Several species of fish have adapted to harsh environments using the same mechanism, which brings to question evolutionary chance, according to a study by Michi Tobler, Joanna Kelley, and many additional collaborators. We recently published the article about repeated adaptations to extreme environments in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Life after graduate school: exploring careers
Over the spring and summer of 2019, the Kelley and Cornejo labs at Washington State University held weekly Zoom meetings with a variety of scientists. This was our own spin-off of the increasingly popular science outreach program called Skype a Scientist. The intent was to introduce undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs to the exciting career possibilities previously unbeknownst to them, both inside and outside of academia. Interested scientists were solicited via Twitter and asked to present on their current job, the relevant training they had received in graduate school and the path that led them to their current position.
In each meeting, after a short introduction, we launched into questions from each student about how their projects and training in graduate school and beyond influenced the path and acquisition of their current position. We would limit conversations to half an hour to be respectful of the speaker’s time, which also seemed to be a sufficient amount of time to gain insight in their professional development.
To our extreme benefit, the Zoom series encompassed diverse speakers from various backgrounds, careers, expertise, and personalities. One constant, however, was the openness and honesty with which our questions were answered. Their openness provided us with genuine insight and a glimpse into various career paths. A surprising take-away to many of the lab members was the realization that many of the scientists did not have a linear career path. A common misconception among us was that deviation from a career trajectory would be challenging to recover from regardless of whether that deviation was in academia, industry, government work, or something else. However, many of the speakers shared that they forayed into many different fields, sometimes starting in industry and ending in academia or vice versa. This revelation was very impactful to many of us who have interests in multiple careers but are still unsure of what the future would hold. Many of the speakers echoed how our training in scientific and critical thinking will be a valuable resource no matter which occupation or field we ultimately choose.
We were very grateful to the speakers for passing on expertise and recommendations for garnering employment in their respective careers. One of the speakers introduced some specific examples of how skills learned in graduate school were translatable across career paths. Many of the speakers referenced how their development of computational skills were immensely helpful for jobs in different disciplines. Those who had made significant changes in employment, for example moving from academia to industry, referenced how starting a lab ended up being a very similar process and required similar management skills to later starting a business. We had another speaker suggest obtaining business experience for this reason, even for people who want to follow the academic path. Broad recommendations for skills to hone in graduate school for general success after graduation were focused on developing strong soft skills such as communication and organization. Good project management skills could be learned while in school working out the details and timelines for graduate projects which can be applied broadly to any job. Additionally, networking was heavily emphasized for the opportunity it provides to discuss new research with scientists from diverse background and fields of expertise. You never know when a random conversation at a conference or meeting might lead to a life-changing opportunity.
Around the end of this series our lab was able to dispel a number of misconceptions regarding workplace environments outside of academia. With the majority of the graduate students in this lab have only ever having worked in universities or on projects funded by them, we were surprised to learn that the seemingly intense, never-ending work life was not specific to working in academia. The illusion that jobs in industry or other fields started at 9am and ended at 5pm was changed with tales of strict deadlines, leading to long days, long weekends and sometimes little sleep. In the private sector, products can have an immovable set release date, quarterly reports must be filed and client services must be delivered in a timely manner. A second belief of ours that changed had been that careers outside of academia limited creativity and staunched scientific inquiry in order to achieve rigid goals. A number of speakers discussed the ability to continue publishing their findings and to pursue questions under the purview of the intent of the funding. Similarly, they pointed out that in academia, your pursuit of studies of interest will always be limited by the availability and your personal ability to obtain funding for the research question you are pursuing. Although this may seem like an obvious truth to life-long academics, this was a tough realization for some of us graduate students who have been fortunate to be advised by PIs who have had success in securing research funding.
