Chapter 18: Educating, Hiring and Retaining Team Scientists: A Challenging Time


Chapter 18: Educating, Hiring and Retaining Team Scientists: A Challenging Time



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In this chapter, Dr. Mills continues his discussion of how a team scientist must be trained differently from the traditional individual researcher. He lists some challenges to creating a culture of team science. He also explains that currently there are more molecular biologists for the number of positions available, a situation that has evolved over the past five years. In addition, financial challenges have gotten in the way of fostering a strong team science culture. He tells some anecdotes that demonstrate the situation.



Publication Date



The Making Cancer History® Voices Oral History Collection, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center


Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Overview; Mentoring; On Mentoring; Education; On Education; The Institution and Finances; Leadership

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History


Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I was also wondering, unless you had a sense of the next direction to go in?

Gordon B. Mills, MD, PhD :

We can talk about Moon Shots.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay. I also wanted to just ask you a bit about education though, because I'm thinking the types -- you were talking about how individuals are trained to be individual researchers, but then there will be a time in their career when they have to shift. What are the kinds of -- what's the kind of training that they would need, to be able to embrace that second role?

Gordon B. Mills, MD, PhD :

Well the first piece of training is to have role models who have made it work, but we are trained to be individuals. In all of the processes that one gets through graduate school and as a postdoc, in most biological sciences, you are trained to be an individual, you are trained to be selfish, you are trained to be driven. Yes, there are people that are exceptions, please don't say it's everyone, but the overall direction for those individuals who are going to get a position in the current environment, in the biology side of this, is to be selfish. So that's a challenge. We do not have ongoing training in most cases, for faculty. We do, at MD Anderson, have a Faculty Leadership Academy, to teach people how to lead and how to work together and how to work in groups. It doesn't really focus on team science and the pieces that are needed to do that, although leadership to a degree, encompasses some of those aspects. I think the biggest thing that I learned from the academy is that not everybody is like me and that the personality and cultural here --and I do not mean ethnic culture, I mean research culture-- and what drives individuals, are totally different. That has been a very difficult thing for me to work with. I have people that I have worked with for fifteen, twenty years, and I assume that they're like me because we've done this together. But in reality, these are people who, every day, need me to come in and say, You're doing a great job. They need that every day reinforcement of their value, so they are extroverts, that means that their value comes from outside, whereas I am scored as a high introvert. I'm happy with what I'm doing and if somebody says good, great, but if not, it doesn't matter as much. And so that understanding is hard. We're not taught how to do this and we're not rewarded in many cases, for moving down this pathway, and so I think it's going to take a major culture shift. And there are people doing it, there are incredible teams and groups that do this, and indeed, many of them are attracted into environments where you can do this. It becomes a bit of a circular, or a selffulfilling process. The other thing about training, this is a very difficult time. My joy for the first long period of my career, or at least one of them, and particularly once I took on a leadership role, was being able to recruit, train, nurture, mentor, support and see people develop. That went from graduate students, through postdoctoral students, through junior faculty, all the way up to senior faculty. However, we are in a situation now, where we have far too many molecular biologists, as an example, laboratory-based biologists in the medical field or the biomedical field, for the number of positions that are going to be available. The AAAMC estimates that there will be ten qualified people for every position available for the next ten years, and that means that I have far too many people in my office, or on email, saying I don't know what I'm going to do next, my career is over, my goal in life is not going to be fulfilled. It's luck in many cases, it's not skill. Did you pick the right project or were you given the right project by your supervisor, were you able to find the right supervisor, and did somebody happen to do it two days before you did and publish it, all comes to a very difficult time today. People who got jobs or were able to get jobs easily five years ago, with a skillset, they're not even getting interviews. And so for me, having that problem has made at least the training and education part of what I do quite painful, and so taking away the joy of knowing that I've got a bright, young student, and we give them the support that they need, it will work, to where it's going to be almost a stochastic event. Yes, they contribute and it's part of it, but a lot of it is luck, and that is painful, and it now extends throughout people's careers. I was just told by one of my colleagues at another institution, that the last four junior recruits that they brought in will all be fired on December thirty-first, because they were unable to obtain sufficient amounts of grant funding to continue to support their research. This is a painful process and I have had discussions with people here, many of them, of I'm not able to get grants, what do I do next? How do I support a lab, there is no money available, and I can't even afford students and trainees, so then how can I get a grant? And so it is a very, very difficult time and this part of science is not good.

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Chapter 18: Educating, Hiring and Retaining Team Scientists: A Challenging Time