Research Scientist Skills

Learn about the skills that will be most essential for Research Scientists in 2024.

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What Skills Does a Research Scientist Need?

Find the important skills for any job.

skills in scientific research

Types of Skills for Research Scientists

Critical thinking and problem-solving, technical proficiency and specialization, data analysis and computational skills, communication and dissemination, project management and organization, top hard skills for research scientists.

Empowering discovery through robust data analysis, cutting-edge experimentation, and interdisciplinary expertise in today's dynamic scientific landscape.

  • Statistical Analysis and Modeling
  • Experimental Design and Execution
  • Data Mining and Machine Learning
  • Scientific Writing and Publishing
  • Advanced Mathematics
  • Laboratory Techniques and Instrumentation
  • Computer Programming and Simulation
  • Big Data Analytics
  • Research Project Management
  • Domain-Specific Knowledge (e.g., Genomics, Neuroscience, Materials Science)

Top Soft Skills for Research Scientists

Fostering innovation through critical thinking, collaboration, and resilience, while leading with emotional intelligence and meticulous organization.

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Effective Communication
  • Collaboration and Teamwork
  • Adaptability and Flexibility
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Time Management and Organization
  • Attention to Detail
  • Resilience and Perseverance
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Leadership and Mentoring

Most Important Research Scientist Skills in 2024

Interdisciplinary collaboration, advanced data analysis and interpretation, scientific communication and public engagement, grant writing and fundraising acumen, problem-solving and critical thinking, technical proficiency in emerging technologies, project management and organizational skills, adaptability to scientific paradigm shifts.

skills in scientific research

Show the Right Skills in Every Application

Research scientist skills by experience level, important skills for entry-level research scientists, important skills for mid-level research scientists, important skills for senior research scientists, most underrated skills for research scientists, 1. interdisciplinary knowledge, 2. intellectual curiosity, 3. resilience, how to demonstrate your skills as a research scientist in 2024, how you can upskill as a research scientist.

  • Deepen Your Expertise with Specialized Courses: Enroll in advanced courses that focus on cutting-edge topics within your field to deepen your expertise and stay abreast of the latest scientific breakthroughs.
  • Master Data Analysis and Statistical Software: Become proficient in the latest data analysis tools and software, such as R, Python, or specialized bioinformatics software, to enhance your research capabilities.
  • Collaborate on Interdisciplinary Research Projects: Seek out opportunities to work with professionals from different scientific disciplines to broaden your perspective and foster innovation through cross-pollination of ideas.
  • Participate in Scientific Conferences and Seminars: Attend and, if possible, present your research at national and international conferences to stay informed about recent developments and network with leading scientists.
  • Contribute to Peer-Reviewed Journals: Writing and reviewing articles for reputable scientific journals will not only contribute to your field but also refine your critical thinking and writing skills.
  • Engage with Research Funding and Grant Writing: Develop your skills in writing grant proposals to secure funding for your research, which is a critical component of a successful scientific career.
  • Adopt Open Science Practices: Embrace open science by sharing your data and findings openly when possible, and using open-source resources to promote transparency and reproducibility in research.
  • Develop Teaching and Mentoring Skills: Take on roles that involve teaching or mentoring to improve your communication skills and give back to the scientific community by helping to train the next generation of researchers.
  • Stay Informed on Ethical Research Practices: Ensure that you are up-to-date with the ethical considerations and regulations in your field to conduct responsible and credible research.
  • Invest in Soft Skills Development: Enhance your soft skills, such as teamwork, leadership, and problem-solving, which are invaluable in collaborative research environments and when leading projects or labs.

Skill FAQs for Research Scientists

What are the emerging skills for research scientists today, how can research scientists effectivley develop their soft skills, how important is technical expertise for research scientists.

Research Scientist Education

skills in scientific research

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Start Your Research Scientist Career with Teal

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EMBL Careers

A life science careers blog for early career researchers

This blog aims to inspire early career researchers exploring different career options. We provide interview-based profiles of life scientists working in diverse science-related careers and articles on a broad range of career-related topics, with new content added on a regular basis.

Rachel Coulthard-Graf

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2 March 2022

Category: Articles Skills and competencies

Tags: languages , skills , survey results

Skills for a scientific career

Several studies have shown that the skills developed during early career research training are relevant for careers in academia, industry R&D and many other areas. These studies generally focus on a range of skills and, for each skill, compare the level of skill needed in the current role to the level to which this skill was acquired during the PhD (see e.g. here or here ).

To add to this existing data, and aid evidence-based career guidance for life scientists, the EMBL Fellows’ Career Service launched a survey at the end of 2020 focused on what competencies [knowledge and behaviours] are used most by (former) life scientists working in a wide range of academic and non-academic careers. There were two major aims of the survey. Firstly,  to validate a competency framework focused on ‘classical’ research careers; and secondly to map a modified version of the framework to other career areas and help scientists to identify careers that match their strengths.

We received 350 responses including researchers in a range of academic (120 responses) and industry R&D (38 responses) roles; as well as over 220 scientists working in a diverse array of non-research roles from clinical trial management to technology transfer.

As outlined below, in these responses we did see differences in the competencies selected from respondents working in different career areas, with some statistically significant differences evident between the most well-represented careers (e.g. group leader roles in academia and industry).

Updated summary of responses

UPDATE: Following an additional call for non-research responses when we released this post in 2022, we now have 452 responses to our survey (126 from a range of PI and non-PI academic roles; 63 from early career researchers; 44 from industry R&D; and 282 from non-research roles) – a more detailed analysis of the 452 responses are summarized in a document here .

Most commonly used competencies

Respondents were asked to select a maximum of six competencies that they use most in their role. They could select from a list of 17 competencies. This set of competencies was identified through interviews with EMBL group leaders in the frame of ‘classical’ research careers and can be seen in Figure 1.

For respondents in non-research-group-leader roles, the same 17 competencies were included, but some descriptions were adapted to provide a broader description (e.g. ‘scientific writing’, replaced with simply ‘writing’).

Not unexpectedly, there was a lot of variation in competencies selected, even with the same career area. Several respondents also noted in the comments that they are using many of the competencies they learned as a PhD + postdoc on a daily basis, making choosing just six difficult.

The five most commonly selected competencies for research group leaders (in academia + industry combined) were:

  • Mentoring/leadership (selected by 77% of group leaders)
  • Clarity of thought (63%)
  • Resilient problem solving (50%)
  • Broad scientific knowledge (49%)
  • Independent thought (47%)

Graph displaying the percentage of academic group leaders (n=80) and industry group leaders (n=17) who selected different competencies as one of the 6 they use most. The most selected competencies are described in the article.

Comparing types of non-research-group-leader roles, we also saw some trends; scientists in science administration & management roles, for example, more frequently selected ‘organization’ as a top competency compared to scientists in other non-group leader roles. Further responses would, however, be needed to confirm the specific trends observed. For scientists who were not working as research group leaders, the top five competencies were:

  • Effective communication (selected by 58%)
  • Team-work (51%)
  • Organization (48%)
  • Broad scientific knowledge (41%)
  • Resilient problem solving (39%)

Language knowledge can be an asset in Europe.

Many academic labs work and publish in English. It is therefore not unusual to find highly mobile early-career researchers working in English-speaking labs in countries where they do not speak the local language. We therefore asked a specific question on language knowledge in the survey.

198 respondents were working in a country where English is not the local language (mostly within Europe). Of those, 48% said that for their role you could get by with just a knowledge of English, 28% needed some knowledge of the local language, and 24% needed to be fluent in the local language.

Graph displaying results of the question 'which of the following statements apply in the organization you work in` (see text for results)

For those working as academic group leaders, only 18% stated that they needed to be fluent in the local language. The distribution of these respondents implies that there is a lot of variation depending on the individual institution – and that this is likely influenced by the country and type of institution/position. In particular, in some cases, academic group leaders may be expected to teach in the local language. Of the 14 respondents who stated that at least some teaching experience is required to be hired as a junior group leader at their institution, 50% said group leaders need to be fluent in the local language.

Postdoc experience is often seen neutrally for employment outside academia.

Several articles have been published that advise PhDs only to consider a postdoc position if they want to be a group leader (e.g. here , here ).

These articles quite rightfully point out that, for careers where postdoc experience is not required, pursuing a postdoc position will delay your entry into your long-term career and this can have further implications (e.g. lower life-time earnings ). Additionally, some non-academic hiring managers and recruiters tell us that, during the application process, senior postdocs will need more clearly demonstrate their adaptability and motivation to move to a new career area than recent PhD graduates.

Nevertheless, our survey data suggest that postdoc training will, in most cases, not make your CV less attractive, and may even be seen positively in some cases: for the 164 survey respondents not working as a postdoc or research group leader, only 5% said that applicants directly out of the PhD are preferred.  The most common response (45%) was that a postdoc is neither positive or negative, 26% stated that postdoc experience is seen positively for their role. Postdoc experience was considered a requirement for 15% of respondents overall, including for more than 50% of respondents working in academic teaching, in research infrastructure leadership (in academia or industry), and in science publishing.

Graph displaying results of the question 'is postdoc experience seen positively for your career area` (see text for results)

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Discover the nine competencies required to become a researcher

What essential skills do researchers need? For those just starting on the road to research, breaking the process down into achievable and measurable milestones can help

Cynthia López 's avatar

Cynthia López

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There are core competencies that anyone can use to research a topic thoroughly

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When studying education, researchers often face the challenge of trying to figure out what, how and when to research, often believing that if a researcher is not an expert in a specific area, they are unable to carry out research on it. However, certain core competencies can help you effectively research any topic related to your teaching practice, as well as incorporate technological and/or pedagogical trends.

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Several models outline the basic knowledge and competencies that a professional (in this case, a teacher) must have in order to carry out research, including the LART model suggested by Luis Arturo Rivas-Tovar , which lists the key competencies as:

  • The ability to state a research problem : start from what is known and move to what is desired to be known.
  • Know how to elaborate a contextual framework : analyse how the stated problem occurs within a whole and in the context you want to research.
  • Examine the state of the art : review what is already known about the defined problem in the literature in order to aid the search for new knowledge. Each part of the problem must be studied separately.
  • Prepare and validate data collection instruments: while considering the objective of the study, define the type of research best suited to it, the instrument(s) to be used, and the individuals who will validate and answer them.
  • Build a research model: once you have visualised the problem or event to be researched, establish the process you will follow to analyse it and achieve the study objectives.
  • Know how to analyse the data obtained: recognise that different techniques are available to process the results, which are linked to the type of research and the scale used in the data collection instruments.
  • Know how to write scientific articles : any professional researcher must learn the citation styles: MLA (for literature), CBE (for basic sciences) and APA (for social sciences). Write briefly and concisely and use the IMRaD structure (introduction, method, results and discussion) to present your work.
  • Present your results at a conference:  this ability means the new knowledge will be communicated and, most likely, doors will be opened to exchange experiences with other researchers – in this case, teachers from different disciplines and educational institutions.
  • Master a second language : English is the universal language, so it is necessary to learn it to be able to communicate in international journals or at conferences.

These nine skills can help guide professionals interested in researching teaching, although they can also, of course, be applied to almost any field. Even if you do not have a particularly scientific profile, they can help instigate a critical view of any topic or event, even one already defined or being tested.

Indeed, as educational engineers, we often analyse educational models to help gauge the impact of pedagogical innovations.

But for what purpose? To answer, here are three key reasons that can apply to any research:

  • To gain in-depth knowledge of a topic, event or situation and visualise the place each of its components occupies.
  • To communicate the knowledge obtained to the people involved to help them grasp the scope of their participation in the field studied.
  • To help make decisions that favour or produce changes in the object/subject of research.

These three purposes, I think, show the usefulness of the nine competencies. They can help us detect strengths as well as opportunities for improvement – and provide the information needed to adjust or optimise.

Finally, the central argument for mastering these nine competencies is that it demonstrates the commitment and passion that any person, whether they are a researcher or not, must put into a field they want to know better. Only through displaying the correct level of rigour can we prepare to find and then solve those aspects of education (or any other field) that remain to be discovered.

Cynthia López is an educational engineer at Monterrey Institute of Technology, Mexico.

