As the Easter holiday period approaches, so the focus in my household is turning to preparation for AS and A-level exams – I’m sure this will be the case for many of you too. I have always been passionate about encouraging young people to be aspirational but we do need to be mindful that career paths can take many twists and turns and there is no one ‘right way’ for everyone.
This was illustrated very clearly to me at the International Women’s Day event I spoke at recently, hosted by Rothamsted Research. Professor Dame Janet Thornton, former Director of EMBL-EBI, gave a very personal account of her career journey, which busted that myth that if you are a mother and chose to work part-time you limit your opportunities for a successful research career. Janet is clear proof that this is not the case – it may simply take a bit longer for you to reach your goal. My own career path followed the traditional academic trajectory for a number of years, until the opportunity to join BBSRC as Director of Science arose. This wasn’t a turn I had foreseen, but I’m so pleased to have seized the opportunity!
The diversity of career paths in bioscience was also highlighted at the Royal Society’s celebration of innovation and entrepreneurship – ‘Labs to Riches’. It was excellent to see researchers so inspired by the opportunity to translate their research into real application (I recommend you watch the YouTube videos accessed via the link above). It was also a real pleasure to speak to those researchers just embarking on an entrepreneurial track with such enthusiasm and hope – I wish them well!
At the same event it was gratifying to receive positive feedback on the Professional Internships for PhD Students (or PIPs) that BBSRC introduced as part of the Doctoral Training Programmes we support. Evidence we have gathered demonstrates how much these placements are valued by PhD students. Overall 97% of students say their placement benefitted their training and skills development (time-management, self-awareness and collaborative working emerged as key themes), and 66% reported benefits to their PhD project – pretty convincing data. However, I know that not all supervisors are entirely convinced about the value of the PIP. I wonder whether this is because all too often we imagine the students we train will naturally want to follow the same academic career path that we have chosen and to do otherwise is an anathema to us. The reality is that less than half of BBSRC supported PhD students go immediately into post-doc positions. So, I would suggest that rather than judge others for the choice of career path they have made we all need to embrace the diversity of journeys followed and support those taking a different path – after all, we need more scientists in all walks of life.
Wishing you all a relaxing Easter with just enough delicious chocolate!