Science Careers Blog

September 2009

If you are a European woman in the life sciences who is looking for new professional opportunities, you may want to join the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO)'s WILS database of expert women in life sciences.

The WILS database aims to promote gender equality in Europe by making female scientists more visible to the scientific community, research bodies, political institutions, and journal editors. For women life scientists, this could mean opportunities to apply for open positions, speak at conferences, participate in interesting service opportunities, or review research manuscripts for journals. 

You may join the database by submitting an application here. Eligibility criteria include being of European nationality or working in Europe, already having earned a Ph.D., and having at least one international publication as the first or last author. (Current postdocs need to have obtained at least one publication from their postdoctoral work.)

"It is the purpose of the database to increase the participation of women at all levels and make it easy for scientists to identify women who may not be in their direct field. We all know that in particular at the higher level female scientists are scarce, which makes them easy to overlook. The database will fill that gap," Gerlind Wallon, EMBO Deputy Director, writes in an email to Science Careers.

The WILS database will build upon the Database of Expert Women in the Molecular Life Sciences that was launched in 2005 by the European Life Scientist Organization (ELSO). ELSO merged with EMBO at the end of 2008.


Well, kind of. A call in show scheduled to start in about 5 minutes was "inspired" by Anne Sasso's article, Audacity, Part 1. Unfortunately Anne herself was completely out of contact while the show was being planned, so she won't participate. But there should be some interesting discussion, including with some of Anne's sources for the story.

You can listen in by visiting the station's homepage at and clicking on the "Listen Now" button in the blue box towards the right side of the screen.

Today's (29 September 2009) Wall Street Journal tells about students doing unpaid internships from the comfort of their own homes. These virtual internships are generally offered by small enterprises for tasks requiring a computer, Internet access, and telephone -- all provided by the intern.

Virtual internships would not likely work for most science students or trainees, where hands-on experience in the lab or field is vital. And there's more to an internship than conducting the required tasks. As Rachel Austin pointed out last December in the Science Careers feature on summer internships, "A planned, formal research experience offers many advantages, including exposure to new topics, techniques, and equipment; the self-confidence that comes from accomplishing things in an unfamiliar setting where your prior record doesn't matter; the opportunity to develop new friendships based on shared intellectual interests; and the chance to find new mentors and professional advisers."

Nonetheless, there are fields related to science where virtual internships are available. The Journal's story tells of Princess Ojiaku, a biology graduate student at North Carolina Central University in Durham, who is considering a career in science policy. Ojiaku is in a 6-month virtual internship with a Washington, DC-based policy organization, where she follows news developments and posts items on the organization's Web site while attending classes and working as a lab assistant. Ojiaku says the experience gives her a taste of policy work, although she admits that from a distance she does not get a real sense of how policy is made in Washington.

Ojiaku's experience exposes the strengths and weaknesses of virtual internships. On one hand, they offer real-life work experiences with real-world consequences and allow the organizations to see how the intern handles these experiences. But they do not provide the all-important teamwork skills learned only in the workplace. Nor do they provide, as Rachel Austin says, the opportunity to find new friends, mentors, or advisers.

Plus, there's potential for abuse. It would be tempting for an organization that needs a task to get done to try and find an unpaid, virtual intern rather than hiring and paying someone for the labor. Whatever value the intern receives could be offset by the negative impact on the job market, which that intern is likely soon to join.

Dear Editor,

I read with interest the following article: "A Physician-Researcher Thrives in the Balance" by Chelsea Ward, September 11, 2009.

I congratulate Dr. Regan Theiler on her accomplishments. However, I believe you are giving the wrong message to young women physician-researchers. In this article, Dr. Theiler had essentially stated that having a successful personal family life and a successful translational research career are both not possible. The author of the article further highlights this point in bold.

In the 21st century, I think that it is quite possible to be a physician-researcher and have a successful personal life. I am an example and so are many professional women that I interact with. The article implied that a career must be given up to have a good family life or vice versa. It is certainly not an example that I would share with my children or the upcoming women researchers of today. Perhaps it would be more important to share with others how successful women balance family and career.

