Science Careers Blog

January 2009

A report released last week by the European Commission offers the latest snapshot of scientific training and employment in the EU-27 countries in comparison to global trends. Below are some of the key findings. 

First, the 2008 Science, Technology, and Competitiveness key figures report found that the number of researchers has grown twice as fast in the EU-27 as in the United States or Japan. Yet in 2006, Europe ranked second in total numbers, counting 1.33 million researchers compared to 1.39 and 1.22 million in the U.S.A. and China, respectively.  

The report largely attributed the growth in the number of researchers in Europe to greater employment in the private sector. But with about half its researchers employed in companies, the EU-27 business sector still employed proportionately fewer researchers than the United States (79%) or Japan (68%).

Another interesting trend is the increase of the number of doctoral researchers trained in the EU-27 by 4.8% annually, compared to 4.6% in Japan and 3.3% in the United States. In real numbers, the EU27 ranked first with around 100,000 new doctoral degrees awarded, compared to 53,000 in the United States and 15,000 in Japan in 2005.

The 169-page report looks at all aspects of European research, from trends in R&D investment and patenting to international collaborations. The full version may be found here.

For a summary of the funding trends see Daniel Clery's coverage in this week's Science (subscription required).   



January 29, 2009

A Small World

A recent post at the new Science Origins blog resonates strongly with Science Careers. The post is by Janet Iwasa, who became a scientific illustrator with support from NSF's regrettably discontinued, much lamented Discovery Corps program, which also trained Geoffrey Bothun, who Science Careers profiled in 2004. The post also mentions Graham Johnson, a scientific illustrator I profiled the following year.

Apart from the Science Careers connections, it's a good read, describing how one scientist made a successful career transition, from studying small, hypothetical structures in early forms of life to animating them.
Our colleagues at ScienceInsider report Wednesday that Canada's prime minister Stephen Harper is taking a different tack from U.S. president Barack Obama in funding for science in that country's economic recovery package. In Harper's new budget, released Tuesday, funds for the three councils that support research in science, engineering, and the humanities will be cut $113 million over the next three years.

Harper's budget does increase funds for maintenance and upgrades of Canada's scientific infrastructure. Some $1.62 billion of a total of $10 billion for infrastructure improvements is devoted to scientific facilities. The budget also proposes $71 million for 1,500 graduate scholarships and $1.6 million for a feasibility study of a new Arctic research station.

Some of Canada's scientific leaders feel Harper is missing an opportunity. Pierre Noreau, president of the French-Canadian Association for the Advancement of Science told the CBC that the budget focused too much on the short term and missed the big picture of research spending. "Infrastructure spending is ... important for the research world," said Noreau. "But it's a very short-term decision. Yes, you need the building, but in the long-term you need people, and to get them you need to commit to work that may not have an immediate benefit."

The difference in direction in research funding between the United States and Canada also has some scientific leaders worried about a new brain drain from Canada. Claire Morris, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, told ScienceInsider, "You know how many people we attracted back with our Canada Research Chairs program. The flow can go both ways." The Research Chairs program, described in Science Careers in 2004, was designed to keep more of Canada's home-grown talent from going outside for opportunities and attract more international scholars.

Late last week the Senate passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which extends the length of time after a wage-discrimination offense that a suit can be filed. The vote was a filibuster-proof 61-36.

The bill is named for Lilly Ledbetter, who worked for the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in Gadsden, Alabama. As Ledbetter neared the end of her career with the company, she received an anonymous note from a co-worker that said the company was paying her 70-85% of what her male counterparts made for doing the same work.

Ledbetter sued Goodyear, in a case decided by the Supreme Court in 2007. The court ruled against Ledbetter in 5-4 vote, saying that the 180-day statue of limitations in the civil rights laws began when company began its discriminatory practices--not when she learned about them. In Ledbetter's case, the discrimination lasted for her entire 19-year career. As she told MSNBC, "I started out at a lower salary, and they gave me lower raises, over and over again."

The legislation tackles this problem by restarting the 180-day clock each time the company pays a discriminatory wage. Thus, someone who believes his or her employer is engaging in wage discrimination can sue up to 180 days after the last instance of discrimination--the final or most recent insufficient paycheck--not the first instance as the Supreme Court ruled.

