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Science Careers Blog

October 2008

The Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz reports today that Israel's Council of Higher Education--a consortium of the country's seven public universities--met with Finance Ministry officials for the first time in a week to resolve a funding dispute that threatens the scheduled opening of the schools on Sunday. The institutions' presidents have told students to stay home if the dispute is not resolved by then.

The Forward, a New York weekly on Jewish and Israeli issues, reports in its current (31 October) issue that the university presidents have also promised to close down libraries and research facilities if the dispute carries on into the second week of the school year.

Both sides agree that Israel's public universities need a boost in funding, and the Finance Ministry has promised the equivalent of $100 million a year for 5 years, to make up for budget cuts since 2000 that took place while student enrollment increased 10%.  Ha'aretz says that in the past 5 years the schools have together cut some 800 jobs, equivalent to all the jobs at a single institution.

Part of the dispute is over who controls the money. Ha'aretz says the Finance Ministry has earmarked the money for institutional reforms. The universities call that demand an attack on their academic freedom.

The Forward points to other strings attached to the money: the Finance Ministry is insisting on a tuition increase. But in Israel, according to the report, tuition rates are set by the Knesset, (Israel's parliament) and not the universities. Facing an election, the Knesset has not raised tuition. Zvi Galil, president of Tel Aviv University, told the Forward, "We are in the absurd situation that we are facing financial devastation because the government has not met its own precondition for releasing funds to us."

Strikes over funding have become commonplace on Israeli campuses in the past few years. Two years ago, students went on strike for 6 weeks, and last year lecturers walked off the job for 13 weeks. Now it's the administrators' turn to take to the barricades, literally. The university heads joined students yesterday in a protest convoy that blocked traffic and caused large traffic jams on the busy Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway.

In early December, three German research organizations are offering information sessions in Washington, DC, San Francisco, and Los Angeles about research and research training in Germany. The sessions, called "Research Careers Made in Germany: Explore Opportunities in German Academia," will include representatives of the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG), the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH).

The meetings are aimed at current and prospective Ph.D. students, postdocs, and faculty. The presenters will discuss Germany's Excellence Initiative to promote university research and support young scientists. The meetings will also cover the academic job market in Germany and opportunities for international collaboration.

Here's the schedule for the sessions ...

Washington DC:
  Monday, 1 December 2008
6:30 PM to 8:30 PM
  German Historical Institute
  1607 New Hampshire Avenue NW
  Washington, DC 20009

San Francisco:
    Tuesday, 2 December 2008
6:30 PM to 8:30 PM
    Goethe-Institut
    530 Bush Street
    San Francisco, CA 94108

Los Angeles:
    Thursday, 4 December 2008
6:30 PM to 8:30 PM
    Goethe-Institut
    5750 Wilshire Boulevard
    Los Angeles, CA 90036

To enroll in one of the meetings, send an e-mail to daadsf@daad.org by Monday, 24 November 2008. DAAD asks enrollees to put "Info Session SF," "Info Session LA," or "Info Session DC" in the subject line. More details are available on the DAAD-New York Web site.

Last night, I went to a panel discussion sponsored by the Association for Women in Science featuring some of the authors from the recent released book Motherhood, the Elephant in the Laboratory: Women Scientists Speak Out (I linked to amazon, use your bookseller of choice) by Emily Monosson. I bought this book several months ago, but hadn't yet had the time to read it.  After last night's discussion, the book has moved to the stop of my stack.

The discussion was both informative and reassuring.  The women on the panel--Anne Douglass of NASA, Katherine Douglass of The George Washington University, Marla McIntosh of the University of Maryland, and Catherine O'Riordan of the American Institute of Physics--have all found ways to combine their professional lives with motherhood. Several times, the women pointed out how important their partners' support was in finding ways to do this.  They argued that the issue needs to be framed as a parenting issue rather than as a women's issue because men with children (especially those with working wives) are in the same boat.  McIntosh said something I hadn't thought of: motherhood, she said, hasn't stopped just because her kids are off at college.  When her son called and her phone rang during the discussion, it was a clear reminder of that.

If you're interested in becoming a parent--or just interested in the issue--you might want to pick up the book. Also, Emily Monosson has established an accompanying website and online community to discuss issues of motherhood in science, which can be found at http://sciencemoms.wordpress.com/.

Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan, recently announced a new mechanical engineering degree program that combines academic study with Peace Corps service.

Students in the program, which will begin in the fall of 2009, start on the Michigan Tech campus with classroom and research work, like other master's degree candidates. But after completing most of the academic part, the students embark on a 2-year stint in the Peace Corps. Upon completion of the Peace Corps service, the volunteers (as Peace Corps participants are called) return to Michigan Tech for one more semester.

Bill Predebon, who chairs Michigan Tech's mechanical engineering department, believes that mechanical engineering and the Peace Corps are a good fit, since "many Peace Corps projects, such as pumps and indigenous energy systems, demand mechanical engineering skills." The university offers five other combined academic/Peace Corps programs in applied science education, civil and environmental engineering, forestry, mitigation of natural geological hazards, and rhetoric and technical communication.

The Peace Corps Web site has a full list of these study-and-serve programs, called Peace Corps Master's International, in the United States. Many of the programs offered are in scientific and engineering disciplines.

Hat tip: Inside Higher Ed

Dear Editor,

My name is Debora Keller, I am a 1st year PhD student in Molecular mechanisms of Cancer at the Federal Polytechnical School of Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, and also member of the Young European Biotech Network (YEBN).

While reading your article on the "political scientist", I could not help but agree.  Yes, young scientists tend to focus on the scholarly output first (if not only), and yes, the advisors (aka "boss") also tend to see any other activity apart from being in the lab and doing experiments as a waste of time. And trying to communicate with the media or with policy makers is the worst of betrayals and will keep you from becoming an excellent scientist...or so it seems!

Scientists in general, be they younger or older, also tend to lament themselves when politicians reduce the funding, or pass laws that just make no sense, scientifically speaking! But how can these politicians take "informed" decisions when only 5% of them have a scientific background (at least in the European Commission, according to Zoran Stancic, deputy director general of the European Commission's Directorate General Research)? Can we expect the same politicians to take the right decisions to promote research and development, and life sciences in general?

During the EuroBio2008 conference (the european counterpart to BIO) that took place in Paris from October 7th-9th, 30 young scientists and students in Life Sciences from the Young European Biotech Network and coming from France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and Switzerland decided to get involved in the political process and engage with policy makers and stakeholders of Europe.
This event, bringing together researchers, industry and decision makers, was meant to discuss the future shape of the Life Sciences and Biotech sectors and issue a "Call for Change" report to Make Change Happen in a Europe that wants to become THE leader of a knowledge-based economy (according to the Lisbon Agenda).

The "rising generation" was key in bringing forth their vision of the future and debated passionately with international stakeholders on several hot topics such as "axe the CAP and spend money on R&D instead" or "nationalism is the greatest enemy of Biotechnology in Europe" during the House of Commons. They contributed actively with critical comments and concrete questions and proposals to the BioDialogues on Red, White and Green Biotechnology. After all, they would be working in these areas in the coming years and, as Professor Federico Mayor (former director general of the UNESCO) pointed out at the reporting plenary,  the future is indeed in the hands of the young generation!
The enthusiasm and dedication of these young scientists that dared to set aside for a few days their important scientific experiments and take vacation to attend EuroBio2008 and become "politically active" led to the comment by Eric Poincelet - Commissioner General of EuroBio2008" : "next time, you will not be thirty only, you will be one hundred"!

This comment is already a success in itself. It was definitely NOT a waste of time for these young scientists to participate to these debates, and the appreciation for this will be measured by the outcome of the conference, the "Call for Change" report, as our YEBN chairman Francesco Lescai pointed out: “The YEBN contribution to EuroBio2008 was an example of the fresh inputs these kind of discussions need most: our students and young researchers were capable to break the schemes of the discussions and highlight some critical points to be addressed with high priority. Everyone seemed to appreciate: we will be able to measure this appreciation with the number of suggestions that will actually appear in the Green Paper to be delivered to the European Commission".

So, as stated in Peter Fiske's article, when "many members of the scientific community retreat to the comfort of their laboratories or lecture halls" we believe that it is the "Science's next wave" that has to take a step forward and make their voice heard. We encourage our young scientists that pursue excellence in their research to become "political YOUNG scientists" and Make Change Happen!

