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Give us the foundation to build our transferrable skills!

Give us the foundation to build our transferrable skills!

The EGU Early Career Scientists’ (ECS) Great Debates offer early career scientists at the EGU General Assembly the chance to network and voice their opinions on important topics in the format of round-table discussions. At the end of the debate, each table delivers a statement that summarises the discussion and recommendations. By publishing the results, we hope to highlight some of the needs of the EGU ECS community and how these matters should be addressed.

At this year’s ECS Great Debate, the topic was transferrable skills in science. The main question was “should early career scientists use time developing transferrable skills?” You may say this is a simple question to answer. Indeed, all the resulting statements indicated that the EGU ECS answer is YES. However, the simple statements hide a much more complex situation; a situation that varies considerably for each individual researcher. Different countries have different standards, different universities set different curricula, and different supervisors have different priorities. Some early career scientists are lucky to have many opportunities to develop transferrable skills, whereas others strive to gain these skills.

Groups defined transferrable skills as ones that could be used in other scientific disciplines and not least, in industry. Indeed, many scientific skills are transferrable. For example, data analysis and statistics were noted as valuable tools across various scientific fields and industry careers. Some groups gave extensive lists of transferrable expertise, and most were not strictly science-based. These included writing, presenting, social media, teaching, team working, project management, networking and critical thinking, to name a few. However, developing these skills do not traditionally fall into the curricula of the geosciences.

Early career scientists having round-table discussions on the importance of developing transferrable skills. (Credit: Olivia Trani)

It was evident that ECS in the EGU consider transferrable skills as extremely important to their careers and their science. They furthermore suggest that researchers should be given time and appropriate credit to develop these skills.

At the same time, many of the ECS debate participants believe in striking a balance between establishing these skills and the scientific skills that their PhDs and publications depend on.

Below you will find a list of the summary statements from the ECS that were present at the Great Debate. These reports, based on the discussions from more than 100 early career scientists, show solid support for transferrable skill training. These results are a clear indication that EGU must continue to work towards offering short courses at the General Assembly on a variety of transferrable skills. Additionally, these statements can help ECS persuade their universities to invest in opportunities to develop these skills if they do not already do so. It is clear that the EGU early career scientist community believes these skills not only help ECS develop their careers, but that they also benefit science and society!

Here are the table’s conclusions:

“Instead of currently developing random skills ourselves, on an ad-hoc basis, we need an environment to support more organized, collaborative, efficient, and recognized skill sets”

“We need transferrable skills to communicate knowledge and help society, therefore learn them, when you need them or want them, others will thank you”

“We should focus on developing these [transferrable] skills but we need to manage our time in order to go deeper into [our] own science”

“Yes, because whether you decide to stay in academia or in industry, these skills will help you be better in your field, help you work on interdisciplinary topics and communicate your work, thus increasing your success. The pros outweigh the cons!”

“Yes, to be a good scientist, researcher, or general human being, it takes more than one skill or field. It takes being open and brave to pursue new experiences to change both yourself and those around you.”

“Scientific careers are not just about getting specific knowledge in your field specialty but being able to adapt yourself to different disciplines.”

“Yes, because you get more job opportunities, it gives you flexibility, it’s fun, it makes you happy, it helps define you and strengthens your personality.”

“Yes, it is important for improving our possibilities after a PhD. We should take these opportunities as early career scientists [and] have more chances to learn these skills.”

“All scientists should be required to take time to develop useful skills for professional and personal development. These developments should not be exclusive to certain groups, should be obligatory with freedom to choose topics, should be offered to supervisors and managers, should include more courses at conferences and there should be more money for travel funding.”

“We need to find a good balance during PhD between doing science and attending courses about transferrable skills.”

“Yes, but plan which relevant transferrable skills you need to develop in the short term in relation to your project, and then update your long-term plan.”

“Transferrable skills will always be useful in your current and future situation. They should be learnt at university. It should be acceptable to spend time learning these skills in courses in tandem with your research.”

By Mathew Stiller-Reeve, co-founder of ClimateSnack and researcher at Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, Norway

Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post that expresses the opinion of its author and those who participated at the Great Debate during the General Assembly, whose views may differ from those of the European Geosciences Union. We hope the post can serve to generate discussion and a civilised debate amongst our readers.

Head on over to the EGU Booth!

Head on over to the EGU Booth!