The House of Representative passed a similar bill earlier in January, but the two houses need to resolve their differences before passing on a reconciled bill to President Obama for his signature. President Bush vetoed comparable legislation last year, but President Obama invited Ledbetter to ride with him on the train to his inauguration the weekend before his swearing in--evidence that he probably will sign this year's version.

Update 29 January 2009: President Obama signed the legislation today.
I've been thinking a good bit about the recent economic downturn. There is no doubt that it is, on balance, a very bad thing for job-seekers. But, I've asked myself, are there any bright spots?

So far I haven't thought of many, but here are a couple. First, if you don't already own a home, your housing costs could be significantly lower. It's a scary time to buy real estate, but if you've got the courage you should be able to buy a house for significantly less than you could have a year or two ago. If you're really disciplined and not too choosy you can probably pick up something really cheap. And if you qualify, mortgage rates are very low. Furthermore, as real-estate prices fall, the cost of rentals does, too. An acquaintance even suggested recently that this is a good time to find free house-sitting gigs, though I don't remember how he arrived at this conclusion.

In an employment context, right now state and private universities are really struggling to deal with endowment losses and state-revenue shortfalls. Many universities are laying off workers--though most layoffs, so far have been restricted to staff. Many faculty searches, however, have been canceled.

Yet this is one time when it's good to be on soft money. Because, although recent NIH budgets have not been kind, soft money promises to be abundant over the next couple of years. Read our recent entry on the science provisions of the draft stimulus bill.  Anyway, while there may not be much money for hiring new faculty, there should soon be plenty of money floating around to pay postdoc salaries. This might be a good time to hunker down and enjoy a reasonably stable postdoc paycheck.

Another good employment target is community colleges. In times of economic struggle, more people turn to cheaper community colleges, where they can save not just on tuition but also on housing costs (by continuing to live at home). Furthermore, when unemployment rates climb, governments often turn to community colleges to administer vocational retraining programs. Somebody has to teach all those new students--so maybe you can supplement that postdoc income with a part-time gig at the local 2-year college.

In the private, non-educational sector, there's this: When, as now, companies lay off lots of workers and hiring freezes are in place, temp agencies and contractors often do well. That's because there's still basic work to be done that was one by those employees, and people on contract usually aren't covered by a hiring freeze.

There should be some winners in key industries in the coming years. Venture capitalists are interested in investing in energy companies, especially when there's a prospect of some public support. There's been talk of more public-private partnerships, an approach to innovation the Department of Energy has long favored.

Last but certainly not least, lean times are good times to have less but enjoy your time more. Many scientists will have to come to terms with the reduced value of their labor in a market that can't make good use of it. As the value of labor declines, the relative value of non-remunerative pursuits--hobbies, spending time with loved ones--increases.

I once spent several years in a combination of un- and under-employment, the result of a forced move to an economically (and scientifically) under-developed area. We were hardly rich, but we kept ourselves dry, warm, and fed. But at the time I was too young and stupid to take advantage of my leisure. I indulged my guilt over not working, and took every opportunity to bind myself to one pointless project or another. I realize now that I squandered the last bit of extended leisure that I'm likely to have before I'm old.

This might be the best advice I have for dealing with bad economic times. If you're forced to take a break, enjoy it.
Earlier this week, Dana Mattioli offered some hints in the Wall Street Journal's online careers section on getting a pay raise in these tough times. It's more difficult, says Mattioli, but not impossble.

Mattioli's advice is written mainly for employees of private companies, but her words apply to faculty and staff at universities or research institutes, as well as not-for-profit organizations. Even in the best of times, asking for a raise requires doing a little homework. In the winter of 2009, Mattioli says, it requires even more homework.

Start with documenting your accomplishments and contributions to your organization. Even in the worst times, employers want to retain and reward top performers, so you need to spell out your contributions; don't assume that the decision-makers already know about them. Show how you increased revenues through sales or new grants, brought in new customers, cut costs, or increased productivity.

In some cases your contributions may be subtle, but they can still can make a significant impact. For example, if you improved the way your lab captures and reports on the use of funders' grant money, this can reduce a lab's overhead and make more time available for researchers to do their science, as well as help increase the chances of a follow-on grant.

Mattioli suggests doing another homework assignment: make sure your organization can afford the raise. Check your employer's latest budget or financial reports, if available. Science Careers reported last month how health and education organizations are not in quite the same dire straits as the rest of the economy, so many researchers may be in a somewhat better position than most others.

