Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin

A Forum
for Female
Scientists

Open to All

Purpose


Rosalind Franklin: A Forum for Female Scientists is a scientific collective named in honor of the distinguished chemist-crystallographer, created by and for women but open to all. Here, senior professor-researchers around the world advise young graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and assistant professors of professional pitfalls, practical problems, and solutions arrived at over lifetimes in science. Giving voice with directness, humor, and individuality, these advisors support every form of intellectual persistence and encourage free thinking about the future.

This constellation of advice has been assembled because scientists typically think and work to consensus. Our aim is that hundreds of honest observations will help entering colleagues feel clearer, more measured, less alone, less anxious, and open to the expectation that all is possible in time. We hope these ideas, communicated with clarity and generosity by pioneering researchers, teachers, and thinkers, will seem right, recognizable, and a universal inheritance serving readers well in their efforts to come.

About Rosalind Franklin


Rosalind Franklin
(1920–1958)

When Rosalind Franklin graduated from the University of Cambridge as a physical chemist in 1941, women were not yet granted formal degrees, nor given full recognition as staff or faculty in the form of status, equal pay, and access to promotion. Against this setting, Franklin was a force­ful, highly intelligent, deeply determined woman in a male occupation, a progressive Jew in an Anglican country, and a meticulous experimentalist whose observations, images, and calcula­tions, the earliest empirical proofs of then-theoretical DNA, went generally unacknowledged.

Our present day is not entirely severed from this past. Traces of earlier thinking and former times remain active in our culture, customs, and alliances. The example of Rosalind Franklin reminds us to safeguard standards of fairness, inclusivity, integrity, honesty, and mutual aid in science. Pragmatically speaking, it is patent folly to thwart the scientific intelligence, imagination, abilities, and good will of more than half of humankind. Along with others still alarmingly under­repre­sen­ted in science, women do succeed in the halls of discovery.

More about Rosalind Franklin at Wikipedia.

Acknowledgments


Our dream jobs consume an average of 70 hours per week. During this time we prepare classes and create support materials; teach undergraduate courses and graduate seminars; clear course administration such as office hours, grading, evaluations, updating files, and other paperwork; meet separately with students, postdocs, and the entire group; write, rewrite, and yet again rewrite research articles and reviews; review journal manuscripts and grant proposals; and conduct correspondence including careful letters of recommendation for colleagues and students.

We never stop pursuing external grant funding.

We read the professional literature of our field; monitor research budgets; recruit and hire coworkers; attend colloquia and problem sessions; chair or participate in departmental committees for planning, scheduling, curriculum coordination, staff evaluation, and for Ph.D. candidates; prepare status reports for funders and university leaders; show appreciation for colleagues and coworkers; and organize or attend conferences.

We also care for our children, home, and parents.

While we do these things, we also did this — it's that important to us. Rosalind Franklin: A Forum for Female Scientists is a non-profit publication and website, produced by and for female scientists, open to all. With gratitude we thank each respondent for her generosity; partners, spouses, parents, and children for ten minutes freed here and there; and to every underwriter of Rosalind Franklin: A Forum for Female Scientists.

Uses


We invite readers to peruse the following questions and answers repeatedly, and will do our best to respond to follow up questions, comments, or suggestions.

For inquiries and other contact, email ROZ-contact@oist.jp

If you are a graduate student, postdoctoral fellow, or assistant professor who works closely with a generous, supportive senior professor from any branch of science, particularly in Africa, Antarctica, the Balkans, Poland and Russia, Asia, Latin/South America, and Southeast Asia, we ask that you invite and encourage her or his representation. Likewise, we welcome editorial assistance interviewing, reviewing, publishing, and disseminating Rosalind Franklin: A Forum for Female Scientists — Roz, to a new generation of friends and admirers.

Questionnaire


Many influences, codes, and customs shape science as a profession. These are often implicit, seldom visible to the beginner, although, in science, careers are forged at an early stage, especially in highly competitive environments. For this reason, twenty-five female full professor-researchers around the world offered advice and answers to doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows, and assistant professors on topics central to academic continuity and success. Click on any of the following five questions for the pertinent answers.

Answers to question 1: "Impact"