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Redefining Scientific Thinking for Higher Education pp 203–232 Cite as

Developing Scientific Thinking and Research Skills Through the Research Thesis or Dissertation

  • Gina Wisker 3 , 4  
  • First Online: 22 September 2019

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2 Citations

This chapter explores higher level scientific thinking skills that research students need to develop during their research learning journeys towards their dissertation/thesis at postgraduate levels, and also final year undergraduate (Australian honours year) dissertation. A model of four quadrants is introduced. Practice and experience-informed examples are presented to show how higher order skills can be realised and embedded so that they become established ways of thinking, researching, creating, and expressing knowledge and understanding.

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Wisker, G., & Savin-Baden, M. (2009). Priceless conceptual thresholds: Beyond the ‘stuck place’ in writing. London Review of Education, 7 (3), 235–247. .

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Related Information

Developing the right skills for your scientific career.

In this episode of Expert Insights for the Research Training Community , Dr. Cynthia Fuhrmann, assistant dean of career and professional development in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Dr. Ann M. Stock, co-director of the Rutgers Biotechnology Training Program, explain how to apply the individual development plan process and identify relevant technical, professional, and career-specific skills. They also discuss leveraging resources—including advisors, mentors, and external materials—to support skills development.

The original recording of this episode took place as a webinar on July 15, 2020, with NIGMS host Dr. Alison Gammie. A Q&A session with webinar attendees followed Dr. Fuhrmann and Dr. Stock’s talk.

Recorded on July 15, 2020

View Transcript Download Recording [MP3]

Podcast Transcript: Developing the Right Skills for Your Scientific Career

Welcome to Expert Insights for the Research Training Community—A podcast from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Adapted from our webinar series, this is where the biomedical research community can connect with fellow scientists to gain valuable insights.

Dr. Alison Gammie:

Hello, everyone. Thanks for tuning in today. We hope that you’re all doing well during these challenging times.

Today’s webinar is part of a larger series that’s being hosted by NIGMS, and it’s to provide an opportunity for the training community to engage with individuals on a variety of topics that are relevant to biomedical scientists. Past webinars on a broad range of subjects are available on the NIGMS web page. You can put in the search term “NIGMS webinars,” and it should pop right to the top.

Today’s webinar is entitled “Developing the Right Skills for Your Scientific Career.” And without any further ado, it’s my pleasure to introduce today’s speakers.

We have Dr. Cynthia Fuhrmann. Cynthia earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology at UCSF. She’s currently an assistant dean of career and professional development in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, and she’s an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. She has 15 years of experience directing programs in professional skills training and career planning for early-career biomedical scientists. She founded and directs UMass Med’s Center for Biomedical Career Development. This is a scholarly incubator for educational approaches in Ph.D. career development. She co-authored MyIDP, an interactive career-planning website that is hosted by the American Association of Science, and it’s used by nearly 200,000 early-career scientists worldwide. Her work on career-interested Ph.D. students has really contributed to the growing national dialogue over career preparedness for biomedical scientists, and we’re really thrilled that she is taking the time today to speak with us.

Our second speaker is Dr. Ann Stock. Dr. Stock earned her Ph.D. in comparative biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. She’s currently a distinguished professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the associate director for the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine. Her research focuses on bacterial signal transduction, with an emphasis on principles of system design and structure-function studies of two-component signaling pathways. Dr. Stock is involved in a number of professional activities nationwide that are relevant to training the next generation of biomedical researchers. This includes serving as a co-director of an NIGMS-funded T32 program, the Rutgers Biotechnology Training Program. As you may know, these programs have a longstanding internship component involved with them. Ann will bring her experience as a mentor and program director to today’s discussion.

And without taking any more time, I’ll turn the webinar over to Cynthia and Ann.

Dr. Cynthia Fuhrmann:

Thank you so much for that introduction. When we think about this question of how to develop the right skills for your scientific career, we think about a couple of primary questions built into that. First of all, what are the right skills that you might need to develop? And secondly, how do I develop those skills? How do you develop those skills as an individual? These are really unique questions for every individual, and so what our goal is today is we’re going to give you a brief introduction and overview to give you some tools for addressing these two questions yourself. And we look forward to some discussion at the end of this brief introduction. Let’s start with these two questions: What are the right skills?

Dr. Ann Stock:

So first of all, we need to define what we mean by “skills,” and Cynthia and I find it useful to categorize skills into three different types: technical, professional, and career-specific skills. So technical skills are generally defined as those that are specific to the conduct of laboratory research in your own discipline—for example, designing experiments; precision and accuracy in data collection; analytical and problem-solving abilities such as interpreting data and troubleshooting; proficiency in procedures and use of laboratory equipment that could be as specific as a particular form of microscopy or animal skills; and, of course, knowledge of literature both in a general discipline and related to a specific project.

Professional skills, on the other hand, are less discipline specific and include, for example, communication skills, both oral and written; interpersonal teamwork, mentoring, and leadership skills; and, of course, organization, planning, and time management.

Career-specific skills are as diverse as the range of careers. For example, classroom teaching experience is important for an academic career, especially at primarily undergraduate institutions, while something as different as mastery of illustration software, drawing, and design skills would be necessary for a career as a scientific illustrator. So I won’t continue to elaborate on this because given the great diversity of careers available to bio scientists, this list of career-specific skills is almost endless.

But before we move on, I should note that while it’s useful to categorize skills, the lines between the categories are definitely blurred. Furthermore, how professional skills are used in other sectors such as industry or even how a specific professional skill is applied in a role as a student or a postdoc may differ from how it is applied as a faculty member. The good news it that many of the skills that you will develop as a bio scientist will be transferable. But you should also be very willing and ready to learn on the job. And as I have mentioned, there are many relevant skills, and you will need to identify and prioritize which are the skills that you need to develop. Fortunately, there is a framework to assist in this process, and this tool is the individual development plan that Cynthia will describe.

You may have heard of the concept of an individual development plan before, and hopefully your program or even advisor have encouraged you or required you to develop individual development plans. The reason why this is so important is because your professional development and your skills development really are individualized to each one of you. And so the idea behind an individual development plan is, of course, to result in you proactively developing a plan for your own professional development in the coming year. But it’s not just about the product that is the action plan, such as the two shown here, at the end of an individual development plan process.

It’s really the process of creating an IDP that is key. And that process comes down to really stepping back from your day-to-day work and reflecting and assessing yourself and gathering information from others to understand, what are my key areas of growth? How has my progress been going so far on my project? Where do I want to move forward in my future career path? And how might I need to continue developing, including my skills development, any experience that I need, developing my network, or other aspects to move forward towards my future goals?

And so the individual development plan process, or IDP process, includes this reflection and self-assessment piece. Lots of discussions with mentors and others. Career exploration—because often as we are in training, our career, typically, actually, our career interests shift over time, and it’s really important to be informed about various options available to scientists, to reflect on what your strengths are and what you’re excited about doing in the future, and to even innovate next avenues for your own path.

As you do this, you’ll probably identify a number of skills to develop, but what you’ll need to do is prioritize, and then ultimately for your action plan and your IDP, set goals. Because this is a process, there are tools available to support you, to guide you through that process. So myIDP, which I was the one of the four original co-authors for, came out in 2012, and it was the first individual development plan tool tailored to Ph.D.-level/graduate-level scientists.

So all of us, as co-authors, really actually work specifically with biomedical scientists so that that tool really does have a biomedical twist. Other tools have come out since then that are focused in other disciplines, such as ChemIDP for chemists, or ImaginePhD for social scientists and humanists, all of which are focused at the graduate and postdoctoral levels. A number of universities and graduate programs, training programs, even individual labs, have also developed their own IDP processes or tools or forms to guide you through an IDP process, but at their heart, it’s this core process that’s important. We felt like we really wanted to make sure we brought this process forward, because in identifying your skills, that skill development is a key part of your own professional development and your IDP.

So how do you identify what your strengths are and what your skill gaps might be? A number of these IDP tools include in them skills assessments—a list of skills common to scientists that you can use to think to yourself and self-assess where your strengths might be. A lot of literature actually has demonstrated that people aren’t the best sometimes at assessing their own strengths or weaknesses, so it’s highly advisable to talk to others as you do this. You could even print out a list from myIDP or others and give it to a research advisor or to peers or colleagues who work with you, or just have a conversation with them to learn more from them about what your particular areas of strength are and what some skills areas are where you might want to grow.

There are also additional tools available that you should explore. For example, if your university or institution has a career center or a graduate school and someone trained in career counseling, they might have tools such as the Clifton Strengths Finder, or other tools that you can use to explore what your own particular strengths are. So a key question remaining, then: What are the skills that I’m going to need for my future career path? And some of those might be clear and some, for many of us, if we’re moving into a career path that’s a little less well-known, we might be a little hazy about what skills we’ll actually need.

So once you’ve decided on a potential career, there are many ways to begin to identify career-specific skills. A really logical place to begin is to look at job postings and highlight the listed skills. You can also read articles or career profiles at myIDP or at scientific societies or on your own campus and career centers.

For instance, those interested in academic careers, there’s been a recent rubric of assessment skills that was published in the American Society of Cell Biology’s Life Science Education journal that’s cited here. You can attend the live or virtual career panels.

And one upside of the current COVID-19 restrictions is the abundance of online content that is now broadly available. But most importantly, you want to talk to people. And you might be really surprised at how willing people are to assist others interested in similar careers. Alumni are great resources, so is your LinkedIn network or contacts through scientific or professional societies. Some institutions have some immersive experiences that can help as well, and one of these is job shadowing.

Unlike internships, job shadowing is not focused on a project, but rather is focused on exposure to a career. And in a shadowing experience, you typically would spend a couple of weeks following a professional around, seeing what a particular job actually entails. Another immersive experience is job simulation workshops that Cynthia will elaborate on.

So the concept of job simulations is new to the Ph.D. sciences, and it emerged in the last couple of years. The idea is that immersive experiential opportunities, like internship programs, might be ideal for getting experience and also even exploring career options and understanding better the skills needed in those careers.

But there are also opportunities, ways we can simulate a small piece of those internships, and that’s called a job simulation. A job simulation is basically just taking a task that is common to a career path and doing an exercise related to that task. You’re doing the work in the frame of mind of someone in that role. It gives you that experience.

It also gives you experience in recognizing how some of the skills that you’ve developed, such as your communication skills or others, might apply directly to this type of task. So there’s libraries of job simulations specific to Ph.D.-level scientists. One of them is the InterSECT library, which is available at This library provides detailed instructions and resources for job simulation exercises that might take about four to eight hours, maybe a little bit longer, to complete.

Another library that we developed as part of our curriculum at UMass Medical School is called the MicroSim Library. We call them MicroSims because we designed them as part of our curriculum to just be one to two hours, so there are tasks that are even a shorter time commitment. Either one of these are good opportunities to get a sense, from reading these job simulations almost on your own and practicing them, to get a sense of what skills might be valuable for a given career path.

You won’t necessarily develop the skill in depth, but mostly it gives you an opportunity to then have an informational interview with someone and even discuss your job simulation with them, show them your product, ask them questions about how that job relates to their common role.

We do these exercises, the MicroSims, as part of our curriculum at UMass Medical School, and our students have shared that it’s been extremely valuable to them to discuss with the professionals, these Ph.D. scientists in these roles, exactly how these activities play in their jobs. And you can access our MicroSims in our educators portal at

So how do you develop your skills? So if you’ve identified the types of career-specific skills you might need, other professional or technical skills you might need in your training or for your own professional development, and you’ve prioritized the list of skills you want to develop, then how do you identify how to do that?

Well, often we would think if we want to develop skills we should practice them, maybe we take a course. If I want to develop my grant-writing skills, maybe I could take a course in how to write grants. Interestingly, as you progress in your career, there will be workshops and courses available to you, and as Ann mentioned, more and more so in a virtual sense so that more and more people can participate in these types of courses and workshops.

But also, as you specialize in what you do, there may or may not be courses and workshops available. So as we coach our students and postdocs in creating individual development plans and action plans for actually how to develop their skills, we suggest this framework.

To think about how you might get training or learn strategies for that skill. How you are going to practice the skill, because practicing is really essential for developing it. And how you can get feedback from people knowledgeable about that skill. And so on this slide I show a few examples of where these pieces might come into play in this framework.

You could take a course or a workshop to do all three of those things—get training, practice, and get feedback. But you can also, for example, talk to your research advisor and share that you want to develop your skills in writing grant proposals, and might they share with you an example proposal that they’ve written that you could then look at carefully and have a few discussions with them about the strategies that they used to develop that proposal.

