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Science Careers Blog

March 2007

March 26, 2007

'A.S.' on Collaborations

'AS' has posted a message on the ScienceCareers.org discussion forum on the subject of collaborations and the skills required to be effective in collaborative work. The forum is frequently very valuable and always worth reading, but occasionally a post has special merit and deserves wider attention. This is one of them.

     

"I have done almost entirely collaborative work since my graduate days," writes AS. "I've had nightmare collaborators, wonderful collaborators, and just plain quirky collaborators....

"Collaborations can also be wonderful experiences, where you are able to do science that you can never achieve on your own. On the whole, I think its worth it."

 

Read the whole post or the whole thread.

March 26, 2007

What's the Alternative?

Leaving the bench doesn't mean leaving science. That was the general consensus among the panelists at Friday's alternative careers symposium for life-science postdocs in Cambridge, United Kingdom, sponsored by ScienceCareers.org and the University of Cambridge Careers Service.

"I read journals and talk to scientists every day--I'm still very much in science," said Stella M. Hurtley, senior editor at Science. All panelists said their education and/or the skills they gained while getting their Ph.D.s are called upon daily in their jobs.

The six panelists--all with Ph.D.s and most with postdoc experience--left the lab for careers in editing, tech transfer, regulatory affairs, corporate communications, consulting, or patents. Iain Thomas, manager of life science and technology for Cambridge Enterprise, a company that commercializes technology from the University of Cambridge, encouraged the audience to consider alternative careers at the first sign of not being happy in the lab so that if they have to make a change, it's from a position of knowledge and understanding. "I think that being scared of change is one reason people end up in their postdocs as long as they do," he said.

Patent attorney Zoe Clyde-Watson conceded that a Ph.D. and postdoc experience may not be required to become a patent attorney, but she noted that, more and more, firms are looking for very specialized scientific experience that can best be gained by getting a Ph.D. in a specific area.

Although her Ph.D. gave her essential expertise for her job in regulatory affairs, Davina Stevenson, senior regulatory officer at Mundipharma Research Ltd., said it was really the soft skills she learned during her Ph.D. that landed her interviews outside of the lab and aided her transition to a new career. The six panelists listed the soft skills that they rely on: meeting deadlines, solving problems, being an independent thinker, understanding how research works and the speed at which science happens, being proactive, having good writing and communication skills, and having good organizational, interpersonal, and analytical skills.

Each of the careers represented by the panelists calls for a specific skill set, and in the afternoon, Anne Forde, careers adviser for life science at Cambridge (and a former Science Careers editor), highlighted and explored the skills are best suited to a variety of alternative careers, including management consultancy, editing, science writing, tech transfer, and regulatory affairs. The 140 attendees contributed ideas on the abilities required for specific roles. These were then compared to the aptitudes that employers in those fields generally say are necessary and that they look for during the recruitment process.

In a second workshop, Seema Sharma, European program director for ScienceCareers.org, discussed the differences between a conventional CV and a skills-based CV. A skills-based CV should include:

  • Your name in large letters
  • Contact details
  • Education (most recent degree first)
  • A brief employment outline (most recent position first)
  • Relevant skills drawn from employment, work experience, additional skills and activities
  • References 

This CV format is particularly suited to people in a career transition, as its focus is on skills that match the employers' requirements rather than on past education and training whose relevance may not be obvious at first. Many of these skills are hidden in a conventional CV.

Listen to a podcast of the event here.

Dear Editor,

It was a great day when I read the article Running in Place (“You're running as fast as you can. Why aren't you getting anywhere? Our newest columnists provide some traction.”)

It was an afternoon. I was worried because I was working as hard as I could, but I didn’t reach one of the main objectives given by my supervisor.

The advice about the way to improve our time [management] was very helpful this precise moment--and the next 3 months.

I also bought the book, [and] kept in mind and applied some precious comments!

I hope to master my structural biology Ph.D.

Moreover, it was an exciting week at Paris “For women in science, 2007 –UNESCO& L’Oreal”

So thanks a lot!!

Cathelène

I recently interviewed Dennis Gillings, the founder of Quintiles Transnational, a contract pharmaceutical-services firm that now employs 16,000 people in 50-plus countries on six continents. Gillings just pledged $50 million to the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina (UNC), where he was a faculty member before starting Quintiles. The idea behind his gift was to increase “innovation” at the school of public health and in public-health research generally. Gillings wants to stimulate research that doesn't stop at clever inventions. Gillings aims to help the school create comprehensive solutions to public-health problems, including the necessary inventions but also methods for their implementation.

Gillings's comments struck a lot of familiar chords. For one thing, they resonated with a recent study from Forrester Research (access to the study costs $400, but here's an InformationWeek article about it) concluding that the big chunk of GDP countries invest in research and development each year is wasted (in an economic sense) because they lack a comprehensive innovation strategy.

Second, his comments resonated with the theme of this month's (indeed, most months') Opportunities column by Peter Fiske, on developing the skills you need to maximize the impact of your work. I discussed my Gillings interview with Fiske as he was writing the piece, and he cites it in his column.

