Science Careers Blog

July 2008

On Thursday, the European Research Council issued its second call for starting grants. As we've mentioned before, these are hefty (up to 2 million Euros for up to 5 years) grants for young scientists of any nationality with 3-8 years of post-Ph.D. experience who are working, or who will move to work, in Europe. This call will have the same budget as the first round -- about 290 million Euros -- so competition will likely remain stiff; only about 3% of 9167 applicants got funded last time.

Given the flood of applications the ERC received for the first call, the organization has decided to set deadlines by subject area for the second call: October 29 for the physical sciences and engineering, November 19 for social sciences and humanities, and December 10 for the life sciences. The newly updated ERC Grant Schemes Guide for Applicants notes that there are other changes to the application process as well; be sure to read the guide closely.

At the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) last weekend, I heard a couple of grantees from the first round of starting grants talk about their experience. "The application is part of the scientific process," said Jan Eeckhout, an economist who's moving from the University of Pennsylvania to Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona for his starting grant. "One-sixth of my proposal was trashed immediately." The feedback you get on your proposal can guide your research, he added.

For some advice on what makes for a good starting grant proposal, check out Elisabeth Pain's article, Getting to the Top of a Big Pile.

Also, deadlines for Marie Curie actions are rapidly approaching. The deadline is August 19 for Intra-European Fellowships for Career Development (call for applicants), International Incoming Fellowships (call for applicants), and the International Outgoing Fellowships for Career Development (call for applicants).

The deadline is October 8 for the International Reintegration Grants (call for proposals) and the European Reintegration Grants (call for proposals).

At this link, you can find an overview of the Marie Curie program under Framework Program 7, and check out the network for current and former fellows with the Marie Curie Fellows Association.

In a plenary session this Sunday at the 2008 Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) Marcus du Sautoy, a professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, delighted us with his career story… and the mathematics of symmetry.

Marcus du Sautoy’s first career ambition was rather remote from the world of mathematics. As a kid, du Sautoy was yearning to be a spy. With his mum owning a gun for working at the U.K. Foreign Office, "I immediately assumed that my mum was a spy and I wanted to get a job like my mum had," du Sautoy said. So he started learning French and Russian, two languages he had decided were essential for a spying career. But du Sautoy soon became frustrated with languages. It was "a total disaster," he said.

Du Sautoy didn’t contemplate a career in mathematics until later when his high-school teacher asked him to come and see him at the end of the class. "'I think you should find out what mathematics really is about. It’s something much more exciting than what we do in the classroom,'" du Sautoy says his teacher told him. The teacher recommended du Sautoy to read A Mathematician’s Apology, (PDF) by G.H. Hardy, on the aesthetics of mathematics. Du Sautoy, who at that time was contemplating a career in the arts, realized that mathematics is "beautiful in its own right," he said. Another book--Frank Land’s The Language of Mathematics--and du Sautoy was hooked. "The language of mathematics seemed to be the best language to comprehend the world around us. Everything made perfect sense. That appealed to me."

During the rest of his talk du Sautoy took us through the beauty and history of symmetry--"a universal language that binds the arts and the sciences"--as a mathematical concept. To get his message across du Sautoy used simple analogies with the biological and the chemical worlds, pieces of Bach’s music, and pictures of symmetric elements found in renowned buildings all over the world.

It worked. Du Sautoy didn’t lose me even once in the meanders of mathematical symmetry. This obvious talent for communication has made of du Sautoy a regular writer for British newspapers, an author of popular mathematics books, and a scriptwriter and presenter for the national TV and radio.

The 9 young scientists who spent some time a solas with du Sautoy during the 'Tapas with the Prof' session that followed the plenary lecture got to know a little more about that particular aspect of du Sautoy’s career.

Du Sautoy stepped into science communication after chatting informally about mathematics with an editor of The Times newspaper at a party in Oxford. The editor invited him to write an article but "I didn’t do anything. I was quite young then. You don’t want to expose yourself too early because you get criticized" by your peers, du Sautoy said. But when he met the editor again three years later at the same party, and saw that the editor remembered the invitation, du Sautoy was so impressed he gave it a go.

