Science Careers Blog

September 2008

Reuters/International Herald Tribune and the Wall Street Journal (subscription required for WSJ access) are reporting that GlaxoSmithKline intends to cut 850 research and development (R&D) jobs in the United States and the United Kingdom--6% of Glaxo's R&D staff. These job cuts are on top of 350 announced earlier this year, meaning that Glaxo is eliminating 8+% of their R&D workforce.

As you may recall, back in April the European Commission was putting together a practical guide to EU funding opportunities for research, development, and innovation. The objective was to help researchers get funding from the various sources available under the seventh framework program. (If you need to refresh your memory, look at Kate Travis's coverage here:
The final version of this guide is now available. The guide includes advice on how to develop project ideas and assess their funding potential at every stage of their development with a checklist and scorecard.

As for those wanting to apply for a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC), be advised that a conference will take place in Paris on 7 October where European officials, ERC panel evaluation members, and last year's grant winners will discuss past experiences. One of the aims of the conference is to help new candidates and their host institutions to prepare for future calls (deadlines for this year's call in physical sciences and engineering is 29 October 2008; social sciences and humanities, 19 November; Life Sciences, 10 December). For more information see the press release and conference Web site. If you can't make it to Paris, the debate will be broadcast live.

September 23, 2008

Two Cheers for Tenure

Cary Nelson, president of American Association of University Professors defends the tenure system in the September-October issue of Academe, the organization's magazine. Nelson's essay describes the advantages of tenured faculty over part-time, adjunct, or contingent faculty, arguing persuasively that campuses benefit from the community, shared-governance, and academic freedom that come when faculty members have tenure.

But Nelson misses altogether another key argument that applies particularly to science departments. He makes no mention that universities are much less likely to invest in contingent faculty for laboratories, equipment, meeting attendance and other professional development, research administration, or technology transfer. Those goodies will most likely go to the "lifers".

Adjunct faculty makes a lot of sense on many campuses, particularly in cities where you have people ready, willing, and able to make contributions to the university community. Institutions are under pressure to cut costs and having adjunct faculty teach some classes can help keep staffing costs in line. And having a steady stream of new ideas or perspectives can benefit students and tenured faculty alike.

Must contingent faculty be segregated from their tenured colleagues? Nelson points out how at some campuses, adjunct faculty teach night classes--referring to them half-jokingly as "vampires"--while tenured faculty dominate the campus's daylight hours. Incorporating adjunct faculty into the university community is a challenge each department head and university administrator needs to address. But this is no different a challenge than many executives in other businesses or organizations face, and many do it well.

Building a campus's intellectual portfolio doesn't come cheap, either in money or management skill. Adjunct faculty may teach classes, but if that's all you expect than that's all you will get.

Hat tip: Ric Weibl, AAAS

This morning I bumped into a very interesting interview of Emily Monosson, a trained toxicologist and mother of two who gathered the personal experiences of 34 fellow female scientists balancing work and family into a book--Motherhood, the Elephant in the Laboratory: Women Scientists Speak Out--published last May.
In the interview, which Caroline Leavittville conducted and posted on her blog, Monosson reflects on the importance of knowing that it's not just you who haven't sussed out how to single-handedly balance work and family:
Although it’s something I think about every day – how to keep my career going while changing diapers and cleaning up Cheerios – it’s always been personal. I thought I was struggling because of the choices I’d made. Not because of any problem with the “Scientific Institution,” and that I was alone. That everyone else had “figured it out.” But, over the years, as I had to explain to grant agencies that no, I didn’t even want a full-time tenure track position, or to colleagues at universities that I’d have loved to apply for a part-time faculty position (non-existent at the time), I started to think that there just has to be more and different opportunities for those of us who want to dedicate time to family, but who also remain dedicated to developing our careers. Then...I realized I wasn’t alone – and that there were some really bright dedicated women struggling to balance family and maintain some shred of their career just like I was. So I thought it’d help to get the word out.
Just as important is seeing that even if you don't end up where you thought you would--Monosson was well on her way to a successful academic career when she started a family and began working from home on literature searches and writing projects--you may still find a lot of satisfaction in both the personal and the professional parts of your life.
My biggest failure? I think that by taking this route, at some point, I strayed too far from the lab to easily return except as someone’s lab tech or as an “elderly” post-doc (positions which at this point, I’m not interested in considering.) I’d also strayed too far from research and academia to consider applying for a faculty position. When I realized I’d strayed down this one-way street I think I was pretty depressed. What had I done? I was no longer the scientist I thought I’d be.
My biggest success? The flip side of the above. My time is my own. I’m free to pursue whatever [science topic] I’m interested in, though not always paid, and not in the laboratory and, I can volunteer to coach the kids’ soccer team or chaperone the school trip to Vermont or hang out by the river with my daughter on a hot spring afternoon. In terms of career, I really enjoy what I do. Ferreting out data, reading new studies, digging into the history of a contaminant and putting that all together – it’s like a puzzle. And hopefully in some way, the outcome is a useful contribution to the science, even though I’m not mucking around in the field, am unaffiliated (I do have loose connections to the local colleges, which have provided me with the most valuable tool of all – access to the vast scientific literature and an occasional opportunity to teach) and never know what I’ll be doing a year from now.
Monosson makes many other good points that you can find in the complete interview. She's also lanched a forum on the issues for female scientists to keep the discussion going.

