Podcast: Family life, career life: making it work
Transitioning from academia to industry is a common direction for a career move. But it is possible to move the other way, even as a mother of five children?
In this podcast we share Paula Littlejohn’s story. Paula started her microbiology PhD at the University of British Columbia, Canada, a year ago, after a decade in industry and having five children. We find out how she juggled the demands of an academic career alongside motherhood.
Love is in the air as St Valentine’s Day looms. Lorna MacEachern, a PhD and postdoc career counsellor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, highlights some of the similarities between between a research career and a relationship.
Ask an expert
In this month’s Q&A we have a question from molecular biology PhD researcher Suleen Raad from the University of Montreal about how to move into science communication.
And the answer comes from Bonnie Schmidt, director and founder of Let’s Talk Science, a charitable organisation in Canada that helps encourage young children to study science, technology, engineering and maths-based subjects.
If you’ve got a science-career related question for us, send it in to naturejobseditor at Nature dot com and we will do our best to find someone to answer it for you.
Julie Gould is a freelance journalist and broadcaster.
Working Scientist podcast: Science and government, Canadian style
Mona Nemer tells Julie Gould about her role as Canada's chief scientific adviser and how she aims to strengthen science in the country. "We're bordered by three oceans," says Mona Nemer of Canada, where she has been chief scientific adviser since September 2017. "On one side we are close to Europe, on the other we are close to Asia. It's a great country to study the Arctic, climate research, oceanography, but also astrophysics, information technology and health." https://media.nature.com/original/nature-assets/multimedia/podcast/naturejobs/naturejobs-2018-02-01.mp3 See transcript Nemer describes her role as "convener of the dialogue between the broader science community and government," providing scientific advice to current prime minister Justin Trudeau and his ministerial team, and making recommendations on how to improve Canadian science. Recommended articles How one Canadian scientist is tapping into the knowledge of Indigenous communities > Why are Canada’s scientists getting political? > As a civil servant rather than an elected politician, how does she manage scientists' expectations, many of whom felt short-changed in this year's budget, compared to 2018? “It wasn't as generous as last year's budget, but there was still quite a bit of investment." says Nemer. "It's really important that the government pays continuous attention to science and innovation. I prefer it this way, rather than CAN$10bn last year, and then zero this year. "Those approaches are actually very disruptive to the research enterprise. It's much better to have sustained investment, and last year's budget was multi-year, so it committed increases not only for last year but the following four years. So there are increases that are still carrying over.” If you have a career story that you'd like to share, then please complete this form, or send your outline by email.
How to make undergraduate research worthwhile
Practices might differ from country to country, but undergraduate students can be better served in research, says Shaun Khoo. One of the things that excited me about taking up a Canadian postdoctoral position was that, for the first time, I would get a chance to work with and mentor enthusiastic undergraduate researchers. I looked forward to the chance to gain mentorship skills while helping out future scientists, and maybe, eventually, freeing up some of my own time. As an Australian, I had never been pressured to volunteer in a lab — most Australian students don’t do any undergraduate research unless they enroll in an extra honours year, because the law prohibits unpaid student placements that are not a course requirement. This hasn’t held back overall research productivity in Australia, but it is a stark contrast to the North American environment, where many undergraduates feel pressure to get research experience as soon as they begin university. Most graduate medical students, for example, have previous research experience, and North American graduate schools have come to expect this from applicants. In Canada, nearly 90% of graduate medical students have past research experience1. Numerous articles extol2,3,4 the virtues of undergraduate research experience, but, unfortunately, evidence supporting the benefits of undergraduate research is limited. Most studies on the topic rely exclusively on self-reports that are corroborated less than 10% of the time by studies using more-direct measurements. For example, surveys find that undergraduate student researchers say that they have developed data-analysis skills — something that would normally involve lots of practical work — yet, when interviewed, most of them admit to never having done any data analysis. Like many postdoctoral researchers and graduate students, I spend most of my time with undergraduate students working on technical skills that they might need to work in the lab, but that don’t necessarily improve their conceptual understanding. For example, if I teach a student how to use a cryostat, they might become proficient in slicing brains, but they won’t necessarily learn how synaptic transmission works. Even if we manage to instil excitement for the intricacies of research in our undergraduate students, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that for the vast majority that continue in academic research, there will be no permanent jobs — we might just be saddling our undergraduates with unrealistic expectations. So how do we avoid wasting our time as mentors and our students’ time as learners and researchers? Here are my suggestions. Consider long-term goals. Undergraduate students should reflect on how their research experiences will prepare them for professional success. Should they be aiming for research experiences that are based on their courses, because it will better improve their understanding of scientific concepts? Will a given opportunity help them to reach their career goals by getting into a professional graduate programme? Can they commit to staying with a research programme long enough to become effective and potentially be a co-author? Acknowledge and offset opportunity cost. Undergraduate research requires significant time investments from both students and research supervisors. Undertaking such research might mean forgoing paid employment or other experiences, such as student societies, sport, performing arts or campus journalism and politics. Mentors can help undergraduate students by facilitating summer-scholarship applications or finding ways for students to get course credit for their work. Train for diverse careers. Most undergraduate students will pursue non-research careers or join professional graduate programmes. Those who try to continue in academia will eventually face a bleak post-PhD academic job market. Just as PhD students need preparation for a wide range of careers, so do undergraduate students need to build a transferable skill set. Mentors can encourage undergraduate students to build communication skills by, for example, encouraging them to present in lab meetings, or facilitating teamwork by having groups of undergraduate students complete a project together. Improve undergraduate research experiences. There’s limited non-anecdotal evidence that undergraduate research improves a given lab’s research productivity, or even student learning, but such research isn’t necessarily a waste of time. Before undergraduate students pad their CVs with research experience, they should reflect on what they will achieve by conducting research, and they should seek out meaningful projects to work on and develop relevant skills for their future career. For mentors, we have an obligation to consider the career development of undergraduate students and, for the sake of our publication records, we should aim to work with students who can commit at least a year to our projects. And, as much as possible, we should try to take the pressure off undergraduate students to do research, so that it can be an enjoyable learning experience rather than a box they need to check. doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-07427-5 This is an article from the Nature Careers Community, a place for Nature readers to share their professional experiences and advice. Guest posts are encouraged. You can get in touch with the editor at email@example.com. References 1. Klowak, J., Elsharawi, R., Whyte, R., Costa, A. & Riva, J. Can. Med. Educ. J. 9, e4–e13 (2018). PubMed Google Scholar 2. Smaglik, P. Nature 518, 127–128 (2015). PubMed Article Google Scholar 3. Ankrum, J. Nature https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-05823-5 (2018). Article Google Scholar 4. Trant, J. Nature 560, 307 (2018). Article Google Scholar Download references
Animals and the zoogeochemistry of the carbon cycle
Predicting and managing the global carbon cycle requires scientific understanding of ecosystem processes that control carbon uptake and storage. It is generally assumed that carbon cycling is sufficiently characterized in terms of uptake and exchange between ecosystem plant and soil pools and the atmosphere. We show that animals also play an important role by mediating carbon exchange between ecosystems and the atmosphere, at times turning ecosystem carbon sources into sinks, or vice versa. Animals also move across landscapes, creating a dynamism that shapes landscape-scale variation in carbon exchange and storage. Predicting and measuring carbon cycling under such dynamism is an important scientific challenge. We explain how to link analyses of spatial ecosystem functioning, animal movement, and remote sensing of animal habitats with carbon dynamics across landscapes.