Or perhaps you could even help them develop a part of the grant proposal. So there are ways that you can think about and build right into your research training how you can develop skills that you can use within your training and beyond for your next steps in your career.

Regardless of the extensiveness of the skills that you have developed, as we mentioned previously, you should be ready to learn on the job. You can’t possibly learn everything ahead of time, and of course, it isn’t expected. This is especially true for career-specific skills, and for these it is largely about the awareness of skills needed and the recognition that there are differences in settings. In fact, learning things ahead of time is not even necessarily desired, because employers like to shape their own employees. And there will certainly be differences in specific methods in different settings, so the important thing is to be adaptable and be curious. Transferable skills and the ability to learn, the things that are inherent in biosciences training, are really the things that will help you.

So as we wrap this up, in the past few minutes we’ve attempted to provide an overview of the topic. And these three elements that we’re listing here we believe are particularly relevant—specifically how to apply the individual development plan process for skills development, how to identify and develop the relevant technical, professional, and career-specific skills, and how to leverage resources to support skills development. And these include interactions with your advisors, your mentors, your institution, and also external and online resources. So we would be happy to discuss these issues with you or anything else related to developing skills for your scientific career, so we’ll get started on some questions and answers, hopefully.

Great. That was wonderful. Thanks, both of you. We already have some questions in the chat, and I’ll start with those. So one question came about the job simulations, and the question is, “Is there some sort of evaluation process that’s involved so that a person can get feedback on their performance?”

So what we encourage students/postdocs to do is to extend this experience by doing the job simulation and setting up an opportunity to talk to a professional who does that type of work. Those follow-up conversations can be so, so rich.

And so the InterSECT library may have some evaluation pieces to help you self-assess, but in the end, you’re going to get the richest feedback by talking to someone who does this type of work. And I will say that if you reach out to somebody, they may have never heard of job simulations because this is kind of a new thing, but I bet they will be…What we’ve found is that professionals get really excited about this.

You can imagine, they’ve been doing their job; they remember being a Ph.D. and not being sure what they’re going to do next, and remember being in your shoes, and to hear that there is an exercise that mimics what they do, they’ll be curious to see what the exercise is, and they will probably really love giving you feedback. So be ready for a specific and really rich conversation.

So I’ll just add to that. At our institution, our job simulations that we do are run as workshops, and they’re really intended more to identify skills that are necessary in tackling some of the things and projects or scenarios that one would encounter in a particular job, rather than actually using the short, couple-hour workshops for the development of skills.

And in our institution, the majority of our job simulation workshops are run by professionals in the field that we bring in from various companies, neighboring industries, government offices, etc. And so these are wonderful contacts and resources to help create the connections that students and postdocs can follow up with later on to get more information about skills. And not only what the skills are that one might need, but what types of courses or resources or other activities might help in the development of those skills.

I’ll add, too, that something we found is that peers learning with each other about career options and thinking about these things can be a very, very valuable experience. And so something that you might want to consider, students and postdocs out there, are recruiting other friends who have similar interests to you and doing job simulations together, doing them individually and coming together to meet and inviting a professional to Zoom in with you on that discussion. So there are a lot of opportunities to do this creatively and learn from each other and have richer conversations.

That’s great. Thanks to both of you. We have another question that is about any advice that you have for junior faculty in terms of career development and identifying skills and how to develop those skills.

That’s a really great question, and it might be somewhat institution specific. Clearly, there are many different types of academic environments that one finds oneself in, and the skills that will be emphasized and needed at different types of institutions, whether they’re research-intensive or primarily undergraduate institutions, are likely to be somewhat different.

So I hesitate to emphasize a particular set of skills. I think, as a starting point, the literature reference that we cited earlier that was put out by the American Society for Cell Biology is a very nice place to start that kind of defines broadly some skills that are important in academia.

But I think that it can, in part, be guided by the institution, the culture of the institution, and very importantly, mentors at the institution. And I know that at many institutions now a required a component of an offer letter is assignment of a mentor. And these mentors can be very, very useful, but I suggest going beyond the individual mentor that is assigned.

I think that people, especially academicians, should have multiple mentors, and you might find that different people would be most appropriate for mentoring in different areas. And so I encourage you to reach out to create your own network of mentors and rely on them to help you not only with identifying the skills but also with the strategies and the resources available at the institution, whether it be perfecting or honing grant writing skills to being a better lecturer or a better educator.

There are many resources within institutions, typically, that are available for faculty development. There at many resources available at professional societies and scientific societies as well that can help out in that regard.

I want to emphasize national resources to build on that. Scientific societies, professional societies are an awesome resource, and even serving on committees for professional societies can help to broaden your network amongst other colleagues and identify external mentors that way through those relationships you built on committees. I will also say that there are some specific skills that come to mind when I think about junior faculty.

One is leadership and management skills and mentoring skills. So the Office of Intramural Training and Education at NIH, led by Sharon Milgram, offers some great workshops on leadership and management. Many of them are focused for students and postdocs, but they also host things for faculty. And in fact, some of those resources are available as recordings and free online as live events, and so their website is a good one to go to for some of that introductory training in leadership and management.

Another resource that comes to mind is that NRMN, the National Research Mentoring Network, which offers, in partnership with CIMER, training in mentoring. And so you can participate in those trainings individually, as well as groups through your institution, and the training available includes culturally aware mentorship, which is very, very important.

Another resource is presentation skills. The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science is an awesome resource for enhancing your presentation and communication skills about science and teaching skills. For example, through CIRTL—and I’m forgetting the full acronym for CIRTL—CIRTL is another fantastic resource for developing teaching skills.

There are a lot of resources out there, and partnering with individual mentoring, peer groups, maybe things offered through your office of faculty affairs and through these national opportunities can help you develop some skills there.

Great, thanks. So we have another question. A person is trying to get a career launched in bioinformatics. Given the current global situation, this person is not sure it’s the best thing to do, so they’re looking for advice. Are there any online trainings for developing quantitative computational skills? Should they try to get a master’s or Ph.D. degree? But they’re also a little bit nervous about the state of education right now. So any insights you can provide would be appreciated.

So I think that there really is a question of what level one wants to be using bioinformatics for, and that would certainly determine whether a master’s or a Ph.D. would be necessary for the types of careers that one might want.

Certainly delving into a graduate degree would provide a deeper skill set that would allow one to go further within the field. There is a little bit of a question of exactly what one means when one says “bioinformatics.” It can mean different things to different people, and certainly at different levels, whether it’s the application of existing tools to mining biological information, or whether it’s at the pushing the envelope at the next level of actually creating new tools to take things in new directions, and the latter probably would require an advanced degree.

So I think that, like any advanced degree, one of the better places to start is looking at institutions and programs on websites of various graduate programs for places that have strengths in bioinformatics. And then a big decision of how far one wants to go down the path of developing computational skills that will allow you to really push the field forward and whether joint degrees in computer science as well as in the biosciences could be valuable to you.

I’m myself not familiar with online courses that are available in bioinformatics. I suspect that they exist. I suspect very strongly that if not many of them exist now, that within the next year we’re going to see an absolute explosion in these sorts of activities and things that are available, because during the restrictions that have kept us away from bench research in the laboratory, an enormous number of young scientists have been pursuing computational and bioinformatics projects.

For example, our summer undergraduate research program this year has been entirely remote with everyone doing bioinformatics projects. So we’re going to see, I think, actually a boom in this area going forward, and I think that many more opportunities will be available in online format.

We’ve seen during the pandemic many, many more resources popping up, and many schools that had had only minimal online opportunities are now providing extensive online courses that are broadly available. So I think stay tuned, and I’m not sure that that’s helpful, but I do think that we’re going to see a change in the landscape going forward.

Thanks. Cynthia, did you want to add anything, or should I go to the next question?

I will concur with what Ann shared. And I agree; I think there’s a lot of opportunity here. Also for Ph.D.s looking into data science, if you Google around about data science, you’ll learn about data science programs that provide another gateway or entryway into more computational types of work, if you haven’t been doing computational work in your training.

Great. Thanks. So we have a question. A starting postdoc is really thinking about leaning towards academia, and one of the things that they’re trying to figure out is the balance of time to spend on their benchwork or their research versus exploring skill development and career. So how do you balance that, and what’s a good amount of time?

So something I think is valuable to keep in mind is that often skill development can go hand in hand with your day-to-day research responsibilities. So for example, if you—and I know things are different right now—if you have a rotating student who you’re working with or an undergraduate student who you’ll be mentoring, really take that as an explicit opportunity to develop your leadership and management and mentoring skills.

Recognize that you have this opportunity coming up and pair that with attending a workshop or course on leadership and management skills and giving yourself homework and really explicitly putting the strategies that you learn to practice as you’re mentoring or supervising that person. So that’s one example where those skills will be critical to you in your future, and you can use them now in a practical sense and develop them now explicitly.

You can even share it with your current research advisor or other mentors who you’re in touch with that that’s a skill that you want to develop and ask them to give you explicit feedback. Maybe even ask them to get some feedback from any mentees that you’re working with. So there are ways that you can think about how you can get training, practice, and feedback, thinking back to the framework that I shared, in the day-to-day context of what you’re doing.

I will share that it’s always a question of how to balance your professional development, your career development, even career exploration and networking, with the day-to-day push forward to move your research forward.

In some ways, the pandemic has created opportunities for people to step back and be forced to reassess where they can’t go into the lab, for example, and their experiments have to go on pause. At the same time, don’t feel pressure that all of your career and professional development answers are going to come through right now, because there are also a lot of other strains on all of us.

For every individual, what’s happening in the world right now and moving forward is going to impact us in different ways. So where you can, take advantage of opportunities, but assess your wellness at the same time, and balance the best you can.

I will say that this is a really good question, because one thing that people notice sometimes is they set aside or delay their professional development or their career planning because they think, well, I really needed to get this experiment done, or I really need to get this paper out. And though those key priorities are really important. They’re what we think of as important and urgent, and the important, urgent things are the things that tend to swamp us.

And so wherever you can, try to build some self-awareness about how you’re also balancing the important and urgent things with the other things that are important to you, like your career planning and professional development, that aren’t maybe so urgent. Because you won’t be able to develop a network in the blink of an eye, in a moment, when you need one later on.

And to be truthful, networks provide a great balance and energizer in talking to people that you know outside of your institution and in the career paths that you’re interested in throughout your training. So it’s great to take these key professional steps and start them early on and continue them with a good balance for what you’re doing in research.

I’ll just add to that that I think that it can be helpful if you’re considering a career in academia to consider the type of academic career that you’re interested in. There are different types of institutions, as we mentioned before. There are academic careers at primarily undergraduate institutions, where there’s more emphasis on teaching and less emphasis on research.

There are the more research-intensive academic positions at medical schools and at R1 institutions. And so that balance could, in part, be driven by where you see yourself end up. If you’re aiming for an academic career at a primarily undergraduate institution, where you will be doing research but teaching is very important, there are some interesting programs, such as the NIH IRACDA program that allows you to pursue a postdoc with a balance between teaching activities and research, that can be a really great opportunity to get your foot into the door for education.

If, on the other hand, you are focused on a research-intensive academic career, then as Cynthia mentioned, it’s great to be able to balance the development of skills and integrate them in with your research, but those skills are not going to land you the job.

Having served on many search committees, I can tell you the research trumps all in terms of getting your application looked at. Once you’re at that level and you have the invitation or the interview, etc., some of the professional skills, presentation skills, writing skills come a little bit more into play. And certainly, all of the skills that we’re talking about are critical for success once you enter the position, but you definitely do not want to swing too far in the direction of compromising research, because it’s going to get you in the door. And to some extent, that’s true in high-level industrial positions as well.

OK. Great. So there’s a question which is a really wonderful question. It says that networking is such an important skill for junior faculty and, obviously, for other types of careers. So they are a self-described introvert and would like some advice for how to build your network when you are introverted by nature. And the worry is that this is really going to be a barrier to their career progression.

First of all, I just want to emphasize to whoever is asking this question, you’re not alone. In reviewing our IDP forms, the individual development plans that students submit as part of the required curriculum in the biotechnology program, we found that uniformly students rated themselves low on networking skills. And as a result of that, we’ve started to integrate some activities into our courses that help develop those skills.