Another strategy Mattioli recommends, this one more daring, is to ask for a promotion. If your performance and contributions--that you have so well documented--show that you can handle more responsibility and authority, then go for it. Mattioli quotes a human-resources consultant who had a client that wrote himself a promotion with an 8-page document making his case.

Even if your organization is not willing or able to hand out raises, Mattioli says, making your case now can help get your request to the head of the line when the economy improves. She quotes Jeff Summer who heads the talent management practice at the accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Summer advises deferred-raise seekers to align their efforts to their organization's recovery goals over the next year. Then be prepared at your next salary review to show how you helped make that recovery happen.

January 22, 2009

Honor Your Mentor

An email from MentorNet informed me this morning that today is Thank Your Mentor Day and that January is National Mentoring Month. MentorNet suggests that you take this opportunity to thank your mentor--perhaps by contributing $10, which will allow you to express your gratitude by posting your mentor's name on their Mentor Honor Wall. The money goes to support MentorNet, a worthy organization.

Of course there are many other ways to express your appreciation for your mentor's contributions. Do what you think is best. But it's always a good idea to express your gratitude to people who have helped you.

A real-life experiment has just shown how easy it is to compile the story of your life just by following the traces you're leaving on the Internet.

I first read about it in the French national Le Monde, but many French media outlets have now reported on the mésaventure of a young architect in France who not long ago discovered the entire story of his life published in the French independent magazine Le Tigre.

With the aim of showing how careless we are with the dissemination of private information over the Internet, Le Tigre drew its "first google portrait" by collecting details of the young architect's professional and private life from Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube. The article first appeared in print in December and has since been replaced on Le Tigre's Web site with a softer and more anonymous version at the young architect's request.

The young architect suffered no serious consequences, but the story shows that you may encounter pieces of yourself on the Internet that you'd rather not see aired quite so publically. As Alex Türk, the president of the national French Data Protection Authority (CNIL), said in that same Le Monde article:

"During a job interview, a young man saw himself being shown a picture of his buttocks. His potential employers had found it on the Internet. This image was the consequence of a night with plenty of wine. He didn't get the job." 

Have you tried googling yourself recently?

See also: Opportunities: E-Persona Non Grata

and: Tooling Up: Enhance Your Job Search Online

January 19, 2009

Life After Big Pharma

OK, my last C&E News related update for a while. Their 8 December issue includes their employment outlook--which, tellingly, focuses on alternatives to traditional employment--specifically, on contract-research jobs. (We covered contract research a year earlier, but with a focus on pharma and biotech.)

In slightly related news, this issue of C&E News describes AAAS's On-Call Scientists program, which provides scientists with science-related volunteer opportunities. Such volunteer work can lead to new expertise and new career opportunities.
Continuing my attempt to catch up on Chemical and Engineering News...

In the 15 December issue, lots of bad news. Leading off is news about massive layoffs at Dow, DuPont, and other companies.

Just two pages later comes Hard Times for Academe, which describes the effects of severe budget cuts on chemistry departments resulting from state revenue shortfalls and endowment losses.

Want more bad news? The suffering isn't limited to the United States. Germany's chemical industry, the largest in Europe, expects "stagnation in 2008 and decline in 2009."

And finally, amidst all this bad employment news comes word that the number of chemistry degrees awarded at every level continues to increase: more people seeking fewer jobs. (ACS membership required for access.)
I'm catching up on my reading of careers coverage in Chemical and Engineering News (C&EN) from the American Chemical Society (ACS).

According to an article in the 22 December issue, the representation of women on U.S. chemistry faculties has edged up--slowly--reaching 16% in the latest survey.

Also of interest in this issue: Lots of bad employment news, with short items ("Business Concentrates") on planned (and since consummated) job cuts at Bristol-Meyers, Pfizer, Jazz Pharmaceuticals, EntreMed, and Panacos. And if you're a chemist you should probably read the Chemical Year in Review, which highlights some of 2008's biggest chemistry advances.

More recent bad news from the same publication: the chemical industry lost 15,000 jobs in 2008, about 1.8% of the chemical-industry workforce. 
Our colleagues at the ScienceInsider blog highlight an analysis by AAAS (which publishes Science Careers) of the draft economic stimulus bill released yesterday by the House Appropriations Committee. According to the analysis the bill calls for $16 billion in research and development spending over the next 2 years, with $9.9 billion of that devoted to research.