Thanks for your attention.

Deepali Kumar MD MSc FRCPC
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Transplant Infectious Diseases
University of Alberta

Dear Dr. Kumar,

Thank you for taking the time to send us your thoughts about our recent profile of Regan Theiler. We are aware that Theiler's statement was rather provocative. (To remind us all, here it is: "This career path is not for someone who wants to have a big, happy family and go on three vacations a year with them and eat dinner with them every night. It's just not going to happen.")

We are dedicated to promoting women in physician-scientist careers, and I know her statement seems to contradict that. Nevertheless, we thought it important to convey an honest account of Dr. Theiler's experiences and opinions. In my interactions with the physician-scientist trainee community, there are many women (and men) who ask the question, "can I succeed at having both a family and a career?" Theiler gave her honest opinion, which I appreciate and I hope others do, too. But this answer will be different for people in different specialties, in different medical centers, and with different work ethics. Each person's work-life balance is unique.

We will tell stories in future issues of women with different opinions on the subject, and we'll tell the stories of women who do have families and different work-life interactions. Earlier this year, we published two articles on women physician-scientists -- "Women M.D.-Ph.D.s: Life in the Trenches" and "Perspective: Ensuring Retention of Women in Physician-Scientist Training".

I hope to publish more on the issue, and I hope there will be a lively discussion of the subject on our online community for clinical and translational scientists, which will launch in a few weeks. Meanwhile, I thank you for sharing your concern.

Kate Travis
Contributing editor, Science Careers
Editor, CTSciNet, the Clinical and Translational Science Network

COST, an intergovernmental framework that facilitates cooperation among European nations in science and technology, has just released a video about its COST training schools. The COST schools, which are run in 9 different research fields, are open to early-career European scientists, and grants are available to cover the cost.

The video briefly outlines the main benefits of attending a COST training school. It's an opportunity, the video says, to learn new theoretical and practical things, look at your research from a different angle, share your experience with other young scientists, expand your network, and initiate new collaborations.

Watching the video can help you decide whether such a program would be worth the investment of a week of your time.

Hat tip: Athena Web

In January, we reported on Myron Rolle, a Florida State University football standout who turned down a sure-fire gig in the NFL for a Rhodes scholarship in medical anthropology. Yesterday, Rolle turned up at the Department of Interior in Washington, DC, where Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced a new health and fitness program for American Indian schools, designed by Rolle.

Rolle's program, called Our Way to Health, provides fitness training, health education, and diabetes awareness, with the instructional material cast in the context of American Indian heritage and identity. He first designed the curriculum for fifth graders at a Seminole tribe charter school in Okeechobee, Florida. The Interior Department plans to expand that initial instance to five more schools in Arizona and New Mexico.

While Rolle's program is designed for children, he hopes it will "influence the adults in their lives to also begin adopting healthy life style changes," where obesity and diabetes are becoming more common in American Indian communities.

The National Academies of Science have just released a 7 minute film on their YouTube Channel. Go and watch it.

On Being a Scientist is based on the book of the same name, also from the National Academies.

The focus of the video is scientific ethics, but what makes it great is the way the ethical issues are presented: not as abstract philosophy but as growing directly out of--indeed, being as one with--the everyday practice of science.

Thoughtful scientists may not find anything new here; cynical ones may even find the treatment naive. Yet, I think watching the video could change the way you think about your job in an important way. Plus, I love the funky, early-'70s vibe of the introduction. You won't regret the 7-minute investment. Highly recommended.
It sounds really confusing, and it is pretty hard to capture in a title, but it's really fairly simple. Blogger Livia Blackburne is a neuroscience graduate student at MIT--her work focuses on reading--who spends her time outside the lab writing fantasy stories for young adults. Her blog focuses on creative writing, taking a novel, analytical approach. It's interesting.

