Science Careers Blog

February 2008

The City Council of Paris is offering several grants for foreign researchers to work in the French capital for a few months. The grants aim at helping Paris labs develop long-term collaborations with scientists in other countries. 

Eligibility: Ph.D.-holders of foreign nationality, permanently residing in a foreign country.

Disciplines: All fields. Projects of a multidisciplinary nature or focusing on the city of Paris itself are encouraged.

Duration: From 3 to 11 months for scientists with less than 5 years' postdoctoral experience. More experienced scientists are also supported for a duration of between 2 and 6 months.

Stipends: Monthly stipend of 2,500 for postdocs, and of 3,000 for senior scientists.

Other allowances: Round-trip air fare from your country of origin to France, medical assurance, and administrative support in looking for accommodation.

What else you need to know: If you planned to learn French once in France, you will need some serious help with the language even before applying. Candidates need to complete a 10-page application form in French. Awardees also must write a 15-page report in French but not until the last month of the grant.

Deadline: 18 April 2008.

More information: See the Web site of the City Council of Paris

Here's an interesting discussion on Slashdot, in answer to the question 'how do you find programming superstars?'

How do I, as a company looking to hire such people, connect with them? Put another way, how do you the programming superstar go about looking for a company that seems like one you'd like to work for? The company I work for is a great place to work; we only hire really great people, we work on hard, interesting problems, and we treat our employees well. We aren't worried about retention or even about how to entice people to work here once we've found them. The problem is simply finding them.

The discussion is about programmers, but I think it applies equally well to all knowledge workers, including scientists. There's a lot of wisdom in this discussion, and it's useful for employers and employees alike. And since a big part of the challenge (in hiring and in reading blogs) is filtering the gold from the dreck, I'll reproduce here some of my favorite responses. First, from ShieldW0lf:

Great programmers work for who they want, on what they want. They take getting their personal needs met for granted, but they have grand ideas about things they want to see realized and not enough money of their own to do it.

So you advertise on the basis of the interesting work that you're doing, and aim for the ears of someone who has been itching to build such things rather than talking about the creature comfort and monetary perks.

Great people want strong leadership that will help them achieve beyond what they can do alone.

If you want to hire great scientists, offer them the opportunity to do interesting work that's better than opportunities they might have elsewhere. True enough, but not that helpful in distinguishing the superstars from the wannabees. Hence, from flannelboy:

The superstar is more than just somewhat hard to come by.

First, they are only going to be 1 out of every 100 programmers you work with. And that is only if you are lucky, and if you are good at hiring. If you hit job boards, you aren't good at hiring....

Second, they can almost never identify themselves. Lots of people THINK they are the superstar. But then they get very little actually accomplished. ... In this sense, they are also quite good leaders, although most do not want to manage large teams (and you'd be wise not to have them do so).

As far as finding and hiring them, the biggest problem is that they are very rarely on the market. So job boards are a bad place to start.

Just about all (maybe even 100%, actually) of the superprogrammers I've hired have come from friend referrals....

Next, from lgw:

You can't distinguish the top 1% from the merely arrogant in an interview, but if you do your interview wrong, or your working environment is clearly borked, then the top 1% will definitely self-select away from your company. ... you certainly can't spot them from their resumes.

Finally, there's this, from fyngyrz:

The first thing to do is remove arbitrary barriers. IE, "must" have X years of experience, X degree, held X previous positions, must move to our area. Instead, be willing to pay their moving expenses. Even buy their house if necessary.

If you want to hire a star -- someone who stands a chance of adding enormous value to your business/institution/venture for many years -- don't arbitrarily limit the pool. So remove that narrow language from your job description and your criteria, evaluate talent in creative and interesting ways. And realize that the true superstars are rarely the most visible, the ones everyone is competing for.

And what are the lessons for job seekers? If you're really good, and people know you're good, your odds of getting found via your network are greater than those of hooking up via traditional means. Please notice that this isn't the same thing as knowing a lot of people and "marketing yourself." You want a lot of people to know you do good work -- not that you promote yourself effectively.

