Friday, February 17, 2012

zz Bad Advice, Not Young Scientists, Should Hit the Road

Science 17 February 2012: 
Vol. 335 no. 6070 p. 794 
DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6070.794-a

Bad Advice, Not Young Scientists, Should Hit the Road

Typically, when graduate students apply for postdocs, or postdocs apply for faculty positions at their home institutions, they are greeted with a reflexive reaction: They should diversify their training by working elsewhere. This guidance is both antiquated and damaging. It is time for a change.
Most often, this affects young scientists struggling already to balance work and personal life, perhaps with young families and multiple careers. In many cases, they have real opportunities right where they are, and the pressure to “move on” is as costly as it is arbitrary. Large institutions often have multiple labs well-suited to the student's career development, led by investigators in a position to understand and appreciate the talent of these trainees. In some cases, the trainees already work in the best lab for their own development. Others are forced by the intellectual bad habits of grant reviewers to choose between family and career. This isn't to say that the advice is always bad, but neither is it always right.

Science is a team sport: The strengths of a lab arise from the joint contributions of all of its members. These trainees may well be especially productive because of the environment they have helped to create, and the success of the lab as a whole follows suit. We should recognize and honor the importance of continuity when a group has formed an effective research unit, and should encourage young scientists to work where they are most productive. Can you imagine a private-sector environment that demands of its best workers that they find jobs at other companies, rather than nurture them toward the success of the business overall?
These are deeply institutionalized problems. As individuals, we should think carefully about the advice we give to students who want to grow right where they are. To see real change, we should look to the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation to provide rational guidance on the expectations of continuing training fellowships.
  1. Mark S. Cohen
  1. Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.
  1. E-mail:

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