Gear-up! There’s a science career ahead

in Sci-Pourri by

SriniOn October 27th (2015), I began a survey to understand the thoughts and expectations of a newly minted PhD from India from the perspectives of postdocs working in different fields of science and engineering. The questions were laid out to the members of a career support group (CSG) on Facebook that is comprised of a majority of ex-students of IISc, Bangalore.

My request was:

“Dear Doctoral graduates of the forum, we would like to have your opinion about issues related to dynamics of the postdoc career. Please record your response succinctly (no more than 2-4 lines). We’ll gather, analyze all the responses and present a perspective. This survey “might” be useful current graduates (and many of us) to chalk out plan for the future.”

After a survey that went on for three months, I analyzed the results and clubbed it with the suggestions from various members of the group on similar queries/discussions.

Our 52 respondents had expressed a wide variety of careers as their destination; however, academia still is the major destination for many respondents. Having said that, the combined total response with non-academic careers is also not very far behind. We do need to take this survey from time-to-time in order to have a trend.

As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words” I present to you a series of bar charts based on the survey questions.

 

Dest at presentDest at grad

Finding a positionGuidance availabilityGng to India

 

 

After studying the response to the questions and following the posts/discussions on the Career Support Group over the last six months I have compiled a list of possible solutions. The list is not exhaustive and I believe that as science evolves as a profession so will these solutions to the new world problems.

 

Suggestions to graduate students

  • Don’t be afraid of choosing alternative career than academia. If you are planning a career out of academia neither does it mean you give up science and nor that your are not interested in it anymore, it’s just a plan. Do what best you can at graduate level. Plan ahead of time, network with people who followed that path. Bear in mind that not all graduates land in academia, it’s not because they are incapable but because of situations. Be practical, proactive and network with people.
  • Keep all options open, do internships, develop relevant skill set for future job market.
  • Work hard and network extensively and build connections e.g., your linkedIn profile and linkedIn connections.
  • Keep yourselves informed, and take informed career decisions.
  • Keep a watch on the lab you are going with respect to funding and sufficient freedom to execute your thoughts.
  • Do not restrict your life to just the lab, do explore other options by trying short stints in different labs.
  • Form groups of batch mates, friends. You need to be frank and open to discuss what your plans are.
  • Assess your strengths and weaknesses, be true to thyself.

 

Suggestions to decrease postdoc piling abroad

  • Be realistic, pro-active; think early, brainstorm and network. Follow a structured postdoc
  • Develop country specific skills both in academia and non-academia.
  • Pursue alternate careers such as, joining non-profits, diverge science skill sets into other professions like consultancy, MSL, IP Law, Licensing, Teaching, Biotechnology, and Non profits
  • Reach out to friends and colleagues who have settled into professional niches and explore options.
  • Treating a post doc as a means to an end, and not the destination.
  • Do online courses and short workshops at the industry.

 

Things which will attract postdocs to go back to India

  • Competitive salaries and good science promoted by 5 year tenure track system
  • Develop alternate career options such as science writing, consultancy, science policy
  • Increase funding for science, open more institutes with world class facilities without jeopardizing the existing system.
  • Attract postdocs for university research and teaching with incentives of research funding with equivalent or more than established institutes.
  • Transparent hiring system and information of hiring should be easily accessible.
  • Relax age limit for entering academia. On an average IISc gives PhD in 6-6.5 years and getting good publications would take around 4-5 years and this may hinder the quality people entry to India which limits by age in many places including IISc.
  • Information on all recruitment notifications of different institutes need to be advertised.

 

About the author: Srinivas is a folate biochemist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (Bronx, NY) and an alumnus of Indian Institute of Science (Bangalore, India). About his research he says: “I study the role of folate transporters in cancer cell. Folate transporters (FT) also transport anti-folates, which are also anti-cancerous drugs. Major objective involves the study of structure function of FT where I aim to identify high affinity new generation anti-folates and their effect in cancer cells.” (https://www.linkedin.com/in/srinivas-a-74b47982)

Photo source: Abhinav Dey

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