A final observation. We can't all be superstars. But in my experience, if we focus on the work and find what we're best at, many of us can come pretty close. The trick is to find work that you're good at, that you care about -- really, deeply care about -- for its own sake (and not for the pay, benefits, or prestige), and that it's possible to make a living from that you're satisfied with.

Here's a link to the discussion on Slashdot.<

The Institute of International Education (IIE) has teamed with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to offer dissertation fellowships for population researchers in North America and Sub-Saharan Africa. These parallel programs -- one for American and Canadian Ph.D. students and one for African Ph.D. students -- fund fellowships of $20,000 per year for two years, supporting dissertation research in the social and life sciences on topics related to population dynamics, reproductive health, and economic development. The programs invite proposals from graduate students in economics, economic demography, geography, and epidemiology, but students in other disciplines may apply as well.

The deadline for North American applicants is 1 April, and African applicants have a 30 April deadline. GrantsNet has an overview of the program. The IIE Web site has full details of the North American and African fellowships.

"The phone rings, you answer. It’s a reporter from the New York Times. She quickly explains that she’s writing a story under deadline and another scientist she spoke to gave her your name. What should you do?

1.      Hang up in fear.

2.      Ask what the story is about and the deadline, and then arrange with the reporter a better time to talk, keeping in mind his or her deadline.

3.      Say “sure,” answer her first question, and then discuss in great detail your most recent published discovery for the next 30 minutes, interrupting the rest of the reporter’s questions."

This is an excerpt from the Communicating Science: Tools for Scientists and Engineers Web site, unveiled earlier this month by the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology and the National Science Foundation at the AAAS meeting in Boston. The Web site is full of practical tips on how to interact with the media. If you've ever been approached by a journalist or would like to communicate with the public, it's a great resource.

According to Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post -- a member of a panel on this topic that took place at the AAAS meeting in Boston on Friday 15 February, the public funds that scientists receive give them some obligation to talk to the press. There is "a public accountability that scientists should be up to," Eilperin said. As a journalist, she seeks to develop long-term relationships with scientists, and she encouraged them to get involved. "Figure out the reporters who you feel will cover your area well and keep in touch," she said. "Don't expect an immediate pay-off, but ultimately you can end up producing really meaningful stories that really explain to the public what's happening in science and what are the implications for people."

But interacting with the media isn't easy or automatic. It requires preparation and "a fair amount of work to do this well," said Scott Doney, researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. "One of the most important things, if you want to get involved as a scientist in talking with the press, is to understand what are the motivations of journalists and how they work." In particular, scientists should remember that the media's role is to inform people on what's new, and that their deadlines are much shorter than what scientists are used to. So it's a good idea to get to know the different types of media outlets, what they are looking for, and how their deadlines fit with your schedule, Doney recommended.

Asked by the audience how he made time to talk to the media, Doney replied that the key was to make the decision to do so and prioritize tasks. "We tend to delegate this to the last thing we do at the end of a Friday," Doney said. But "it has to be in the 4-5 … most important things that you are going to do in your career."

Interacting with the media isn't free of pitfalls however. Doney warned that scientists may attract criticism from their peers, as interacting with the media is not something the scientific culture encourages. "It's going to take away some of the things that are the metrics of success in science," he added. "People can get burnt if they go into this a little bit naïve."

On the other hand, you may gain a lot out of it. "I shifted the [direction of my] research by getting more interested in how to communicate with the public," Doney said. "What the public is interested in is what science means in their lives. They want to know, 'so what?'" Doney, who researchers human-driven climate change, believes this helped him make his science better.

Talking to the media is not the only way to reach out to the public. You may choose to participate in museum activities, and there are "a whole bunch of opportunities for the scientific community to practice and to hone on skills to do that," said the third panellist Larry Bell, of the Boston Museum of Science and Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network, which often organizes workshops, internships, and forums with the public.

Whatever the medium, your message needs to be clear and stick to facts rather than convey opinions. Practice explaining your science to your family, drop the jargon, and make a clear distinction between scientific facts and opinions, Doney said. If it helps you relax, ask journalists to go off the record while you provide some background you feel they should know. You may also ask to review your quotes at the end of the interview, but different journalists have different practices on this, and "you have to respect that," said Eilperin.

