Guest post by Gavin Rice and Jessica M. Vélez 

Over the past year and a half, the lack of in-person conferences and reduced number of external seminar speakers have damaged the connection that early career scientists feel toward their scientific community. “Networking” is often cited as one of the most important tools for success in careers both within and outside of academia, making many of us anxious about our future. Although Zoom provides us the ability to interact with more people without the cost of travel, the onus to reach out and start the conversation often lands on the early career scientist. 

In 2021 the GSA launched discussion sessions to connect early career geneticists from the Early Career Leadership Program (ECLP) and the Presidential Membership Initiative (PMI) with members of the GSA Board of Directors.

Discussion sessions connecting Early Career Geneticists with the GSA Board of Directors:

How it started: This program was born through a conversation at a GSA Board meeting. When the agenda turned to the Early Career Leadership Program and the Presidential Membership Initiative, GSA Board members were excited by these efforts and wanted to further support these programs. Early Career Scientist Representative to the Board Gavin Rice proposed that Board members could participate in Zoom sessions to introduce themselves and give advice to early career geneticists in these programs. 

Topics were suggested and voted on by members of the ECLP and PMI, with particular emphasis on areas where early career scientists needed guidance. Selected topics ranged from best practices when setting up scientific collaborations to discussions of how to improve childcare in academia. GSA Board members as well as members of the GSA’s Education Committee, and Equity and Inclusion Committee then picked which discussions they wished to lead. 

Session format: Each Zoom session focused on a single topic and hosted up to 15 early career scientists and one to three GSA Board or committee members. To minimize screen fatigue, meetings were kept short (~45 minutes). Each meeting began with the Board or committee members giving a quick opening statement on the topic followed by brief introductions. The rest of the time was left to open discussion where early career geneticists asked questions or shared their own experiences. 

What works: What has been most impressive about these sessions is how the early career geneticists and senior GSA members have been willing to open up and share their experiences. 

I was lucky as a postdoc to have a strong support network (in no small part through interactions fostered by GSA meetings!). So, when I submitted my faculty applications, I felt about as prepared as it was possible to be. And yet, in the process of Zoom and on-campus interviews, there were still many unexpected details and decisions I wasn’t mentally prepared for. It’s why I’m glad to be able to share my experiences as a recent applicant, while they’re still fresh in my mind.

Teresa Lee, University of Massachusetts Lowell

I have been impressed at how open the GSA Board and committee members have been in these sessions. In several of these meetings we have had powerful discussions about what it is like to feel excluded in academia. To see people I highly respect share their struggles helps me feel less alone in mine. It has also allowed many early career participants to share our difficulties as well. It makes you feel closer to those who are running the GSA and that your experiences are being heard and validated. 

Gavin Rice, University of Pittsburgh

It was very valuable to me to hear the questions from the attendees because these helped me understand what the next generation of scientists are concerned about with regards to the academic job search. Now I can use these (and the sage advice from the other panelists) so that I can do a better job helping my own trainees.

Folami Ideraabdullah, GSA Board of Directors

Template for societies/departments: Feeling included and valued in a scientific community is vital for early career scientists to persevere and succeed, but COVID-19 is still limiting our ability to interact and have vital conversations in person. We are excited to continue with this program to connect early and senior career scientists. Establishing this goal at conferences, especially for virtual attendees and even within departments, can be a way for early career scientists who feel isolated to feel that they are part of a community.

About the authors:

Jessica M. Vélez, PhD, is GSA’s Membership, Engagement, and Early Career Programs Manager.

Gavin Rice, PhD, is a postdoc at the University of Pittsburgh and was an Early Career Representative to the GSA Board (2020–2021)

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