Science Careers Blog

July 2007

July 31, 2007

Historias con Ciencia

The Spanish National Museum for Science and Technology in Madrid has just launched its first amateur competition for short films on scientific issues, called Historias con Ciencia. The films must focus on the problems and positives associated with at least one of the scientific advances and challenges listed in the announcement: intelligent houses, medicine and nanotechnology, the Internet and "real virtuality," climate models, genetic manipulation in humans, and mental dysfunction. The quality of the script, execution of the video, and the scientific content will be evaluated. The video should last less than 10 minutes and be presented either in Spanish or with Spanish subtitles. Entries should be submitted to the museum between 1 and 18 October 2007. Only young--under 35--Spanish people or people living in Spain are eligible to enter.

Museum visitors will be able to view the films during this year's Science Week (between 9 and 18 November; yes, we know that's a 9-day week). Winners will be announced on 18 November. The first prize is 2,500 euros, the second, 1,500 euros, and the third, 1,000 euros.

July 31, 2007

Help Us Stay Informed

We want to make the Science Careers blog the best source extant of up-to-the-minute information on scientific careers--but we need your help.

Find something interesting and career-related online? Something going on at your institution that the larger scientific community might be interested in? Recent job-market trends in your region (or nationally) that you've become aware of? Please send a note to Jim Austin, Editor of Science Careers. We'll share credit or keep it anonymous--whatever you wish.

They've been having some fun over at the Science Careers Forum as forum host and moderator Dave Jensen hosted a "cowboy wisdom" contest. He posted a list of aphorisms and asked posters to choose one (or more) and apply it to careers. Several of the entries were pretty good, but this one (by poster "Ken") stole the show and carried away the prizes (a bunch of career-related books):

"Never ask a barber if he thinks you need a haircut."

Well, lemme tell y'all about a low point in my life as young gene wrangler. I mean, it was lower than a caterpillar's belly. I took to feelin’ like I been rode hard and hung up wet. I looked around my little old laboratory and I begin to wonderin’ if there ain’t somethin’ else out there. My wonderin’ turn to thinkin’ and my thinkin’ got me talkin’ about looking outside of this here little fenced in patch of dirt.

The head of the laboratory, a lifelong cowpoke, gets to hearin’ me and he pulls me aside one day, and he says, “Why don’t you saddle up beside me, hoss. We’re gonna have ourselves a little talk.”

Well, he ain’t never taken much interest in my wonderin’s before, so I say, “Well, that would be mighty fine!”

He sits me down and he points his finger far outside the fences of our little laboratory to a spot out there on the horizon and he says, “Beautiful, ain’t she?”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “I been wonderin’ what’s out there. You reckon there ain’t other jobs out there for a guy what been wranglin’ up genes for near ten turns of the seasons? I mean, there ain’t been no job openin’ up to run my own herd ‘round these parts. A man gets to thinkin’ if maybe there ain’t somethin’ else he’s suited to.”

Well, his face got more serious than a junebug in a glass of sasparilla, and he says to me, “Hoss, there ain’t nothin’ out there for you. Them other ranches are institutionalized. Alls they care about is profits and losses. Young ranch hand like you would be eaten up and used. I reckon you should get back to your bench now. You sit tight and keep on wranglin’. Somethin’ll come along very soon for you. Ain’t nothin’ outside these here fences.”

Well, I got back to my bench, but that there sunset, well, she kept callin’ to me. She was so bright from here. Seemed to me that the only one gettin’ anything out of all my wranglin’ at the bench was the old cowpoke who ran this outfit. Seemed impossible that there weren’t nothin’ out there. Maybe that old cowpoke don’t know what he’s talkin’ about. Maybe he does know what he’s talkin’ about, and he just want to make sure that this ranch hand keeps this outfit wranglin’.

So, one day, I waited till the boss' back was turned, and I headed out to that horizon. I swear she never got no closer nomatter how far I went and there's stories to be told about that journey and the mountains what had to be climbed, but damn if one day I didn’t happen to find myself in a new ranch.

Life in this ranch was much different. Yeah, this ranch had her eyes set on turnin’ a profit, but I declare that this weren’t a bad thing! Seemed to me, the wranglin' was much the same as I had known before. But, I swear I saw equipment I ain’t never seen before. Sure made my gene wranglin’ much faster. Damn if I couldn’t wrangle up some things that I never thought could be done before. I also got myself an outfit of ranch hands who all pitch in to get the wranglin’ done faster than a long tailed cat in room full of rockin’ chairs. And, I can’t be for sure, but it do seem that the bosses of this here ranch want to make sure that when I bunk down for the night, that my head is a’layin’ a bit more comfortable so’s I’m rested up for the next day’s gene wranglin’.

I guess what I’m a’tryin’ to say is, askin’ a cowpoke who ain’t never been off the ranch if you should look at other opportunities outside them fences is like askin’ a barber if you need a haircut.

