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161. Career Development is NOT a Waste of Time. We Have Proof.

All those feelings of excitement and possibility screech to a halt when you walk back into the lab to see your PI glaring over her reading glasses.

She looks at her watch. “Hey, good to see you. So glad you could join us,” she drips with sarcasm.

After missing a beat, you rally. “Yeah, sorry about being a little late. I heard about an information session on internships for grad students and wanted to check it out. It seems like a really great opportunity for me to…”

She cuts you off there. “Well, I’m not sure you have time for internships or information sessions if you aren’t making progress on that paper.”

And just like that, the hope dies within you and you slump back on your lab bench.

No Time To Lose

Sure, the interaction above is fictional, but it plays out in many forms every day. A student, looking for inspiration or skill development in a future career meets an advisor who believes that all time outside of the lab is wasted.

Because of the power dynamic, many students will either stop attending career development events, or they’ll do so quietly and surreptitiously.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could convince your advisor that, in fact, building career skills doesn’t slow down your progress in the lab?

What if you had the data to show that students who spend time on skill development graduate on time and publish just as much as those who don’t?

Well, your wish has come true. A new paper published in PLOS Biology followed thousands of students across 10 universities over a decade. The researchers asked: does participation in career development events impact the time-to-degree or publication quality and volume?

This week, we talk to Beka Layton, PhD, one of the lead authors on the study, and the Director of Professional Development Programs at UNC Chapel Hill’s Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program. She walks us through the research design, results, and talks about which conclusions are well supported and which were just suggestive.

The study concludes:

Using quantitative data collected from 10 institutions, our current study shows that participation in career exploration and professional development programming did not adversely affect time to degree or numbers of manuscripts published, and, in select cases, even correlated with more productive outcomes. We hope that the data presented herein will assuage concerns of faculty and trainees alike and will lead institutions to incorporate more experiential learning activities into PhD training programs (such as programs described in references

Full disclosure: both Josh and Dan are (very minor) co-authors on the study. We’re not just podcasters, we sometimes do science!

If you’d like to connect with training and development resources near you, check out the NIH’s Office of Intramural Training & Education or the Graduate Career Consortium.

Alternatively, you can start a club or networking group with a few peers at your own university. And when your PI asks why you’re ‘wasting so much time’, you can lay down the facts to support your cause!

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