Liz Silva: motivating informed minds for a living

DSC_0243This week we’re excited to welcome Liz Silva (@lizatucsf) as curator! Liz manages a new career exploration program at UCSF called Motivating INformed Decisions (MIND). MIND is one of 17 experimental programs across the country funded by the Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) award, working to develop, evaluate, and disseminate programs and interventions that ultimately aim to change the culture of biomedical training in the US. In her role at MIND, Liz works with students and postdocs, but also with faculty, administration, other institutions, and with the NIH to understand the needs and concerns around training and to propose solutions that can be implemented more broadly.

Prior to her current position at UCSF, Liz was a Senior Editor at PLOS ONE, the world’s largest scientific journal. There she worked with 40+ publication staff to assist authors, reviewers and the PLOS ONE Editorial Board (4000+ worldwide) to ensure submissions were considered in line with publication criteria, she considered issues relating to research and publishing ethics, and she developed and implemented policies that sought to make research findings and knowledge available more quickly, and to more people, for the benefit of scientific advancement.

In addition to her work on the MIND Program, Liz has served as a panelist/speaker on a variety of topics in science, research and education policy, including: reproducibility in research, ethical conduct in research and publishing, research communication and publishing for scientists, career exploration and professional development for PhDs, and issues related to the roles of PhD trainees in the biomedical workforce and in academia. Liz trained as a geneticist and developmental biologist in Canada, the UK and the US, working on a variety of biological problems using Drosophila as a model system. Most recently she was a postdoc at UCSF in the department of Biochemistry and Biophysics.

Now let’s hear Liz tell us about herself!

How I ended up in science? Wow, this is a tough question that goes back a lot of years. As a high school student, and as I started college, I wanted to study something in the humanities – history or sociology. As an arts major, I was required to take at least one course in a scientific discipline, so I took introductory biology. It all seemed so elegant, and I loved thinking about things in terms of the constraints and direction of natural selection, and so I ran with it from there. The process of deciding to become a researcher took a while. I tried it as an undergrad. I loved it so I tried it as a Master’s student. I still loved it, and wanted to challenge myself, so moved to the UK for a PhD.

As a researcher, my greatest interests were in genetics and developmental biology. I always worked with Drosophila because of the spectacular genetic tools. However, this isn’t my current field. I was a postdoc at UCSF when I came across a position for an Associate Editor at PLOS ONE. I didn’t have a desire to become an editor, but I knew I wanted to be an editor at PLOS ONE. It was PLOS’s mission of making research findings available faster and to more people to improve scientific progress that really appealed to me. I realized that I could do more for the advancement of science in that job than I could ever do at the bench.

It was similar when I learned that UCSF was looking for someone to manage their new career development program. As a postdoc I had benefitted from the amazing career and professional development programs that UCSF offered. I knew that if they had decided to try something new, experimental and innovative, then it would be really exciting. Coupled with the fact that it is part of a nationwide effort to improve graduate and postdoc training in the biomedical sciences I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of.

Motivating INformed Decisions (MIND) is one of 17 experimental programs across the country funded by the Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) award, working to develop, evaluate, and disseminate programs and interventions that ultimately aim to change the culture of biomedical training in the US. As the Director of the program, I work with students and postdocs, but also with faculty, administration, other institutions, and with the NIH to understand the needs and concerns around training and to propose solutions that can be implemented more broadly. In addition to managing the program, I develop and deliver program curriculum, work with students and postdocs as they explore their career options, and conduct qualitative and quantitative research on the impact and outcomes of the program.

The students and postdocs that we are training, that the public is paying to train, are among the brightest, most driven and most committed people in the country. Historically, the singular focus has been to place these students and postdocs into faculty positions.

The problems facing the world today require these talents in all sorts of fields — in policy, in industry, in education.

We hope that the work we’re doing will empower these students and postdocs to identify and pursue the careers that are of interest to them, where they will be poised to make a significant impact in science.

I frequently work with others at UCSF to do things like track career outcomes for UCSF postdocs, and support of programs offered by the Office of Career and Professional Development and the Office for Postdoctoral Scholars. I have served as a panelist/speaker on a variety of topics in science, research and education policy, including: reproducibility in research, ethical conduct in research and publishing, research communication and publishing for scientists, career exploration and professional development for PhDs, and issues related to the roles of PhD trainees in the biomedical workforce and in academia. I also serve on a task force for the Society for the Study of Evolution, that hopes to provide career and professional development guidance to student and postdoc members.deathvalley

As for hobbies, photography is the big one. I have a Flickr account, though I’m not great about keeping it up to date: https://www.flickr.com/photos/34478332@N04/ Also anything where I make stuff (crafts, knitting, sewing, gardening, canning, woodwork) or where I can be outside (camping, hiking, running). I regret that I have become a Portlandia sketch.

My perfect day off includes a trail run by the ocean, and a picnic. With wine and maybe oysters.

Please welcome Liz to Real Scientists!

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