Finally, he reminded me of the comments of Google co-founder Larry Page at the recent AAAS meeting in San Francisco:

       

"There are lots of people who specialize in marketing, but as far as I can tell, none of them work for you," Page told researchers at the meeting. "Let's talk about solving some worldwide problems."

 

Here's an article on Page's presentation, also from InformationWeek.

Here's a partial transcript of my interview with Gillings:

       

“I think a strong scientific base is a great thing to step out from. But you've got to be capable of both vertical and horizontal thinking. In other words, you can't poo-poo management, you can't poo-poo accounting. You've got to say, 'I've got to learn this stuff. It's just as important as the science.' But it's always good to build on a good scientific base, because I always like people who really know something, and then build from there. I do think that scientists often don't take the trouble to learn, say, the accounting side, the human resources side, the management side, enough to be able to function very effectively as a good businessman.

 
       

One challenge I've given to Dean Rimer [Barbara Rimer, Dean of UNC's School of Public Health] is that we've got to teach more economics and more business principles to the graduates. Certainly many public-health problems in the developed world are going to be not only about the idea but also can you pay for and do the idea and can you do it cost-effectively. So I think economic and business principles are going to be very important in the future for training public health graduates.”

 
       

—Dennis Gillings

 

Gillings comments, I think, apply not just to entrepreneurship in the narrow sense, or even just to leveraging business and economic principles to maximize the impact of your work. I think they can be generalized. Don't stop at publishing a paper and don't think the science is the only thing that matters. Choose important problems--problems with what the National Science Foundation dubs "broader impacts"--and use the science (and other essential skills) to make a difference, whatever that might mean to you.

In my article on the new EMBO Installation grants, I wrote that although scientists from western Europe can apply for the grants, they must be in the process of establishing themselves in one of Europe's less-well-off countries. For the first competition (applications due 15 April) is limited to applicants established in Croatia, the Czech Repubic, Estonia, Poland, Turkey, and--one geographic outlier--Portugal.

But according to programme manager Gerlind Wallon the scheme may include other countries in the future. While initially the new EMBO scheme was intended to help Central European countries, "All countries have been invited to participate," Wallon says, and each decides for itself how many scientists they want to help relocate. Those countries must then provide funding for the awards. "At present, also some Western countries are debating possible participation," says Wallon.

So, if your country isn't one of the six participating in the first competition, keep an eye on the EMBO Web site to find out whether it will participate in the future.

I recently interviewed Dennis Gillings, the founder of Quintiles Transnational, a contract pharmaceutical-services firm that now employs 16,000 people in 50-plus countries on six continents. Gillings just pledged $50 million to the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina (UNC), where he was a faculty member before starting Quintiles. The idea behind his gift was to increase “innovation” at the school of public health and in public-health research generally. Gillings wants to stimulate research that doesn't stop at clever inventions. Gillings aims to help the school create comprehensive solutions to public-health problems, including the necessary inventions but also methods for their implementation.

Gillings's comments struck a lot of familiar chords. For one thing, they resonated with a recent study from Forrester Research (access to the study costs $400, but here's an InformationWeek article about it) concluding that the big chunk of GDP countries invest in research and development each year is wasted (in an economic sense) because they lack a comprehensive innovation strategy.

Second, his comments resonated with the theme of this month's (indeed, most months') Opportunities column by Peter Fiske, on developing the skills you need to maximize the impact of your work. I discussed my Gillings interview with Fiske as he was writing the piece, and he cites it in his column.

Finally, he reminded me of the comments of Google co-founder Larry Page at the recent AAAS meeting in San Francisco:

"There are lots of people who specialize in marketing, but as far as I can tell, none of them work for you," Page told researchers at the meeting. "Let's talk about solving some worldwide problems."

Here's an article on Page's presentation, also from InformationWeek.

Here's a partial transcript of my interview with Gillings:

“I think a strong scientific base is a great thing to step out from. But you've got to be capable of both vertical and horizontal thinking. In other words, you can't poo-poo management, you can't poo-poo accounting. You've got to say, 'I've got to learn this stuff. It's just as important as the science.' But it's always good to build on a good scientific base, because I always like people who really know something, and then build from there. I do think that scientists often don't take the trouble to learn, say, the accounting side, the human resources side, the management side, enough to be able to function very effectively as a good businessman.

One challenge I've given to Dean Rimer [Barbara Rimer, Dean of UNC's School of Public Health] is that we've got to teach more economics and more business principles to the graduates. Certainly many public-health problems in the developed world are going to be not only about the idea but also can you pay for and do the idea and can you do it cost-effectively. So I think economic and business principles are going to be very important in the future for training public health graduates.”

—Dennis Gillings

Gillings comments, I think, apply not just to entrepreneurship in the narrow sense, or even just to leveraging business and economic principles to maximize the impact of your work. I think they can be generalized. Don't stop at publishing a paper and don't think the science is the only thing that matters. Choose important problems--problems with what the National Science Foundation dubs "broader impacts"--and use the science (and other essential skills) to make a difference, whatever that might mean to you.

For our loyal readers of Science Careers Weblogs, here are the links to their previous incarnations and all of the earlier posts:

Americas | Europe

Thank you for your continued readership and support of Science Careers.