Staff Scientist Perspectives on Onboarding and Professional Development: A Case Study

J Biomol Tech. 2021 Jul;32(2):74-82. doi: 10.7171/jbt.21-3204-001.


Across the United States, the number of staff scientists (master's- or doctoral-level professionals working in nonfaculty roles) has grown by 35% since 2010, and they play an increasingly important role in research efforts. However, few targeted resources are available, which potentially limits the effectiveness of this group. Launched in 2016, the staff scientist path at Emory has tripled in size over 4 y to 138 staff. The present case study evaluated the perceptions of staff scientists related to onboarding experiences and professional development needs, including those needs arising from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) impacts in the workplace. A survey of Emory staff scientists was conducted from May to June 2019 as part of a program evaluation initiative to assess perceptions of onboarding and professional development opportunities. Interviews with a subset of scientists informed the survey development and identified COVID-19-related impacts on daily work. Results indicated the need for targeted orientation resources specific to staff scientists, accurate and timely information and resources to support scientists' supervisors, and professional development for scientists in leadership and management-related skills. Remote work associated with COVID-19 accentuated the need for managerial skills, including team development in digital work environments. Findings from this case study can inform policies and practices at Emory and other institutions that employ a similar staff scientist model.

Keywords: nonfaculty researchers; organizational structure; scientific workforce; workplace efficiency.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • COVID-19 / genetics
  • COVID-19 / virology
  • Career Mobility
  • Female
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physicians / psychology
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data*
  • SARS-CoV-2 / genetics*
  • SARS-CoV-2 / pathogenicity
  • Workplace*