Here are some of the proposed increases for research and related spending by agency. Once again, under the draft bill these increases would be spread over 2 years.
  • National Science Foundation. $2 billion for research grants; for comparison, the 2008 budget for research and related activities was about $4.8 billion, and the total 2008 NSF budget (including major equipment, education, and a few smaller items) was $6 billion.
  • National Institutes of Health. $1.5 billion to fund research, distributed across the institutes. The 2008 budget was just under $30 billion.
  • Department of Energy, Office of Science: $2 billion. This number includes funding for facilities upgrades and advanced scientific computing, as well as research grants.
  • Department of Energy, energy programs. $2 billion for "energy efficiency and renewable research, development, demonstration, and deployment projects"
  • Department of Energy, Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy. $400 million for start-up, authorized in 2008 but never funded
  • NASA. $400 million for earth science climate research and $150 million for aeronautics research
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). $100 million for NIST lab research.
  • Department of Defense. $350 million for energy-related R&D.
  • Department of Health and Human Services. $430 million for advanced biodefense countermeasures R&D in the new Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority
The draft bill also calls for spending on new facilities and equipment at government labs as well as at universities and non-government research institutes.

Two big cautions are required at this point. First, this is only a draft of a bill, which has not even been introduced, let alone passed, reconciled, and signed by the President. Thus, many of these numbers will change.

Second, as Science Careers editor Jim Austin pointed out in November, we need to keep an eye what happens after this stimulus bill is passed (assuming it passes). The commitment to science and the career development of scientists needs to continue over an extended period of time. It can't be just a one-shot deal.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal's careers section posted a reader's question that more and more scientists and engineers are likely to face in a weak economy: How do you explain short job tenures on your resume without looking like a job-hopping flake?

Having two or more jobs listed in one year on a resume can raise a flag among hiring managers. But during difficult times job changes may not be the fault of the applicants. They didn't leave their jobs; the jobs left them.

Even in good economic times, short-term work assignments offer a chance for scientists entering industry careers to show off their talents to prospective employers. The key to avoiding resume trouble is clear and honest advertising.

The Journal's Elizabeth Garone recommends that if your resume uses a chronological format and you're out of work for economic reasons--layoffs, or the company went out of business after you worked there a few months--the resume should say exactly that. H.R. departments and hiring managers know times are tough and that bad things can happen to good people.

Garone also suggests grouping consulting, freelance, and short-term assignments into a separate section. This approach can benefit full-time workers who take on freelance jobs after working hours.

Garone quotes career coach Sherri Thomas who suggests using a more functional, skills-based resume rather than the traditional reverse-chronological employment listing. This approach, says Thomas, highlights your contributions and capabilities rather than the dates you worked over the years.

In addition to the advantages outlined by Thomas, this approach can also handle gaps in your resume--periods you didn't work due to family responsibilities, say, or just unemployment.

Don't confuse a company's employment application, which often asks for a chronological employment list, with your resume, however. Thomas says that applicants need to be completely forthcoming about their dates of employment when filling out a job application, even if your resume uses a functional or skills-based format. "Include any employment, even if it's only for six weeks," says Ms. Thomas. "If you omit employment on an application, it's considered lying."

Myron Rolle, star defensive back at Florida State University, has chosen a Rhodes Scholarship studying medical anthropology over the immediate riches of an NFL career. Rolle completed his pre-med undergraduate degree in 2 1/2 years and is considered a top prospect at strong safety by NFL scouts.

Unlike most student-athletes, where the emphasis is on "athlete" rather than "student," Rolle found as much satisfaction in the classroom and lab as on the football field. Tim Logan, a biochemistry professor at Florida State, recognized Rolle's talents and offered him a chance to conduct research on metabolic characteristics of human mesenchymal stem cells. For this work, Rolle received Florida State's 2008 Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Award.

Getting the Rhodes Scholarship turned out to be a minor adventure as well. The interviews for Rhodes finalists were scheduled for Saturday 22 November, in Birmingham, Alabama,  the same day as Florida State's game at the University of Maryland. Rolle went to Birmingham for the interviews--then, with the help of a police escort and a private airplane, flew to College Park, Maryland (outside Washington, DC) in time to play the second half of the game, where Florida State trounced Maryland 37-3.