Today's front page of the Washington Post (free registration required) notes the increasing popularity of public health courses, all involving science in one way or another, among undergraduates. The story cites a recent survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities that showed that 16 percent of the group's 837 member institutions now offer majors or minors in public health. And among those schools, two-thirds of their programs require fieldwork or research.

For example, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, which has an entire School of Public Health, has 311 undergrad majors compared to 159 studying the field in 1976. The College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, Virginia, offers a freshman seminar in emerging diseases.  The instructor says the two sections of the course fill up instantly.

Undergrad programs often include courses in epidemiology, immunology, and statistics. Thomas Coates, head of the global health program  at the University of California at Los Angeles, attributes the recent popularity of the courses to the high profile of global diseases like AIDS and SARS. The story cites other unnamed faculty who say that the ability of the Internet to connect American students to people in other cultures, and the desire by many students to work or study abroad have also fueled the trend.

Science Careers covered opportunities for scientists  in public health in March 2008 and earlier in 2004.

AAAS has announced the next round of its Science and Technology Policy fellowships, a truly excellent program and amazing opportunity for those interested in career transitions. Hence the following longer-than-usual post:

For 35 years, the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships have provided scientists and engineers with a unique opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills to national and international issues in the federal policy realm, while learning first-hand about establishing and implementing policy.

Fellows select assignments in Congressional offices or federal agencies. This is a year-long opportunity, beginning September 1 and ending August 31. Most federal agencies offer Fellows the opportunity to renew for a second year.

AAAS seeks candidates from a broad array of backgrounds and a diversity of geographic, disciplinary, gender, and ethnic perspectives. Fellows have ranged in age from late 20s to early 70s. They represent a spectrum of career stages, from recent PhD graduates to faculty on sabbatical to retired scientists and engineers. Fellows also come from a range of sectors, including academia, industry, non-profit organizations, and government labs.

AAAS partners with approximately 30 scientific and engineering societies that also sponsor fellowships. They conduct separate application and selection processes and may provide different stipend and benefits support. Individuals interested in the Science & Technology Policy Fellowships are encouraged to apply with all scientific and engineering societies for which they qualify. Please see our website at for details.

Eligibility & Criteria:

To be considered for a fellowship via AAAS, successful applicants must:

- Hold a doctoral level degree (PhD, ScD, MD, DVM, etc.), in any of the following: Social/Behavioral sciences, Medical/Health disciplines, Biological, Physical or Geosciences, or Engineering disciplines (applicants with a MS in engineering and three or more years of post-degree professional experience also qualify) Note: All degree requirements must be completed by the application deadline
- Have solid scientific and technical credentials and the endorsement of three references
- Show a commitment to serve society
- Exhibit good communication skills, both verbally and in writing, and the ability to engage with non-scientific audiences
- Demonstrate integrity, problem-solving ability, good judgment, flexibility, and leadership qualities
- Hold U.S. citizenship

Note: Federal employees are not eligible

Stipend and Benefits:

Stipend: Approximately $70,000 to $92,000 (depending on years of experience and previous salary).

Relocation Allowance: Up to $4,000 for first-year Fellows with stipends via AAAS if move is greater than 50 miles outside Washington, D.C.

Health Insurance: Monthly reimbursements for Fellows who receive stipends via AAAS. Insurance coverage via agency for those hired directly as temporary federal employees.