At last week's AAAS meeting, Science Careers unveiled its new Facebook fan page (free Facebook membership required) that offers Facebook members a meeting point for matters and issues related to starting a career in Science. The new page provides highlights and links to Science Careers articles, our blog, and featured GrantsNet listings, plus some lively discussions with other Science Careers visitors.

Last summer our José Fernández generously offered his personal profile to get Science Careers started on Facebook. Back then, Facebook offered its rich collection of applications only to personal profiles, not organizational group pages. Recently, however, Facebook began making available fan pages for organizations with many of the same features found on personal profiles. José then started the Science Careers fan page, and over the next few weeks will move the applications from his profile over to the fan page.

Check out our fan page and become a fan yourself.  While you're add it, check out the AAAS group on Facebook (over 1,000 members and growing), as well as the Entrypoint fan page, AAAS's newest Facebook entry. Entrypoint offers internships for science students with disabilities.


Do you love talking to people about science? Is your favorite part of research writing grant proposals and manuscripts? Would you like to focus on teaching after you finish your Ph.D.? Then perhaps a career outside of the laboratory is for you. At the AAAS annual meeting last weekend, three scientists in very different jobs talked about how their careers combine scientific expertise with communication skills.

First up was Kathryn Gann, vice president of scientific development at Scientific Advantage, LLC. Gann talked about working as a medical science liaison, which entails talking to doctors and health care professionals about a client's (often a pharmaceutical company) products.Gann stressed that it's not a marketing job; she has no responsibility to make sales. Instead, her job is to inform doctors about the science behind the products, and when those drugs should and shouldn't be used. "You're the face of the [company's] medical department to the outside world," she said.

She relies on her scientific background (her Ph.D. is in molecular biology and biochemistry) for her job, and and it requires excellent communication skills not only to get people to listen to you but also to earn their trust. "You're selling a relationship," she says. A downside to the job is that, to some extent, you're on your own: You spend most of your time going out to talk to doctors and hospitals. To prepare for a job as a medical science liaison,Gann suggests taking every opportunity to give presentations and, if you're a Ph.D. candidate, talk to clinical audiences as often as possible. Her company's Web site provides  some more advice on being a medical science liaison.

Next up was Carl Clay, whose Ph.D. is also in molecular biology -- specifically lipid biochemistry. Clay is the medical director at Complete Healthcare Communications, Inc., a firm that provides editorial services to its clients, which are mainly pharmaceutical companies. Most of their work involves writing review articles, primary reports, abstracts, and poster presentations. "Ten years ago, I was promoting myself and my PI to get money, and now I'm doing the same thing for a client," he said.

For example, the client may provide Clay with a clinical study report and the data from a clinical trial; he is tasked with writing a journal manuscript for it. The work suits him, he says, because he always enjoyed writing grant proposals and manuscripts during graduate school and during his two postdocs -- to the extent that he was almost disappointed when the grant came through and he had to focus on the research. He notes, however, that this type of work does not come with authorship credit. His name is listed in theacknowledgments section of the article.

For an academic perspective, Amy Cheng Vollmer, professor of biology at Swarthmore College, talked about teaching at a four-year college or, as its often called, a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI).  Her primary function is as a teacher and a mentor, she said. "I take majors and non-majors equally seriously." Vollmer taught a biochemistry lab in graduate school at the University of Illinois, and later during a postdoc at Stanford she realized how much she missed teaching. Now, she really enjoys teaching undergrads. "You're there for that initial discovery," she said, and that's very rewarding. She also maintains a research laboratory in addition to teaching both labs and lecture courses.

A downside to being at a PUI instead of a major research institution is that she's the only one in her institution working in her particular field, which isprokaryotic biology. "The number-one word: Networking," she said. "You need to make sure people know you didn't fall off the edge of the earth." She's also part of a network of science professors at other PUIs. 

