In a recent survey of over 1,500 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) revealed that almost 70% are considering a career in academia.1 However, the National Science Foundation (NSF) reported in 2012 that only 14.3% of doctorate recipients in biomedical sciences hold tenure-track positions 3-5 years after receiving their degrees.2-3 Another recent article in Nature Biotechnology mentions that since 1982, almost 800,000 doctorates have been awarded in science and engineering fields, with about 100,000 academic faculty positions opening during that time, suggesting a rate that is closer to 12.5%.4
The reality of science today is that the vast majority of students who receive doctorates will not end up in tenure-track academic positions. Fortunately, the US Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) recognizes that as a community we need to train our students for a wide variety of careers in science. Thus, they have co-developed a web-based career-planning tool for students to make an individual development plan (IDP), called myIDP.
There are four stages of myIDP: self-assessment, career exploration, goal setting, and plan implementation. The website provides important resources and links for each step. MyIDP is an iterative process and should be adjusted as a student’s career progresses. Biochemistry graduate student Sierra Cullati agrees that myIDP should be used repeatedly. She says, “I think one of the most valuable things about myIDP is that you can use it continually throughout your graduate career—assess at the beginning to see what skills are important and get an idea of career options, [then] do it again in a year or two to see what you’ve learned and how your interests have changed, [then] do it again as you’re about to graduate and choose your career path.”
The website is user-friendly. The first step in developing your IDP is to fill out three short questionnaires that rate your proficiency in scientific skills and desirable career characteristics. Based on your answers, the website will rank 20 possible career paths in science. These careers include the traditional choices of principal investigator in a research-intensive institution and research in industry. However, other careers listed vary widely, and include science education for non-scientists, science policy, science writing, clinical research management, scientific/medical testing, and intellectual property.
These suggested career matches can provide affirmation to continue along the same trajectory. However, they can also cause confusion and frustration if a student’s desired careers do not end up at the top of their list. According to Professor of Biochemistry Duane Compton, it is important to “view this tool as a starting point” for discussion and not something that is “determinative.” He continues, “[MyIDP] is a good way to generate some data that forms the basis of a conversation with one’s PI… [however] it needs to be taken into context for the stage of the student’s training. The student’s goals may not align well with the outcome of the myIDP assessment, but only because the student is at an early stage of their career and has not had certain experiences yet.”
As part of his role as the administrator of the Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) Training Grant, Professor Compton facilitates discussion with students on the training grant and their advisors. In fact, all National Institutes of Heath (NIH) trainees, either graduate students or postdoctoral researchers, are required or suggested to make IDPs,5 and studies reveal that students who undergo deliberate career planning processes are more successful in the long term.3
Both Professor Compton and Cullati agree that talking to your advisor or another senior mentor about your myIDP results is an important step following assessment and in SMART (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, time-bound) goal making. In addition, Assistant Dean of Graduate Student Affairs Kerry Landers says that the Graduate Studies Office can help a student think about their myIDP results via a number of services, which “involve networking and talking to people who work in multiple industries. The Dartmouth Alumni Career Network is a great resource for graduate students to talk to people who work in a variety of fields. Also, the Graduate Office organizes an externship day in December, matching graduate students with graduate alums [to provide] firsthand experience in one industry.” In addition, the Graduate Studies Office frequently offers professional development sessions on myIDP. Prior to the session, participants complete myIDP, and they then discuss the results with others during the workshop.
MyIDP was the result of collaboration between FASEB and researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin, the University of California, San Fransisco (UCSF), the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Science Careers, with support from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.5
by Jeanine Amacher