University of Houston

Arizona State University

Past Editions:

Biocomplexity 2012 Biocomplexity 2011

Biocomplexity 2010 Biocomplexity 2009

Biocomplexity 2008 Biocomplexity 2007

Biocomplexity 2005 Biocomplexity 2004

Biocomplexity 2003 Biocomplexity 2002

Biocomplexity 2001



Panel Hannah Watkins and Will Mattern
Panel Co-chairs

The panel for the 13th International Summer School on Biocomplexity and Biodesign: Gene to System was held on June 20th. Summer school students and faculty discussed a variety of topics that ranged from the impact of the summer school itself to different career options and the process of securing a tenured job in academia.

The first topic of discussion was evaluating the summer school. It was agreed that the summer school was a unique program—very few other summer schools are free to attend, allow so much interaction with the faculty, and are in such a beautiful location—and that students benefited greatly from attending. Students appreciated the diversity of the group; a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, home institutions, research interests, and future career goals were represented among the students. Outside of lectures, students appreciated the opportunity for networking with other students and faculty members in a more casual setting. The students also enjoyed the opportunity to hear about research from the other attendees. The older students in particular commented that it was rewarding to be able to share their research/grad school experiences with the younger students attending. It was suggested that future workshops involve alumni as mentors. Students commented that their background was often different from that of the presenting faculty member. They appreciated the opportunity to expand their knowledge of the field of biomedical research and enjoyed being able make new connections back to their own research projects. Professor Ye's talks were particularly well received. Students enjoyed his question based lecturing and his vision of the BME field was insightful.

Following discussion of the program itself, the conversation turned to future career goals of the participants. When surveyed, academic research was the most popular career interest among the students. Other interests were consulting in industry and teaching in a non-research position. One recurring piece of advice in how to be successful in academia was to build a strong network using available resources. The workshop faculty recommended that students be proactive about their careers, especially by fostering a strong relationship with their advisor. Professors then shared their career trajectories with the students. Professor Hess's opinion was that there were many paths into academia. While some people are able to continue their research from graduate school into an academic position, most are required to change focus numerous times. Professor Guzman mentioned that while searching for new faculty, he looked for research approaches distinct from current members of the department. It was agreed that a willingness to embrace new topics and the cultivation of a widely applicable skill set would be beneficial for students as they develop their careers. The professors also noted that having high impact publications and funding would help secure a faculty position. During interviews for a faculty position, a clear presentation style, a willingness to interact, and a strong dedication to pursuing an academic career were also critical. The panel mentioned that a post-doctoral research position was most often required before transition into a faculty position and that it could help generate a strong publication record. Faculty also mentioned that attaining an intermediate position between post-doc and assistant professor, such as research associate, could be helpful in making one’s application stand out when applying to faculty jobs. While the path to academia can be long, all faculty expressed a strong appreciation in their jobs and in their freedom to choose research topics.

The final topic of the panel discussion was the life of an academic. Students were interested in how professors managed their time when it came to teaching, research, and family life. Professors said that they spent a majority of their time exploring new research opportunities, writing grants, and meeting with students. Teaching requirements were time consuming at first, but over time became easier as their first curriculum served as a template for future classes. While being a professor can be a highly demanding job, both professors were able to figure out ways to still be able to enjoy a reasonable work/life balance.