Who Knew That “Shark Tank” Could Look So Much Like An NIH Grant Review?
I’m an academic attempting to step outside of my world as I search for non-academic positions. Why? Because I’ve decided that I want to use my research and analytical skills to address practical needs of governments, private industries, and non-profit organizations. Academia definitely has its benefits in that it has allowed me to work with intelligent people, and the rigorous peer-review process surrounding publications and grant proposals has made me think more critically about my research as well as the research of others. However, the never-ending dependence upon grants to support research (at a time when available funds at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) are dwindling) and the ‘publish or perish’ system can make it challenging to discover how/if your research has any significance beyond your academic field.
I recently attended the American Muslim Consumer Coalition (AMCC) conference in Newark, NJ and although I primarily went to represent aMuslima, I was also curious about how attendees would respond to an academic like me. As it turns out, the responses were very positive! The research and analytical skills I’ve developed over the course of graduate and postdoctoral training allows me to collect and analyze data, and to interpret findings in ways that could inform such areas as company operations (e.g., evaluating the effectiveness of an employee insurance incentive to engage in healthier behaviors), health care recommendations, or donor satisfaction. Graduate trainees who are pursuing a PhD, however, are rarely exposed to non-academic career options because the people training them are academics themselves and often have limited knowledge about non-academic jobs.
What I was most struck by was the parallels I saw between AMCC’s live version of Shark Tank (the popular t.v. show that presents new and innovative ideas from entrepreneurs) and a typical NSF/NIH grant review. To be honest, I’ve never actually watched Shark Tank, but I couldn’t help but feel a sense of deja vu when watching entrepreneurs pitch their ideas at the conference. Both entrepreneurs and researchers were trying to convince panelists/reviewers of the significance, innovation, and feasibility of their projects. Generally speaking, there is a high failure rate, careers can be made or threatened depending upon whether or not funding is awarded, and this is all hinging upon a project in which one has invested A LOT of mental and physical energy. Seeing these parallels helped me to understand why I had this feeling of connectedness to the other conference attendees. I now not only hope to use my research and analytical skills to address practical needs – some of which may be completely outside my field – but I also hope to find ways to encourage more connections between academics and non-academics.