Yours sincerely,

Debora Keller
Young European Biotech Network (YEBN)
Communication Task Group Leader

In an abrupt reversal, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced late Friday it will rely on its own information technology staff to implement the 21st century G.I. Bill rather than contracting out the work. As recently as 3 weeks ago, VA officials told Congress that they needed outside help to meet the tight deadlines in the bill.

VA's press release said the department did not receive enough proposals from
qualified private companies to do the work. VA Secretary Dr. James B. Peake cited "external misconceptions" over the scope of the work that made vendors reluctant to bid. Peake added, however, that "VA can and will deliver the benefits program on time."

The new G.I. Bill, which Science Careers has followed since it was passed in June, makes a university education much more affordable for returning service members and has the potential at least of expanding the size and diversity of American science and engineering talent. VA originally planned to computerize many operational aspects of the bill's implementation and outsource the development of those systems, largely because of the mandated 1 August 2009 start date.

On 23 September,
VA Assistant Deputy Under Secretary Keith Pedigo told the House Veterans Affairs Committee that "VA is seeking contractor support to implement the Post-9/11 GI Bill because we do not believe that we could deliver the systems necessary to administer the program within the time required utilizing our existing information technology (IT) resources." Friday's announcement indicates VA has the in-house staff needed to deliver the systems.

ScienceOnline09 holds its third annual blogging conference on Saturday and Sunday, 17-18 January 2009, in Research Triangle Park, NC. The event covers blogging in science--a subject obviously near and dear--but it also branches into issues that can help researchers communicate with colleagues and the general public.

For bloggers, the conference covers practical topics such as working with multi-media formats and intellectual property issues, as well as the prospects of actually getting paid for your blogging. The event has sessions on more general issues of science communication: the Semantic Web, putting one's lab notebook online, differences between print and online rhetoric, and the role of art and illustration in scientific media. Plus there are panels on race and gender issues in science, the open access movement, and social networking, among others. If you think a critical issue is not being covered, the conference organizers say they are still open to suggestions for other topics.

The event has lab and museum tours on the preceding Friday 16 January, along with networking opportunities throughout the weekend.

Hat tip: Danielle Lee , who is leading one of the conference sessions.

October 10, 2008

Cool Videos

There's one other thing I wanted to mention about the Beckerle presentation. She showed some movies, made by Julie Theriot, that I found astonishing. In one, a white blood cell chased a bacterium, PacMan like, around a cell. Another showed the little bacteria trying hard to escape the cell, finally discovering an opening at the spot on the cell wall where the cell had just divided. Am I the last one in the scientific community to learn about these?

I don't have time right now to seek out those particular videos, but I bet there are many others on Julie Theriot's site that are just as fascinating. Here's the link.

I admit that the career connection is tenuous, but I think there is one: It's inspiring: How can you watch this without getting excited about biology?

October 10, 2008

Blogging SACNAS

Today and tomorrow I'm in Salt Lake City, Utah, for the 35th annual meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science. This morning over breakfast, the first keynote speaker of the day offered some advice that, though it's hardly new, is worth repeating.

Mary K. Beckerle, a prominent cancer researcher from the University of Utah, advised the young researchers in attendance to choose an important research question, then make sure the tools at their disposal can address that question in interesting ways. It's a significantly more sophisticated version of the old cliche´ (which, in fact, she later repeated), 'do what you love.'

I'd put it a little differently, but the advice is basically sound. You can be the best scientist in the world technically, but if you don't choose important problems you're odds of having a real impact, on the world of science and the world at large, are much reduced.

I could quibble. I believe an intense commitment to quality has a way of paying off, even if the problem it's applied to isn't obviously important. Yet, there's no doubt that choosing an obviously important problem improves your odds.

Here's the take-home: look for opportunities to apply your talent to things that matter. Otherwise you might as well be out playing golf.

Before joining the Science Careers team, I earned my PhD in Women Studies from the University of Washington, where I studied women and dual-career couples in the sciences.  In addition to posting here about the outreach program, I’ll also post occasionally about topics related to my research.

At the end of August, scholars at the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, released a report that provides some new information about dual-career couples in academia.  The report, Dual Career Academic Couples: What Universities Need to Know, is the work of Londa Schiebinger, Andrea Davies Henderson, Shannon K. Gilmartin. Schiebinger (whose past work on women in science includes the book Has Feminism Changed Science?) and Henderson are Clayman Institute researchers. Gilmartin is Director of SKG Analysis and a quantitative-analysis consultant.

