Reaching the Peak: A Science & Technology Career Summit
The growth of discovery and innovation depends on a strong pipeline to train and connect future generations of health and science researchers. To help drive growth and assist early career researchers, Research!America hosted “Reaching the Peak: A Science and Technology Career Summit,” an event providing professional development workshops, networking opportunities, and a science communication competition on June 30, 2021.
Opening Session Career Tour
The Summit opened with a conversation with Research!America Board Member The Honorable Donna Shalala, former HHS Secretary and member of Congress, and Emeritus Research!America Board Member Elias Zerhouni, MD, former NIH Director.
Secretary Shalala: “It’s important to be well trained, but also to be cross-trained because that’s where discoveries are made… And always ask questions — that helped me enormously at HHS — because I knew how to ask questions, I could ask questions of the scientists, I could ask questions of the social scientists… and it made a big difference.”
Dr. Zerhouni: “I wanted to quit medical school until a professor showed me the first CAT scan in the world… and I just fell in love with it… it’s really important to fall in love with something.” His pursuit of what he loved led to a renowned career as a physician scientist, with careers in academia, government and industry. Leading the NIH for seven years, he focused on “the convergence of sciences, the breakdown of disciplines. … The more siloed you are, the less successful you will be,” he said.
He also offered these words for those starting their careers: “[Van Gogh] said, ‘I dream my paintings, and I paint my dreams.’ This is the lesson that I really believe in: that you have to dream your life and live your dream. And I think if you have a small dream you won’t have a great life. So…go after big problems, after dreams that are difficult to achieve and accomplish, and live your life that way.”
With these inspiring words, Summit attendees explored paths to achieving their dreams during the Career Tour, where professionals from myriad sectors shared their career trajectories and advice for early career researchers. An emerging theme from the panelists was that a PhD confers many transferable skills. Nearly every job values the critical thinking, problem solving, and analytical skills that are key to success in a PhD program.
Later sessions featured opportunities for attendees to ask questions of many other notable leaders, including Michelle McMurry-Health, MD, PhD, Research!America Board Member and President and CEO of BIO; Sudip Parikh, PhD, Research!America Board Member and CEO of AAAS; and Larry Tabak, PhD, DDS, Principal Deputy Director of NIH.
Participants moved to “Ensuring a Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive R&D Pipeline: A Listening Session.” This closed-door session allowed for a frank discussion between panelists and the attendees on experiences in diversity, equity, and inclusion and ideas for ensuring these principles are instilled throughout the R&D ecosystem.
Next, in the Flash Talks Competition session, nine early career researchers exemplified effective science communication through a series of “flash talks” — research presented in three minutes and using a single slide. Each researcher discussed the scope, results, and impact of their research. The judges faced difficult decisions in choosing finalists from such a talented field, but five of the presenters advanced to the final round. The finals will be held on September 14 during Research!America’s National Health Research Forum.
After a networking break, Summit attendees were invited to participate in skill-building workshops covering a wide range of topics. One workshop covered resume building, led by Dr. Josh Henkin, founder of STEM Career Services. Another workshop went through the elements of building successful collaborations, including the importance of seeking diverse perspectives. Other attendees chose to learn about funding and grantsmanship, a crucial topic for researchers launching their careers.
One of the highest-engagement skill-building workshops was on becoming an effective science advocate. Two national science policy organizations, Engineers and Scientists Acting Locally (ESAL) and National Science Policy Network (NSPN), shared resources and advice on how to engage in policy and advocacy at the local level. Examples of advocacy efforts were showcased through two presentations from recipients of Research!America’s 2020-2021 Civic Engagement Microgrant Program. Attendees learned how students at the Medical University of South Carolina used their Microgrant funding to create a brand new science policy organization and execute advocacy projects throughout their first year. Taking a deeper dive into programming, attendees also heard from a student leader at the University of California, Irvine, who used Microgrant funding to create a data visualization workshop series to learn how to analyze large data sets and create infographics for policy recommendations.
Another workshop took attendees through writing and pitching an opinion piece, the foundation for an op-ed competition among Summit attendees. Contest winners will be announced during the September research forum In “Mentoring as a Key to Career Success.” A panel of mentors shared their tips for facilitating a good mentoring relationship, while a panel of mentees shared how mentorship had helped them in their careers. An audience poll found that while many attendees had had a positive mentoring experience, about half had mixed experiences with their mentors. Panelists and audience members shared that key components of a successful mentoring relationship include a willingness of mentors to support career paths different from their own, mutual respect, and trust/trustworthiness (commitments made are commitments kept). Also stressed was the importance of choosing the right mentor for the right purpose — having several mentors may ultimately make sense as an individual’s career path and the challenges and opportunities before them evolve.
The Summit concluded with a networking reception, where all those involved in the program were invited to move between virtual breakout rooms and connect with one another in an informal setting. One theme of the day was the importance of networking, particularly for those just starting their career journeys. One of the many compelling pieces of networking advice those at the reception shared: To help alleviate networking anxiety, approach someone standing by themselves and introduce yourself. Giving yourself a job to do — in this case helping someone else feel part of things — will help calm your nerves!
Thank you to all of the panelists, speakers, judges, and early career researchers who joined us. The Summit was made possible by the generous support of principal and Flash Talks sponsor Eisai Incorporated, event sponsor Takeda Pharmaceuticals and in part by a grant from the Rita Allen Foundation.