Science Careers Blog

January 2010

Faced with decreasing state and federal government support, the University of Montana in Missoula this week began considering several cost-cutting measures, including a four-day week for students and employees. Students and faculty interviewed by the local newspaper generally support the idea, but some were still worried about what comes next.

The proposal, floated by George Dennison, the university's president, would shut most of the campus on Mondays, moving classes and many work activities to longer periods on Tuesdays through Fridays. Classes now meeting on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays would be rescheduled to Wednesdays and Fridays and run for longer periods. Work days on Tuesday through Friday would be extended to 10 hours a day. Dennison said no one's work hours or pay would be cut as a result.

Some campus services, like the library and student center, would have their hours reduced but still be open for part of the day on Mondays. The impact on other vital services, like child care, is still being assessed. The story makes no mention of the impact on science labs or researchers; losing a work day each week could extend the time needed for researchers to complete their lab work. Also, how would lab animals be cared for on the days labs are closed?

Chelsi Moy, a reporter for the Missoula newspaper, quotes a campus source saying that the university would save some $450,000 a year mainly in utility costs, about 15% of what it now spends on heat and power. Dennison said the change would also reduce the university's carbon footprint, another institutional goal.

Some students told Moi they liked the idea of a longer weekend. One computer science student said it would give him a chance to work longer hours and make more money. He already works two jobs while going to school.

Moy quotes Doug Coffin, vice president of the university's Faculty Association and a professor of molecular genetics, who said that faculty were worried more about what the proposal could portend for the future. "They hit a panic button," Coffin said. "They are wondering, 'Are we still on the cliff or are we in free-fall?'"

Dennison said there was "a good chance" the university would implement the proposal, which would take effect no earlier than July 2010. On Monday, Dennison also announced his retirement as university president. He has served in the post since 1990.

Hat tip: Washington Monthly

03/12/2010: Please be advised that this grant opportunity is now closed.

Earlier this month, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, killing more than 150,000 people in the capitol of Port-au-Prince and leaving many more injured and missing. Among those affected by the disaster are students from Haiti at American colleges and universities who are cut off from their families in Haiti and, in many cases, from the financial support the families provided.

To help these students, the Institute of International Education (IIE) has created Haiti-Emergency Assistance for Students (EAS) grants. These grants provide financial assistance to citizens of Haiti who are undergraduate and graduate students at accredited U.S. colleges and universities. Eligible students must have non-immigrant visa status, good academic standing, and a demonstrated financial need that was caused by the earthquake.

Students must be nominated by campus officials, including international student advisers. Each campus may nominate up to five students to receive $2000 grants for the spring semester. IIE has a downloadable nomination form on its Web site. A separate form must be completed for each student. Applications should be sent by e-mail to The deadline for nominations is 12 February 2010.

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

IIE is also accepting financial donations to fund more grants through the EAS program. Please contact if you would like to contribute to the fund.

In 2003-2005, Dick van Vlooten, a Dutch management consultant, wrote a series for Science's Next Wave (the predecessor to Science Careers), where he drew lessons for job-hunters about networking from social science research. One of van Vlooten's columns discussed the need to build open networks, where you break out of your usual comfortable circles and find what he calls "fairly odd friends" who have access to potential employers with which you may not be familiar.

Last week, career consultant Kevin Donlin discussed a similar idea on the blog WorkBloom, what he calls "weak ties," casual acquaintances you may barely remember or with whom you have a tangential relationship. These weak ties can be former college classmates, co-workers, clients, vendors, neighbors, or people you met while volunteering for a good cause, and can provide leads to unfamiliar companies or organizations.

Like van Vlooten, Donlin bases this advice on research, in this case the sociologist Mark Granovetter, who Donlin quotes as saying, "[T]hose to whom we are weakly tied are more likely to move in circles different from our own and will thus have access to information different from that which we receive."

Donlin goes one step further than van Vlooten and suggests ways of mining these contacts to get job leads, based on the experiences of real people he advises or who had some connection with Donlin and contacted him. In one example, Donlin received an e-mail from a fellow alumnus of the same college he attended, asking if Donlin knew any people at a list of companies, asking for a referral. Donlin says he made a referral as a result of that request.

In another example, Donlin tells about a client who mailed hard-copy letters to weak-tie contacts describing his career goals and accomplishments and asking for leads or referrals. Researching postal addresses, plus the printing and mailing, will be time consuming, but Donlin says it got this job hunter more leads than e-mail.

Another approach Donlin discusses seems to me more dubious, which is to offer a financial reward. He talks about a job hunter who works in marketing and is offering $1000 to anyone who can give the job hunter a "warm introduction" to a senior decision-maker that leads to an offer of employment. Donlin defines a warm introduction as one where the referrer gushes (Donlin's word) about the person being referred. Needless to say, this last approach generated a lot of comments from readers.

More than 70% of employers say they are not receiving enough applications from doctoral graduates. That is the finding of a new report, "Recruiting Researchers: Survey of Employer Practice 2009," by Vitae, the U.K.-funded career development organization for doctorate holders and postdocs. "What we are looking for is first class brains," one employer noted.

Vitae surveyed 104 employers from a diverse mix of sectors, size, and academic orientation, ranging from, for example, QinetiQ and AstraZeneca to Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Office Depot. Nearly three quarters of the companies are interested in recruiting doctoral graduates, but many employers feel they are not adequately reaching this group of potential employees. This could indicate a trend of increasing interest among employers toward doctoral graduates, the report's authors hypothesize, proposing an additional study for 2010 to establish if this is in fact the case.  