The session organizers, Julie Miller Vick, senior associate director of career services at the University of Pennsylvania (and columnist for Chronicle Careers), and Laura Malisheski, assistant director for graduate student and Ph.D. advising in the Office of Career Services at Harvard University (and author of "Part-Time Science in Perspective" on Science Careers), gave the audience some general advice for cultivating your communication skills: Give presentations whenever you can; attend seminars and job talks; practice talking about science at social gatherings; organize events such as a speaker's series or journal club; go to courses on presentation and speaking skills; attend writing and grant writing courses -- and attend career workshops.

Judging by the attendance at the session -- it was standing room only -- quite a few students and postdocs are interested in exploring career opportunities that make use of a strong science background and good communication skills.

We wrote a few weeks ago about mentoring. At the AAAS annual meeting this week, a panel speaker reinforced why it's so important: "In mentoring, you learn what you love in a field and you learn where you have holes in your skills," said Amy Cheng Vollmer, Ph.D., professor of biology at Swarthmore College. Vollmer suggests you should be mentoring someone right now, no matter what your career stage is, and you should have at least three mentors.

I think that's awesome advice. My former graduate adviser and mentor Barbara Gastel, an associate professor at Texas A&M University, was at this year's AAAS meeting chairing a sessions on career options in science editing and increasing global access to science. She stopped by our "Meet the Editors" session, and it was fun to introduce my mentor to my colleagues so soon after we all worked together on the mentoring feature for Science Careers.

I also did a little mentoring at the meeting, which was incredibly rewarding, mostly because it forced me to be an extrovert (not my natural inclination). The National Association of Science Writers runs a mentoring program each year at the AAAS meeting that pairs young folks interested in science journalism -- which includes everyone from people in science journalism master's programs to scientists interested in exploring science journalism/writing as a career -- with a seasoned veteran. I'm not sure I'd put myself in that latter category, but a look at my resume does indeed verify that I've been at it for more than a few years.

I had two missions as a mentor: provide the beginnings of a network for my mentee, and emphasize that no two career paths are the same. So, after exchanging pleasantries and discussing our backgrounds, my mentee and I hit the road, so to speak, and walked around and talked to people. This was great fun for me, too, because even though I had known some of the journalists for years, I didn't necessarily know how they got to where they are now. I also got asked some tough questions, which forced me to think about decisions I had made and where I want to go.

One person's advice, although directed at newbie journalists, is also relevant to those of you who may struggle to write, whether it's your thesis, a grant, or a manuscript. Remember that you're talking to someone, says Lee Hotz, of the Wall Street Journal and previously of the Los Angeles Times. Do you have trouble writing an e-mail? Probably not, because you know you're "talking" to someone, he says. Other types of writing have the same purpose, whether it's a story in the newspaper or a scientific article: You write a manuscript to communicate results to your peers, a grant application to tell a reviewing panel why the research you plan really matters, and a thesis tells to inform your committee and everyone else what you've been up to for the last several years. So if you've got writer's block, remember that you're just talking to someone. It doesn't have to be perfect on the first try. Just get the words out there and the rest will come.

So, are you mentoring someone? And do you have one or more mentors?

If you haven't already, be sure to check out our mentoring feature from earlier this month.

"What is the result of all this? A dramatic decrease in the rate of junior faculty hires."

A male, senior guest essayist takes on the issue of faculty "dead wood" and mandatory retirement on the FemaleScienceProfessor blog. Some of the comments are worth reading, too.

In the interest of providing broad, global coverage of careers issues, the core editorial team of Science Careers lives all over the world. (OK, that's not the only reason we live all over, but it is a factor.) This weekend, the current editors were all together, live and in person, for the first time. Here we are:


From left: Colin Norman, news editor of Science magazine; Alan Kotok, managing editor of Science Careers (Washington, D.C.); Jim Austin, editor of Science Careers (Portland, Maine); Elisabeth Pain, contributing editor for south Europe (Barcelona, Spain); and Kate Travis, contributing editor for north Europe (Cambridge, England).

At a career session at the AAAS annual meeting, someone in the audience asked the three panel members how detailed young scientists should be when mapping out a career plan. One panelist's answer: "It's more like falling in love than a curriculum." I thought that was a great comparison: At some level, you just can't plan for what's going to sweep you off your feet.

