77 episodes

Welcome to Working Scientist, the Nature Careers podcast. Our series of free audio shows features interviews and advice from experts in the field and highlights diverse career issues relevant to today's scientists.



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Working Scientist Nature Careers

    • Careers

Welcome to Working Scientist, the Nature Careers podcast. Our series of free audio shows features interviews and advice from experts in the field and highlights diverse career issues relevant to today's scientists.



Naturejobs podcasts can be delivered directly to your desktop by subscribing to our free RSS feed. Simply click here and copy and paste the URL into your media player.

    How apartheid's legacy can still cast a shadow over doctoral education in South Africa

    How apartheid's legacy can still cast a shadow over doctoral education in South Africa

    PhD programmes in "the rainbow nation" mostly lead to academic careers, but reform is needed to boost collaboration and integration, higher education experts tell Julie Gould.


    It's 25 years since since South Africa's first free elections swept Nelson Mandela to power as president.


    But higher education in the "rainbow nation" (a term coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to describe the post-apartheid era), could do more to encourage integration and collaboration between black, white and international students.


    Jonathan Jansen, a professor in the Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University, tells Julie Gould that despite seismic political change in 1994, education, research, and economics have not kept pace with the country's democratic transformation.


    Liezel Frick, director of the Centre for Higher and Adult Education at Stellenbosch University, says that around 60% of students are part-time, with many having staff positions at universities.


    Doctoral education still clings to a research-focused "Oxbridge model," she adds, and unlike programmes in North America does not offer credits for coursework and elective classes. "What is different is that we do not have an over-production of PhDs. A lot of PhDs still get absorbed into the academic sphere," she says. For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy

    • 14 min
    The PhD thesis and how to boost its impact

    The PhD thesis and how to boost its impact

    The thesis is a central element of how graduate students are assessed. But is it time for an overhaul? Julie Gould finds out.


    How do you decide whether or not somebody is a fully trained researcher? Janet Metcalfe, head of Vitae, a non-profit that supports the professional development of researchers, tells Julie Gould that it's time to be "really brave" and look at how doctoral degrees are examined.


    But what role should the thesis play in that assessment? Does it need overhauling, updating, or even scrapping?


    Inger Mewburn, who leads research training at the Australian National University in Canberra and who founded of The Thesis Whisperer blog in 2010, suggests science could learn from architecture. Student architects are required to produce a portfolio, creating a "look book" for assessors or potential employers to examine as part as part of a candidate's career narrative. For graduate students in science, this could include papers, journals, articles, presentations, certificates, or even video files.


    "The PhD is meant to turn out individual, beautifully crafted, entirely bespoke and unique knowledge creators," she tells Gould. "And we need people like that. We need creative people with really different sorts of talents. We don't want to turn out 'cookie cutter' researchers."


    David Bogle, who leads early career researcher development at University College London, tells Gould that UCL's three-pronged mission statement includes impact.


    "We want our research to make an impact, and in order to support and reinforce that it is now mandatory to include a one page impact statement at the front saying 'this is the difference it will make in the world,'" he tells Gould. "Any impact — curriculum, society, business, anything. It might not end up making that difference, but we want people to think about it."


    What about the pressure to publish? In October 2019 Anne-Marie Coriat, Head of UK and EU Research Landscape at the Wellcome Trust in London, argued in a World View article published in Nature Human Behaviour that PhD merit needs to be defined by more than publications.


    She tells Gould that the experience of getting published is a good thing, but making it mandatory is not. "Learning writing skills is a hugely important part of PhD training. Should it be a requirement that all students publish in peer reviewed journals in order to pass the PhD? My answer is absolutely and emphatically no." For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy

    • 12 min
    Team PhD

    Team PhD

    Scientific research is not the endeavour of a single person. It requires a team of people. How can this be better reflected in graduate student training, asks Julie Gould.


    Is science ready for "Team PhD", whereby a group of students work more collaboratively, delivering a multi-authored thesis at their end of their programme? 


    Jeanette Woolard, who recently secured a £4.5m Wellcome Trust grant to fund a four-year collaborative doctoral training programme in her lab at the University of Nottingham, UK, believes it could happen one day.


    "The team driven PhD is not distant dream. It's soon-to-be a fulfilled reality," Woolard, professor of cardiovascular physiology and pharmacology, tells Julie Gould. "If you give it enough of an incentive and wave the flag hard enough for team science, it will come."


    Woolard's Wellcome grant allows four graduate students to have their own research focus but to work collaboratively. "Each of the individual candidates are still pursuing an individual PhD and they will each write up an individual thesis at the end of their four year period of study," she says, arguing that the scientific community and students themselves aren't yet ready for programmes that culminate in a team focused thesis. "I think individual students still either like the idea or deserve the opportunity to defend their own piece of work at the end of their studies."


    The new programme at Nottingham, she says, provides them with "the most collaborative environment possible, where they have the opportunity to work together as much as they can, to utilise as many skills as are available, and to really experience a dynamic, collaborative team-driven environment. 


    "Ultimately that's what there are going to experience especially if they go into industry or pursue excellence in academia. Our best outputs now are judged as being multidisciplinary," Woolard adds.


