Science trainees face uncertain career prospects. Professional development programs can help

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By Katie LanginSep. 15, 2020 , 12:35 PM

It’s no secret that early-career researchers are struggling with increased career uncertainty these days. In June and July, 61% of roughly 7700 postdocs from around the world reported feeling that the pandemic has negatively impacted their career prospects. A similar survey of more than 3000 U.S. graduate students found that roughly one in five altered their career plans after the pandemic started. “[W]e need to have a serious conversation about not finding academic jobs in the next four years,” wrote one respondent, who is now considering industry positions. “It is the elephant [in] the room.”

Amid the crisis, universities are reporting a surge of interest in career and professional development resources. At Cornell University, for example, appointments for individual career counseling sessions increased by 37% during the first 6 months of 2020—a marked change compared with the previous 5 years, when interest in appointments had been relatively steady, according to Susi Varvayanis,  executive director of the university’s Careers Beyond Academia program. “We have seen a spike in needs.”

Cornell is far from alone, says Suzanne Ortega, president of the Council of Graduate Schools. “Most of our campuses say that they’ve never had higher levels of utilization …

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