In the recently updated guide in Science Careers on getting an R01 grant from National Institutes of Health (NIH), we noted the rewards and risks of proposing particularly innovative research in your R01 grant application. The same week our R01 guide appeared, NIH issued a new request for applications called "EUREKA     (Exceptional Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration)" as part of the R01 series.

The EUREKA grants, the NIH announcement says, encourage "exceptionally innovative research" that can be applied to the missions of the five participating NIH institutes: the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). For EUREKA, NIH is looking for proposals "testing novel, unconventional hypotheses, or are pursuing major methodological or technical challenges." NIH wants research that makes a big difference, either in terms of numbers of potential beneficiaries or the size of the impact on the target community.

EUREKA grants are not made for pilot projects, and they aren't renewable. If the research aims to test a novel hypothesis, NIH wants investigators to be able to prove or disprove that hypothesis within the funding period. If the project is developing a technology, the grant recipients need to develop that technology within the funding period or show that the technology isn't feasible.

To emphasize the premium being put on innovation and to highlight how this program is different from other R01 announcements, proposal reviewers will receive a different set of criteria for reviewing applications...

Reviewers will be instructed to focus their evaluations on significance and innovation, and these criteria will be the primary basis for funding decisions. They will be told that unavoidable risk is acceptable, as long as the probability of success is not zero. The PI’s record of overcoming difficult scientific hurdles, appropriate to the career stage of the applicant, may be useful in assessing the likelihood of success, although the focus of this initiative is on the project, rather than the investigator.

Another difference from the traditional R01: EUREKA applications have one deadline--24 October 2007--rather than the three standard R01 due dates during the year. GrantsNet has an overview of the EUREKA grants. The NIH site has the full announcement.

Hat tip: Alison Chandler, AAAS (Facebook registration required).

Brian May, lead guitarist for Queen, has submitted his Ph.D. dissertation, according to Reuters.

Hat tip: We've been following May's science career for a few months now, but learned about this latest development on Slashdot.

The Institute for Education Sciences, part of the U.S. Department of Education, has released its Digest of Education Statistics, 2006, a compilation of statistical information covering American education from pre-K through graduate school. Among the bits potentially interesting to Science Careers readers are these:

* Bachelor's degrees in the sciences and engineering, which have trended downwards since a peak in the early '90's, seem to have started up again at the turn of the millennium. For example, bachelor's degrees in mathematics fell by 15% between the 1994-95 school year and the 1999-2000 school year but then rose by 26% between that year and 2004-05.

* Computer and information sciences showed strong growth over the whole period. The number of bachelor's degrees granted rose 53% in the first 5 year period (1994-95 to 1999-2000) and another 43% between 1999-2000 and 2004-05.

* The number of doctoral degrees granted in the physical sciences fell by nearly 10% between 1999-2000 and 2003-04, to 4025.

* In 2003-04, women came within a hair of parity with men in earning life-sciences doctorates. Women earned 49.5% of all life-science doctorates, compared to 46.7% at the turn of the millennium.

* Doctorates awarded to members of racial and ethnic minority groups were quite flat over that period but down slightly in some categories.

* The average life scientist spends 7 years in graduate school before earning a doctorate, unchanged since the early '90s (when it reached a plateau after a steady increase.

* The average physical scientist spends  6.4 years in graduate school before earning a Ph.D., slightly shorter than people who finished their degrees 5 years earlier.

* Engineering doctorates granted were up sharply--about 10%--after several years' decline, reaching their highest level since 1996-97.

Today, the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology held the second in a series of hearings on off-shoring--the movement of U.S. science and technology jobs overseas. But the focus of this hearing was different from many others: it focused on American universities opening campuses off-shore.

"As an increasing number of American universities establish campuses in foreign countries, many questions and concerns are arising about the impacts this will have on American students, job opportunities, and competitiveness. To address this, we must learn more about how university globalization will impact our country's pre-eminence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics," said Research and Science Education Subcommittee Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA), who chaired the hearing.

In an opening statement, Committee Chairman Bart Gordon said that "…having a STEM degree, even from a top school, no longer guarantees lifelong employment in a well-paying job in the United States. Our students are increasingly competing with well-trained, low cost employees in countries such as India and China. Universities are our first line of defense in ensuring our leadership in the global economy by giving our scientists and engineers the special skills they need to set themselves apart from the global competition.”

But now, universities themselves are moving off-shore.

Baird added: “In some respects American universities have been global for many years. They have attracted large numbers of foreign students, particularly in STEM fields at the graduate level. But off-shoring is giving high quality foreign students outstanding job opportunities in their home countries. This may make it less likely that foreign students will stay in the U.S. after graduation, and may make it less desirable to come to the U.S. to study in the first place. So, American universities are taking their education to foreign students by building campuses and offering STEM degree programs in other countries." Most agree, however, that so far the numbers are small.

