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Science  26 Apr 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6131, pp. 446-447
DOI: 10.1126/science.340.6131.446

26 April 2013

Edited by Kathy Wren


In a Competitive Market, New Scientists Seek Out Career Advice

Building success.

Environmental sciences student Akida Ferguson of Delaware State University won first place for her presentation at the 2013 ERN conference.


Scientists may begin their studies with an eye on a tenure-track position, but these coveted jobs have been vanishing under a glut of science degrees and university budget cuts. As researchers found in a 2012 study in the journal PLoS One, jobs in academia become less attractive to U.S. doctoral candidates as they progress through their studies.

Resources to help early-career scientists find fulfilling jobs in an increasingly competitive academic market—and in less traditional fields—are thus in high demand. At conferences and online, experts from AAAS and other organizations are seeing a significant interest in constructive advice and improved tools for building better careers.

"We want to play a valuable role in helping emerging and new scientists to better understand science careers in a global context," said Yolanda George, deputy director of AAAS Education and Human Resources, "as well as how to 'tool-up,' apply, persist, build networks, and to become leaders in all sectors of the scientific workforce."

At the 28 February to 2 March Emerging Researchers National (ERN) conference, hosted by AAAS and the National Science Foundation's Division of Human Resource Development, more than 600 undergraduate and graduate students had a chance to test their research presentation skills before a diverse panel of judges. Representatives from 19 companies and 31 graduate schools also attended to recruit students for research fellowships and job opportunities.

Marcus Jones, an assistant professor in infectious disease and genomic medicine at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, helped to judge the presentations. At conferences like ERN, students "get to learn an important skill: presenting their research and selling themselves," Jones said. "Everyone should be able to give a 60-second speech to a millionaire about why they should fund your research."

Ashli Allen, a senior at Fort Valley State University in Georgia, said that the ERN experience was useful and helped her focus on her plans to work toward a Ph.D. in physical therapy. "I did a lot of networking," she said, "and met some amazing people who will be able to help me at the next level."

Many of the ERN judges were undergraduate alumni of historically black colleges and universities or members of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, George said. She noted that several AAAS programs, including the ENTRY POINT! internships for students with disabilities and the AAAS Minority Science Writers internships, work directly to prepare underrepresented scientists for the global workforce.

In 2012, a working group of the U.S. National Institutes of Health Advisory Committee to the Director suggested that more intensive career preparation would be especially valuable in building wider science participation among underrepresented groups. It recommended that all NIH grants that support postdoctoral researchers include a career-building tool called an individual development plan, or IDP.

myIDP, launched last fall at the Science Careers Web site, is the only online site to offer an IDP tailored for scientists. Nearly 30,000 users—roughly equivalent to one-third of the U.S. postdoc population—have registered to use myIDP. The site offers exercises and advice to scientists on how to "match up their own skills, their own interests and their own values with a variety of available career paths," said Jim Austin, Science Careers' editor.

Austin worked on the site with researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology who had been tracking the need for a professional development tool for a decade. The American Chemical Society and the U.S. National Science Foundation, along with the NIH, have expressed interest in using IDPs, Austin said.

"A lot of us knew of the frustration that was out there," he said. "We knew that scientists training in academia could no longer depend on the types of jobs that they were traditionally trained for, and would need to do some serious thinking about where they were likely to end up."


Retired Scientists Return to Elementary Classrooms

Voices of experience.

Donald Rea (left) and Ronald McKnight touted the benefi ts of volunteering in K–12 classrooms.


After earning a Ph.D. in atomic physics and spending nearly 20 years managing a U.S. Department of Energy plasma physics program, Ronald McKnight has returned to the seventh grade.

McKnight is one of 70 retired scientists, engineers, and physicians heading back to the classroom in Maryland and Virginia through the Senior Scientists and Engineers (SSE) volunteer program sponsored by AAAS.

SSE first started sending Ph.D.s like McKnight into public school classrooms in 2005, as an extension of its mission to give senior scientists opportunities to continue contributing to society after retirement.

Retired Jet Propulsion Laboratory chemist and current coordinator of the SSE volunteer program Donald Rea is now encouraging fellow retirees to establish similar programs around the country.

Rea has presented the SSE model, which is based on two earlier programs started in the 1990s, at various science and education conferences, including the International Teacher-Scientist Partnership Conference (ITSPC) in Boston this February and the American Chemical Society National Meeting in New Orleans this April."

"Many of our members are concerned about the state of K-12 STEM education, and this is an opportunity for them to make a meaningful contribution," said Rea. "We are very eager to encourage communities elsewhere around the country to start up their own programs like ours."

According to Shirley Malcom, director of AAAS Education and Human Resources (EHR) and former co-chair of the National Science Board Commission on 21st Century Education in STEM, the most efficient way to boost STEM education is to connect teachers and students with real science and real-life scientists.

To this end, retired scientists are "an untapped source of talent and potential," according to Malcom.

In an effort to foster these relationships, EHR joined forces with the University of California, San Francisco Science & Education Partnership to host 400 teachers and scientists at the ITSPC during the 2013 AAAS Annual Meeting.

Program organizers invited Rea to share the success of SSE with teachers and scientists from all over the world. During a panel discussion, Rea stressed that volunteer training is the key to a successful program.

"Generally, what goes on in the classroom is very different from when [volunteers] went to school," he said.

SSE volunteers attend a daylong training where they learn from experienced volunteers and the school district's science supervisors, who advise them on matters such as fostering discussion and inquiry rather than lecturing, and leaving discipline to the teacher.

In the classroom, volunteers can answer questions during small group activities, help to troubleshoot failed experiments, and give teachers license to step out from behind the teacher's edition of their textbooks.

The results are undeniable, Rea told the panel audience. Teachers eagerly sign up to participate year after year, volunteers report a great deal of personal satisfaction, and the students reap the rewards.


Jumping for Jelly Beans at the White House

Lured by the promise of jelly beans, children crowded the AAAS table on the South Lawn of the White House during the 135th annual White House Easter Egg Roll on 1 April. AAAS staff explained that it takes about 30 seconds of aerobic activity to burn four calories, and led kids in half a minute of jumping in order to earn a paper cup with four of the tiny sweets.

All of the AAAS activities for the White House Easter Egg Roll came from Science Gym, a program developed to encourage science and physical education teachers to work together, which was produced with support from the Golden Grant, an internal AAAS program to support new and innovative initiatives.

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