FA   >
(chemical engineering, bioengineering, directed evolution)
I'm rarely in a comfort zone. Consider this career trajectory: mechanical engineering, then aerospace engineering, nuclear energy, solar and sustainable energy engineering, chromatography and NMR spectroscopy, biophysical chemistry, chemical engineering, molecular biology, and protein engineering. When colleagues caution me or dismiss moves as unorthodox and risky, my intentions toughen. Look, there's a place in science for every personality. Mine happens to crave underwater caverns, snow-covered peaks, and high intensity, which is to say constantly changing territory. You may prefer peaceful, placid meadows. I'm not a bit intimidated by career peril. Temperaments vary.
RA   >
(structural biochemistry, purine metabolism, nucleobase deamination, antibiotic production)
I believe this decision depends on funds and opportunities on taking up your position. The ultimate aim is challenging projects. If good startup funds and support are available, delve into impactful big picture projects. If they are not, start with incremental problems to establish credibility. Apply for external resources. In the long term, pursue impactful projects.
JB >
(DNA structure, dynamics, DNA-mediated charge transfer, electrochemistry)
My best advice here is to follow your data. Even in areas you thought already familiar, interesting data give rise to new questions. Expand both by applying the latest experimental or analytic tools available to you, or more affordable analogues if necessary. Knowing the evolutionary direction of emerging technologies is crucial. To familiarize themselves with these, students and postdocs talk to sponsoring vendors at conferences. Everyone including me also track this information by following the literature very closely.
MB >
(complex bioactive natural product synthesis, peptide synthesis)
I always have long-term, challenging goals as well as short-term, low-hanging fruit projects. One has to be publishing regularly by doing several things at once.
HJD >
(NMR, structural biology, dynamic systems)
It’s hard to predict what will be “big-picture” and what will be “incremental.” Projects must be achievable, so practical considerations might mean that though one idea is attractive and challenging, and another less so because its day-to-day work is more routine, you simply have to get something done. In any case it’s not a good idea to take up a project too close to your previous mentors’. Most important of all is identifying a problem that interests you and thinking very carefully how to attack it in the most practical way possible.
SD >
(protein-protein interactions, protein aggregation, protein chemistry, protein-small molecule interactions)
You are under scrutiny from day one. For this reason, a combined approach might be the smart choice; then, as soon as you can, leave the comfort area whose challenges are known. Remaining in it does not bode well among those who assess you. Adopting a niche area of your own is essential to getting your foot in the door and making your mark. Taking from my own example, I analyzed protein-protein interactions for my graduate studies. All the work was theoretical, based on statistical analyses, but I decided that my own laboratory would also have experimental operations. Having done nothing like that in the five years of my doctoral work either this was not easy to arrange, but now, when I look back, I believe I achieved a successful laboratory.
CF >
(solid catalysts, polyoxometalate chemistry, molecular nanosciences, green material sciences)
In my opinion a combination giving stronger emphasis to innovation is most productive in an academic career. To be considered active as a professor, it is important to maintain continuous publication of papers. Incremental innovation in an area you already know permits this, but it is also mandatory to start impactful work in different scientific areas to keep you curious, highly motivated, and to attract younger collaborators.
MG >
(mapping protein-protein interactions, immune responses, biomarkers, enzyme complexes)
On starting my independent career, I left biochemistry, the area in which I trained from college through my post doc, for the field of medical research where I remain today. Naturally I applied much that I had learned to the new area, so the most accurate answer is “both combined”.
VG >
(fluorine chemistry, radiopharmaceuticals)
Big risky problems are best, but it is advisable to have both risky and reliable research running in parallel. When I started, I have to admit, I was not that strategic.
SI >
(deep learning, artificial intelligence)
For me impulsivity proved timely. Thanks to gains in processing power, even our bluest-sky ideas exploded like fireworks, but that electrifying light overshadowed small signs of trouble waiting to be seen. Successfully straddling supportiveness and caution takes time to learn, as do the subtle differences between hope and desire. Science operates on hope: on curiosity seeking satisfaction, and efforts to understand, as ends in themselves. These are pure aims. Desire for recognition is different. It’s unholy and the ultimate heartbreak. Guard against overreach and grandiosity by lab book swaps and critique, group problem sessions, and group meetings that probe more deeply than pro forma.
UK >
(protein X-ray crystallography, protein-carbohydrate interactions)
If the chosen project/topic is not sufficiently challenging, it is difficult to get grants, but high-risk projects often fail to give short-term returns and publications. Therefore a combination of high-risk and bread-and-butter projects seems best.
MM >
(post-traumatic stress disorder chemical models)
I was recruited as a lecturer and am now a full professor. Thus I have walked the full path. As a department chair I advised new researchers as follows. During the first years until you get tenure, pursue two lines of research, one in which you have proven skill and is the reason you were recruited; and a second that is ambitious. The comfort zone creates a solid basis for publications. Once you are successful and secure tenure, the sky’s the limit. Leave your comfort zone.
LN >
(phytochemicals, plant sterol conjugates, health sciences)