After completing his master's degree at Oxford, Rolle intends to enter the 2010 NFL draft. He also plans to go to medical school. There's no word whether Oxford intends to recruit Rolle for its rugby side.

January 12, 2009

Getting a Job in IT

This post from Slashdot and its many--many--replies is insightful, and not only for people seeking IT jobs. I didn't read all the replies, but I read enough to absorb a couple of themes.

Far and away the most common and important is the importance of practical work experience and the relative unimportance of education. Except in the very special case of academic (specifically faculty) employment, almost everyone said that grades don't matter.

Real-world experience, on the other hand, is the whole ballgame (if these posters are to be believed). There's a lot of disagreement (reflecting, probably, the huge diversity of opinion in the IT sector) about what kind of experience is considered meaningful. To some, an internship is the way to go. Others recommend getting deeply involved in an open-source project, or writing code for the iPhone (or similarly hot technologies). A few disrespected such experience, making it clear that in their world only actual paid employment really counts.

Whether you want to work in industry or academia, if you want a science careers grades do matter. But experience matters too--and it's interesting to consider the ways that science is similar to--and different from--IT. For example, it's pretty rare to hear anyone talk about "open-source" science--but in a general way much of academic science qualifies. Science is a large-scale, communal project aimed at expanding what we know. We're used to getting paid for this kind of work but, in the interest of gaining experience, you might consider working pro bono as the open-source IT folks do, especially if there's an opportunity to branch out into a field you're really interested in and do interesting work there.

Internships are mostly (but not completely) an undergraduate phenomenon in the sciences, but they can be used to gain some practical, real-world experience. The challenge is to take advantage of the opportunity by doing something real and interesting (instead of just filling in another slot on your resume).

The grades thing is quite different from what you would expect to find in science. To me (and I suspect most scientists) good grades are an indication that you're smart, and most of us think a smart scientist is better than a not-so-smart one. Apparently things are different in IT. Either smarts don't count for as much or (in the opinions of some folks who post on Slashdot either disregard smarts (the classroom kind anyway) or believe that classes (and good grades) don't test what really matters, which is...unspecified.
A third U.S. Army social scientist has died while on duty. Paula Loyd, 36, an anthropologist in the Army's Human Terrain System program, died earlier this week from burns received in a November 2008 attack in Afghanistan.

Cary Clack, a columnist with the San Antonio Express-News, described the attack as unprovoked. "Loyd was in the Afghan village of Maywand on Nov. 4 when she began talking to an Afghan man. Without warning he doused her [with a flammable liquid] and set her on fire." The attack left Loyd with second- and third-degree burns over 60% of her body. The Taliban, added Clack, took credit for the attack in a Web site statement. She died at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, where she had been transferred.

Wired's Danger Room blog says Loyd was the third social scientist in the Human Terrain program killed in the line of duty, and the second one killed in Afghanistan. Michael Bhatia, a political scientist in the program, was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in May 2008. About 2 months later, Nicole Suveges, an economist working for an Army contractor, died when a bomb destroyed a community building in Sadr City, Baghdad.
The Human Terrain System's purpose, as described by its Web site, is "to improve the military's ability to understand the highly complex local socio-cultural environment in the areas where they are deployed; however, in the long-term, HTS hopes to assist the US government in understanding foreign countries and regions prior to an engagement within that region."

The Open Anthropology blog notes that Loyd's death still has not been mentioned on the Human Terrain's Web site, as of 8 January 2009.

Update, 13 January 2009. The Human Terrain System Web site now has a memorial page for Loyd. That page says the attack took place on 5 November, not 4 November as reported by Cary Clack.

Update, 9 January 2009: Ms. Loyd's age corrected. BAE Systems, the company that employed Loyd, released a statement today.
Danielle Lee, a grad student at the University of Missouri in St. Louis, tells how getting more ethnic diversity in the science workforce will take more of the special programs that give students hands-on experience that they don't necessarily get in the classroom.

In an article in the 31 December St. Louis American (a weekly newspaper on African-American topics), Lee describes the process of educating students as a pipeline, where the number of students at one level depends on the flow of students from earlier on. She tells how the number of minority school children interested in science often slows in high school and almost dries up by college and graduate school. And even the small number of science students in college often switch majors by their junior years.  The pipeline metaphor to describe this process is not new, but you do not often see it spelled out this way in the popular media.

