7 skills you need in 2022

Martina G. Efeyini
Jan. 7, 2022

Some scientists spent 2021 exploring a new field outside of industry or academia, and others started new jobs. I interviewed many scientists who work in careers in bioinformatics, public health, science policy and science leadership, among others. Although each had a unique career path, I noticed many of them brought up common skills and approaches. I’ll reflect on them here.

1. Strategy

First and foremost, I learned from André Porter, a policy director at the American Association for the Advancement of Science/Science is Us, that it is important to be strategic.

As Porter progressed in his career, he made sure to identify the skills he needed to get from point A to point B.

Take time to determine what skills you want to acquire, develop or perfect, and look for positions that will help you do that. 

2. Communication

Scientists should be able to communicate to and with diverse audiences, using various formats, and translate technical information succinctly. 

This is not something traditionally taught in undergraduate or graduate programs, so it is important to seek out training and practice both oral and written science communication. 

Acquiring communication skills will help you showcase your own work and help bridge the gap between scientists and the public. 

Alejandra Maldonado, an epidemiology manager for the state of Utah, communicates science to the public. Whether she is notifying lay people about an environmental hazard or meeting with experts and stakeholders to discuss public health issues, she has to make the information easy to understand. 

Efraín E. Rivera–Serrano, a virologist and science communicator, shared with me how he uses his training to make technical matters accessible to other scientists and the public. He uses social media in particular to disseminate scientific information. 

3. Problem solving 

When you are working on a project, you have to consider the cost, time, people involved, and resources needed to make it successful. 

Sometimes things go awry at work, just like they do in school, in the lab and in life. Being able to adjust, access expertise or pivot to solve the problem is critically important. 

Kelsey Florek is a data scientist for the state of Wisconsin. She uses an informatics approach to solve biological problems every day. 

She told me that the COVID-19 pandemic — a big problem, for sure — required bioinformaticians to pick the appropriate computational and statistical software to, for example, determine which viral variants were circulating. 

Keep your problem-solving skills sharp by staying up to date on the latest research in your field. Look at the trends and see how other scientists are solving problems. You might find that there’s already an easy fix for your problem. Or you might find that you can improve on an existing, but imperfect, solution. 

4. Management 

When I wrote a short series on scientists who have worked for scientific societies, I learned that all of them use management skills daily. They manage people, projects and programs for thousands of society members. 

Before Erica Gobrogge and William B. Coleman were society staff members, they were society members. Being active members helped them understand members’ needs and experiences. This helped them manage member volunteers and design effective programs for members. 

If you are looking to gain management experience or want to learn how a society runs behind the scenes, start volunteering for one. For example, undergrads can start or join an existing ASBMB Student Chapter. Others should consider applying to be on one of ASBMB’s committees or running for an elected position when the society calls for candidates. 

Volunteering will give you the chance to learn what it takes to start with an idea and take it all the way to implementation, a skill that can be used in all science careers. 

5. Policy 

Science policy (also sometimes called science advocacy) skills can take your career in various directions. Even if you don’t necessarily want a career in policy, you should know how legislation is developed and what major science policy issues are being debated by the public and lawmakers. 

Martín Miguel Fernández is a program officer at the National Academies. He works in the international science policy space. He told me that his science background and knowledge of policy at the global level help him when collaborating with international scientists, reviewing reports, meeting with experts and managing projects. 

If you are interested in pursuing a science policy career, read technical policy reports, talk to science policy experts, and apply to participate in activities that put you face to face with lawmakers, such as ASBMB’s Capitol Hill Day. Doing those things will help you learn the science policy terminology and make you more fluent when it comes time to discuss complex policy matters. 

6. Outreach 

Scientists working in all sorts of roles can and should do outreach. It’s not solely the responsibility of those who are still working at the bench or solely the responsibility of K–12 educators. Doing outreach is essential for inspiring people from marginalized groups to join the STEM workforce and for building public trust in the scientific method and community. 

Christiane Stachl is a scientist who combined her passion for chemistry and education to craft her own career path. At the University of California, Berkeley, she conducts research, oversees the broader impacts that the National Science Foundation requires of its grantees, and makes sure that students, postdocs and faculty are benefiting from outreach activities. 

If you are looking for ways to get involved in science outreach while keeping your day job, careers columnist Elizabeth Stivison shared a good list of options for students, postdocs and professors. 

Maybe you want to get kids excited about science by sharing your research with a local school. Maybe you want to start or volunteer at a science fair. Or maybe you want to start a Twitter movement (like #BlackInX) to amplify historically excluded voices. 

There are lots of ways to develop outreach skills. 

7. Flexibility 

I mentioned above how important it is to be able to solve problems. Well, solving problems requires flexibility. But being nimble isn’t necessarily natural for everyone. Some of us have to stretch ourselves and be willing to step out of our comfort zones. 

While there’s value in digging in your heels, for example when it comes to fighting injustice, all workers are expected to compromise to get team work done. 

Take measure of your flexibility. 

I talked to Manuela Dal Forno, who is a lichenologist. She has traveled around the world collecting and studying the organisms. She’s had to be comfortable with a change of pace and schedule. Sometimes she would be in the lab, one day in the office, and then another day in the field. Could you be so adaptable?

Ashley Huderson, a scientist who works in the engineering education policy space, also emphasized the importance of flexibility. 

When it comes to making career decisions, she said, you have to be intentional but also open to new things. You never know: Taking a position may lead to something you never considered before but actually really need or enjoy.

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Martina G. Efeyini

Martina G. Efeyini is a science communicator, STEM education advocate and careers columnist for ASBMB Today.

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