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Good Career Niches for Scientists

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Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby E.K.L. » Wed Jul 08, 2015 8:50 am

Nate W. wrote:Dave,

After my BS degree in 1991, I worked two years in a plant physiology lab and wrote two publications on lignin biosynthesis. Two years later, through a family connection, I spoke with a senior executive at Cargil about a R&D job. She told me that Cargil will only hire candidates with a food science graduate degree, not a life science degree. She added that many food companies and paper consumer products companies, like Kimberly Clark and Georgia Pacific, strongly prefer engineering and food science degrees over the typical life science degree.

I don't see the demand here. This track seems to be overly specialized and esoteric in nature, leading potentially to periods of discontinuous employment. Many in the life sciences struggle with unemployment and underemployment due to the lack of academic positions and the specific nature of their training. Suppose a student completes his doctoral degree in Plant Breeding and gets a job at Monsanto, where is he going to get a job in St Louis if he has already bought a house and was laid-off? It seems to be a large investment of time (i.e. 5-6 yrs) and expense for a degree with such a small niche in the job market. It would seem preferable to have a degree with a broader appeal.


I have to third that. I've used to work in food science (in EU, though) and I would consider plant breeding a very, very niche market back then. And that was a decade later than what Nate W. wrote about. So I would take all those "10-15 years from now" assumptions with a grain of salt. Food science degrees (or better yet, food engineering degrees) are a much safer bet.
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Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby Dave Jensen » Wed Jul 08, 2015 2:26 pm

Food science and plant breeding are worlds apart.

A food scientist or packaging engineer in a commercial processing plant is an important role, I'm sure, but it's not much of a job if there isn't enough food to go around.

The prediction of dire consequences in the future (rather immediate future, not a long term 50+ year outlook) are coming from all quarters now, and it will require a rethink by consumers who look for the "No GMO" food label; it will also require dramatic change on the part of farmers and agriculture. All of this hinges upon plant breeders, and their ability to incorporate traits for drought resistance, or insect/disease resistance, and so forth, so that we can dramatically increase the output per acre. If we don't do these things, there will not be jobs for people in food processing plants. And there would be huge geo-political implications as well, with increasing numbers of immigrants to Western countries. All it takes is some disease taking away the Cassava plant from certain African countries and starvation results. Everything is so closely linked. In that example, starvation due to a Cassava plant disease or drought leads to starvation, which leads to massive immigration, which leads to destabilization of Western governments, and so on.

You could make a case for the root cause of those potential future problems being that there weren't enough plant breeders working on these problems, or that there weren't enough animal scientists working on increasing the output of the world's protein, etc. If I was a young person right now, I'd give serious consideration to using my passion and working in a postdoc for one of the CGIAR consortium centers around the world, where plant breeder, animal scientists and more are working to solve these problems with funding from people like the World Bank, Gates Foundation, Rockefeller, the UN and so on.

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Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby P.C. » Wed Jul 08, 2015 3:31 pm

Hey I want a do over because i really did not have the information when I was a graduate student on the true state of plant breeding and plant science back then. There are more informational plant breeder web sites. And I have been hearing the same song and dance about imminent disaster due to rising population versus limited food production. The workings of job growth and availability are not in synch with the need to improve crop production. I wish human economic society would behave more altruistically and in synch ... but it has never been so, and probably will not be so. The 0.1 percent holding the worlds wealth are not necessarily investing in plant breeding and other production related fields.
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Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby E.K.L. » Thu Jul 09, 2015 3:09 am

Dave Jensen wrote:Food science and plant breeding are worlds apart.

A food scientist or packaging engineer in a commercial processing plant is an important role, I'm sure, but it's not much of a job if there isn't enough food to go around.

The prediction of dire consequences in the future (rather immediate future, not a long term 50+ year outlook) are coming from all quarters now, and it will require a rethink by consumers who look for the "No GMO" food label; it will also require dramatic change on the part of farmers and agriculture. All of this hinges upon plant breeders, and their ability to incorporate traits for drought resistance, or insect/disease resistance, and so forth, so that we can dramatically increase the output per acre. If we don't do these things, there will not be jobs for people in food processing plants. And there would be huge geo-political implications as well, with increasing numbers of immigrants to Western countries. All it takes is some disease taking away the Cassava plant from certain African countries and starvation results. Everything is so closely linked. In that example, starvation due to a Cassava plant disease or drought leads to starvation, which leads to massive immigration, which leads to destabilization of Western governments, and so on.