About a third of companies surveyed say they do actively recruit doctoral graduates, and 73% said they would welcome more applications from Ph.D. holders. Doctoral graduates, then, should take note of this and learn to articulate their unique skills to stand out during the ranking process, the report concludes.

What are those unique skills? David Cairncross, secretary of the CBI Inter-Company Academic Relations Group, writes in the report, "The process of achieving a doctorate develops an enquiring mind, problem-solving abilities and the ability to assimilate new ideas quickly" -- which are all highly valued skills even in a tough job market. The participating employers ranked data analysis, problem solving, and drive and motivation as the skills in which they expect top performance from doctorate holders. Project management, interpersonal skills, leadership, and commercial awareness were generally ranked lower.

"We must ensure that there is awareness on all sides of the very real commercial benefits which can be gained by the U.K. economy from employing an extraordinarily talented and diverse group of people," Cairncross writes.

The full report (PDF) and a short summary of the report are available on the Vitae Web site.

- Sverker Lundin

On Monday, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) -- Uncle Sam's human resources department -- unveiled a new Web site and slicker search engine for jobs in the federal government.  The site, called USAJOBS, gives visitors a simple search window to start but more powerful tools just beneath the surface.

The USAJOBS home page looks something like the classic Google search page, asking for keywords and location to start a job search.  Those with better idea of what kind of work they want to do, or where, can browse for jobs in specific agencies or locations, or by type of job. And for those who really want to drill down, the site's advanced search page lets job-hunters search by keyword within job titles or descriptions, as well as by government occupational category, location domestic and foreign, agencies, compensation ranges, and eligibility requirements.

The site has pages to aid searches on special criteria such as top management jobs in the Senior Executive Service, jobs for veterans, student opportunities, and employment for people with disabilities. Job hunters can create accounts to store resumes and to save search factors and specific jobs returned by previous searches.

Searches on science-related keywords offered a glimpse of the site's workings.  A simple search on the keyword 'physics' returned 1400 open jobs. A review of the first few pages of results showed that the current openings include research scientists, engineers, technicians, and project managers, among others. A simple search on a narrower discipline -- neuroscience -- returned 13 jobs including jobs for researchers, medical officers, nurses, physician's assistant, and social workers.

Job hunters can refine their searches by grade level, salary, location, occupation series, agency, student jobs, posting date, and work schedule (full-time or part-time). Of the 1400 jobs returned for a search on physics, for example, 11 are for students, with openings at NASA, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of the Interior.

A geographic search of these 1400 jobs with the keyword Physics returned 176 entries for California and 55 for Louisiana.  However, these geographic returns are misleading; of the 55 entries for Louisiana, 50 of the jobs give their location as "nationwide," which may or may not include openings in Louisiana.

Each listed job has a detailed job description with instructions on how to apply. Many but not all of the jobs allow online applications, but online applicants must first have a USAJOBS account.

Last week I blogged PiT's Part 1: Money.

PiT has now posted Part 2: Stuff New/Prospective TT Faculty Need to Know. Part 2: Negotiating

PiT writes, sagely,
The most important thing is to get everything in writing. Don't take the Chair's or the Dean's word for it that you'll get a summer salary or that you won't have to teach for the first two years. GET IT IN WRITING. Was that clear enough? No? I'll say it again just to make sure. GET IT IN WRITING. Everything.
...and then goes on to discuss the nitty gritty: soft money, summer salary, teaching load, and so on. Read the comments, too; there's some good insight in there as well.

While I'm at it I'll mention a couple of relevant resources from Science Careers:

Academic Scientists @ Work: Negotiating a Faculty Position

Be Honorable and Strategic

Negotiation Tactics and Strategies

Nine Key Negotiating Points

Please Sir Can I Have Some More?

Business Sense: Starting an Academic Lab

For more (and there's lots more) just visit our Advanced Search Page and have at it.

For recent college graduates, finding a job at any time is difficult, since they often lack experience outside the classroom -- a situation made worse by the current tough job market. The trick for recent grads is to find entry-level jobs, which can lead off professional careers but normally require little more than a solid, relevant educational background. Started by a 2006 college grad who ran into this very problem, One Day One Job identifies these entry-level opportunities.

One Day One job profiles a few employers each week, reviewing the organization's work and its job opportunities, highlighting those where entry-level applicants would have a shot. It gives some background about the organization, including unfavorable news like adverse legal judgments, along with links to the enterprise's "about", leadership, annual report, news, and of course jobs/careers pages. In some cases, it reviews the organization's current job openings, pointing out those not requiring extensive previous experience. One Day One Job includes links that search Facebook and LinkedIn for current employees of the companies profiled. A separate section discusses internship opportunities at the profiled enterprise.

Two recent issues on the site appear to have opportunities for junior-level engineering and science grads.
- In the 24 January 2010 issue, the site talks about the U.S. Green Building Council in Washington, DC, and finds two entry-level jobs looking for applicants with computer and engineering training.
- On 23 January, the site reviewed the Educational Testing Service (ETS), headquarted in Princeton, New Jersey, and with locations in six other U.S. cities. We found several junior-level jobs (with the title of "associate") for statisticians and social scientists in the ETS jobs section.

