In The Field

ASHG 2009: Your Individual Development Plan: Two Modest Proposals

Posted on behalf of Chris Gunter

In 2006 I blogged from ASHG’s career development session and hate to say that not much has changed.

Back then I said “The session was kicked off by Bill Lindstaedt, Director of the UCSF Office of Career and Professional Development. He delivered the depressing news first: the median age of first tenure-track positions is 38; the median age of receiving a first NIH research grant R01 is 42; and only 4% of such grants go to first-time investigators.”


Bill showed the same or very similar stats this time:

–Only 11% of students/post-docs say they are “confident” in their career goal.

–Growth in new biomedical PhDs 35 or younger is increasing at rate of 59.4% from 1993-2001; growth of jobs was 6.7% in same time.

–For biomed PhDs 35 or younger: ~13% in tenure-track faculty positions. Now PhDs are 42 age at time of first major NIH award; 44 for MD-PhDs.

–% of biomed PhD’s in biotech/pharma: 1997 = 27.3%; 2001 = 31.6%.

For the last statistic, I was quite disappointed that no data were given beyond that. I have to think that the explosion in genomics has at least continued the increase of 1% a year, making it now nearly 40% of “biomedical PhDs” who are in biotech/pharma. If that’s the case, I wonder, why don’t we have more rotations with biotech companies? For example, at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, where I work now, we have multiple internships for students in high-school and college to gain experience at a biotech company. I know other places have similar programs – why not make it mandatory for graduate education if it’s almost equally likely a career option as an academic job?

Bill Lindstaedt also commented: “There is a bit of hand-wringing from students and postdocs I meet with” from “option paralysis.” He showed a video of two people stuck in escalator who just stand there and yell for help instead of just walking up the rest of the way, and says an individual development plan, which he advocates that one completes, is the way to get off the escalator. Everyone should have “a written plan for professional career progression,” he suggests.

One other written plan, and my second modest proposal: Twitter. Oh I know you might scoff, but I sat next to a post-doc who didn’t know about the session until she saw me mention it on Twitter, and she found it very useful. Following the career development session, we had the first ASHG “Tweetup,” organized via Twitter and word-of-mouth. In addition to science writers and lab scientists, we had reps from three of the most cutting-edge genomics companies show up: PacBio, Knome, and Complete Genomics. Clearly they understand the importance of social media, as well as the importance of PhDs going into biotechnology.

Anyone wanting to follow the conference as a whole can use this link.

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