Oct 2013 WEB - page 4

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ASCB
NEWSLETTER OCTOBER 2013
and financial situations that we are in, I cannot
read this option in the tea leaves in the short–
medium run.
In the absence of wise demand-side policies,
I want to toss out the idea of controlling the
number of people who enter the postdoc
training track, which in my view should return
to being aligned with the number of tenure-
track positions available. What seems essential
is the need to incentivize scientists to make
career decisions early, during graduate school.
A postdoc position should be required of and
available only to those who really have a chance
of becoming an assistant professor.
One way to achieve this could be to separate
training grants from research grants. Another
strategy could be to increase postdoc salaries.
Given the anemic research budgets, there
would then be a strong incentive to hire fewer
postdocs, therefore reducing the population of
the holding tank and realigning the pipeline
with realistic academic opportunities. I would
also suggest setting a maximum limit on time
for postdoctoral training—five or six years,
perhaps.
Finally, it is essential that we provide
much more information to those entering
postdoctoral and graduate student training.
At the tender age of 42, with two small
children to feed and a demanding job to
attend to, I decided, for various reasons, to
go back to school and take a master’s degree.
I was undecided between an MPH and
an MBA degree. I had no time to waste, a
strong interest, and high expectations. So I
wanted to make the right decisions, and I
shopped around very carefully. Much to my
surprise, I found a very different level of
information available than when I entered
my PhD program in the biomedical field.
MBA and MPH programs clearly advertise
opportunities, placement statistics, gender
ratios, and job opportunities for those who
graduate in the program. We need to follow
this example; we need to be very explicit
about tracking outcomes and giving statistics
to those who enter graduate schools, to help
them make the right decisions early rather
than after years and years of postdoctoral
training while they struggle to find an
academic job that does not exist.
What Can Trainees Do Now?
While we wait for science policy changes,
which I am sure will come but will take time,
what can you, as a trainee, do today? My
first recommendation is to demand good
mentorship from your PI. Your PI hired you
to carry out first-class research, but he or she
also has responsibilities for your training and
sometimes you may have to be assertive to
obtain the guidance you need. In addition,
you need to seek mentorship outside of the
lab. Your PI may be the very best researcher
but may not be the very best mentor, or
maybe it is difficult to talk to your PI about
certain career decisions. I encourage you
to seek mentorship outside of your lab, in
your department, in the university, or in
professional societies like ASCB. The goal is
to understand the available career options and
what you need to do to prepare for them.
Our training
programs have
been designed
with a linear
pipeline in mind,
as indeed was
the case 30 or
40 years ago,
but that path is
no longer the
default pathway.
Figure 1. The
disappearing tenure
track position.
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