Science Careers Offers Tips for Established Scientists


Renewing your career after tenure
[Photo courtesy of the Agricultural Research Service, USDA]

After earning tenure, some faculty members "continue to achieve higher and higher levels" while others may "meander along," and some "become deadwood," according to an article on the Science Careers Web site.

Writers Elisabeth Pain and Siri Carpenter prepared a trio of articles for Science Careers, assessing key challenges facing mid-career faculty members. The articles offer tips on how established scientists can renew and rejuvenate their enthusiasm for science, or redirect their career plans.

Although many established faculty members remain highly productive for decades, a 1997 assessment by Carole Bland and William Bergquist, The Vitality of Senior Faculty Members, Snow on the Roof—Fire in the Furnace, revealed three general stages of productivity: Performance is, generally speaking, lower among faculty in their 20s, but it increases among those in their 30s, levels off as individuals reach their 40s, and then begins to decline, according to Bland and Bergquist.

In sum, "A time eventually comes when what excited you when you were younger starts to seem mundane," Pain reports in a summary article outlining the issues that can dampen a scientist's vigor. "Dead-end projects, technical problems, difficult students, a lack of funding, reviewers who delay publications, competitors who scoop you, and personal hardships can eat away at enthusiasm over time," Pain writes.

But, juggling simultaneous projects, collaborations, and working for a top research institution where peers help to keep tabs on progress can all help to rekindle an established scientist's motivation, Pain reports in her piece, "Rejuvenation Tips for Tenured Faculty."

Carpenter's article describes the experiences of tenured scientists who have managed to restart their research careers, sometimes by taking unconventional paths.

For example, Harley McAdams of the Stanford University School of Medicine in California was trained in low-temperature and atomic physics in the 1960s, and he spent decades working in the field before turning his attention to biochemically based genetic circuits. Today, he is a full professor of developmental biology.

Cognitive neuroscientist Amishi Jha was studying the neural bases of attention and working memory when she said that funding pressures and other stresses began to take their toll on her health. But Jha responded by investigating how "mindfulness training" such as meditation can strengthen a person's attentiveness. Following a 2007 report with University of Pennsylvania physician Michael Baime, Jha's research won two separate $1 million grants from the U.S. Department of Defense.

Another researcher, M. Cameron Hay, talked to Carpenter about balancing research and family priorities, and her re-entry into academia following parenthood. Radiation biologist Timothy Jorgensen of Georgetown University decided to work toward a master's degree in public health in his late 40s.

"Sometimes," Pain reports, "radical measures are needed."

Through Science Careers, AAAS provides comprehensive, freely accessible online resources for job applicants, grant seekers, and recruiting employers. High-quality news reports on the Science Careers site offer insights to job markets worldwide—from Singapore's ambitious plans for science, to massive reforms within the French scientific system. Science Careers podcasts and videos reveal the first-hand stories of scientists working in rainforest ecology, quantitative analysis, synthetic biology, and other fields.

The site includes the Clinical and Translational Science Network (CTSciNet), offering articles and perspectives about training, career paths and career-related issues in clinical and translational science. Another feature of Science Careers, MySciNet—the Minority Scientists Network—promotes information-sharing among individuals and underrepresented communities of scientists and engineers. Science Careers staff organize career fairs and professional development workshops as well, and they provide career-related informational materials.