We have some workshops where people do role playing in terms of networking in various types of scenarios, and it can be very helpful to watch the strategies of other people in networking. We’ve also had talks from some of our alumni who are out in industry coming back and telling us about strategies for networking, including cold calls to people in the industries and companies that you’re interested in getting your foot in the door. And it’s amazing to know how receptive professionals can be in terms of encouraging others to enter their specific careers and their career paths.

So I think that part of this is just a realization that you can reach out and talk to other people if you’re respectful of their time. Attending scientific meetings and professional society meetings can be very valuable in terms of an ability to reach out to other individuals who have similar interests. And there are often activities at meetings that specifically will bring people together in networking-type sessions. But Cynthia may have some additional guidelines.

I think that’s great. I’ll add that, as an introvert myself, something that I’ve learned about people who feel a little less comfortable going into a networking event with lots of people is that if you reframe it as having your own goal for the number of people you want to meet—and maybe it’s three. I want to have three valuable conversations with people where they further my knowledge in something, or obtain three business cards from people. You can quantify it. It’s a more attainable goal, and you’re thinking about the individual conversations.

Individual conversations are sometimes easier than thinking about going into a large room with a lot of people you don’t know. Another aspect is reaching out individually to people. We talked about doing this in informational interviews. Absolutely people tend to be very happy to talk to people. If you don’t get a response, I would send an invitation for a 30-minute conversation again a week later.

And then if people are just busy or it’s not their cup of tea, then go on to the next person. But generally these individual conversations can be much easier to have, and it’s just really about learning about that other person’s career path and how they got to the next step, and then sharing some of the thoughts that you have and asking your in-depth questions.

And when you start with this conversation where you’re learning more about the career path, and that’s the goal for the conversation, it’s a little bit easier to have that goal. And if the conversation went well, you can move forward with that relationship by asking, “This has been so helpful and valuable. Might we connect again in a couple of months to talk further about this?”

And for me at least, I’ve taken a couple of informational interviews in my career, and I found that mentoring relationships developed out of those. And those external mentoring relationships, people who I feel like they are getting to know me, I’m getting to know them and they can offer me advice, have been so valuable both as a trainee and then on through my career.

Let me just add that networking, of course, is by definition connecting one person to the next person to the next person, and it can be very challenging to do that sort of cold-call situation or meet someone who’s completely unknown to you, but you can try to do this by steps. Try to really take networking to its heart, and reach out to the next level through someone that you know.

So within your own environment, you have a laboratory that presumably has a number of alumni that have left the laboratory who have gone on to all sorts of interesting careers in various places. Use that network.

There are very few people that I know that aren’t always eager to connect with other people, the next generation coming through a particular research laboratory. The same thing can be true within a graduate program or postdocs coming from a particular department. So try to reach out possibly to alumni where you feel a strong connection, and get them to make the introduction the next level up to the people that you’re interested in meeting. And LinkedIn can be a very valuable tool in that sense to try to figure out which of the potential alums might be the important connections to the types of people that you want to meet.

And I’ll just throw in there members of your lab. Ask students and postdocs, as well as your advisor, “Hey, do you know anyone who does this or is at this type of institution? I’m interested in moving in that direction.” Our students, when we challenge them with doing informational interviews in our courses, often say, “Yeah, I called my uncle’s friend.”

It’s often through connections that are actually pretty close to you that you can start this. You can think about networking as a PCR reaction. You just need to start with a couple of the easy calls, and then at the end of each call say, “This was so valuable. From talking to you, I really want to learn a little bit more about what it’s like to work in a startup company. Do you know anyone I could connect with, and would you mind introducing me to them?” And the network grows, and it’s really just about being curious about what other people have done and learning from their experience.

That’s great advice. Thanks. So we have another question that is, if somebody is trying to look attractive to industry, for example, in the area of, let’s say, data science, and their degree doesn’t necessarily signal that they have those skills. What does it take to convince a person who’s reading the CV that a person actually has the skills that they’re looking for? Do you really need to have a degree? Do you need to have published research where it’s clear that you have those skills? What kinds of things, from your perspective, would be needed to look attractive? And you can answer it generically. It doesn’t have to be specifically about those skills.

I’ll take a first stab at this one. I will say that this is going to be so dependent on the employer, whether they’ve worked with Ph.D.s in the biomedical sciences before or people with your type of skill set before. If in your example given, Alison, if it’s about, I’m a molecular biologist but I want to move into data science. If they have hired a molecular biologist or someone else at the bench who has moved into computational work and seen that successful before, then it’s not going to be so much of a stretch.

But if they are not even used to hiring Ph.D.s, for example, or it’s a broader stretch for them, then you will…Those are people for which your résumé or CV or cover letter will need to help them see the connection. I would say networks are particularly valuable in these cases, where you want to switch fields. The more that you can network and talking to people, you can, A, learn more about that next field or that next setting so that you can use the right language and jargon in your cover letter and in your résumé to help them see how the skills you do have translate, or at least that you’re informed, and you’re curious, and you know where your gaps are and where you’ll grow, so you have the right language and are very well informed about that next piece.

And B, where these people you’ve been talking to are in the field or even at the given employer and can directly suggest you. Almost all employers will say (and I do this myself) if someone personally recommends somebody that they know or talk to and say, “I think this person would be a great fit,” generally that gets you through the door to the interview stage.

And then, again, if you’re really passionate about this and you’ve learned a little bit about it, even if you don’t have the hard skill set there, they’ll see that in the conversation even more easily than you might be able to demonstrate in your résumé and be able to move forward.

We just had in one of our career pathways communities in our curriculum this spring one of our alumni who had been really much at the bench, had done very little bioinformatics types of work, and then she moved into mostly a computational type of role.

So these types of steps happen all the time. And it’s about using personal connections, professional connections, and also being able to demonstrate in your application that you’re a good fit. But as much as you can be specific in the application, that’s the best thing.

It goes without saying, but we’ll mention it anyway. An application for a job needs to be highly tailored to that specific position. A CV is not the same thing as a résumé. You need to know when you use one and when you use the other and really how to tailor the résumé to a specific job, especially in industry.

People in large positions in industry do not get time off to hire new people. In general, when they’re expanding their groups this is something that gets done on top of their 9 to 5, 40-hour-a-week position on their own projects. They get, for every position they have, oftentimes hundreds of applicants that they’re sorting through. And they give the résumés no more than a few seconds of perusal as they’re going through the stack after hours.

You need to have things so up front and tailored that those key words jump out for the specific position. So again, networking can be very important to help get your foot in the door or to even find out more about the particular position that is being advertised, if you’re responding to something that isn’t coming through a specific reference.

And coming back to some of the things we’ve talked about, if you think about for this example of moving into a more computational space, think about within your current research projects ways that you can contribute either on your project or for your research group more broadly by learning some coding or learning some computational methods that would benefit the research group or your project.

That’s something that your advisor could then refer to in a reference. You can highlight that as a bullet, even if it was a project that you took on for a month, and you’re thinking that was a small part of my overall thesis or my overall postdoctoral research.

But like Ann said, that’s the piece where you tailor that in the résumé and indicate that as one of those few bullets in your résumé that you contributed in that way. It demonstrates that you can learn these skills and put them into play in a way that benefits the team.

That’s great. So we’re closing in on time here. I want to make sure I get to some of these other questions. So one person asked, “For networking, is it quantity or quality? Is it better to have lots of connections, or is it better to have a few really strong ones?” What are your thoughts?

I would say, if you have quantity and quality, of course that’s awesome, but just a number of people connecting to you on LinkedIn or on Twitter or on Facebook or whatever, those aren’t going to necessarily be relationships that benefit you.

So it’s really about relationship building, and I’ve heard a network be defined as where people will be willing to do a favor for you. So when you meet someone at an event or virtually or on an informational interview call, certainly connect with them via LinkedIn. Send a thank you message afterward that is specific to your conversation or how you work together.

A few months later, look for reasons to thank them again or reach back out to let them know that your paper’s now published that you had been discussing or that you’re moving forward to the next piece of your career.

So find ways to develop relationships, because it’s really the relationships, even if they’re small touchpoints, that will really be the most beneficial to you. But all of us have some people in our network who are really just touchpoints and we barely know them and others who we know better, and that’s just a natural thing.

Great. So we have another question about publications. I’m assuming the person is headed for academia, and they’re asking what should they be working for in terms of publications and first authorships, and if you have any advice in that regard.

Do you want to go first, Ann? Or I can.

I could. Based on searches that I have been on, I would say that we see a real mix in terms of publications, those that have large numbers of publications, those that have small numbers of publications that are high impact.

So one or the other there. It certainly isn’t a numbers game. It isn’t necessarily an impact game. In terms of authorship, I would say it’s critical that you have at least some first-author publications. If one is looking for a leadership position in industry or a PI position in academia, you need to be able to own your own research.

Really, what a school wants is to make sure that you’re going to be a successful faculty member, that you will be able to develop an independent research program. And it’s certainly recognized that team science is an emerging reality and very powerful, but there needs to be still some ownership of the project that you would be proposing and the ability for you to go out and secure funding for your own research.

So I think it’s also important to realize that unless you’re being hired as part of a team or a large program project, if you’re going to be looking for an independent faculty position, you will need to start up your laboratory from a relatively small state.

You will not have access to dozens of personnel in the laboratory and people that are contributing different parts of the project. And the institution that hires you is going to want to know that you can get a research program off the ground yourself, training personnel in your laboratory, with appropriate collaborations elsewhere, but where the ideas and the project is really owned by you.

I want to encourage all of you to check with your graduate schools and any central career center or professional development center on your campus. Because there might be people there who are able to meet with you individually, help you look at publications or other areas of your experience, and help you think about for your next career step that you’re seeking, how are you positioned, and how might you sell yourself on your application, and how do you strategize some of these pieces, demonstrating either your independence or working on a team or collaboration. There are a lot of great resources on your campus, and you should seek those out.

Great. Well, we’re coming right towards the end, and I want to give you each time to be able to give some parting advice to the group.

I think these unusual times that we’re in right now give us a really awesome opportunity to step back and take that early step of the IDP process, which is to really reflect. Many of us have been reflecting on our own wellness, on our own family, on things that are important to us in life, and that includes our career. Our career and professional development are also intertwined with all pieces and elements of our identity.

And so I want to encourage you, as you think about who you are as a professional, the skills that you have, and how you move forward, wrap within those all the aspects of what make you, you. Embrace and value all the different experiences that you’ve had in your life and all the different elements of your identity and carry those forward. And if one thing that you do, one skill that you develop during this time is greater self-awareness of things that you value, things that are important to you, the strengths that you have, areas to grow, that self-awareness will give you a professional maturity that will help you move forward across all of your skills.

So I think that was wonderful advice, and I would like to echo that. I would like to say that when you hear a webinar like this or someone talking about all the skills that you need to master, it can sound a little bit overwhelming. View them as opportunities.

There’s absolutely no way you’re going to learn and master everything. You are gaining a lot of skills just inherently in the training that you’re receiving as a bio scientist, and those skills are definitely transferable, and they’ll go a really, really long way.

So don’t get overly stressed about all of this. Realize that in any career it’s an ongoing learning process, and if you have an exciting career, you’ll be learning new skills all of the time. So don’t forget to have fun along the way. Be passionate about what you’re doing and a lot of this will come naturally.

That being said, don’t completely shy away from the skills that you don’t have. There’s a natural gravitation for us to continue to do the things and to emphasize the things we’re good at. And for a long way that is a good thing, but if there are gaps, figure out a way that they can be worked in. But most of all, just really enjoy the journey.

Great. Thank you so much. Thanks to both of you for taking the time out of your busy schedules. We really appreciate it and appreciate you thinking deeply about these topics and all the great work that you’re doing out there. So that concludes our webinar for today, and we’ll see you next time. Bye.

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10 real-world skills scientists bring to the workplace

Diedre Ribbens

Think that a scientific education means you’re limited to working in a lab your entire life? Think again! If you’re considering a move away from the bench, your training as a researcher means you have tons of skills you can apply in a business environment. When you are preparing your application or interviewing for a nonresearch position, consider highlighting some of the valuable qualities embodied by those who conduct scientific investigation.

10. Teamwork and collaboration

Research is inherently a collaborative activity. It requires you to partner with your lab mates, your research mentor, other research groups and core facilities, among others. Business activities are collaborative too. Being able to outline your role and duties in a group project clearly, execute your tasks, report your progress and see how your piece fits into the bigger picture are all important teamwork skills you pick up while working in a research lab.

