Tag Archives: Education and Training of Scientists

Education and training of scientists panel at the 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference

On the heels of my last posting which featured Science magazine’s 2011 Dance Your Ph.D. contest, it seems like a good idea to follow up with another science student-themed posting.

Dr. David Kent who will be moderating the Education and training panel at the 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) being held in Ottawa, Canada from Nov. 16 – 18, 2011 has enthusiastically granted me an interview. (My Oct. 19, 2011 posting featured a description of the 2011 CSPC conference and highlighted some of the events.)

First, here’s a little bit about David (from the 2011 CSPC conference website),

Dr. David Kent is a CIHR [Canadian Institutes of Health Research] postdoctoral fellow at the University of Cambridge, UK. He currently sits on the executive of the Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars and created the website The Black Hole which provides information on and analysis of issues related to science trainees in Canada. Previously, Dr. Kent served as joint coordinator for the UBC branch of the Let’s Talk Science Partnership Program (2004-07), an award winning national science outreach program. Dr. Kent grew up in St. John’s, NL, obtained a B.Sc. in Genetics and English Literature at the University of Western Ontario and completed his Ph.D. in blood stem cell biology at the University of British Columbia. He has been awarded scholarships or fellowships from the CIHR, NSERC, the Canadian Stem Cell Network, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, and the Lady Tata Memorial Trust. His current laboratory research focuses on normal blood stem cells and how changes in their regulation lead to cancers.

Here’s the description of the panel (Education and training of scientists) David will be moderating,

Over the past 15 years, there has been an enormous shift in the human resources performing scientific research. The training period has lengthened significantly and adjustments must be made to address the growing concerns of young scientists. Many individuals, who do not have permanent positions, share a unique set of experiences and challenges that need to be better addressed in order to avoid wasting the substantial resources invested in their education and training.

This panel aims to address two main themes:

  1. Are we producing too many biomedical research trainees?
  2. What careers will the large majority of highly specialized PhDs undertake and who should facilitate these transitions?

Presentations and discussion from Alan Bernstein (Founding Director of CIHR), Angela Crawley (Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars), Suzanne Fortier (President of NSERC), and Olga Stachova (COO, MITACS) will be introduced and moderated by David Kent (University of Cambridge and founder of http://scienceadvocacy.org, aka The Black Hole).

Here’s  the interview,

  • I’m intrigued by the description for this panel which asks a highly specific question (Are there too many biomedical research trainees?) and a much more general question (What careers will the majority of highly specialized PhD undertake and who should facilitate the transition?). Assuming that you proposed the panel, how did you arrive at these two questions in particular?

The first question definitely has its origins in Jeff Sharom’s piece in Hypothesis Journal (http://www.hypothesisjournal.com/pdfs/vol6num1/17.pdf) who queried whether we were producing too many biomedical trainees.  It is also a great way to capture a large issue under a simple title, but by no means would I consider it specific and I think just about anybody you ask would have the answer “it depends…” followed by discussions ranging from the demands of a knowledge-based economy to keeping young people out of the workforce for a few more years.

As for the second question, I see this one having a much more straightforward answer as it is really an attempt to assign responsibility to a sector of society to help deal with the problem – I’d like the panel and delegates to help steer future advocacy efforts to address the fundamental issues.

  • Given that you are currently working as a postdoc at the University of Cambridge, would you be asking these same questions on a UK panel and if not, why not?

The UK is a very different beast, but I think there is still overlap – in particular, the challenges facing those seeking an academic post and those debating whether or not to leave the academy.  The one thing that is very different in the UK – and I’m torn as to whether or not it’s a good thing or a bad thing – is that time-to-degree is substantially shorter with PhD programs lasting 3-4 years.  If you’re equipping people to go off into other careers, this is brilliant because they don’t get stuck in a very long PhD, but rather come out with the nuts and bolts of a PhD training.  However, this sort of system also tends to lead to what I would call “safe” projects that will yield results in the limited time frame and leave little room for exploring risky projects.  We talk about this in an old entry on the Black Hole called “The Rise of the Cookie-cutter PhD” (http://scienceadvocacy.org/Blog/2009/11/17/science-is-like-baking-the-rise-of-the-cookie-cutter-phd/)

  • Will you be acting as a moderator only or will you also speak to the questions? If you do speak to the questions, could you give a preview of your presentation?

