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Science Careers Blog

June 2009

The Science Careers feature last week on career renewal has pointed us towards several stories involving strange career turns, including this report, spotted by editor Jim Austin, on Wayne Marasco, M.D., Ph.D., appearing today on the U.S. News and World Report site.

According to the article, Marasco developed a technique for identifying common antibodies in viruses that could lead to a breakthrough for more comprehensive vaccines to treat viral illnesses, such as influenza or HIV/AIDS. He is on the faculty at Harvard Medical School and research staff of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and is also founder of the National Foundation of Cancer Research Center for Therapeutic Antibody Engineering.

Marasco's path into science was most unusual. After college, Marasco took a job as a technician in a kidney dialysis lab, where he developed an interest in medicine. This interest had to wait, however, because he started a roofing and siding business that became successful. His interest in medical science stayed in the background until he decided to return to the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1980. Marasco later did a postdoc at University of Michigan Medical School, where he also got an M.D. degree in 1986.

A decade ago, Marasco started compiling a library of 27 billion anibodies. Researchers can mix the antibodies in his library with target viruses and catch the antibodies that bind to the target. His work has been applied to the H5N1 (SARS) virus and most recently to the H1N1 (swine flu) virus.  In the H5N1 case, Marasco's technique led to the discovery of a common feature of bird flu viruses that rarely mutates--and a common antibody that binds to it--and thus could make possible a common vaccine against these viruses. Vaccines now must target specific strains; when the viruses mutate, the vaccines become less effective. Marasco's discovery could change all that.

While our country needs good roofers, Marasco's career choice will likely have more widespread and beneficial consequences.
Biology doctoral student, blogger, and Science Careers Facebook fan Danielle Lee points us to a competition that gives the winner an all-expenses-paid trip to Antarctica. The contest offers bloggers--Danielle is one of the contestants--a chance to post an essay on why they deserve to win the voyage. Visitors to the site vote on who they believe most deserves to go.

Quark Expeditions is holding the contest. The company says it has conducted commercial polar expeditions since 1991. Bloggers must post their essays, no longer than 300 words, on the Quark Expeditions site. The contestant who receives the most votes and a companion will receive a free cruise in February 2010 on one of Quark Expedition's vessels, plus round-trip air travel to Ushuaia, Argentina, where the ship departs.   

So far, 188 hopefuls have entered. A quick review of the entries shows that many science students and early-career scientists from around the world have signed up, as well as environmentalists of all ages. The competition opened on 19 June and continues to 30 September. Registration with the site is required for voting.

Up to this year, National Science Foundation (NSF) offered artists and writers opportunities to visit Antarctica, but that program has been put on hold. Here's last year's GrantsNet entry describing the program. NSF hopes to continue it after 2010. 

It was just a coincidence, but last Saturday I went to see a movie that tied in with the career renewal feature we published just the day before on Science Careers. If you get a chance, go and see it. It's a lovely story providing food for thoughts for academics.

 

'The Visitor' features a university professor in Connecticut who has spent his career researching and giving lectures on the economic development of poor countries. But, as 62-year-old Walter Vale (played by Richard Jenkins, an Academy award nominee for best actor) writes his fourth book, he realizes that it has been years since he felt excitement for his subject. All Vale has been doing lately--though he has been doing it very successfully--is pretending to work.

 

The pretence starts to crumble when a colleague he wrote a paper with gives birth and is unable to present the research at a conference in New York City. Asked to substitute for her, Vale initially declines. His contribution to the work was to put his name on the paper--nothing more. But Vale eventually agrees, to avoid having the issue go to the dean.

 

The conference becomes a life-changing experience for Vale, though not for academic reasons. Upon coming to stay in a flat he owns in New York City, Vale finds out it has been illegally rented to a couple of young immigrants. Vale allows them to stay until they find another place to live, and an unlikely friendship develops between Vale and the young man, a musician from Syria. Under his guidance Vale enters a new musical world that revitalizes his life and awakens a new passion in him--playing the African drum.