Lee, herself a grad student in Ecology, Evolution and Systematics, recommends that students take advantage of special after-hours programs in science, summer hands-on research experiences (camps for younger students and internships for working-age students), and attend scientific meetings to regenerate interest in science. "I realize not everyone who participates will necessarily stay in the sciences,' says Lee. "But I believe having such experiences solidifies a student's certainty in his or her future direction."

Lee, a Science Careers Facebook Fan, has her own blog, and blogs for the Young Black Professional's Guide, where she gave our December feature on undergraduate internships a nice plug.

At this point I don't know why, or what she'll be talking about, or how long she'll be talking. But I've learned that Science Careers writer Beryl Benderly, who writes our Taken for Granted column, will appear on CNN's Lou Dobbs Journal tonight. The show starts at 7 p.m. eastern time, at least on the east coast. 
I hate to admit it, but The Scientist has been publishing some good career-related stuff over the last couple of years. From their latest issue:

Balancing Life and Science, a series of profiles by Jennifer Evans. One profile is of Ahna Skop, whom Anne Sasso profiled in more detail last January in the virtual pages of Science Careers.

Don't Fight to Be Cited, wherein Steven Wiley suggests publishing not in the most prestigious journals but the ones most likely to be read by your grant reviewers. (I take issue with his suggestion to "forget Science..." but his basic message is sound.)

You may need to register to read these articles, but registration is free.

January 7, 2009

Orwell's Golden Rules

Over at the Survival Blog for Scientists (named for the book by Ad Lagendijk), Ramy El-Dardiry relays, from George Orwell's book Politics and the English Language, some simple but excellent rules for communication.  "It (the English language) becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish," Orwell writes, "but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts." Hence the importance of simple, clear, jargon-free language.

Click on the link to read the rules. Lots of other good stuff at the Survival Blog for Scientists.
All job forecasts have their limitations, especially in a climate of economic crisis, but the conclusions of a new European Commission report struck me as possibly good news for scientists in search of alternatives to pure academic careers.
With the recent launch of its 'New Skills for New Jobs' strategy, the European Commission aims to better assess labour market needs across European countries and better match these needs with people's skills. A first EC report assessing the European job landscape through 2020 forecasts that more jobs will require high education levels. A great number of jobs are expected to be created in the service sector in particular, including IT, insurance, and consultancy. And with the market for environmental products and services set to double by 2020, a great number of jobs related to renewable energy development, sustainable construction and agriculture, and climate change mitigation are also expected to be created.
As for the skills needed in the near future, the report concludes that "across sectors, transversal and generic skills will be increasingly valued on the labour market: problem-solving and analytical skills, self-management and communication skills, the ability to work in a team, linguistic skills and digital competences."
Now, aren't these the skills any Ph.D. student living in a foreign country is poised to gain?
The complete EC document may be downloaded from here.
Elizabeth Blackburn is perhaps best known for her work on telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that gradually erode as we age, and for co-discovering the enzyme telomerase. She's now studying whether certain lifestyle interventions can promote telomere repair.

An excellent article in this weekend's San Francisco Chronicle outlines this new line of research--and provides a nice profile of Blackburn, her career path, and her dual role as scientist and mother. I like this quote from her husband: "There is no question that one of the nice features of Liz is that she's shown young women scientists that you can make it and also have a family, that it's not one or the other, and that it's fun. You go home at night and feel like there are some interesting new ideas, even after you've been doing it for 30 years."

Dr. Albert has hit the nail right on the cheesehead!  My daughter (Allison H. Bartlett, MD , a pediatric infectious disease specialist raised in Madison, WI) sent me Albert's article this am.  I am a graduate of UW-Madison medical school as is my husband, trained at Washington University in St. Louis and moved back to raise our family and practice in Madison.  My daughter Allison attended Princeton University, medical school at Washington U in St. Louis, and residency through fellowship and is now on faculty at Baylor U/Texas Children's Hospital. My son, a musician, attended school in New York, London, and recently lived 2 yrs. in Philly.

We talk about this phenomenon often, as we have all experienced it, but Dr. Albert has described it very precisely.  It brings a chuckle to all of us.  Both environments have their merit, but growing up in the Midwest, I (we) prefer the cheesehead environment.  This extends into most aspects of life, I (we) have observed--well beyond the science/academic/research environment.  It is really the Midwest vs. the East coast values/ethics/mentality.