For me a combination has worked well. While I still love my Ph.D. and postdoctoral fields and topics, I have also found it useful to extend into other areas. Reciprocally I bring their new ideas and applications back to the original work. The job of P.I. requires stepping to the next level, tackling bigger-picture projects, and finding your own approaches, ones that don’t repeat and follow your former advisors. Stretch out of the comfort zone.
MJR >
(computational enzymatic catalysis, protein dynamics, computational mutagenesis, molecular docking, drug discovery)
In my experience it is most effective to undertake a challenging, impactful big-picture project. It takes more work and is, to begin with, perhaps less productive in terms of scientific papers and other tokens of success, but it does pay off in due course. Eventually your research is more widely read and a greater number of young people want to work with you.
SR >
(natural product synthesis, methods development, nickel catalysis)
I advise a portfolio of projects at different risk levels. In general, I prefer to publish fewer papers but in higher impact journals; and I prefer to read papers that tell a full rather than incremental story. I try to avoid the “least publishable unit.” That said, early on it is good to start getting papers to press, possibly following the strategy of publishing a proof-of-principle study that doesn’t “self-scoop” a later, bigger-impact publication. In my opinion, you need a few papers early on to get grants: at least one good preliminary result per aim, in the United States, to demonstrate proposal feasibility. Use your institutional support to get those results! Early in your career, patents are not as important for advancement.
VR >
(organic chemistry, natural product synthesis)
After doctoral studies in synthetic organic chemistry I chose a career in the same field. As a professor I teach organic chemistry to undergraduates and postgraduates; in research I am always looking into how to apply what I know to challenging projects. I believe it is important on starting a career to choose the field where solid foundations were acquired and comfort is felt. Over time, on building up experience, look into more challenging projects that can be impactful in the scientific community and also help you evolve as a scientist.
AS >
(macromolecular complexes, chemical biology)
Think of your research program as you might an investment portfolio. Combine reliable instruments yielding low to medium but steady profits with high-risk, possibly high-yield investments.
HS >
(supramolecular chemistry, DNA chemistry, synthetic polymers, biomimetic materials, molecular self-assembly)
When I was an assistant professor I wanted to move into the completely new area of DNA nanotech but was concerned about tenure. I maintained two streams in my lab. One related to my previous training, which gave me enough productivity for tenure, and the other was a longer-term project in the new area. Today I work in a field very different from my early training but bring the training to it.
JS >
(biochemistry, ribonucleotide reductases)
In my first jobs, the choices implicit in this question were inconceivable, at least in my case. There were few if any negotiations, options, packages, career planning, or signs of interest in the first, usually the only, woman hired. The whole hope was for good fortune in receiving any job. Plus side: when attention or curiosity run one-way for the most part, from you to colleagues and not reciprocally, you’re essentially on your own, free to be drawn into whatever bold, hard, knotty questions you like. I wrestle with rigorous, careful explanations of big problems as scientific trends come and go elsewhere. That’s what I’m known for. That’s what it will say on my gravestone.
JT >
(biomolecular structures, biophysics, small-angle scattering)
The answer to this question really depends on what you want to achieve and in what kind of atmosphere. Many researchers have satisfying careers making incremental advances. Providing the questions are of significance, this can be rewarding and perhaps allow for a side bet on something big, but such a play it safe strategy will likely not net you a career in a top research school. You can succeed at a lower-tier good-quality college or university, perhaps balanced with (hopefully satisfying) teaching, or at a national laboratory for full-time research in a good environment. If, on the other hand, if you want a top research school and prizes, you pretty much have to embrace a big challenge. A recent memoir on solving the ribozyme structure by Venki Ramakrishnan illustrates what is required: a combination of obsessive drive and plain good luck. High risk, high reward. For myself, I was always most interested in refining research methods, but recognized I had to convince funders I could answer important questions. I chose problems that made the case for methods being central to results, which worked for me.
MV >
(anaerobic chemistry and technologies, thermophilic microorganisms, sulfate-reducing bacteria)
After being promoted to associate professor, I started a new working group, a Laboratory of Anaerobic Microorganisms, and a new research program. Serving at the same time as head of a larger Microbiology Department, I saw that it is important to maintain diversification among all our various research groups.
HW >
(peptide chemistry, chemical biology, asymmetric catalysis, synthetic materials)
All research demands dedication, and maintaining quality is key at every level, but full articles serving an ambitious overarching aim are my personal preference and goal. I want, and wait to publish until, stories are as large and complete as I can make them.
AY >
(structural biology, ribosomal crystallography)
The most important factor here is focusing on a problem that interests you. Namely, be driven by your curiosity.
YY >
(in-vivo imaging, chemical force microscopy, photosensitive materials, supramolecular chemistry)
My strategy has been to balance the two complementary streams. I pursue one safe in the sense of being straightforward and productive; as well as the second, which is risky but possibly more impactful.
MWZ >
(tissue engineering, biofabrication)
As an assistant professor I undertook an entirely new area, and have remained there. From mechanical engineering as an undergraduate, graduate student, and postdoc, I went to tissue biofabrication and drug delivery.

