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ScienceCareers.org Offers Laboratory Management Courses for Young Scientists
With the training and retention of scientists a top national priority, ScienceCareers.org has teamed with several institutions to produce a series of laboratory management courses to help young scientists master the rigors of a research career.
The courses, several of which will be offered in the next couple of months, offer instruction on science-management skills including academic job-searching strategies, effective leadership, team-building, project and grant management, grant writing and reviewing, and mentoring skills.
"Running a scientific laboratory requires many of the same skills as running a business—managing people, money, and other resources, and more," said Jim Austin, editor of ScienceCareers.org. "Scientists are smart—they can pick up these skills on their own given the opportunity. But when you consider how little time they have, it becomes clear that they could use some help."
While the skills they teach are applicable to any scientist who runs a laboratory, the laboratory management courses are geared to senior postdoctoral fellows and young tenure-track faculty members.
Students in class
In February 2007, Garth Fowler, outreach program manager at ScienceCareers.org, will travel to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHoP) to participate in the third of four installments of the Philadelphia Postdoc Consortium's Scientific Management Course for Postdoctoral Fellows.
In creating the Philadelphia laboratory-management series, ScienceCareers.org joined with a consortium of Philadelphia institutions—Thomas Jefferson University, Temple University, the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and the Drexel University College of Medicine—with each institution designing one installment.
The course sessions include: Landing a Faculty Position (Drexel University, October 2006), Leadership Skills and Time Management (Temple University, November 2006), Project Management (CHOP, February 2007), and Getting Funded and Mentoring Skills, (Thomas Jefferson University, March 2007).
"These programs not only help postdocs, but also those organizations responsible for their professional training by guiding institutions in how to help their young researchers," said Fowler, who led a session on finding faculty positions in the October session. "A major goal of these courses is to utilize local experts so the students can go contact them later with questions."
In December 2006, Science International's Seema Sharma, Fowler's European counterpart, presented at "Tools For Researchers: A Career Development Workshop," an event featuring 300 junior scientists, national and international speakers, exhibitors and career advisors at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden.
The event featured a session led by Hans-Gustav Ljunggren, professor of tumor biology at the Karolinska Institutet, on writing, applying, and managing grant proposals along with tips for managing a research group. In addition, Peter Stern, senior editor at Science, provided insight into the publishing process of peer-reviewed journals.
In 2002, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF)—with assistance from Jim Austin and Science's Next Wave—offered a week-long course in laboratory management for HHMI and BWF Scholars, at the HHMI headquarters in Chevy Chase, Md.
In 2005, the last year in which HHMI and BWF hosted and organized a laboratory management course, the organizers invited representatives from many professional societies and institutions around the country, teaching them how to run a laboratory management course on their own. By encouraging other organizations to offer similar courses, they figured, more scientists could be reached.
To help other organizations develop their courses, HHMI and BWF developed a comprehensive guide entitled Training Scientists to Make the Right Moves.
After Fowler attends the final two Philadelphia events in February and March, he hopes to plan several more laboratory management courses, possibly in San Diego, Boston, New York, and Chicago or another mid-western city.
"While most of the laboratory management courses come from my outreach, an NYU event came to fruition because a university official saw a calendar event on ScienceCareers.org," Fowler recounted. "If postdocs or faculty are interested in having a course at their institution, they should contact their graduate school career department."
Because most of the events are co-organized by universities willing to provide space on campus to hold the meetings, Fowler and his co-organizers are able to keep costs low, sometimes charging participants a fee of around $75 to offset the costs of printing, catering, and travel.
The active laboratory management series is part of Science/AAAS's move to dramatically update its career programs, consolidating powerful recruitment and job-search features with Science's Next Wave, GrantsNet, and the Minority Scientists Network—all at one fresh-looking, easy-to-navigate site.
"AAAS involvement with and dedication to laboratory-management courses is instrumental in the training of the next generation of scientific investigators," said Wendy Reed Williams, director of research education at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
In May 2006, the National Institutes of Health added a new provision addressing the necessary training in laboratory and project management to the National Research Service Awards (NRSA), an award commonly used to support graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.
The grant, which is given to a research program, states that all "postdoctoral NRSA trainees should be provided with instruction in laboratory and management." In addition, the NIH guidelines request that the young scientists receive instruction in the responsible conduct of research.
A similar UK guideline from the report of Sir Gareth Roberts' Review states the importance of "ear-marked funding for training and professional development in grants or contracts that provide for the employment of contract research staff."
"These guidelines specifically allocate money to universities across the UK to be ear-marked for soft-skills and professional career development for researchers," said Sharma. "In this sense, for once I think the U.K. is ahead of the States."
Fowler believes that guidelines like these will force universities to include "soft skill" training in their curricula for science Ph.D. programs.
"I believe this is a first step in integrating training into the graduate and postdoctoral experiences," Fowler said. "Perhaps in the future, courses on laboratory management will be required in graduate school as is statistics or biochemistry."
29 January 2007