The site is the creation of Willy Franzen, a 2006 graduate with a BS degree from Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations. After experiencing the same job-search frustrations as other recent grads, Franzen started the One Day One Job site in 2007.

A common tip offered to job interviewees is to send a thank-you letter to the hiring manager soon after the interview session. Catherine Jones in the Job Search Secrets blog now tells why the thank-you letter is a good idea and offers suggestions on what should go in it.

Jones says the thank-you letter will make you stand out from the other interviewees. She cites statistics (source unknown) that only 1 in 10 interviewees send a thank-you letter. If you don't believe the interview went well, the letter will at least raise your profile with the hiring manager. And if the interview did go well, the thank-you letter can seal the deal. Jones also notes that few hiring managers make their decisions immediately after an interview, which provides an opportunity for a prospect to make his or her case in the thank-you letter.

As for the letter itself, Jones recommends that the text have:

- A thank you to your interviewers for taking the time to see you.
- An expression of desire to work for them.
- A summary of why you fit the bill.

Jones adds that a recent candidate remembered a comment in a conversation after the interview about the failing health of the interviewer's cat, and in her cover letter the prospect wished the cat well. This prospect ended up winning the job. While Jones cannot be sure that the good wishes expressed about the cat won her the job, the comment did help raise the candidate's profile, and added a feel-good factor to the decision.

Each year during the last week in April, more than 12,000 members of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) gather in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for their week-long annual meeting.  If you ask any of the attendees what they do, they'll tell you that they're "visual scientists." But if you dig deeper you'll discover an amazingly multidisciplinary group of researchers. 

The major components of this community by training are (1) PhD's, (2) MD/Ophthalmologists, and (3) optometrists, osteopaths, and veterinarians.  A more meaningful insight into what the members do in their visual science careers can be gained from the titles of the 13 scientific sections of the organization:  Anatomy & Pathology; Biochemistry & Molecular Biology; Clinical & Epidemiologic Research; Cornea; Eye Movements, Strabismus, Amblyopia & Neuro-ophthalmology; Glaucoma; Immunology & Microbiology; Lens; Physiology & Pharmacology; Retina; Retinal Cell Biology; Visual Neurophysiology; Visual Psychophysics & Physiological Optics.

A pervasive presence at ARVO meetings is the leadership and staff of the National Eye Institute (NEI), an NIH institute dedicated to research on human visual diseases and disorders.  With an annual budget close to $700 million, the NEI is the principal source of funding for the research done by the eye-research community -- and presented at the ARVO meeting.  Hence, ARVO meetings provide an ideal venue for close communication between visual scientists and the government agency that pays for most of their research.  Jointly, they engage in strategic planning and set priorities and goals for vision research.  

Since its creation by Congress in 1968, the NEI, along with the vision science community have been successful in fulfilling the NEI's stated mission to "conduct and support research, training, health information dissemination, and other programs with respect to blinding eye diseases, visual disorders, mechanisms of visual function, and the special health problems and requirements of the blind."  The commitments of vision scientists to preserve vision and prevent blindness is a vital element in the cohesion and collegiality of the vision science community.  Both the NEI and ARVO provide information about vision science as a career and available job opportunities.  A personal visit to the ARVO annual meeting is highly recommended for anyone interested in vision-related science; it is not only informative but also inspiring.

Where do members of the vision research community work?  The vast majority are employed by universities.  Extrapolating from figures available from the University of Wisconsin - Madison, I estimate that slightly more than half are members of  departments of ophthalmology in medical schools, with most Ph.D.'s holding joint or adjunct appointments in a basic-science department.  The other vision scientists are distributed among medical school basic science departments, or science departments outside the medical school.  In addition, many pharmaceutical companies have ophthalmic divisions and career opportunities for vision scientists.

From my own personal experience, I can attest to the fact that vision science is a challenging and highly gratifying career.  

Some of her observations are worth a read. Read the comments; though some are insipid ("look how great my grades were in college, except in yoga!") a couple offer real insight into what's needed in, for example, a "Statement of Purpose."

Women scientists do about twice as much of core household chores as do their male counterparts, according to a study published in the January-February issue of Academe, the magazine of the American Association of University Professors. "Understanding how housework relates to women's careers is one new piece in the puzzle of how to attract more women to science," the authors write.

I heard about this study yesterday from an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which you should read, too. I'll hit the high points of the study here:

Study authors Londa Schiebinger and Shannon K. Gilmartin used data from the Managing Academic Careers Survey, which was administered to full-time faculty at 13 U.S. research universities in 2006-2007. Respondents included 1222 tenured and tenure-track faculty -- 910 men and 312 women -- in the natural sciences who indicated that they are partnered.

Women respondents say they perform 54% of the core household tasks (cooking, grocery shopping, laundry, housecleaning), adding up to about 20 hours a week. Men scientists reported they do about 28% of those tasks. (We can speculate who is doing the remaining 18% of housework -- paid help, children, etc. -- but I think it's safe to assume that not all the women who took the survey are married to the men who took the survey, therefore those numbers won't add up.) When it comes to parental responsibilities, women scientists report they do 54% of the parenting labor, compared with 36% for men.

The authors also looked at the relationship between scientists' productivity (defined as number of published articles) and employing others to do housework. They found that, regardless of gender, salary, and rank, partnered scientists who hire outside help for housework are more productive.

