“For scientists, finishing a Ph.D. or postdoc and automatically moving on to a research-faculty position is no longer the norm,” states a coauthored article from Science Careers. With decreases in biomedical research funding and cuts to institutions of higher education, obtaining a tenure track position and successfully being awarded your first RO1 is near impossible before the age of 40! Heck, finding and maintaing a postdoctoral fellowship position has become increasingly difficult also. While many graduate students realize at an early stage that a tenure track position is not for them, few know where or how to obtain the job skills necessary to transition into an alternative science career.
The Advisory Committee to the National Institutes of Health Director (ACD) Biomedical Workforce Task Force released a summary report in June of 2012 that analyzed the current US biomedical research work force and provided “recommendations for actions that NIH should take to support a future sustainable biomedical research infrastructure.” Among the group’s main recommendations was to, “prepare biomedical PhD students and postdoctoral researchers to participate in a broad based and evolving economy.” The report states, “…graduate training continues to be aimed almost exclusively at preparing people for academic research positions. Therefore, the working group believes that graduate programs must accommodate a greater range of anticipated careers for students.” When discussing postdoctoral fellows, “the working group believes that the postdoctoral experience be considered an extension of the training period primarily intended for those Ph.D. graduates who intent to pursue research-intensive careers.”
Basically we need additional career options and training for graduate students so they don’t end up 5 years into a postdoc with no desire to apply to tenure track positions but also with none of the skills required to transition to an alternative science career. While there are many valuable skills to be learned through a postdoctoral fellowship, if you are interested in say intellectual property, science policy (me!), or K-12 science education your time may be better spent away from the lab bench. I have been continuously frustrated by the lack of ‘alternative career’ training and resources available to students (even at a large and successful research institution like University of Washington). That is why I was very excited to learn about myINP!
myINP, a personalized Individual Development Plan, is a collaboration between the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), Science Careers, the University of San Francisco, and the Medical College of Wisconsin. FASEB’s press release reads, “myIDP, the first and only online tool to help scientists prepare their own individual development plan. Created with support from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, myIDP helps graduate students and postdocs in the sciences develop a step-by-step plan for reaching their career goals.”
Depicted below are the basic tools offered by myINP:
From the Science Careers article, “Anonymous unpublished polls conducted by FASEB in 2009 reveal that postdocs and mentors find IDPs beneficial. The majority of postdocs who developed an IDP reported that it helped them assess their skills and abilities and identify the skills they would need to advance their careers.”
While this website alone can not sufficiently provide the additional training required for many scientists seeking employment outside of academia or biotech, it definitely seems to be a step in the right direction. At the very least this website can be a “first stop” for early career scientists interested in alternative careers. I’ve spent hours searching the internet for information regarding careers in science policy and was always frustrated that there was no centralized resource for this type of information. Now there is.