The American Society for Preventive Oncology (ASPO) was established in 1976 as a professional organization concerned with preventive oncology. Since that time, ASPO has evolved to address not only new scientific areas that have developed, but also the changing needs of its members in terms of professional development (12). One way ASPO has done this is through the use of surveys of ASPO membership. One area that is constantly changing is career needs and job satisfaction.
Job satisfaction is associated with professional advancement, greater productivity, and higher salary across many fields, including academia (1). There are a number of demographic (gender, discipline), environmental (relationships with colleagues and trainees, mentorship, institutional climate), and value-specific (achievement, recognition, support, advancement, salary) factors associated with job satisfaction among academic faculty (2–5). Over the past decade, numerous initiatives have examined the state of professional advancement and faculty satisfaction (6–9) and offered actionable steps to improve these conditions at the institutional level (7). Unfortunately, the recent economic downturn has endangered the attainment of these goals (10,11).
ASPO conducted 2 surveys investigating this area among members. The first was in 2001, and the second was in 2009. The goal of this report is to compare responses from ASPO members to both surveys and then provide some recommendations, based on the results, to ASPO leadership and institutional leaders to address needs of cancer researchers in terms of career development and job satisfaction.
First Survey - 2001
In 2001, the then-members of the ASPO Junior Career Development Interest Group mounted a survey to assess career needs among cancer prevention and control professionals. They used this information to better establish their activities and guide future programming (13). They specifically examined the characteristics and career needs of junior and senior cancer prevention and control professionals. That survey identified a number of issues that called for attention. For instance, they found that significantly more male (62%) than female members (47%) held tenure track positions and that women were less likely than men to have their salaries fully supported by institutional “hard” money and more likely to be in positions that were responsible for covering 100% of their salary through “soft” money. They also identified the need for and perceived importance of mentorship and networking for junior scientists, as well as interest among senior scientists in improving skills for scientific presentations, as key career development needs for members of ASPO. Specifically, they suggested that smaller, more specialized organizations, such as ASPO, would be ideal as a source of mentorship (13). However, no formalized mentoring program within ASPO has taken hold, outside of the New Investigator’s Workshop held during the Annual ASPO meeting.
Second Survey - 2009
Much has changed since that 2001 survey—both for the better and the worse. Researchers have faced years of a challenging funding environment (14) and the more recent economic downturn has put pressures on academic institutions to find the means to survive and thrive (10,11). But the greater attention paid to faculty satisfaction and gender equity could potentially ameliorate the impact of these challenges on overall satisfaction (6–9). In an effort to assess the current career development needs of our membership, in October 2009, we (as current members of ASPO’s Junior Career Development Interest Group) reassessed the characteristics and career needs of ASPO members and meeting attendees and examined how these factors relate to current job satisfaction in our membership. We also sought to assess preferences for future programming that could enhance professional development for our members, specifically through mentorship opportunities
Though the response rate to our web-based survey was somewhat low (37%; N = 160 of 432), our respondents were quite similar to those of the 2001 survey in that they were mostly women (64%); were mainly employed at cancer centers (37%), schools of medicine (37%), or schools of public health (25%); and held either Ph.D., Dr.P.H., or Sc.D. degrees (70%). 23%, 20% and 31% of our respondents held positions as Assistant, Associate and Full Professor, respectively.
There were a number of important differences between the findings of the current survey and the 2001 survey. For instance, compared to the 2001 survey (13), a greater percentage of members reported being tenured or on the tenure track (66% vs. 47%) and the previous gender differences in the attainment of tenure track positions had disappeared. However, we did find our female respondents were less likely to hold Associate and Full Professor positions (P = .002) and more likely to contribute greater percent effort to research than male respondents (P = .05), patterns that have not changed since 2001. Perhaps reflective of the challenging funding and economic environments, 59% of respondents in our survey reported having access to bridge funding to support their salaries, compared to 72% of those in the 2001 survey.
We found promising data with regards to mentorship. Over two thirds of our respondents (70%) reported serving as mentors and over half reporting having a mentor (55%), up slightly from the 2001 survey (62% and 52%, respectively). The development of institutional mentoring programs has increased in recent years (6, 15). Indeed, half of our members (49%) indicated that their institutions had such a program. Further, when asked whether they preferred to receive their career development information from solely their peers, mentors, a combination of these or neither source, approximately half of the sample (51.8%) preferred a combination of their peers and mentors. Our respondents also indicated that they initiated career development discussions with their mentors a bit more than half of the time (55%), similar to reports from the 2001 survey. Overall, it appears that many of our members receive adequate mentorship. But for many others, it appears that more is needed.
Therefore, we assessed whether our members would be interested in an ASPO-based mentoring program and what format they would prefer if such a program were offered. Two-thirds (65%) of our respondents indicated that they would see a benefit in such a program. When presented with options of what form this could take, the largest number of respondents (40%) favored a mentoring program run primarily through email, supplemented with biannual phone calls and an in-person meeting at the ASPO Annual Meeting. This was followed by informal email mentoring (2–3 times/year; 22%), peer-mentoring conference calls on specific topics (13%) and more frequent email mentoring (10%).
Finally, it appears that our respondents were satisfied with their current position—over two-thirds (76%) reported being satisfied or somewhat satisfied. Being at an institution with a formal mentoring program, having bridge funding available and valuing the career development information received from their mentors, either alone or in combination with advice from peers were all related to greater satisfaction. But the factors relevant to satisfaction are not the same for everyone. For junior faculty (at the rank of Instructor or Assistant Professor), connections seemed to be key. Nearly all of those (94%) reporting a formal institutional mentoring program reported being satisfied, as compared to only 44% of those without these programs. In addition, 73% of those who reported being satisfied, compared to 20% of dissatisfied respondents, found career development information helpful from both peers and mentors. For senior faculty, the presence of bridge funding emerged as the only difference between those who were satisfied and those who were less so (69% vs. 18%). One interpretation of these findings might be that early in one’s career, learning the “how-to’s” of the profession from peers and mentors and having supportive connections is key to satisfaction, whereas later in one’s career, institutional support provided to scientists becomes more critical to satisfaction.