You could make a case for the root cause of those potential future problems being that there weren't enough plant breeders working on these problems, or that there weren't enough animal scientists working on increasing the output of the world's protein, etc. If I was a young person right now, I'd give serious consideration to using my passion and working in a postdoc for one of the CGIAR consortium centers around the world, where plant breeder, animal scientists and more are working to solve these problems with funding from people like the World Bank, Gates Foundation, Rockefeller, the UN and so on.

Dave

There is plenty of research being done by food scientists or engineers outside of plant breeding*. And that is my point: a food scientist can work in the industry in food production, can work in research in both academia and industry or can choose to work in government institutions in food monitoring. A plant breeding scientist is far more limited in their choice. I wouldn't advise someone to choose a career path (and a PhD is a heavy investment of time and work), based on the assumption that the demand might change sometime in the future.

*And it might be that the focus will shift from plants towards other resources; e.g. engineered microbes. In which case we would need more microbiologists, not plant breeders.
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Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby Dave Jensen » Thu Jul 09, 2015 7:49 am

EKL,

Food scientists do not do the work of plant breeders. There is no relation here -- your point is likely to be that there are better, broader options as a food scientist with generalized skills. That's fine - we need both types of scientists, of course, both generalized as well as highly specialized. But I've never seen a food scientist hired to work in a plant breeding station!

Sure, the planet may turn to single-cell protein to feed the starving masses. But that's way, way out of sync with today's reality. (Or, if you've seen the movie Snowpiercer, perhaps we'll move to insects for protein).

I am presently doing a search for a head of plant breeding for an international operation with nearly 400 breeders and technicians. The candidate pool consists of primarily older men. There are few women in the field in comparison, and even fewer young people coming up. This is a real problem for the future. If this group of 60-yr old's goes away in a few years, where does the talent come from?

You mention microbiology. Another, similar area is microbial physiology. Companies all over the world look for good microbiologists with that skill, and yet everyone coming out of school looks like a molecular biologist. If you look closely at the microbial physiologists socializing at the SIMB meeting every year, you'll see the average age is getting into the 60's as well. Another area of future need -- who knows where the new set will come from!

That's what we discuss here -- future options, and the impact of that future on careers. There are certain categories of jobs where a review of the pool of current candidates in comparison to the upcoming newbies looks to be a concern for the future.

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Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby P.C. » Thu Jul 09, 2015 11:07 am

Regarding your detailed case Dave, I am going to speculate on my observations: in the 80s the plant breeders at Purdue were not that bright, or productive (example of Land Grant College), or well funded, or had a lot of prospects for getting large amounts of external grant money. In the 90s and 2000s the sexy job paths were molecular. Plant breeders in academic circles were small players, not supported, poorly paid and not a winner career path.
Hence your problem. Plant breeders were, are? considered slow witted farmers by the systems I knew. The system invested in people who could get grant money and the granting agencies and the USDA come forth.
One of the tragedies had been the defunding of the USDA from the 70s to the present. Congress decided to invest in wars and foreign entanglements, not investing in agricultural research. I know as a refugee from the land grant system and the USDA ARS.
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Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby Dick Woodward » Thu Jul 09, 2015 11:40 am

Unfortunately, the problem here is how to predict the future - something that mankind has never been particularly good at. Plant breeding may in fact be an important niche in 20 years - IF there really is a food shortage at that time and IF people still have not figured out that plants genetically modified by recombinant means (as opposed to traditional crosses)are not the satanic evil that the alarmists make them out to be and IF we have not come up with yet more effective ways of growing the crops that we already have (and probably a bunch more IF's that I have not thought of yet or that may not yet exist).

For a look into the folly of predicting the future, take a look at "The 7 Worst Tech Predictions of All Time" at http://www.techhive.com/article/155984/worst_tech_predictions.html. I won't spoil it for you except to tell you that the device that you are reading this on does not exist.