 

Vale is dragged into yet another world as the young musician is arrested for being an illegal immigrant. Despite Vale's passionate efforts to help him, the young man is deported back to Syria. The movie stops there, but it is easy to imagine Vale's encounter with the young man renewing his professional life. Left with a feeling of injustice, anger, and uselessness, Vale may have felt compelled to document the everyday struggles of citizens of developing countries who come and live in the United States, and other countries, as illegal immigrants.

One section of the climate-change bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday (officially, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, or ACES), creates a series of clean energy innovation centers under the Department of Energy with three objectives:

"(1) leverage the expertise and resources of the university and private research communities, industry, venture capital, national laboratories, and other participants in energy innovation to support cross-disciplinary research and development in areas not being served by the private sector in order to develop and transfer innovative clean energy technologies into the marketplace;

"(2) expand the knowledge base and human capital necessary to transition to a low-carbon economy; and

"(3) promote regional economic development by cultivating clusters of clean energy technology firms, private research organizations, suppliers, and other complementary groups and businesses."

The new centers will focus on clean energy technologies, those produced from renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass, and tidal. They will also conduct R&D on improving energy distribution, encouraging smart grid development, enhancing energy efficiencies in buildings and industries, producing materials with energy or energy-efficiency applications, improving water management and conservation, and enhancing energy efficiency in transportation (e.g., developing electrical vehicles).

This section of the bill (sec. 171, sub-title H) authorizes establishing eight of these centers, each with a particular research focus. ACES requires the centers to be composed of consortia, each with two research universities and at least one other qualifying entity, defined as a state institution or non-government organization with research or commercialization expertise.

Commercialization plays a key role in this part of the bill. Each center is required to have a commercialization unit, with the task of speeding to market the research generated from these centers. The bill tasks these units with making sure the private sector participates in the centers and and that the centers do not displace work already undertaken by for-profit companies.

An analysis of ACES by the Brookings Institution applauds the establishment of these centers, but considers the funds authorized for them "paltry". The analysis notes that ACES establishes an important principle by devoting a slice of the funds generated by the cap-and-trade system established in the bill, a slice that's likely to amount to about $1.4 billion per year.

Brookings says the U.S. needs to invest $20-30 billion in energy R&D per year to create technologies deployable on a large enough scale to make a difference. The House version of ACES, according to the Brookings report, projects at most a total of $9 billion in annual spending for the innovation centers and other development projects from 2012 to 2025.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) reports in its latest Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering that the number and diversity of grad students and postdocs in these disciplines increased in 2007.

The report says that in 2007 the number of engineering and science students increased 3.3% over 2006, the largest one-year jump since 2002. Science graduate students outnumber engineering students by a 3-to-1 margin (about 385,000 to 132,000), but the percentage of engineering students increased more sharply in 2007, up 5.9% compared to 2.4% for science students.

The science and engineering student population continued to become more diverse in 2007. The number of women rose slightly more (2.9%) than men (2.6%) in 2007. Women now make up about 44% of the science/engineering graduate student population.  And the percentage of students from underrepresented groups--Asian, African-American, Hispanic, and Native/Alaskan-American students--increased in each group from 2.7 to 3.7%. While the number foreign graduate students (temporary visa holders) increased by 8,424 in 2007, the percentage of foreign students remained about the same (29%) as in 2006.

The postdoctoral population also grew, from just under 35,000 in 2006 to more than 36,000 in 2007, a jump of nearly 2.9 percent. And while the number of foreign postdocs continued to outpace the number of U.S. postdocs in 2007, the percentage of American postdocs edged up from 40.4% to 41.7% in 2007.

June 25, 2009

Where do Ph.D.s work?

Anywhere from 30% to 60% of doctoral graduates in the sciences end up in research, depending on the discipline. That's according to a new report, "What Do Researchers Do? First Destinations of Doctoral Graduates by Subject," released yesterday afternoon by Vitae, the U.K.-funded career development organization for doctorate holders and postdocs (called research staff in the U.K.).

