April 2011

Helping scientists stay in science

ASBMB: Could you give our readers an idea of what your current job involves?
Marnett: Much like research, the job requires creative problem solving. However, instead of thinking about proteins, cells and gels, I focus on site functionalities, content development, marketing, Facebook, Twitter, etc. – no two days are the same. While it’s always challenging, it’s been fun and rewarding to see BenchFly become a reality after years of existing only in my head.

Our mission is to provide researchers with the community and tools they need to develop both professionally and personally in order to make research a better career today and for future generations of scientists. We’re [also] trying to knock down some of the stereotypes that learning science has to be serious and boring – showing the world that science can be fun, irreverent and exciting. There’s a video on the site showing a grad student trying to eliminate static from a scale. Nontraditional science to say the least … but very valuable information.

In addition to videos, our blog topics range from professional (What Makes a Great Graduate Student?) to personal (Lessons from a Recovering Postdoc) to recipes (Poverty Nutrition: A Fugue in Egg Minor) to, well, Chuck Norris (Chuck Norris, Scientist?).

ASBMB: Does any of the training or education that you received help you in your current career path; i.e., can someone without a doctorate do what you do?
Marnett: As I mentioned earlier, one of my fears in leaving the bench was that 15 years of training was going to be flushed down the toilet – that would be a tough pill to swallow. It turns out BenchFly is very science-specific, so I don’t think I could have done what I’m doing now without a Ph.D. However, to your larger point – I think my training as a scientist has been invaluable in my development as an entrepreneur. Beyond scientific knowledge, graduate school develops critical thinking, communication skills and problem-solving abilities – all of which are vital to success in any career.

ASBMB: What advice would you give to undergraduates who may know that they like science and may want a career in science but don’t yet know exactly what they want to do once they graduate?
Marnett: I think we’re witnessing a shift in thinking in the career in which the traditional career path no longer means academics. We’re seeing that there are many opportunities to contribute to science both in and out of the lab, so students should not feel limited to one or two career choices when they get out.

I’d encourage students who don’t know exactly what they want to do to talk to people in as many different careers as possible. People love talking about themselves, so take advantage of it! Set up 15- to 20-minute phone calls to ask people about their jobs – what they do, what they like, what they don’t like, etc. Not only will these informational interviews provide you with a good idea of what various careers involve, but they also help to expand your personal network, which is incredibly valuable when you start to look for a job or a graduate school.

I would also recommend taking a year or two off before graduate school. Many of us feel the need to rush straight from college to grad school or else risk falling behind. As it turns out, the most successful grad students I knew all took time off before starting graduate school. It gave them a perspective and drive that wasn’t always present in students coming straight from undergraduate.

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