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What's your Science Career Story?

PostPosted: Tue Jun 03, 2014 3:28 pm
by J. Toney
Jim Austin in his Working Life article, "A science career story" invites readers to post their story. What's yours?

Here's mine:

Accidental Administrator, Passionate Writer

My science career followed a traditional path for many years, beginning as a child fascinated to understand the beauty of nature, culminating with a Ph.D. in Chemistry and two postdoctoral fellowships. This prepared me well to be a researcher in academia or in industry. Despite strong advice that I should pursue an academic path, I accepted a research position at a pharmaceutical company where I flourished, thoroughly enjoying a variety of projects that led to patents, clinical candidates and publications.

Each summer, I mentored undergraduate interns at the company. Part of me wanted to join these students each Fall as they returned to their campuses. After more than a dozen years as a pharmaceutical researcher, I applied for a faculty position at a local state university. In the interview, I had to convince the committee that I could teach their students well even though my only teaching experience was as a graduate assistant many years before. Elated that I was offered the position, I began a new path of setting up an academic lab and learning how to teach. My first teaching assignments included General Chemistry. The Department Chair advised me that if I could teach that well, I could teach any other course well. He was right. It was a struggle at first, but became much easier when I embraced understanding how students learn with the same passion that I applied to my research projects.

I became an "accidental administrator" when our Department Chair resigned, and jokingly (or was it?) said "You're next." Surprisingly, I enjoyed this new role since I could help guide development of new curriculum. bring in new faculty, help build research and grant activity as well as recruit more students into our programs. My roles as Dean and then Provost at a sister state university have been a natural extension of my drive to improve students' education on as broad a scale as possible. My management experience in industry has played a key role in my ability to oversee a complex organization. Science education does not typically include how to be an effective manager or communicator, essential skills for academic administrators.

Serving as an academic administrator also brought unexpected opportunities as a writer because it requires effective public outreach across disciplines. My own research interests shifted from basic science research to bridging science and public policy and to science communication. I have always enjoyed writing but am not what some consider to be a gifted writer. Submitting commentaries and opinion pieces to news media helped hone my writing skills, because the rejection rate is so high, motivating me to communicate more clearly to get published. Social media has created many new opportunities for scientists to promote science communication, education, crowdfunding, public policy and human rights issues. We live in a global digital community. How we embrace it is limited only by own imagination and motivation. As a voracious reader of fiction, I have been inspired to write short stories and recently had my first literary short story published after many submissions and many rejections. I share my science career story to demonstrate that our career paths can take unexpected turns and that you can never go wrong if you follow your passion.