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AAAS E-Learning Courses to Bridge Professional Gaps

For many STEM professionals, there comes a time when they realize that getting the Ph.D. was actually the easy part. They soon find out that building a career is the real challenge.

AAAS is stepping up to help in this area with a new career development initiative for members. The effort is part of AAAS's transition toward being a member-focused, digitally oriented organization. The program is being lead by Alex Torres, director of professional development and career services, who works in AAAS's new Office of Membership Development and Engagement.

First up are e-learning courses.

"If a scientist or engineer wants to better understand how to work in science advocacy or policy, we may have an intro course for that," said Torres. "If a scientist or engineer wants to learn better interview skills or better resume writing, those are the kind of things that we'll address, either in an online course or perhaps as a hybrid course, something that's online and maybe live here at AAAS [headquarters in Washington, D.C.]."

The idea is to address the needs of scientists at different stages of their careers, to help them at what Torres calls career "pain points."

The 60- to 90-minute courses will feature everything from "nuts-and-bolts" skills, like how to use images in a proposal or presentation, to tips on branching out into jobs beyond academia.

Courses are being developed with input from scientists, and offerings will be refined with feedback from the users, AAAS product manager Scott Nichols said.

There are two courses currently in development: Avoiding Common Errors in Proposal Writing, led by Charles E. Dunlap, Ph. D, the head of the Research Competitiveness Program at AAAS; and The Federal R&D Budget: Process and Perspectives, taught by AAAS budget expert Matt Hourihan, program director of the Office of Government Relations.

Future courses will likely dive into networking and writing resumes—skills that may not come naturally to someone who's just spent years mastering scientific jargon or working in a post-doctoral program.

"We're not going to sit here and teach a Ph.D. who's an expert in lasers about laser technology," Torres explained. "But what we can do is help them present that information better" by teaching presentation skills that will engage and excite the audience. "We can bring some of that in to help them become better at communicating their information."

"Many scientists and engineers will naturally go to their technical associations and societies. That's where they gravitate to," he said. "I think the role that we can fill at AAAS, on an educational level, is to complete them—to make them whole."

It helps that AAAS has access to top people who are already engaged in similar programs.

"There are a great amount of resources that we can use right away," Torres said.