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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Frederick, Maryland » Foreign Disease-Weed Science Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #323688

Research Project: Identification, Characterization, and Biology of Foreign and Emerging Viral and Bacterial Plant Pathogens

Location: Foreign Disease-Weed Science Research

Title: Mining the gap: Assessing leadership needs to improve 21st century plant pathology

item BECKERMAN, JANNA - Purdue University
item Schneider, William

Submitted to: Plant Disease
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/23/2016
Publication Date: 12/1/2016
Publication URL:
Citation: Beckerman, J., Schneider, W.L. 2016. Mining the gap: Assessing leadership needs to improve 21st century plant pathology. Plant Disease. 100:2349-2356.

Interpretive Summary: Scientists at the principal investigator (Ph.D.) level follow a fairly typical career track. Following an undergraduate degree in a science related field, there is enrollment in graduate school and completion of a degree. Almost always, this is followed by some post-doctoral research experience. The lucky few who survive and thrive through this process are rewarded with a permanent position in the field of their training. This type of career preparation is very good at honing the scientific skills of these future scientists, but often leaves them lacking for “soft skills” such as communication, management and leadership skills. Unfortunately these skills are critical to the success of principal investigators in the field of sciences. A survey of plant scientists determined that the vast majority of Ph.D. scientists had management and leadership roles as part of their job, but a minority of these scientists had been prepared for management or leadership as part of their training. This represents a significant issue as science moves towards a model where collaborative projects are becoming the most common approach to solving complex problems and pursuing funding. There are plenty of options for receiving soft skills training (presented as part of this paper) that would help solve this issue, but there needs to be an increased emphasis on encouraging and enabling scientists to get training for soft skills.

Technical Abstract: Scientists and plant pathologists are trained in scientific knowledge and critical thinking as part of their career preparation process. However, the extensive training in science-related skills comes at a cost to “soft skills”, the competencies needed for interpersonal skills, communication, management and leadership. A survey of the American Phytopathological Society indicated that the vast majority (82-91 percent) of the membership was involved in leadership and management roles. Despite this, a minority of survey participants (30-36 percent) felt that their scientific training had prepared them to lead or manage others. Plant pathologists had received the most training in topics that were easily tied to science. Less common were critical topics such as resilience, entrepreneurship, visioning and persuasion, and participants were likely to choose discrete skills considered necessary for management, as opposed to leadership. This lack of training represents a critical shortfall when science is increasingly moving towards larger collaborative projects. Soft skills training options are available from a number of academic, scientific society and online resources, but utilization of these resources needs to be encouraged. An increased emphasis on leadership and management is critical to fully prepare young scientists to face a competitive and increasingly collaborative science landscape.