Are Life Scientists Happy with Their Careers?

Hi – I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Tamara Zemlo and I’m the Director of an organization called The Science Advisory Board. The Science Advisory Board is an online group of labout 23,000 life science and biomedical professionals. These individuals are interested in improving the tools and techniques used in their research and a big part of my job is to help them communicate their viewpoints.

Their intense reliance on technology made me start to wonder what other factors are important to them in helping them have a satisfying career? I wanted to share with you the results of a study I conducted this year about job satisfaction and worklife factors for scientists — as you might guess, having the latest technology at their fingertips is only the tip of the iceberg.

Life science professionals, on the whole, seem to be content with their present situation, but appear uncertain about their future. Hence this is perhaps why almost one-quarter of them are looking for new jobs in 2004. Life science professionals also like the intrinsic rewards of their job and how it is structured, but are not happy with the external validation (or measures of worth) that they receive from superiors.

Life science professionals believe that their proficiency in communication skills would most aid them in seeking promotion. Other key skills that are valued in the life sciences include initiative, interpersonal skills, organizational skills and analytical skills. Proficiency in networks and politics—even though it is the single greatest source of work-related frustration—would not be sufficient for a promotion. Increases in productivity were also not viewed as grounds for promotion. Perhaps this finding means that life science professionals think that they are as productive as they need to be to fulfill the expectations of their position.

While men and women rate themselves as equally competent in research and planning-related skills, the two groups diverge when it comes to their competencies in communication and leadership skills. It is provocative to speculate whether these differences translate into two very different, gender-based styles of science. From this study, women tend to emphasize their attention to detail, organizational skills and levels of observation. In contrast, men stress their abilities to introduce and communicate concepts and their facility to synthesize information. While it is pointless and even dangerous to generalize such differences into the “female” and “male” approaches to research, at the very least these results reaffirm that there are many recipes for achieving success in one’s scientific career.

However, when things go wrong along one’s chosen career pathway, the results and insights from this study indicate that it can be condensed into a very straightforward explanation: one’s job—for whatever reasons—is not meeting one’s personal expectations. Life science professionals, like everyone else, have multiple ways to handle such career disappointments such as realigning their expectations with reality; learning to accept frustrations and limitations; or making changes. These changes can be small such as organizing a journal group to encourage the exchange of ideas between research groups. Other types of changes are more dramatic such as returning to school for an advanced degree or entering a new field. In the end, life science professionals, by and large, want to feel like they have made a significant contribution to their field when reflecting upon the entirety of their career.

A full copy of this report, along with the data is available at http://www.scienceboard.net/pdf/scienceboard.net_jobsurvey.pdf

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.

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