Since then he’s never stopped communicating to the public, even though "for many years I have been really looked down upon from my colleagues for doing that," said du Sautoy, who in 2001 won the Berwick Prize of the London Mathematical Society for the best mathematical research done by a mathematician under 40. Typically, communicating to the public "is not considered a core part of your work" like research and teaching. It was perceived as "not the proper thing to do."

Today du Sautoy still gets mixed support from his peers, but he obtained a Senior Media Fellowship from the U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council for somebody else to do his teaching. This is "one of the reasons I can do what I do," du Sautoy said. "I think [communicating to the public] is important."

In an ESOF session on alternative careers for scientists on Saturday, I heard something I haven't heard expressed out loud in a while: Women do need to choose between a career and family.

The provocative statement came from Susana Asensio Llamas from the Spanish National Research Council, and another panelist, Maria Aguirre of the Biobask Agency, agreed. Now, both women noted that they are roughly the same age (mid-career, let's say) and from Spain, so their situations won't be the same as young women scientists from other geographic areas coming into the ranks now. Both women felt that their career changes and their job hops around Europe and the world wouldn't have been possible with a family in tow.

I was somewhat baffled by this sentiment, so I felt a need to find some women who would say it is possible to have a career and family. In a session on the Marie Curie Actions, I met Nancy Tokola, a physician by training and mother of four who's had some pretty amazing positions, such as a visiting professor of biomedical ethics at the University of Mongolia and a field researcher at a malaria research institute in Turkey. "There was no way I was going to sacrifice having a family," Tokola says.

She admits her path is pretty unique: She's a "trailing spouse"--her husband's diplomatic job takes the lead and takes them around the world. She's got a self-described service mentality, so even though her husband's career has been the most consistent, she's applied her expertise in whatever region she's in. "I believe it's my responsibility to prepare myself to say yes to opportunity," Tokola says. She adds that she's managed work-life balance by having a husband who's 100% supportive and by having outside help with childcare. Now, at age 54, Tokola is starting a Ph.D. on poverty-related diseases in Mongolia.

This morning, I went to a session on women in science around the world, chaired by Marja Makarow, chief executive of the European Science Foundation--the first woman to hold that post. Zohra Ben Lakhdar, physics professor at the University of Tunis El Manar, offered up a statement about choices that was slightly different from the one I had heard on Saturday: "In life, you have to choose. There are moments for each step, each thing has importance at some time," she said. For example, she and her husband, also a physicist, decided not to have children until they both finished their Ph.D. theses. They later had two daughters.

The other speaker, Josee E. Leysen of VU University Amsterdam, had one child during her Ph.D. and a second right after -- and then she and her husband divorced. For the 10 years following, she says, her supportive family was key in maintaining a successful work-life balance. Now, her new partner does as much as she does in terms of home and family life.

I spoke with someone today who attended Saturday’s alternative careers session, and she actually said she found it refreshing that the women were so candid about thinking that they did need to choose. We women are only human, after all, and we also have the choice to choose -- and not try to do it all.

To read some inspirational stories about women in science, check out our new L'Oréal Women in Science Booklet.


With a title like that, it's no surprise this Saturday session at the ESOF 2008 meeting was packed full of postdocs and Ph.D. students, even at the early hour of 8:30 a.m. (It is Barcelona, after all.) But once the question and answer period began, it became clear that the path into a research career is anything but carved in stone.

One of the first questions came from a Ph.D. student at the Centre for Genomic Regulation here in Barcelona. She pointed out that the career options are limited for a person who doesn't necessarily want to be a principal investigator, and that there's no established view of a long-term career as a researcher. Session chair Massimo Serpieri, a policy officer at the European Commission, pointed out that this lack of a clear path was a major motivation for the creation of the European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers, which he describes as a "bill of rights and responsibilities" for early-career researchers and research institutions.

Fulvio Esposito, rector of the University of Camerino in Italy, also pointed out that PI positions are competitive -- and people know that not everyone can become a PI. With that in mind, young researchers should always be thinking about their entire range of options and not just a single path. But the questioner quickly pointed out that these responses are very general and not specific to anyone's career path. How should someone go forward with such general advice?