Answers to question 2: "Independence"


FA   >
(chemical engineering, bioengineering, directed evolution)
Immediately. I headed for physical chemistry and spectroscopy because I'm good at math, but immersed myself in many other areas as well because I love novelty and the unpredictability of scientific synergies. I'm now starting to think about fields beyond directed evolution.
RA   >
(structural biochemistry, purine metabolism, nucleobase deamination, antibiotic production)
It is not at all easy at the beginning. I strove for independence but drew on help in many forms. Friends and mentors are there for you, and it is unnecessarily difficult to survive without their support. This network grows as you do, and as you assume the role of mentor yourself. You will be burdened with administrative responsibilities over and above your academic workload, and don’t forget the home front. Protect your store of energy and enthusiasm. Do not allow it to be exploited as sometimes happens. In the end, it is all multitasking, as my daughter recognized in coining an apt article title for me: “Juggling the elements of life”.
JB >
(DNA structure, dynamics, DNA-mediated charge transfer, electrochemistry)
My postdoc swung into areas relatively unknown to me. Likewise, I advise young coworkers today to use postdoctoral opportunities to acquire new ideas and methods. I find that the cultures of biology and biology-related chemistry or physics expect postdoctoral work to carry over into first jobs to a greater degree than other branches of chemistry do. In those areas, chronological overlap is either rare or entirely verboten. I avoided this issue in that my first professorship returned to grad school territory.
MB >
(complex bioactive natural product synthesis, peptide synthesis)
I went straight into independent work.
HJD >
(NMR, structural biology, dynamic systems)
It’s a bad idea to be perceived as too close to your postdoc mentor when you start your independent career. Obviously you’ll use techniques and training that you received in the postdoc lab, but the problem that you elect to research should be demonstrably different.
SD >
(protein-protein interactions, protein aggregation, protein chemistry, protein-small molecule interactions)
As soon as possible. You need your own ideas. If you do not have what is called “original thinking” you will always be in the shadow of your former supervisors. You have to make your own mark and be recognized for it. This may take longer than anticipated but it is worth the time and effort in the long run.
CF >
(solid catalysts, polyoxometalate chemistry, molecular nanosciences, green material sciences)
In my opinion first projects of our own responsibility should not be related to previous post-doctoral work. I think that every five or six years we should start novel projects, although in some aspect they can be borne of the experience of previous projects.
MG >
(mapping protein-protein interactions, immune responses, biomarkers, enzyme complexes)
I discontinued my postdoctoral subject matter, though not its methods.
VG >
(fluorine chemistry, radiopharmaceuticals)
A clear, distinct departure, even if within the same field, is necessary. It is key to avoid “me-too” science. Do all you can to ensure you build productively on skills and vision over the years. Expand wherever you can.
SI >
(deep learning, artificial intelligence)
Familiarity feels safe, but only unique research questions allay misgivings that your lab is less your own than an outpost of your advisor’s. Try not to worry about formulating distinctive questions: they are taking shape themselves at the intersection of your intuition, the current literature, exposure to professors and speakers, and awareness of emerging technologies – not forgetting the literature of a generation or two ago, where pioneers identified then-unanswerable, now-answerable challenges. What you consider compelling is worthy of your best attention and effort. It will become synonymous with you.
UK >
(protein X-ray crystallography, protein-carbohydrate interactions)
I think it is important to emancipate from your Ph.D. and post doc advisors and find your own "label." All the while, you might still finish work with your previous advisors and get publications out. Or maybe you already had a plan before choosing post doc projects and advisors, and can now build forward with new perspectives and independent collaborations. This would provide a perfect connective thread.
MM >
(post-traumatic stress disorder chemical models)
The first aim is tenure. Rely on what you did in your post doc, the expertise that you have, to keep releasing solid publications. Once you are there, open your mind to other large projects and other collaborations. Develop your questions. Start taking risks. For example, in my first independent years I asked different questions but used similar methodology. After tenure, I started asking other, bigger questions and using new techniques.
LN >
(phytochemicals, plant sterol conjugates, health sciences)
You can change some aspects of your earlier research quite quickly, but it’s also ok to keep elements of established expertise as a part of your work.
MJR >
(computational enzymatic catalysis, protein dynamics, computational mutagenesis, molecular docking, drug discovery)
In my opinion first projects should be as unrelated to post-doctoral work as possible. From any point of view it is not a good idea to continue post-doctoral projects. Furthermore, tackling a new field will make you more knowledgeable and widen your horizons.
SR >
(natural product synthesis, methods development, nickel catalysis)
I think you want to start a project that distinguishes you from your post-doctoral advisor as soon as you can. It is ok for a project to build on your prior studies, but from the earliest stage onward you should also have one that is clearly independent if possible. Expectations for an assistant professor do vary from area to area: in synthetic chemistry, moving in a new direction is generally assumed, whereas chemical biology regards previous work as an important starting stone.
VR >
(organic chemistry, natural product synthesis)
Training in organic synthesis opens avenues for a variety of synthetic projects within the field. While staying in that area, which affords so many topics for research, I evolved new and independent projects. It is always important to pursue widening knowledge and initiate new, challenging projects even if remaining essentially in the same field.
AS >
(macromolecular complexes, chemical biology)
I agree 100% with YY.
HS >
(supramolecular chemistry, DNA chemistry, synthetic polymers, biomimetic materials, molecular self-assembly)
I don’t recommend continuing postdoctoral work in your own lab. It will be difficult to differentiate yourself and to establish your own area and contributions.
JS >
(biochemistry, ribonucleotide reductases)
Asking about departing from postdoctoral work is asking about standing out, primarily so that others can identify you. This is a necessary but uphill trek. Research is complex, interesting research more so. Few will take time, effort, and care to understand another’s work. Instead they judge by indirect indicators such as what colleagues say about you, the strength of your department and university, your backers and friendships, ubiquitousness at meetings, honors and invitations, your influence, sociability, and charisma. If short on these, you can only keep plugging away on your own terms. There are usually five or six you want to know what you’re doing. Keep them informed. Others will have a vague idea.
JT >
(biomolecular structures, biophysics, small-angle scattering)
It is very important to establish your own research identity. When I began my career I started working with methods I had never used before, on new systems. It is probably not necessary to turn completely away from what you know best, but make a clear statement about what you, uniquely, are bringing to an area.
MV >
(anaerobic chemistry and technologies, thermophilic microorganisms, sulfate-reducing bacteria)
I think it is better to start a new topic, a new project.
HW >
(peptide chemistry, chemical biology, asymmetric catalysis, synthetic materials)
Switch immediately. Recasting, even revisiting, post-doctoral projects is legitimate but careers make or break on one's own investigations.
AY >
(structural biology, ribosomal crystallography)
Start your own work as soon as you know which question you want to answer.
YY >
(in-vivo imaging, chemical force microscopy, photosensitive materials, supramolecular chemistry)
If you continue postdoctoral work, reviewers will find it difficult to differentiate your intellectual contribution from your advisor’s. If you must stay in the area for whatever reason, make some sort of a radical, visible departure from your previous work. Better yet, cut the cord entirely as soon as you can.
MWZ >
(tissue engineering, biofabrication)
I suggest initiating a new program from the start of your independent career.

Answers to question 3: "Collaboration"