Thanks to Dr. Albert for the interesting article.

Cheryl A. Bartlett, MD
Every scientist has heard of "back of the envelope" calculations, and many have had the experience of sketching out ideas for a project or grant proposal on the back of an envelope. The University of Alabama-Birmingham's School of Public Health has taken this idea one step further with its Inaugural Back of the Envelope Awards.

Applicants for these seed grants, which are funded from state coffers, are required to submit  proposals on the backs of standard letter-sized envelopes. The department received 19 applications and made 4 awards.
While reviewing this week's article "Smarter Than the Average Desk" I had to ask what the term "digital natives" meant. The answer, once you hear it, is obvious: 'digital natives' are the youngish people who grew up surrounded by digital technology. In the article, we note that scientists, engineers, and educators are designing classroom technology that must meet the needs of these digital natives, who have been exposed to electronic gadgets and fast-paced multimedia since birth.

On his blog Zero Percent Idle, Tim Windsor elaborates on digital natives by excerpting from Don Tapscott's book Grown Up Digital. This new generation (or 'Net Generation,' as Tapscott says) wants freedom in everything they do, loves to customize and personalize their technology, and seeks entertainment in all aspects of life: work, education, and social life. These are the factors that those in education technology have to keep in mind when creating devices and learning technologies meant to captivate their audiences.

These characteristics will be on display as this generation enters the workforce; for example, this cohort is used to constant socializing and collaborating through social networking sites and online projects. Understanding these generational characteristics will be important for employers who want to recruit and maintain their workforce. We discussed these issues in last year's article, "The Truth About Gen Y."

January 2, 2009

'Early Stage' at NIH

Those of you in the biomedical-research world are no doubt aware of the weirdness surrounding early-career independent investigators. Under Zerhouni, the organization worked very hard to ensure that scientists at the beginning of their careers got their share of research grants. They've been pretty successful.

But their success has come at the expense of some strangeness. Let's review. First there were the "FIRST" awards, a competition that was open only to scientists who hadn't been funded before by NIH. These were relatively small compared to R01s and carried a certain stigma; as a result, NIH found in a study, FIRST awards were ineffective in helping scientists get their first R01s. Rather than increase the size of the awards to make them more effective in this respect, NIH discontinued the program.

Next, NIH created "New Investigator" status for its R01 applicants. If you've never before received a real NIH research grant (an R01 of equivalent), you get special treatment. Standards for "New Investigators" aren't so much lower as different, with less emphasis on preliminary data and more emphasis on potential. Anyway, that is how it's supposed to work.

Then NIH discovered that approximately half of their "New Investigators" were not early in their careers. So they created a new status: "Early Stage Investigator." An early-stage investigator is a new investigator who received their doctoral degree within the last decade. 

Here's the latest twist: Now you can apply for an extension in your early-stage-investigator status if you've had a period of less-than-full-time research for reasons "that can include medical concerns, disability, family care responsibilities, extended periods of clinical training, natural disasters, and active duty military service."
In an article titled "How to Fix Your Life in 2009," Wednesday's Wall Street Journal offers a list of helpful hints for 2009 covering personal finance, retirement planning, health care costs, and a few career issues. The piece has contributions from several of the Journal's writers and focuses on particularly troublesome issues related to the recession.

The career-related hints, however, seem to apply to any economic conditions. If your job hunt has hit a dead-end, Sarah Needleman recommends investing time in networking, attending business meetings and events, and fixing your Facebook or MySpace profile so it does not display inappropriate content. She also suggests creating profiles on more business-oriented networks (e.g. LinkedIn) and hiring a career coach to critique your resume and improve your interviewing skills.

(On the last point, we think you could save a little money and read Science Careers to get much of the same information. Admittedly, we're a little biased.)

Elsewhere in the article, Joseph De Avila tells how to get your name off embarrassing photos that others might post on Facebook and MySpace, and how to avoid it in the future.

Sarah Needleman returns later to advise readers how to update the resume they haven't touched for 5 years.  Start with an objective that summarizes the kind of job you are seeking, says Needleman. Then outline your work history, describing your contributions to each employer. Then have someone review and proofread the text. If you want to use an outside resume service, Needleman tells how to go about choosing one.

Other timeless advice in the column includes how to keep your produce from rotting too quickly (store fruits and vegetables separately) and what to do about those four-inch stiletto heels that are killing your feet.