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Tiffany Timbers

#datascientist #teacher #genomicist #neuroscientist #jackofalltrades #masterofafew

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date: 2015-05-24

Today was the first day of the 9th Annual Canadian Neuroscience (CAN) Meeting in Vancouver, BC. I was involved in organizing and moderating Satellite 3: Alternative Careers Workshop for Trainees with Kurt Haas and Grace Lee. I volunteered to help out with this event because I think that graduate school (at least in science) does not provide students with enough exposure to what possible career options exist outside of becoming a professor, despite the reports that only 10-15% of Ph.D.'s obtain a tenure-track faculty position (hence the majority of Ph.D.'s find work outside of Academia, reference). Another reason why I volunteered to help run and organize this event, full disclosure here, is that although my current career goal is to obtain a tenure-track faculty position, I have to keep my eyes open to the reality of the current situation in academia and swallow the fact that there is a good chance that I may not obtain this coveted job. I have to have a good plan B. Thus, I figured that helping to organize and run this event would allow me to strengthen connections that I already have with people working in the life science and neuroscience industry in Vancouver, as well as forge new ones.

We covered a diverse array of speakers/panelists and topics at this satellite meeting, from CIHR's Eric Marcotte speaking about what it is like to work in government, to Alphil Guilaran and Ryan Howe (from the Financial Literacy Counsel) advising on the ins-and-outs of finance and law when starting your own business or pursuing self-employment, to a Q and A panel session with life and neuroscientists who have recently transitioned from academia to working in industry. We wrapped up the day with a very controversial? talk from Zymeworks President and CEO, Ali Tehrani, who strongly urged undergrads and masters students to pursue a PhD to simply make themselves competitive during the initial screening process when a company is hiring (another sign that we might be training too many PhD students?). He cut to the chase with the Ph.D. students and told them not to do a postdoc unless they want to become a tenure-track professor (something I do not wholly disagree with), and to postdocs he warned "do not do a second postdoc!"

All and all, it was a very educational day, and I did get good feedback from participants that they found it useful. I was happy to provide this somewhat rare exposure to possible career alternatives to the tenure-track path, but am somewhat dismayed that one needs to attend a conference to access such information. I wonder, does this not fall under the mandate of the universities? Certainly they must provide such exposure in professional degree programs (or maybe I am wrong?), but I can at least state that my undergraduate and graduate education (at the university) did not expose me these types of things. If we buit in more interaction with industry to graduate school, and provided more career guidance and exposure to alternative careers perhaps then we might not have the problem of "too many Ph.D.'s"? I think it is at least worth thinking about.