I will introduce the panel and in doing so will try to set the stage for the audience – chart the change in demographics, highlight the issue of career stasis in academic labs, etc.  Much of my presentation will draw from entries on the Black Hole such as the Changing Human Resources in AcademiaSay no to the second Postdoc, and Professionals in High Demand.  Briefly, I’ll show statistics on the longer training times and summarize the unrest in academic labs.  In the moderation of the panel discussion, I’ll include some resources on how some universities have started to tackle the issues and some innovative programs that are helping young academics make choices sooner.

  • What do you hope will be the outcome(s) of having this panel at the 2011 CSPC?

For me, the biggest mission is awareness – I want policy makers, granting councils, and industry leaders to recognize the growth in highly trained scientists and the immense number of talented people that often finds themselves “stuck”.  These are people who have trained for nearly a decade and only a fraction of them can end up on the path they have been trained for (unlike doctors, lawyers, accounts)

A complete bonus would be to get some strategies for unsticking these people and some guidance on where to broach the issue.  We’ll see how it goes!

  • Is there anything you would like to add?

The only final thing I would suggest is for young scientists who have any sort of inclination toward or interest in science policy to get out there early – two or three days at a conference like the CSPC can be career changing or it could simply allow you to better understand the machinery that ends up impacting how you will be funded, how your trainees will be trained, and how research gets (or doesn’t get) incorporated into government policy.  Take off the blinders once in a while and try something new.

Thank you for taking the time to provide some insight into your topic and your presentation. I wish you and your panel the best of luck at the conference.

ETA Nov. 9, 2011: For Twitter purposes I decided to call this panel the ‘Kill all your darlings/science grads” panel. “Kill all your darlings” is a phrase I came across that describes what writers sometimes have to do when they edit a piece and must cut a wonderful sentence or phrase because it doesn’t fit. I gather that there is a problem (not only in Canada) with fitting science grads into the larger science enterprise.

2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference

It’s the third year for the Canadian Science Policy Conference. The first two were held in Toronto and Montréal, respectively. For a refreshing change of pace, they’re holding this year’s conference in Ottawa. (For anyone not familiar with Canadian geography, these locations are all relatively close to each other and this type of scheduling is the source of much grumbling from those of us in the ‘other’ provinces and the territories.)

You’ll be happy to know that the theme for the 2011 conference is: Building Bridges for the Future of Science Policy in Canada. Being held from Nov. 16 – 18, 2011, the conference features a keynote address from three speakers, Rémi Quirion, OC, Ph.D., CQ, FRSC, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Fonds de recherche du Québec; Ian Chubb, Chief Scientist for Australia; and R. Peter MacKinnon, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Saskatchewan. Unfortunately, there is no information about what they might discuss although one imagines they will focus on the theme for the conference. (Note: One cannot always depend on one’s speakers to keep to the theme. I know this from bittersweet [it’s funny afterwards] experience.)

I’m a little more interested in the talk which ushers in the first full day of the conference. Scheduled for 8:40 am on Thursday, November 17, 2011 the talk is titled, Building Stronger Communities Through Innovation. Here’s a preview from the 2011 CSPC agenda page,

How do we build innovative communities? This is a central challenge for Canada in the 21st century since innovative communities form the foundation of a prosperous country. As more than a decade of research on industry clusters has shown, a robust innovation system can have a profoundly positive impact on local communities when it translates into high quality jobs, industrial growth, new enterprises, improved public infrastructure and services and a cleaner, healthier environment.