The panel was on careers that combine scientific expertise and interpersonal communication. More on that tomorrow.

February 17, 2008

A Good Start

Organizers from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) did an amazing thing when they squeezed everything you need to know about a scientific career (except the science) into a 3.5-day workshop in 2001, then repeated the act in 2005. On Friday at the AAAS meeting in Boston, Victoria McGovern took that three and a half days and distilled it further, down to about an hour. What's more, the presentation was informative and entertaining.

It would be pointless to recount McGovern's talk blow-by-blow, since the same information is available via a free download in much more extensive (but easily digested) form. So if you haven't already, download it, read it, study it, and be grateful that organizations like HHMI and BWF exist.

February 17, 2008

A New Word for Networking?

Yesterday morning, at his career presentation at the AAAS meeting in Boston, Science Careers columnist Dave Jensen commented that he hates to use the word 'networking' because it has become such an overused cliché -- yet it remains a hugely important job-search topic. I think he's right.

I've had several conversations at this meeting with career-seeking scientists who winced when I used the word 'networking.'  It's an answer that seems unsatisfying -- until you have experienced its power.

Another reason, I think, why some people react negatively is that networking is something that doesn't come easily and something they feel they don't do well. As Dave also mentioned in his job talk (in response to a question), the preferred job-search mode for a lot of scientists is parked in front of a computer filling out online applications. It's a bad approach. It doesn't work.

Now let me relate two connections I've seen made in the last two days at career events at the AAAS meeting -- just two of many I'm sure have happened here.

During our "Meet the Editors" reception on Friday, I was approached by a pair of Harvard scientists (one a postdoc, the other about to finish his Ph.D.) who had an idea for a new type of career (or business). It was a good idea, something the two of them were uniquely qualified for. Networker-extraordinaire Brooke Allen (author of this week's "In Person" article on the job search) chimed in with some excellent analysis. Other people wandered in, we all chatted about the idea, and we all had lots of smart and potentially helpful things to say -- but nothing concrete. Finally, the right person wandered up and filled us all in on this career path, which already exists but none of us had heard of. She was able to offer specific advice and provide some contacts. That's a good start towards establishing a new career.

Next story: Yesterday, after Dave Jensen's talk, I was answering questions from participants (along with Dave and Science Careers Forum advisor Kevin Foley) when I was approached by a scientist who was interested in becoming a science writer. The right advice is to find opportunities to get published, even if it's in local or regional places, like corporate or organizational newsletters. She wasn't hopeful about her prospects of finding such a venue, and said so -- but then the editor of a regional biotech newsletter politely interrupted and invited her to contribute. She's on her way.

I remain a lousy, or at least unenthusiastic, networker. Even at events like the AAAS meeting, surrounded by fascinating science and more fascinating people, a (big) part of me would prefer to stay upstairs in my hotel room reading a book. But getting out and meeting interesting people, and pursuing conversations about common interests, is the oxygen of the job hunt, and beyond. So if you don't like the word -- or, especially, the concept -- please get over it. Practice your one-minute elevator talk and get out there.

We had a steady flow of guests at the Meet the Science Careers Editors session yesterday (15 February) at the AAAS annual meeting. Here area few photos from the event.


Ric Weibl, Director of AAAS's Center for Careers in Science and Technology welcomes the guests.


Jim Austin, Brooke Allen, and Anne Sasso


We catch scientists VERY early in their careers


Vid Nukala and Babette Pain


Carol Milano, Jim Austin (foreground), and Kate Travis check out the Science Careers site


Sean Sanders (left), with Vasana Maneeratana (center), and José Fernández

February 16, 2008

The One-Minute Talk

I went to a great session yesterday at the AAAS Annual Meeting on how to deliver a one-minute talk -- basically, an introduction to yourself that tells who you are, what your research is about, and why it's important. It's sometimes called an "elevator speech" -- you get into an elevator with a Famous Scientist and you have the length of an elevator ride to give F.S. an overview of yourself.

