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AAAS and partners debut new online networks for clinical and minority scientists

To help scientists and science trainees who hope to translate laboratory research into clinical medicine and to help minority scientists navigate their career paths, AAAS, Science Careers, and Science are launching a pair of online social-networking sites.

The networks have been designed to serve two distinct groups: CTSciNet is a community for people pursuing careers in clinical and translational research, and MySciNet is a network focused on nurturing diversity in the scientific workforce. They were launched 20 October by Science Careers, AAAS's career development initiative.

Both sites were developed by AAAS along with contributions from several scientific societies and with corporate and foundation funding. CTSciNet was funded by a generous grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. MySciNet is sponsored by Genentech and Pfizer.

"These networks seek to promote the professional development of the scientists while helping to meet key science policy objectives," said Jim Austin, editor of Science Careers and MySciNet and principal investigator for the CTSciNet project. "With MySciNet we are addressing the critical issue of science workforce diversity," Austin continued. And with CTSciNet, "we want to show early career scientists how they can help solve one of the most important scientific challenges of our lifetimes: figuring out how to efficiently translate scientific breakthroughs into practical therapies."

The new social networks offer free, secure virtual communities for scientists at all career stages. After registering, users can post and respond to questions on career-related, academic, scientific, or social subjects; join virtual groups on specific topics or for specific organizations; read articles on navigating a career path; and pass along articles and hyperlinks from outside resources.

Jos Fernndez, community manager for CTSciNet and MySciNet, said that there "is a large group of scientists looking for professional resources to help them connect with scientists at all stages--from mentors, to colleagues, to the next generation of researchers."

"These resources," he added, "provide a virtual campus for scientists spread out across the world."

Fernndez explained that the networks contain features similar to those offered by Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and other social networks. But since it is monitored by Science Careers staff and populated exclusively by scientists, science trainees, and science career experts, science professionals are likely to find CTSciNet and MySciNet considerably more focused.

CTSciNet, which stands for Clinical and Translational Science Network, focuses on building a network of scientists and trainees who wish to speed the translation of scientific breakthroughs into real-world therapies--including scientists from all disciplines with clinical or basic science training, or both. Also welcome are people from other fields, such as business and clinical medicine, who wish to explore the possibilities for turning science into new and potentially profitable new technologies.

In translational medicine, scientists take research preformed in the laboratory and apply it to create practical applications for improving human health and quality of life for all. In recent years the pipeline of new drugs, for example, has stagnated even as important breakthroughs, such as the sequencing of the human genome, have opened up vast new terrain for scientific investigation.

CTSciNet users can join discussion groups on clinical trials, commercialization and entrepreneurship, ontology and bioinformatics, and many other subjects, and read articles on paying off graduate school debt, the academic tenure process, M.D.-Ph.D. dual-degree programs, and how basic scientists can work closer to the clinic.

The network is funded by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, with 12 scientific and professional societies partnering with AAAS in various ways. The partners include the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the American Physician Scientists Association, and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

The launch of the new social network follows closely the debut earlier this month of Science Translational Medicine, a weekly journal published by AAAS and Science to feature original research and commentary on translational medicine.

In his opening editorial, Elias Zerhouni, chief scientific advisor of Science Translational Medicine, called for the "emergence of a new and vibrant community of dedicated scientists, collaborating to fill the knowledge gaps and dissolve or circumvent barriers to improved clinical medicine."

William F. Crowley Jr., M.D., founder and chair of the Clinical Research Forum, a partner organization of CTSciNet, said the largest disease challenges facing society are being addressed by large teams of scientists from across many scientific disciplines. This raises a lot of difficult questions for collaborating researchers, including the order of authorship on big research papers and the distribution of funding.

"Creating resources and networks that bring scientists together to talk about practicing in their field is critical for moving the discipline forward," said Crowley, who is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of reproductive endocrinology at Massachusetts General Hospital. "These networks facilitate discussions amongst scientists to ensure solutions to both professional and social concerns."

MySciNet is a professional network that seeks to connect scientists and students of diverse backgrounds based on race, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, military service, and economic circumstances. Its objectives are similar to those of CTSciNet: It allows members to form communities to discuss education and jobs, research opportunities, and strategies for overcoming obstacles.

Participants can join discussion groups on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues or how to enhance diversity in science; they can learn about national conferences for minority scientists or how to foster a successful mentorship relationship. In addition, users can research employers committed to fostering an inclusive and diverse workforce.

"Many students find themselves on campuses or in departments where they feel isolated, as 'the only' of whatever group with which they identify," said Shirley Malcom, director of AAAS Education and Human Resources. "They may not be comfortable talking about issues with those around them. Sometimes it is just a matter of knowing there are others who know what you are going through and being able to identify resources to address the challenges."

MySciNet is collaboration by AAAS and 10 other professional societies including the Association for Women in Mathematics, the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals, and the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science.

Ric Weibl, director of the AAAS Center for Careers in Science and Technology, said that online community networks create opportunities for scientists and students to communicate with colleagues beyond their disciplinary and institutional barriers.

In the case of MySciNet, enabling these opportunities can also create connections that reduce the sense of isolation often experienced by underrepresented minorities.

"Building diverse networks is an invaluable skill that serves both the individual and science as whole," said Weibl. "Many of the biggest, most interesting research questions involve experts from across science and beyond one's institutional or cultural identity group."

Malcom added that the structure of modern scientific inquiry is built around a community working on a research question--the laboratory group, professional association, academic departments, or a summer program. "Building a community gets work done by solidifying commitment to the enterprise," she said.

Austin said that although the networks are not "real, flesh-and-blood communities," he is confident that they will lead to "plane tickets, face-to-face conversations, late-night brainstorming sessions, and, eventually, important scientific and clinical advances."

Beyond the new community networks, Science Careers offers a wide range of resources for scientists of all background and stages of education. The program develops online articles, booklets, webinars, and workshop--all free of charge-as part of AAAS's mission to further careers in science and technology, with an emphasis on fostering greater diversity in the scientific community.


Contact: Benjamin Somers
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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