The authors' recommendation, then, is that employers should offer financial support for housework as part of their benefits packages. They point out that some European companies offer such a benefit. I know at least one fellowship scheme here in England (the Royal Society's Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowships) includes funds for childcare.

Some of the commenters on the Chronicle's news article think this is a ridiculous suggestion:  "I can't believe someone really suggested that pay packages now include money to hire servants!!" writes one commenter. "In this type of economic climate, colleges should subsidize the cleaning lady? With positions being cut, budgets being slashed, endowments having lost can someone even discuss this with a straight face?" writes another.

I've interviewed some amazing women scientists and read interviews with and articles written by many more. I often see a similar answer from women who are asked how they are able to juggle family/home responsibilities with a successful scientific career: They have help. One more time: THEY HAVE HELP. For many partnered women, much of that help comes from a supportive partner, whether that support comes in the way of doing housework, taking care of children, or helping each other protect time for work and for family. And help may also be in the form of an au pair to take care of the children, someone to do some or all of the housework, or family that lives close by and chips in.

How a couple divides up its household chores is of course a personal matter, of course. But if a university or a company provides a laptop, Blackberry, company car, housing, or a tuition benefit as perks or to contribute to the employee's productivity, then why shouldn't they consider offering stipends for domestic help if it means freeing up several hours a week of a valued employee's time?

Let us know what you think.

This is the second in an irregular series of blog post on managing people. You'll find the first one here.

I serve on the association board for my condominium. In that capacity, I recently got to meet the consulting engineer we rely on for our building's maintenance. She -- yes, a female mechanical engineer -- was in the process of planning a job repairing some steel beams in the building's parking garage.

During the course of our conversation, she made an important point about management: "Do it like the carpenters say," she advised. She was using "carpenters" as shorthand for 'people who actually do the work,' as opposed to those who just plan it. 

"If you tell them to do it this way," she said, gesturing with her hands, front to back, "and the carpenters say to do it that way "-- now she gestured side to side -- "you ought to do it that way" -- again, gesturing side to side, in solidarity with 'the carpenters.' 

This may be surprising advice if you're used to putting lots of faith in theoretical expertise. But her advice has a lot to recommend it. First there's the fact that "the carpenters" know what works best in the real world; there may be unanticipated obstacles to doing it your way that you haven't thought of yet.

Importantly -- and this was the engineer's main point -- if you do it the way they want to do it, you'll get a better job because you've empowered them by putting your faith in their decisions.

Coincidentally, this morning I was editing an article (you'll see it later this week) that included a quote from George Box, the industrial statistician. Here's a version of that quote, found on the Internet:

The benefits provided by worker participation are twofold. Quality is improved because of the finding and fixing of a very large number of problems, but also, and perhaps equally important, morale is improved.
So trust your carpenters.

January 15, 2010

Bending the Job Hunt Rules

When you're job hunting, particularly if you're out of work, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the competition, with often hundreds or thousands of applicants vying for the same limited number of jobs. As Dave Jensen pointed out in a 2006 column for Science Careers, sometimes you need to bend the rules a bit and engage in "guerrilla marketing" to get an advantage over the competition.

This week, Colin Daymude on the CareerRealism blog offers a variation of this advice, particularly for unemployed professionals, to get your skills and talents in front of prospective employers. Daymude says that many small companies like his  -- he runs a human-resources and training firm -- often need the help of skilled professionals to do their work but are not in a position to hire full-time staff. He recommends marketing yourself to these companies as a consultant or contractor to show first-hand your skills and abilities.

As with any marketing campaign, you need to do a lot of background work: to identify company prospects and key decision-makers and to learn enough details of their business to make a credible pitch. Once you have selected the prospects, Daymude suggests two different approaches:

- If you have products of a recent project that you can send to a prospect, package it (literally, in a box) and send it to it out to those prospects.  Companies in your field of expertise would recognize good work and it would offer a way of getting their attention. One caution, however, that Daymude overlooks: make sure you are not bound by any intellectual-property restrictions or a non-compete agreement before taking this step.

- Daymude also recommends that you prepare and mail a printed coupon on a post card, offering a day of free consultation in your line of work. This coupon offer can get you in the door and actually perform your services, which can then give you a way of discussing follow-on work, either as a direct hire or a contractor.

In either case, you have short-circuited the usual process of responding to advertised jobs and beaten the hordes of competitors to these enterprises. Even if the companies you canvas are not in a position to use your skills, you at least have made contacts. And you can mine those contacts later in follow-up calls if the initial campaign doesn't pan out.

Daymude's ideas are not a substitute for the traditional job search and probably would not work with many larger employers, such as government agencies and academic institutions, which often have strict hiring policies. But in a tough job market like this one, you need to consider any and all methods that may get you a job in your line of work, as long as they're not unprofessional or excessively risky.

Have you or your institution had problems registering or submitting a grant application through Have you found you must deal with variations in grant-application policies at different federal agencies even if they use Then the Grants Policy Committee (GPC), part of the federal government's U.S. Chief Financial Officer Council, wants to hear from you.

Last May, we reported on a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study of, the centralized federal service for grant announcements and applications. That GAO study looked at the varying procedures among federal agencies for handling grant applications through, which makes applying for a government grant more difficult for individuals and institutions.

