Now, more than ever, young scientists are grappling with important career decisions. For newly minted PhDs, there are fewer and fewer academic faculty positions available. These coveted “tenure track” positions have been the “typical” career path for research scientists in a variety of biomedical fields. Yet in an environment with flat funded research budgets combined with sequestration, a decade of cuts, more scientists are pursuing ‘alternative’ careers.
This desire to learn about the diversity of career options for scientists prompted nearly 1,400 graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and other scientists-in-training to register for the recent Career Symposium hosted by the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) at the National Institutes of Health on May 14. This was the 6th such symposium and it featured sessions on not only the traditional academic track—still a popular career path—but also industry, policy, communications, education and research career options for medical doctors as well. The event also included rapid “skills blitz” sessions on topics like the basics of job searches, resumes and interviewing skills.
The opening keynote address for the 2013 symposium was given by Research!America board member Alan Leshner, PhD, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His talk, entitled “Today’s societal context for science careers,” set an optimistic tone for the day’s events while challenging early career scientists to better engage the public about their work. Leshner acknowledged up front that “life is not always easy,” but he went on to encourage the audience that there are indeed jobs for first rate scientists in the U.S. According to Leshner, among the many obstacles currently facing U.S. researchers is a breakdown in the relationship between the scientific community and society at large. And Leshner challenged the audience that the onus is on the scientific community to repair that relationship. To bridge the divide, Leshner recommended not only more education about science, but also a stronger two-way engagement with the public to ensure a healthy research enterprise that has the support of the people it aims to serve.
The OITE will publish summaries of each career panel on their website in the coming weeks; slides shown during the “skill blitz” sessions are already available. The OITE at NIH provides resources and career services for trainees at the NIH and has made many resources available to trainees outside of the NIH. The OITE Careers Blog is also a great source for information for young scientists.