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Career Trajectories

The ETCD Council recognizes the variety of career paths that behavioral scientists may take. The ETCD Council and the Career Trajectories Working Group, led by Past-President Francis J. Keefe, PhD, conducted a survey in February 2010 to secure a better sense of SBM members’ career paths. A summary of the survey results is below.

The SBM Career Trajectories Survey: Findings and Next Steps

Francis Keefe, Laura Porter & Tamara Somers

In 2010 SBM conducted a survey of its members that focused on career trajectories in behavioral medicine. In the past, SBM’s career development efforts have tended to focus on early career development and not as much on career development issues that might arise later in one’s career. Also, it is apparent that some SBM members do not follow traditional career paths and that learning more about their career development experiences might be helpful. Thus, the impetus for this survey was to learn more about career paths of our members and to determine if SBM needs to be doing more to address career development issues.

The survey was developed by SBM’s working group on career trajectories, a committee that included Lisa Klesges, Bev Thorn, Laura Porter, Susan Czajkowski, Karen Oliver, Tamara Somers and Ken Wallston. Members of the committee represented early, mid- and late career SBM members. The survey was administered using an online survey methodology. An email announcing the survey was sent to all SBM members on February 9, 2010, and the opportunity to respond spanned from February 9, 2010, to March 3, 2010.

A total of 737 members completed at least part of the survey, with 577 completing the entire survey. The latter represents 30% of the SBM membership. The sample consisted of 71% female members.

A total of 53% of the respondents described themselves as early career, 31% mid-career, 15% late career and 1% post-career (retired). On average, respondents reported that they have been working in the field of behavioral medicine for 11.78 years (SD=10.1). The vast majority reported their discipline was psychology (73%). Other disciplines reported included epidemiology or health service research (6%), nursing (5%), other behavioral sciences (6%), medicine (2%) and other fields (8%). A total of 81% of respondents reported having some type of doctoral degree (i.e. PhD, MD, PsyD, JD, DNP).

We asked respondents to indicate how they spent their time (i.e. in research, clinical work, administrative work, teaching, mentoring and other) during the early phase of their career and now, and how they anticipate spending their time 5 years from now. Interpretation of the data is somewhat difficult given that the number of respondents to these questions varied across the time periods. Nevertheless, several patterns are evident. First, most respondents indicated that about half of their time has been spent and is likely to be spent in the future involved in research activities. Second, respondents indicated that their clinical activities decreased from early career (20% of time) to present/future (11-13% of time). Third, respondents indicated that administrative activities take an increasing proportion of their time as they move from early career (10%) to the present (16%) and toward 5 years from now (14%). Fourth, a similar pattern is evident for mentoring activities which was estimated as increasing from 6% during early career to 9% at present to 11% 5 years from now. Finally, teaching activities were estimated as taking a relatively constant proportion of time from early career to the present/future (approximately 12%).

A major objective of this survey was to determine, whether over the course of their career, SBM members changed careers or took breaks from their career activities. A total of 21% of respondents indicated that behavioral medicine was not their original career. Other than a sabbatical or health-related leave (including maternity leave), only 9% reported taking a break from their career (e.g. to take care of their family or to obtain additional training to transition to a new position).

Respondents were asked about career development resources they have used in the past and what they would like SBM to offer in the future. The most frequently endorsed resources that members reported they have used were colleagues/peers (83%), mentors within ones’ work institution (80%) as well outside their work institution (60%), boss/direct supervisor (45%), professional societies other than SBM (26%), SBM annual meetings (16%) and SBM Special Interest Groups (12%), or a career counselor (7%). Respondents endorsed an array of resources that SBM could offer in the future to help with career development-related issues. These include panel discussions at the Annual Meeting (47%), a Web page/forum and listserv for career development issues on the SBM website (41%), more activities at the Annual Meeting (i.e., small group [41%] and one-on-one discussions [31%]), mentoring programs through the SIGs (38%), development of a small grant program to support a member visiting the work setting of a colleague/consultant/mentor (38%), long-term mentoring with a senior SBM member (34%), and an Outlook column devoted to career development issues (32%).

The results of this survey can inform SBM’s efforts in career development in several ways. First, respondents to this survey were primarily psychologists, more than half of whom report being in their early career and who indicate they are spending almost half of their time in research. This suggests that SBM’s traditional focus on career development issues that affect early career members is important. However, there is a significant minority of members who are in other disciplines and other stages of their career suggesting that a broader focus on career development is warranted. Second, respondents indicated that, from their early career phase to the present and into the next 5 years, administrative activities and mentoring are likely to take up more of their time. This suggests that SBM should consider doing more to foster members' skills as mentors and administrators. Third, respondents indicated that they have relied on a wide variety of resources for their own career development and that they would like SBM to build upon and extend its current career development efforts. In particular, they endorsed the need for additional career development opportunities at the Annual Meeting, the development of Web-based career resources, a novel small grants program to support in-person mentoring activities, and increased use of long-term mentors and Outlook.

Considered overall, the survey results draw further attention to the important issue of career development. We hope these results will stimulate a broader discussion and dialogue about career development in behavioral medicine. A discussion of career development issues potentially has implications not only for individual members but also for future directions pursued by the SBM Board, committees, SIGs, publications and Annual Meeting planners. Informed in part by these findings, the Education, Training & Career Development Council in conjunction with the SIGs recently launched a new Web-based consultation program. A panel discussion on atypical career trajectories is also planned for the 2011 Annual Meeting. Finally, additional Web-based career development resources are currently in the planning stages.