  Opening statements by Baird and Gordon, as well as the statements by the four witnesses (David J. Skorton, president of Cornell University; Gary Schuster, provost and vice president for academic affairs of Georgia Institute of Technology; Mark Wessel, dean of the Heinz School of Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University; and Philip Altbach, the Monan professor of higher education and director of the center for international higher education at Boston College) are available on the committee's Web site. (You'll find the links in the left column.)

July 26, 2007

Get it Moving

Europe has long been keen to promote the mobility of its students and workers in science and technology and to attract foreign talent. A recent report from Eurostat, the Statistical Office of the European Commission, suggests that many Europeans prefer to stay at home.

Looking at 2004 figures on tertiary (post-graduate) science students in the 27 EU nations, the report found that only 7.8%--around 123,000 students--came from another European country or further ashore. Cyprus topped the diversity list with 21.5% of its post-graduate science students coming from abroad, followed by the U.K. (16.3%), Austria (14.1%), Germany (12.1%), and then Denmark and Sweden (11.3%). The star European destination for science students was clearly the United Kingdom: a third of all expatriate students across Europe chose to study there.

Looking at 2006 figures on the mobility of the European scientific workforce, the report found that the share of science and technology workers living outside their own country was 5.7% across the EU-27. About half of these came from other European countries. The country that fared best in terms of workforce diversity was Luxembourg; 46% of its scientific workforce was foreign. Next came Switzerland (18.4%), Estonia (15.2%), Cyprus (14.2%), and Ireland (10.3%).

Other than pleasing European politicians, there are many good reasons to go abroad during your scientific studies and the early stages of your career. The experience may be unnerving and challenging at first, but almost all of those who made the jump found it rewarding, professionally and personally. In case you missed it, a recent Science Careers article explored the pros and cons of doing your Ph.D. abroad and offered some practical tips on, for example, funding for training.

If you feel like discussing your (working) experiences abroad or are burning to hear about others', you may join José Fernández of Science Careers, and other young scientists, on Facebook. If you don't have a Facebook account you will need to open one, but it's free.

In the life and physical sciences, researchers learn early the virtues of collaboration. The sharing of authorship among a team of researchers is commonplace (if imperfect).

Writing in Inside Higher Education, Scott Jaschikin says that in the social sciences and humanities scientific articles are more likely to have a single author. Political scientists are trying to get a better handle on the ethics of collaborative processes as collaborative research becomes more common in that discipline. It's interesting to watch them engaging an issue that's very familiar in science but still unsolved. 

Last year the American Political Science Association (APSA) established a working group to study issues involving collaboration, which published its report in late June. The panel identified key ethical and procedural questions and cataloged current practices for addressing these questions. The goal apparently was to create more discussion among political scientists about collaborative research. The working group noted an increase in collaboration and multiple authorship in its discipline, but at the same time found more participation of untenured faculty and graduate students working with more senior faculty members. Much of the report focuses on these asymmetrical relationships and identifies procedures for assigning credit for contributions made by team participants.

The report also raises the question of how to integrate collaborative work as part of a graduate student's training while still encouraging independent thinking. But the committee does not go far beyond raising questions, noting that "our purpose is to create a context for this discussion – and not to lay down rules."  The discussion has begun, with comments already appearing on a message board, and a panel on this topic planned for APSA's annual meeting.

Hat tip: Ric Weibl, AAAS

When you start seeing terms like "postdoc" on the Washington Post opinion pages, perhaps the concerns of early-career scientists are beginning to get traction among policy makers.  In today's Washington Post, economist Gene Sperling takes President Bush to task for a threatened veto of a proposed increase the National Institutes of Health budget in an op-ed titled "How to Get Fewer Scientists".

Sperling, chief economic adviser to the President during Bill Clinton's second term and now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, shows how underfunding science agencies like NIH discourages younger scientists and students (thus the reference to postdocs). He also describes how spending money on science often encourages entrepreneurial activity and job creation.

Who knows ... maybe they'll talk about it on Meet The Press!

An excellent post on the Wired Science Blog:

Get research experience early on. Working in an academic lab provides a wealth of benefits. It will allow you to see the big picture of how research works. More important than this, you will meet graduate students and postdoctoral scholars that are often good role models.

Lots of good advice here from one Aaron Rowe.

July 24, 2007

Watch that Space

Two French Grandes Ecoles d´Ingénieurs specialised in space and aeronautics--SUPAERO and ENSICA, both based in Toulouse--have merged into the Institut Supérieur de l´Aéronautique et de l´Espace (ISAE) to more effectively meet the challenges that come with internationalisation. By pooling their resources, scientific networks, and reputations, the two Ecoles hope to increase their attractiveness internationally and become the European leader for higher education and research in space and aeronautics.