Like research that has come before, the researchers found that a large percentage of women in academic science--48%--are partnered to other academics. What's noteworthy in this report is the finding that people's career choices were strongly influenced by the employment situations of their partners, that dual-career hires are on the rise in academia, and that these hires can help diversify faculties not only with respect to gender but also in terms of race and ethnicity.  Furthermore, they found that, despite the stigma of the “trailing spouse”, such second hires are no less productive than their peers.

Most important for scientists, perhaps, are the recommendations to universities about hiring practices.  The researchers recommend that universities develop specific policies for hiring couples, and that these policies should make it easier for candidates to raise the issue of partner employment early in the search without fear of harming their chances. Such policies are necessary for the universities, they argue --and can only help young scientific couples looking for academic employment.

You can download the report in pdf form, here.

As you may know, Science Careers maintains an active Outreach Program that brings career and professional development workshops to graduate, postdoctoral, and early-career scientists. I joined the Science Careers team in July as the Project Director for Outreach and from now on, I’ll be posting here with information about past and upcoming events as well as updates from the field.

Our next event, STEM Talent 2008: A Symposium and Career Fair for Postdocs in the Capital Region, takes place at the Natcher Center at NIH in Bethesda, MD on Thursday, 16 October. For more detailed information, read on.

Now is the best time to start planning your post-postdoc career!  So please join us at STEM Talent 2008 to learn about career options and explore opportunities with Washington DC-area companies. Speakers will talk about many of the options open to postdocs and strategies for finding the position you want.  Come learn about:

· Entrepreneurship

· Careers away from the bench

· Working in established companies

· Interviewing skills

· Opportunities for career training

· Making the transition to your next position 


Take advantage of the career fair and speak with representatives from several local companies about the employment opportunities for postdocs in STEM fields. Here are the details on STEM Talent 2008:

When: Thursday, 16 October 2008, 8:00 am - 4:00 pm
Where: Natcher Center at NIH, 45 Center Drive, Bethesda, MD 20892
Cost:  Free (open only to postdocs)
Registration:  Required (please click here to register).

PS - Before the event, you might want to read about making the most of career fairs.

The National Institutes of Health announced this morning that starting after the 25 January 2009 submission date, NIH will begin considering ONLY ONE RESUBMISSION. After that, a proposal will be regarded as new and assigned a new number. Second "amendments" will no longer be considered.

Reportedly, NIH has been considering a move like this--initially the proposal was to eliminate resubmissions entirely--for some time now. The thinking, I believe is that reviewers and study-section members may feel an obligation to reward investigators who have jumped through the reviewer's hoops enough times. That kind of thinking can lead to the funding of proposals that hang around long enough (a lot like awarding Ph.D.s to certain graduate students we've all known)--that is, it can lead to more conservative funding decisions. People were also concerned that many proposals were being funded only on resubmission, delaying the awarding of a grant (and the subsequent research), and increasing the burden on reviewers and study-section members who have to review a proposal several times.

The new policy is comprehensive, covering all proposals that currently allow resubmissions: NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, Career Development Awards, Individual Fellowships, Institutional Training Grants, Resource Grants, Program Projects, and Centers.   

Here's the NIH announcement, in full:

New NIH Policy on Resubmission (Amended) Applications
----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Notice Number: NOT-OD-09-003

Key Dates
Release Date:  October 8, 2008

Issued by
National Institutes of Health (NIH), (http://www.nih.gov)

Purpose

NIH announces a change in the existing policy on resubmission (amended)
applications (see http://grants.nih.gov/grants/policy/amendedapps.htm). Beginning with original new applications (i.e., never submitted) and competing renewal applications submitted for the January 25, 2009 due dates and beyond, the NIH will accept only a single amendment to the original application.  Failure to receive funding after two submissions (i.e., the original and the single amendment) will mean that the applicant should substantially re-design the project rather than simply change the application in response to previous reviews.  It is expected that this policy will lead to funding high quality applications earlier, with fewer resubmissions.