FA   >
(chemical engineering, bioengineering, directed evolution)
I have the luxury of focusing on investigations' intellectually exciting aspects, the planning, listening, conversing, tinkering, and problem solving because a couple dozen driven, highest caliber students and postdocs attack the hands-on. They undertake most of our group-to-group interactions. Having rotated through other labs and received varied training before joining up, they can consult counterparts elsewhere to solve practical problems as needed. My personal pace is too impatient for most collaborations. I rarely initiate them.
RA   >
(structural biochemistry, purine metabolism, nucleobase deamination, antibiotic production)
On the one hand, do not collaborate automatically. A young P.I. learns by venturing into the unknown to some degree, acquiring new abilities instead of immediately turning to colleagues. On the other hand, highly specialized experiments outside your area call for collaboration – but consider the big picture. Do not depend on collaboration for most of the project.
JB >
(DNA structure, dynamics, DNA-mediated charge transfer, electrochemistry)
I collaborated very little at the start, far more so now. At the beginning, be extremely careful in associating your program with outside colleagues. If you must do it, approach persons from fields far enough away that it's entirely clear who contributed what, e.g., an experimentalist might seek computational assistance. Be certain the other can be counted on for ultra-careful, accurate, timely work. This is difficult to determine from a distance.
MB >
(complex bioactive natural product synthesis, peptide synthesis)
When I was young I did straight chemistry projects and focused on independence. Funding preferences then changed. As a synthetic chemist, I had to collaborate with biologists to have access to any funding.
HJD >
(NMR, structural biology, dynamic systems)
This is tricky. In my experience, collaboration very much depends on the culture of the department where you’re employed. Ask prospective colleagues their sense of this. I’ve collaborated extensively and productively throughout my career as encouraged by the institute where I am. In contrast, a colleague at a major university warns against collaboration, saying that the junior person frequently gets no credit for it. Results are attributed to the senior colleague only. Dreadful! Be warned. Incidentally, I’ve had a collaborator rip off an idea and give it to a competitor. It wasn’t the end of the world, but didn’t feel good.
SD >
(protein-protein interactions, protein aggregation, protein chemistry, protein-small molecule interactions)
I initially preferred not to collaborate although projects could have been made easier that way. If by chance given little or no credit for my idea, I reasoned, it would be difficult to change the impression this would make. Though hard when many demands are made of you, independence is essential. A few years down the road, after your expertise and research area are established, collaborative research is an exciting prospect that should be pursued.
CF >
(solid catalysts, polyoxometalate chemistry, molecular nanosciences, green material sciences)
Because my research is interdisciplinary, collaborations are very important. Work spread across several laboratories produces outcomes much more quickly than otherwise. That said, be very careful not to compromise your scientific standards and independence.
MG >
(mapping protein-protein interactions, immune responses, biomarkers, enzyme complexes)
The theme for me from the start has been independence.
VG >
(fluorine chemistry, radiopharmaceuticals)
It is the scientific problem that must define whether collaboration is necessary, and with whom to collaborate. It is extremely important to choose collaborators carefully and well.
SI >
(deep learning, artificial intelligence)
Before hoods flame up, a terrified examinee vomits, or your lab ceiling caves in, understand that essential collaborators include cleaners, custodians, supply room clerks, research librarians, child minders, and above all lab/departmental secretaries. These people will assist immediately, far beyond expectations, if given reason to like you. Routinely give courteous greetings, gratitude, and birthday flowers or six-packs as the case may be. Similarly your personal partner: however often non-scientists assure you they understand and respect crunch times, they still need preparing for pre-tenure's duration and distractibility. All these collaborators multiply your capacity and influence. They introduce you to factors important elsewhere. Outsiders think it peculiar that colleagues often in competition for resources and recognition also write papers or proposals together, but that's how it is.
UK >
(protein X-ray crystallography, protein-carbohydrate interactions)
As long as collaborations complement your expertise and maintain good communication and realistic expectations, they will be beneficial. Personal chemistry is another important component that should not be underestimated. In my own career, I start new collaborations openly and optimistically. Most often (although not always) they work out.
MM >
(post-traumatic stress disorder chemical models)
At the beginning of your career, seek support, especially among foreign counterparts through bi-national BSF and GIF grants and the like, but do not collaborate with well-known P.I.s, especially those formerly your own. Once established, do as you wish.
LN >
(phytochemicals, plant sterol conjugates, health sciences)
Here too I take a combined approach. With collaborators you can stretch out to new areas without having to do everything yourself. Still, ensure your specific contribution and expertise are recognized as yours, not the collaborators’.
MJR >
(computational enzymatic catalysis, protein dynamics, computational mutagenesis, molecular docking, drug discovery)
This question is difficult to answer as I rarely sought collaborations. For a long time, I did not want them. Nowadays, interdisciplinarity is increasingly important. To be part of such work, it is necessary to secure external expertise. I do think, though, that independent projects are essential to affirm yourself in a particular field of research.
SR >
(natural product synthesis, methods development, nickel catalysis)
Program reviewers weigh technical and intellectual contributions differently. For the most part you’re not expected to master all applicable skills; in fact, realizing the applicability of techniques you lack, locating someone who has them, and persuading him or her to assist are all to your credit. Conversely, core intellectual material must come from you.
VR >
(organic chemistry, natural product synthesis)
In my field, pooled efforts with scientists having converging or complementary interests are crucial to achieving ambitious scientific goals. The same applies to teaching and mentoring broadly. All these depend on shared competence, mutual trust, and cooperation. I have had excellent collaborations.
AS >
(macromolecular complexes, chemical biology)
The question is not whether to collaborate, but when and with whom. Naturally the answer depends on the project and prospective collaborator/s. Collaborations work best when all parties benefit and communication stays clear, constant, and honest.
HS >
(supramolecular chemistry, DNA chemistry, synthetic polymers, biomimetic materials, molecular self-assembly)
I now collaborate extensively, and thoroughly enjoy it. At the beginning it would have been more challenging. I don't discourage it as long as your contributions are completely distinct and paper authorship was well defined to start with, but, even so, recommend that most work by assistant professors be their own. Tenure is compromised when a significant percentage of the work is collaborative.
JS >
(biochemistry, ribonucleotide reductases)
Unless a starting assistant professor is hired somewhere she can quickly muster a fairly large, diverse group containing at least one or two off-scale students, it will be difficult to solve an intricate, important problem fast enough to make an immediate difference to her new career. One solution is complementary expertise. Mine was to work at the bench myself through my assistant professorship. A lot changed later thanks to talented students and strong collaborators. I always credit these people on the very first slide. But the first ten years were rough.
JT >
(biomolecular structures, biophysics, small-angle scattering)
I’ve always collaborated, ensuring coworkers’ expertise did not overlap with mine. We agreed up front on how to share credit and, for sustained collaborations, alternated first/senior author positions to keep things fair, but expectations and requirements have changed. My pathways are not as available today. After my post doc I spent two years building a lab and instruments. I published almost nothing. I was given time to build my career, for which I am eternally grateful. Today I see grade inflation start in elementary school and reach advanced training. Lacking papers in top journals by the end of your post doc, you may not get a second look.
MV >
(anaerobic chemistry and technologies, thermophilic microorganisms, sulfate-reducing bacteria)
I consider cooperation very important. It broadens our view of issues and encourages exploration of new methods. Cooperation is not the end of independence.
HW >
(peptide chemistry, chemical biology, asymmetric catalysis, synthetic materials)
I’m mid-spectrum on shared projects but do review articles or proposals with an eye toward identifying possible collaborators. With regard to reviewing, my group shoulders a larger portion of that work today. Sometimes I wonder whether generating ceaseless conscientious, timely reviews disposes editors and funding sources in our favor, but doubt it.
AY >
(structural biology, ribosomal crystallography)
Collaboration depends on the project.
YY >
(in-vivo imaging, chemical force microscopy, photosensitive materials, supramolecular chemistry)
Good collaborations take time to nurture, but fellowships and grants require letters of supportive participation sooner than you realize. Even before accepting a professorship, start researching and approaching colleagues (not those with whom you’ve studied) of benefits to be gained by collaborating. To be honest, I’ve been burned. After a collaborator pre-empted my work by presenting it prematurely and, incidentally, as his own, my only recourses were informal: to set the public record straight as possible by discussing the incident with my colleagues and, privately, with one of his; and to sever the collaboration. I won’t lie: this was a delicate, difficult situation for a young professor, but subsequent collaborations have more than compensated.
MWZ >
(tissue engineering, biofabrication)
My group collaborates, and has extensively, since our start.