But lately she's been taking career advice from her neuroscience adviser and repackaging it for people aspiring to writing careers. But even repackaged, her adviser's good advice, as recounted on her blog, remains useful for aspiring scientists, too. In fact, the twist she gives it, oddly, gives it a certain freshness.

Here's a link to the first item in the series, which includes a short introduction and her first tip: Choose your projects carefully.

Since the links to the subsequent posts are none too obvious, I'll include them here:

2. Know the literature
3. Don't spread yourself too thin
4. Don't take criticism personally, and respond professionally


Professor Robert Klebe of the University of Texas Health Science Center has won a lawsuit against his employer--and a $900,000 jury award, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

Klebe alleged retaliation and age discrimination after the university allegedly cut the pay of the tenured professor by 25% and hired younger researchers at a higher salary.  The jury rejected the age discrimination charges but made the award as compensation for Klebe's mental anguish, the story by Don Finley says.

From a science-career perspective, the story is interesting in a couple of different ways. First, it's an example of a practice that is already common and seems to be increasing: scientists being offered tenure but no guaranteed salary. Professors are guaranteed the right to continue to be employed--but not necessarily to get paid. If you lose your grants, under such an arrangement, you may also lose your income, or at least a portion of it. Klebe argued in the lawsuit that the pay cut was an attempt to terminate his employment, along with other older, tenured faculty members. Klebe is 66. It raises the question, what good is a job guarantee if getting paid isn't part of the deal?

Also interesting is the back story. Klebe is the inventor of potentially important bioengineering technology. But, according to Klebe, the university erred in licensing the technology to "competing biotechnology companies," killing its development.

The article says Klebe had been seeking a trial since 2005. Then, in March, on the trial's second day, he suffered a stroke. The jury's decision came 2 weeks ago. The decision will be reviewed and the award amount may be reduced to comply with Texas law.

For more details, see the original article.
The Raleigh News and Observer (N&O) today has a story about retired professors in North Carolina's "Triangle"--Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill--offering their services to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill as a way for the school to make up for budget cuts that threatened to eliminate classes on that campus. The offer was made back in February, and according to the N&O, the university has been cool to the idea.

Andrew Dobelstein, president of an association of retired UNC-Chapel Hill faculty members, says his group offered to help teach classes, write grants, supervise dissertations, and mentor students. Dobelstein says many of the retired faculty, 600 of whom still live in the region, have kept up with their fields. But the school has made little use of their services.

Ron Strauss, the university's executive associate provost, told the N&O that even with the budget cuts, the school wants to make sure there's a good fit for the retired faculty member, and not just throw a body into a classroom. But he admitted there was no formal campus-wide mechanism for connecting retired faculty to open positions, leaving those placement decisions to the individual departments.

UNC-Chapel Hill's political science department did bring back a faculty member to fill in during the budget crunch. The chair of that department asked Jurg Steiner, a 40-year veteran of the faculty who retired in 2000, to teach an honors seminar in European politics. Steiner, who continued doing research after he officially retired, told the N&O that he was happy to help out without compensation.

That experience may explain why other departments are leery of using volunteer teachers. What's to stop administrators from asking recent retirees to volunteer their time after the budget crunch is over? You can imagine the impact on morale of faculty members still drawing a paycheck.

Hat-tip: Terra Sigillata

September 21, 2009

Postdoc Appreciation Day

The National Postodoctoral Association (NPA) has designated this Thursday, 24 September, as the first annual Postdoc Appreciation Day, celebrating "the significant contribution that postdoctoral scholars make to the U.S. scientific research enterprise and, at the same time, increasing awareness of this contribution."

NPA created this celebration as a way for university faculty and administrators to let their trainees know how much their contributions are valued. Campuses all over the United States and one in Ontario, Canada, have scheduled events ranging from seminars to coffee-hours to cookouts. The NPA Web site has a list of events and locations. And there's a Facebook event page where invitees can tell if they plan to attend.

While some postdocs may not want to get too far behind in their lab work, they should not sacrifice those vital partying -- um, networking -- skills that can always come in handy later on.

