Philip Clifford, Ph.D.

Philip Clifford, Ph.D.

Dr. Philip Clifford is Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Professor of Anesthesiology and Physiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin. He is an outspoken advocate for postdoctoral education at local and national levels and a strong proponent of career planning for Ph.D. scientists. In addition to inaugurating the Office of Postdoctoral Education at the Medical College of Wisconsin, he helped initiate national reform by participating in the establishment of both the National Postdoctoral Association and the AAMC GREAT Group Postdoctorate Leaders Section. In 2012 he was honored with the NPA Distinguished Service Award. He contributed to the development of some of the key documents used in the postdoctoral community including the FASEB Individual Development Plan for postdoctoral fellows, the AAMC GREAT Group “Compact Between Postdoctoral Appointees and Their Mentors,” and the NPA Postdoctoral Core Competencies. He is a coauthor of the recently launched career website, myIDP. Dr. Clifford heads an active research program investigating the physiological mechanisms regulating skeletal muscle blood flow during exercise. His research laboratory has been funded by the NIH, the American Heart Association, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. He is a fellow of the American Heart Association, the American College of Sports Medicine, and the American Physiological Society Cardiovascular Section. He serves on the editorial boards of several physiological journals, and participates on grant review panels at the NIH, NASA, and the American Heart Association. He is also a consultant in the medical device industry and a member of the Anesthesia and Respiratory Devices Panel at the FDA.

Conducted and contributed by Dr. Brian Postdoc | April 2013

"I’ve seen folks that are just waiting for something to happen to them and not taking charge of their own careers - that seems like a recipe for disaster."

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Conversation Highlights

Phil Clifford. Cardiaovascular physiologist. Career strategist. Organizer. Cheerleader for students. A shining example of a mentor and academician, Phil was driven early on by curiosity to pursue science and higher education.

"Networking has been essential for the progression of my science. People do not recognize how important it is in terms of broadening and developing your science.
When I was starting my job search, I felt very overwhelmed and on my own with no guidance."

"Regardless of their career path, PhD scientists will be known for their scientific writing. Writing is so crucial that people must have great writing skills no matter where they intend to go."

"Many times when people join the lab, a grant is handed out to them to say here is what your responsibilities are. This never really addresses what the mentor’s responsibilities are."

"I am horrified these days to find out that many graduate students do not write their own papers; it is written by their PIs. When PIs think it is too much work to correct their graduate student’s papers, they are failing as mentors."

"If their goal is to get a PI position – I have to admit this is one area that I am not so positive about. The way I interpret data from the NSF is that there are not new positions being created. I hear people saying that things will turn around, but I think a more challenging environment is still to come. I do not see a trend to faculty members turning 65 and saying, I am going to give it up. This is the time when they feel they can contribute the most."

"The funding environment is particularly challenging now, but it is way too optimistic to think that all of a sudden the American taxpayers will say, we just want to go ahead and spend more money."

"I certainly do not want to scare people from academic careers. We would like bright scientists to continue to pursue this route, but they have to do it with their eyes open. That means that if I hear somebody wants an academic career, if they are a postdoc and have never been funded on a grant they wrote, it seems like they are not very serious about it. You have to establish a track record of bringing in funding. You should apply for K99, but not in the 4th year. It should be done early on so that you have a chance to revise. You should be looking for other organizations to apply to. Find ways to begin to show that you are a person that has good ideas and can communicate them effectively in ways to obtain your own grant. That track record is essential."

"The academic enterprise is a money making business that represents about 2.5% of the GDP in the US. This is a surprise to some students."

"PhDs must be trained for a breadth of career options. Just doing scientific research and writing papers is not enough to train them for the breadth of career options. There are a lot of other things PhDs can do that benefit society and make them feel good and satisfied with what they are doing with their lives. They need to look beyond what is going on in their own lab or department and not just following the path that everyone else is following and get the kind of preparation for the career they desire."

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