This post was written by Gary McDowell, Cara Weismann and Chris Pickett.
The Boston Future of Research recently held its second symposium focusing on data collection and transparency regarding career opportunities in the scientific enterprise. The discussion covered the data that should be collected, by whom and for what purpose. The conversations also touched on the size, structure and composition of the research workforce and barriers to reform.
On Oct. 24, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in conjunction with the Boston Future of Research held a Hack Day. This event challenged groups of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars to spend 14 hours coming up with innovative ideas for counting postdocs, tracking them through their careers or presenting data about science careers. Projects could be entered into one of four categories, with category winners being awarded $500.
Five groups attended this Hack Day—four from Boston and one from St. Louis. Each of the groups worked at least 11 hours on their projects, and two worked until the very end. Three judges – one from the ASBMB, one from FOR and an ad hoc judge – evaluated the submitted projects for their degree of innovation, originality and feasibility.
The ASBMB and FOR are pleased to announce that two projects were pronounced winners of the Hack Day:
Winner: Tracking Postdocs – Dana King, Kelley Kranjc, Steen Hoyer, Mayank Choudhary, Vasavi Sundaram, Shuxiang Ruan, Hemangi Chaudari
The project cross referenced data from the National Science Foundation and Washington University in St. Louis to get a better grasp on career outcomes for Ph.Ds. This group also created a choose-your-own-adventure game. As described by the group:
[W]e were most interested in presenting career-path data for current Ph.D. holders in the U.S. to help understand future trends and inform our (and our peers) career choices. To address this outlook, we looked for information from the NSF’s Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System as well as our university’s alumni page to look at more individualized outcomes. Our goal is to create snap-shots of career options over time that can help inform decision making for current or prospective graduate students.
From a judge:
I think this is a great idea. I like the development of a script to help mine university alumni data and to compare to the national database… The ‘choose your own adventure’ is also a fun creative way to inform students of the state of the workforce.
You can read more of the explanation of this project here, and play the group’s prototype choose-your-own-adventure game here. If you would like to know more about the project or to contact the authors, please email Chris Pickett.
Winner: Counting Postdocs – Alberto Roca, Rebecca Lowdon, Erica Walsh
This project addressed the number of minority postdoctoral scholars across the U.S. by combining data sets to determine their geographic location. As described by the group:
We curated NSF [Survey of Graduate Student and Postdoctorates] data for 2011-2013 postdocs by research discipline for ethnicity and gender in science, engineering and healthcare. We curated NSF GSS data for 2013 postdocs by location (state and institution) for ethnicity and race in science and engineering. Using the location data, we processed, combined the data and performed low-level analysis to determine rates of minority postdocs among reporting institutions in a graphical format. We used Cartodb.com to create an interactive map tool to display the number of postdocs in each state.
From a judge:
Very good project and very useful data.
You can read more of the explanation of this project here, view the raw data here and visit Roca’s website here. If you would like to know more about the project or to contact the authors, please email Chris Pickett.
The judges chose to not award prizes in the presenting data or wild card categories.
Matt Gentry, associate professor at the University of Kentucky and a member of the ASBMB Public Affairs Advisory Committee, was a part of the Hack Day process. After reviewing the projects, he said, “It was really fun to see the creative ideas of the teams. These were topics that they were clearly passionate about and put a lot of energy into solving the problems. I look forward to some of these moving forward to a polished product.”