You can find the EGU Booth in Hall X2 on the Brown Level. This is the place to come if you’d like to meet members of EGU Council and Committees (Meet EGU) and find out more about EGU activities.

Here you can discover the EGU’s 17 open access journals, browse the EGU blogs (GeoLog, the EGU Blog Network and the EGU Division Blogs), catch up on the conference Twitter feed, and more! We will also be giving away beautiful geosciences postcards, which the EGU will post for you free of charge.

Beside the booth you’ll also find the finalists in the EGU Photo Contest, make sure you vote for your favourite images!  You’ll also find the Assembly Job Spot – be sure to check it out if you’re looking for a job in the geosciences, or someone to fill as spot in your research group.

If you have any questions about the EGU, or want to be more involved in the Union, come and ask us, we’re happy to help!

Short courses at EGU 2018

Short courses at EGU 2018

At this year’s General Assembly there are loads of short courses to choose from for broadening your expertise. You can supercharge your scientific skills, broaden your base in science communication and pick up tips on how to boost your career – be it in academia or outside. There is also a course aimed at making your time at the conference easier – be sure to take part, especially if it is your first time! And, if you do attend the short courses, don’t forget to share your experience with other conference participants on social media using the dedicated hashtag: #EGU18SC. Here’s a small selection of what’s in store at EGU 2018:

Supercharge your science – new techniques and dealing with data

Tips and tricks to boost your career

Being able to secure your own funding for research is key to a successful academic career and will give you important skills applicable to industry jobs too, so why not check out these three grant writing courses?

A selection of short courses focused on career development and improving your chances of landing your dream job. (Photo by Nick Youngson, distributed via Blue Diamond Gallery)

Additionally, you can also improve the chances of landing your dream job by attending these career development sessions.

You can also gain very useful insight from those who have done it before, so why not take part in your Division’s ‘Meet the masters’ session? Here you’ll be able to meet experts in the field who can give you tips on how to get the most out of your career.

Science communication skills

With a growing emphasis on engaging the public with science and research, we have many workshops designed to develop your communication skills.

The EGU General Assembly is taking place in Vienna, Austria from 8 to 13 April. Check out the full session programme, for a complete list of short courses available, on the General Assembly website.

Migrating scientists

Migrating scientists

Scientific research is no doubt enriched by interdisciplinarity and collaborations which cross borders. This, combined with the scarcity of academic positions and the need to further ones horizons by experiencing varied research environments, leads many scientists to relocate (if only on a short term basis) to a country which is not their own.  In today’s post, freelance science writer Robert Emberson explores the pros and cons of the nomadic lifestyle many researchers find themselves embracing in order to forward their work.

Scientists can consider themselves a lucky group of people. Having colleagues across the world working passionately at advancing the spectrum of human knowledge offers more opportunities to collaborate across national borders than perhaps any other field of human endeavour. Working with researchers of different nationalities is a chance to share ideas and experience; more often than not, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

In many cases though, this collaboration requires scientists to move their whole lives, temporarily or permanently, to new countries. Research on a given topic is almost never focused in one geographic region, and so a significant minority of scientists leave their homeland to pursue their careers. In September this year, the Twitter account @realscientists started a discussion about the implications of this movement, under the hashtag #migratingscientists. Many researchers shared inspirational and personal tales about their peripatetic lifestyles, and these brief snippets serve as a useful insight into the disruptive nature of crossing borders for work.

What are the deeper lessons we can take from scientists who migrate for work? What impact does it have on their scientific, and personal lives?

A recent analysis of published studies has suggested that migrating might well improve the career prospects of scientists. Sugimoto and colleagues analysed the citation scores of 14 million papers (between 2008 and 2015) from 16 million authors, and found that, in general, those written by scientists who moved country during that time have citation scores 40% higher than those by authors who remained put. Surprisingly, despite a perception that international collaboration is widespread, only 4% of the scientists in the dataset moved during the window of observation.

The perception of extensive movement for researchers may be coloured by science in the English-speaking world. Foreign-born researchers make up 27% of scientists or engineers in the USA, and 13% in the UK. These countries seem to benefit significantly in terms of the impact of the research produced within their borders; countries with greater mobility tend to produce more highly cited papers. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, at least in terms of citations, and moreover researchers returning home can bring with them a wider network of colleagues, potentially boosting research and development in their own countries.

I spoke to the lead author, Professor Sugimoto, about these trends, and she told me that much of it comes down to what is available in these countries.

