Academia is a place where knowledge can be gained and shared among the best and brightest scientists. However, the system could be improved by focusing more on training “the whole scientist” which means gaining additional skills beyond the bench and truly challenging the status quo. The two publications below written as part of Future of Research seek to address changes needed in the academic environment in order to improve the system and focus on skill-building for the next generation workforce.
Actionable Recommendations from Trainees to Improve Science Training
In the first article, we call for implementing changes in the training environment. Recommendations for improvement were developed at a meeting of trainees, faculty, academic administrators and leaders, and industry scientists, organized in June 2019 by Future of Research. These fall under a few categories as follows:
- Supplemental mentorship
- Peer support
- Required mentor training
- Exit surveys
- Clear guidelines and timelines
- Standard and transparent salary and benefits
- Career and professional development resources
The first theme of these recommendations is a focus on mentoring and career development, emphasizing the importance of having multiple mentors, a support of peers who can also be mentors, but also accountability for mentors through their own training.
A second theme is improving transparency in institutional cultures and policies around salary and benefits, as well as exit surveys, all of which can influence the next generation of researchers and their decisions to pursue an academic career.
A third theme is establishing clear guidelines and timelines, which are critical for developing working relationships by which to improve the efficacy of trainees, their productivity, and support their commitment to a chosen career path.
These areas indicate much-needed reform in the academy, which has been called for but very little acted upon for many years. Unfortunately, this culture makes it less likely that the best and brightest will enter and remain in the research pipeline and move our research enterprise forward. The culture is further exacerbated by inequities that exist at all levels in the academy, and these need to be addressed in order to give everyone a chance to participate. With that said, we included positive examples of institutions that have begun to work on some of these issues and are hopeful that others will follow.
Changing the Culture of Science Communication Training for Junior Scientists
In this second publication, we focus on one of the fundamental skills that early career scientists need to learn, and that is science communication for broad audiences, thereby using their talents to more broadly influence society. While it is a widely accepted fact that academic training needs to change to incorporate such skills, the system has been slow to change for some time, and if such training does exist, it is only present in few universities.
With this publication, we sought to raise awareness of some of these issues, as well as develop a comprehensive framework that could address them by improving widespread implementation of a science communication training plan.
We began by highlighting the goals of science communication, as follows:
- Share the findings and excitement of science
- Increase appreciation for science
- Increase knowledge and understanding of science related to a specific issue that requires a decision
- Influence people’s opinions, behavior, and policy preferences
- Engage with and consider the perspectives of diverse groups when seeking solutions to societal problems
This initial assessment indicates that science should be present more broadly in society, and that findings and knowledge about science should be front and center for scientists to work on. There is also an element of influence, and a question of what science communication can accomplish in terms of influencing opinions, behavior, and policy preferences more broadly, and how this might facilitate further engagement.
In assessing the current science communication landscape, we found that certain programs and resources exist but are overall very few across the U.S., and if they exist, they are not consistent across the board. Therefore, to combat the scarcity of programs and the lack of consistency in training the next generation of researchers in communication skills, we proposed a comprehensive training program with specific training elements, evaluation and tracking, as well as potential products which early career scientists could point to as a result of this program.
While this program would show promise in universities if adopted, ultimately it still requires an acceptance by the academic community to recognize science communication as an essential part of training scientists, and thereby move the needle in effectively changing the system.
More broadly from both publications, it is apparent that significant culture change needs to occur in academia in order to train the next generation of early career scientists. It remains to be seen whether these changes can occur, but these publications show potential frameworks to adopt and emphasize issues that trainees consider important for their professional development. We hope these recommendations help to more uniformly challenge the status quo and move the needle on important issues for the academic community and the training of the next generation scientific workforce within our institutions to positively impact society.
This post represents the writer’s personal views.