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Interesting topic in SCIENCE regarding STEM Education

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Interesting topic in SCIENCE regarding STEM Education

Postby Dave Jensen » Wed Jun 06, 2018 9:37 am

See this article at http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/05/making-grad-school-work-stem-students

Here's a clipping:

“The current system works well for the PIs [principal investigators], institutions, and federal agencies that get relatively cheap labor and churn out lots of papers in top journals,” Leshner asserts. “But it doesn’t work well for students, and for many employers.”

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Re: Interesting topic in SCIENCE regarding STEM Education

Postby D.X. » Wed Jun 06, 2018 12:11 pm

Hi Dave,

I think the "interesting" is a good choice of word for your title of this thread contrast to using the word "important".

Article's like these have a potential consequence to fueling the persception to students (eventual job seekers) that there is a responsiblity of PIs and training insititutions to be a active part in helping students tool-up for careers beyond the bench. I like the article did say the goal of training to have a set of competencies to graduate but that's the end-goal of being a student..just graduate.

I have repeatedly said that the responsiblity of tooling up, i.e. filling skills and knowledge gaps to help achieve a certain career path is an individual responsiblity. I.e. the student owns that. Not the PI. Not the academic institution. Their responsiblity is to give those compencies to graduate and if expectations are to grow into investigators then nuture (the less that 40% that go the academic route as stated in the article). And i'm ok with a metrix of publications/patents its the only real hard-measure of productivity one can communicate in a job application. Like it or not and least for the first job (that goes away after that).

For the rest of us, well, its all on us, and I accepted that long before I graduated. I had an idea of the skills gap and knowledge gaps I had and pursued that independently. Not waitng for some system to change and not distracted by these types of conversations. There is nothing for an individual to control here. And that spills over to day - over 10 years later, the only person resposible for my career and development is me - luckily i have access to company resources and bosses I can use to help fill those ambitions.

And my view, i beleive, is applicable to all current job seekers in transition, employeed folks, veterans experts or non-verteran newbies, until the day we no longer need to play the game (retire, jail, or death).

Once one accepts that career is only in one's hands and no other elses then these articles/topics become non-informative and distractive. Nothing you can do about it. Read it and well..go back to reading the job ads (and networking).

My two cents,

DX
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Re: Interesting topic in SCIENCE regarding STEM Education

Postby Dave Jensen » Wed Jun 06, 2018 12:21 pm

Thanks DX, good comments. I have always been a proponent for getting what you need to manage your career and not relying on anyone else. Just like in Grad School where you are for some reason taught to count on your Professor, in industry you are told that there's some kind of grand scheme for you in the HR department. Human Resources will help you develop your career path with the company and so on . . . In reality, I've never found that to be true. In fact, my column for industry is called "Managing Your Career."

It's an interesting article because it cites 19 different studies. We're studying and studying STEM education, postdoctoral issues, and more, but nothing ever changes. That's what's most interesting to me. The biggest changes happen on an individual level, where someone reads the Forum or an article on the site and decides "I'm going to change my situation." We've had countless examples of that here and people often come back and tell us about their success . . . that's a good feeling for all involved.

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Re: Interesting topic in SCIENCE regarding STEM Education

Postby Tony Derten » Wed Jun 06, 2018 2:13 pm

Much ado about nothing. Sure, there is a need for mentor accountability and some standards in grad/postdoc training. There are many unscrupulous and exploitative mentors, including those with good reputations in their fields, that lock their trainees in the lab, and do their utmost to not let them develop themselves or get out. But ultimately, it is about the system graduating way more people than needed; all the problems with biotech/life sciences stem from that.

The academic research center where I work has science outreach days a couple times a year. That's when groups of high school students spend a day visiting labs to be shown the "cool science stuff" and are told how great it is be a scientist. It's an NIH sponsored program meant to recruit people into life science research. And this kind of thing is a problem. There is no need to promote science as a job. There is a need for honest conversation about training and job prospect conditions in life sciences/biotech--something we all know about only too well. Significant funding cuts for new graduate student positions would also go a very long way.