With around 240 permanent staffers in research and education, the ISAE now offers 30 Masters' degrees, six doctoral programmes, and two highly specialised courses for ingénieurs to 1,500 students, total. The institute has 66 international student exchange programmes with 22 countries across Europe and North America, and an Erasmus Mundus Master's degree in aeronautics and space technology. The institute will also aim to develop research partnerships with major institutes like the French Aerospace Lab ONERA.

The new institute will be launched in September this year.

"Women contribute a huge amount to teaching and research... but career barriers are preventing them from reaching their full potential. There is far more that could be done to create a level playing field in education and research." Thus spoke Anita Holdcroft, co-chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) Medical Academic Staff Committee, about the representation of female clinicians in academic medicine in the United Kingdom.

Holdcroft led a national study--the Women in Academic Medicine (WAM) survey--that looked at the experience of 1,162 medical doctors in the National Health Service (NHS) and at higher education institutions across the United Kingdom. Around 40% of those surveyed worked in higher education, and three-quarters were female. The survey's findings, released last week, tell some interesting tales. Here are the most relevant ones:

While 40% of medical graduates have been female in the last 20 years,

* only 2 out of the 33 heads of U.K. medical school are women

* only 11% of clinical professors are female.

In terms of job responsibilities,

* 14% of the male doctors who responded to the survey were medical journals editors, versus 6% for women

* 30% of men were on grant-giving panels compare to 20% of the women.

In terms of career progression:

* 43% of the male respondents reported having received encouragement from senior colleagues to apply for promotion, against 38% for women

* 77% of men felt they had some knowledge of the promotion processes, versus 61% of the women.

More findings, a series of recommendations, and a webcast of the conference launching the report may all be accessed from the BMA Web site.

The UK Grad Programme, which represents postgraduate students, launched a new magazine this year called GRADBritain. They've just posted their second issue. Once you register, you'll receive a PDF of it. The editor, Paul Wicks, appeared in Science Careers news articles earlier this year (specifically, here and here). Happy reading!

July 20, 2007

Use Your Summer Wisely

Julie Miller Vick and Jennifer S. Furlong provide some essential (non-beach) summer reading at the Chronicle of Higher Education's Career Network.

Film Independent, an organization in Los Angeles that supports independent film and filmmakers, trains budding filmmakers in its Producer's Lab--an intensive 7-week course that includes one-on-one tutorials with established producers and directors. Past graduates have been invited to screen their Producer's Lab projects at the Los Angeles and Sundance film festivals, while other films from the Producer's Lab have been released in theaters and received Oscar nominations.

What does all this have to do with science? Film Independent recently received a 2-year grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for science communicators to develop films with scientific and technical themes and see them through commercial production and distribution. This week, the organization announced its first competition for a slot in this program, which is known as the Sloan Producer's Lab.

The winner will receive not only admission into the Producer's Lab, but also a $25,000 development grant to help fund the film project. Applicants must submit a screenplay as part of the application and be willing to serve as the film's producer. Scripts must have a scientific or technical theme and feature a scientist, engineer, or mathematician as a leading character. The deadline is 28 August.

More details of the new program and the application are available on the Film Independent Web site.

At its annual research faculty summit on Monday, Microsoft announced plans to issue nearly $6 million in grants for external advanced research in computer science and related disciplines. More than half of the money ($3.7 million) will go for the following topics:

- Cell phones as a platform for health care, to develop prototypes and tools that use cell phones to access better health care services in rural and urban communities

- Biomedical computing, to encourage better data usage and analysis in genome-wide association studies to provide a stronger framework for eventual personalized treatment methods

- Intelligent Web 3.0, to help find, discover, extract, publish, and share information, at a desk or on the go, safely, to make the Web more meaningful and develop a more human-centric, context-aware model of information access

- Mechanisms for safe and scalable multi-core computing, for research into how operating systems and run times can evolve to enable safe and scalable concurrent programs

- Sustainable computing, to devise innovative approaches to system architectures that optimize power use, as well as research in power management for improving the energy efficiency of computing infrastructure

- Human-robot interaction, to improve human-robot interactions by developing  tools and methods that lead to practical applications with realistic commercial potential within 5 to 10 years

Microsoft plans to spend $500,000 to $1,000,000 on each of these topics.

The company announced one new award: the A. Richard Newton Breakthrough Research Award, which will provide $1 million across several projects for what it calls "breakthrough academic research" in computational and multidisciplinary areas. The award honors the late A. Richard Newton, former dean of the College of Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of Microsoft Research’s Technical Advisory Board. Newton died in January.

Microsoft will also continue its New Faculty Fellowship program, where it will award $1 million to 5 early-career researchers on college and university faculties. This is the fourth year of the program, which, the announcement says, funds "creative research by promising researchers who have the potential to make a profound impact on the state of the art in their respective research disciplines."

RFPs for these programs have not yet been released, but we're keeping an eye on the Microsoft Research site, and will let you know when they appear.

