Welcome to Ask Dr. Clemmons, a monthly advice column for scientists and engineers looking for top-notch academic, career, and personal development advice. How will it work? Quite simply, I'll solicit questions from you, the column's readers, on whatever is on your mind career- and education-wise. All questions are welcome! It does not matter if you are a high school student contemplating a career in science, an established engineer performing research in industry, or a freshly minted Ph.D. looking for a postdoc. I would like to hear from you and I want to help you!

But lest you think that this is going to be a regular, run-of-the-mill advice column, please read on!

It is my belief that to have a successful career, you have to become your own success story. That is, you shouldn't wait for your career to happen to you, you should pursue information you lack, ask questions of those in the know, and be prepared to adapt and change as circumstances dictate. I've learned this the hard way--stumbling occasionally in my own career when I couldn't find help or was unable to formulate the questions I needed to ask. And I'd like to do what I can to spare you the trouble.

Meet Sonya!

In December 1999, Sonya Summerour Clemmons became the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in bioengineering from the University of California, San Diego. She entered the Ph.D. program after completing undergraduate degrees in both physics and mechanical engineering at Spelman College and Georgia Tech, respectively, as an Atlanta University Center dual-degree engineering major. Dr. Clemmons is the founder of SSC Enterprises, a consulting firm dedicated to helping academic, government, and industrial institutions successfully recruit, retain, and transition students of color into fulfilling science and engineering careers.

In fact, it is my personal goal to make sure that you get as much out of this column as possible. So although Ask Dr. Clemmons will undoubtedly serve as a conduit for straightforward information about career goals and personal aspirations, it will also dig much deeper, offering valuable insight into the complex personal issues and the unwritten and unknown rules that can affect the quality of scientists' lives and careers.

But don't come here if you're looking for a bed of roses. Unlike some of the so-called experts who fail to give the entire scoop, I intend to tell you all about the twists, turns, disappointments, or changes in trajectory that you're likely to encounter along your way. I'll tell you how to see them coming and how to make the most of them when they arrive.

Although the column will offer my perspective on any of a number of topics that might come up (see the box below for a few possibilities), I'd like to invite you to join me in continuing the conversation in a special place on the MiSciNet forum pages. Each month, we'll start a new forum thread that focuses on the topic of that month's column, and we'll include a grab bag for any other issue that you'd like to discuss. My hope is that the column may prompt you to share your own experiences, perspectives, and follow-up questions--in real time--with me and with your peers and colleagues, known or unknown. To get involved, please visit the Next Wave forums login page and from there click through to the Minorities in Science folder. The Ask Dr. Clemmons message string begins here. You'll need to spend a few moments registering if you want to post questions (don't worry--it doesn't cost anything, and we won't share your registration information with any third parties), but once you're registered, you'll be able to start or continue any discussion of your choice.

Topics on the Table

You, the readers, will set the agenda through the questions that you ask. However, my guess is that we'll spend quite some time looking at:

  • Relationships between and among undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, and their faculty advisors

  • Career development issues for scientists and engineers

  • Personal development and creating (and maintaining!) balance in your life

  • Finding career fulfillment and focus

Although the column's direction will largely be determined by your questions and comments, I expect that it will help you overcome the many challenges you'll face on the road toward your science or engineering career. I encourage you to e-mail me questions on any topic that is on your mind. And remember, you are welcome to submit your questions or comments anonymously--simply indicate in your e-mail that you would like to remain anonymous if this is the case. Now ... I have a question for you:

"What's on your mind?"

If you have a question or comment for Dr. Clemmons, The MiSciNet Advisor, please send an e-mail to msnadvice@aaas.org.