companies. The large companies are prospering; the small companies are stable; but our mid-tier is getting smaller," he says. These days, he adds, "it is tough for any early-stage biotech company."
At In the Pipeline, Derek Lowe responds to a reader query as to whether doing a postdoc in industry is worthwhile. "If you're going to hire someone to learn the ropes, they might as well be good enough to be brought in as a full-time employee," Lowe says. He adds that industrial postdoc positions can be considered less prestigious than their academic counterparts. "Even so, it does seem as if there are situations where an industrial postdoc could be a good fit, and in today's job market, anything looks good," Lowe says.
In response to Lowe's post, FormerIndustryPostdoc reports having a mixed experience as a postdoc in big pharma. "On one hand, you usually get much more access to resources than you would in academia. You also get to ask 'academic type' questions which you may not get to in a permanent position," FormerIndustryPostdoc says. One the other hand, though, "I did not actually get to work on real drug discovery projects. My work was always considered peripheral to the main projects, partly because it had to be publishable," FormerIndustryPostdoc adds.
Commenter MK's experience as an industry postdoc was more positive. After completing an academic postdoc, MK sought industry experience. "I was looking to transition off the bench and considered the industry postdoc an opportunity to get a broader view of what opportunities exist in industry and to network on the inside as I was having difficulty getting a foot in the door otherwise," MK says. "I consider it a positive experience and was able to use my time to set up information interviews with various line functions."
At the US National Institutes of Health Office of Intramural Training and Education's Careers blog, career counselor Anne Kirchgessner says that she often hears from postdocs who say that their mentors have not properly helped them to prepare for their next steps. But, she says, "there are various reasons why a postdoc mentor doesn't just 'make the call' that links their trainee to a career position," not least of which is that he or she may not be fully aware of that trainee's professional interest. "If you want help from your PI, you must start conversations about where your career is going," Kirchgessner says.
Beyond that, academic PIs who have never worked beyond the ivory tower may not feel prepared to prep their trainees for careers outside of academia. For that, she says, postdocs ought to look for assistance elsewhere in their support networks. In the end, Kirchgessner says it is up to trainees to be their own advocates.
Writing in The Scientist, the University of Florida's Fred Southwick says that academic researchers "are encouraged to maintain the status quo and not 'rock the boat,'" and that "this mentality is pervasive, affecting all aspects of scientific research from idea generation to funding to the training of the next generation of scientists." All this, he adds, has led to a general suppression of creativity in academic research labs. "Many who succeed in advancing to leadership positions in academia have been cautious, making few enemies and stirring little controversy," says Southwick. "But such a strategy fails to generate the insights that drive scientific fields of research forward."
Because collaboration is increasingly an essential part of effective research agendas, Southwick adds, "truly innovative science requires teamwork and very active discussion to overcome these barriers to creativity." He suggests that academic administrators call upon those who work in their labs in order to "understand the challenges of today’s research environment," and to affect sufficient change to reinstate creativity's role as central to good science.
According to Pharmalot, the Massachusetts-based search firm ZRG Partners has found that global hiring within its life science index rose 3.7 percent in the first quarter of 2012, and that pharma hiring — taken on its own — rose 5 percent during that period. "What boosted the pharma sector was a 25 percent jump in hiring in Europe," Pharmalot says. "By comparison, hiring in North America was flat and the Asia Pacific region revealed a drop."
A story at The Chronicle of Higher Education takes a look at the less-than-rosy financial situations some PhDs in the US have found themselves in. The article examines what the Chronicle calls "an often overlooked, and growing, subgroup of PhD recipients, adjunct professors, and other Americans with advanced degrees" — those who have applied for some form of government assistance since late 2007.
As Penn State University's Michael Bérubé puts it: "Everyone thinks a PhD pretty much guarantees you a living wage," he tells the Chronicle. "But I've been hearing all year from non-tenure-track faculty making under $20,000."
In PLoS One, the Georgia Institute of Technology's Henry Sauermann and Michael Roach at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, present "an empirical basis for common concerns regarding labor market imbalances" of PhD scientists. In an effort to tackle a "lack [of] systematic evidence whether career preferences adjust over the course of the PhD training and to what extent advisors exacerbate imbalances by encouraging their students to pursue academic positions," among other things, Sauermann and Roach set out to analyze data gleaned from a survey of PhD students at tier-one institutions across the US. From this, the researchers found that "that the attractiveness of academic careers decreases significantly over the course of the PhD program, despite the fact that advisors strongly encourage academic careers over non-academic careers." Overall, the authors say that their data "provide an empirical basis for common concerns regarding labor market imbalances" as well as evidence that PhD applicants require additional assistance to "carefully weigh the costs and benefits of pursuing a PhD" and that PhD students need better job market advice from their academic advisers.
Supporting the advancement of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is necessary for economic growth, writes Alexandra Scheeler at Science Progress, a progressive science and policy site. At a White House Council on Women and Girls event, US President Barack Obama touched on the importance of innovation for the economy. Scheeler notes that a press release from the White House has said that "increasing the number of women engaged in … (STEM) fields is critical to our nation's ability to out-build, out-educate, and out-innovate future competitors."
"To build upon their support of STEM women and ensure America's continued global competitiveness in science and technology, the Obama administration must advocate for policies that allow women to balance their career goals with their family lives," Scheeler adds.