Travel/Training: Minimum of $4,000 for Fellows receiving a stipend via AAAS, to be used for fellowship assignment-related travel, conferences, and/or training. Varies by placement and must be approved by supervisor.

Professional Development: A year-long program including orientation, monthly seminars, skill building workshops, career sessions, and networking events.

APPLY: The deadline is December 15th, 2008. AAAS accepts online applications only.

Full details at

Daniel Poux
Associate Director
Science & Technology Policy Fellowships
American Association for the Advancement of Science
1200 New York Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20005
Phone: 202.326.7075
Fax: 202.289.4950

September 15, 2008

Weird Science

Why is it that the really cool-sounding research--the stuff of comic books and science-fiction novels--comes out of the Department of Defense? Anyway, that's the way it seems sometimes--apart, I suppose from some of the quantum weirdness physicists often study.

Here's the latest example of what I mean, via a press release from DefenseLink:

The Army Research Office awarded a $4 million grant in mid-August to lay the scientific foundation it hopes will someday enable soldiers in the field to communicate through a deliberate thought process.

Elmar Schmeisser, ARO program manager, described the revolutionary concept in terms of the way today’s field soldiers communicate with radios. “You’ll press the button on your harness, you’ll think, then you’ll throw the button off,” he said.

Gone will be the microphone. Gone will be the receiver. The message will go directly from the soldier’s head into a computer programmed to decipher his brain waves, Schmeisser explained.

The result will be communication that’s silent, secure and free of background noise.

Perhaps there's a serious point to be made here. America's (indeed, the world's) major science funding agencies insist they're interested in transformative research, and I believe them. Yet, you rarely see program announcements from NSF or NIH that are quite this--well, exciting, in a popular-science sort of way. Is this an indication of a more ambitious scientific culture in the military establishment--or is it just a manifestation of a more authentic scientific culture at the mainstream funding agencies. Or is it something else?

September 14, 2008

Better Living through Star Wars

Though it's not precisely a career-development course, a new course offered by Queens University Belfast leans in that direction and sounds it might actually do some good for job-seekers and aspiring professionals. I'm serious.

'Feel the Force: How to Train in the Jedi Way' teaches the "real-life psychological techniques behind Jedi mind tricks", according to the course description, as recounted in an article by Tom Peterkin in last Thursday's Telegraph. The goal, apparently, is to develop (presumably less powerful) versions of the skills practiced by Jedi Knights as a way of improving communication skills and developing your person. Sociological issues, including fatherhood and fascism, will also be covered.

Hat tip: Slashdot.

In an interview with Science Careers and in testimony to Congress yesterday, Veterans Affairs (VA) officials laid out more of the department’s plans to outsource its G.I. Bill operations.  VA plans to build a computer system to determine G.I. Bill eligibility and benefits for veterans based on a series of rules spelled out in the legislation.

 Science Careers has followed the new G.I. Bill since its debate in Congress this spring and reported on its potential impact on the scientific workforce. And as reported in earlier blog posts, veterans organizations and members of Congress had expressed skepticism over VA’s outsourcing plans

Keith Wilson, Director of Education Service in VA’s Veterans Benefit Administration told Science Careers that the motivations behind the new system are the rapid schedule for implementation and the department’s overall strategy to automate as much of its operations as possible. Wilson said that when the G.I. bill was signed on 30 June 2008, it set the enactment date as 1 August 2009, “just over a year” as he explained.

Wilson added that VA’s “current eligibility and mechanism cannot account for variables in the new program” and they could not modify the current system to meet the new requirements. Also, Wilson said, the department had already signaled its intention to automate these processes in its 2008 and 2009 budget submissions to Congress.

Keith Pedigo, Associate Deputy Under Secretary in VA’s Office of Policy and Program Management, told the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee yesterday that the contracting would be limited to the computer system and not the overall operations themselves. Pedigo told the committee …

It is important to understand that the contractor will not have full responsibility over the administration of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Instead, the contractor will be responsible for development of the information technology (IT) solution, and general administrative or data entry functions. Claims that are rejected by the automated process and require a manual eligibility determination will remain the responsibility of trained VA personnel.

Wilson noted that the proposed system would be based on “accepted industry standards and best practices,” a point also made by Pedigo in his statement to the Committee. When asked if there was a current system in operation by a company or organization the department planned to use as a model, Wilson said there was no such system yet developed. He said that department intended to spell out the variables for bidders to consider, and let the companies come back with their best solutions.

