SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
13 January 2014
Volume 15 Issue 2

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“Words of Wisdom” for SETAC Mid-Career Professionals

Michelle Hornberger, U.S. Geological Survey and Diana Eignor, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of the SETAC Career Development Committee

The Career Development Committee (CDC) hosted a networking reception for mid-career professionals at the SETAC North America 34th Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tenn. The event, sponsored by SETAC, Syngenta and CSC Science and Engineering, brought together SETAC leaders who are well established in their respective fields with members who are interested in furthering their career, changing sectors, transitioning to new career roles, and learning new techniques to help manage a work–life balance.

The reception was inspired during committee discussions, where we recognized a need to provide professional development opportunities for mid-career SETAC members, who are in the work force for 10+ years. The event in Nashville was based on the 2012 inaugural SETAC Mid-Career Networking Reception held in Long Beach, Calif. While the Society provides many resources for students, post-docs and recent graduates, there are fewer options for mid-career professionals. Our objective was to provide a small interactive forum to discuss specific topics relevant to those who are in the middle of their career (e.g., how to create opportunities for advancement, taking risks, setting short and long-term goals, achieving a work–life balance).

The CDC received positive feedback from both the attendees and the discussion leaders. An online survey conducted after the meeting rated the reception as above average or excellent, with 89% of the attendees and 100% of the discussion leaders wanting to participate in future receptions. This not only demonstrates the success of the program but also how the event benefits both the attendees and the discussion leaders. It was clear that the discussion leaders were committed to developing new leaders and that the attendees were engaged participants.

The logistics of the reception were designed to help facilitate small group interactions and was limited to 50 attendees. Fourteen discussion leaders from the SETAC leadership served as co-leaders for one of seven pre-determined topics. The evening began with informal conversation with drinks and appetizers, followed by a brief introduction from the event organizers. Attendees were divided into small groups and rotated among each defined table topic. Once the sessions began, the discussion leaders opened up their assigned topic for a round-table question and answer session. Attendees came prepared with their own questions, which allowed for a more personalized approach when addressing specific issues. Groups rotated to a new table topic in 12-minute intervals, and feedback suggested that additional time for each topic would be beneficial.

The participants came from academia, government and business (but primarily from the latter two), and everyone received valuable insight on their issues of concern. The major issues of interest, according to our survey, included work–life balance, workplace issues, career progression and transition, and broadening their SETAC network. The attendees were especially appreciative of gaining better insight into taking a more holistic approach to work and viewing the big picture without getting bogged down in unnecessary details. The attendees were eager to learn how the discussion leaders dealt with their own career challenges. Two key take-home messages were “Never stop looking forward” and “Don't be afraid to take risks.”

The discussion leaders represented all three sectors, with an even number of men and women (the CDC recognizes the importance of including both gender perspectives). Feedback from the discussion leaders was also extremely positive and provides insight into the success of the event and their commitment to the Society. Discussion leaders participated in the event because, “I am committed to developing the next leaders” and “I remember when I was at their career point and the insights I could have used.”  The discussion leaders each provided some thoughtful words of wisdom, which captures the major themes of the evening (Figure 1).

Because the CDC believes that professional growth comes not only from having a mentor but also in serving as a mentor, the committee plans to continue this effort at the annual meeting in Vancouver, Canada, by shifting the focus to early career professionals. Preliminary plans include having the mid-career SETAC professionals serve as discussion leaders, with topics of particular interest to those who are new to the workforce. This shift provides mentoring opportunities for mid-career professionals, allowing them to help develop the next generation of SETAC members. If you are interested in helping to develop this new outreach program, please contact the chair of the committee Céline Godard-Codding to learn how you can get involved.

mid-career advice
Figure 1: Advice for mid-career professionals.

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