According to the session organizer, Victoria McGovern of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, your one-minute talk needs to answer four key questions:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Why are you here?
  4. Why should I care?

That's the mechanics of it, but it's hard to boil years of work into a sound byte. Don't be scared, McGovern says. Scientists talk to each other all the time, and you'll need to give presentations and deliver your one-minute talk repeatedly throughout your career. Be calm and remember that even Famous Scientist was once a grad student.

Next, don't be afraid to take a few seconds to think about how what you do is relevant to the person you're addressing. Relate it to research or a concept your conversation partner probably already knows. You should have a beginning, a middle, and an end to what you're saying, so think about how those pieces fit together.

When you start, remember that eye contact is good. When you're finished, smile. "Not the creepy smile, but a genuine one," McGovern quips. This lets the person know that you're finished speaking, and it's a sign that you care about what you do.

Everyone is a little shy sometimes, and it's OK to start over if you start off on the wrong foot. Think about how you would summarize your research, and practice giving your one-minute talk so you're not caught totally off guard.

 "There will times when you have to walk into a room where no one knows you, and you want those people to remember you and help you," McGovern said. So practice ahead of time, be calm, and breathe. And don't forget to smile!

If you can't wait for the next illuminating profiles published in Science Careers, check out The Career Project, a venture that offers a peek into the working lives of real people. The Career Project is the creation of Alicia Schwartz, a former real estate salesperson in New York.

Schwartz got the idea from talking to clients seeking apartments, who told her about their jobs, which in most cases she never heard of.  Just by asking questions, like,"What do you do all day?," Schwartz learned details of of jobs from hundreds of people. This experience led her to establish The Career Project as a way to capture these details for students and others seeking to learn what people really did in their jobs.

Participants answer a detailed questionnaire about their jobs, the hours worked each week, salary and benefits, work environment, how they got their jobs, and how others should go about getting similar jobs. Also covered are work and education backgrounds, and plans for the future. A second part of the survey asks about a typical day, hour by hour. If registered visitors (annual fee, $4.99) want more details beyond what's on the form, they can post questions to the participants.

The Career Project groups the collected questionnaires into 26 categories, including one for Engineering/Science. This category, with an average salary of $59,790 (as of 12 February 2008), has more than 100 entries ranging from entry level and lab-assistant positions to senior researchers, engineers, and managers. 

Some of the advice given to visitors seeking these kinds of jobs is remarkably candid. For example, a geologist with an environmental consulting form advised job prospects in this field to "Ask a lot of questions because that's the only way to get information and to learn around here. The work mentality in our office is 'sink or swim'--they throw you into the water to see if you'll be able to sink or swim."

A 25 year-old scientist working in pharmaceuticals, when asked if her employer properly prepared her for the job, responded: "Yes, they actually exaggerated the duties a little bit so I was a bit more prepared than I needed to be."

But most participants seem to enjoy their work and give solid advice. A 44 year-old researcher describes the skills a person needs to do his kind of work this way: "You must be inquisitive, have excellent problem-solving skills, and have the ability to see the whole picture. One must be organized and have the desire for truth and be able to self analyze ones' actions and motivations."

Hat tip: New York Times

The AAAS annual meeting, which  begins next week in Boston, will give attendees a chance to get together with friends old and new. In that spirit, we've scheduled a Meet the Science Careers Editors session on Friday 15 February at 3:00 p.m., in room 307 of the Hynes Center, where the annual meeting takes place. That room is just off Exhibit Hall D, where the Science/AAAS Career Fair will be going on. All of the Science Careers editors, including our European colleagues, will be there. If you have ideas for articles we should consider, have something else to tell us about careers in science (yours or in general), or would just like to meet us and chat, we'd love to see you.

Later that same afternoon, at 5:30 p.m., is a meet-up of the AAAS Facebook group, in Grand Ballroom K (fourth floor) of the nearby Marriott Copley Place. Watch the AAAS Group Facebook page for details (Facebook membership required).

With so much of our professional lives conducted online, these opportunities to interact in person are rare indeed. If you're in Boston for the AAAS meeting, or there for any reason, we hope you will drop by.

