Subscribe

Forum

Good Career Niches for Scientists

Welcome to the newly redesigned Science Careers Forum. Please bookmark this site now for future reference. If you've previously posted to the forum, your current username and password will remain the same in the new system. If you've never posted or are new to the forum, you will need to create a new account.

The new forum is designed with some features to improve the user experience. Upgrades include:
- easy-to-read, threaded discussions
- ability to follow discussions and receive notifications of updates
- private messaging to other SC Forum members
- fully searchable database of posts
- ability to quote in your response
- basic HTML formatting available

Moderator: Dave Jensen
Advisors:   Ana, PG, Rich Lemert, Dick Woodward, Dave Walker
Meet the Moderator/Advisors

Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby Dave Jensen » Fri Jul 10, 2015 11:24 am

I just spoke to one of the world experts in this field, a fellow in Europe with a huge number of publications combined with "real world" experience of cranking out new varieties of an important crop. I was on other business, but at the close of my call, I described the post I made on the forum and some of the negative comments that were posted about drumming up new scientists to go into plant breeding.

The way he summed it up was that it has become something "more than urgent" . . . He described his career experience to me. He came up as a young plant breeder at a time when it was this gut instinct that people had that made them successful, and most of the time these special scientists were right. "They could walk into a huge field of a crop and point to the one plant. This is the one, they would say." They would take that plant and right in the field do the cross that would eventually be successful. Of course, plant breeders still learn to pick up this inherent instinct about plants, but they also supplement their instincts with genomics. Today, they must know computers, they must know molecular biology, they have to know genomics . . . And, he closed by reinstating the fact that the world is in a very tough spot, because if these plant breeders don't succeed, we're in for a lot of trouble in our lifetimes. This is not a distant, far off problem, like "we'll get hit by a meteor" or "we'll burn up by a changing climate." This is an immediate issue that needs to be solved by science, and by consumers and the public who need to be accepting of that science.

Dave Jensen
"Failure is a bruise -- not a tattoo." -- Jon Sinclair
User avatar
Dave Jensen
Site Moderator
 
Posts: 7938
Joined: Tue Jan 10, 2012 11:28 pm

Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby BMK » Fri Jul 10, 2015 12:18 pm

I'm not an expert by any means, but I was really interested in how this conversation was going and wanted to chime in with some thoughts/questions.

*Dave mentioned a few posts ago about looking at the exponential growth of the worlds population, but its not exponential anymore from what I see. In fact I believe most of the models (i.e., UN's etc) have the world's population tapering off at around 11billion in the next 50-100 years (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news ... om-africa/), possibly declining

*Though I do agree its obvious that if we have food shortages NOW, adding 4 billion mouths is going to be an issue

*I think any kind of "Doom and Gloom" narrative distracts from solutions. Yes, its a real problem. But so was "Acid Rain" until it wasn't, if I recall correctly (I'm an early 80s kid, I have vague memories of environmentalists commercials about it). Imaging

*What role will market forces play as a solution, doesn't the US government (for example) basically subsidize farms growing key non-cash crops just so they will?

*Where might hydroponics fit into all this, as a way to utilize less arable land for food growth? (I also went to Disney's Epcot as a kid a lot)

*TOTALLY NOVICE QUESTION: Cornell's Ag and Life Sciences school basically suggests a plant breeder is a plant scientist who focuses on that, is the distinction really that key? Maybe its that plant science programs should incorporate plant breeding as a core competency but not to the exclusion of others, because there's more to solving world hunger than developing a plant that uses less water and survives droughts better? I dunno, its just how I felt after reading the thread...[/list]
BMK
 
Posts: 65
Joined: Tue Jan 10, 2012 11:40 pm

Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby Dave Jensen » Fri Jul 10, 2015 12:36 pm

BMK,

Good post, good questions.

I'm an advocate for plant breeders because every time I do a search in that area, my candidate roster is a bunch of old guys. There are few women, and there are few people coming up in the ranks. I'd love to know where they will come from a few years from now when my age 60's slate of candidates is not interested in working any longer.