In 2004 the European Commission launched the Erasmus Mundus funding scheme to spur the creation of joint masters programmes between universities of at least three different European countries and attract foreign students to those programmes. So far 80 European Masters' programmes covering all disciplines have been established, involving 323 European and foreign universities. In addition, Erasmus Mundus has offered around 5,500 scholarships to students coming from India, China, Brazil, Russia, and 100 other non-European countries to study in Europe for one of these Master's programmes. Erasmus Mundus has also funded 500 foreign scholars so they may teach or do research in Europe in the context of these Masters' courses.

European students also have access to the new European Masters' courses, and about 1,000 European students in the programme have received scholarships to spend three months at a foreign partner institution.

Erasmus Mundus was scheduled to end in 2008, but the European Commission decided last week to inject 950 million euros to keep the proramme running until 2013. The new funding will do more than just keep the programme running, however.

The scope of Erasmus Mundus will expand to create joint doctoral programmes and offer scholarships to foreign and European Ph.D. students and academics to take part in these. The amount of the scholarships will be revised so that they are in line with international schemes like the Fulbright scholarships. As a guideline, a foreign masters student coming to Europe may expect 24,000 euros per year. In addition, Erasmus Mundus will integrate and expand an existing (but so far separate) programme to support partnerships between European and foreign institutions and offer short-term grants for the exchange of students and other academics. Details will be refined and confirmed before the new programme components are launched in 2009.

A story in the British press today (take your pick: the Guardian, the Telegraph, the BBC) serves as a reminder that the things we do and say in cyberspace are public. According to the article, administrators at Oxford University are taking disciplinary action against students based on photographs found on public Facebook profiles. The university is issuing fines to students for "anti-social behaviour" that violates the university's conduct regulations.

The Oxford University Student Union posted a notice stating, "While the Student Union does not condone unruly, violent, or disorderly behaviour, we believe that the privacy of our members should be protected and that disciplinary procedures at all levels within the University should be fair and transparent." The notice suggests that students change the privacy settings on their Facebook profiles so the profiles can only be seen by friends and classmates.

The actions were aimed mostly at undergraduates celebrating a bit too much after exams. Still, it's a good time to remind ourselves that, if you're not ridiculously careful, blogs, blog posts, forum posts, MySpace pages, Facebook profiles, Yahoo group discussions, etc., can all be traced back to you. And that's all fine and dandy when your blog is about sharing news in your field or listing what you had for breakfast. But if you use your blog or a web forum to write about what a jerk your boss is, put whole minutes of thought into who might read it and whether it can be traced back to you. It's not just your supervisor who might see it--co-workers and potential employers might stumble across it, too, and it'll quite possibly be archived publicly forever and ever.

Happy blogging!

A survey of employer members of the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) suggests that students who do internships often get job offers from those organizations after graduation. NACE announced the results of the survey last week. The 233 employers said they offered full-time jobs to nearly two-thirds of their interns, with nearly half of those accepting. The employers also reported that 3 of 10 new graduates hired from the class of 2006 had taken part in their internship programs.

Camille Luckenbaugh, NACE's research director, tells us by e-mail that almost all (98.3%) of the employers in the survey paid their interns. Those paid interns earned an average of about $16.00 an hour but, Luckenbaugh says, science-and technology interns earned a little more. Engineering interns average $17.12 per hour and undergraduate science majors averaged $15.61 per hour, while non-technical majors earned just $15.00 per hour.

NACE is an organization of university career counselors and industry human-resources specialists involved in college recruiting for their companies. So this survey may describe hiring practices of companies that regularly recruit college grads, and thus may not be typical of employers overall. Nonetheless, the results suggest that internships can enhance your post-graduate employment chances and defray a few expenses in the process.

July 13, 2007

Excuses, Excuses.

A new study published in the journal Educational Management Administration & Leadership implies that it's not just students who make excuses for failing to meet their responsibilities. The study's authors, Lisa A. Burke, an associate professor of management at Louisiana State University at Shreveport, and Barbara L. Rau, a professor of management and human resources at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, write that

While we are not aware of any published empirical evidence to suggest the prevalence of faculty excuse-making, anecdotal support indicates that faculty are at least as prone to engage in it as other workplace counterparts. Moreover, due to the important role of higher education in society (e.g. International Science, Technology, & Environmental Education Newsletter, 2004; Miller, 1967), and the ego-involvement of faculty in their jobs (e.g. Cote and Levine, 1992; Rivkin, 1993; Shelley-Sireci and Leary, 1996), it appears that college faculty are primed for offering excuses to manage impressions others may develop of their performance.

In fact,

college faculty may be even more prone to engage in excuse-making behaviors, given their high ego-involvement, increasing external expectations for their performance, and the growing monitoring and evaluation of their teaching, research and service performance.