“Scholars do best when they have access to resources (personnel, infrastructure, and materials)”, she says. “Countries with high scientific capacity and investment also tend to have a critical mass of scholars. Collaboration has been linked to higher production and citation, so it is no surprise that those with access to enlarge their network are likely to be successful on these metrics.”

The US and UK are two countries where open borders are increasingly under attack. Immigration is always a hot-button topic, and while in both countries an opposition to immigration is not necessarily new, increased restrictions on immigration are now more likely with a Republican-led government in the US and Brexit in the UK. Already there are suggestions that researchers are increasingly looking elsewhere for positions; based on the studies, this could lead to a decline in the impact of research from these countries.

As shown by Prof Sugimoto and colleagues, scientists don’t exactly fit into the standard definition of immigrant. The researchers point toward mobility, rather than migration, as the important descriptive term here. Scientists tend to return to their home country after spending time abroad, and as such represent temporary migrants, rather than permanent. Social attitudes towards skilled workers tend to be different to those surrounding long-term immigrants and it would benefit researchers if policymakers went out of their way to emphasise that scientists fit into this category.

According to Professor Sugimoto, the short-term nature of mobility is what is most beneficial.

“Unless these scholars maintain ties with their home countries, emigration is likely to yield to deficits for other countries. Circulation, on the other hand, should yield benefits for all countries. Short-term stays can establish ties and provide an influx of resources, without necessarily removing scholars from their home networks.”

Treating scientists as visiting experts, then, is perhaps a more productive way forward.

But immigration visas and increases in citation indices are just one side of the story for scientists. Reading through some of the tweets tagged with #migratingscientists, many focus on the upheaval of their personal lives, for better or worse. It’s sometimes too easy to think about researchers as ‘human capital,’ but each of those humans have personal connections and a definition of home. Some studies suggest that foreign-born researchers may be more productive than their home-grown counterparts, but their satisfaction with life tends to be lower. What’s the deal?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a framework commonly used in sociology to understand the different human requirements and personal development, suggests that the human need for Belonging is more fundamental than the requirement for Self-fulfilment. In other words, before researchers can genuinely accomplish their best work, they have a more basic need for a network of friends and family to belong to, or a place to call home. Finding this sense of belonging can be tricky in a foreign country. Language barriers can make it a struggle to meet new friends, and cultural tropes and mores may be more difficult to transcend than it first seems too, particularly when attitudes towards the researcher’s race or gender differ.

Early career researchers on short-term contracts may also struggle to maintain a sense of belonging to a particular place; extensive travel and fieldwork can exacerbate this. As a PhD student, living in a foreign country and travelling for labwork, field campaigns and conferences I sometimes felt like George Clooney’s character in the film Up in the Air, where he struggles with a life lived out of a backpack and in airport lounges.

Migrating scientists must make choices about close personal relationships; should they leave a partner behind or try to make it work long-distance? It’s doubly difficult to find positions for two people, let alone moving a more extended family. Many of the stories on twitter stress the importance of supportive partner or family.

Pay may also be lower for foreign-born scientists, too. Despite their outsize contribution to research output, foreign scientists in the US may be paid less than their peers, both in terms of salary, and the availability of funding sources. These hurdles make an already tricky transition to a new country significantly harder.

So it seems the research impact on a national and individual scale may benefit from increased mobility of researchers, but at the same time the personal tribulations may make this a challenge for many scientists.

How do scientists weigh up these pros and cons? Well, if Twitter is anything to go on, they’re clearly an enthusiastic bunch of folks, since many of the stories tend to emphasise the fun had along the way, as well as the positive experiences.

Given that these nitty-gritty questions about personal experience are unsurprisingly hard to quantify, our understanding of the impact of mobility on scientists personal lives is often based on these kind of anecdotes; it would be greatly beneficial to survey researchers more widely to ascertain what kind of systematic effects migration induces. A more qualified comparison with the citation-based indices would then be feasible.

For now, even if removing the obstacles to scientists moving across borders may raise questions amongst some policymakers, it would reduce the negative connotations of migrating for research – which might allow for wider collaboration, and a more effective global body of scientists.

By Robert Emberson, freelance science writer

Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post that expresses the opinion of its author, whose views may differ from those of the European Geosciences Union. We hope the post can serve to generate discussion and a civilised debate amongst our readers.