Elizabeth Silva is the MIND programme manager at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF).
Say hello to our career expert for this month: Elizabeth Silva!
What is your scientific background?
I trained as a geneticist and developmental biologist in Canada, the UK and the US, working on a variety of biological problems using Drosophila as a model system. Most recently I was a postdoc at UCSF, working in innate immunity.
Why did you decide to leave academia (if at all)?
I currently manage a new and experimental career exploration programme at UCSF called Motivating INformed Decisions (MIND), but I first left the bench in 2011 to work as an editor at PLOS ONE.
Like most biomedical researchers, I planned to pursue an independent position running an academic lab and I spent a Masters, PhD and two postdocs with this goal in mind. I likely would have continued on this path had the position at PLOS ONE not come up. At PLOS I had the opportunity to work towards bigger goals in research: making research findings and knowledge available more quickly, and to more people, for the benefit of scientific advancement. I realized that I would have a much bigger impact on research advancement there than I ever could at the bench.
Why did you decide to start working in the field you are in now?
At first glance it may appear that my roles at PLOS and at UCSF are unrelated, however both carry a strong thread of science, research and education policy. PLOS ONE’s unique publication criteria means that the role of the editors is very different compared to other journals. We spent a lot of time considering publication ethics, research ethics, and editorial policies. These opportunities to develop and set policies, and test the impact of these policies, were incredibly appealing to me. MIND is also unique compared to most career and professional development programmes. MIND is one of 17 experimental programmes across the country funded by the Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) award, working to develop, evaluate, and disseminate programmes and interventions that ultimately aim to change the culture of biomedical training in the US. We work with students and postdocs, but also with faculty, administration, other institutions, and with the NIH to understand the needs and concerns around training and to propose solutions that can be implemented more broadly. Working on the MIND programme presented the opportunity for me to move more firmly into the realm of science and education policy, while still addressing issues in biomedical research.
How do you want to help scientists in their careers?
I want students and postdocs to be empowered to proactively consider, discuss and implement career plans, and I want their PIs to feel that they are adequately supported as mentors. I also want to see other sectors of the workforce benefit from the talent, skill and critical analysis that STEM PhDs have to offer.
Tell us something interesting about yourself.
My husband and I commute to work together on our motorcycle. We save a fortune on parking and gas, and it makes it much easier to deal with traffic!
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