Mid-Career Roundtable

At the 57th Annual Meeting, the Committee for Professional Opportunities for Women (CPOW) organized, for the second time, a career luncheon specifically targeted to mid-career biophysicists. For every scientist, even after securing a position and establishing an independent lab, promotion, tenure, funding, and productivity remain major challenges and demand much time and effort. Despite this, many successful mid-career scientists wish to contribute more, to continue to grow their careers, and to expand the sphere of their influence. Among the many skills that that can help accelerate career advancement, the selected topic for this year’s luncheon was visibility. A panel of outstanding scientists and science administrators accepted the invitation to lead an interactive forum that encouraged participants to: “PROMOTE your research, PROMOTE yourself.”

The panelists who generously shared their experience and answered direct questions from the audience were: Susan Amara, Past President, Society for Neuroscience, and member, National Academy of Sciences; Al George, Chair, Electrical Signaling, Ion Transport and Arrhythmia Study Section & Professor, Vanderbilt University; Shai Silberberg, Scientific Program Director, NIH/NINDS; Brian O’Rourke, Circulation Research & Professor, Johns Hopkins University; and Harel Weinstein, Past President, Biophysical Society, and Professor and Chair of Physiology, Weill Cornell Medical College.

“I did not have one, but looking back at my career, I see that having a plan is the single most effective way to achieve career success,” said Amara. In crafting a plan, start by identifying your passion and your strengths; find a niche in your field and decide to become the go-to person in that area; and don’t go it alone: enlist the support of trusted colleagues who can become your mentors. Key to achieving your goals is to have a plan and to communicate your vision.

Once you’ve targeted your niche, start getting involved. Of the many activities that ignite your passion select the ones that will be most satisfying and the most visible. Look for opportunities to get involved locally, with your biophysics community, or take charge of something that you care about at your institution or professional society. Volunteer for a study section, join a committee, or attend a conference where you can make a difference, learn new skills, AND stand out. Leverage conferences to build your network. Attend meetings that match your research interests and talk to people—walk up and introduce yourself, ask questions, and make friends. If you are invited for a talk—GO! Building a network can take years, but it is never too late to start.

Once you’ve stepped forward, look back on your investments and rewards; decide to expand from there or revisit the plan. Staying on track and meeting deadlines require careful time management. Consider the advice of your department chair or mentor on how to prioritize activities.

“Keep in mind that a mentor–mentee relationship is most successful when it is based on mutual respect and is beneficial for both parties,” advised Weinstein. Use all available mentoring opportunities and remember that each person has a different skill set; don’t get all your advice in one place! Consider mentoring students and junior scientists, you may find the process rewarding and even valuable to your own career growth, as it helps establish you as an expert and it also expands your network.

In summary, graceful self-promotion is not only possible but also a valuable tool in your skill set for career success. However, regardless of your skill level, the surest way to build a name for yourself is to do high quality science and share your passion with enthusiasm and generosity. The forum concluded with a networking segment and extended past the allotted time. Many participants urged the organizers to expand the period for informal interactions as a way to practice networking skills, make new connections with scientists at the same career level, and engage in small group discussions. This interactive luncheon is scheduled to occur again at the 58th Annual Meeting in San Franscico, California. Details on the 2014 event topic, as well as panelists and information on how to register, will be available on the Annual Meeting website,, under Programs, and then Special Functions in the fall. If you have any additional recommendations or suggestions for topics and panelists for next year, or feedback on this year’s session, please send your comments to Gabriela Popescu ( or Bernadette Chepega (

June 2013 Table of Contents