science careers

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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