"Managing Chronic Excuse-making Behaviors of Faculty" explains how administrators can manage the tendency of professors to make excuses using something called Schlenker’s responsibility triangle. "Attention is given," says the paper's abstract, "to strategies for preventing excuses from becoming a chronic and unwanted behavior for faculty to use when justifying performance shortcomings." Their prescription?

it is important that administrators work to modify the situational antecedents of excuse-making behaviors, select the right people to join their institutions, as well as encourage honesty and self-awareness among their faculty in order to increase university performance.

What's most interesting about this isn't the scholarship, but what the paper's existence implies: that administrators gossip about untrustworthy faculty in much the same way that professors talk about unreliable students.

It's Friday afternoon at the end of a hard work week--time to go get a beer. Those ungraded papers will wait. After all, it's not like any of your students is every going to look at them. And besides, you were stuck in that committee meeting all morning...

Hat Tip: The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The folks over at Science Creative Quarterly are taking the summer off, but they're keeping the site fresh by resurrecting their best items throughout the week. On Thursday, they reposted Brian Sack's "The Craigslist Euthanist Theory." Sack posted on Craigslist a legitimate-sounding job advert for a euthanasia expert at an animal-science facility. The resulting e-mail responses are pretty funny--or pretty unsettling. Or something.

Before I linked to the post, I e-mailed Sack to check that he actually did the experiment and that the e-mail responses were real. "Yes, they're real," he writes. "It's just not as funny when you make that stuff up."

Last week, the first recipients of the L’Oreal U.K. For Women In Science Fellowships were announced. This week, the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) and the Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS) launched a new award for female life scientists.

This year's L'Oréal U.K. fellowship winners are Theresa Burt de Perera of the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford, U.K., who is investigating the cognitive capacity of fish; Seirian Sumner of the Institute of Zoology at the Zoological Society of London who studies the origins of sociality in simple insect societies; and Araxi Odabachian of the Institute of Medical Genetics at Cardiff University whose research has shown that genes are not ordered randomly but rather are sorted according to their levels of activity.

The winner of the L’Oréal/UKRC For Women In Science "Women Returner" Fellowship is Anna Git of Cancer Research U.K.'s Cambridge Research Institute. Git studies antibodies that are known markers of cancer.

Each winner will receive £10,000 to advance their careers, be it to buy equipment, pay for child-care, or pay for attending an overseas conference.

The U.K. awards, sponsored by L'Oréal, the U.K. National Commission for UNESCO, the Royal Institution of Great Britain, and the U.K. Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology, are a national version of the L'Oréal-UNESCO International Fellowships, which are awarded annually to 15 young women in the life sciences at the graduate or postdoctoral level. Applications for the 2008 international fellowships are due by 14 September, but some countries (such as the U.K.) have earlier deadlines because they administer the program nationally and then submit their top candidates.

Also this week, EMBO and FEBS announced the launch of a new award to "highlight the major contributions being made by female life scientists to European research and to present inspiring role models for future generations of women in science."

The annual award will honor a European woman scientist with 10,000 euro, and the recipient will present a plenary lecture at the FEBS Congress, which in 2008 will be in Athens, Greece. Nominees should have made outstanding contributions to life sciences research in the last 5 years and advanced understanding of a particular discipline. The deadline for nominations is 15 August, and the details are at

Every federal agency has an inspector general's office that acts as the internal auditor of the agency's finances and is the group charged with rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse in that agency. The National Science Foundation's Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently issued the first of this fiscal year's semi-annual reports, covering the period ending on 31 March 2007. The report included evidence of plagiarism on several proposals submitted to NSF.

Perhaps even more disturbing was the report of some PIs who blamed unnamed graduate students or postdocs for the plagiarism rather than taking responsibility for the problem. The OIG's report cites the NSF's Grant Proposal Guide, which states that "Authors other than the PI (or any co-PI) should be named and acknowledged.” These additional authors may include graduate students, postdocs, and even freelance writers hired to polish the text.

Not naming all of the authors also prevents the OIG from getting to the bottom of plagiarism cases. The report says, "If the explanation provided indicates that an unnamed individual (such as a graduate student or postdoc) was responsible for the copied text, we contact that individual to confirm the explanation. Unfortunately, many times these individuals have left the university, and in some cases, the country, making it nearly impossible to validate the explanation."

The OIG puts responsibility for the integrity of a proposal squarely on the PI. "We believe that final responsibility for the contents of the proposal ultimately resides with the named authors of the proposal—the PI and the co-PIs. Recent university investigation committees share this view. Therefore, PIs should carefully review any written materials that their students and postdocs provide as a part of a submitted proposal to ensure they meet the high scholarship standards required of an NSF proposal."

Hat-tip: Ric Weibl, AAAS.

In the 1 July issue of Parade, a magazine inserted into the Sunday editions of many newspapers in the United States, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao says that the bad attitude of American workers, particularly younger workers, contributes to the threat of outsourcing overseas. In a section in Parade's "Intelligence Report" called "How Safe is Your Job?", Secretary Chao says, “American employees must be punctual, dress appropriately, and have good personal hygiene.” Chao adds, “They need anger-management and conflict-resolution skills, and they have to be able to accept direction. Too many young people bristle when a supervisor asks them to do something.”

