May 2012

Complementary skills: an introduction

My series
Over the next few months, I will discuss the following topics and share with you resources to improve your skills in these areas:

  • communication,
  • • leadership,
  • • management,
  • • professionalism,
  • • responsible conduct of research,
  • • self-promotion (networking/social media), and
  • • other resources (workshops, seminars, societies and professional groups).

I look forward to covering these important topics. Feel free to provide your comments. Share your thoughts so that we can have an active discussion of these issues.

Related articles
  1. 1. Ainsworth, S.J. (2010) Skills for Success. Pharma Firms Are Seeking Adaptable Scientists with the Aptitudes that Meet New Business Needs. Chemical & Engineering News 88, 65 – 67.
  2. 2. Cyranoski, D., Gilbert, N., Ledford, H., Nayar, A., and Yahia, M. The PhD Factory. Nature 472, 276 – 279.
  3. 3. Bonetta, L. (Mar. 2010) Careers Beyond the Bench., 1267 – 1276.
  4. 4. Sanborn, B.M. (Jan. 2011) A career in academic research – what does it take to succeed?  ASBMB Today, 32 – 33
  5. 5. Jensen, D. G. (Mar. 2012) Tooling Up: Customize Your Training.

Aruni S. Arachchige Don ( is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

In response to the comments, I would add that developing strong communication, leadership and management skills does not mean that one must sacrifice his or her scientific skills. Being proficient in these areas will only enhance and complement your scientific skills. Take a look at some of the leaders in your respective fields who can effectively communicate scientific information, lead and manage scientific teams in a professional manner, conduct research responsibly, promote their ideas and novel discoveries, all while successfully mentoring the future generation of scientists. It is crucial to train scientists to be well-rounded individuals who have skills above and beyond research skills.

Also, we must not ignore the current trend in science — most Ph.D.-trained scientists graduating from U.S. institutions enter careers outside of academia. I recommend reading the recent PLOS One publication by Sauermann and Roach (May 2012) titled “Science Ph.D. Career Preferences: Levels, Changes, and Advisor Encouragement.” This is one reason why leaders in science like Suzanne Pfeffer, president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, suggest that universities initiate programs to teach skills that will benefit trainees pursuing diverse career paths. I encourage comments and feedback, but please sign your name to your comments.



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Great article! I'm looking forward to the rest of the series! There’s no question--development of these skills enables you to have an impact far beyond the individual level. Charles Dungan



What a joke...maybe the problem with science today is that we focus too much on these "complementary skills" to the detriment of "scientific skills."


Very pratical and useful.....hope to see other topics in detail at near future. ..




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