Answers to question 4: "Interdisciplinarity"


FA   >
(chemical engineering, bioengineering, directed evolution)
When I was a graduate student, my teachers were household names in engineering and chemistry. Learning from them, the best in their disciplines, schooled me in synergies that still inform my career. It’s the work of industry to produce large-scale problem solutions, but we devise pathways there. Our thinking yields useful technologies in maybe ten or twenty years. Investing in open-ended, innovative, interdisciplinary research today means more and better solutions tomorrow.
RA   >
(structural biochemistry, purine metabolism, nucleobase deamination, antibiotic production)
The problem is key. Impactful questions can be interdisciplinary in nature or not, but boundaries should not be put on them. I personally do a lot of interdisciplinary work. We are now delving into cryo electron microscopy while collaborating with engineers to develop bio-sensing devices.
JB >
(DNA structure, dynamics, DNA-mediated charge transfer, electrochemistry)
It's not only the way of the future; it's the way of the present. Most starting scientists get one chance to be recruited for the big time; just one shot, in my experience, and that unique chance is often unrecognizable as such when it arises. Be ready. Prepare from the beginning. Invest time in formulating and reformulating research approaches that are timely, well framed, utilitarian across areas, and sharp. Articulate your creative vision across related disciplines with verve.
MB >
(complex bioactive natural product synthesis, peptide synthesis)
It is very difficult to find funding for straight synthetic organic chemistry. I estimate 80% of my current work is cross disciplinary.
HJD >
(NMR, structural biology, dynamic systems)
I have always found that my most interesting work is cross disciplinary. A strength of my institution is the sheer scope of communication among colleagues in different fields. It depends on the type of work, of course, but getting yourself into a group of exciting people, even if you are only providing a service, is the best way to enjoy science.
SD >
(protein-protein interactions, protein aggregation, protein chemistry, protein-small molecule interactions)
Interdisciplinary research is good.d Expertise in one field is also an important component in others. As an assistant professor do not venture out right away, but keep avenues open for later. While you establish yourself and become recognized, look for the right collaborations in complementary areas – and keep your own contribution very clear.
CF >
(solid catalysts, polyoxometalate chemistry, molecular nanosciences, green material sciences)
From the start I’ve felt interdisciplinary projects are important, especially in their solutions to societal needs, but we must always safeguard scientific autonomy and independence. Initially about 20% of our work was cross disciplinary; today I think it is almost 100%.
MG >
(mapping protein-protein interactions, immune responses, biomarkers, enzyme complexes)
No question of its importance from the beginning until today.
VG >
(fluorine chemistry, radiopharmaceuticals)
The future lies with first-class science whether it is interdisciplinary or not. That being said, interdisciplinary projects may have more support from funders these days.
SI >
(deep learning, artificial intelligence)
Every group in my field that I can think of is deeply interdisciplinary. Mine comprises imaging technologists, marine and atmospheric engineers, software designers, an anthropologist who studies thought and reasoning, a psychologist who specializes in artifact use and misuse, a philosopher to keep us from sidestepping big questions, and more. From its inception, high connectivity has been integral to artificial intelligence.
UK >
(protein X-ray crystallography, protein-carbohydrate interactions)
I advise becoming expert in one discipline and teaming up with experts in other areas. To me this makes research most fun and rewarding. Do not shy from asking "stupid" basic questions so that everyone sharing the work grasps its full implications. Naturally cross-disciplinary research can have drawbacks too. It is sometimes difficult to secure grants in highly interdisciplinary areas, most likely because expert evaluators who understand the convergences are few in number. Lastly, deep training in one defined area is still most attractive to industry. Ph.D. and Master's students should be made aware of this.
MM >
(post-traumatic stress disorder chemical models)
I completely agree this is the most exciting way to conceptualize research but for the earliest stage think it unwise. The first goal is to establish oneself by careful, solid publications. Address questions you understand using familiar techniques. While focusing on what you’re good at, start considering new, larger directions – on the side!
LN >
(phytochemicals, plant sterol conjugates, health sciences)
Yes, there’s a lot we can learn from neighboring research areas. I think my cross disciplinary efforts usually hover between 25-40%.
MJR >
(computational enzymatic catalysis, protein dynamics, computational mutagenesis, molecular docking, drug discovery)
When I first started, my work was not interdisciplinary. As years passed this changed, not by choice but by necessity. Present day challenges often call for knowledge from several fields. In short, the percentage of time I now invest in cross disciplinary work is near 100%.
SR >
(natural product synthesis, methods development, nickel catalysis)
There'll always be a place for foundational science in each discipline. Even if molecules of interest to me are biological, I am a chemist doing chemistry. An important service to, and platform for, chemistry is provided by JACS. By not levying publishing fees, it staves off the dark day we will have no choice but to outsource professional advancement to journals, in effect.
VR >
(organic chemistry, natural product synthesis)
I totally agree that interdisciplinarity in research is the way forward. During the first steps of my career, my research focused exclusively on organic synthesis. My collaborations were limited to laboratories in our department. But as interdisciplinarity became essential to innovative approaches and solutions in science today, I turned to multidisciplinary collaborations and believe it important for young scientists to be introduced to interdisciplinary research from the start of their training.
AS >
(macromolecular complexes, chemical biology)
Yes, I agree it is the way of the future; it has also been my approach from the start. I do agree with other respondents, however, that it is also key to choose a primary area and maintain a strong presence there throughout your career.
HS >
(supramolecular chemistry, DNA chemistry, synthetic polymers, biomimetic materials, molecular self-assembly)
I fully agree it is the way of the future. About 30% of my work was interdisciplinary when I was an assistant professor. Now 60 or 70% is.
JS >
(biochemistry, ribonucleotide reductases)
I’d say so. Sometimes sequentially but usually not, I’ve worked in organic chemistry, synthesis, enzymology, pharmacology, and biochemistry.
JT >
(biomolecular structures, biophysics, small-angle scattering)
Interdisciplinary has various facets: it lends more tools to bigger problems, but it can stretch an individual researcher a bit thin. Though ever-present in the biosciences, it can lead to falling through disciplinary cracks in reviews. Try to ensure the right people see and champion your articles and proposals. I considered myself 100% interdisciplinary, but because I was also known in a defined area I doubt that others saw me that way. Again, interdisciplinary is subject to interpretation.
MV >
(anaerobic chemistry and technologies, thermophilic microorganisms, sulfate-reducing bacteria)
Yes. I agree.
HW >
(peptide chemistry, chemical biology, asymmetric catalysis, synthetic materials)
I agree 100%. My projects, and my colleagues' as well, are often cross disciplinary, likely because many funding programs actively seek interdisciplinarity today. Still we mustn't lose sight of crucial core knowledge needed to understand, to check, and to judge research. Look for collaborators who have thorough command of their field.
AY >
(structural biology, ribosomal crystallography)
Interdisciplinarity is project-specific.
YY >
(in-vivo imaging, chemical force microscopy, photosensitive materials, supramolecular chemistry)
Often, yes. At the same time, however, it’s crucial to become very strong in a primary area you choose as your own. Solidly establish yourself in that field, staying current in it every way you can, before and while you make connections elsewhere.
MWZ >
(tissue engineering, biofabrication)
Agreed.

