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To Stay or to Go?

When science PhDs leave academia, they do it for their own reasons, according to a study appearing in CBE-Life Sciences Education.

The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine's Melanie Sinche and her colleagues surveyed nearly 3,700 science PhDs to ask them about their previous jobs within and outside academia as well as about what influenced their career choices. The respondents included 225 scientists belonging to under-represented minority groups.

Regardless of whether respondents worked in academia or not, they said working conditions, geographic location, intellectual challenge, and salary/benefits influenced their career choices.

The researchers further found that the desire for autonomy and for opportunities for their partner were associated with faculty career choice, while a desire for leadership was, intriguingly, negatively associated with faculty career choice.

As Sinche and her colleagues report, most respondents said they made the choice to leave academia on their own, though there were some differences between well-represented and under-represented groups as to what influenced that choice. For under-represented minority respondents, neither family nor peer influence was associated with faculty career choice, though family influence was reported by well-represented respondents as affecting their faculty career choice. Well-represented respondents were also more likely to follow a faculty career path if a faculty advisor endorsed them, though this was not a significant factor in faculty career choice for under-represented minority respondents.

"Factors influencing career decisions, both perceived and actual, may be partially responsible for the departure of [under-represented minority] scientists from the academy," Sinche and her colleagues write. "As negative factors are identified and remedied, the academic research enterprise could more fully benefit from the skills, knowledge, and experience of the greater diversity of exceptional rising scientists."