Purpose: Documenting the career characteristics of a highly selective group of researchers provides some insight into how a successful career begins. This knowledge is of value to early-career faculty and those who evaluate them, as well as trainees who aspire to the professoriate and those who educate them.
Method: In 2010, the authors extracted information by hand from the curricula vitae of 196 basic scientists who have been supported by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund’s early faculty career development programs from 1982 to 2010. Data were collected on awardees’ education, awards and honors, funding, promotion, publication, service, and training activities. The end point for data was December 2010. Analyses quantified participants’ time to terminal degree, faculty appointment, and first R01; determined their publication productivity; and calculated their rates of training graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.
Results: This group moved into jobs and gained first R01s faster than average. Surprisingly, those who train the most students and fellows do not publish the most. Women and men trained different numbers of undergraduates, PhDs, and postdocs. Women awardees had fewer publications on average than men.
Conclusions: Researchers who are highly competitive at the early faculty career stage have generally been both timely in their arrival at important benchmarks and productive in terms of their scientific output. Newly trained researchers and the people and institutions that train them share responsibility for attaining expeditious progress, developing a substantial track record, and staking out fertile intellectual ground from which to grow an independent faculty career.