The report builds on previous reports the organization has put together, including "What Do Ph.D.s Do?", which we reported on in 2007. Now, though, the folks at Vitae have 5 years' of data to work with, which means they could analyze where Ph.D.s end up by specific subjects, not just by broad categories.

For example, the biological sciences overall had the highest percentage of graduates entering research careers -- some 60% go into research, whether that's as a postdoc, in some other form of academic research, or in industry. Among a narrower slice--biochemistry, molecular biology, and biophysics graduates--that number is above 70%.

In the physical sciences, about 43% of doctoral graduates end up in research roles. That percentage was around 60% for the geology and chemistry graduates and below 30% for mathematics doctorate holders. As a whole, 7.8% of physical sciences and engineering graduates reported that they went into business and finance; among the mathematics subgroup, some 25% of doctorate holders went into the business and financial sector. Check out the report to see where people in your field end up after getting their Ph.D.s.

By looking at the data in the report, "you can do a sense check" of what you think your career options are, says Janet Metcalfe, chair and head of Vitae. "Then, you can look at the variety of sectors and occupations people go in, and you can realize there's a whole world out there of exciting jobs and possibilities." 

The data come from the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey, which captures information on the first jobs of doctorate holders who graduated in 2003 through 2007. There's a caveat, though: The new report only analyzes data on U.K. graduates who stay in the U.K. The occupations are reported in 14 categories, including commercial, industrial, and public sector managers; scientific research, analysis & development professionals; health professionals; education and teaching professionals; marketing, sales, media, and advertising professionals; and even numerical clerks and cashiers, clerical, retail, and bar staff. (Geology and math doctorate holders have the highest percentage of cashiers and bartenders among them, with 4.4% and 4.7%, respectively.) 

Also released yesterday, a collection of 40 profiles of doctorate holders who are now in jobs ranging from lecturers, research associates, program managers, consultants, and even a chairman of a banana business (his Ph.D.: plant science). They all highlight that there is no one research career path and no single solution to what is the "correct" career path.

 

A new study finds a strong correlation between hidden or unconscious stereotypes that link males with science and mathematics to higher achievement among males in those fields. The findings, by University of Virginia psychology professor Brain Nosek, are published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study matches data from two independent databases, one on common biases and the other on science/math achievement. The first database, dubbed Project Implicit, examines hidden, unspoken stereotypes lurking among people in all walks of life, even those who consider themselves fair and open-minded. The project gathers data on gender, race, age, religion, and other social stereotypes and has collected data on the attitudes of more than 4.5 million people worldwide. Project Implicit has used Web-based questionnaires for data collection since 1998.

Nosek and his team matched the Project Implicit data to the achievement results in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). TIMSS gathers achievement data from 4th and 8th grade students worldwide. The latest TIMSS effort collected achievement results in 2007 on 8th grade students in 48 countries and 4th grade students in 36 countries.

Using the TIMSS 8th grade data, Nosek found that 70 percent of the Project Implicit participants in 34 countries with TIMSS  results hold implicit stereotypes connecting science and math to males more than females. And in those countries where the stereotypes were most pronounced, the gender differences in test scores were also more pronounced.

Project Implicit asks respondents to quickly associated male terms (e.g., he, father, son) or female terms (she, mother, daughter) with science terms (physics, chemistry, biology) or liberal arts (literature, history, arts). Most participants associated science terms with male terms rather than with female terms. The study also found these implicit connections at about the same rate among male and female respondents.

Nosek used data collected by Project Implicit from July 2000 through July 2008. The Gender-Science Implicit Association Test is one of the several demonstration tests on the Project Implicit site, if you want to test your own potential biases.

The full report of the March 2009 conference, Tomorrow's Women, Tomorrow's World, is now available online from the U.K. Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering, and Technology. Conference reports aren't usually page-turners, but I attended this excellent meeting, and I think the report sums everything up nicely and succinctly. For me, the highlights were:

-Meeting Maggie Aderin-Pocock, who launched the U.K. portion of "She is an Astronomer" at the conference. We profiled her in Science Careers last week.

-Hearing Wendy Schultz talk about her work as a futurist. I'm so glad the world has people like her to think about about change on a global level. (Hear her plenary talk and see her workshop materials.)