Background

Following the release of the Peer Review Report that was drafted with extensive consultation with the external community, Dr. Zerhouni, NIH Director, established a Peer Review Oversight Committee (PROC) to finalize the recommendations and begin immediate implementation of those recommendations.  Of particular concern was the marked reduction in the number of awards made in response to original applications.  An increasing number of projects were funded only after one or more resubmissions.   In
periods of constricted funding, a greater number of projects require resubmission, and review committees are more likely to show greater preference for amended applications.  These trends have increased the time from original submission to award and the number of submissions per
investigator. As a result, there has been greater burden placed on applicants and reviewers as well as a delay in funding for meritorious science.

To change this trend and increase the likelihood that meritorious original applications will be funded, the NIH will decrease the number of amendments allowed.  Accordingly, the NIH will begin to phase out second amendment applications starting with the January 25, 2009 due date. This policy will increase the numbers of high quality original and first amendments that can be funded earlier.

NIH Policy on Resubmission (Amended) Applications

Beginning with applications intended for the January 25, 2009 due date, all original new applications (i.e., never submitted) and competing renewal applications will be permitted only a single amendment (A1).  For this and subsequent cohorts of original new and competing renewal applications, any second amendment (A2) will be administratively withdrawn and not accepted for review.   Applicants who fail to receive funding after two submissions may resubmit but only if the application is fundamentally revised to qualify as new.  A new application is expected to be substantially different in content and scope with more significant differences than are normally encountered in an amended application.  Note that there is no time limit for the submission of the original and subsequent A1.

Original new and competing renewal applications that were submitted prior to January 25, 2009 will be permitted two amendments (A1 and A2).  For these "grandfathered" applications, NIH expects that any A2 will be submitted no later than January 7, 2011, and NIH will not accept A2 applications after
that date.

This policy applies to all applications, including applications submitted under the NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, Career Development Awards, Individual Fellowships, Institutional Training Grants, Resource Grants, Program Projects, and Centers.  Currently no amendments are permitted for applications received in response to a Request for Applications (RFA) unless it is specified in the Funding Opportunity Announcement, in which case only
one amendment will be permitted.  ations (RFA) unless it is specified in the Funding Opportunity Announcement, in which case only one amendment will be permitted.

Inquiries
Applicants are strongly encouraged to discuss their questions with their NIH IC contact.  For additional information or questions, please contact:

Division of Receipt and Referral
Center for Scientific Review
6701 Rockledge Drive MSC 7720
Bethesda, MD  20892-7720
Voice:  (301) 435-0715
Fax:  (301) 480-1987

We've learned plenty in the past few weeks about economic conditions, government policies, and bank mergers, but we don't often hear how ordinary people working in the sciences are coping with hard financial times. You can find one of those stories at "I’ve Paid For This Twice Already ..." , a blog by a Ph.D. geneticist working part-time to support her family of four.

The blogger, who prefers to remain anonymous, tells how her family learned to live frugally and pay down their combined student loans and credit card debt. When her husband lost his job, she became the family's sole source of income. She and her husband were forced to make drastic changes in lifestyle, but their key decision was to abandon credit cards. They had relied before on credit cards to bail them out each month, which added to a crushing debt burden. Even after he found new employment about 6 months later, they decided to keep to their strict financial regimen.

In June 2007 she started the blog, which includes a summary of their current finances and progress in paying down their debt. At that time, she and her husband had nearly $36,500 in debt;  as of 23 September they had cut to about $15,000. The blog tells about their methods of getting control of their finances: making a complete inventory of assets and liabilities, living within a budget, and paying down the principal on loans any time they could. The blog gives tips on living frugally, which at this point in our history is not a bad idea for anyone.

The title of the blog, by the way, comes from her estimation that using credit cards for purchases increases costs to such an extent that you end up paying twice the amount on the price tag.

Hat tip: Laura Rowley Money & Happiness

October 5, 2008

Math(s) on Prime Time

If you're in England, tune in to BBC4 at 9 p.m. on Monday for the first of a four-part series called "The Story of Maths." The show is the creation of Oxford University mathematics professor Marcus du Sautoy, who is something of a national celebrity when it comes to, well, math celebrities. My colleague Elisabeth Pain wrote about a talk du Sautoy gave at the Euroscience Open Forum in July, where he discussed his career path and devotion to communicating science. Here is du Sautoy's summary of the four episodes in the series.