A later GAO audit, in July 2009, highlighted more problems with, particularly the cumbersome and lengthy registration process, which has to be completed before you send your first grant application. It's a multi-step process that Science Careers described in 2007, just as NIH was preparing to move from paper to all electronic applications. Some of the steps required by, such as getting a DUNS identifier, are the same as any company or organization faces when first getting into high-volume electronic business. But as GAO found, the registration process can take a week or longer.

The GPC is collecting real-life experiences from grant applicants through an online form to help the committee respond to the GAO report.  A Federal Register notice posted on 7 January, gives more details about the inquiry. The deadline for comments is 31 January.

January 14, 2010

Future Jobs

The U.K. government has commissioned a consulting company to speculate on what new jobs people might be doing in 20 years or so, and they have published their report. Among the more interesting prospective career paths with scientific content:

* Body-part maker
* Memory augmentation surgeon
* Pharmer (a farmer of biotech crops)
* Nano-medic
* Space pilot (sign me up!)
* Science ethicist
* Quarantine enforcer
* Waste-data handler.

You can read about these and other future careers at the UK's Science: [So What? So Everything] site.

At the WorkBloom blog this week, résumé coach Jessica Holbrook discusses the optimum length of a résumé, and the advice she gives can be summed up as "it depends." Holbrook says that one size won't fit all job-hunters, but finding the right size depends (that word again) on the amount and type of experience the job-seeker has to offer.

Holbrook says that most American business résumés should be 1 to 3 pages. Entry-level workers and recent grads can probably get by with a single-page, since they have less of a story to tell than their more experienced counterparts. Mid-career workers will probably need 2 pages for their professional histories; a 3rd page, if needed, should be devoted to publications, honors, and continuing education.

Holbrook emphasized that job hunters should be as concerned about the content and quality of their résumés as with their length. The goal of the résumé is to give the hiring manager a clear picture of your professional history. Filling up space with a lot of fluff will probably hurt more than help your case. Likewise, says Holbrook, if your work history is measured in decades rather than years, you probably want to concentrate on the most recent several years and leave out some of the details about your early experience.

A common source of confusion in academic and scientific employment is the difference between a résumé and curriculum vitae, or CV. The CV is a comprehensive description of education, work history, publications, and presentations used for academic hiring. A CV often runs many more pages than the typical business résumé. (An additional source of confusion is the fact that in some European countries "CV" is used to describe a document very similar to what we call a résumé). About a year ago, Science Careers columnist Dave Jensen defined résumé, CV, and a host of other common terms used in job-hunting and career development. In an earlier column, Jensen also described how a CV can be adapted for business use.

January 12, 2010

Send Us Your Essays

Regular Science Careers readers know that we occasionally publish personal essays written by interesting scientists in our In Person series. Most of these essays start as unsolicited reader submissions.

We're seeking such submissions. We're looking for good writing, interesting personal stories, descriptions of unusual careers or compelling narratives about conventional ones. The key to a good In Person piece is its fresh, personal perspective: Your essay should connect your story with the larger scientific/career context in a way that entertains and informs the reader.  You'll find guidelines at the top of the series index page.

Bloggers, please help us spread the word about this opportunity.

A recent Wall Street Journal's careers section advises job hunters to pay attention to details when interviewing for jobs, particularly in this highly competitive job market, and explains what happens when they don't. Writer Joann Lublin offers horror stories of interviews gone bad, because job candidates did not prepare, were in attentive or careless, or just left their good common sense at home.

In a what-was-he-thinking example, one interviewee who underestimated the travel time to the employer's office, jogged 12 blocks on a summer's day to the interview site, where -- soaking wet -- he asked the receptionist if the office had shower facilities that he could use before the session. They didn't have those facilities and he didn't get the job either.  Lublin advises prospects to plan ahead and give yourself plenty of time. You can always find a place away from the interview site to wait and keep cool.

Attire, of course, is important in an interview, and a June 2009 Science Careers article provides tips for making the best sartorial impression.  One piece of advice in that article was not to push the fashion envelope in a job interview, a point apparently lost to an applicant mentioned by Lublin. This candidate apparently wore a low-cut dress that exposed not only cleavage, but also a tattoo when she leaned over the desk. The job, at a hospital in a small conservative Texas town, was filled by another applicant.

Where the interview involves a meal, you need to remember more than just your table manners, says Lublin. Being on time is always good advice, but particularly when a meal is involved where your tardiness is more visible. In one case of an employer who took a group of candidates out for a meal, one candidate arrived late, well after the rest of the group was seated. A business etiquette specialist telling the story to Lublin, said the candidate compounded the error by ordering the most expensive item on the menu and then ate so quickly that he was finished even before others in the group had been served.  

Employers like prospects who show enthusiasm, but there are limits. One candidate cited by Lublin waved his hands wildly during the interview first knocking over a water bottle -- fortunately still sealed -- but later sending an uncovered mug of coffee sailing across the conference table.

One way to make a better impression is to pay attention in the interview. Lublin tells of one candidate who mispronounced the interviewer's name four times -- even after being corrected three times. The interviewer told Lublin it was probably a case of nerves, but he chose another candidate who seemed to be less easily flustered.

Thinking of pursuing a research career in computer science? Turn to Facebook -- not to build and exploit a professional social network (or not only that) but to fund your Ph.D. Facebook just announced that it's offering fellowships for computer science Ph.D. study that will pay $30,000 a year plus $5000 for conference travel and other expenses.