-Appreciating BBC journalist Maggie Philbin's contributions to the discussion and her excellent job as meeting moderator (hey, it's a true skill to move discussion forward and keep everyone on schedule).

-Talking to so many fabulous women scientists, including Rhian Chapman, a recent engineering graduate who's now at Selex Galileo -- who later spoke with us for an article on careers in the defense industry.

If reading a brief conference summary is still too much, how about Tweets? I did my first experiment with Twitter from this conference, and the highlights are below. (We now have an official Science Careers Twitter feed, @mysciencecareer.)

>Lord Drayson: Children should be learning about more modern science heroines.


>Silvia Walby: women have moved out of the home so now the whole world can exploit them.


>Susie Uppal: Why is it that something as wonderful as having children can have such a negative effect on women's careers?


>Annette Williams: gender equality doesn't require 50/50 representation, it requires equal choices and equal opportunities


>UKRC statistics: percent of SET employees who are women now: 18.5%. In 2030: 20.9%. Good? Not so good? (SET=science, engineering, tech)


>Helen Walker: "Most female astronomers marry male astronomers. Must be those long nights."


>Royal Society of Chemistry: intention of staying in research halves among women between beginning and end of chemistry PhDs.

>"at times of war, turmoil favors the bold woman."


>Quick poll taken here: does working from home improve work-life balance? 83.9% say yes. Agree?


>That's all from Tomorrow's Women, Tomorrow's World. Check out women in SET blog here: http://tinyurl.com/6jmfup. KT in London, over and out!

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All the workshop materials for Tomorrow's Women, Tomorrow's World are collected here.
Enjoy!



Earlier this month, the Guardian talked to computer scientist Wendy Hall about her career choices, her experience as a woman in a male-dominated field, and her latest project, among other topics. (Hall spoke to Science Careers in 2007 for an article on career frameworks for early-career scientists.)

Hall, professor of computer science at the University of Southampton, was named a Dame Commander of the British Empire earlier this year. ("People may knock the honours system, but they can't knock the fact that very few people make it to this level, and to have made it for science and technology is fantastic," she tells the Guardian.) She's the former senior vice president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, a member of the Council for Science and Technology, and a past president of the British Computer Society.

She's a visible presence on the women-in-science circuit in the U.K. At the same time, she notes in the Guardian interview, "Every minute I'm standing up talking about women in science or talking to young women, my male colleagues are writing the research papers, getting the grant proposals, getting increases in salary."

She says something few women will say out loud, particularly to a reporter -- she didn't think she could be a mother and a successful scientist: "There was always something more interesting to do than have babies, and I didn't feel I needed a baby to complete my life. But I did always think that I couldn't do both. I'm very in awe of women who do manage to."

Hall is one of the founding directors of the Web Science Research Initiative, an interdisciplinary effort to create the field of Web science. "We're trying to track what's changing with the technology and how that allows people to do things differently," she tells the Guardian. "These are longitudinal studies, which we tend not to do in computing - tracking users over time against the background of what the technology's doing."

Good stuff. Click here to read the full article.



Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who qualify for graduate degrees in science will have access to some of the country's top private research universities under a special program included in the new G.I. Bill signed into law last year. Yesterday (15 June) was the deadline for schools to declare their participation in the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA's) "Yellow Ribbon" program, which reduces costs for veterans who enroll at private institutions.

Under the G.I. Bill, the VA will pay for the college or university tuition of returning veterans up to an amount equal to the highest-priced public institution in the veteran's home state. To offset the tuition costs at the (normally more expensive) private institutions, the VA will match the amount of the institution's financial aid, in effect reducing the institution's burden by half. This "Yellow Ribbon G.I. Education Enhancement Program" is a voluntary initiative; the participation of individual schools is subject to VA approval.

