AIBS Cross-Generational Conversation Outcomes
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AIBS Cross-Generational Conversation Outcomes

AIBS hosted a first-of-its-kind event in June 2012, exploring key topics affecting the field and profession with a cross-generational group of invited individuals. To learn more about what we did, watch the slide show below. The findings are presented by the table hosts in the sections below.


highlight arrow Click on any blue text item in the section below to read an
expanded explanation of a key point.


Professional Societies: Home Sweet Home

Sheri Potter, table host Sheri Potter

Through these conversations, I aimed to learn more about the personal stories behind what I was seeing in our survey data, to explore how students make decisions about joining societies, and what motivates late career professionals to retain memberships throughout their careers. I was curious to learn how people perceive metasocieties, their relationships with them, and the role of the metasociety (e.g., the American Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS], AIBS, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology [FASEB]). I have also heard that with all the technological alternatives to the services they offer today, scientific societies are becoming obsolete. I wondered whether that were true. The conversations were informative, and there was one completely surprising and informative nugget that emerged. The key points that emerged from my discussions were the following:

  • A students' first interaction with a society usually results from the desire to fulfill an immediate need.
  • Scientific society membership has clear benefits to those who have participated.
  • Students really did not have a good sense of the role of metasocieties.
  • We are poorly educating students about the role of professional societies in the community.

Career Advancement: Hindsight Is 20/20; the Cup is Half Full.

Susan Stafford, table host Susan Stafford

By the end of my four sessions, I looked down at the surface of the table, draped with white butcher paper covered with hand-written notes, comments, doodles, and bits of eloquent prose here and there, and I really had to smile at the warm memories it evoked of problem solving at my family table as a child. In my childhood household, the dinner table was a place for solving great mathematical problems, and my father and I would solve equations and factor polynomials on the backs of paper napkins at every meal! The doodles on this table, however, examined a much more abstract kind of problem: the career pathways of professionals in biological fields. Four major themes emerged from our conversations:

  • The biologist's professional skill toolkit contains both quantitative and qualitative analytic skills, along with interpersonal skills.
  • Advice to early career professionals: "Be a 'weed'--the plant that can jump into new areas, be adaptable, and be willing to occupy that new space that was heretofore empty."
  • A mentor is a crucial part of your career development.
  • Social media can accentuate your career development, but not all are open to it.

Formal and Informal Public Audiences: I Am a Public Interface

Judy Scotchmoor, table host Judy Scotchmoor

I have a strong interest in public perceptions of science and strategies for engaging with the public associated with my day job. As a result, I was looking forward to conversations with our guests about their interactions with the public. I was curious to see whether their responses would be similar to those I have received from the faculty and graduate students with whom I interact at the University of California, Berkeley, and at professional meetings that I attend. I found (perhaps unsurprisingly) a strong similarity along three primary messages; only the supporting details varied, and those primarily with personality and experience. The highlights from these conversations were the following:

  • Talking about our science (beyond conversations with peers) is a critical part of a scientist's job.
  • There was consensus on the importance of improving skills for and increasing opportunities to communicate science with a broader audience.
  • The majority of early-career scientists present wanted to find ways to integrate education and outreach into their research careers.

Communicating Research to Peers: Tweet Your Conclusions in 140 Characters and Sixty Seconds

Tim Beardsley, table host Tim Beardsley

As the editor in chief for BioScience magazine, I often ponder how all the rapidly changing technology is changing the way we communicate our research as professionals. I wonder about the role of social media, whether annual meetings are becoming an outdated mode of getting the job done, and how to respond to the desire of so many to see our scholarly material become open access to the public. This conversation was a great opportunity to ask some of these questions and to learn more about how a range of biologists think about the issues that challenge the scholarly publishing and research communication industry. What I took home was the following:

  • Annual meetings are valuable to the professionals and the field.
  • Information technology is changing how professionals do their job, well beyond social networking tools.
  • Open access is generally endorsed as a good direction.
  • So much change is leading to some concern, with a nod to the strengths of traditional research communication methods.

To read more about AIBS activities that promote the understanding of the forces affecting scholarly societies and the field, we recommend the following:

Biology organization survey
Individual biologist survey report

Still want more? This is an evolving program of AIBS. If your organization would like to get involved, learn more, or see how to participate, contact Sheri Potter, spotter@aibs.org.

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