Academia - Mastering a Complex Career
Abstracts and slides from presentations made during a one-day professional development session at the SEB Main Meeting, Prague, 2010. Slides can be downloaded by clicking on the talk title, or in cases of a joint talk, on the speakers' name.
Academic careers – current and future perspectives
Dr Jeremy Pritchard (University of Birmingham, SEB Chair, Education & Public Affairs)
Academic career paths available to early career experimental biologists are becoming increasingly complex as more demands are made on those researching and teaching in universities. Unlike research in institutes and industry, academic research requires a teaching role too, which means the potential applicant will need to be able to demonstrate the ability or potential to teach. As we will see, there is more to teaching nowadays than in previous times, with an ever-demanding student population requiring more creative teaching methodologies including flexible e-learning resources.
In the context of a global recession, cut-backs in many country’s research budgets are likely to increase competition for grants and an expansion of cross-disciplinary, cross-country or even international boundary collaborations. Strategic and visionary thinking, not only within a research project itself, but in order to scan the research landscape for future funding opportunities will be vital for an academic to retain his/her employability. This means that a more flexible, communicative and outward-gazing academic is likely to be favoured over the highly specialised mono-disciplinarian of the past. The transformation has been coming slowly up till now but there is likely to be an accelerated change in the next few years which will mean that aspiring and newly appointed lecturers will do well to take a proactive and self-reliant approach to their careers if they are to be successful.
Taking an international perspective, this session will describe the key areas of academia on which incoming and aspiring academics should focus: including teaching, publishing, funding and wider communication.
Survey results of “The situation of doctoral candidates within Europe” conducted by EURODOC with regard to career prospects and working conditions
Izabela Stanislawiszyn (President of Eurodoc/Doctoral Candidate, Warsaw School of Economics, Poland)
Eurodoc is the European Council of Doctoral Candidates and Junior Researchers. It takes the form of a federation of 34 national associations of doctoral candidates and young researchers in Europe. Eurodoc’s objectives are:
- To represent doctoral candidates and junior researchers at the European level in matters of education, research, and professional career development.
- To advance the quality of doctoral programmes and the standards of research activity in Europe.
- To promote the circulation of information on issues regarding young researchers; organize events take part in debates and assist in the elaboration of policies about Higher Education and Research in Europe.
- To establish and promote co-operation between national associations representing doctoral candidates and junior researchers within Europe.
Eurodoc has been accepted as a working partner in the Bologna process and is a partner of the European Commission, European University Association, Euroscience and European Science Forum and various organizations consult Eurodoc on issues concerning doctoral education and research of young scientists.
One of Eurodoc’s current activities is the online survey entitled “The situation of doctoral candidates within Europe” which was conducted with the participation of 8900 doctoral candidates from more than 30 countries. It covers a broad range of aspects concerning young researchers such as qualification requirements, career path, funding schemes, models of training and supervision, working conditions, expected and achieved results of scientific work and mobility. The presentation will be focused on the results of the survey with regard to career paths and working opportunities for young researchers.
Commercialisation of Research
Eugen Kvasnak (Consultant, Technology Transfer office, Charles University, Prague)
Commercialisation of research has become a new role of universities in addition to teaching (transferring knowledge from generation to generation) and research (creating new knowledge). Universities thus build their research impact within society, collaborate closely with industry, and transfer their own technology. Protection of Intellectual Property Rights, licensing, and setting-up spin-off companies are new skills for researchers to master. It is estimated that eighty percent of all technology solutions are patented, and only twenty percent are in academic publications. By mastering these new skills, a whole new world of many opportunities appears. What it means and what it needs in brief . that’s the core topic of this presentation.
TEACHING - Different Perspectives from UK, Europe and USA
Jeremy Pritchard (University of Birmingham & SEB), Teresa Valencak (Veterinary University of Vienna) and Larry Griffing (Texas A&M University & ASPB)
This presentation will take an international perspective with contributors comparing and contrasting the UK, European and US systems focussing on the changing teaching demands. As the various decision points in a career path are described the teaching skills that would facilitate progress will be outlined. Each speaker will indicate the different opportunities available to acquire the necessary skills.
Jeremy Pritchard will introduce the session and provide a UK perspective. His own career path follows that of the classical UK academic, from an undergraduate biology degree, through to a lectureship. A career at a UK University can leave the candidate facing the contradictory situation in which they will be appointed on the basis of the quality of their research but will be expected to teach. Overlying this there are qualitative changes in the University teaching agenda underway making appointment criteria more complex, but also providing opportunities for the motivated candidate to demonstrate the full range of teaching skills required in today’s competitive environment.
Thirty years ago the incoming lecturer would be expected to stand up in front of a small group of motivated students and talk unchallenged about their research area. While the academic would implicitly be delivering transferable skills, these would not be recognised or expected. Since then there has been a massive expansion in UK education; there are now many more students in a class who are increasingly driven by an assessment agenda – decisions about where to apportion their effort are made on the marks associated with any exercise leading to the fragmentation of what is arguably the indivisible whole of Biology. Anyone undertaking a university teaching career these days must be prepared for a qualitative alteration in the way teaching works – shifting from didactic delivery to facilitating student learning. Coming from a research background this can be difficult but the rewards are huge.