The catch? Only that you have to be a full-time Ph.D. student. And that your research has to be in an area Facebook is interested in. And your degree field has to be computer science, computer engineering, electrical engineering, systems architecture, or a related area. And that you have to be nominated by a faculty member.

Applications must be received by 15 February.

Derek Lowe's post on his In the Pipeline blog at Corante reminded me that I failed to post an entry about Robert Service's excellent article in Science's 19 December news section, on the recent retractions of two 2004 papers from the laboratory of Peter Schultz, a chemist at The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, California, which appeared in Science and the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The papers "extended pioneering work in Schultz's lab on a method for incorporating non-native amino acids into proteins (Science, 20 April 2001, p. 498)".

Schultz says the concerns raised were serious enough that he asked a group of lab members to try to replicate the work in [then-postdoc Zhiwen] Zhang's Science paper in addition to several other important discoveries Zhang had made. That task, however, was complicated by the fact that Zhang's lab notebooks, describing his experiments in detail, were missing. Schultz says that in the early fall of 2006, the notebooks were in Schultz's office. But at some point after that they were taken without his knowledge and have never resurfaced.
Much of Zhang's work was eventually replicated, but key experiments turned out to be wrong. The story involves anonymous charges of fraud, a threatened suicide, and an extortion attempt. The papers were retracted in the midst of Zhang's tenure process at the University of Texas at Austin, and he was eventually denied tenure.

This may be the sort of thing we wish didn't happen in science, but it's still an entertaining read.
The number of online employment ads for scientists, engineers, and related occupations all increased in December. The numbers of unemployed job-hunters in these occupations also increased, keeping the ratios -- and, hence, the ease or difficulty of finding a job -- about the same as before. The Conference Board, a private business and economic research institute, provides these data, which are tracked monthly by Science Careers.

Ads for computer and mathematical science jobs climbed by 23,300 in December, the third straight monthly gain. Postings for life, physical, and social scientists increased by 4300 in December, reversing an extended decline that began in September. The number of job ads for engineers and architects also rose, by 9200 -- the second consecutive monthly increase for engineers and architects; before November, these occupations suffered 4 straight months of declines.

Ads for healthcare practitioners and technicians, positions sometimes sought by scientists and engineers, increased by 45,100 in December to more than 541,000. This 9% increase in opportunities reversed declines in October and November. Postings for education, training, and library workers at all levels -- another source of employment for some scientists -- also rose in December, by 8.7%, to 75,000.

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The Conference Board report computes a ratio of online ads to the number of unemployed workers in the job market for these categories, an indicator of job-market competitiveness. The most current unemployment data, taken from Bureau of Labor Statistics' reports, are a month older than the job-ad numbers, so the ratios calculated below are from November, a month earlier than the numbers cited above.

In all of the occupational categories tracked by Science Careers, the number of unemployed job-seekers increased in November, reversing two months of declines for some groups. As a result, the ease or difficulty of finding a job stayed at about the same level as in October. The Conference Board's report does not give reasons for entering or leaving the cohort of job hunters.  

Candidates for computer and mathematical science jobs had one of the better job-search environments in November, where for each unemployed job seeker employers posted 2.5 online ads, about the same ratio as in October. Many other job seekers had a tougher time in November: Candidates looking for life, physical, and social science jobs found a declining number of job ads at the same time as nearly 81,000 new job hunters entered the market. As a result, the ratio of job-seekers to ads rose to 1.2:1.

Engineers and architects looking for work also ran into nearly 7000 new job-seekers in November, but for this group at least the number of job ads increased a little (about 3500), which kept the ratio of job hunters to posted ads at about 2 to 1. Education, training, and library job seekers have one of the most difficult job-hunting situations currently, with about 6.5 unemployed workers for each advertised position. A modest increase of 1200 job ads in November didn't provide much relief.

Perhaps the best job-hunting environment in the country for any occupational group is for healthcare practitioners and technicians, where in November each unemployed job seeker could choose from nearly 3 posted positions, on average. This 1-to-3 ratio continued in November despite a decline in ads of 37,000 for these positions.

For the country as a whole, the number of online employment ads in December increased by 255,400, more than double the number of new job ads recorded in November. So, the total number of job hunters remained about the same in November as it was in the previous month, resulting in a slight decrease in the ratio of job hunters to posted ads, from 4.8 in October to 4.5 in November.

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published the story of how an undergraduate English teacher struck by a disability developed interactive ways to teach her students.

Elaine Smokewood, a 54-year-old English professor at Oklahoma City University in the United States, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease when she started losing her ability to speak and part of her mobility a couple of years ago. "Most professors believe they listen to their students, of course, and that they hold vibrant discussions in class," writes the aticle's author, Jeffrey R. Young. Smokewood was no exception, considering herself a "'highly interactive'" teacher, she told Young. "'But I still saw myself as the most important person in the room.'"

Disability forced Smokewood to give her classes from home, using a computer and a Web cam to display her image on a large monitor in the classroom, a videoconferencing system that shows her the students, and a speech synthesizer and typed text to talk to them.

