New program develops careers in academia

The first ACT cohort includes 26 fellows, with a breakdown of 12 postdocs, 12 assistant professors, one research associate, and one research scientist.
The first ACT cohort includes 26 fellows, with a breakdown of 12 postdocs, 12 assistant professors, one research associate, and one research scientist.

The inaugural cohort of ASCB’s Accomplishing Career Transitions (ACT) program, funded through a National Institutes of Health IPERT grant, met June 24-28 in Chapel Hill, NC, for an exciting and intense week of skills training. IPERT stands for Innovative Programs to Enhance Research Training, and ACT is a two-year customizable, cohort-based program with the goal of helping emerging underrepresented (UR) scientists successfully transition into tenure-track faculty positions at both primarily undergraduate institutions (PUI) and research-intensive institutions.

The workshop began with welcoming statements from the program PIs—Veronica Segarra of High Point University, Jim Vigoreaux of University of Vermont, MariaElena Zavala of California State University, Northridge, and ASCB CEO Erika Shugart. Twenty faculty attended, including members of the ASCB Minorities Affairs Committee and others from various academic institutions and companies who provided the ACT fellows a wide representation of expertise. In this first cohort, there are 26 fellows— 12 postdocs, 12 assistant professors, 1 research associate, and 1 research scientist.

From left, Erika Shugart, Jim Vigoreaux, Veronica Segarra and MariaElena Zavala. Photo by Ashanti Edwards

One feature of the ACT program that makes it special is the practicum. The program provides funding to help the fellow fill a gap in their current skills or experiences. During the workshop, fellows assessed professional gaps through interactive sessions and completion of practicum worksheets to help identify plans. Tameka Clemons, assistant professor at Spelman College and ACT fellow, said, “Attending the ACT workshop was invigorating and provided me with the fuel I needed to keep going on this winding and sometimes blurry scientific road.”

Over the course of the week, fellows learned how to effectively mentor other scientists in and out of the lab. This interactive session provided tools to help participants establish their priorities in mentoring, set expectations, provide feedback, and learn effective communication skills. Other popular sessions included “Securing a faculty position,” “Obtaining tenure,” and “Setting up your lab for success, either at a teaching or research-intensive institution.” During these panel sessions, faculty held Q&A discussions with ACT fellows, which allowed for transparent conversations. This openness fostered great dialogue and provided the fellows with new perspectives. The ACT workshop ended with new knowledge learned, new relationships established, and new plans started. After the workshop, the fellows will continue to work on their plans and then implement them during the next year.

“It is rare for early stage scientists to get away from the lab and have the opportunity to discuss the important topics that were covered during the workshop,” said ACT fellow Michael Burton from the University of Texas at Dallas. “Putting people in similar situations from across the country together help formed a bond between the participants. This workshop was not only informative, but motivational. I left feeling inspired and ready to apply what I learned.”

ACT fellows will continue in the program over the next two years, meeting virtually through webinars and meeting annually at ASCB meetings.

For more information about ASCB’s ACT program go to


About the Author:

Ashanti Edwards is ASCB's Director of Professional Development.