According to VA's list of institutions taking part, some of the leading private research universities are making financial aid available to veterans under this program. Matching up the VA's list of participating institutions at the graduate level to private universities in the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching's classifications of research and science/engineering doctoral programs shows a number of opportunities for advanced science or engineering training:

Alfred University
Case Western Reserve University
Clark Atlanta University
Clarkson University
Columbia University
Dartmouth College
Duke University
Fordham University
Georgetown University
Loyola University Chicago
Marquette University
Polytechnic Institute of New York University
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Saint Louis University
Stevens Institute of Technology
University of Denver
University of Tulsa
Wesleyan University

The Carnegie classifications include research universities with "very high" or "high" research activity and doctoral-granting institutions with a plurality of degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics

The list published by the VA is still in flux. Harvard University, for example, has announced its participation in the Yellow Ribbon program but does not yet appear on the VA's roster.  Also, many institutions restrict the number of students who can receive financial aid, although a few on the list will fund all student-veterans accepted

The days when all Ph.D. holders worked at universities are long gone: According to a new report from the European University Association (EUA), more than 50% of the doctorate holders in Europe are in careers outside of academia, many of whom land in industrial R&D and non-research positions. Given the reality that many doctorate graduates are destined to leave academia, new demands on their training are arising, the report says, and involving industry in doctoral training is one way to prepare students for corporate careers.

The report, "Collaborative Doctoral Education: University-Industry Partnerships for Enhancing Knowledge Exchange," examines existing industry-university doctoral programs and describes both the advantages and the challenges of them, putting emphasis on the employability of students in such programs. The report points out that, when at its best, a collaborative doctoral program benefits all parties: the university, the company, and student. Students gain a deeper understanding of how to turn ideas into business and how to handle legal matters such as intellectual property rights and market regulations. As one student interviewed for the report put it, "Yes, it made me more employable in industry. Industry employers appreciate that you have gained experience in working with their particular industry and gained insights in how it functions."

However, the report points out some concerns to keep in mind if you're considering a collaborative doctorate program. You should look into how intellectual property rights issues will affect your ability to publish your results, as your need for speed may be in conflict with the company's wish to capitalize on your research. As you are likely to have supervisors both from the university and the company, good communication becomes even more essential than in a conventional Ph.D. project. All parties need to be committed to the project and have similar expectations in the outcomes, otherwise you may find yourself torn between supervisors trying to mediate a solution, which will inevitably take valuable research time away from you.

The EUA report found that companies in general have high expectations of the research knowledge a doctorate holder has. However, the companies are also interested in soft skills, such as an understanding of the market, a business mindset, and good communication abilities. Small and medium-sized companies tended to have higher demands on these skills, possibly because an employee fills multiple roles in a small company while in a larger one there is more room for specialization.

A take-home lesson from the report is to always point out any strengths you have in business skills and communication, especially if you're applying for a job in a smaller company, as it may give you some leverage over candidates who fail to do so. Also, if you're doing a Ph.D. right now, it's worth considering how you can strengthen your transferrable skills so you're more attractive on the labor market, particularly if you are interested in pursuing an industry career.

-Anna Ehrlund
Any organization that tries to make a wholesale upgrade of its key computer systems anticipates problems, but NIH's electronic grant submission systems seem to have encountered more than their share over the past 3 weeks. As of this afternoon--12 June--NIH says its grant submission systems are working again, but the trail of messages to users during this time shows that the journey has been anything but easy.

On 19 May NIH told its electronic systems users that it planned a major upgrade for the end of May, costing $2-3 million. The upgrade promised to improve system performance and stability, offer better back-up in case of equipment failure, and provide an estimated 16 times its current capacity to handle future expansion.  The agency closed the electronic submission functions from 22-26 May (a span that included the long Memorial Day holiday) for the upgrade. But when they tried to bring the systems back up, they ran into problems.

The scheduled relaunch on 27 May had to be pushed back a day while NIH worked through problems that a message to users called "residual issues." When the systems finally did come back up in the afternoon of 28 May, users could not upload documents, such as reference letters, to the electronic Research Administration Commons (eRA Commons), the home base of NIH's submissions functions. Later that afternoon, eRA Commons and its Internet Assisted Review systems (which offer critiques and preliminary scores on applications)  had to be taken offline to fix more problems that developed.

