AAAS Launches New E-Learning Career Development Center

As part of the association’s ongoing commitment to provide robust member benefits, AAAS on 1 May launched a new e-learning website, the Career Development Center, to provide certificate-level online courses for members at different stages of their science and engineering careers.

The e-learning initiative, developed through Science Careers and the MemberCentral portal, has launched with two initial courses—one on proposal-writing, and another on the federal budget process. “These two courses will be the first of many to help address a range of challenges that AAAS members experience as they build their careers,” said Beth Bush, chief membership officer for AAAS and director of the Office of Membership Development and Engagement. “The e-learning service is part of our broader effort to strengthen our relationship with members, and to provide members with what they need and want at every stage of their careers.”

One course now online, Avoiding Common Errors in Proposal Writing, led by Charles E. Dunlap, head of the Research Competitiveness Program at AAAS, was designed to help learners avoid some of the most common proposal-writing errors. The curriculum, based on the types of errors most frequently seen in proposals handled by the AAAS Research Competitiveness Program over the past five years, covers errors by key proposal sections, plus specific missteps in overall strategy, formatting, and layout that can lead to a low proposal ranking by a review panel.

A second course, The Federal R&D Budget: Process and Perspectives, taught by Matthew Hourihan, director of the R&D Budget and Policy Program at AAAS, provides a basic overview of the steps in the federal budget process, including what influences the process, how it comes together in the Executive Branch and Congress, and how budget politics and science funding interact.

Those who complete the new e-learning courses will receive a downloadable certificate recognizing one professional development hour, explained Alexander Torres, director of professional development and career services at AAAS. “Whether learners are practicing engineers or scientists, the certification can be used for their career development, to verify that they’ve completed professional development offered by the world’s largest general scientific society.”

Designed for use on workstations as well as mobile devices, each e-learning course will feature high-quality video, motion graphics, embedded assessment tools such as quizzes, and content modules presented in “small, digestible chunks,” said Scott F. Nichols, product manager for professional development and career services. Each course will run one- to one-and-a-half hours, he added, but learners can easily stop and restart sessions. “When learners leave the course and sign back in,” Nichols said, “they’ll know exactly where they left off.”    

The e-learning course on Avoiding Common Errors in Proposal Writing, for example, has been organized to reflect Dunlap’s presentation, which focuses on ten specific ways that researchers may inadvertently undermine their chances of receiving grant support. Ten sections of the course feature expert advice by Dunlap as well as exercises to prompt thinking about ideas from his presentation. Dunlap—who earned his Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and has worked for more than a decade leading the design and implementation of programs to strengthen and support research competitiveness in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics worldwide—based his presentations on the comments of some 10,000 proposal reviewers.

In coming months, Bush said, the Career Development Center will launch a series of high-quality, on-demand courses for AAAS members. These courses will focus on networking and developing presentations as well as career-advancing techniques such as proposal-writing and policy fundamentals. Future courses will cover areas such as communications, writing resumés, and other areas that members may not have had a chance to develop during their professional careers.

“We are excited to be developing these courses in concert with subject-matter experts. Future offerings will be determined by user feedback, so we hope that members, potential members, and other online learners will let us know what they think,” Bush said.

The new e-learning courses are being developed as part of the AAAS Transformation Initiative, a far-ranging effort to make the association more member-focused, while it also ramps up advocacy efforts and adopts innovative, “digital-first” approaches to scientific communication. Already, Bush said, AAAS has made meaningful progress toward putting members first. “Engaging every AAAS member more fully in the association and its contributions to society, while also substantially increasing the number of members who help to give science a voice on pressing global issues will remain key priorities for the new Membership Engagement and Development Office,” she noted. “This has meant finding ways to better serve members both by improving member services, and by providing members with career support, from kindergarten through the post-doctoral and professional stages.”