This series of posts (two so far) from philosopher/chemist Janet D. Stemwede (aka Dr. Freeride) promises to address many of the issues we confront weekly at Science Careers each week -- asking (and attempting to answer) the question, "where do grown-up scientists learn all the stuff they need to become grown-up scientists?

There's a lot of talk these days among government and policy types about the need to broaden opportunities for scientists, and to increase the scope of what's normally thought of as a science career.

Unfortunately, the National Science Foundation has just announced the cancellation of the only serious attempt at this I'm familiar with: The chemistry division's Discovery Corps Fellowship (DCF) program. Here's how the program was described in the program announcement:

The Discovery Corps Fellowship Program is an extended pilot program seeking new postdoctoral and professional development models that combine research with service-oriented projects. Discovery Corps Fellows develop integrated plans that incorporate an ambitious research project with other activities that address areas of national need (including enhanced research capacity and infrastructure, workforce development and job creation, and innovative linkages between chemistry and other fields).

Here's a list of recent winners and their projects.

NSF chemistry division director Luis Echegoyen says the program was canceled due to funding constraints. The program's cancelation isn't a surprise to anyone; the program's demise was widely anticipated. But now that it's official, we can all mourn its passing.

The GrantDoctor has written about the Discovery Corps program here, and two other Science Careers articles have mentioned Discovery Corps fellowship winners, here, and here.

What made the Discovery Corps program exciting was that it allowed postdocs to get paid while doing non-traditional work, while simultaneously preparing for non-traditional careers. The Discovery Corps program was where the rubber of NSF's second criterion -- "broader impacts" -- met the road. Discovery Corps fellows found novel ways to use their scientific training to make a positive impact on society while simultaneously leveraging the work to forge a new career.

The Discovery Corps program never escaped "pilot program" status; probably (I'm speculating) that's partly because it was limited to the chemistry division. Its creation in the chemistry division is a tribute to program officer Kathy Covert, and to previous chemistry division head Art Ellis. But the fact that it was never adopted by the other divisions and directorates shows a lack of imagination (or, to put it a little more kindly, it demonstrates less imaginative priorities). A Discovery Corps program that was open to people from a wider range of disciplinary backgrounds would have drawn a stronger pool of applicants, created more unique career paths, and served society's needs far more effectively. As it was, the number of applicants was often low and (as I can attest, having once served on the selection committee) the quality of the applications varied widely.

So what does the future hold? Not much. On the one hand, Echegoyen says the division will reconsider the program for the next fiscal year, 2009. On the other hand, if it's picked back up again it will be refocused in a way that, in my opinion, will make it far less interesting and valuable: "If offered in FY2009, the DCF Program will likely be refocused to projects that combine chemistry research with dissemination of the value of chemistry to the public," Echygoyen wrote in the Dear Colleague Letter. If the program is continued, in other words, it will be as a PR campaign for chemistry and not as a unique and uniquely effective career-development tool. May it Rest in Peace.

Here's an extraordinary opportunity for minority undergraduates with an interest in science writing. Text is drawn from the January AAAS Advances, the monthly newsletter for AAAS members. I'm posting it now because the deadline is fast approaching.

Science is a global activity, but the demographics of the journalists who cover it do not reflect that diversity. AAAS offers the Minority Science Writers Internship for students who are interested in journalism as a career and who want to learn about science writing. Interns work for 10 weeks at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of Science magazine, the largest [editor's comment: and best!] interdisciplinary journal in the world. The application for the paid internship is posted at Candidates must be college undergraduates at the time of their application.

The last thing military veterans need is another problem in their return to civilian life. But according to today's Boston Globe, many service men and women are not getting the academic credits they feel they deserve from their training and experience in the service. The article suggests that the problem occurs with veterans working in the military's technical specialties.

Men and women join the military services for any number of reasons, but a big draw is the opportunity to learn advanced skills and get academic credit for those skills when they leave the service. The American Council on Education runs an accreditation system that was set up to evaluate military training and experience, but the Globe found that many veterans are getting turned down for those credits when they enroll in colleges and universities. The Council says that 14% of institutions do not accept any military training or experience for credit, while 30% accept some training, but not experience. The article quotes a vice-chancellor of a college in Boston who says her institution doesn't even have a process for evaluating military experience.