On 29 May eRA Commons came back online and electronic submissions were being accepted--but the systems were working slower than normal and not all applications were processed  correctly. Some users received system error messages. By 3 June, NIH had resolved the document upload problems, but the slow performance continued, apparently.

Yesterday (11 June), NIH decided to restart the systems, to resolve the performance problem.  At 9:00 am, a message gave users 5 minutes to save their work and log-out of eRA Commons. What was expected to be a brief outage extended into the morning of 12 June, when eRA Commons came back up, and NIH announced that they "were able to isolate and fix the network/server issues that were the root cause" of the problems. But shortly after 10:00 am, NIH had to take the eRA Commons back down. By 2:00 pm, NIH was able to bring eRA Commons back up again, while closely monitoring its functions.

We'll keep you posted on how NIH progresses with its electronic submissions, a topic we've been following almost from the beginning.

In the post below, I wrote "Maybe there's an answer--if someone can convince me that this is as it should be, I'll happily admit to it"--and now I shall do so, in light of the comment to this blog entry, below.

Caroline Moore was in fact properly acknowledged, in the following reference:

Puckett, T., Moore, C., Newton, J., & Orff, T. 2008, Central Bureau Electronic Telegrams, 1567, 1 .

...and that there is no reason that she should have been listed as a coauthor on the paper, since her contribution was documented following the standard procedure in the field.

Furthermore, I acknowledge that her observation was not made using a backyard telescope--although this sort of thing does still happen sometimes.

Here, by the way, is the complete author list of the forthcoming publication, available already at Arxiv.org:

Ryan J. Foley, Ryan Chornock, Alexei V. Filippenko, Mohan Ganeshalingam, Robert P. Kirshner, Weidong Li, S. Bradley Cenko, Pete Challis, Andrew S. Friedman, Maryam Modjaz, Jeffrey M. Silverman, and W. Michael Wood-Vasey.

I offer my sincere apologies to these authors.

Here's the original post:

Along, perhaps, with meteorology and taxonomy, astronomy remains one of the few fields of science where amateurs can have a big impact. All you need is a decent telescope, a dark, clear night, and some knowledge.

Here's a nifty story with an unfortunate (in my view) twist: A 14-year-old girl from upstate New York has detected one of the most interesting supernovas ever seen. The young astronomer is Caroline Moore, and the supernova is especially interesting because it's so weak.  Her finding led to a paper by Ryan Foley, Ryan Chornock, Mohan Ganeshalingam, Weidong Li, Bradley Cenko, Maryam Modjaz, and Jeffrey Silverman of UC Berkeley, along with Peter Challis and Andrew Friedman of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and Michael Wood-Vasey of the University of Pittsburgh. The paper has been accepted for publication in the Astronomical Journal, and is available online at arxiv.org.

But can someone please explain to me why Moore is not listed as a coauthor on the paper--or even in the acknowledgments? Or why her name is mentioned nowhere on the arxiv.org preprint? I know all the arguments about making an "intellectual contribution" and all that. But if she hadn't been in her back yard with a telescope for the sheer love of it and curiosity, the careers of those nine professional scientists would never have benefited from this discovery.

When the curiosity-driven back-yard research of a 14-year-old girl yields a major scientific discovery, and her contribution is not even acknowledged in the paper that results, the professionalization of science has gone much too far. Maybe there's an answer--if someone can convince me that this is as it should be, I'll happily admit to it.

Hat Tip: Slashdot.
An interesting, if not novel, post on Michael White's Adaptive Complexity blog:

The bottom line is this: a career in academic science, especially biology, demands a lot of you in terms of training, skill, time, and dedication, and the rewards are uncertain and in any case a long way off. Obviously doing science is great, which is why a lot of people still go into the career, yet perhaps we're luring in fresh undergraduate recruits with a little bit of false advertising: you go in thinking what could be better than having the same kind of job Einstein had, and then, 12 years later, it dawns on you that it's actually kind of hard to stake your claim to a corner of the scientific landscape that shows potential for paradigm-shifting discoveries. You can go through years of training, letting the opportunity costs add up, and wind up working on research problems that are interesting, but not enough to keep away the doubts about your career choice and the opportunities you gave up to pursue science.
Although there is nothing particularly new here, it's a point that cannot be made too strongly or too often. Even as policy makers continue to try to attract more smart people into science, they fail to address the main obstacle to recruiting and keeping people in the field: The uncertainty in career prospects.