    A team thesis may be some way off in science, but what about other disciplines? Jill Perry is Executive Director at the Carnegie Project. She tells Gould how the project is helping to redefine the education doctorate in the US. For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy

    • 15 min
    It's time to fix the "one size fits all" PhD

    It's time to fix the "one size fits all" PhD

    Julie Gould asks six higher education experts if it's now time to go back to the drawing board and redesign graduate programmes from scratch.


    Suzanne Ortega, president of the US Council of Graduate Schools, says programmes now include elements to accommodate some of the skills now being demanded by employers, including project and data management expertise. "We can't expect to prepare doctoral researchers in a timely fashion by simply adding more and more separate activities," she tells Gould. "We need to redesign the curricula and the capstone project," referring to the PhD as a long-term investigative project that culminates in a final product.


    Jonathan Jansen, professor of education at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, calls for more flexible and modular programmes and describes as an example how MBA programmes have evolved from a full-time one year course to include part-time online only programmes and a "blended" combination of the two approaches. "It's about trying to figure out in terms of your own lifestyle what kind of progarmme design works for you," he says. "One size does not fit all."


    But Jansen's colleague Liezel Frick, director of the university's centre for higher and adult education, says it's important to remember the ultimate goal of a PhD. She tells Gould: "I get the point around flexibility but it's still a research focused degree. You still have to make an original contribution to your field of knowledge. Otherwise it becomes a continuing professional development programme where you can do odds and ends but never get to the core of it, which is a substantive research contribution."


    David Bogle, a doctoral school pro-vice-provost at UCL, London, says it's important to remember that graduate students are part of a cohort and community who should be respected and rewarded, not looked down on and treated as second class citizens. "At the moment there's a certain amount of 'I'm the supervisor. You should be looking to me as the primary source of inspiration,' when in fact the inspiration comes from peers, professional communities, training and cross disciplinary activities."


    This is the second episode in a five-part series timed to coincide with Nature's 2019 PhD survey. Many of the 6,300 graduate students who responded call for more one-to-one support and better career guidance from PhD supervisors. For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy

    • 12 min
    Too many PhDs, too few research positions

    Too many PhDs, too few research positions

    Students need to be clear about their reasons for pursuing a PhD and the career options open to them, Julie Gould discovers.


    In 2015, labour economist Paula Stephan told an audience of early career researchers in the US that the supply of PhD students was outstripping demand. “Since 1977, we've been recommending that graduate departments partake in birth control, but no one has been listening.


    "We are definitely producing many more PhDs than there is demand for them in research positions,” she said.
    In this first episode of this five-part series about the future of the PhD and how it might change, Julie Gould asks Stephan, who is based at Georgia State University, if her view has altered.


    Anne-Marie Coriat, head of UK and EU research landscape at the Wellcome Trust in London, says students need to be clear about why they want to pursue a PhD. "Look at what you're getting into, try and understand that, and then network," she says.


    Forty per cent of respondents to Nature's 2019 PhD survey, published this week, said that their programme didn’t meet their original expectations, and only 10% said that it exceeded their expectations — a sharp drop from 2017, when 23% of respondents said that their PhD programme exceeded their expectations.


    Despite a global shortage of jobs at universities and colleges, 56% of respondents said that academia is their first choice for a career. Just under 30% chose industry as their preferred destination. The rest named research positions in government, medicine or non-profit organizations. In 2017, 52% of respondents chose academia and 22% chose industry. For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy

    • 10 min
    My courtroom battles to halt illegal peatland fires in Indonesia

    My courtroom battles to halt illegal peatland fires in Indonesia

    Adam Levy talks to 2019 John Maddox Prize winner Bambang Hero Saharjo and Olivier Bernard, the Canadian pharmacist whose campaign against vitamin C injections for cancer patients earned him the early career stage prize.


    The John Maddox Prize recognises the work of individuals who promote science and evidence, advancing the public discussion around difficult topics despite challenges or hostility.


    Bambang Hero Saharjo, winner of the 2019 prize, is a lead expert witness on illegal peatland fires in Indonesia. He has presented evidence on nearly 500 environmental cases for the Indonesian government, often facing threats and harassment.


    Saharjo, a professor in the forestry faculty at Bogor Agricultual University, was nominated by Jacob Phelps, a lecturer in tropical environmental change and policy at Lancaster University, UK, who says: "His work serves not only to bring justice in individual cases, but has inspired a vision of what is possible in Indonesia—a future in which courts are true centres of evidence-based justice, even in the face of entrenched interests; where academics are genuine public servants, and in which science has a prominent role inthe public discourse."


    In 2012 pharmacist and broadcaster Olivier Bernard created Le Pharmachien, a comic website to help the public separate myths from facts about healthcare. An English version, The Pharmafist, is also available. More recently Bernard has spoken out against high-dose vitamin C injections for cancer patients. This intervention is not supported by the current body of scientific evidence and Olivier's campaign led to him facing intimidation and cyberbullying. Bernard is winner of the John Maddox Prize early career stage award.


    The prize is a joint initiative between Nature and the charity Sense about Science, which challenges the misrepresentation of science and evidence in public life. It is named in honour of Sir John Maddox, who edited Nature for a total of 22 years between 1966 and 1995. For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy

    • 19 min

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