Karoline Hollander, the current president of Eurodoc, suggested that the Bologna Process, which aims to harmonize national higher education systems across Europe, is having a negative effect in this regard: Perhaps the standardization of degrees has made the system too prescribed, such that the lack of structure in a Ph.D. can be overwhelming. I thought that was an interesting point, although I'm not sure to what extent it might be true.

Finally, Serpieri offered up what I thought was the most concrete answer to the question: Researchers themselves need to take ownership of their research career to find the best path. That's not to say that funders, institutions, and industry employers can't do their part to make the process transparent, fair, and as seamless as possible, but ultimately, it's on you to determine what your definition of a concrete career path is.

This week, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is celebrating National Zookeeper Week, honoring "animal care professionals and the work they do in animal care, conservation, and education," according to a press release. AZA says there are about 6000 animal-care professionals at zoos and aquariums in the United States.

Science Careers has, of course, written about careers at, or related to, zoos and aquariums over the years, including our feature on Careers in Zoos and MuseumsReturn of the Natives, Written in the Stars, and Taking a Gamble.

There are no recipes for success, but there are some basic principles to follow, Nobel Prize winner Aaron Ciechanover told a small group of young scientists during a "Tapas with the Professor" session here at the Euroscience Open Forum in Barcelona.

Ciechanover, a researcher at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, received the Albert Lasker Award for basic medical research in 2000 and the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2004 for his work on cellular protein degradation. Even in the face of adversity, Ciechanover never deviated from his principles on how to be a scientist, he told the seven Ph.D. students and postdocs sitting around the table.

Ciechanover’s mottos are the following:

·        Be confident. In the late 1980s, Ciechanover’s research was not rallying great support from the scientific community. “People never really doubted our science but [doubted] the focus of it,” he says. If your research ideas are original and you are able to build the set of tools you need to pursue them, then “don’t get influenced by the ground noise, stick to your ideas,” Ciechanover says.

·        Gain your independence early. Having started making some important discoveries as a Ph.D. student, Ciechanover worried he would never be able to step out of his supervisor’s shadow. During his postdoc, he made a point of finding his own niche and funding. “I became a freelancer, working on my own subject,” during which he published five papers. “Then people didn’t identify me with my mentor anymore.”

·        Find a good mentor. Having a good mentor who gave him some bench space and materials so he could follow his own lines of research was nonetheless critical in his success, Ciechanover says. He advised the young scientists around the table to choose their mentor carefully. “I didn’t just read [about the groups], I went to the U.S. for three weeks for interviews and then I chose my mentor,” Ciechanover says. Avoid picking a “big shot who doesn’t care… [or] a young P.I. who doesn’t know,” he says. The institution, too, is important. “You want to be in a big environment where you can run around in the corridors and find what you need.”

·        Don’t get hung up on journal ranks. “If you look at my CV, you will see a distribution [of journals], not only Science and Nature,” Ciechanover says. “If the community recognizes that you are really good, then it doesn’t matter where you publish.”

·        Constantly ask questions. Young scientists should regularly ask themselves whether they are on their way to independence. “You can do a lot by keeping yourself alert all of the time,” Ciechanover says. Ask yourself whether the question you’re looking at is important or whether you are tying up loose ends for your mentor, and how important your role within the group is.

·        Allow yourself some mistakes. You can’t do it too many times, but if you really don’t like your mentor or supervisor, or you realize you went down the wrong career track, allow yourself to get it right, says Ciechanover, who swapped a physician’s career for research. You have to be true to yourself and say, ‘it’s a mistake… Don’t get stuck into something you don’t want to do.’”

Ultimately, what you want to do to be successful in research is build an identity for yourself, says Ciechanover. “Then build the tools and the means to do it.”

You can read about Ciechanover's plenary lecture on Science's news blog, Findings.

July 20, 2008

A Brand New Bag


The European editors of Science Careers are at the Euroscience Open Forum 2008 (ESOF 2008) in Barcelona this weekend. Yesterday I went to a session on career alternatives, sponsored by Naturejobs. Just before it, session organizers were handing out black nylon bags with the Naturejobs logo on them. A postdoc from Spain who was sitting behind me declined it. He quipped, "I don't need a bag. I need a job."