9. Mentoring

Many people who work in a lab end up with experience as mentors. As an undergraduate researcher, you may mentor newer students. As a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow, you mentor junior students at all levels. Forging relationships, giving guidance and managing your workload while helping others are all skills you’re acquiring when you mentor. Mentoring is also important in a business context. Many companies have formal mentoring programs for their employees, in fact. Drawing attention to your experience as a mentor in the lab is a great way to demonstrate your compassion and leadership on your job applications.

8. Teaching

Being able to teach someone is another great skill many graduate students and postdoctoral fellows acquire. You have to have confidence in your knowledge of the subject and understand the subject on a deep enough level to explain it to a nonexpert and answer that person’s questions. You also have to be able to tailor information to the learning styles of your students. Teaching also demonstrates patience. Including your teaching experience on your application will show that you have capability and that you’re ready to apply it in a business setting.

7. Project management

In a lab, you’re responsible for managing and planning your own experiments, estimating how long your work will take, and running simultaneous projects or experiments. The same concepts apply to business project management. If you can do all of that in the lab, you have demonstrable evidence that you can do it in the business world.

6. Independent learning

Most scientists naturally are driven to learn and are able to seek out information for themselves. Being self-directed in your learning and knowing where and how to find new knowledge is essential in any field. If you can motivate yourself to learn, you’ll quickly catch up in your new business role. Additionally, when you’re starting a new project, you’re able to gain independence more quickly, showing your value to your new business team.

5. Clear and concise writing

Communicating your research almost always requires writing. As a scientist, you are trained to write in a way that conveys the important information without being overly verbose. You can organize your thoughts in a logical way to tell a story. Being able to write well can be applied to almost any profession, especially in the business world. As a bonus, scientists can write for a variety of audiences.

4. Designing amazing PowerPoint slides

Posters, research presentations, group meetings — the list of places your research intersects with a PowerPoint slide is endless. Being able to use PowerPoint and understanding the principles of creating a great presentation are incredibly valuable in the business world. Telling your story while keeping your audience engaged is not always an easy feat with PowerPoint, and your doing so will enable you to win over the business world.

3. Public speaking

Another way of presenting your research is to get up in front of an audience and tell your story. Believe it or not, all of those times you were able to articulate your thoughts to a crowd were great practice for the business world. Oral presentations, leading meetings or even just voicing your opinion in a group are great examples of ways that your public speaking skills transfer outside of the lab environment.

2. Data organization and analysis

Being able to collect, organize and analyze data, as well as to draw connections between different pieces of information, are common to both science and business. As a scientist, you’re practiced in this skill, so you can use it in almost any field, including business. Additionally, being able to manage and analyze large amounts of data using Excel, statistics and other tools can be very useful outside the lab.

1. Problem-solving

Ah, the scientific method! A logical, organized approach to solving problems. News flash: Science is not the only field with problems to solve. There are tons of problems to solve in business contexts! As a scientist, your ability to identify and articulate the problem to be solved, select variables that affect the outcome, and methodically test solutions will make you stand out in a business environment.

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Diedre Ribbens is a science writer, educator and communicator based in Minneapolis. She earned her Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

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The Most Important Research Skills (With Examples)

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Research skills are the ability to find out accurate information on a topic. They include being able to determine the data you need, find and interpret those findings, and then explain that to others. Being able to do effective research is a beneficial skill in any profession, as data and research inform how businesses operate.

Whether you’re unsure of your research skills or are looking for ways to further improve them, then this article will cover important research skills and how to become even better at research.

Key Takeaways

Having strong research skills can help you understand your competitors, develop new processes, and build your professional skills in addition to aiding you in finding new customers and saving your company money.

Some of the most valuable research skills you can have include goal setting, data collection, and analyzing information from multiple sources.

You can and should put your research skills on your resume and highlight them in your job interviews.

The Most Important Research Skills

What are research skills?

Why are research skills important, 12 of the most important research skills, how to improve your research skills, highlighting your research skills in a job interview, how to include research skills on your resume, resume examples showcasing research skills, research skills faqs.

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Research skills are the necessary tools to be able to find, compile, and interpret information in order to answer a question. Of course, there are several aspects to this. Researchers typically have to decide how to go about researching a problem — which for most people is internet research.

In addition, you need to be able to interpret the reliability of a source, put the information you find together in an organized and logical way, and be able to present your findings to others. That means that they’re comprised of both hard skills — knowing your subject and what’s true and what isn’t — and soft skills. You need to be able to interpret sources and communicate clearly.

Research skills are useful in any industry, and have applications in innovation, product development, competitor research, and many other areas. In addition, the skills used in researching aren’t only useful for research. Being able to interpret information is a necessary skill, as is being able to clearly explain your reasoning.

Research skills are used to:

Do competitor research. Knowing what your biggest competitors are up to is an essential part of any business. Researching what works for your competitors, what they’re doing better than you, and where you can improve your standing with the lowest resource expenditure are all essential if a company wants to remain functional.

Develop new processes and products. You don’t have to be involved in research and development to make improvements in how your team gets things done. Researching new processes that make your job (and those of your team) more efficient will be valued by any sensible employer.

Foster self-improvement. Folks who have a knack and passion for research are never content with doing things the same way they’ve always been done. Organizations need independent thinkers who will seek out their own answers and improve their skills as a matter of course. These employees will also pick up new technologies more easily.

Manage customer relationships. Being able to conduct research on your customer base is positively vital in virtually every industry. It’s hard to move products or sell services if you don’t know what people are interested in. Researching your customer base’s interests, needs, and pain points is a valuable responsibility.

Save money. Whether your company is launching a new product or just looking for ways to scale back its current spending, research is crucial for finding wasted resources and redirecting them to more deserving ends. Anyone who proactively researches ways that the company can save money will be highly appreciated by their employer.

Solve problems. Problem solving is a major part of a lot of careers, and research skills are instrumental in making sure your solution is effective. Finding out the cause of the problem and determining an effective solution both require accurate information, and research is the best way to obtain that — be it via the internet or by observation.

Determine reliable information. Being able to tell whether or not the information you receive seems accurate is a very valuable skill. While research skills won’t always guarantee that you’ll be able to tell the reliability of the information at first glance, it’ll prevent you from being too trusting. And it’ll give the tools to double-check .

Experienced researchers know that worthwhile investigation involves a variety of skills. Consider which research skills come naturally to you, and which you could work on more.

Data collection . When thinking about the research process, data collection is often the first thing that comes to mind. It is the nuts and bolts of research. How data is collected can be flexible.

For some purposes, simply gathering facts and information on the internet can fulfill your need. Others may require more direct and crowd-sourced research. Having experience in various methods of data collection can make your resume more impressive to recruiters.

Data collection methods include: Observation Interviews Questionnaires Experimentation Conducting focus groups

Analysis of information from different sources. Putting all your eggs in one source basket usually results in error and disappointment. One of the skills that good researchers always incorporate into their process is an abundance of sources. It’s also best practice to consider the reliability of these sources.

Are you reading about U.S. history on a conspiracy theorist’s blog post? Taking facts for a presentation from an anonymous Twitter account?

If you can’t determine the validity of the sources you’re using, it can compromise all of your research. That doesn’t mean just disregard anything on the internet but double-check your findings. In fact, quadruple-check. You can make your research even stronger by turning to references outside of the internet.

Examples of reliable information sources include: Published books Encyclopedias Magazines Databases Scholarly journals Newspapers Library catalogs

Finding information on the internet. While it can be beneficial to consulate alternative sources, strong internet research skills drive modern-day research.

One of the great things about the internet is how much information it contains, however, this comes with digging through a lot of garbage to get to the facts you need. The ability to efficiently use the vast database of knowledge that is on the internet without getting lost in the junk is very valuable to employers.

Internet research skills include: Source checking Searching relevant questions Exploring deeper than the first options Avoiding distraction Giving credit Organizing findings

Interviewing. Some research endeavors may require a more hands-on approach than just consulting internet sources. Being prepared with strong interviewing skills can be very helpful in the research process.

Interviews can be a useful research tactic to gain first-hand information and being able to manage a successful interview can greatly improve your research skills.

Interviewing skills involves: A plan of action Specific, pointed questions Respectfulness Considering the interview setting Actively Listening Taking notes Gratitude for participation

Report writing. Possessing skills in report writing can assist you in job and scholarly research. The overall purpose of a report in any context is to convey particular information to its audience.

Effective report writing is largely dependent on communication. Your boss, professor , or general reader should walk away completely understanding your findings and conclusions.

Report writing skills involve: Proper format Including a summary Focusing on your initial goal Creating an outline Proofreading Directness

Critical thinking. Critical thinking skills can aid you greatly throughout the research process, and as an employee in general. Critical thinking refers to your data analysis skills. When you’re in the throes of research, you need to be able to analyze your results and make logical decisions about your findings.

Critical thinking skills involve: Observation Analysis Assessing issues Problem-solving Creativity Communication

Planning and scheduling. Research is a work project like any other, and that means it requires a little forethought before starting. Creating a detailed outline map for the points you want to touch on in your research produces more organized results.

It also makes it much easier to manage your time. Planning and scheduling skills are important to employers because they indicate a prepared employee.

Planning and scheduling skills include: Setting objectives Identifying tasks Prioritizing Delegating if needed Vision Communication Clarity Time-management

Note-taking. Research involves sifting through and taking in lots of information. Taking exhaustive notes ensures that you will not neglect any findings later and allows you to communicate these results to your co-workers. Being able to take good notes helps summarize research.

Examples of note-taking skills include: Focus Organization Using short-hand Keeping your objective in mind Neatness Highlighting important points Reviewing notes afterward

Communication skills. Effective research requires being able to understand and process the information you receive, either written or spoken. That means that you need strong reading comprehension and writing skills — two major aspects of communication — as well as excellent listening skills.

Most research also involves showcasing your findings. This can be via a presentation. , report, chart, or Q&A. Whatever the case, you need to be able to communicate your findings in a way that educates your audience.

Communication skills include: Reading comprehension Writing Listening skills Presenting to an audience Creating graphs or charts Explaining in layman’s terms

Time management. We’re, unfortunately, only given 24 measly hours in a day. The ability to effectively manage this time is extremely powerful in a professional context. Hiring managers seek candidates who can accomplish goals in a given timeframe.

Strong time management skills mean that you can organize a plan for how to break down larger tasks in a project and complete them by a deadline. Developing your time management skills can greatly improve the productivity of your research.

Time management skills include: Scheduling Creating task outlines Strategic thinking Stress-management Delegation Communication Utilizing resources Setting realistic expectations Meeting deadlines

Using your network. While this doesn’t seem immediately relevant to research skills, remember that there are a lot of experts out there. Knowing what people’s areas of expertise and asking for help can be tremendously beneficial — especially if it’s a subject you’re unfamiliar with.

Your coworkers are going to have different areas of expertise than you do, and your network of people will as well. You may even know someone who knows someone who’s knowledgeable in the area you’re researching. Most people are happy to share their expertise, as it’s usually also an area of interest to them.

Networking involves: Remembering people’s areas of expertise Being willing to ask for help Communication Returning favors Making use of advice Asking for specific assistance

Attention to detail. Research is inherently precise. That means that you need to be attentive to the details, both in terms of the information you’re gathering, but also in where you got it from. Making errors in statistics can have a major impact on the interpretation of the data, not to mention that it’ll reflect poorly on you.

There are proper procedures for citing sources that you should follow. That means that your sources will be properly credited, preventing accusations of plagiarism. In addition, it means that others can make use of your research by returning to the original sources.

Attention to detail includes: Double checking statistics Taking notes Keeping track of your sources Staying organized Making sure graphs are accurate and representative Properly citing sources

As with many professional skills, research skills serve us in our day to day life. Any time you search for information on the internet, you’re doing research. That means that you’re practicing it outside of work as well. If you want to continue improving your research skills, both for professional and personal use, here are some tips to try.

Differentiate between source quality. A researcher is only as good as their worst source. Start paying attention to the quality of the sources you use, and be suspicious of everything your read until you check out the attributions and works cited.

Be critical and ask yourself about the author’s bias, where the author’s research aligns with the larger body of verified research in the field, and what publication sponsored or published the research.