No school should ever push plant breeding over other plant sciences disciplines, because they are all important. As already mentioned in this thread, it could be microbiologists who save the day, because the connection between plants and microbes is just becoming established. Perhaps it's a microbial product that gets sprayed on a field of rice that allows it to survive a drought, for example. There are many solutions possible, but the problem is real. Not being an alarmist, just repeating what very level headed people have said before me. (By the way, I don't hear much about hydroponics any longer except at a meeting I went to that had a commercial Marijuana track!).

Dave
"Failure is a bruise -- not a tattoo." -- Jon Sinclair
User avatar
Dave Jensen
Site Moderator
 
Posts: 7938
Joined: Tue Jan 10, 2012 11:28 pm

Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby BMK » Fri Jul 10, 2015 4:08 pm

Dave Jensen wrote:BMK,

Good post, good questions.

I'm an advocate for plant breeders because every time I do a search in that area, my candidate roster is a bunch of old guys. There are few women, and there are few people coming up in the ranks. I'd love to know where they will come from a few years from now when my age 60's slate of candidates is not interested in working any longer.

No school should ever push plant breeding over other plant sciences disciplines, because they are all important. As already mentioned in this thread, it could be microbiologists who save the day, because the connection between plants and microbes is just becoming established. Perhaps it's a microbial product that gets sprayed on a field of rice that allows it to survive a drought, for example. There are many solutions possible, but the problem is real. Not being an alarmist, just repeating what very level headed people have said before me. (By the way, I don't hear much about hydroponics any longer except at a meeting I went to that had a commercial Marijuana track!).

Dave


Thanks for the reply, I think I understand the issue a bit better now and appreciate the explanation. Its strange though, if you're finding 60y olds qualified to head an arm of a major international org with a lot of boots on the ground, how do they not have people under them that couldn't also fit the bill with some more experience. I would assume if person X gets the position leading the 400 so breeders, they should have a succession plan to set up N of 400 to be future leaders; and person X's company is going to have to replace him (assuming it IS a 60y old white guy) for the same position right?

Maybe its that only these old 60y men are super sociable/visible?

Again, I may (very likely) be way off base, but it seems like an odd scenario to be in.
BMK
 
Posts: 65
Joined: Tue Jan 10, 2012 11:40 pm

Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby Dave Jensen » Fri Jul 10, 2015 5:09 pm

BMK wrote:
Dave Jensen wrote:BMK,

Good post, good questions.

I'm an advocate for plant breeders because every time I do a search in that area, my candidate roster is a bunch of old guys. There are few women, and there are few people coming up in the ranks. I'd love to know where they will come from a few years from now when my age 60's slate of candidates is not interested in working any longer.

No school should ever push plant breeding over other plant sciences disciplines, because they are all important. As already mentioned in this thread, it could be microbiologists who save the day, because the connection between plants and microbes is just becoming established. Perhaps it's a microbial product that gets sprayed on a field of rice that allows it to survive a drought, for example. There are many solutions possible, but the problem is real. Not being an alarmist, just repeating what very level headed people have said before me. (By the way, I don't hear much about hydroponics any longer except at a meeting I went to that had a commercial Marijuana track!).

Dave


Thanks for the reply, I think I understand the issue a bit better now and appreciate the explanation. Its strange though, if you're finding 60y olds qualified to head an arm of a major international org with a lot of boots on the ground, how do they not have people under them that couldn't also fit the bill with some more experience. I would assume if person X gets the position leading the 400 so breeders, they should have a succession plan to set up N of 400 to be future leaders; and person X's company is going to have to replace him (assuming it IS a 60y old white guy) for the same position right?

Maybe its that only these old 60y men are super sociable/visible?

Again, I may (very likely) be way off base, but it seems like an odd scenario to be in.


I didn't say anything about these being white guys. Please don't put that element into the discussion! Plant breeders come in all shapes, sizes, nationalities and creeds. But those who "lead" are getting older, and they are leading teams of people who are either also older, or who are too young and naive to be the boss. There are postdocs, for example, and you can't put a postdoc in charge of many people and programs, or millions in budgets.

In any scientific role, there are people who want to do science and people who want to lead science Two different careers, both stemming from the same education and training however.