It sure would be nice if universities, research councils, and other employers handed jobs out as conference swag. But, perhaps they do, indirectly. Conferences are great places to network, make new contacts, and learn about jobs. Get some tips in Mastering Your Ph.D.: Making the Most of a Conference, The Scientific Conference Guide (Or, How to Make the Most of Your Free Holiday), and How to Work a Scientific Conference.

We'll share more tidbits from ESOF 2008 over the next few days, and the European Science news crew is here too and blogging their stories over at Findings, the Science Magazine news blog.

And, by the way, guess what swag you can get at the Science/Science Careers booth? A new bag.

July 18, 2008

Weapons Lab Layoffs

C&E News, published by the American Chemical Society, is one trade publication that has excellent career-related coverage, not all of it limited to chemistry and chemical engineering.

A story reported by Jeff Johnson and Jyllian Kemsley (subscription or ACS membership required, I think) documents the impact of budget cuts on the nation's (America's) weapons labs, noting the layoff in late May of 440 permanent career employees, including 164 laboratory scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory--the first time the lab has eliminated permanent staff positions since 1973--and the planned elimination of 100 contract jobs. Livermore eliminated 450 contract employees in January. The lab also offered early retirement to its permanent staff and 215 employees accepted. The lab expects to be down 2000 people compared to 2006 levels when the layoffs are complete (including retirements and normal attrition).

(An 11 July article in Science's News of the Week, however, says that thanks to a recent supplemental funding bill, Fermilab won't have to lay off more people this month, as had been planned. Science also notes that in February the lab instituted an involuntary furlough program, in which employees were forced to take a week's unpaid leave every 2 months.)

The numbers at Los Alamos are similar, according to the article. The New Mexico lab has reduced it's workforce by about 2100 people; 46% of the lost employees were technical. The lab says that there were no layoffs, though 500 people left last year through a "voluntary separation program."

Sandia, too, is experiencing cuts. Sandia's workforce has declined by 477 posts, and additional reductions of about 600 are expected by 2010.

Okay, 'heresy' is overstating things, but this post on the "Unqualified Offerings" blog makes an excellent point, which can be summed up thusly: Attempts to get new people into physics, whether women, members of racial/ethnic groups under-represented in the physical sciences, or just your average white guys, are undercut by the fact that it's not a promising career path--if you measure it by how many people land good jobs directly in the field.

Yet unemployment rates for people trained in the physical scientists are quite low, and their salaries aren't bad (though they're not great, either, if you compare them to people with similar or less education in fields like business and clinical medicine).

'Thoreau', the blogger, is correct that a degree in physical science can lead to a wide range of opportunities. He's also correct in saying--or at least implying--that those opportunities are a bit off the radar and not so easy to find:

The reality is that the real value of a physics degree is similar to the value of a liberal arts degree: In all likelihood you won’t spend the rest of your career making direct use of the concepts and calculations mastered in physics courses. However, a physics education gives a person (1) a very fundamental view of science and technology (2) an introduction to an experimental culture that is very DIY and clever with indirect measurement, and (3) an introduction to a mathematical culture that is able to blend high-powered computing, back of the envelope estimates, very fancy pure mathematics, and the workhorses of standard applied mathematics. This sort of training generally leads to a lower starting salary than engineering graduates (fewer entry-level jobs that precisely match the major) but long-term prospects that are comparable to engineering grads (and often more flexible).

I'm not sure he's right about the salaries being lower than in engineering, but he's certainly right about long-term opportunities and the professional flexibility that physics training provides.

I get annoyed when people argue that we need more and more scientists (whether it's in physics or in other fields) while research positions are absurdly competitive. I get even more annoyed when they justify this with the hand-waving argument that "scientific training allows you to do all sorts of things"; it's annoying even though it's true. I get annoyed because it's damn hard (usually, though not always) to make the jump from physics to one of those "other things," especially if you want to earn a decent salary.

Employers tend to take a short-term approach when hiring (for a variety of reasons), with job requirements that are narrow and task-specific. Because these narrow, specific requirements rarely touch on quantum chromodynamics or the thermodynamics of black holes (except for research positions), a degree in physics--especially an advanced degree--is a very tough sell.