Wilson referred questions about any cost-benefit analyses of the proposed system and whether the department would issue an open request for proposals to the department’s general counsel.

This is a piece of feedback I received this morning regarding our recently published article on how to interact with the media. Hans Peter Peters--the person who sent me the feedback--is one of the interviewees in the article and he made another interesting point that I would like to pass on:

      "An excellent article and prudent encouragement of (young) scientists!

      There is only one recommendation...that I doubt will work, that scientists should stick to the facts when dealing with the media. In many instances - almost always if they are approached as experts - scientists will be challenged to go beyond the facts and give assessments and recommendations (based on some facts, of course). Your article, by the way, is a good example for that. I think that is one of the precarious balances that scientists must maintain: being relevant to the media audience on one hand, and avoiding wild speculation without factual basis on the other hand."

Would any of you have some other feedback, recommendations, or experiences to share?

September 12, 2008

Guard Your Online Persona

In his most recent "Opportunities" article, Peter Fiske advised job seekers to strategize their online personae. He wrote:

Like a well-composed résumé or cover letter, a well-constructed e-persona reflects a measure of thoughtfulness, professionalism, and competence. Whether it’s a personal Web site or your LinkedIn or Facebook profile, putting forward a consciously conceived professional image can’t hurt.        

The corollary is also true: Sophomoric, sarcastic, or inappropriate material can be a lasting liability. Many stories circulate about employers who checked out a prospective employee’s Facebook page only to find embarrassing photos and comments.

A new Career Builder survey reinforces the importance of advice. In the survey, 20% of hiring managers acknowledged using social networking sites to research job candidates, up from 11% just 2 years earlier. Nine percent more say they plan to start.

So how did they use the information they found there? Fully one third of those who use the technique said they had dismissed job candidates from consideration because of what they found online. What did they find that scared them so? Information about excessive drinking and drug use (41%), inappropriate or provocative photos or information (40%), poor communication skills (29%), bad-mouthing previous employers (28%--hey, isn't that an example of poor communication skills?), and so on. 27% were caught lying about their qualifications. To find out whatever online sins job-seekers committed, check out the survey.

The good news: A positive Web presence can be helpful. 24% of hiring managers who used social networks for research said they found material that had helped them decide to make an offer.

Hat Tip: Slashdot.

The 'researcher' profile applies to many jobs that don't actually involve research, said Andrew Dearing, secretary general of the European Industrial Research Management Association, at Tuesday's plenary session at the Vitae Researcher Development Conference in London. Of course, this statement is one of the very reasons Science Careers exists -- to highlight the breadth of job opportunities open to someone with research experience.

I talked to Dearing afterward and asked what jobs he'd include on that list. He gave his personal history as an example: He had jobs in academic research and industrial research, but then moved out of research into science policy and the non-profit sector. "When I was doing my Ph.D., I didn't know any of these options existed," he said. "I think most people don't."

Other jobs he'd add to that list include product support, product development, and jobs that involve figuring out how to provide a service with a particular technology. "It's about extending from what you know into a broad range of careers," he said.

He went on to note that there are two characteristics that will NOT help you land a job in a non-research company: a lack of confidence, and overconfidence. He said many young researchers don't appreciate that they have the skills to do something completely different. On the other hand, other researchers are overconfident that the specialized skills they have are the only ones that matter.

The main point: If you've decided a research career is not for you, there are plenty of jobs that will make use of your skills and, in fact, that need your skills. We've highlighted many such jobs on Science Careers, but for one example, check the Career Magazine next Friday for a special package on working as a program officer.


September 8, 2008

Over-measuring success?

The research world has become one of hyperevaluation, said Professor Sir Richard Brook, director of the Leverhulme Trust, who spoke today at the Vitae Researcher Development Conference in London. Researchers can be obsessed with measures such as their university's Shanghai Jiao Tong ranking, their personal h-index, and journal impact factors.

These measures are useful, but what truly matters is a researcher's passion for his or her research, Brook said. "We're putting too much faith in quantified measures of professionalism," he said. When researchers approach the Leverhulme Trust for a grant, he said, the most important thing is the researcher's passion for the subject -- not how prominent the university or the researcher's citation rate calculated out to three decimal places. These evaluations are not genuine measures of quality, he said: "Please emphasize the research rather than the metrics."

The comments were well received by the nearly 500 people in the audience, most actively engaged in postgraduate and postdoc training and advising. During the discussion Brook and fellow panel members pointed out that some metrics will always be important. For example, the government will always want to know that their research investment has been well spent, and quantitative measures are probably the best way to do that.