Just one man's opinion.

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Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby Dave Jensen » Thu Jul 09, 2015 12:41 pm

Dick Woodward wrote:Unfortunately, the problem here is how to predict the future - something that mankind has never been particularly good at. Plant breeding may in fact be an important niche in 20 years - IF there really is a food shortage at that time and IF people still have not figured out that plants genetically modified by recombinant means (as opposed to traditional crosses)are not the satanic evil that the alarmists make them out to be and IF we have not come up with yet more effective ways of growing the crops that we already have (and probably a bunch more IF's that I have not thought of yet or that may not yet exist).

For a look into the folly of predicting the future, take a look at "The 7 Worst Tech Predictions of All Time" at http://www.techhive.com/article/155984/worst_tech_predictions.html. I won't spoil it for you except to tell you that the device that you are reading this on does not exist.

Just one man's opinion.

Dick


If you look at the exponential growth of the world population, there's no IF to the coming food shortages. It's a math problem -- you have this number of usable acres, and you produce this amount of food, and there is this large X number of people who need sustenance. So you have to increase the supply somehow -- I don't see how that can be disputed. Well, doing so requires you to do two things. For one, you'd have to find better fertilizers and crop inputs that will improve the output of the field. Biological means are now coming -- new types of microbes that affect the plants positively, adding immune protection or insect/drought resistance.

The other process would be to breed better varieties, which requires a long cycle of plant breeding. Whether it's classical breeding or genomics assisted, it's a long process. Want new crops a decade from now that have the ability to be grown in a saline soil so that the world can start to use acreage that right now is going to waste? Great -- better get started right now.

So whether it's scientists for new types of crop inputs like these new bio-products, or scientists to gear up plant breeding programs and run stations in all geographies of the planet, the call is out for people with a passion to solve this particular world problem. It WILL affect life sciences careers.

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Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby Dick Woodward » Thu Jul 09, 2015 4:50 pm

A key issue in my comment was the difficulty of predicting the future - as shown by the predictions of the techies.

On the specific issue of plant scientists, I note from a 2014 article in The Scientist (http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/41133/title/Opinion--The-Planet-Needs-More-Plant-Scientists/)that the total number of plant science PhDs has remained constant at about 1000 since 1980 in spite of a need - real or perceived - for many more. It is intriguing that some of the comments on this article echo the ones we hear on this forum - namely, the lack of jobs in the field. If this area is so important, why is it static?

I have some thoughts on why the number of plant science PhDs is not growing, and part of this has to do with marketing, believe it or not. I did my undergraduate degree at a moderately well known Ag school (Cornell School of Agriculture - this was before they added Life Sciences to the name). I worked in the biochemistry labs for 3 semesters, and I don't recall any labs that did anything involving plants. Plant sciences was not something that you heard much about as a student, and the one elective course that I took - plant pathology - was thoroughly unexciting. The occasional labs consisted of the students watching a TA show us how to do things, and the culmination of the course was our final project - a literature review. This basically said to me that plant science was both boring and an intellectual backwater - it was much more exciting doing things that involved human disease. If the course had been interesting, or had any apparent relevance to anything important, it might have resulted in more interest in plant science - who knows. It certainly could have induced more people to consider entering the field.

Just a thought.

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Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby P.C. » Thu Jul 09, 2015 6:41 pm

Why is plant science so static: Dick W. cites an article; where I commented as the cynical "Aging Recycled Scientist". I still hold with the comments I made. An educated speculation on the question of Why the plant science field is so static has to do with our short term profit motivated capitalist system, and the starvation of the federal and state government for tax dollars by the steady decrease in revenues from the upper income individuals and corporations. There is to a spending problem in the federal government, there is a revenue problem.
Regan-type voodoo tax policy has steadily given the multinational corporate class back more and more money. Having several large wars and not raising taxes to pay for them has starved the federal budget. Hence no growth in plant science research budgets. Research in the USA something that can be put off. Our monoculture corn and soybean ag system is working well for the large grain farmers and the US has relatively cheap food. (with all the obesity related problems).
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