Last Thursday, the White House announced this year's National Medal of Technology and Innovation winners, which include Esther Takeuchi, professor of engineering and chemistry at University at Buffalo (UB), part of the State University of New York system. Takeuchi talked to Science Careers in October 2007, soon after she joined the UB faculty, about her decision to join the academic world after 22 years in the private sector.

Takeuchi holds 140 patents, more than any other woman in the United States. Her best known invention is the lithium/silver vanadium oxide battery used in the implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), which monitors and corrects irregular heart rhythms. More than 200,000 ICD units are in use.

Takeuchi told Science Careers in 2007 that she made the jump to the academic world in order to expand her research into new fields, and according to a UB release, that's happening. Her research in miniature power supplies and sensors now extends to applications in storage devices for alternative energy sources, electric vehicles, and homeland security.

The National Medal of Technology and Innovation--the more applied companion of the National Medal of Science--recognizes individuals, teams, and organizations that make lasting contribution's to the country's competitiveness, standard of living, and quality of life through technological innovation. Takeuchi will receive the medal from President Obama at a White House ceremony on 7 October.

September 17, 2009

Life After Tenure

Have you, or someone you know, failed to get tenure, then gone on to bigger and better things? Or lived out the rest of what was left of your life in squalor and destitution?

If you've suffered a negative tenure decision and lived to tell about it, we'd like to hear from you for an article we're working on. Anonymity can be negotiated. We're not interested in your tenure decision; we're interested in what comes next. Please contact me at jaustin at aaas dot org.

The Science Careers Forum just finished a competition to see who could come up with the best expression of science career wisdom. The catch: You only got six words.

Entrants were judged, and a winner announced, by the Forum Advisers. There was also an Editor's Award, awarded by me.

I'll cover some highlights here, but I encourage you to read the original forum thread.

The adviser's winner was "Scientists aren't born. They are developed." I didn't vote for that one because, though appreciate the implication that you can accomplish a lot with hard work and savvy--and you can--I'm not sure I completely agree.

My winner: Still looking: A career. My terms.

That one was posted by Michael C. I liked it because it expresses what I think is a very important attitude: You have to imprint yourself on your science, and your own desires on your scientific career. If you try to plug yourself in like some kind of generic part driving the machine of science, you may end up with a perfectly satisfying career and a happy life. Yet there's a lot to be said for uncompromising ambition. You need it if you want to be a star. My terms. You also need it to go your own way, against the grain, on a course that doesn't involve Nobel prizes and fancy research chairs.

Some other favorites:

From VSR: Job needs experience gained from jobs.

From JCB: Science: Stress. Overwork. Underpayment. Meaningful. Crucial.

From Russell: Shot for moon. Missed. Cold, dark. (Pairs up nicely with the winner from Michael C, doesn't it? My terms.)

From R.X.H.: Students, postdocs work; professors given credit.

I encourage you to check out the complete list.

The House of Representatives approved today by a 235-171 vote the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (H.R. 3221), which plans to change the way many students pay for their college educations. The most dramatic change is to end the banks' role in making student loans.

Columnist Gail Collins in today's New York Times sums up the reforms this way:

Let us stop here and recall how the current loan system works:
1) Federal government provides private banks with capital.
2) Federal government pays private banks a subsidy to lend that capital to students.
3) Federal government guarantees said loans so the banks don't have any risk.

And now, the proposed reform:
1) The federal government makes the loans.
In wonkier terms, students now can borrow money from private lenders through the Federal Family Education Loan Program, which provides subsidies and guarantees to banks and other lenders. Students or their families can also borrow directly from the U.S. government's Federal Direct Loan Program. The bill would fold all lending into the Direct Loan program, leaving the private sector with a much-reduced servicing role.

Rep. George Miller (D, CA), the chief sponsor of the bill, says that ending the subsidies and guarantees will save some $87 billion over the next decade. The bill allocates about $40 billion of that amount for increasing Pell Grant scholarships annually from $5,350 today to $6,900 in 2019.