The result for many veterans is their ending up at institutions considered military-friendly, where their training and service are more likely to earn credit. Another impact -- one that hits all of our wallets -- is more taxpayer funding needed to cover classes taken by veterans under the GI Bill

One of the reasons for the denial of credits, according to a college veterans-affairs director and other administrators interviewed for the article, is that a good deal of military training is too technical to transfer to college programs. A related problem, according to a Defense Department official, is that many academic advisers are not conversant with military training,  with each branch of the service having its own Military Occupational Specialties and requiring different documents to verify service in those specialties.

Still another reason for the high expectations of returning veterans are the promises made during their recruitment, which is not surprising given the pressure recruiters face these days.

Hat tip: Inside Higher Ed.


Today's New York Times reports on solar-power companies in California that have experienced recent increases in sales and payrolls. While many of the enterprises featured in the article are manufacturers and installers of solar panels, the article also tells how California academics and entrepreneurs are partnering to develop more efficient or less expensive alternatives to the silicon-based solar panel. Reducing the cost of producing solar power is seen as the key to making it successful on a large scale.

As discussed in our special last year on sustainable energy careers, the social need for more use of renewable fuels can lead to greater economic opportunities, and that appears to be happening in California. The Times article says venture capitalists in 2007 invested more than twice as much ($654 million) into California solar-power ventures than they did in 2006 ($253 million). And last month,, the Web services company's philanthropic arm, invested $10 million in a company that creates utility-scale solar power.

Renewable-energy researchers will probably need to rely more on the private sector in the immediate future. As our colleagues in in Science magazine report this week (subscription required), the Department of Energy's research budget has flattened out in recent years.

Although the number of doctorate degrees awarded in the United Kingdom has increased by almost 80 percent in the last 10 years, science Ph.D.s as a percentage of all doctoral degrees awarded has dropped from 65 percent to 57 percent, according to a report released yesterday by the Royal Society.

The overall increase in doctorates awarded was from about 8900 in 1994/95 to 16,000 in 2004/05. Absolute numbers on the change in science Ph.D.s would involve some graph interpretation and addition, which might result in a wildly incorrect number. The graphs do reveal, though, that biology Ph.D.s increased the most, while math, chemistry, and physics doctorates remained relatively stable.

Should we be alarmed? "Concerned" is the word the authors of the Royal Society report, called "A Higher Degree of Concern," use. They admit that it's very difficult to speculate on the needs of the future workforce, but, they say, the future is likely to demand a highly scientifically trained workforce that can compete globally. "While postgraduate study in the U.K. is very successful in terms of the overall numbers of people studying and the income generated, the skills base our economy needs is still well behind our competitor economies," Professor Judith Howard, Chair of the Royal Society Working Group said in a press release. "The technological breakthroughs that are required to keep us competitive will come from our labs but only if they have enough people with the best education and skills. Any investment now will pay dividends in the long term."

Here's what the report's authors recommend:

- encourage people to study science, technology, engineering, and math.

- consider an 8-year track from start of undergraduate through doctorate degrees to bring the U.K. in line with the higher education path recommended by the Bologna Process, the Europe-wide effort to standardize higher education degrees across all European countries. The Bologna Process recommends a 3-year undergraduate degree, a 2-year master's degree that's required before pursuing a doctorate, and 3-year doctorate programs. (A typical timeframe in the U.K. is 6-7 years -- 3 or 4 years for undergraduate and 3 or 4 years for doctorate.) The concern is twofold: Scientists coming out of the U.K. system may not be able to compete for jobs in Europe, and higher education programs in the U.K. may be less attractive to international students, who accounted for 39 percent of all doctorates awarded in the U.K. in 2004/05.

- consider exploring more integration between industry and universities through industry-funded Ph.D.s, integrating work experience into a doctoral program, and getting input on higher education curriculum from industry.

The home page for the report is here, and a Royal Society press release is here. You can also read more about the report in yesterday's Guardian.