Future of Research Boston 2015: Getting data on the research workforce

How do we know what careers scientists should aim for if we don't know how many scientists we have, and how many jobs are available? The Future of Research symposium in Boston October 22-24th 2015 is hoping to address some of these issues.

Go to the profile of Gary S McDowell
Oct 22, 2015

When discussing whether we are training too many or too few scientists, we often hear the argument that there are many careers paths open to someone with a scientific PhD. While this may be true, it still does not address the issues of whether there are ENOUGH jobs to take on the surplus of 90% of PhDs who will not get tenure-track faculty positions; whether those jobs would exist 6+ years after someone starts a PhD; and whether those career paths are already too competitive to direct more PhDs towards them.

What we are missing in these discussions are the data: real numbers on how many trainees there are, and how many jobs are available, and this has been part of the drive for setting up this year's Future of Research symposium.

Last year, a group of Early Career Researchers in the Boston area set up a meeting to give young scientists a voice in the debate about the scientific workforce, and the meeting resulted in the publication of this white paper. Other areas of the U.S. have had meetings, in New York, San Francisco and soon Chicago, and this year we are having another meeting in Boston to discuss advocacy, data collection and issues concerning young researchers and established scientists alike about the future of the scientific endeavor. Crucially, we want to know how careers in science are affected by the number of people in the system.

The first panels, discussed in this blogpost, will discuss advocacy efforts by postdocs nationwide, and also ollect data from postdoctoral officers in the Boston area and discuss future directions for improving postdoctoral experiences.

On Friday morning, our keynote speech, "The Economics of the Postdoctoral Position", will be presented by Paula Stephan who will then join a panel to discuss the shape and structure of the workforce as discussed further here. We have a diversity of opinions represented on whether we should have fewer, or more, PhDs and postdocs.

From there we will discuss career paths. Panelists Sarah Cardozo-Duncan (a career strategist in the Boston area), Misty Heggeness (a labor economist at the National Institutes of Health), Chris Pickett (American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology), Tyler Ford (Addgene) and Brian Plosky (Cell Press) will discuss their perspectives on entering different career paths and also present data on where people are ending up.

A panel on the role of ECRs in publishing will feature editors and representatives from Faculty of 1000, The Winnower, Nature Publishing Group and Cell Press to discuss how young researchers can think about their involvement with the communication of their data, contributing to peer review in their field and what role ECRs have in shaping the publication of science in the future.

Our final panel will ask how all these issues should be addressed to maintain a diverse research workforce and not negatively effect already under-represented groups. Alberto Roca (MinorityPostdoc.org), Rafael Luna (Harvard Medical School), Moon Duchin (Tufts University), Joan Read (Harvard Medical School) and Jessica Tytell (Massachusetts Association for Women in Science) will answer questions and share advice on what we can do to advocate for change in a sensible and thoughtful manner.

Finally on Saturday, we will have a "Hack Day" with ASBMB to get people together working on practical solutions and projects to collect and disseminate information - if you're in the U.S. you can get involved here.

If you're in the Boston area, you can join us! If not - you can still join in by watching the events live here and follow along with #FORBOS15. We hope to see you there and hear your comments!

Go to the profile of Gary S McDowell

Gary S McDowell

Executive Director, The Future of Research

Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, he holds BA and MSci degrees in Natural Sciences (Chemistry) from the University of Cambridge, UK and studied protein folding before beginning a PhD in Oncology, also at the University of Cambridge. He studied the role of protein modification and degradation in neurogenesis, using the frog Xenopus as a model system. He then undertook two years of postdoctoral research at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School learning mass spectrometry and proteomics before moving to the Biology Department at Tufts, where he undertook 2.5 years of postdoctoral research on the role of the cytoskeleton in left-right body patterning during embryo development. Gary was an organizer of the Future of Research Symposium, held in Boston in October 2014, which brought together young scientists to discuss issues that have led to a hyper-competitive crisis in biomedical research, and was first author on the subsequent report, “Shaping the Future of Research: A perspective from Junior Scientists” published in F1000Research. He co-chaired the 2015 Boston meeting with Dr Sarah Mazzilli, and as of May 2016 is the inaugural Executive Director of The Future of Research nonprofit organization.
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