On my part, I always try to dissuade people from going into science. Generally, honest feedback and referencing labor statistics is enough. Why get a Ph.D., when a bachelor's in engineering, finance, or IT will get you further, faster, and far easier in career and in life?
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Re: Interesting topic in SCIENCE regarding STEM Education

Postby D.X. » Thu Jun 07, 2018 1:54 am

Hi Dave,

Couldn't agree with you more on all point there, its been rewarding over the years to help others - some off-line of this forum and see them advance in career (some i have allowed to linkedin to me).

Tony, I hear you and those situations have been happen since long before I entered the ivory tower so many years ago - it doesn't change and it won't change and i do think its a problem.

Where I do disagree is exposure of our youth to science. The reality is science is cool. That's a reason we choose this path. But as parents (I'm one now) and mentors, our job is to inform with all the pro and cons. I think a discussion of career without a discusion about what your son's, daugthers, or mentee's imagery of the type of life they'll like to life, and key elements that would help acheive that life is moot.

That said, it would be a poor assumption to hold that the pursuit of degrees in Engineering or IT or Finance will get you further, faster, and easier..relative to what? I know plenty of finance and IT folks..many are not happy. Some of the finance folks i know, Sure they have a manager level jobs all aspiring to still be cheif financial officer yet at age 45 not there yet - they live with inflated comptroller titles miserable because they they too haven't acheived their career goal, their life ambitions are not matching (we learn alot about life ambitions later in life too), and well burnt. Age 45 is not an age to be burnt when you're looking at least 20 more yeers of working ...so...back to life goals..then contextualize the career.

Hope that makes sense?

Good luck,

DX
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Re: Interesting topic in SCIENCE regarding STEM Education

Postby Tony Derten » Thu Jun 07, 2018 8:34 am

Hi D.X.


D.X. wrote:Tony, I hear you and those situations have been happen since long before I entered the ivory tower so many years ago - it doesn't change and it won't change and i do think its a problem.


I wholeheartedly agree. And this one of the reasons I am often vocal about these issues. It's all about NIH policies, and the only thing top brass there does, is asking for more money and complaining about the "funding situation". All the while they are contributing the structural problems we are all-too-familiar with.

Where I do disagree is exposure of our youth to science. The reality is science is cool. That's a reason we choose this path. But as parents (I'm one now) and mentors, our job is to inform with all the pro and cons. I think a discussion of career without a discusion about what your son's, daugthers, or mentee's imagery of the type of life they'll like to life, and key elements that would help acheive that life is moot.

I couldn't agree more about the need for clear communication about things like lifestyle expectations. I am all for promoting science, but I also feel very strongly about NIH-style promotion of science as a career. The career opportunities are not on par with other career paths that involve similar analytical and communication skills. And this is something that needs to be communicated out there very clearly. As it is, biotech is misrepresented as a sound path to socioeconomic mobility, I see much of it in various minority-oriented programs. My response to that, is that it's good for them that they are not in science because from socio-economic perspective, e.g. $$$/time, they'll be better off in other industries.

That said, it would be a poor assumption to hold that the pursuit of degrees in Engineering or IT or Finance will get you further, faster, and easier..relative to what? I know plenty of finance and IT folks..many are not happy. Some of the finance folks i know, Sure they have a manager level jobs all aspiring to still be cheif financial officer yet at age 45 not there yet - they live with inflated comptroller titles miserable because they they too haven't acheived their career goal, their life ambitions are not matching (we learn alot about life ambitions later in life too), and well burnt. Age 45 is not an age to be burnt when you're looking at least 20 more yeers of working ...so...back to life goals..then contextualize the career.


Sure, there are people who are dissatisfied with their jobs in many careers. But it's not just about ambition. It's also about job security, local job opportunities (even at the same level), life-work balance. Take for example jobs in accounting. 4 years undergrad, start in the 50-70K range straight from college. Plenty of job opportunities locally if no reasonable promotion potential. May not become a CFO, but can work til retirement in a good mid-upper level job with good life-work balance. Ph.D.: 4 years undergrad, ~6-years grad, 1-10 years postdoc where success is not based more on luck and circumstance than on abilities/skills/performance and little $$$ with horrible life-work balance. And no need to comment on the salaries in the industry or upper levels of academia (may be on par with engineering, IT, but only after disproportionate amount of training), life stability (e.g. having to move for a job), life-work balance, promotion opportunities, etc.

