Innovation Corps

I recently wrote a post about entrepreneurship in science and received a lot of feedback. While most people agreed that “with the overabundance of highly educated and specialized STEM workers, we are going to need to be able to fabricate our own jobs”, there was a wide range of ideas on how much government involvement should be in place to help support entrepreneurial scientists. One of our followers shared information on an intensive eight week government program funded by the NSF (Innovation Corps) that is the brain child of Errol Arkilic, a program director at NSF, and a 2012 Harvard Business Review “Master of Innovation” Steve Blank. I found it intriguing and wanted to pass it along to you. The pilot classes of Innovation Corps seem to have potential and be set up to give you real life experience using your own creations. Everyone in the program is part of a 3 person teams…one NSF funded PI and his graduate student or postdoc who are appointed as the “Entrepreneurial Lead.” The third member of each group is a mentor with previous start-up experience. As someone who would prefer that the government paid down debt rather than fund entrepreneurs, this program makes my mouth water. And it got me thinking…wouldn’t a version of this, maybe combined with an introduction to accounting be a great addition to the PhD curriculum? Even if you didn’t go the entrepreneur route, the accounting/financial aspect would be beneficial both in academics and industry. After all, a team leader is not only responsible for obtaining grant funding, but also managing (salaries, supplies, conferences) that funding throughout the duration of the grant.

What do you think? Would you welcome the addition of a class focused on entrepreneurship, innovation, and accounting?

Update September 6, 2012:
I just found out that the Dublin Institute of Technology offers a structured PhD program that includes training in skills such as communication, innovation and entrepreneurship, leadership and teamwork, and career management. For those of you thinking about getting your PhD, it is worth taking a look at.

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2012 Postdoc Experience Survey

The results of the Science Careers biennial postdoctoral survey were released this past week.  In case you’re unfamiliar with this survey, Science Careers sent emails to 38,000 current and recent PhD’s worldwide asking them to rate and discuss criteria essential to a successful postdoctoral experience. 

What’s the take home message of this year’s survey?  Answer: the struggling economy is the driving force behind the results.  Ten percent of respondents were unemployed at the time of answering this survey.  Similar to the unemployment rate in the EU and slightly higher than the current 8.3% unemployment rate in the US.  This is probably the major reason why “advancement opportunities / career options” was selected as the most important factor, with  “funding / grants”,  “employer / situation”, “networking”,  and “mentoring” rounding out this year’s top five attributes to a successful postdoctoral research experience.   

One can easily make the case that any of these factors are integral to career success.  But I did notice a common theme; the importance of having a principal investigator able and willing to enhance these factors.  A PI to introduce you to network contacts for career advancement.  A PI that can teach you the ropes of successfully obtaining grant funding.  A PI that creates a comfortable work environment and helps you further your scientific career.   After all, isn’t that part of the responsibility of being in a tenure-track position; to nurture the growth of future scientists?

Principal investigators willing to train the next generation of scientists do exist.  This is evident in the success stories of several survey respondents interviewed for this article.   The difficult part is finding them and convincing them to take the time, energy, resources and money to train a young scientist even when the career choice is outside of academia.  But, what do you do when your PI is less than helpful?  That’s when you need to be proactive and create your own network of collaborators.  And today social media has made it easier than ever to keep in contact with collaborators and colleagues.  They can help you get a foot in the door for a potential job opportunity. 

Remember, it’s your career…take control of it.

The article can be found here, and it’s great reading for every scientist looking to further their careers.  If you have any other ideas for networking or what makes for a successful postdoc experience, please leave your comments below.

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Entrepreneurship in Science

I was browsing the internet the other day and saw a link for “Grants to Encourage Entrepreneurship in Science and Technology for Women”.  Being a woman in science and a new entrepreneur, I decided to click on the link.  What it took me to was a slightly informative, and incredibly self-serving article in Forbes written by the United States Chief technology Officer, Todd Park.  The title was “What Efforts Has President Obama Made While In Office To Encourage Entrepreneurship And Innovation?”  I read on hoping to get to the part that is specific to women entrepreneurs in science…

“Promoting high-growth entrepreneurship” where I learned that the Administration has committed to match $2 billion private investments in high growth companies, is trying to make it easier for graduates to manage their student loans, and is taking credit for Startup America Partnership connecting startups with private-sector funding.  Why is our government so interested in funding startups?  As someone heavily invested in a startup, I think it is great, but as a taxpayer I think that there are several other places that you can go to fund a startup, such as angel investor groups, the bank, and other private-sector funding/grants.  Our country is in enough debt.  Let’s put our capitalistic roots to good practice.  Dreams can and do come true in America, but it is not the government’s job to supply us with the seed money.

