Twenty-One Pioneers in ASM First Summer Institute on Career Development

Twenty-one students, including two postdoctorates and nineteen graduate students, participated in the 1st Summer Institute in Preparation for Careers in Microbiology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison on 4-10 August 2001. The goals of the Institute were to provide intensive and closely guided experience in five key topics important for choosing and succeeding in a career in microbiology. These topics were opportunities and preparation for diverse careers in microbiology, preparation and critique of research grants, scientific presentation and communication, effective teaching methods, and development of professional standards in microbiology. Robert Kadner, chair of the ASM Committee on Graduate Education, introduced the program. He encouraged students to participate fully, telling them "Your main responsibilities are to talk, ask, and discuss. There are no grades in this Institute. This is your opportunity to meet with a number of experienced microbiologists who have come to Madison for the sole purpose of helping you in the development of your careers. We, the faculty, will talk with you about our career paths and about our recommendations and views of your future opportunities." He continued, "We will work closely with you to help you develop useful skills in oral and written communications and in professional development."

Participants learned first about the grant-making process, elements of a successful proposal, and enhanced communication techniques from early morning to late in the evening. They were required to prepare a draft proposal, which they reworked, revised, and developed further under closely guided instruction and advice. Working in teams, participants reviewed one another's proposal, practicing and improving their writing skills. Participants engaged in a similar activity to improve their oral communication skills. During a session of 10-minute presentations that were prepared prior to the Institute, participants discussed their research projects. This session was planned after students heard a formal talk on techniques for developing oral presentations and spent an evening revising their previously prepared presentations. One participant reported, "This was truly an extraordinary learning experience. The faculty and participants worked so hard and were tremendously enthusiastic. They were very cooperative, forthcoming, and very honest when they critiqued our presentations and grants."

Although there was extensive time to develop one's skills in written communications through the grant preparation activities and in oral communications through the scientific presentations, the most beneficial aspects of the Institute were the presentations and discussions about microbiology careers. One participant stated, "We were able to spend many hours with experts in different fields to find out about different positions and what each was really about, as well as many alternate options to consider. I have never had the opportunity to have such candid discussions with so many professionals." Another participant stated her feelings differently, "One of my favorite aspects of the Institute was the career talks-there were no prejudices by the faculty or speakers about one career being better than another. Rather, the emphasis was on doing what is right for yourself and enjoying your career." Microbiologists from diverse careers spoke about the benefits, challenges, compensation, and employment prospects. They represented faculty from large research universities, medical schools, comprehensive universities, and smaller liberal arts institutions as well as scientists working in clinical laboratories, biotechnology industry, research administration, and patent law.

For many the Institute went beyond all expectations. "The Institute has exceeded my expectations. I applied because I felt I needed advice on grant writing and presentations, but a lot more was covered. We talked about areas that I thought about, but was afraid to talk about with my mentor. For instance, I received advice on handling my family life, options that are different from a career in research, and what to ask and look for in seeking a postdoc position. Most important, I learned that the speakers felt the same way that I do now when they started out. I can't begin to think about all the opportunities and experiences that I will encounter in my lifetime!"

Another participant commented, "I found that the best thing about the Institute was the ability to discuss and interact with the faculty and other students in a completely open forum, without the fear of what I said could affect my future." The Institute was a true forum where students and faculty learned together-about writing, speaking, teaching, careers and themselves. Many felt that participating in the Institute was the best thing that they had done in their graduate education. One felt that having participated in the Institute, she would be more competitive for further advancement.

The Committee on Graduate Education of the Board of Education and Training sponsored the Institute. The Society is indebted to the Department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin at Madison for their joint sponsorship of the first Summer Institute. A second institute is being planned for 3-9 August 2002 at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Check the website after January 2002 for more information.