Being the non-academic boss lady

Dawn is one of the smartest, most dynamic, most interesting scientists I have ever had the pleasure of interacting with. Her decision to move into a non-academic setting started me thinking about making the shift myself. In summary: she’s been a role model and a good friend for a long time. When I approached her about writing a post for this series, she was happy to provide some thoughts on her experience.

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I have become the person my academic friends send their students to when they make noises about leaving the academia. I even have a piece out for Versatile PhD that delves into why I left; how I modified my resume and cover letters; and advice I’d give to those heading into non-academic positions. While my experience is captivating and illuminating, it is a singular event and no one should (have to) approach leaving academia by the seat of their pants the way I did. In fact, one of my biggest professional pet peeves now that I am entrenched outside of academia, is how non-academic job prospects are considered an afterthought. Or worse, when people think, “If my academic thing doesn’t work out, I’ll just get a job in industry,” but don’t consider what other skills they might want or need to develop to thrive in a career outside of academia. It is the anthesis of science, leaving something so important to chance rather than trying to control or at least be aware of all the variables!

I for one would have taken communicating my research more seriously and committed to doing it with intention and impact by enrolling in a marketing course and attending workshops on social media engagement, writing blog posts, and understanding google analytics. My first job out of academia was the Director of Conservation Education and Research at the Huyck Preserve and Biological Research station a 2,000 acre preserve in upstate New York. During my tenure I was not only responsible for connecting research activities to conservation and education programs, but I was also tasked with expanding the school field trip program to more school districts and growing the recreation program. I certainly figured out how to create and implement a marketing and communication plan for both programs, ultimately reaching five school districts and over 600 students with a research-based invasive species monitoring program and doubling guided hike attendance, but those skills were acquired while I was also figuring out how to write a curriculum suitable for K-12 students and pursing collaborations with local university students and professors to provide expert led guided hikes.

Did I mention at the same time I was also developing a high school research course from scratch and managing a research grant program? Because that’s where I could have used a finance or accounting course, helpful for when you are managing your own grants, an entire granting program, and for when you’re trying to determine the appropriate tuition to cover program expenses. Also handy for when you go head to head with the Board of Directors over the annual budget after getting promoted to Executive Director 2.5 years later. Speaking of boards, I would highly recommend a course on meeting facilitation. Robert’s Rule’s only scratches the surface and really doesn’t apply to entering a strategic planning process with a regional network of colleges/universities, non-profit preserves, and government agencies intent on informing regional sustainable management practices. I can also say that someone with facilitation skills makes working groups infinitely more productive placing you at the top of the list for research collaborations.

Oh, and before I forget, start talking to someone now about achieving work-life balance. I would like to directly challenge the wholesale statement that leaving academia leads to a life of leisure. It depends on the job, culture of the organization, and your personality. For example, non-profits, because they operate on charitable gifts, may not be staffed at capacity leading to a few people wearing many, many hats (case in point: Director of Conservation Education and Research, that kids, is three jobs in one!). I erroneously thought when I left academia that a majority of non-academic positions were 9-5 and then proceeded to work 50-60 hour weeks (80-90 Memorial through Labor Day) for five years because I loved what I was doing and there was no one else to do it. I wouldn’t have changed it for the world (well maybe a little) but it also wasn’t sustainable. I would have seriously benefited from a training on managing work-life balance so that I could have set boundaries for myself and my employers.

I know I am one data point and it’s easy for me to offer a list of courses and trainings now that I am done with school (although I frequently contemplate going back to school for my MBA) but my opinions are also colored by my newest position as the director of a postdoctoral fellowship program, NatureNet Science Fellows, and internal science professional development for scientists at The Nature Conservancy. I talk to a lot of people about what science professional development should look like within and outside of the Conservancy. If you must prioritize, science communication, specifically the ability to speak or write about your own research and identify appropriate outlets for outreach, ranks high on the list along with skills in project management, including budgeting and managing a team. After that, it really would behoove you to consider, “If I left academia, what job would I take and what skills would I need to succeed?”

 

 

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Scuba Flies

In California’s Mono Lake—whose alkaline waters are deadly to most insects—these diving flies don’t just survive; they thrive.

To survive in this harsh environment, the flies perform a feat that Mark Twain described with great fascination in 1872. “You can hold them under water as long as you please—they do not mind it—they are only proud of it,” he wrote in a passage of his book Roughing It. “When you let them go, they pop up to the surface as dry as a patent office report.”

This is the best description ever, and makes me want to go into taxonomy.

Read more about these aberrations here!

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Australia opens vast swaths of famed marine parks to fishing

Australia is known for protecting its sea life in a 3.3 million square kilometer (1.3 million square mile) system of marine parks that covers 36 percent of the country’s oceans. The protection of those parks is now at stake, as the government last week approved five long-awaited management plans covering 44 parks. The new plans open 17 percent of the parks’ area to commercial fishing and 16 percent of their area to recreational fishing compared to the original plans formed by the previous government when the parks were proclaimed in 2012.

Read more here.

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Hagfish Take Weeks to Recover from Sliming Someone

If you see a hagfish don’t anger it. Under attack, these bottom scavengers and hunters releases thick, clear slime in astonishing quantities. Potential predators back off quickly when presented with the slime, because it clogs their gills. The hagfish itself escape their own mucus that they tie their bodies into a knot and scrape it off (A highway in Oregon was harder to clean up after a truck full of hagfish crashed there last year.)

However, it turns out that this mucus is a precious resource for a hagfish. After sliming a predator, the fish can take nearly a month to refill its slime glands. So leave the poor slime monsters alone.

Read about it here.

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Interested in responsible gene editing? Join the (new) club

You had to see this coming. When we first started discussing the possibility of gene editing, our second thought was “oh shoot, this could get ethically complicated quickly”.

So it’s not surprise that as we continue down this path, many a voice is rising in caution.

Read about some of them here.

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Telomeres are the new cholesterol

Telomeres are the caps at the end of your chromosomes. When they degrade beyond a certain point, the cells start kicking the bucket. It’s a natural part of aging (like the grey hairs I’m getting, and my eye sight going). So I laughed, loudly, when I read this:

““I am a bit concerned about your telomeres,” the doctor told me, evenly.

Raffaele hadn’t literally seen those telomeres of mine. What he’d seen were the results of blood work carried out by a lab called Repeat Diagnostics, in Vancouver, British Columbia, which has become a leader in the burgeoning field of telomere diagnostics. Burgeoning because, as Raffaele posits, “telomeres are the new cholesterol”—by which he means they are (A) something measurable and understood to have explanatory powers and (B) something Big Pharma can aim at in the hope of finding the equivalent of a statin to make them more robust.”

This is crazy to me, and I look forward to seeing how it goes! Note, one way cancer gets around cell death after too many duplications is to elongate telomeres. Not to be paranoid, but I’ve got to think that this is not a good long term solution.

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Writing to reach your audience, where ever you come from

You’re research is only as good as your ability to communicate it.

That is a sad but true statement.

Which is why this awesome initiative, (Writing Support Across Global Research Communities: A Case Study for Public Health) to increase communication is so interesting and worth examining.

Read about it here.

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