It's not that science isn't a good career path. Most people who enter science end up, eventually, with satisfying careers. Unemployment rates for people with scientific training are quite low.

The problem is that the jobs people end up in, more often than not, are not the jobs they start out seeking, and the jobs they end up in are not very visible even to people well along in their training. The future looks cloudy even for graduate students--even for postdocs who are, in principle at least, just one step away from that tenure-track professorship most of them have been seeking (but most will not get).

And of course, the more new people enter the field--without a proportionate increase in career opportunities--the worse this problem gets.

If I go to medical school, I know I'll emerge (after residency and perhaps some specialist training) with a good job. If I earn an MBA--just 2 years of graduate work!--I can count on employment in a good-paying, mid-level executive position. But if I graduate with a Ph.D. in most fields of science, the path to my future job is far from clear.

 
The image of an engineer single handedly finding solutions or tossing out the rulebook to solve problems their own way can make for entertaining reading, and apparently has become the way many engineering students believe work in their field gets done. But the lone-wolf approach can hurt engineers' chances of succeeding in the real-world workplace, where teamwork is more highly valued than many students realize, according to a study published in April.

In a study published in the Academy of Management Journal, Paul Leonardi, a faculty member at Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and his team interviewed 130 engineering students over several years and observed their lab and group-project behavior. Leonardi found that when students entered engineering school, many believed that good engineers work alone, not in teams. He found that students, when asked to work in a team, would often split up work rather than collaborate. He also found many students would ignore instructions from their professors and find solutions their own way, even if finding a solution on their own meant more work.

Leonardi also found that many student engineers procrastinated on problems--what Leonardi calls "delayed initiation"--in order to prove they could figure out the problem in a short period of time as a way of demonstrating their prowess.

These practices and values can quickly become liabilities in the workplace, particularly in industry, where as Leonardi and others have noted, teamwork is highly valued. Last May, for example, Dave Jensen described for Science Careers how some academic scientists encounter difficulties in adjusting to the team culture encouraged by many companies.

To break down this culture, Leonardi recommends that companies hiring engineers get more involved in students' training. He suggests programs like internships and work-study programs to give students first-hand experience in the workplace before they start their careers for real.

The New York Times reports this week that the Justice Department has begun an investigation of recruiting practices by information technology and biotech companies, looking specifically for suspected collusion among the companies that violates antitrust laws. The inquiry is in an early stage, but apparently involves purported agreements among companies not to raid each others payrolls for key staff.

Sources told the Times that Google, Yahoo, Apple, and Genentech received requests from the Justice Department for documents and other information as part of this inquiry; the story notes that receiving these letters does not mean that they are targets of the investigation. The Wall Street Journal says Microsoft and Intel were also contacted. The Justice Department has so far declined comment, but the Journal says Google and Genentech representatives confirmed receiving Justice Department letters.

Hiring technical talent from other companies is a common, continuing practice in the IT and biotech industries. The technology blog Tech Crunch routinely chronicles the staffing raids of one company against another in Silicon Valley. Our own Tooling Up columnist Dave Jensen encourages joining industry committees as a way of networking to discover new opportunities and get yourself better known in your industry.

But a follow-up story in the Times notes that unwritten rules sometimes interrupt this free-for-all. The story quotes former HR managers and contract recruiters who say some companies have hands-off lists when it comes to recruiting, lists that usually include corporate partners and collaborators.

Apparently, there is case law backing up the application of antitrust statutes to hiring practices. In 2001, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of geologists and petroleum engineers who sued Exxon and other oil companies for colluding in hiring decisions that led to suppressed wages. The judge writing the decision: Justice Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court.