The bill also expands the Perkins Loan program to more campuses -- in the Perkins Loan program, students borrow from the institution, not from the government -- and simplifies the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. The current FAFSA form is so complex that companies have sprung up to help individuals and families complete it.

The bill has other provisions: It keeps interest rates low on need-based student loans. Those rates were expected to double from 3.4% today to 6.8% in 2012. The bill forgives loans to reservists or National Guard members called up to active duty in the middle of their academic years. And it funds programs that broaden access to post-secondary institutions and encourage students to complete their degrees.

Rep. John Kline (R-MN), the ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee, called the bill a government takeover of the current private system of student lending that most institutions favor.

The bill, which has the backing of the Obama Administration, now goes to the Senate. Sen. Tom Harkin (D, IA), who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said in a statement that the committee plans to soon write similar legislation.

Our colleague Eli Kinitsch has posted an exchange of notes on the Science Insider blog with two early-career scientists about the paperwork burden forced on junior researchers. Their particular gripe is the amount of time devoted to writing grant proposals.  The post is a response to a recent story in PLOS Biology from an anonymous British researcher bitterly complaining about the burden of grant writing to support a lab, including the "salesmanship and networking" required.

The two researchers offer ideas on how to reform the system, including a call for better training in the business skills needed to run an independent lab. It's worth a look.

Science Careers's Elisabeth Pain recently told how several early-career scientists in the U.S. and Europe who achieve independence are coping with this system and offers a list of resources (including related Science Careers articles) to help junior researchers achieve and keep their independence.

The Department of Defense (DoD) is confronting the mounting medical problems of members of the armed services and veterans with a new research and development funding program to help relieve their suffering.

From 2003 to 2007, an estimated 44,000 U.S. service members were diagnosed with some form of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Another 39,000 current or former service members suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) well after they returned home, according to the Congressional Research Service

To meet these needs, DoD is offering its Defense Medical Research and Development Program (DMRDP) Applied Research and Advanced Technology Development Award. This award is designed for independent investigators interested in conducting research on battlefield injury and care, particularly in the areas of PTSD, TBI, prosthetics, and restoration of eyesight and other vision-related ailments. Additional research topics include operational health and performance, rehabilitation, and psychological health and well-being tools for U.S. service members.

The DMRDP announcement calls for applied research, which it defines as "work that refines concepts and ideas into potential solutions". The intention is to enhance pharmacologic agents (drugs and biologics), diagnostic and therapeutic devices, behavioral and rehabilitation interventions, clinical guidance, supporting medical information, and training systems.

The DMRDP Applied Research and Advanced Technology Development Award is a three-year funding opportunity. Investigators will be awarded a maximum of $750,000 a year to fund their research efforts. DoD expects to make about 100 awards, divided between internal and external applicants. The deadline to apply is September 25, 2009.

For an overview of this grant visit GrantsNet. For the full announcement visit the DoD Web site.

- Donisha Adams

Donisha Adams is the GrantsNet Program Associate for Science Careers.

September 11, 2009

Hey Dude, Wash Your Hands

The H1N1 (a.k.a. swine flu) virus is spreading earlier than expected this year and particularly affecting children and young adults, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So you can depend on university students to wash their hands to keep the flu from spreading, right?  Guess again.

A new study in the Journal of Environmental Health shows that students on campus may talk a good game about taking preventive measures, like hand-washing, but it's mainly talk.  The study, by Brae V. Surgeoner, University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada; Benjamin J. Chapman, North Carolina State University in Raleigh; Douglas A. Powell, Kansas State University in Manhattan, studied the behavior of students at a Canadian university at the height of a norovirus outbreak. Norovirus is a family of ailments, often called the "stomach flu," with rather nasty symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

You can get norovirus from contaminated food, but it is often spread the same way as H1N1: by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus and then placing contaminated hands in one's mouth, or by sharing contaminated utensils.  Students on this campus were urged to protect themselves against the spread of the norovirus by washing their hands.