Teresa Valencak will comment on the formalised process known as ‘habillitation’ which exists in some countries in Europe in order to secure a position in academia. This advanced step about 4-6 years after the PhD is considered to show that the applicant has successfully followed up on his/her career and has proven to independently publish, teach and acquire third party funds since then. Thus, for passing this step, it is necessary to accumulate publications, give lessons and courses and finally, to apply for grant money. If the applicant together with a mentor is considered to have the grounding for a successful habilitation, an evaluation process is started at which end the applicant has to give a public lecture. If all evaluations are positive, the “venia legendi” is granted and that document is required to independently supervise and evaluate graduate students. Also, as a kind of extra qualification, it greatly helps when applying for tenure track positions although it is mostly no more obligatory. The whole procedure of habilitation is recognised in countries such as Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Russia, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia and is not connected to a certain mode of employment.
Larry Griffing will highlight the differences in teaching expectations between those who postdoc at a research university and those at a primarily undergraduate institution (PMI). It is generally not wise to have postdocs teach at the former; for R1, research universities, most of the time and money is spent on research, and new faculty should negotiate for very light, or no, teaching load for at least their first year, so that they can get that all-important first grant. Even if they are interested in teaching, it does them no good to develop new undergraduate courses at this stage. If they do teach, they should teach small seminar-like classes in their area of expertise, giving them a broader perspective for developing their own research program. For PMIs, where teaching is a focus, it is not only important to establish a research program and negotiate light teaching loads, but also to start thinking about ways to get undergraduates involved in the process of research. I will cite examples of how authentic inquiry, where the student asks the research question, can be developed through on-line databases, or laboratory experiences. For learning content in the biological sciences, there are new programs where web-based tutorials are combined with non-conventional, non-lecture, discussion-format classes. I will give examples of these (such as Calibrated Peer Review and the introductory biology program at Penn State). In all of these, what makes a good teacher is the ability to engage and monitor the audience, which is often larger than optimal.
Research careers – a personal perspective from a SEB President’s Medallist
John Bothwell (Queens University, Belfast)
No two scientists have the same career, but the old adage about learning from other people’s mistakes still holds true for professions as vocational and capricious as Higher Education in the UK. This talk, by one of the authors of the RCUK Concordat for the Career Development of Researchers (http://www.researchconcordat.ac.uk/), considers how to avoid some of the most common pitfalls which face early career Researchers in the UK. By looking at how science and its practitioners are assessed and funded by Universities, Charities, and the Government, we will ask how to break the vicious circle in the postdoc’s perennial question: ‘How can I demonstrate that I can drive my own research when my postdoctoral job doesn’t allow me to apply for grants?’
Outreach – working with schools - Workshop
Dominic Delaney (Edvotech, http://www.edvotek.co.uk/ )
Outreach. What does it mean to you and how do you do it? More and more, scientists are being asked to engage with school students and the public to tell them about science, to inspire them and to demonstrate the relevance of their research to the 'real world'. You may relish the idea of going into a school or staging a science show in your institution but you may find the prospect quite daunting. Using simple and effective techniques and equipment is usually the best strategy for a successful outreach event as well as having clear aims and outcomes. In this workshop I will be able to advise you on the general do's and don'ts for doing practical science with schools, drawing upon some of my own experiences as well as giving you a practical demonstration. It will also be interesting to hear about other people’s experiences of communicating science to schools or other public audiences.
Hands-on molecular biology is an exciting way to get young people thinking about how science works in the real world which is why our company have been developing more than 50 different kits to carry out experiments such as DNA fingerprinting, PCR, ELISA and many others in a classroom setting. Come along and see for yourself how you can bring the research laboratory into the classroom easily and affordably. and remind yourself how much fun science can be!
Getting your research published – strategies, insights and ethics
Irene Hames (Managing Editor, The Plant Journal, and author of Peer Review and Manuscript Management in Scientific Journals: Guidelines for Good Practice)Publication is an essential part of any research project and scientists who want to secure or pursue an academic career must publish their work. Promotion and research funding hinge on publication records. Not only is it important to get work published, it’s also critically important where that work is published. With submissions to many journals increasing dramatically, it’s becoming more and more difficult to get published, especially in the top journals. Things are likely to become even tougher and more competitive as a result of the very significant amounts of funding and attractive incentives being offered to researchers in various parts of the world, some of which have not previously had strong track records in research or had work published in the top international journals. This is changing, and changing very rapidly. This session will look at the strategies and practical issues that can help get work published and give researchers a competitive edge. It will also highlight the potential pitfalls and advise how to avoid them.
Research funding generation
Carol Featherstone (Freelance Science Editor, Writer and Trainer (Toulouse, France)
Where can you find funding and how do you write successful grant applications?
A successful career in academic research invariably goes hand-in-hand with success in raising the funds for your work. As a first-time postdoc, a personal fellowship can get you a place in a top group and provides you with kudos and a degree of autonomy from your advisor. As you progress to running an independent research team, finding funding to hire staff and pay for their experiments becomes a major part of the job description. It is never too early to hone your skills at finding sources of funding and writing competitive grant applications!
In this session, we will look at the types of national and international organisations that provide funding for research at all stages on the career ladder and point you in the direction of how to find out more about their programmes. Focusing on postdoctoral fellowships and career development awards, we will talk about forward-planning, presentation, what to put in (or leave out of) your research proposal to make it fund-worthy and, ultimately, how it will be assessed by peer review.