Under “Helping accelerate technology breakthroughs” I learned about the Obama Administration’s advancements in space exploration…umm, aren’t we moving away from NASA and towards privatization of space exploration? 

Finally, we are starting to get into the research part…apparently, “President Obama has implemented the largest increase in federally funded research and development in history”.  Wow, I am really glad to hear that!  Just one question…Does anyone know any scientists in the US that thinks it is actually easier to get funding or that there is more money available for research???  We would love to hear from you.

Sadly, there was nothing on opportunities for women entrepreneurs in science.

The article also reiterates the Administration’s stance on science and technology and that more people need to go into science.  In the next decade they plan to have an additional 100,000 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) teachers and graduate 10,000 more engineers every year.  However, the article did not acknowledge that if you do decide to pursue the STEM path that it is going to be hard to get a position in academia and the funding that is often required to obtain said position.  Leaving the other main option of going into industry where the positions are also scarce due to outsourcing and downsizing.  Maybe that is why the article focuses on entrepreneurs.  With the overabundance of highly educated and specialized STEM workers, we are going to need to be able to fabricate our own jobs. 

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Postdoc Professional Masters Degree

I spent some time traveling in the car this weekend and my wife and I got into an interesting conversation regarding a new academic program provided by the Keck Graduate Institute; the Postdoc Professional Masters Degree or PPM for short.  (Yes, you read that right).  KGI touts the PPM program as a specialized MBA in biological sciences for PhD’s or MD’s.    As stated on their web page the PPM program, “will help students develop MBA level skills in management areas of key importance to the bioscience industry. They will also help familiarize students with industry dynamics across different segments of the bioscience industry.” 

My first reaction….why wouldn’t I just get an MBA?

My second reaction….really?  REALLY?!?!

Do I really need to spend more time, money, and effort to add another degree to my already lengthy resume?  Let’s see. 

Bachelor of Science….check

Masters….check

PhD….check

Postdoc Professional Masters….uhhhhh???

Enough already.  What comes next?  The doctoral program in post doctoral training.  A DPPD?  I just can’t fit any more degrees on my resume. 

Honestly, this sounds like a scam to fool down-on-their-luck postdoctoral students into thinking they need yet another degree to land a career.  Do you really need to take out more student loans to earn ANOTHER degree in the hopes of landing a job interview?      

Even the program’s title sounds like a veiled attempt at career success.  Let’s examine the title of the program.  We’ll take it word by word. 

Postdoc?  You couldn’t spell the whole word out?  Five more letters people.  Postdoc is a term you use when talking amongst peers in a lab setting. 

Example:  “Who’s that?”  “That’s Jim. He’s the new postdoc in the department.”  

When used as the title of your program, it simply sounds demeaning.  We have a doctoral degree!  We are professionals in our chosen discipline.    This brings me to the next word.  Professional.  Isn’t this redundant?  Even Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines postdoctoral as, “professional work beyond a doctoral degree.”   I feel like the term “Professional” is used solely to add legitimacy to the program.    

And then the final term.  Masters.  I have a PhD, Do I really want to get a Masters Degree for my PhD.  At least I can start arranging my diplomas in a bell shaped curve on my wall:  BS, MS, PhD, MS.

In all seriousness though, maybe I’m being too harsh on this program.  The program does require a team based project sponsored by a biotechnology company.  Teams are provided office space and a budget to focus on their project, which often involves market research, business development and sometimes lab based research.   This could be an invaluable introduction into a corporate environment and a chance to make some great business connections.   

 With an estimated 100,000 postdoctoral researchers in the US and only a handful of tenure track positions, it’s inevitable that a large number of PhD’s will try to transition from academia into pharmaceutical or biotech companies.   With all these candidates competing for limited positions in a struggling economy, what better way to stand out from the crowd than proving to potential employers you have experience in a business setting.

But, the real question is, do employers consider this type of training relevant experience?  Or, does human resources merely view this as another degree; a fancy piece of paper that can be framed and hung on the wall? 

Has anyone gone through the program?  I would love to hear what you or anyone else thinks about this concept.  Please post your comments below.  

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