Hat tip: John Travis, Science magazine


The number of online job ads increased in May compared to April, according to the Conference Board, with among the largest increases noted for jobs in computer and mathematical science. Engineering and architecture job ads, and ads for jobs in other fields of science, also increased in May.

The Conference Board is an independent business-research association that publishes a number of economic and employment indexes, including surveys of help-wanted ads, which offer indicators of the nation's employment picture. It's count of May 2009 online employment ads increased by 250,000 over April, the first month-to-month increase since October 2008's modest (21,000) rise, and the largest such gain since October 2006. Before too many celebrations begin, however, the Conference Board notes that May's numbers are still 25% below last year at this time.

Among the occupational categories making the largest gains was computer and mathematical science, which rose some 35,000 in May, to 417,000. Only management and office/administrative job ads had bigger increases; each rose more than 40,000. After managers and lawyers, computer and mathematical science jobs also pulled the the highest hourly pay rate, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data cited in the report: $35.82 per hour.

Online architecture and engineering job ads rose by 6,800 to 131,300 in May, while the total of life, physical, and social science ads increased by 3,400 to 67,500. According to the BLS data in the report, these groups are still among the better paid workers. Architects and engineers earn on average $34.34 an hour, which scientists get paid $30.90 an hour.

Prospects for your non-science and engineering neighbors may be getting better as well. The Conference Board reports more online job ads in all occupational categories in May.

Women are at least as successful as men when they compete for tenured and tenure-track science faculty positions at academic research institutions and when they stand for tenure and promotion--and usually more successful.

Yet in almost every scientific field, women consistently applied for academic jobs, and stood for tenure, less often than men. As a result, they continue to be hired and promoted less often than their male colleagues.

That's the conclusion of Gender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Faculty, the latest report from the U.S. National Research Council's Committee on Gender Differences in Careers of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Faculty, which was released moments ago.

The new report is strikingly different in its approach and conclusions from the previous National Academies report on gender disparities in the sciences, Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering, which was released in 2006 by the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP).

According to the new, data-driven report, academic institutions have done very well in hiring and tenuring the women who apply. For example, in biology, 26% of applicants to tenure-track faculty positions at R1 universities were women, but a larger percentage--28%--of interviews went to women, and 34% of offers went to women. In electrical engineering, 11% of applicants were women, whereas 19% of interviewees were women, and 32% of job offers went to women. This trend--towards better-than-average success by women--holds across all six disciplines studied.

Unfortunately, another trend was just as consistent: the percentage of women who applied for tenure track jobs was consistently well below women's representation in the Ph.D. pool. For example, while 45% of recent (1999-2003) Ph.D. graduates in biology were women, just 26% of R1 job applicants in biology were women. The descrepency is smallest in fields where women are the least well represented; in physics, women are 14% of the doctoral pool and 12% of the applicant pool; in electrical engineering, 12% of the Ph.D. pool were women, while 11% of the applicant pool were women.  Yet the general trend of under-representation in the applicant pool persists across all six of the disciplines studied.

At the tenure decision the pattern was repeated. Again, women were consistently more successful than their male colleagues. But the percentage of women going up for tenure was smaller than women's representation on the R1 tenure track. And again, this under-representation was most dramatic in the fields--biology and chemistry--where women are best represented. In biology, 36% of R1 assistant professors are women, but only 27% stood for tenure. In chemistry, the numbers were 22% and 15%, respectively.

Other interesting findings:

* Strategies intended to increase the number of women applying for jobs were generally unsuccessful. Yet, representation of women on the hiring committee--and having a woman at the head of the committee--was correlated with greater representation of women in the applicant pool. 

* Both men and women took advantage of "clock-stopping" policies at their universities, extending the amount of time before the tenure review, but women took advantage more than men. 19.7% of women stopped the clock, while 7.4% of men did. Stopping the clock did not seem to affect the probability of eventual promotion and tenure.

The study points out the need for a "deeper understanding" of career paths in the sciences. Specifically, the authors argue for more and better longitudinal data (their study is a "snapshot"), and more attention to the question of why women apply less often than men.