Those low unemployment rates would be a good bit higher if postdocs didn't soak up so much of the excess. Yet it's true that most scientists, physicists and otherwise, eventually find good work. In terms of earning potential relative to length and difficulty of training, you can definitely do better. But if you enjoy solving technical problems, you could also do much worse.

The problem is that latching onto a career after training in physics is much, much harder than it ought to be. Since the mid-'90's Science Careers (nee, Science's Next Wave) has tried to make it a little easier. But it's still hard

Possible titles for this post are manifold; how about "Professional Prognosticators Predict Poor Prospects for People Who Predict Downpours"? I'll stop there.

In the current issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, John Knox, of the Department of Engineering at the University of Georgia in Athens, analyzes the supply/demand proposition for scientists who study weather. It has been, he notes, more than a decade since the last such assessment and many things have changed since then that affect the attractiveness of weather-related work, including the rise of the Internet and Internet and The Weather Channel, the profile of climate change, and the movie Twister. Knox concludes (pdf) that:

. . . if the projections are accurate: the number of undergraduate meteorology degree recipients will increasingly exceed the number of meteorology employment opportunities into the next decade. Thus, given recent trends and future projections, the growth of the U.S. undergraduate meteorology population is potentially unsustainable in terms of bachelor’s degree–level employment within meteorology.

This kind of frankness--and cynicism--is rare among scientific-workforce prognosticators--and refreshing Much more common are claims that we need more and more scientists regardless of what market forces imply--after all, even if they can't be employed in the field they're being trained in (these conflicted prognosticators typically argue), they're still learning valuable skills.

Knox echoes arguments we have often made (more broadly) at Science Careers (here, for example, and here), pointing out that prognosticators often choose to ignore the demand side of the supply/demand balance, and "because the mechanisms that generate interest in our field (e.g., unprecedented media emphasis on weather) are mostly uncoupled to the mechanisms of demand."

There's much more discussion on the Prometheus blog from the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation announced this month the second round of its small grants program (PDF) to fund studies of the U.S. science and engineering (S&E) workforce. In this new round of awards, the foundation is particularly interested in studies of the impact on international migration on the S&E marketplace. In a recent column in Science Careers, Beryl Lieff Benderly called for better data on these questions. The Sloan Foundation may very well help make that happen.

The call for proposals gives examples of the topics the foundation hopes to fund; here are a few:

- Characteristics of foreign and U.S. postdocs in science and engineering
- Whether a mismatch exists between U.S. education in certain disciplines and domestic occupational opportunities. Do foreign scientists face this same problem?
- Investigations of so-called shortages of U.S.-born scientists and engineers: How solid are the data? What can be said about the organizations making the arguments about these conditions?
- Research to improve labor market projections, particularly when factoring in foreign-born scientists
- Factors underlying empirical projections and trends of foreign-born grad students, postdocs, and current employees
- Characteristics of students/exchangees, temporary workers (on H1-B visas), and permament staff from outside the United States
- Investigations of the uses and impacts of temporary visa programs, including differences between academic and non-academic employers

Grants have a maximum funding level of $45,000 and studies cannot exceed 2 years. The foundation realizes that this amount will not cover extensive data collection, but encourages researchers to make creative use of data sets from National Science foundation, the American Community Survey, and the New Immigrant Survey. Proposals are due by 17 November 2008. The Sloan Foundation Web site has a list of the first-round awardees (PDF) and their studies.

Hat tip:


According to a paper published in Science today, researchers have a much better time dealing with journalists than is often portrayed.

The study, led by Hans Peter Peters of the Forschungszentrum Jülich in Germany, looked at the media experiences of 1354 epidemiologists and stem cell researchers in the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany, and Japan. A first interesting finding is that talking to the media is common among scientists, with nearly two thirds of the respondents having been interviewed at least once in the last 3 years. Almost one in three of the respondents interacted with the media more than five times during that same period.

Peters and his colleagues also found that a majority of the researchers (57%) were mostly pleased with their interactions with the media, versus 6% percent who felt mostly dissatisfied. For 93% of the researchers, contributing to raising the public image of research was the greatest incentive to talk to journalists, but an almost equal number mentioned the concern of being misquoted and the lack of control on media outcomes as a big turn-off.

