A great new resource that has been in development for some time and recently released its Beta version, Scismic, aims to “empower scientists to develop and take charge of their careers.” With this aim, Scismic founders Danika Khong, Elizabeth Wu, and Claudia Dall’Osso have developed and released Scismic Forum and Scismic Lab Seeker, and plan to add job platform tools in the near future as well. In contrast to our own Labmosphere Quiz, the data collected from their Lab Seeker tool are being presented publicly to any who hold a Scismic account. Because the ratings are kept anonymous, the hope is to move towards a more open and communicative scientific culture in which different mentoring and lab styles/environments are acknowledged and rewarded, and people are more carefully matched to their career needs: think Glassdoor meets Linkedin for biomedical research scientists.
While Lab Seeker doesn’t provide a way to report abusive behavior, the questions are tailored in a way that provides a five-star rating for labs in five core areas: Funding, Work/Life Balance, Institutional Policy, Mentorship, PI Management, and then generates an overall five-star rating based on these. Low ratings might allow discerning prospective PhDs and postdocs the ability to weed out those PIs that, despite bullying, harassment, and abusive behavior, are not held accountable by their institutes.
Elizabeth Wu, co-founder of Scismic, states that the idea is to focus on the “fit” between scientists and lab environments:
“It’s not about what labs are good or bad, but what labs are good or bad for a particular individual, given their priorities and preferences.”
For some, a highly-competitive, large lab that publishes in (and values) high-impact factor journals and has high levels of competition among lab members might very well be where they best thrive and the training they are looking for. A caveat to this is that ratings on the site are based on a five-star scale, so in this example lab, a lack of work/life balance might make it score low on that domain, and those who want this type of environment be put off by the overall decrease in average rating. However, users are able to see individual domain ratings and questions to each answer in more detail if they so desire. One other concern raised by some is that fewer trainees and ratings leads to higher data variability. Low ratings might affect smaller, younger labs more than older, more established ones, despite total ratings being openly reported.
Still, the service holds great promise once it reaches steady state to empower trainees and employees at making more informed decisions when choosing lab environments, and at leading to some of the changes in culture that are sorely needed across disciplines and institutes.
According to Wu, Scismic plans to keep its LabSeeker and Forum tools free for users. Their Beta version is now online and is a good way for those who have had experiences good and bad to feel like they are contributing to a more open scientific culture that values mentoring, training, and scientists, as much as the science done itself. Likewise, becoming involved at the Beta stage provides a good opportunity for those who hope to use the service in the future to contribute to its improvement. For more information regarding the site/service, or to receive an invitation to hold a Beta account, please visit their site, or get in touch with Scismic founders, Elizabeth Wu or Danika Khong.
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