The unusual setting made her a better teacher, Smokewood told Young. In particular, she became a better listener:

"I became a different kind of teacher than I had ever been--I became a teacher who actively listened," she wrote in a recent essay for the university's alumni newsletter. "I had in the past often confused listening with waiting for my students to stop talking so that I might resume the very important business of performing," she added. "I learned that if I listened carefully, thoughtfully, generously, and nonjudgmentally, my students would delight me with the complexity of their thinking, the depth of their insight, the delicious wickedness of their humor, and with their compassion, their wisdom, and their honesty."

Students are forced to participate much more in class: Smokewood makes them lead class discussions, quiz each others, and participate in an online forum discussion.

Her system may not work in all situations, Smokewood warns, especially for large or introductory classes. It seems to me it would also be difficult to implement in science classes, where traditionally there is less space for discussion and a greater need for equations, drawings, and demonstrations.

But listening more carefully to students and giving them a greater play in the classroom strikes me as a great way for teachers of all disciplines to better engage and prepare students.

Read the entire article here.


Newly implemented guidelines at Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women's Hospitals will restrict the amount of pay top officials at the research hospitals can receive for serving on boards of pharmaceutical companies, the New York Times, Boston Globe, and others report. Junior faculty will face new restrictions, too: All faculty members within the Partners HealthCare system may no longer accept speaker's fees from drug companies, nor can they participate in industry speakers' bureaus.

One of the senior officials affected is physician-investigator Dennis A. Ausiello, chief of medicine at Massachusetts General and chief scientific officer of Partners HealthCare. He received more than $220,000 from Pfizer last year for service on the company's board. He told the New York Times that the drug companies are "crucial to translate academic research into drugs that benefit patients," the Times reports. "I'm very proud of my board work," he told the Times. "I'm not there to make money. I certainly think I should be compensated fairly and symmetrically with my fellow board members, but if my institutions rule otherwise, as they have, I will continue to serve on the board."

Not everyone agrees that top brass at medical centers should be interacting at all with drug companies. Thomas Donaldson, a professor of business ethics at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times that "dual roles in a hospital and at a drug maker were 'dicey at best' because a director's duty is to look out for the corporation's financial interests," the Times reports.

The rules for senior officials, which, according to the Boston Globe, affect about 25 senior officials and executives, limits physicians to receiving $500 an hour to a maximum of $5000 per day for serving on drug company boards. They also may no longer accept stock. The new guidelines stemmed from recommendations made last April by an internal commission appointed to examine Partners HealthCare's policies regarding interactions with drug and device companies.

The issue is somewhat of a moving target, concedes Eugene Braunwald, a Harvard professor and former Partners chief academic officer who chaired the internal commission. "In all fairness," he told the Times, "what was OK three years ago is not OK now."

As it happens, the January issue of the journal Academic Medicine has a special series of articles on academia-industry relationships, including two articles that are available for free to non-subscribers: "Commentary: Conflict of Interest Policies: An Opportunity for the Medical Profession to Take the Lead" and "Can Academic Departments Maintain Industry Relationships While Promoting Physician Professionalism?"  

You can read more from AAMC on financial conflicts of interest from its Web site, Financial Conflicts of Interest in Academic Medicine, and you can read about the subject on CTSciNet in For Physician-Scientists, Conflict-of-Interest Issues Are Complex.

More than a century ago, Sigmund Freud famously (or infamously) wrote, "The great question that has never been answered, and which I have as yet been unable to answer despite my 30 years of research,, 'What does a woman want?'" In a similar vein, medical students engaged in research projects, both male and female, frequently ask, "What does my principal investigator (P.I.) want?" Unlike Freud's question, this one can be easily answered.  The answer is, 'commitment.'

The major frustration for the dedicated lab head working with medical students was presented to me, as a medical student, in a talk by the great renal physiologist Homer William Smith. Smith noted that many interested, willing, and highly competent young men and women had come and gone through his laboratory, spending 2 or 3 years involved in his research. But when they launched into their medical careers they were all too frequently absorbed by their clinical activities and no longer incorporated research into their professional lives. Smith knew that the greatest payback for a senior investigator who accepts a medical student on his or her research team and spends time teaching and mentoring that student is the future research contributions that student will make throughout his or her career.  And the preceptor knows that unless real commitment is in evidence when the student first arrives then the outlook for long-term dedication to research is bleak.

This does not preclude the important need to introduce medical students without previous research knowledge or experience to the laboratory, or to some realm of clinical research, as an interested observer or limited participant. Research faculty welcome such an opportunity and are pleased if the student progresses to a more significant role. But it is disheartening for scientists to take on students who express a desire to play a meaningful research role, and accept responsibility for a portion of a project, and then fail to fulfill those responsibilities.

How does a student beginning work on a research project manifest commitment? The research faculty in medical schools are well aware of the rigorous schedule medical students face and understand that only a limited amount of time can be devoted to research. Moreover, they are forgiving when genuine conflicts arise and the time scheduled for research is of necessity missed.

Rather, it is the student's seriousness, level of interest, and intensity of effort that are of primary concern. Students who initiate and maintain a dialogue about the research, ask questions, and show evidence of related outside reading and independent thinking are highly regarded. In fact, committed students who are new to a research discipline are especially valuable because they ask basic questions and do not accept fixed ideas and dogma as sacred and beyond questioning.  In addition, because of their concurrent medical training, they are often in a good position to recognize previously unappreciated clinical implications and significance for the research they are undertaking. Original ideas and suggestions for advancing the research, a good learning curve for the technical aspects of the project, careful data keeping, courtesy and thoughtful behavior to all members on the team -- including technicians and assistants -- and participation in the group's social activities are all important to the student's success.