But building innovation into our communities takes the involvement of individuals and institutions across the spectrum of society. Universities, colleges, research hospitals, private companies, governments and non-profit agencies, along with the talented, creative people that work in these organizations, must be free to work together and share their knowledge and ideas.

Yet fostering collaboration and knowledge exchange between different organizations, with different interests and capacities can be challenging. Successful collaboration requires time, resources, communication, shared goals, commitment and risk-taking.

A panel of leading Canadian thinkers in inter-sectoral and inter-organizational collaboration will discuss how university and college researchers can work with local businesses to translate new knowledge into new creative products and beneficial services. They will look at the role of research hospitals in contributing to both the health and wealth of local communities. And they will discuss best practices in overcoming the institutional and cultural barriers to collaboration.

The speakers for this session are:

Gilles G. Patry, Ph.D, President and CEO,Canada Foundation for Innovation; Chad Gaffield,, Ph.D, President, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council; Dr. Kevin Smith, President and CEO, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, St Joseph’s Lifecare Centre Brantford; Fred Morley, Executive VP & Chief Economist, Greater Halifax Partnership; Fassi Kafyeke Director, Strategic Technology,Bombardier Aerospace; Hon. Mike Harcourt, Lawyer, Community Activist, and former BC Premier

Given that the report of the Review of Federal Support to R&D has just been released (my posting will be out later today), it would be nice if they mention the report and its likely impact on the science community. It’s probably too late but it would be fabulous if someone from the expert panel could be persuaded to give a talk.

I’m mentioning these two panels simply because I know a speaker on each. David Kent ( CIHR Postdoctoral, University of Cambridge) is moderating the Education and Training of Scientists panel. David is 1/2 of the blogging team for The Black Hole; Science in Canada Issues Affecting Science Trainees blog (Beth Swan is the other 1/2). You can find out more about the conference and David’s latest panel doings in his Oct. 18, 2011 posting. The other panelist is Tim Meyer (Head of Strategic Planning & Communications, TRIUMF) who’s on the Reaching out with Big Science panel. Are they going to talk about blogging and social media or are they going to focus primarily on mainstream media. Given that two of the other speakers are Penny Park (Science Media Centre of Canada) and Jay Ingram (until recently a host for the Daily Planet programme on the Discovery Channel and author), I’m guessing the focus will be mainstream media.

Note Oct. 20, 2011: A few minor grammatical changes made in a bid to make this piece readable. We’ll see how that works.

ETA Oct. 24, 2011: I can’t believe missed this panel (Science Culture, Organized and Prioritized: Three National and International Initiatives) which features another person I’ve had the pleasure of encountering, Denise Amyot, President and Chief Executive Office of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation (CSTMC). In order to make up for my oversight I’m including a description here,

Culture is big: annually, some 290 million citizens actively participate in the exhibitions, programs, events and outreach initiatives organized by 2,400 science centres worldwide. Other types of institutions, radio, internet, and film build further on that reach. This session will examine three recent initiatives that seek to organize, define, and take strategic advantage of the work of hundreds of diverse science engagement and knowledge creation organisations nationally and internationally. Increasingly, strategic focus among this diverse set of content and communication partners is bringing new attention to science engagement for the benefit of national and global society.

This session will examine Inspiring Australia, an initiative of the Australian government to create regional networks of diverse engagement organizations and connect them effectively with the science knowledge creators in order to better execute science engagement in that country. We will also examine an initiative to benchmark “science culture” in order to better measure future progress . And finally we will examine a global initiative by science centres to use science engagement in a truly global context.

Well, the first initiative is clearly from Australia (perhaps this explains Ian Chubb’s role as one of the conference’s opening keynote speakers and as one of three speakers on this panel) and the third initiative is coming from the science centres (one of the panelists is from the Ontario Science Centre) so perhaps the second initiative is coming from the CSTMC?