How can young trainees improve the scientific enterprise?

The scientific enterprise is at a crossroads. More and more young trainees are leaving academia every day. This is a very present phenomenon, which leaves me wondering what will happen to the biomedical research enterprise in the future. Will it become more sustainable because there are fewer researchers to support, or will it fall apart because many talented scientists are seeking other career paths? More importantly, how can we, as young scientists, ensure the sustainability of the scientific enterprise? Besides Academics for the Future of Science, many other great organizations such as Future of Research, Rescuing Biomedical Research, National Postdoctoral Association, and American Association for the Advancement of Science are addressing issues related to the biomedical workforce, including advocating for scientists.

Many issues within the scientific enterprise are causing both bench scientists and those who choose to pursue other career paths to be dissatisfied with the current system. Trainees in academia are facing long hours with low pay, lack of career development resources, job instability, as well as work-life balance issues, among others. However, leaving academia can also be a risky and soul-searching journey with its own challenges, including how to discover and pursue a non-academic career of choice.

For scientists who remain in academia, I commend you for doing so. I admire your passion for science which enables you to continue making daily discoveries at the bench. This is not an easy path. Daily work at the bench can be frustrating, especially in an environment dominated by hypercompetition and paper retractions. I would urge you not fall into this trap and instead take your time, be meticulous and truthful when performing experiments and analyzing data. Make sure that the data produced are accurate and reproducible by several members of your lab (and maybe even by members of other labs) before publication. If you are concerned about the timing and visibility of your publication, I would consider publishing in an open access manner. Preprints are also a great way to get your scientific findings out quickly and reliably for the scientific community to read. Also I would encourage you to be vocal about issues that you think exist in the biomedical research enterprise, and use this motivation to work on them from within.

For those who have left academia to pursue other career paths, I also encourage you not to turn your back on the scientific enterprise. Even if you are no longer a bench scientist, you can still make a difference in improving the system! The connections you build and opportunities you develop in your new career path can provide you with unique skills and approaches to use when working on specific issues within the scientific enterprise. You could create programs and policies to improve scientific training, communicate to the public about the biomedical workforce (including the recent issue of the FLSA for postdocs), and get involved in outreach activities with students who will become future scientists. I urge you to build your career on fixing the issues in the scientific enterprise which caused you to leave academia in the first place. In this manner you can make a difference in the biomedical research enterprise from the outside.

Regardless of which career path young trainees choose to follow after completing their training, I believe we can and must all work together to make a difference in shaping the future of the enterprise both for ourselves and for future generations of scientists.


Contributed by Adriana Bankston. Adriana has a strong interest in advocating for biomedical scientists and improving the biomedical research enterprise as well as educational programming, outreach and science communication. She is involved with the ASCB’s Committee for Postdocs and Students (COMPASS), the Future of Research (FoR) organization and the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA)’s Advocacy Committee. She is currently an independent contracting editor for American Journal Experts (AJE) and can be reached via email (abankston81@gmail.com) or Twitter (@AdrianaBankston).

(Click on the highlighted sections for links to the original articles/webpages.)

(Photo credit National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, https://www.flickr.com/photos/nationaleyeinstitute/9955278615/).

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