Answers to question 5: "Advisors"


FA   >
(chemical engineering, bioengineering, directed evolution)
I do what inspires me and look for that same attribute in colleagues. It may be that a top applicant from, say, a synthetic organic chemistry group has never touched a protein before. That’s all right if she’s also brave, fearless, has bold ideas, and insists on figuring things out. The simple truth is young coworkers are your closest allies in creating new science. They are changing biology and chemistry, and they're going to change the world.
RA   >
(structural biochemistry, purine metabolism, nucleobase deamination, antibiotic production)
A network is built via conferences, workshops, and visitors to your institute. Always take the time to hear about others’ work, even if seemingly far from yours, to increase your breadth of thinking and problem solving. Improve your own presentation skills to reach the widest audience and create impact. Being sociable and interactive is important in that networks evolve from multilayered interactions. Collaborating on research and on organizing seminars, symposia, and workshops as ways of meeting your community.
JB >
(DNA structure, dynamics, DNA-mediated charge transfer, electrochemistry)
Senior colleagues were my mentors. They are now very old, or have died, and I miss them very deeply. These supporters were giants in their fields, exceptionally gifted men; few women were on the job at the time. They intuitively, practically, and profoundly understood their areas, had vast perspectives, and chose to open doors to opportunities I hadn't known existed. They didn't need me, but I, I realize, very much needed them. They taught and encouraged me in innumerable ways.
MB >
(complex bioactive natural product synthesis, peptide synthesis)
I haven’t had mentors, but now enjoy being one by trying to help younger colleagues.
HJD >
(NMR, structural biology, dynamic systems)
As far as mentors go, I would say that I really didn’t have a lot of help from mentors early in my career. Today I work and collaborate with my husband as well as a large number of colleagues at my institute, the local university, and neighboring institutes. We meet primarily at local and international conferences.
SD >
(protein-protein interactions, protein aggregation, protein chemistry, protein-small molecule interactions)
Help comes in many forms, and friends and mentors are there for you. Hear their advice. It is difficult to survive without this support system. It was not easy to know what to do at the beginning, but the network grows with you as you assume the role of a mentor yourself.
CF >
(solid catalysts, polyoxometalate chemistry, molecular nanosciences, green material sciences)
I made most of my choices alone but recognize today that three male colleagues, two in Portugal and one abroad, probably influenced me via long scientific collaborations. Today, I very much enjoy discussing science and science management with local and international colleagues I’ve known a very long time.
MG >
(mapping protein-protein interactions, immune responses, biomarkers, enzyme complexes)
I’ve not entered into formal networks per se, but my husband and I trained together. I discuss virtually everything with him.
VG >
(fluorine chemistry, radiopharmaceuticals)
I have been extremely fortunate to be surrounded by exceptional scientists who are also excellent people. It is they who inspired me to become, and keep me, a good scientist.
SI >
(deep learning, artificial intelligence)
Some curiosity is unusually penetrating, well trained, and always on highest alert. Some people question their own thinking. They probe what they encounter or create. They make unexpected connections. They can summon enormous concentration. They express themselves elegantly, with economy and evident enjoyment, in person and in print. We value these colleagues whether senior, contemporaries, or younger, and form lifelong associations with them. As for mutual-aid groups, I’ve yet to experience an effective one but certainly consider myself part of a movement promoting inclusivity in science.
UK >
(protein X-ray crystallography, protein-carbohydrate interactions)
I worked in various labs in different parts of the world before starting a lab of my own. These connections and more recent collaborations are my network. I also benefit from university commitments to students that make it easy to recruit good coworkers to my group. Overall I most enjoy the old-fashioned pleasures of meeting with people in person and conversing together.
MM >
(post-traumatic stress disorder chemical models)
Today my Ph.D. mentor and I collaborate closely and have published together, but initially, during my first independent steps, I had no mentor. I did things on my own, making mistakes that delayed tenure by a year or two, but was lucky to have friends, within the university and abroad, with whom to share experiences and advice.
LN >
(phytochemicals, plant sterol conjugates, health sciences)
My support network formed randomly. To be honest I should have been more systematic in identifying mentors or colleagues to discuss important questions and, more informally, share ideas and feedback. In fact I should still improve in these areas but consider my close colleagues and advisors a network. We meet for coffee and occasional lunches.
MJR >
(computational enzymatic catalysis, protein dynamics, computational mutagenesis, molecular docking, drug discovery)
