Early Career Leadership Spotlight — Amanda Shaver
Co-Chair Early Career Scientist Career Development Subcommittee
University of Georgia
Parasitic nematode worms impose debilitating global health and economic burdens by infecting humans, livestock, and crops worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that ~2 billion people harbor parasitic worm infections. While drugs have been developed to eradicate nematode populations, these drugs are largely ineffective due to limited understanding of the mechanism by which drugs interact with nematode genes to cause organism death. In addition to this lack of knowledge, we have been mass-distributing the same drugs into our environment to treat an assortment of nematode infections for decades, allowing parasitic nematodes the time to become resistant to the drugs we have available.
I am working on identifying nematode genes that interact with available drug compounds, with the ultimate goal of eradicating parasitic nematodes and preventing the development of drug resistance. I am doing this by focusing on the small soil nematode C. elegans. C. elegans is an ideal organism to use in the lab to test how genetically different nematodes experiencing ever-changing environmental conditions have developed mechanisms to deal with rapid habitat changes and toxin exposure. This work allows me to identify ideal drug compounds needed to eradicate nematode populations and understand what genes are underlying in toxin resistance.
As a PhD-trained scientist, you have many career options. What are you looking for in a career?
My graduate school experience has helped me hone in on the aspects of science I enjoy most and allowed me to understand more deeply where my strengths lie. I’m navigating my career decision by thinking about how I can craft a career that allows me to focus on what I enjoy and utilizes my strengths. I thrive through developing project concepts and defining workflows to streamline the management of projects. I really enjoy managing processes to increase workflow efficiency.
Something that I would find rewarding is a position that requires mentoring or the development and implementation of support systems related to training early career scientists, especially if that position has a focus on continuously improving how we communicate scientific concepts within and outside the academic community. Overall, I aim to work in an environment that empowers me to engage with diverse groups of scientists while creating collaborative scientific networks.
In addition to your research, how else do you want to advance the scientific enterprise?
Science is collaborative and soars when we capitalize on the diversity of scientists who possess different backgrounds and skill sets. The more time and effort spent on building this culture and community will lead to a healthier and well-rounded scientific atmosphere. I’d like to enhance scientific culture through open and honest communication and see the scientific community become more inclusive. This inclusivity goes beyond life experiences and cultural backgrounds. It also extends into the diversity of careers pursued by scientists.
I’d like to ensure that early career scientists are able to obtain a quality “professional development toolkit” by the time they graduate with their PhD, so they leave school confident and equipped to perform well in positions within and outside of academia. I’d like to help foster a community where we encourage early career scientists to pursue scientific goals and aspirations that align with their personal values and goals and eradicate negative perceptions about non-academic career paths.
With the majority of students transitioning into non-academic positions, it is increasingly important that we have open conversations about the variety of career options available and ensure early career scientists have the skills they need to be competitive for these positions. There isn’t a “one size fits all” definition of success in science, so I’d like to work on changing that narrative. Creating a scientific community immersed in open communication is key to changing our current academia-focused culture.
As a leader in the Genetics Society of America, what do you hope to accomplish?
I’m passionate about increasing community engagement among scientists to promote a more collaborative scientific environment. In academic science, there is an emphasis on bench work and publishing and not as much focus on teaching, mentoring, writing, and disseminating information properly to both fellow scientists and the public. As a leader in GSA, I’d like to help broaden the definition of success in academia and help scientists gain transferable skills to become well-rounded scientists and leaders.
What it takes to be a successful scientist is ever-evolving. To be successful, you not only need to produce and publish quality work, but you need to be able to lead, mentor, and teach effectively, as these skills are needed in all career paths. Organizations like GSA can work to promote and enhance leadership and mentoring skills at all levels. I hope to help equip early career scientists with a quality education on mentoring and professional development so we can improve communication efforts in science and help retain a diversified culture.
I believe that mentorship and proper career advising is a sector in academic science that could use great improvement. By addressing these topics at the society level, we can make greater progress in science by reaching scientists globally.
Previous Leadership Experience
- Editor-in-Chief—Athens Science Observer, Athens, GA
- Co-President—Genetics Graduate Student Association, The University of Georgia, Athens, GA
- Science and Research Writer and Editor—Classic City Science, WUGA with Georgia Public Broadcasting, Athens, GA
- Programming Board Member—Athens Science Café, Athens, GA