Use multiple resources. When you can verify information from a multitude of sources, it becomes more and more credible. To bolster your faith in one source, see if you can find another source that agrees with it.

Don’t fall victim to confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is when a researcher expects a certain outcome and then goes to find data that supports this hypothesis. It can even go so far as disregarding anything that challenges the researcher’s initial hunch. Be prepared for surprising answers and keep an open mind.

Be open to the idea that you might not find a definitive answer. It’s best to be honest and say that you found no definitive answer instead of just confirming what you think your boss or coworkers expect or want to hear. Experts and good researchers are willing to say that they don’t know.

Stay organized. Being able to cite sources accurately and present all your findings is just as important as conducting the research itself. Start practicing good organizational skills , both on your devices and for any physical products you’re using.

Get specific as you go. There’s nothing wrong with starting your research in a general way. After all, it’s important to become familiar with the terminology and basic gist of the researcher’s findings before you dig down into all the minutia.

A job interview is itself a test of your research skills. You can expect questions on what you know about the company, the role, and your field or industry more generally. In order to give expert answers on all these topics, research is crucial.

Start by researching the company . Look into how they communicate with the public through social media, what their mission statement is, and how they describe their culture.

Pay close attention to the tone of their website. Is it hyper professional or more casual and fun-loving? All of these elements will help decide how best to sell yourself at the interview.

Next, research the role. Go beyond the job description and reach out to current employees working at your desired company and in your potential department. If you can find out what specific problems your future team is or will be facing, you’re sure to impress hiring managers and recruiters with your ability to research all the facts.

Finally, take time to research the job responsibilities you’re not as comfortable with. If you’re applying for a job that represents increased difficulty or entirely new tasks, it helps to come into the interview with at least a basic knowledge of what you’ll need to learn.

Research projects require dedication. Being committed is a valuable skill for hiring managers. Whether you’ve had research experience throughout education or a former job, including it properly can boost the success of your resume .

Consider how extensive your research background is. If you’ve worked on multiple, in-depth research projects, it might be best to include it as its own section. If you have less research experience, include it in the skills section .

Focus on your specific role in the research, as opposed to just the research itself. Try to quantify accomplishments to the best of your abilities. If you were put in charge of competitor research, for example, list that as one of the tasks you had in your career.

If it was a particular project, such as tracking the sale of women’s clothing at a tee-shirt company, you can say that you “directed analysis into women’s clothing sales statistics for a market research project.”

Ascertain how directly research skills relate to the job you’re applying for. How strongly you highlight your research skills should depend on the nature of the job the resume is for. If research looks to be a strong component of it, then showcase all of your experience.

If research looks to be tangential, then be sure to mention it — it’s a valuable skill — but don’t put it front and center.

Example #1: Academic Research

Simon Marks 767 Brighton Blvd. | Brooklyn, NY, 27368 | (683)-262-8883 | [email protected] Diligent and hardworking recent graduate seeking a position to develop professional experience and utilize research skills. B.A. in Biological Sciences from New York University. PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE Lixus Publishing , Brooklyn, NY Office Assistant- September 2018-present Scheduling and updating meetings Managing emails and phone calls Reading entries Worked on a science fiction campaign by researching target demographic Organizing calendars Promoted to office assistant after one year internship Mitch’s Burgers and Fries , Brooklyn, NY Restaurant Manager , June 2014-June 2018 Managed a team of five employees Responsible for coordinating the weekly schedule Hired and trained two employees Kept track of inventory Dealt with vendors Provided customer service Promoted to restaurant manager after two years as a waiter Awarded a $2.00/hr wage increase SKILLS Writing Scientific Research Data analysis Critical thinking Planning Communication RESEARCH Worked on an ecosystem biology project with responsibilities for algae collection and research (2019) Lead a group of freshmen in a research project looking into cell biology (2018) EDUCATION New York University Bachelors in Biological Sciences, September 2016-May 2020

Example #2: Professional Research

Angela Nichols 1111 Keller Dr. | San Francisco, CA | (663)-124-8827 |[email protected] Experienced and enthusiastic marketer with 7 years of professional experience. Seeking a position to apply my marketing and research knowledge. Skills in working on a team and flexibility. EXPERIENCE Apples amp; Oranges Marketing, San Francisco, CA Associate Marketer – April 2017-May 2020 Discuss marketing goals with clients Provide customer service Lead campaigns associated with women’s health Coordinating with a marketing team Quickly solving issues in service and managing conflict Awarded with two raises totaling $10,000 over three years Prestigious Marketing Company, San Francisco, CA Marketer – May 2014-April 2017 Working directly with clients Conducting market research into television streaming preferences Developing marketing campaigns related to television streaming services Report writing Analyzing campaign success statistics Promoted to Marketer from Junior Marketer after the first year Timberlake Public Relations, San Francisco, CA Public Relations Intern – September 2013–May 2014 Working cohesively with a large group of co-workers and supervisors Note-taking during meetings Running errands Managing email accounts Assisting in brainstorming Meeting work deadlines EDUCATION Golden Gate University, San Francisco, CA Bachelor of Arts in Marketing with a minor in Communications – September 2009 – May 2013 SKILLS Marketing Market research Record-keeping Teamwork Presentation. Flexibility

What research skills are important?

Goal-setting and data collection are important research skills. Additional important research skills include:

Using different sources to analyze information.

Finding information on the internet.

Interviewing sources.

Writing reports.

Critical thinking.

Planning and scheduling.


Managing time.

How do you develop good research skills?

You develop good research skills by learning how to find information from multiple high-quality sources, by being wary of confirmation bias, and by starting broad and getting more specific as you go.

When you learn how to tell a reliable source from an unreliable one and get in the habit of finding multiple sources that back up a claim, you’ll have better quality research.

In addition, when you learn how to keep an open mind about what you’ll find, you’ll avoid falling into the trap of confirmation bias, and by staying organized and narrowing your focus as you go (rather than before you start), you’ll be able to gather quality information more efficiently.

What is the importance of research?

The importance of research is that it informs most decisions and strategies in a business. Whether it’s deciding which products to offer or creating a marketing strategy, research should be used in every part of a company.

Because of this, employers want employees who have strong research skills. They know that you’ll be able to put them to work bettering yourself and the organization as a whole.

Should you put research skills on your resume?

Yes, you should include research skills on your resume as they are an important professional skill. Where you include your research skills on your resume will depend on whether you have a lot of experience in research from a previous job or as part of getting your degree, or if you’ve just cultivated them on your own.

If your research skills are based on experience, you could put them down under the tasks you were expected to perform at the job in question. If not, then you should likely list it in your skills section.

University of the People – The Best Research Skills for Success

Association of Internet Research Specialists — What are Research Skills and Why Are They Important?

MasterClass — How to Improve Your Research Skills: 6 Research Tips

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Sky Ariella is a professional freelance writer, originally from New York. She has been featured on websites and online magazines covering topics in career, travel, and lifestyle. She received her BA in psychology from Hunter College.

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Empowering students to develop research skills

February 8, 2021

This post is republished from   Into Practice ,  a biweekly communication of Harvard’s  Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning

Terence Capellini standing next to a human skeleton

Terence D. Capellini, Richard B Wolf Associate Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology, empowers students to grow as researchers in his Building the Human Body course through a comprehensive, course-long collaborative project that works to understand the changes in the genome that make the human skeleton unique. For instance, of the many types of projects, some focus on the genetic basis of why human beings walk on two legs. This integrative “Evo-Devo” project demands high levels of understanding of biology and genetics that students gain in the first half of class, which is then applied hands-on in the second half of class. Students work in teams of 2-3 to collect their own morphology data by measuring skeletons at the Harvard Museum of Natural History and leverage statistics to understand patterns in their data. They then collect and analyze DNA sequences from humans and other animals to identify the DNA changes that may encode morphology. Throughout this course, students go from sometimes having “limited experience in genetics and/or morphology” to conducting their own independent research. This project culminates in a team presentation and a final research paper.

The benefits: Students develop the methodological skills required to collect and analyze morphological data. Using the UCSC Genome browser  and other tools, students sharpen their analytical skills to visualize genomics data and pinpoint meaningful genetic changes. Conducting this work in teams means students develop collaborative skills that model academic biology labs outside class, and some student projects have contributed to published papers in the field. “Every year, I have one student, if not two, join my lab to work on projects developed from class to try to get them published.”

“The beauty of this class is that the students are asking a question that’s never been asked before and they’re actually collecting data to get at an answer.”

The challenges:  Capellini observes that the most common challenge faced by students in the course is when “they have a really terrific question they want to explore, but the necessary background information is simply lacking. It is simply amazing how little we do know about human development, despite its hundreds of years of study.” Sometimes, for instance, students want to learn about the evolution, development, and genetics of a certain body part, but it is still somewhat a mystery to the field. In these cases, the teaching team (including co-instructor Dr. Neil Roach) tries to find datasets that are maximally relevant to the questions the students want to explore. Capellini also notes that the work in his class is demanding and hard, just by the nature of the work, but students “always step up and perform” and the teaching team does their best to “make it fun” and ensure they nurture students’ curiosities and questions.

Takeaways and best practices

  • Incorporate previous students’ work into the course. Capellini intentionally discusses findings from previous student groups in lectures. “They’re developing real findings and we share that when we explain the project for the next groups.” Capellini also invites students to share their own progress and findings as part of class discussion, which helps them participate as independent researchers and receive feedback from their peers.
  • Assign groups intentionally.  Maintaining flexibility allows the teaching team to be more responsive to students’ various needs and interests. Capellini will often place graduate students by themselves to enhance their workload and give them training directly relevant to their future thesis work. Undergraduates are able to self-select into groups or can be assigned based on shared interests. “If two people are enthusiastic about examining the knee, for instance, we’ll match them together.”
  • Consider using multiple types of assessments.  Capellini notes that exams and quizzes are administered in the first half of the course and scaffolded so that students can practice the skills they need to successfully apply course material in the final project. “Lots of the initial examples are hypothetical,” he explains, even grounded in fiction and pop culture references, “but [students] have to eventually apply the skills they learned in addressing the hypothetical example to their own real example and the data they generate” for the Evo-Devo project. This is coupled with a paper and a presentation treated like a conference talk.

Bottom line:  Capellini’s top advice for professors looking to help their own students grow as researchers is to ensure research projects are designed with intentionality and fully integrated into the syllabus. “You can’t simply tack it on at the end,” he underscores. “If you want this research project to be a substantive learning opportunity, it has to happen from Day 1.” That includes carving out time in class for students to work on it and make the connections they need to conduct research. “Listen to your students and learn about them personally” so you can tap into what they’re excited about. Have some fun in the course, and they’ll be motivated to do the work.


  • Research Matters — to the Science Teacher

The Science Process Skills


One of the most important and pervasive goals of schooling is to teach students to think. All school subjects should share in accomplishing this overall goal. Science contributes its unique skills, with its emphasis on hypothesizing, manipulating the physical world and reasoning from data.

The scientific method, scientific thinking and critical thinking have been terms used at various times to describe these science skills. Today the term "science process skills" is commonly used. Popularized by the curriculum project, Science - A Process Approach (SAPA), these skills are defined as a set of broadly transferable abilities, appropriate to many science disciplines and reflective of the behavior of scientists. SAPA grouped process skills into two types-basic and integrated. The basic (simpler) process skills provide a foundation for learning the integrated (more complex) skills. These skills are listed and described below.

Basic Science Process Skills

Observing - using the senses to gather information about an object or event. Example: Describing a pencil as yellow. Inferring - making an "educated guess" about an object or event based on previously gathered data or information. Example: Saying that the person who used a pencil made a lot of mistakes because the eraser was well worn. Measuring - using both standard and nonstandard measures or estimates to describe the dimensions of an object or event. Example: Using a meter stick to measure the length of a table in centimeters. Communicating - using words or graphic symbols to describe an action, object or event. Example: Describing the change in height of a plant over time in writing or through a graph. Classifying - grouping or ordering objects or events into categories based on properties or criteria. Example: Placing all rocks having certain grain size or hardness into one group. Predicting - stating the outcome of a future event based on a pattern of evidence. Example: Predicting the height of a plant in two weeks time based on a graph of its growth during the previous four weeks.