Dave
"Failure is a bruise -- not a tattoo." -- Jon Sinclair
User avatar
Dave Jensen
Site Moderator
 
Posts: 7938
Joined: Tue Jan 10, 2012 11:28 pm

Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby BMK » Fri Jul 10, 2015 9:11 pm

Sorry, definitely did NOT mean to imply ANYTHING about the demographics of the profession (thats why they're just "old men" or "people" in all the other mentions of the reply), but I just happened to have been reading an article right before regarding the demographic balance of STEM professors; and I think that thought seeped through into my reply. Didn't even notice I did that, and I apologize for the distraction.

Back to the topic at hand: the way you say
Dave Jensen wrote:But those who "lead" are getting older, and they are leading teams of people who are either also older, or who are too young and naive to be the boss.

is concerning as it implies there's some sort of GAP in the number of people in the plant breeding profession that was probably created 10-20 years ago, either by
a) a trend towards fewer graduates studying plant breading in the 80's/90's/early-2000s that's since corrected itself; or
b) an entire generation of plant breeders left the profession simultaneously, or a whole generation wanted nothing to do with leading science ever (i.e., your last point)

That's more what I was really wondering about, and I guess it would more likely be option a (option b sounds too far fetched) or even an option c I never imagined. Regardless, the real problem is that gap will PERSIST regardless of who studies plant breeding NOW.

This is also why I was mentioning succession plans: who ever gets this job sounds like they will need the foresight to realize they need to boot-camp a bunch of junior lieutenants into becoming future leaders (each with their own carved out project and budget to manage + some leveling of mentoring/oversight while it still exists), otherwise when said person inevitably retires, there won't be anyone to keep up the momentum. You can't magically give anyone 5-10 extra years of experience, management or otherwise, but a crash-course can still be really helpful.
BMK
 
Posts: 65
Joined: Tue Jan 10, 2012 11:40 pm

How to Encourage Youngsters To take up Good Niche Scientist Jobs Like Plant Breeding

Postby P.C. » Sat Jul 11, 2015 9:34 am

Possibly well connected Head Hunters could suggest to the Holders of extreme wealth to underwrite scholarships for prospective Plant Breeders and other necessary scientists in shortage. With a the Google age, a small investment in searching for those people and offering them
incentives is possible.
"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education" - Mark Twain
P.C.
 
Posts: 2439
Joined: Tue Jan 10, 2012 11:28 pm

Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby John D. D, » Sat Jul 11, 2015 10:47 am

Thanks PC! You (probably) made my day. Or you at least got a smile and a laugh out.
John D. D,
 
Posts: 70
Joined: Sat May 30, 2015 1:53 am

Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby E.K.L. » Sun Jul 12, 2015 11:36 am

Dave Jensen wrote:
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.

Dave

This is based on the if, however, that the only way out is to increase plant-based food production. And that is a big if for me, when discussing the choice of PhDs in a niche job market. I don't doubt that food production will increase in future. But I'm hesitant to make assumptions as to what direction it will take will be, because technology development can take unsuspected turns. One interesting idea is algae farming, because it doesn't rely on farming land. Another is microbial engineering, which opens up new possibilities to generate biomass, that could serve as a livestock and human food source. If only because what we can't digest, the microbes can do for us. All it takes is someone coming up with a novel idea to engineer novel ways of gaining biomass to change the direction the market is going.
(This is a bunch of ifs as well, and in no way or shape a career recommendation!)
E.K.L.
 
Posts: 58
Joined: Sun Mar 04, 2012 1:53 am

Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby Dave Jensen » Sun Jul 12, 2015 8:35 pm

EKL said, "This is a bunch of ifs as well, and in no way or shape a career recommendation!"

That's fine EKL. Mine, however, remains a recommendation. I've no doubt that we'll need to increase the food supply dramatically, and that any and all careers associated with that will rise along with it.

Dave
"Failure is a bruise -- not a tattoo." -- Jon Sinclair
User avatar
Dave Jensen
Site Moderator
 
Posts: 7938
Joined: Tue Jan 10, 2012 11:28 pm

PreviousNext

Return to Science Careers Forum

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: David Lathbury, Teresa and 13 guests