Parade's online version noted that "Many readers have expressed their concern about Labor Secretary Elaine Chao’s comments" and offered Secretary Chao an opportunity to clarify her remarks. In the follow-up article, she says the article did not reflect her original statements and added, "It is important that first time entrants to our workforce be aware that technical skills, degrees, and a tight job market will aid their success but basic professionalism is also essential to advance and contribute in the workplace. These fundamentals – including punctuality and appropriate workplace decorum – will affect their future."

Yes, punctuality and workplace decorum, along with anger-management, can certainly help one's career.  But they won't help much if the kind of good-paying jobs that encourage hope in the future disappear. According to the Economic Policy Institute, employment rates of college graduates age 25-35 have risen from 84.3% in 2003 to 86.5% in 2006, but are still below the 87.4% reached in 2000.  Moreover, real hourly wages for this group have fallen during much of the same period, from $24.54 in 2001 to $23.60 in 2006. I bet more good jobs with higher pay would do wonders for workplace decorum.

The National Whale Conservation Fund is calling for research and development proposals to keep whales out of commercial fishing nets and prevent whales and ships from running into each other. The 2007 RFP is posted on the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Web site. The deadline for applications is 8 August.

The Fund expects to award some $450,000 for these projects, in amounts ranging from $50,000 to $200,000. Academic institutions, not-for-profit organizations, and private companies in the United States and overseas may compete for these grants. U.S. federal agencies are encouraged to collaborate with private-sector organizations. Applicants will need to propose matching funds, with 1:1 matches or better deemed the most competitive. However, matches can include in-kind or volunteer services as well as cash.

(With apologies to Ms. Frizzle of the Magic School bus cartoon series) This post is a little different from our normal fare, but it seems like a good choice for a Friday afternoon.

Thomas S. Mullaney, Assistant Professor of Modern Chinese History at Stanford University, recently published a lovely post on the unofficial stanford blog. "Purism, aka, The Near Life Experience" describes an experience on a long flight to China involving a medical emergency and rusty language skills. There's no practical connection to scientific careers, but his conclusion reminds me of the theme of Peter Fiske's "Opportunities" series:

Replace your purism with audacity, that precious reservoir of self-confidence that allows a person to plow forward through a life checkered with faults and errors. To live is to live impurely. To speak is to make mistakes. To begin to write is to write badly. Purism is paralysis.

Perfection is boring.

Trust me, I'm sort of a doctor.

Happy weekend.

The Office of the Director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) is seeking feedback from from the scientific community and the public on how NIH does business.

The request focuses on review activities but covers broader issues as well. "The NIH is seeking comments regarding NIH’s support of the biomedical and behavioral research," says the RFI (Request for Information), "including peer review, with the goal of examining the current system to optimize its efficiency and effectiveness. The NIH is especially interested in creative suggestions, even if they involve radical changes to the current approach." A working group of the Advisory Committee to the Director "is asking for your opinion on how NIH can best meet the challenges of supporting science in the 21st century in the face of an increased load on the peer review system resulting from a steady rise in applications and the increased complexity of biomedical and behavioral science. Ultimately, NIH wants to ensure that the most meritorious science is supported while minimizing bureaucratic burden on applicants and the NIH itself."

The RFI includes several questions; the last--number 6--is of especial relevance to early career researchers. Labeled "Career Pathways," it asks, "Is the current peer review process for investigators at specific stages in their career appropriate? If not, what changes would you recommend?"

Responses will be accepted on the Web and via email until 17 August.

July 6, 2007

U.K. Science Shake-Up

An article in this week's Science (p. 28, subscription required) highlights changes in the U.K. government's science infrastructure made by new U.K. prime minister Gordon Brown, who took power on June 27. The biggest change is the creation of the Department for Innovation, Universities, and Skills (DIUS), which merges responsibilities from the Department for Trade and Industry and the Department for Education and Skills.

"The new department will be responsible for driving forward delivery of the government's long-term vision to make Britain one of the best places in the world for science, research, and innovation, and to deliver the ambition of a world-class skills base," Brown said in his written statement outlining the major government changes.

"The challenge for John Denham, the new minister [of DIUS], will now be to ensure that the department has a strong voice at the cabinet table," Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, said in a statement. "The strengthening of the science base in the U.K. and a greater interaction between science and industry must be priorities for the new department."

This week, Brown named Ian Pearson as the U.K. science minister, a job most recently held by Malcolm Wicks, who will return to his previous post as energy minister. Pearson had been the minister for climate change and environment in the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs.

Earlier today, Managing Editor Alan Kotok posted a blog entry about the U.S. State Department announcement that it wouldn't accept any more green-card applications for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends in October. I called Mark Harrington, a Houston-based immigration attorney and friend of Science Careers, hoping he could provide a little perspective on the situation. Here's what I learned.

