Multiple Career Paths

Action: Encourage exposure to multiple career path options for graduate students and postdoctoral trainees.

Action: Increase collaboration with societies, professional associations and other organizations to build awareness of the breadth of scientific career options and opportunities.

It is the goal of NIGMS to train excellent research scientists. The culture of academic science has long held, at least informally, that the main successful outcome of training is the attainment of an academic tenure-track position with independent funding. This view has been remarkably stable over time, despite the fact that the number of graduate students and postdoctoral trainees has been increasing at a far faster rate than the number of new faculty positions, and only a fraction of graduate trainees will become employed as tenure-track faculty. However, the scientific community is beginning to understand that well-trained scientists are valuable in a number of different fields, including but not limited to industrial research, teaching, science policy and science writing. Training in scientific research will be an important factor in these and other professions, yet such careers likely also require expertise in areas that may not be included in traditional research training programs. Therefore, outstanding training today must include a diverse skill set.

To best and most efficiently prepare biomedical trainees for a diversity of possible careers, it is important that mentors understand and respect their trainees’ aspirations even if those do not include traditional academic tenure-track research. Mentors and mentees should be able to candidly discuss career goals, include them in annual individual development plans and work toward them together. Such openness regarding career paths may require a shift in training philosophy, particularly in what constitutes success in biological science training programs. To better enable this transition, NIGMS will update reviewer education materials to reflect that the Institute includes within its view of success multiple career paths that are open to well-trained scientists.

Many societies and institutions have developed seminar series, symposia and workshops to inform trainees about different career paths for scientists. NIGMS will strongly encourage these efforts to build awareness of the career options and opportunities outside of traditional academic research. There are also excellent Web sites and blogs available to point trainees toward information regarding careers about which they may be unaware. In particular, the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Science Careers website is an extremely useful aid for young trainees planning their careers.