October 3, 2008

Be True to Your School

Summer offers students a chance to make a little money, have fun, goof off, or--as in the case of 10 recent alumni of Eleanor Roosevelt High School (ERHS) in Greenbelt, Maryland--redesign the school's engineering curriculum.

One of the elite institutions in Prince George's County, Maryland, with rigorous enrollment requirements and often a waiting list, ERHS asked a group of its recent graduates to spend 6 weeks this past summer bringing its engineering curriculum up to date.

About one-third of ERHS's 2700 students take part in the school's science and technology magnet program. The program requires all freshman to take two introductory engineering classes, but those classes had changed little since they started in 1976. Located north and east of Washington, DC, Prince George's County is 63% African-American, making the program a key source of minority talent in science and technology for universities.

Jane Hemelt, coordinator of the science and technology program, recognized the need for a new curriculum, but like many public schools, needed help finding the resources--skilled staff and money--to make it happen. For the skilled staff, Hemelt called on Rocco Mennella, a mathematics faculty member at ERHS who also teaches at nearby Catholic University and Prince George's Community College. Mennella had already recruited a group of recent ERHS graduates to tutor university pre-calculus students over the summer. Hemelt convinced Mennella and his tutors to help with the curriculum upgrade as well. Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) provided a grant.

Those former ERHS students returned from some of the country's leading institutions: Caltech, MIT, Brown, Johns Hopkins, Georgia Tech, and University of Maryland. As the project got underway and the students and faculty adviser began exchanging ideas, Mennella decided to step out of the picture let the students run the show. The students got input from some 50 engineering professors and fashioned a program with academic rigor, combining physics, math, and computer science. The classes expose students to civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering, adding practical hands-on exercises (e.g., designing the Taj Mahal, building an SUV) to provide a dose of reality as well as some fun.

HHMI's Web site tells more about this program. There's no indication if the ERHS grads were also able to sneak in a sun tan.

In an otherwise dismal report from the Bureau of Labor statistics, one bright spot was in the oil and gas extraction industry, which added 8000 jobs in September. Oil and gas extraction has added 241,000 jobs since April 2003. Only a small fraction of those jobs are for scientists, of course, but that's still a pretty good report for times like these. We covered careers for geologists in oil extraction in August.

Another relative bright spot was the health care industry, which has been adding jobs rapidly in recent months (averaging 30,000 new jobs monthly). Last month's report was considerably worse than previous months--17,000 new jobs--but it remains a bright spot.

The financial crisis in the United States has started to affect operations of smaller colleges and universities. The New York Times reported yesterday that Wachovia Bank has limited access to a fund used by many smaller institutions for short-term financing of their day-to-day operations. This move has forced some institutions to scramble to find the money for payroll and other immediate obligations.

Until Monday, Wachovia Bank served as the trustee for the Commonfund, where some 1,000 institutions in the U.S. deposited their cash receipts, then drew out funds using lines of credit to pay staff, purchase supplies, and conduct other day-to-day transactions. On Monday, according to the Times, Wachovia resigned from its trustee role with Commonfund. The bank also limited access by institutions to the estimated $9.3 billion in the Commonfund to 10 percent of their accounts' value. On Tuesday, Commonfund was able to sell some of its government-backed securities to increase its liquidity.

For institutions depending on Commonfund, Monday's announcement hit hard. The University of Vermont says that half of its liquid assets--some $79 million--are in Commonfund. The University of Akron had $800,000 in Commonfund, but could withdraw only $80,000 when it heard the fund was in trouble. Many institutions have been forced to negotiate separate lines of credit with other institutions at a time when credit is tightening.

Wachovia was one of the banks hit particularly hard  by the financial crisis. Citigroup announced this week the purchase of Wachovia's banking operations. Commonfund had invested its funds in high-rated government and corporate bonds, avoiding the the mortgage-backed securities considered among the root causes of the financial crisis. But the central role of Wachovia with Commonfund appears to have crippled the fund's work.

The Times also reports that Boston University, while not a Commonfund participant, announced a freeze on hiring and new capital projects as a precaution, given the uncertain financial conditions.

UPDATE, 3 October 2008: Associated Press reports this morning that Wells Fargo & Co. will acquire all of Wachovia's assets, pushing aside the earlier deal with Citigroup.