Still, almost half (46%) of the researchers felt that their interactions with the media had a positive impact on their career, versus 3% who thought the impact was negative.

"I have often heard researchers tell stories of someone they know having a bad time with the media. So I was really surprised when our survey showed that, actually, biomedical researchers on the front line of public interest were largely pleased with their own interactions with journalists and broadcasters. It just goes to show, you should not believe the horror stories; journalists don’t routinely eat scientists for breakfast," co-author Steve Miller of University College London writes in a press release.

Read the full study (Subscription required).

In case you haven't seen it yet, we've put up a survey on Science Careers aimed at measuring the outlook of the younger part of the scientific workforce. In early voting, a slight majority of respondents label themselves "somewhat hopeful" about their career prospects, while another big chunk--not quite one third--is "not very hopeful". The balance (about 12%) is split almost equally between "very hopeful" and "despair."

If you haven't already, please participate.

If you're a veteran anywhere in the United States, and plan to go to college, the state of Ohio wants you.

A key provision of the recently passed 21st Century G.I. Bill, the subject of Science Careers story last month, is the increased tuition benefits for veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill pays veterans the equivalent of the most expensive tuition for in-state residents at state universities. As reported on yesterday's Cleveland Plain-Dealer blog, the state of Ohio will go one better: it will make in-state tuition at publicly-funded universities in Ohio available to veterans anywhere in the country.

Ohio governor Ted Strickland and the state university system chancellor Eric Fingerhut call this program "The Ohio GI Promise." It is part of a plan to bring 230,000 more students to Ohio by the year 2017, according to today's Columbus Dispatch. The cost to Ohio's institutions, however, will be considerable. The Dispatch notes that the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition at Ohio State University for an academic year (3 quarters) is $13,239.

Still, the state of Ohio may be on to something. Most of the veterans interviewed by Science Careers in a companion story noted that they returned from their combat deployments with more focus and motivation than when they entered the service. And many of the student-veterans in our story became leaders among the veterans on their campuses and in some cases in their communities. As a result of this program, Ohio could get benefits from the G.I. Bill as well as the veterans. 

Hat-tip: Daily Kos


If you're a student doing research related to the mission of the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and need to travel outside the United States for work related to your research, there's a new fellowship program that can cover your travel costs. The Laura W. Bush Traveling Fellowship will fund travel by an American student conducting research overseas that supports UNESCO's mission in the fields of education, natural sciences, social and human sciences, culture, communication, or information.

The travel lasts from 4 to 6 weeks and must include interactions with individuals from other countries. Recipients should be willing to take part in public diplomacy activities at the American embassy or consulate in the area visited, which usually means meetings or seminars with host country representatives. Recipients will also submit a report on their experiences upon return, and take part in the annual meeting of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, which is sponsoring the fellowship.

The awards for fall and winter 2008 are expected to be $2500, with the number of awards dependent on the quality of the applications. Proposals are due by 5 August 2008. GrantsNet has an overview of the program and the State Department Web site has full details.

If you're wondering why Laura Bush's name is on the fellowship, Mrs. Bush represented the United States at the UNESCO General Conference in September 2003, ending a 20-year absence from UNESCO by the United States.

Here's another new article aimed at new science faculty, this one from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

When it comes to information on managing a scientific career, we like to think we're the best. But we've got to admit: We're not the only game in town.

The latest issue of The Scientist includes an excellent article on academic laboratory management for beginning PI's. The article includes an interview with Kathy Barker, our former columnist. The Scientist is a subscription publication, but this article seems to be available without a subscription.

For more on this topic, check out our Academic Scientists' Toolkit.

Jessica K. Witt, an assistant professor of psychological sciences who studies perception in athletes, and two graduate students have published a study in the June Psychonomic Bulletin and Review journal demonstrating that good golfers perceive a larger hole than poor golfers. "We found golfers who play better judge the hole to be bigger than golfers who did not play as well," says Witt, quoted in ScienceDaily. The cause and effect--whether better performance leads to larger hole perception or larger hole perception leads to better performance--is unclear. Witt believes that each effects the other.