Integrated Science Process Skills

Controlling variables - being able to identify variables that can affect an experimental outcome, keeping most constant while manipulating only the independent variable. Example: Realizing through past experiences that amount of light and water need to be controlled when testing to see how the addition of organic matter affects the growth of beans. Defining operationally - stating how to measure a variable in an experiment. Example: Stating that bean growth will be measured in centimeters per week. Formulating hypotheses - stating the expected outcome of an experiment. Example: The greater the amount of organic matter added to the soil, the greater the bean growth. Interpreting data - organizing data and drawing conclusions from it. Example: Recording data from the experiment on bean growth in a data table and forming a conclusion which relates trends in the data to variables. Experimenting - being able to conduct an experiment, including asking an appropriate question, stating a hypothesis, identifying and controlling variables, operationally defining those variables, designing a "fair" experiment, conducting the experiment, and interpreting the results of the experiment. Example: The entire process of conducting the experiment on the affect of organic matter on the growth of bean plants. Formulating models - creating a mental or physical model of a process or event. Examples: The model of how the processes of evaporation and condensation interrelate in the water cycle.

Learning basic process skills

Numerous research projects have focused on the teaching and acquisition of basic process skills. For example, Padilla, Cronin, and Twiest (1985) surveyed the basic process skills of 700 middle school students with no special process skill training. They found that only 10% of the students scored above 90% correct, even at the eighth grade level. Several researchers have found that teaching increases levels of skill performance. Thiel and George (1976) investigated predicting among third and fifth graders, and Tomera (1974) observing among seventh graders. From these studies it can be concluded that basic skills can be taught and that when learned, readily transferred to new situations (Tomera, 1974). Teaching strategies which proved effective were: (1) applying a set of specific clues for predicting, (2) using activities and pencil and paper simulations to teach graphing, and (3) using a combination of explaining, practice with objects, discussions and feedback with observing. In other words-just what research and theory has always defined as good teaching.

Other studies evaluated the effect of NSF-funded science curricula on how well they taught basic process skills. Studies focusing on the Science Curriculum Improvement Study (SCIS) and SAPA indicate that elementary school students, if taught process skills abilities, not only learn to use those processes, but also retain them for future use. Researchers, after comparing SAPA students to those experiencing a more traditional science program, concluded that the success of SAPA lies in the area of improving process oriented skills (Wideen, 1975; McGlathery, 1970). Thus it seems reasonable to conclude that students learn the basic skills better if they are considered an important object of instruction and if proven teaching methods are used.

Learning integrated process skills

Several studies have investigated the learning of integrated science process skills. Allen (1973) found that third graders can identify variables if the context is simple enough. Both Quinn and George (1975) and Wright (1981) found that students can be taught to formulate hypotheses and that this ability is retained over time.

Others have tried to teach all of the skills involved in conducting an experiment. Padilla, Okey and Garrard (1984) systematically integrated experimenting lessons into a middle school science curriculum. One group of students was taught a two week introductory unit on experimenting which focused on manipulative activities. A second group was taught the experimenting unit, but also experienced one additional process skill activity per week for a period of fourteen weeks. Those having the extended treatment outscored those experiencing the two week unit. These results indicate that the more complex process skills cannot be learned via a two week unit in which science content is typically taught. Rather, experimenting abilities need to be practiced over a period of time.

Further study of experimenting abilities shows that they are closely related to the formal thinking abilities described by Piaget. A correlation of +.73 between the two sets of abilities was found in one study (Padilla, Okey and Dillashaw, 1983). In fact, one of the ways that Piaget decided whether someone was formal or concrete was to ask that person to design an experiment to solve a problem. We also know that most early adolescents and many young adults have not yet reached their full formal reasoning capacity (Chiapetta, 1976). One study found only 17% of seventh graders and 34% of twelfth graders fully formal (Renner, Grant, and Sutherland, 1978).

What have we learned about teaching integrated science processes? We cannot expect students to excel at skills they have not experienced or been allowed to practice. Teachers cannot expect mastery of experimenting skills after only a few practice sessions. Instead students need multiple opportunities to work with these skills in different content areas and contexts. Teachers need to be patient with those having difficulties, since there is a need to have developed formal thinking patterns to successfully "experiment."

Summary and Conclusions

A reasonable portion of the science curriculum should emphasize science process skills according to the National Science Teachers Association. In general, the research literature indicates that when science process skills are a specific planned outcome of a science program, those skills can be learned by students. This was true with the SAPA and SCIS and other process skill studies cited in this review as well as with many other studies not cited.

Teachers need to select curricula which emphasize science process skills. In addition they need to capitalize on opportunities in the activities normally done in the classroom. While not an easy solution to implement, it remains the best available at this time because of the lack of emphasis of process skills in most commercial materials.

by Michael J. Padilla, Professor of Science Education, University of Georgia, Athens, GA

Allen, L. (1973). An examination of the ability of third grade children from the Science Curriculum Improvement Study to identify experimental variables and to recognize change.  Science Education, 57 , 123-151. Chiapetta, E. (1976). A review of Piagetian studies relevant to science instruction at the secondary and college level.  Science Education, 60 , 253-261. McGlathery, G. (1970). An assessment of science achievement of five and six-year-old students of contrasting socio-economic background.  Research and Curriculum Development in Science Education, 7023 , 76-83. McKenzie, D., & Padilla, M. (1984). Effect of laboratory activities and written simulations on the acquisition of graphing skills by eighth grade students. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, New Orleans. Padilla, M., Okey, J., & Dillashaw, F. (1983). The relationship between science process skills and formal thinking abilities.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 20 . Padilla, M., Cronin, L., & Twiest, M. (1985). The development and validation of the test of basic process skills. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, French Lick, IN. Quinn, M., & George, K. D. (1975). Teaching hypothesis formation.  Science Education, 59 , 289-296. Science Education, 62 , 215-221. Thiel, R., & George, D. K. (1976). Some factors affecting the use of the science process skill of prediction by elementary school children.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 13 , 155-166. Tomera, A. (1974). Transfer and retention of transfer of the science processes of observation and comparison in junior high school students.  Science Education, 58 , 195-203. Wideen, M. (1975). Comparison of student outcomes for Science - A Process Approach and traditional science teaching for third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grade classes: A product evaluation.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 12 , 31-39. Wright, E. (1981). The long-term effects of intensive instruction on the open exploration behavior of ninth grade students.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 18.

Thinking critically on critical thinking: why scientists’ skills need to spread

skills in scientific research

Lecturer in Psychology, University of Tasmania

Disclosure statement

Rachel Grieve does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

University of Tasmania provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.

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skills in scientific research

MATHS AND SCIENCE EDUCATION: We’ve asked our authors about the state of maths and science education in Australia and its future direction. Today, Rachel Grieve discusses why we need to spread science-specific skills into the wider curriculum.

When we think of science and maths, stereotypical visions of lab coats, test-tubes, and formulae often spring to mind.

But more important than these stereotypes are the methods that underpin the work scientists do – namely generating and systematically testing hypotheses. A key part of this is critical thinking.

It’s a skill that often feels in short supply these days, but you don’t necessarily need to study science or maths in order gain it. It’s time to take critical thinking out of the realm of maths and science and broaden it into students’ general education.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is a reflective and analytical style of thinking, with its basis in logic, rationality, and synthesis. It means delving deeper and asking questions like: why is that so? Where is the evidence? How good is that evidence? Is this a good argument? Is it biased? Is it verifiable? What are the alternative explanations?

Critical thinking moves us beyond mere description and into the realms of scientific inference and reasoning. This is what enables discoveries to be made and innovations to be fostered.

For many scientists, critical thinking becomes (seemingly) intuitive, but like any skill set, critical thinking needs to be taught and cultivated. Unfortunately, educators are unable to deposit this information directly into their students’ heads. While the theory of critical thinking can be taught, critical thinking itself needs to be experienced first-hand.

So what does this mean for educators trying to incorporate critical thinking within their curricula? We can teach students the theoretical elements of critical thinking. Take for example working through [statistical problems](]( like this one:

In a 1,000-person study, four people said their favourite series was Star Trek and 996 said Days of Our Lives. Jeremy is a randomly chosen participant in this study, is 26, and is doing graduate studies in physics. He stays at home most of the time and likes to play videogames. What is most likely? a. Jeremy’s favourite series is Star Trek b. Jeremy’s favourite series is Days of Our Lives

Some critical thought applied to this problem allows us to know that Jeremy is most likely to prefer Days of Our Lives.

Can you teach it?

It’s well established that statistical training is associated with improved decision-making. But the idea of “teaching” critical thinking is itself an oxymoron: critical thinking can really only be learned through practice. Thus, it is not surprising that student engagement with the critical thinking process itself is what pays the dividends for students.

As such, educators try to connect students with the subject matter outside the lecture theatre or classroom. For example, problem based learning is now widely used in the health sciences, whereby students must figure out the key issues related to a case and direct their own learning to solve that problem. Problem based learning has clear parallels with real life practice for health professionals.

Critical thinking goes beyond what might be on the final exam and life-long learning becomes the key. This is a good thing, as practice helps to improve our ability to think critically over time .

Just for scientists?

For those engaging with science, learning the skills needed to be a critical consumer of information is invaluable. But should these skills remain in the domain of scientists? Clearly not: for those engaging with life, being a critical consumer of information is also invaluable, allowing informed judgement.

Being able to actively consider and evaluate information, identify biases, examine the logic of arguments, and tolerate ambiguity until the evidence is in would allow many people from all backgrounds to make better decisions. While these decisions can be trivial (does that miracle anti-wrinkle cream really do what it claims?), in many cases, reasoning and decision-making can have a substantial impact, with some decisions have life-altering effects. A timely case-in-point is immunisation.

Pushing critical thinking from the realms of science and maths into the broader curriculum may lead to far-reaching outcomes. With increasing access to information on the internet, giving individuals the skills to critically think about that information may have widespread benefit, both personally and socially.

The value of science education might not always be in the facts, but in the thinking.

This is the sixth part of our series Maths and Science Education .

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Three cartoons: a female student thinking about concentration, a male student in a wheelchair reading Frankenstein and a female student wearing a headscarf and safety goggles heating a test tube on a bunsen burner. All are wearing school uniform.

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How visuospatial thinking helps learners solve chemistry problems

David Read

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Get your students to use hand gestures to boost their understanding of difficult chemistry concepts

Visuospatial thinking is widely considered to be a fundamental cognitive component of problem solving in science learning. Spatial ability involves being able to mentally generate, rotate and transform imagined images. Such mental visualisation and imagistic reasoning play a key role in learning about science at advanced levels. 

An illustration of two hands miming the structure of Ammonia

Source: © Rose Rodionova/Shutterstock

Get your pupils to use imagistic reasoning to visualise complex chemistry

Research has shown that problem solvers employ imagistic reasoning, along with other strategies like analytical reasoning. Gesture is a vital representational mode. Hand gestures, in particular, help to convey relational, spatial and embodied concepts. 

Studies have shown that novice students often access imagistic strategies to visualise molecular structures when translating between 2D and 3D representations. Post-16 students typically first encounter this challenge when they learn Valence shell electron pair repulsion (VSEPR) theory. VSEPR provides an algorithmic method used to predict the 3D shape of many molecules. 

Teaching tips

  • Identify ineffective hand gestures students use which could potentially create misconceptions. Video students to capture gestures for group analysis and feedback.
  • Understand how your hand gestures can support the communication of complex concepts. These can be a useful cue for students when answering questions and solving problems.
  • Create a rubric that focuses on speech and gestures to help students develop a method or algorithmic approach for tasks they undertake.

Visuospatial thinking

A study explored the role of visuospatial thinking in helping students master molecular geometry. The researchers designed an open-ended written activity to capture individual aspects of student reasoning, and 16 students participated. They had to describe their understanding of the 3D shape of molecules during a 80-minute double period. 

The teacher delivered an initial 20-minute lecture on VSEPR in PowerPoint, followed by an eight-question written exercise. Students worked in pairs, filming one another in predicting the molecular geometries of selected compounds. They had 30 minutes to complete the task and were familiar with the video-recording approach. All 3D molecular models were removed from their view during this process.

Students used more imagistic reasoning when considering molecules with fewer than five atoms and those with lone pairs

The researchers analysed the video data to identify instances of gesturing, with a total of 440 gestures characterised across the cohort. Here’s an example of how the data was interpreted:

Imagine that the central atom is here (left fist clenched to represent the central atom), then the hydrogens go here (pointing with right hand to space around fist), here (pointing to different space around fist) and here (pointing to third location around fist). 