Having this look into life outside of academia allowed many of us to reexamine our own intended professional pursuits. For some, the appeal of industry had always been a more strict daily schedule with mandated time off and a clear end to the day. For others, academia had always seemed more ideal because then we would have the freedom to pursue our scientific passion to explore any and all unanswered questions. Investing so much of our young adult lives into intense research can put graduate students in a bubble and warp their expectations and perceptions of life outside of school. This experience helped us see that there are many other fields where the skills we’ve developed are valuable. One important skill each speaker emphasized as crucial in the pursuit of any career is perseverance. According to one of our speakers, this perseverance is achieved by getting to know your strengths and weakness in order to develop resilience. The ability to go on, despite setbacks and difficulties, is a big part of success regardless of occupation. We would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the each of the scientists that took valuable time out of their day to meet with us. Your insight was invaluable and helped shape a number of our career trajectories after graduate school.
Some of the scientists we were fortunate to talk to included:
Michelle Vierra, Pacific Biosciences
CJ Fitzsimons, Leadership Sculptor
Sarah Kingam, Pacific Biosciences
D. Allan Drummond, University of Chicago
Josh Schraiber, Ancestry
David Mittelman, Othram
Stephane Budel, DeciBio
Allison Shultz, NHMLA
Joanne Kamens, Addgene
Michael Hoffman, University of Toronto
Camila Londoño, Science Discovery Zone
Liane Benning, German Research Centre for Geosciences
Kamrun Zargar, CalRecycle
Permanent ice cover by glaciers and snowfields is a dominant physical force in mountain ecosystems. From an ecological perspective, constant ice cover places harsh controls on life including cold temperature, limited nutrient availability, and often prolonged darkness due to snow cover for much of the year. Despite these limitations, glaciers, and perennial snowfields support diverse, primarily microbial communities. In a new review, postdoc in the lab Scott Hotaling and colleagues we synthesize existing knowledge of ecological stoichiometry, nutrient availability, and food webs in the mountain cryosphere (specifically glaciers and perennial snowfields).
Ren, Z.*, Martyniuk, N.*, Oleksy, I.A.*, Swain, A.*, & Hotaling, S.† (2019) Ecological stoichiometry of the mountain cryosphere. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 7:360. *co-first author; †corresponding author
Thrilled that our paper on gene expression changes in brown bears during hibernation is out today in @CommsBio with co-authors Shawn Trojahn, Heiko Jansen, Omar Cornejo, Charlie Robbins, and others. #WSUbears A link to the article is here: rdcu.be/bQ077
- Hibernation Works for Bears. Could It Work for Us, Too? NYTimes
- Grizzlies show remarkable gene control before and during hibernation Phys.org
- Grizzly research reveals remarkable genetic regulation during hibernation Science Daily
- WSU grizzly research reveals remarkable genetic regulation during hibernation 7th Space Family Portal
- Genetic Preparation for Hibernation Is Key for Grizzly Bears Technology Networks
- Fascinating ways animals prepare for fall National Geographic
- Fascinating ways animals prepare for autumn MSN
- Could hibernation help reduce obesity? BioTechniques
Joanna is a co-PI on the Evolution in Changing Seas RCN and spent the week at the Synthesis Workshop at Shoals Marine Lab. It was a diverse group of marine and evolutionary biologist who are coming together to develop integrated frameworks for studying adaptation to ocean change. There is a great writeup in the Molecular Ecologist about the workshop.
Graduate student Alex Fraik started her 6 month NSF funded internship with Krista Nichols at NOAA. While most of her project will be analyzing existing datasets on fish before and after dam removal, she had a chance to participate in some fieldwork.
Joanna Kelley presented at the NHGRI Comparative Genomics Workshop in Bethesda, MD. It was a fantastic event bringing together ~115 genome biologists from around the country to discuss comparative genomics and the NHGRI strategic plan as it relates to comparative genomics. The schedule of speakers is here: https://www.genome.gov/event-calendar/perspectives-in-comparative-genomics-and-evolution
You can view Joanna’s talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bQvTevtGM4
You can view the moderated discussion here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzGdDLAGR10
Thrilled to announce that our NSF proposal to study polar fish genome evolution has been funded!! Co-written with postdoc Scott Hotaling! The award abstract is located here: https://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1906015