What's this got to do with careers in science (or any other field)? That is left as an exercise for the reader.

July 8, 2008

A Vos Casseroles!

The fourth edition of the Rencontres Sciences, Art & Cuisine -- an international molecular gastronomy contest promoted by Hervé This, one of the pioneers of molecular gastronomy -- has just been announced. Molecular gastronomers and others interested in the science of cooking may take part in the competition. This year's themes: Revisiting traditional dishes with molecular gastronomy, and innovating with methylcellulose as an ingredient.

To participate in the competition, you first need to register by sending an e-mail to You then have up to 16 February 2009 to come up with your new culinary creations and send off a report to the Rencontres organizers. The award ceremony will take place on 27 March.

Keep tuned for more information on (the organizers).

Read the profile of two past winners from Portugal on Science Careers.

The European Commission has rebranded and repackaged its Web sites for researchers under the name "EURAXESS -- Researchers in Motion." Launched  late last month, EURAXESS pulls together four previously existing sites: the European Researcher's Mobility Portal, the ERA-MORE Network, the European Charter and Code, and ERA-Link. Those four areas have new names on the new site: Jobs, Services, Rights, and Links.

Personally, I still find it a little heavy on links to other places (some of which aren't always helpful) rather than one-stop-shopping for information, but hopefully pulling everything together under one umbrella will eventually lead to greater consistency of information across countries.

July 2, 2008

ERC Advanced Grants

The European Research Council (ERC) received a total of 2,167 applications in its first call for the ERC Advanced Grants. The grants will support established researchers with a track record of at least 10 years, providing funding of up to 3.5 million for 5 years.

Among the submitted research proposals, 766 are in life sciences and medicine, 997 in physical sciences and engineering, and 404 in social science and humanities. Fifty different nationalities are represented (the grants will be awarded to scientists of any nationality working in Europe or willing to move over here), but only 14% are women. "We are aware that the relatively low proportion of women applicants is a general problem in European research, especially in the target group of established researchers. This is a concern which the ERC will continue to address at every level," ERC President Fotis Kafatos stated in a press release.

Substantially fewer proposals were received than for the ERC Starting Grants last year, when more than 9,000 proposals were submitted. "Limiting measures were taken by the ERC Scientific Council after the overwhelming mass of applications received for the first ERC call,"  Kafatos said.

Proposals have gone through a first step of peer-review already; the second peer-review phase ends in September.

More information in the press release.

The same spending bill that contained the new G.I. bill language also included (in addition to lots of money for defense) $337.5 million in additional science funding, including $150 million for the National Institutes of Health, and $62.5 million each for the Department of Energy Office of Science, the National Science Foundation, and NASA . That's real money.  Here's the language, courtesy of the AIP Bulletin Science and Policy News:

"The amended bill includes $62,500,000 for Science, Aeronautics and Exploration."

"The amended bill includes $22,500,000 for Research and Related Activities, of which $5,000,000 shall be available solely for activities authorized by section 7002(b)(2)(A)(iv) of Public Law 110-69." This citation refers to EPSCoR in the America COMPETES Act.

"The amended bill includes $40,000,000 for Education and Related Activities of which $20,000,000 is for section 10 of the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2002 (42 U.S.C. 1862n–1) and $20,000,000, is for activities authorized by section 10A of the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2002 (42 U.S.C. 1862n–1a)." These citations refer to the Robert Noyce scholarship programs.

"The amended bill includes an additional $62,500,000 for Science. The Department of Energy is instructed to utilize this funding to eliminate all furloughs and reductions in force which are a direct result of budgetary constraints. Workforce reductions which are a result of completed work or realignment of mission should proceed as planned. This funding is intended to maintain technical expertise and capability at the Office of Science, and may be used for National Laboratory Research and Development including research related to new neutrino initiatives. Funding for research efforts shall not be allocated until the Office of Science has fully funded all personnel requirements."

"The amended bill provides $150,000,000 in additional funding for the National Institutes of Health to support additional scientific research. This funding is to be distributed on a pro-rata basis across the NIH institutes and centers."