Derek Blumke, president of Student Veterans of America, provided more details about plans by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to outsource its implementation of the 21st Century G.I. Bill. Science Careers has followed the new G.I. Bill since its debate in Congress this spring and reported on its potential impact on the scientific workforce.

Blumke told Science Careers today that Keith Pedigo, VA's Associate Deputy Under Secretary for Policy and Program Management, discussed these plans at a meeting of the American Legion's economic commission during the Legion's annual convention last week.

According to Blumke, Pedigo said the bill's many new provisions and quick timetable -- it goes into effect on 1 August 2009 -- required VA to get additional help. However, Pedigo also said VA planned to use outside organizations to run its day-to-day G.I. Bill operations, and that idea generated the negative reactions by Blumke, the American Legion, and Rep. Harry Mitchell, the bill's House sponsor.

Blumke said his reaction to the idea is based on hard experience. In an e-mail, he explained his first-hand experiences with VA's contractors ...

I feel we should have learned our lesson from the private contracting of the educational benefits call center two years ago. This being the same call center that I and veterans across the country would call and either be placed on hold, at times exceeding an hour, or would simply be hung up on with an automated message of: “we are experiencing too high of a call volume. Thank you.”

Science Careers has asked VA to tell us more about its outsourcing plans. Stay tuned.

In Chemical and Engineering News, a publication of the American Chemical Society (ACS), Arthur B. Ellis, formerly the director of the National Science Foundation's chemistry division, reviews The Formation of Scholars: Rethinking Doctoral Education for the Twenty-First Century (ACS membership or site license required for access), a new book by several authors (including Science Careers contributor Chris Golde). Some of Ellis's comments are interesting -- some smart, some not so much.

On the smart side, Ellis notes that "For many students it is simply not feasible economically to devote a substantial number of years at relatively low income to pursue this degree. It is even riskier in fields with low starting salaries and uncertain job prospects." Also positive: Ellis's observation (we started pointing this out years ago) that our evaluation procedures, which focus on individual accomplishment, are inadequate for a science that's increasingly team-focused and interdisciplinary. 

On the not-so-smart side, Ellis claims that "high attrition rates for students enrolled in doctoral programs represent a significant loss in human resources," which doesn't make much sense when you consider that most who leave early find productive employment, arguably preferable to the multi-year postdoc slog so common in many of those "fields with low starting salaries and uncertain job prospects," which is most of them.

Physicists at CERN's Large Hadron Collider are getting trained in improv comedy in an effort to improve their creativity and ability to communicate and work in teams. By Alexandra Alter, writing for the Wall Street Journal

September 5, 2008

Disclosing a Disability

"Disclosing a condition can help protect your legal rights but can also leave you open to discrimination. Still, experts say you're better off giving management a heads-up." The Wall Street Journal's Career Journal offers advice on disclosing a disability to an employer.

September 4, 2008

Job Search Under the Radar

The New York Times "Career Couch" series has a nice piece on conducting a job search quietly, without your employer's knowledge.

At the 2008 American Legion convention in Phoenix, Arizona, last week, representatives of the Department of Veterans Affairs took part in a round-table session on the new G.I. Bill, where they discussed plans to outsource the bill's implementation. According to participants at the roundtable, the department's plans received a frosty reception from veterans organizations and members of Congress in attendance.
Derek Blumke, president of Student Veterans of America and one of the roundtable participants, said in a Facebook message that the department plans to outsource not just the start-up of the new G.I. bill--which will deliver education benefits for veterans on par with those enjoyed by WW-II-era veterans--but the long-term operations as well. His message said "The feedback around the table was unanimous. No one wants this to happen!!!"
Blumke cited the likely problems in holding the department accountable for its performance when contractors are involved, and recent experiences in outsourced telephone help lines, which reportedly had long waits on hold and automated systems that hung up on callers.

The American Legion passed a resolution at the convention urging the department to hire regular staff instead of outsourcing. In a related statement, Marty Conatser, the national commander of the American Legion, said, "Our newest generation of veterans deserve the benefits administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs, not outside contractors."

According to the statement, Rep. Harry Mitchell, D-Ariz., the House sponsor of the new G.I. Bill, told Legionnaires he was disappointed as well. "I just cannot believe that we'd ever allow this to happen," Mitchell said. "The level of service won't be the same."