I am afraid I had, or built, no network of colleagues and mentors who helped me onto the path I took. I made my own choices with little advice; my path might have been easier if I had had more counsel. Only an undergraduate professor and postdoctoral P.I. ever advised me professionally. We remain good friends who keep in touch, and I very much respect their opinions, but we do not collaborate scientifically as we all moved on, professionally speaking. Presently, however, I also very much value the opinions of close research collaborators.
SR >
(natural product synthesis, methods development, nickel catalysis)
I’m fortunate to have had fantastic graduate and Ph.D. advisors. I’ve also leaned heavily over the years on academic colleagues, and have met terrific women, friends and supporters, at conferences. If you meet someone you like, keep up the connection. Continue to reach out! A word about networking via social media: senior colleagues tend to be either unaware of, or see no benefit, to Twitter and other platforms, but younger colleagues highlight publications, honors, and graduations, and recount lab and family events, as a way of staying connected with literally thousands of colleagues, friends, and followers in a few words, photos, or figures. Most tweets are positive and encouraging though exceptions do arise.
VR >
(organic chemistry, natural product synthesis)
I carried out undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Athens and Paris, respectively. During those years, common scientific interests and long days in the lab grew into professional links and strong friendships. Some of the researchers, particularly more senior colleagues mentored me. Their experience and advice were fundamental in building my career. In certain cases, professional contacts lasted for many years. Retired now, I still maintain strong friendships with almost all my former colleagues in Paris and I am grateful for this. I believe that friendly and professional contacts developed during Ph.D. or postdoctoral studies, and during the first steps of a scientist’s career, are deeply important.
AS >
(macromolecular complexes, chemical biology)
As a graduate student and postdoc I formed strong relationships with fellow graduate students, postdocs, and a partner or two. Those relationships are still significant.
HS >
(supramolecular chemistry, DNA chemistry, synthetic polymers, biomimetic materials, molecular self-assembly)
I find the best ways to build networks are presenting at conferences and signing up to meet seminar speakers in broad areas, not just your own. Invite and host scientists to speak in your department. Organize symposia. As an assistant professor, turn down no opportunities to socialize and network!
JS >
(biochemistry, ribonucleotide reductases)
Do I have a network? I do see my mark on former students and postdocs, dedicated women and men whose independent research is very strong. Their science is correct, careful, and convincingly communicated. Minute, meticulous training is something I do. Not inspiration, though. I'm no good at motivating. If not inspired on their own, they sort themselves out. I don't require them to stay. I tell them, "Find the science you love".
JT >
(biomolecular structures, biophysics, small-angle scattering)
My path to networking was through professional societies, specifically the Biophysical Society, American Crystallographic Society, and International Union of Crystallography, which were centrally important to my development as a scientist. Many in the international research community at synchrotron and neutron facilities became lifelong friends and collaborators. This has to be one of the real joys of science: to travel the world always finding someone who speaks your language, so to speak. Science is a social activity. It is important to get out there and talk to your people.
MV >
(anaerobic chemistry and technologies, thermophilic microorganisms, sulfate-reducing bacteria)
During my studies, my best mentor was my mother, who so enthused me for the study of microbiology. My working group was not friendly at the time. At present, I am no longer in touch with my first colleagues.
HW >
(peptide chemistry, chemical biology, asymmetric catalysis, synthetic materials)
For better or for worse, I don't often take part in support groups or networks. Early teachers, first colleagues, and former students aren't active in my professional life. However, like other women in science whose visibility is high given our relatively low numbers, opportunities do come my way to meet others at conferences, on committees, and in reviewing proposals and papers.
AY >
(structural biology, ribosomal crystallography)
I never explicitly built a network. Rather I accepted into my group, and can still contact, interested women and men of passion, curiosity, and high scientific quality.
YY >
(in-vivo imaging, chemical force microscopy, photosensitive materials, supramolecular chemistry)
As a young academic in Japan, I formed strong friendships with classmates who graduated in my year. On leaving Japan for Switzerland, the United States, and Switzerland again, the same applied to colleagues (I even married one.) Presently, at this point in my career, when given awards, particularly in Japan, I arrange financial and other support for the organization, in gratitude and to further its encouragement of others.
MWZ >
(tissue engineering, biofabrication)
No formal groups, really, but my colleagues and I are close.

Copyright © 2020 by Susana Santamaria Iglesias, UCSD and ETHZ; and Paola Laurino, OIST