Interestingly, students used more imagistic reasoning when considering molecules with fewer than five atoms and those with lone pairs. 

The researchers identified five different gesture types.

  • Beat: repeatedly raising both hands up and down while stating ‘because the lone pairs repulse more’
  • Deitic-beat: repeatedly pointing with hands to emphasise the delivery of speech rather than to convey imagistic information
  • Deitic: pointing at four imaginary points in space while stating: ‘you’ve got an N at the top and three Hs here, here and here’
  • Deitic-iconic: two-handed gestures where one hand depicts an iconic representation such as a trigonal pyramidal shape, with the other hand pointing to locations on the first hand to indicate atom positions
  • Iconic: one- or two-handed gesture representing a molecular shape

Overall, the findings matched previous studies which found that novice learners tend to rely on imagistic reasoning strategies when first learning a topic, before discovering alternative analytical strategies. Experts would have long since mastered analytical approaches to scaffold their problem solving. In this study, students had this scaffolding from the start, yet many still appeared to persist with imagistic strategies.

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N Kiernan  et al,  Chem. Ed. Res. Pract. , 2024, 25 , 524–543 (

N Kiernan  et al,  Chem. Ed. Res. Pract. , 2024,  25 , 524–543 ( )

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Research and Critical Thinking : An Important Link for Exercise Science Students Transitioning to Physical Therapy

Harvey w. wallmann.

1 Department of Physical Therapy, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY, USA


2 Department of Physical Therapy Education, Rockhurst University, Kansas City, MO, USA

Critical thinking skills are increasingly necessary for success in professional health care careers. Changes in the contemporary healthcare system in the United States arguably make these critical thinking skills more important than they have ever been, as clinicians are required on a daily basis to evaluate multiple bits of information about patients with multiple-systemic health concerns and make appropriate treatment decisions based on this information. We believe the IJES, with its emphasis on engaging undergraduate and graduate students in research and scholarly activity, is a valuable resource for promoting the higher-order critical thinking skills necessary for preparing exercise science students with an interest in professional healthcare careers such as physical therapy.

Higher-order critical thinking skills are necessary for students preparing for and/or enrolled in professional programs, especially the ability to evaluate and synthesize information, which are vital for problem-solving. Essentially, critical thinking is learning to think independently and to develop one’s own opinions supported by existing evidence. In learning scenarios that promote and foster problem-solving and critical thinking skills, it is much more difficult for the student to simply adhere to the role of the passive student; rather, this type of learning prompts the student to assume the role of a self-reliant thinker and researcher.

However, attaining critical thinking skills does not come without its challenges as students must be able to manage a vast array of resources within a series of complex network systems. This is especially true when students are asked to write a research paper, which is one of the most common methods for teaching critical thinking skills. Inherent within writing a research paper are various levels of reasoning with each level becoming progressively more abstract, complex, and effortful. This, according to Bloom’s taxonomy, promotes higher-order thinking skill and more critical thought in the form of synthesis-level thinking and builds upon the prior skill levels in a hierarchical fashion ( 1 ). However, when confronted with this seemingly daunting task, many college students shy away; presumably, because they lack these skills and therefore need to be taught how to learn and apply them ( 2 , 4 ).

Upon closer scrutiny, deficiencies in critical thinking skills among students may rest with the educational system itself, which often stresses memorization of voluminous amounts of material essentially unrelated to any type of application at all ( 2 ). The question then arises as to the extent which critical thinking is initiated during a student’s education in any given institution in higher education. As such, any focus on learning without critical thought becomes less meaningful, thereby disengaging students from any formal training and experience specifically as it relates to critically reviewing and evaluating research ( 3 ).

Arguably, an important component of critical thinking skills is the ability to critically examine and understand published research in one’s professional area of interest ( 7 ). Requiring students to critique published research is one way of addressing the goal of teaching students to critically evaluate research while gaining experience doing it ( 3 ). At its very essence, scientific research is a problem-based learning activity that sharpens critical thinking skills.

An even greater challenge, and one that provides a framework for differentiating between different levels of learning and thought by incorporating reasoning and critical thinking skills to a greater degree, is to actually engage students in the scientific method. Here, students actively participate in the formulation of a research question, data collection, and statistical analysis as a means of creating a learning environment that encourages or even forces them to engage in critical thinking and higher level reasoning. This process is arguably complete only when students are encouraged to complete the manuscript submission process in order to publish their research. Additionally, the manuscript submission process teaches students to be consumers of information while constantly examining, questioning, and evaluating the credibility of sources as they make sense of their own work ( 6 ).

Thus, we see the International Journal of Exercise Science (IJES), with its aim on engaging undergraduate and graduate students in scholarly activity, as a quite suitable vehicle for promoting critical thinking skills in exercise science students interested in entering professional programs such as physical therapy. For example, a very meaningful way to engage students is to enlist their support in a research effort of interest to them and for them to assist in the publication process. Given changes seen among Kinesiology majors on the undergraduate level in recent years, the IJES, with its emphasis on student involvement in the research process, is a great venue for disseminating research findings emphasizing this type of undergraduate student involvement ( 5 ). The research findings typically published in this journal are highly relevant to physical therapy given the central role of exercise within this healthcare profession.

We encourage all authors who work with undergraduate students interested in physical therapy to publish in this journal. Doing so will help to “raise the level” of critical thinking skills for all students involved. Among other things, doing so would also provide another valuable measure for evaluating applicants to physical therapy programs. We believe that student experiences of this nature are helpful when making admissions decisions for physical therapy programs, in part because evidence of prior research experiences provide some indication of a given student’s ability to handle the level of critical thinking necessary for success within a physical therapy education program.

In other words, while measures such as undergraduate GPA and exam scores on standardized aptitude tests are helpful in the selection process, they are certainly finite and incomplete measures for predicting which students are most capable of handling the rigors of these graduate professional programs. We believe that undergraduate research experiences provide an emphasis on higher-order critical thinking skills that are often hard to replicate in other parts of the typical undergraduate educational experience, and these experiences typically translate broadly into academic success when these students matriculate into graduate professional programs such as physical therapy.

When viewed from another vantage point, the IJES may also serve as a vehicle for further refining critical thinking skills once students are enrolled in graduate professional programs. In this same vein, we also encourage researchers working with students enrolled in Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) programs to publish in the IJES. Physical therapy curricula typically employ a research course sequence as part of the overall curriculum, as a means of fostering critical thinking skills for all students involved, and many projects completed in this manner are particularly suitable for publication in this journal. Many of the manuscripts published to date in the IJES are similarly highly generalizable to therapeutic exercise scenarios regularly encountered in physical therapy practice, providing a valuable resource for students and practicing clinicians alike.

The free, full-text format of the IJES further increases the attractiveness of this journal, as anecdotal evidence suggests that both students and practicing clinicians are mostly likely to use the resources they can access most easily. Thus, DPT faculty can confidently point to manuscripts in this journal as 1) resources for promoting evidence-based clinical practice as well as 2) an attainable target for publishing their own work. Realizing any of these aims on a consistent basis can contribute to stronger critical thinking skills and perhaps higher clinical outcomes for all involved.

In summary, higher-order critical thinking skills are increasingly necessary for success in professional health care careers. Changes in the contemporary healthcare system in the United States arguably make these critical thinking skills more important than they’ve ever been, as clinicians are required on a daily basis to evaluate multiple bits of information about patients with multiple-systemic health concerns and make appropriate treatment decisions based on this information.

We believe the IJES, with its emphasis on engaging undergraduate and graduate students in research and scholarly activity, is a valuable resource for promoting the higher-order critical thinking skills necessary for preparing exercise science students with an interest in professional healthcare careers such as physical therapy. This viewpoint is based not only upon our experience working with students who enter DPT programs possessing strong higher-order critical thinking skills honed through undergraduate research activities, but also partly upon the many research projects students complete in DPT programs that are highly suitable for dissemination in this journal. The IJES has much potential for strengthening the existing bonds between exercise science and physical therapy that benefit all involved.

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  • 10 April 2024

How to supercharge cancer-fighting cells: give them stem-cell skills

  • Sara Reardon 0

Sara Reardon is a freelance journalist based in Bozeman, Montana.

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

A CAR T cell (orange; artificially coloured) attacks a cancer cell (green). Credit: Eye Of Science/SPL

You have full access to this article via your institution.

Bioengineered immune cells have been shown to attack and even cure cancer , but they tend to get exhausted if the fight goes on for a long time. Now, two separate research teams have found a way to rejuvenate these cells: make them more like stem cells .

Both teams found that the bespoke immune cells called CAR T cells gain new vigour if engineered to have high levels of a particular protein. These boosted CAR T cells have gene activity similar to that of stem cells and a renewed ability to fend off cancer . Both papers were published today in Nature 1 , 2 .

The papers “open a new avenue for engineering therapeutic T cells for cancer patients”, says Tuoqi Wu, an immunologist at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas who was not involved in the research.

Reviving exhausted cells

CAR T cells are made from the immune cells called T cells, which are isolated from the blood of person who is going to receive treatment for cancer or another disease. The cells are genetically modified to recognize and attack specific proteins — called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) — on the surface of disease-causing cells and reinfused into the person being treated.

But keeping the cells active for long enough to eliminate cancer has proved challenging, especially in solid tumours such as those of the breast and lung. (CAR T cells have been more effective in treating leukaemia and other blood cancers.) So scientists are searching for better ways to help CAR T cells to multiply more quickly and last longer in the body.

skills in scientific research

Cutting-edge CAR-T cancer therapy is now made in India — at one-tenth the cost

With this goal in mind, a team led by immunologist Crystal Mackall at Stanford University in California and cell and gene therapy researcher Evan Weber at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia compared samples of CAR T cells used to treat people with leukaemia 1 . In some of the recipients, the cancer had responded well to treatment; in others, it had not.

The researchers analysed the role of cellular proteins that regulate gene activity and serve as master switches in the T cells. They found a set of 41 genes that were more active in the CAR T cells associated with a good response to treatment than in cells associated with a poor response. All 41 genes seemed to be regulated by a master-switch protein called FOXO1.

The researchers then altered CAR T cells to make them produce more FOXO1 than usual. Gene activity in these cells began to look like that of T memory stem cells, which recognize cancer and respond to it quickly.

The researchers then injected the engineered cells into mice with various types of cancer. Extra FOXO1 made the CAR T cells better at reducing both solid tumours and blood cancers. The stem-cell-like cells shrank a mouse’s tumour more completely and lasted longer in the body than did standard CAR T cells.

Master-switch molecule

A separate team led by immunologists Phillip Darcy, Junyun Lai and Paul Beavis at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, Australia, reached the same conclusion with different methods 2 . Their team was examining the effect of IL-15, an immune-signalling molecule that is administered alongside CAR T cells in some clinical trials. IL-15 helps to switch T cells to a stem-like state, but the cells can get stuck there instead of maturing to fight cancer.

The team analysed gene activity in CAR T cells and found that IL-15 turned on genes associated with FOXO1. The researchers engineered CAR T cells to produce extra-high levels of FOXO1 and showed that they became more stem-like, but also reached maturity and fought cancer without becoming exhausted. “It’s the ideal situation,” Darcy says.

skills in scientific research

Stem-cell and genetic therapies make a healthy marriage

The team also found that extra-high levels of FOXO1 improved the CAR T cells’ metabolism, allowing them to last much longer when infused into mice. “We were surprised by the magnitude of the effect,” says Beavis.

Mackall says she was excited to see that FOXO1 worked the same way in mice and humans. “It means this is pretty fundamental,” she says.

Engineering CAR T cells that overexpress FOXO1 might be fairly simple to test in people with cancer, although Mackall says researchers will need to determine which people and types of cancer are most likely to respond well to rejuvenated cells. Darcy says that his team is already speaking to clinical researchers about testing FOXO1 in CAR T cells — trials that could start within two years.

And Weber points to an ongoing clinical trial in which people with leukaemia are receiving CAR T cells genetically engineered to produce unusually high levels of another master-switch protein called c-Jun, which also helps T cells avoid exhaustion. The trial’s results have not been released yet, but Mackall says she suspects the same system could be applied to FOXO1 and that overexpressing both proteins might make the cells even more powerful.

Nature 628 , 486 (2024)


Doan, A. et al. Nature (2024).

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Chan, J. D. et al. Nature (2024).

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