Symposium Scientific Career Paths in Medical Centers

YFN’s kick-off symposium took place on March 28, 2013 at the Klein Auditorium of the Academiegebouw of the Leiden University.

63 participants preregistered for the symposium, mostly from within the LUMC. Due to outreach activities the Postdoc Career Development Initiative and the Erasmus MC Postdoc Platform were represented, and several participants were affiliated with TNO and the Leiden Bioscience Park. An estimated 70-80 people attended the event, that consisted of three parts.

First, the objectives of the YFN were presented by Yaël Nossent and Mettine Bos.

Second, the Deans, or their representatives, of six University Medical Centers in the Netherlands presented their perspective on career development for young faculty. The slides of the external speakers are available below. The University Medical Center Utrecht and VU Medical Center Amsterdam were the only UMCs which were not represented at the symposium.

The primary conclusions from these presentations were that most University Medical Centers have a program aimed at attracting and nurturing talent, which are generally effectuated as fellowships. However, each talent program is different and also the profile of these talents is different. For instance, in some UMCs the program starts as early as at the bachelor level and ends at the level of a full professorship. Furthermore, many UMCs have separate career programs for women in science. In general, the manner in which a researcher can progress through these career paths is not fully transparent. In recent years, there has been a realization that career/talent programs should not only focus on scientific excellence, but also include training on so-called transferable skills (people management, lab management, education/academic teaching, grant writing). The fellowship schemes are generally individual and based on fixed term contracts.

Third, the symposium concluded with a panel discussion moderated by Professor Koning (LUMC) in which the audience exchanged opinions and ideas with the representatives of the University Medical Centers. The primary conclusions from this discussion were as follows:

  • Career development programs are aimed exclusively at attracting and retaining top talent. Little to no support is available for researchers that are good, but have difficulties obtaining the most prestigious grants. This group of researchers was referred to as “middenkader” (“second tier”). There was ample discussion on whether providing a stable “middenkader” is the responsibility of the medical center or the individual researchers. It is clear that other ways of funding are required to maintain a healthy research climate other than that proved by programs for scientific top talent.
  • There is a clear need for transparency with regard to expectations and feedback on the performance of scientists throughout various stages of their career, with particular emphasis on their future prospects. The majority of young researchers agreed that this is not adequately provided for in the current system. Though individual scientists should define their own level of ambition, clear guidance of the institute is a requisite.
  • Counselling for alternative career paths is of importance for early career scientists. The majority of people who leave academia do so at an early stage of their career.
  • Expectations with respect to acquisition of funding, teaching obligations, and scientific output need to be put in perspective of the duration of a fellowship.
  • The current focus on translational research in University Medical Centers is a societal pressure (from both EU and national governments). For many early career scientists this poses a particular challenge, and a support structure for setting up translational projects could potentially overcome both a funding barrier and a career barrier.