When I speak with younger people, I often present it in this very way. I've never come across a high school or college student who hasn't changed his/her mind about going into science. And I think this is a good thing for science. For anything to change for the better, these things need to be discussed, schools and PIs need to start feeling the pressure of lacking capable grad students and postdocs. And most importantly, articles like the one linked here or what appears in Nature every couple months or so, should be much more vociferous and realistic, and not just whine about "limited funding". They should state very clearly that those wanting a good life should not go into science.

P.S. Yes, I do have a buyers remorse!
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Re: Interesting topic in SCIENCE regarding STEM Education

Postby D.X. » Thu Jun 07, 2018 1:08 pm

Hi Tony,

Well I have buyer’s remorse too - I had a lot of family pressure to go to grad school despite my feelings as an undergrad that doIng the PhD was the right path for me. My parents had the view that any education and prolonged education was the key to a successful and stable career - ie life long earnings leveraging the degree born out that education.

I wanted a stable career defined by something that would allow me to explore what ever I wanted while giving me the opportunity if I wanted to fall back to to a job that would still give me strangle income - I knew that as a 21 year old. That required i need time to take a gap year or 2 after college ( I wanted to be a pharmacist degree wise) but that didn’t happen as I was pressured to go to the PhD programs right after I graduated. But c’est la vie. I have remorse only because I can’t pull the parachute, flip up my middle fingers at corporate and work at CVS or Walmart Pharmacy , part time into my twilight years.

It’s well established that the PhD Route is a poor individual economic decision as per the article in The Economist a couple years ago for exactly what you mentioned - lost potential earnings over life time. But even with a much higher compensation that I have realized in corporate - I certain wouldn’t recommend corporate to our youth either unless that was a true passion for them and linked to life goals. Stability for a short time and no fall back other than entrepreneur .... which is where I’m at in terms of my next major career change in a couple years. Corporate allowed me to achieve some goals and gave good experiences (still does) but it’s that fall back that other degrees offer that I say have remorse - but not regret ! The journey I had was chalenging but overall good and moat importantly the people I met.

So In summary I think it’s good to spark young folks interest and help them follow thier passions and with good pro con discussion when they are ready linked to their out of career ambitions - my parents did the best with the knowledge they had - but they could have been more reactive to my signals, insights and reasoning why I was pushing back against pressures - something I promise I wouldn’t do to my son.

Unless he wants to go to corporate - then he’s disowned. I’ll take piano player in a sleeze bar over corporate.

Maybe that should be a career topic - science careers that give you a parachute.

DX
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Re: Interesting topic in SCIENCE regarding STEM Education

Postby Rich Lemert » Thu Jun 07, 2018 2:17 pm

While every individual is ultimately responsible for their own career success, the environment they find themselves can also have a substantial impact. You can have a supportive environment that fosters exploration and provides the necessary resources, or you can have a regressive environment that actively prevents any exploration.

The message I get out of all these reports is that we need to foster supportive environments and minimize the damage done by the regressive ones.

I look at it a lot like I look at teaching and learning. While the student is the only one that can actually "learn" something, the instructor has a lot to say about how difficult the task will be. If you have an instructor that presents the material in a clear manner, provides numerous examples, and actively engages the students, the latter practically learn in spite of themselves. If the instructor presents the material in a dull and pedantic manner and doesn't set clear expectations, any student that succeeds does so in spite of the instructor.

(I've experienced both types of instructors, and the lessons I learned from the latter are not ones I wish to discuss in polite company.)

When it comes to career development, the current model of graduate education too often resembles that latter type of instructor. Students are often not only not made aware of alternatives, their actively prevented from learning about them (a bit of hyperbole, maybe, but not too far off the mark). I sometimes think PI's would be ahead to just hire a set of full-time technicians. They wouldn't have to keep training a bunch of new people every year, and they could probably be much more productive.
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