The short-term endpoint the preceptor wants is not merely a student co-authored publication, or presentation or for the student to receive a favorable evaluation or letter of recommendation; rather, it is for the student to be able to formulate a hypothesis and design a sound protocol to test it, and experience the challenge and rewards of gaining new knowledge that come with a hands-on research effort. Hopefully that initial effort and commitment will lead to research becoming an integral part of that student's later professional life, whether it is at the bench, in translational research, or in clinical studies.

January 4, 2010

The Playground of Life

As we waved goodbye to the Noughties (a term I hadn't actually heard until about 2 weeks ago) and welcomed 2010, I found myself doing the annual personal inventory of what I accomplished last year and what I want to do in the next. I kept coming back to a question I heard repeated over and over a few months ago: "How are you going to have no regrets on Sunday?"

This isn't a question about Catholic guilt (unless you want it to be): It's a question for anyone who's due (or overdue) for a hard look at his or her personal goals and career interests. It came from Peter Hawkins, director of the Windmills program, who gave the closing plenary talk at the Vitae Researcher Development Conference in September. He had asked us to think of our lives as a week: You're born on Monday morning. Monday night, you're 12 years old. By Tuesday night, you're 24; Wednesday, 36 years old; and so on.

Sunday is the last "day" of your life ("If you do the health and fitness stuff, you might have a bank holiday Monday," Hawkins quipped). "Where are you in the week?" Hawkins asked. "Where are the people who are important to you in your life? Wherever you are in your week, how are you going to have no regrets on Sunday?"

He led us through a series of exercises to get us thinking about how each of us would answer that question. He started by asking, of the hundreds of skills you have (yes, you have hundreds of skills), do you know which five or six you really love using? What are they? Then, are you maximizing those skills in a way that inspires you every day?

climbing.JPGThe next set of exercises came from Monday morning -- childhood, in other words. He used six things found on a playground to frame the discussion: Swings (life is full of ups and downs), see-saw (you've got to find balance), a roundabout (merry-go-round to Americans -- life can spin us in circles), a climbing frame (there are obstacles), a bench (the community around you), and a slide (the things you need to do to take the plunge).

I thought the series of questions he asked for some of these items were useful, so I'll share them here.

To avoid getting stuck in the roundabout, think about what you'd like to achieve in four areas:
-In terms of work, what would you like to achieve? What is important in the next 10 or 20 years of your career to have no regrets on Sunday?
-What would you like to learn? What skills and talents would you like to acquire?
-In terms of playing and having fun, what would you like to accomplish? Have you focused on your passions? Have you travelled as much as you'd like? Pursued hobbies you've dreamed of doing?
-What would you like to do in terms of giving? "In a hundred years' time, you won't be remembered for the size of your house, the size of your bank balance, or the speed of your car. You'll be remembered for whose lives you've touched," Hawkins said. How have you used the skills you're passionate about to give to others?

slide.JPGThen, the obstacles: What is the biggest barrier that's preventing you from having no regrets about what you can accomplish? Then, question it. If it's time, how much time? If it's money, how much money? "Is the barrier a real barrier or is it just a reasonable excuse not to live your life?" Hawkins asked.  
Next, who is sitting on your bench supporting you? Who are your mentors? Who is missing from your bench?

Finally, think about one thing you could do to push yourself down the slide to accomplish your goals. "What leap of faith are you going to take your personal or professional life forward?" he asked.

At the conference in September, these exercises meant different things to different people at my table. For some, it was a very career-oriented exercise. For others, the questions struck an intensely personal chord. Grab a notebook and answer those questions for yourself if you'd like -- I surprised myself when I saw my answers on paper. If you have a half an hour or so, you can watch Hawkins' presentation on the Vitae Web site. Hawkins also has more exercises on the Windmills Web site.

"We only have one shot at it," Hawkins said at the end of the talk. "We're all going to have the ups and downs, we're all going to have challenges with the balance. We're all going to go around in circles. Find the right people on your bench, and take the plunge."

Happy 2010, everyone: May it be a year full of personal discovery, growth, success, and no regrets.

seesaw.JPGThe author and her husband work on balance during a 50-mile bike ride in the Suffolk countryside.

Many students preparing for the job hunt get to know their universities' career centers quite well, since these offices often provide counseling, resume help, job leads, and interview advice. According to a New York Times article last week, some of these same career centers now offer their services to graduates who have been out of school for a while.

In general, campus career centers provide services to current students or those who graduated recently, usually in the past 6 to 12 months. But at the University of Colorado in Boulder,  the career office was forced to add an extra staff member  to help its not-so-recent graduates. While some campus career centers charge alumni nominal fees ($25 - $50) for their services, Boulder keeps its alumni assistance free.

State University of New York at Albany is another campus the article says has seen a sharp jump in requests for help from alumni. SUNY Albany's career center says the number of counseling sessions with alumni has jumped 28% in the past year. Rutgers University in New Jersey also provides career assistance to its alumni, and even held a speed-networking event where they introduced unemployed alumni and students to employed alumni with the aim of helping them find jobs.

For the universities, the motivation to open their career centers to graduates is more than altruistic. As the Times article notes, these interactions help campuses keep in touch with alumni so that they can hit them up later for contributions once their former students land jobs.