Employment-based "green cards" come in several flavors, designated EB-1 (a and b), EB-2, and EB-3, in descending order of prestige. EB-3's are the most common, and there's a backlog for immigrants from most (maybe all) countries. There's a backlog for EB-2 applicants only for immigrants from India and China. EB-1 applicants are rare; there has never been a backlog for this category.

Each month, the state department issues a "Visa Bulletin" announcing what visa applications are likely to be processed in the coming months. Last months' bulletin was extraordinary: It announced that there no longer were any backlogs in any of the employment-based categories. Chinese Immigrants, who a month earlier were expecting a 4-year wait (applications were being processed from mid-2003), suddenly found themselves with no wait at all. Immigration attorneys were scrambling to submit applications on behalf of their clients before the door closed again. These changes would take effect on 2 July, the first business day of the new month.

But the door closed too fast. The notice Alan Kotok mentioned in his earlier blog post, which took effect on 2 July, effectively reversed the earlier ruling by announcing that no further applications would be accepted. The notice explains this action as a consequence of "backlog reduction efforts" and the resulting "use of almost 60,000 employment numbers." But, since the changes announced in June were not scheduled to take effect until July, it isn't clear what happened to all those "employment numbers."

But the new notice doesn't just restore the status quo. Previously there was no backlog for EB-1 applicants, or for EB-2 applicants from countries other than India and China. But the new notice effects all "employment-based preference cases," including the categories most important for research scientists. This new development means that (unless the decision is reversed or modified) EB-1 applicants--and EB-2 applicants from countries other than India and China--are out of luck until the new fiscal year.

Immigrants seeking employment-based green cards, and their attorneys, await the next Visa Bulletin eagerly.

The U.S. State Department announced yesterday it is accepting no more employment-based permanent-resident ("green card") visas for the rest of this fiscal year, which ends on 30 September. A bulletin on the State Department's Web site says that almost all of the 60,000 employment-based visa authorizations for this fiscal year have been used up, a situation it calls "unexpected". An Associated Press story says that the abrupt announcement affects tens of thousands of skilled immigrant workers and their families in the United States.

Only a month ago, State Department issued a visa bulletin that spelled out family and employment preferences, including two employment-based categories affecting many scientists, engineers, and academics. In the June bulletin, 28.6% of the employment-based visas were allocated for "Priority Workers" that include foreign nationals of "extraordinary ability" in science, education, the arts, business or athletics. This category also covers outstanding professors and researchers, as well as business executives subject to transfer to the United States.

Another 28.6% of the employment-based visas were allocated to foreign professionals with advanced degrees and other persons considered to have "exceptional ability." This category includes foreign nationals with exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, and business. It also covers advanced degreed professionals and physicians that agree to practice medicine in underserved areas of the United States.

A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Web page, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, describes these employment-based visa categories.

Embarking on a Ph.D. is not a decision that should be made lightly. This is the message a team of doctoral candidates in France have set to convey in a 9-minute video that can now be viewed (in French) on YouTube. The video, named 'Aperçu de la vie des doctorants et moniteurs', describes in a nutshell the motivations for doing a Ph.D., the daily life of doctoral candidates, and the main career prospects for newly-graduated natural and social scientists.


The 10 doctoral candidates behind this video come from disciplines as diverse as informatics, geography, geology, biology, and physics. In addition to doing research, all have been gaining some teaching experience as moniteurs of the Provence-Côte D'Azur-Corse Initiation to Higher Education Centre (Centre d'initiation à l'enseignement supérieur, CIES) . The idea of the video came as they were asked to do a science-communication project to end their training. "We decided to communicate about the doctorate because we found that there were quite a lot of false ideas," Benjamin Ricaud, a doctoral candidate in physics who took part in the project, writes in an email to Science Careers. "For example, we wanted to show that a Ph.D. candidate is a true professional." But above all the team wanted to show undergraduates the pros and cons of doing a Ph.D. A doctorate "is a lot of work and then, when the diploma is obtained, there is still a long way to go before obtaining stable employment."

The team found the experience enriching. "We have been able to share our different perspectives on the doctorate (and also on life)," says Ricaud. In particular, the video allowed them to air their doubts and concerns. "We don´t really have a very positive image of the working conditions during the doctorate ... especially in terms of workload, pressure [to get] results, and the attitudes of Ph.D. supervisors." 

The German Academic Exchange Service, which goes by the German acronym DAAD, offers a publication describing grants for student and scholar exchanges in Germany. The 25-page booklet lists opportunities for undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, and faculty, from DAAD and other organizations. The booklet, which is aimed at American and Canadian exchange prospects, is available in American English, Canadian English, and French versions. Institutions may order multiple copies of the printed version. (Hat tip: Institute of International Education)