The researchers compared self-reported surveys completed by students about their hand hygeine to their actual observed hand-washing practices. In the surveys, according to the journal, more than 8 in 10 students (83%) reported washing their hands to prevent the spread of the virus. However, when observed, students complied with the prescribed practices only 17% of the time. The authors recommend that institutions take a more assertive, proactive strategy aimed at students to prevent future viral outbreaks.

While institutions figure out this strategy, individuals can just do the right thing and wash their hands more frequently. And dude, use hot water!

September 10, 2009

Make Employers Fight Over You

Alexandra Levit's careers column last week in the Wall Street Journal tells about a 26 year-old job hunter in the commercial real estate field -- hardly a growth industry these days -- who got multiple job offers from employer prospects. This job seeker did nothing magical; he applied some of the lessons spelled out by Dave Jensen in his 20 February 2009 Tooling Up column, "The Cold, Hard Truth About Finding a Job in 2009". But he took these techniques one step further and made himself look indispensable to the employers.

Making companies fight over job-hunters seems far-fetched these days. While some signs point to an upturn in the overall economy, the job market remains weak. Companies are retrenching -- Doing More With Less as Jim Austin pointed out on this blog last week. As Levit notes and Jensen said earlier this year, some companies are hiring. But, as Jensen advised, job hunters need to expend a great deal more time and effort than in the past to find a job and use all of the job-hunting tools at their disposal.

Levit's column last week suggests that these extra efforts to connect with potential employers do not go unnoticed by hiring managers, and can make job-hunters seem much more valuable. She encourages job-seekers to research prospective employers, using the Web and their own networks, to learn as much as possible about their history, corporate culture, financial performance, and recent developments related to the company.

Job-seekers should then use that intelligence in cover letters and resumes to show how well they would fit in with the organization's plans and the value they would bring. "By the time the interview takes place," Levit says, "they are able to have an intelligent discussion about the value they bring to the position, and the employer can easily envision them starting tomorrow."

Another tip from Levit: You can create a "buzz" about your potential to the company. She recommends making multiple contacts in a company -- such as the HR department, personal acquaintances, and the hiring manager -- and letting these contacts know about the others in the organization with whom you've been speaking. In other words, get them talking about you, but don't assume they would do it on their own.

In this tough job market, you must work both harder and smarter. But contrast these practices with extreme job-hunting and so-called bold tactics discussed in other WSJ stories, which aim to grab the attention of hiring managers. Now put yourself in the heads of executives hiring for responsible jobs that pay a decent salary and require the the trust and confidence of colleagues. Which strategy do you think will more likely get you an interview or a job?

September 9, 2009

Sweat Equity to Fund Research

Sunday's Washington Post tells about Yuntao Wu, a professor of molecular and microbiology at George Mason University's Manassas, Virginia, campus, who augments funding for his research on HIV/AIDS with a New York-to-Washington, DC benefit bicycle ride. The ride's participants, including Wu himself, plan to pedal the 330 mile distance between 10 and 13 September.

Wu, 45, will join 50 other riders who together plan to raise about $150,000, money that Wu says will cover his lab's expenses for almost a year. Each rider pays a $100 registration fee and commits to raise at least another $2,500. This is the second year for the event, but the first time Wu himself has taken part as a rider. Wu's lab colleagues also participate as volunteers to help riders or the event organizers.

Wu's research explores the interaction between the HIV-1, the virus that causes AIDS, and a type of immune cells, called T cells, that protect against infections. His work has elucidated the process used by HIV-1 to invade, infect, and eventually destroy T cells. Wu's lab now focuses on therapeutics for strengthen the T cells' barriers against HIV-1 invaders. 

The Post's article tells how several of this year's riders are HIV-positive and says that Wu is looking forward to sharing this 4-day experience with them. 

The vast majority of Wu's funding comes from a 4-year, $1.2 million grant from NIH, which is probably a good thing. According to the event's Web site, organizers had hoped this year's ride would attract 100 riders and raise $250,000.

September 9, 2009

We're back

Washington, DC's downtown electrical grid has had a rough few days, with two transformers blowing out in 36 hours on Friday and Saturday. As a result, our Web servers took a direct hit. It took more time than anticipated to get everything back running again, but we're back and (we hope) better than ever. Many thanks to our Technical Services division for pulling everything together.

September 3, 2009

Doing More with Less

One of the few apparent bright spots in recent economic reports is in the area of worker productivity. According to the U.S. labor department, productivity increased by 6.6%, year over year, during the last quarter, which ended in June, the largest increase in worker productivity since 2003. That reflects an upward revision over original estimates.

So what's behind the increase? No surprise: The increase is the result of pinched wages, layoffs, and the remaining workers getting the work done.

There's a (reasonable) assumption that higher worker productivity should lead to higher wages, sharing in the gains they made possible. But as often as not over the last couple of decades, it hasn't worked out that way. And anyway, it assumes that there are gains: this time around, in the midst of the deepest recession in decades, some are saying that increased worker productivity seems merely to have helped employers stay afloat. Translation: Just be glad you still have a job.

That does not, however, seem to be the whole story. Quoted in the San Jose Mercury News, Bill Schultz, chief investment officer at McQueen, Ball & Associates in Bethlehem, Pa., says that "profits have recovered nicely." The problem is that they've recovered mainly due to cost cutting--layoffs--and not revenue growth. "It's more the way that they have recovered that gives people pause," Schultz says. "The key is to somehow blend this cost-cutting with revenue growth." If companies can pull that off, maybe we'll get raises next year, and maybe our economic futures will start to look brighter.
The Council of Graduate Schools released a report this week of a survey on factors that help graduate students stay the course and get their Ph.D. degrees. Financial help and mentoring were cited as two the key reasons, particularly for science and engineering students.  The report is part of the organization's Ph.D. Completion Project, a 7-year undertaking to better understand the reasons for Ph.D. completion and attrition.

More respondents cited financial support as a key success factor than any other reason. Eight in 10 (80%) pointed to financial factors, including at least that number of mathematics, physical science, life science, engineering, and social science participants. Those in humanities programs were somewhat less likely to mention money as a key reason for completion.

Mentoring or advising emerged as the factor mentioned second most often by respondents -- about two-thirds overall (65%) and somewhat more (67-70%) of engineering, social science, mathematics, and physical science graduates. Somewhat fewer life science graduates (61%) identified mentoring or advising as a key factor in completing their programs.

A third key element in completing a Ph.D., according to respondents, is non-financial support from families. More than half (57%) identified this factor, particularly social science graduates (61%). Majorities (53-57%) of life science, engineering, and physical science/mathematics respondents also cited this reason as important to their doctoral success.

Other key factors, shared by 3-to-4 in 10 science and engineering respondents, include the social environment or peer group support, the quality of their doctoral programs, and professional or career guidance (apart from academic mentoring or advising).

The survey explored the extent of financial support promised students at the outset of their programs, and science students in general received more of these guarantees. Nearly all (94%) of all respondents received some financial support, and 7 in 10 received guarantees of assistance for more than 1 year. Science students were more likely than those in other fields  to receive multi-year guarantees.  Three in four life science students (77%) were offered assistance for more than 1 year, as were almost as many (72-73%) in mathematics, physical sciences, and social sciences. Engineering students were, as a group, less fortunate; about 6 in 10 (63%) received multi-year financial guarantees.

The study team surveyed 1856 respondents enrolled in doctoral programs, at 18 participating universities, from May 2006 through August 2008. Of that number, 1406 had completed programs.

September 1, 2009

Smart Child Left Behind

Don't know if you saw it: There was an op-ed late last week in the New York Times--here it is--that argued that while the No Child Left Behind law seems to be helping the worst students, the best students have suffered from what the article calls the law's "benign neglect".

Today there's news from the University of Texas at Austin--see this entry from the Chronicle of Higher Education--that the university will stop giving a full ride to winners of National Merit Scholarships. The university's administration, under budget pressure, decided to devote those resources to need-based financial aid. "When we looked at what was happening in the economy, we decided it was important to redirect resources to make sure that all students that are qualified to be admitted to the university are able to attend regardless of need," said Tom Melecki, director of student financial aid. Thus passes one of the very few remaining programs to reward academic excellence regardless of financial need.

I support economic equity, but, as someone who is profoundly interested in the future of science, I can't help but regret the apparent abandonment of our most able young scholars.

One lesson gained from Michael Moore's film Sicko, and from this year's health care debate, is that Americans can learn a lot about health care from other countries. Now, the Commonwealth Fund offers fellowships in health care policy for experts from Europe and elsewhere to come to America, learn, and teach.

The Harkness Fellowships in Health Care Policy offer an opportunity for mid-career health-services researchers and practitioners from Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom to travel to the United States to conduct research on health policy and share what they discover.

Awardees receive up to $107,000 to spend 9-12 months working with U.S. health policy experts. After completing their research, awardees will publish their findings in a peer-reviewed journal or a report for policy-makers. The Commonwealth Fund hopes that these reports will provide a mix of health care ideas that have worked in other countries that can be combined with a U.S. health care strategy. The foundation expects the research to contribute to a system that provides Americans with better health care options.      

The Commonwealth Fund is a New York-based foundation that promotes the development of a health care system that achieves better access, improved quality, and greater efficiency for all people, particularly the most vulnerable: people with low-incomes, the uninsured, minority Americans, young children, and elderly adults.

The deadline for applications is 15 September. More information about the Harkness Fellowships in Health Care Policy, is available on GrantsNet and the Commonwealth Fund Web site.

- Donisha Adams

Donisha Adams is the GrantsNet Program Associate for Science Careers.

The following announcement comes from Daniel Poux and the AAAS Science and Policy Fellowships program:

For 36 years, the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships have provided scientists and engineers with a unique opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills to national and international issues in the federal policy realm, while learning first-hand how to craft policy in Congress and implement policy in more than 15 federal agencies.


AAAS seeks candidates from a broad array of disciplines, ethnicities and disability status. Fellows represent a spectrum of career stages, from recent PhD graduates, to faculty on sabbatical, to retired scientists and engineers. Fellows also come from a range of sectors, including academia, industry, non-profit organizations and government labs.


Click here to RSVP for a webinar on 2 October, 2009 at 12:00 pm EDT you can learn more about the fellowships application, selection, placement processes and ask questions of former Fellows about how the experience affected their careers. If the above link is not active, please paste the following into your browser:



Eligibility & Criteria:


To be considered for a fellowship via AAAS, successful applicants must hold a doctoral level degree (PhD, ScD, MD, DVM, etc.), in any of the following:


* Social sciences

* Health sciences

* Biological sciences

* Physical sciences

* Earth sciences

* Computational sciences

* Mathematics


Applicants with a MS in Engineering and three years of post-degree professional experience also qualify.


All degree requirements must be completed by the 15 December, 2009 application deadline.


Additionally, successful applicants must:

* Show a commitment to serve society

* Exhibit good communication skills and the ability to engage with non-scientific audiences

* Demonstrate problem-solving ability, flexibility and leadership qualities

* Hold U.S. citizenship


Federal employees are not eligible.


This is a year-long opportunity, beginning 1 September, 2010 and ending 31 August, 2011. Fellows in most executive branch agencies have the opportunity to renew their fellowship for up to 12 additional months.



Stipend: Approximately $73,000 to $95,000 (depending on years of experience and previous salary).


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


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


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


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


Apply: The deadline is 15 December, 2009


AAAS accepts online applications only. Full details at


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


Click here to RSVP for a webinar 2 October, 2009 at 12:00 pm EDT you can learn more about the fellowships application, selection, placement processes and ask questions of former Fellows about how the experience affected their careers. If the above link is not active, please paste the following into your browser: