Science Careers Blog

March 2010

A popular way of mustering innovative and fresh ideas is to hold a brainstorming session -- but according to a paper published recently in Applied Cognitive Psychology, this may not be the best approach. The study, which was carried out by Nicholas Kohn of the University of Texas at Arlington and Steven Smith of Texas A&M University, suggests that instead of enhancing creativity, brainstorming sessions may give rise to a "collaborative fixation" on certain ideas.

In keeping with previous studies, the authors first found that participants produced fewer ideas, in total, when taking part in a brainstorming session than if they had been working separately. The difference was as high as 44% in the first 5 minutes of a brainstorming session. The authors also found that when working separately participants explored a greater variety of ideas, up to 55% more idea categories than during brainstorming sessions. 

In a second experiment, the researchers found that participants in a brainstorming session tended to conform "to ideas to which they were exposed, and the rate of conformity increased as the number of ideas exposed increased," the authors wrote in their paper. "Fixation to other people's ideas can occur unconsciously and lead to you suggesting ideas that mimic your brainstorming partners. Thus, you potentially become less creative," Kohn explains in an accompanying press release

This doesn't necessarily mean that you should ban brainstorming sessions from your lab meetings. You might just need to adjust the format. It seems odd, but, depending on what you want to achieve, the best approach might be to put everyone in a separate room.

"Assuming it is desirable to have a wide variety of ideas or solutions to a problem... then one should split the brainstorming group into non-interacting individuals, avoiding a group session," the authors write in their research paper. "On the other hand, if the goal is to explore a few categories in depth, then interacting among the members should be encouraged. Also, taking a break might help alleviate fixation, leading to an improvement in ideation, especially in terms of the quantity and variety of ideas."


In an EmploymentDigest blog post from yesterday, Bill Vick advises job hunters who land an interview to assess the style of the interviewer and be prepared to react accordingly as the session progresses. Vick, a recruiter, entrepreneur, and consultant, parses interviewers into five types and says that recognizing an interviewer's type early in the interview can give interviewees tools for getting their message across when the interviewer is -- to be charitable -- less than an expert at it.

How many of these interviewers have you encountered?

- Non-stop talker. This interviewer talks more -- much more -- than he asks questions. The non-stop talker makes it tough for candidates to break in with their selling points, but the friendly chatter also can lull the candidate into saying something he or she might not want to divulge. Vick recommends staying focused and waiting for an opportunity to ask questions about the position or organization, to help get the discussion back on track.

- Drill sergeant. This style is the opposite of the non-stop talker. Here, the interviewer fires off questions in monotone, which can be intimidating. Here again, Vick says to keep your focus, maintain eye contact, provide solid answers, but don't try to engage in small talk. To the extent possible, return questions with your own questions, but be prepared for more drill.

- Traditional interviewer. This interviewer follows a predictable script, often with prepared questions. Vick says the traditional interviewer may be trying to stay completely objective, or he or she may just be using the script as a crutch. The advice here is to allow the interviewer to remain in a comfort zone by following his or her lead, but to use opportunities in the discussion to follow up with questions of your own so that you can learn more about the organization and make your own points.

- Inexperienced/newbie. As Vick says, "everyone has to start somewhere." You may run into an interviewer who doesn't know where or how to begin. This is a tricky situation because you want to get across your selling points but you do not want to embarrass or confuse the interviewer. Vick advises staying on message -- but don't ask questions you suspect the interviewer can't answer.

- Inappropriate interviewer. This interviewer crosses the line with questions that are unrelated to employment or just too personal. On this blog last month we discussed Interview Questions from Hell, where some questions are so egregious they break laws, not just the bounds of good behavior. Vick says candidates should keep the session on a professional level and turn the discussion back to the job and the company.  If the interviewer continues being a jerk, conclude the discussion.

Vick's interview types generally apply to one-on-one interviews conducted in person. There will be variations for other kinds of interview sessions. Here are links to Science Careers articles discussing telephone, informational, and panel interviews.

On Friday, Tara Weiss in offered some pointers for students on landing a coveted summer internship. Hunting for an internship is a lot like hunting for a permanent job in that it takes both preparation and professionalism. Interns may generally be younger or paid less, but that still means you have to look and act like a pro when applying.

Weiss says that according to National Association of Colleges and Employers the market for internship hunters is improving; employers are hiring 5.8% more interns this year than last year. But applicants for internships are also getting more aggressive: Last week I gave an informational interview to a candidate for an internship here at Science, the first time I had been information-interviewed for an internship.

In finding internships, you need to look past college bulletin boards and campus recruiters to identify places to work. Weiss recommends making a list of companies or organizations where you would like to intern. Rattle your networks of professors, recent grads, friends, and family to find the names of the hiring managers. Then see if your contacts can make an introduction or referral on your behalf. In many organizations, employee referrals get more serious consideration than those coming in cold.

If you don't know anyone in those companies, use impersonal means such as company Web sites or  LinkedIn to get the names of managers in the department offering the internship. Send your résumé to those managers as well as the H.R. department.  

Like hunting for a permanent job, Weiss says, do your homework on the target companies. Read their annual report and news about the organization -- and not just the press releases on the company Web site -- to learn what's going on in the organization, the products and services offered, and who are their customers. Customize your cover letter and résumé to display this background research. Few hiring managers will expect an intern to have a lot of direct experience in their kind of work, but you still can highlight problems solved or leadership provided in campus organizations or in part-time jobs you've held.

If you get an interview it will likely be held over the telephone -- unless you're local -- since few companies have the resources to pay travel for intern interviews. In a 2006 Tooling Up column, Dave Jensen gave advice on nailing telephone interviews. More phones have gone mobile since then, but Dave's advice still applies. And if you're lucky enough to get a personal interview, career coach G.L. Hoffman earlier this month gave students a few pointers on job interviews from the hiring manager's perspective. (Really dudes, lose the chewing gum.)

In the interview, Weiss advises, ask about next steps and timetable, which will show your enthusiasm for the internship and give you an idea of when to follow-up if you don't hear anything. And send a thank you note -- hard copy or e-mail -- that offers a sincere 'thank you' and also emphasizes your strengths, or covers over rough spots in the interview.

Pay is always a touchy subject in internship interviews. Fortunately, many science internships are paid positions, supported by research grants or programs like NSF's Research Experiences for Undergraduates. If, however, you're being considered for an internship with a not-for-profit organization or start-up company, you may need to balance the desire for experience against the limited compensation they offer. Here's where you will need to think through in advance potential scenarios and make a decision based on your current needs versus future opportunities.

Over the next one or two decades, research infrastructure in Europe could begin to look very different. For the coming generation of scientists, that means new challenges and opportunities on the horizon.

As the Sixth European Conference on Research Infrastructures (ECRI2010), which took place in Barcelona earlier this week, once more demonstrated, ambitions can be simple, but implementation is slow and complex.

Europe is planning to build or upgrade 44 large-scale pan-European research facilities, all of them listed in a roadmap document released in 2008 by the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI). The list of projects includes, for example, the so-called new Global Ocean Observing Infrastructure (EURO-ARGO), the new European Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage Laboratory Infrastructure (ECCSEL), and upgrades to the European Life Science Infrastructure for Biological Information (ELIXIR).

The open, competitive process of selecting these projects for new facilities means that the next generation of European scientists should have access to first-rate instruments to pursue research of pan-European interest. Researchers can also expect to be granted access to these new facilities on a competitive basis, and Europe has money to pay for such travel costs.

The opening of these new research facilities should provide new training and research opportunities. For example, the European X-ray Free Electron Laser (European XFEL), which is being built near Hamburg, Germany, is expected to start operation in 2014 and have a workforce of 300 people. Some postdoc and engineering positions are already posted on the project's Web site.

"Construction of a large-scale facility requires always highly specialized and trained scientists, engineers, technicians, managers," Michel van der Rest, Chair of the European association of national Research Facilities open to international access (ERF), said during ECRI2010. If you take a job in a facility under construction, you should be willing to see your job evolve as the facility moves into an operation and maintenance phase. "Short-term and long-term staff exchanges and staff mobility are key parameters to maintain competence and motivation," van der Rest added. He and other speakers highlighted the need for a better legal framework including portable pension schemes to promote international mobility.

Several speakers at the ECRI conference highlighted what they described as largely unaddressed training gaps. For example, as science requires increasingly complex and expensive bits of equipment, the next generation of researchers should be prepared to go and carry out their experiments in large-scale facilities scattered not only around Europe but also all over the world, said founding ESFRI member John Wood. "You need to look at how you are going to train these young people in that [global] environment," where e-infrastructure and mobility will become key aspects of the job.

Another training gap is in the skills needed to manage large research facilities. As Carlos Losada, Director General of the ESADE Business School, said in his talk, pan-European research infrastructures require 3 kinds of management: at the level of the facility itself, at the level of relationships with other facilities, companies, providers, and clients, and -- the third level -- within the broader context of the European Research Area. "Each of these levels has different types of leadership" and requires "different management competencies," Losada said. "Scientists with a solid level of knowledge management and developed competencies in managing is probably the best solution."

The conference left me feeling that the opportunities a more international environment offers  young scientists largely outweigh the challenges. If you know what kind of research may be hot and doable in the future or if you are able to anticipate shortages in transferable skills, it could well be that in 10 or 20 years' time you have positioned yourself to become a leader in your area, whether scientific or managerial. But you have to be willing to get the training you will need by yourself . 

The "training of young scientists, engineers, and technicians in line with the needs of the upcoming large scale facilities should be a priority. The ESFRI roadmap should be used to anticipate the needs of technical expertise at the european level," van der Rest said. 


Consistent with the plan we mentioned 2 weeks ago on the Science Careers blog, the House of Representatives lumped much of their student-loan bill into the package of fixes to the health care reform bill. Yesterday, both the Senate and the House passed this package, which now goes to President Obama for his signature. But in order to get the deal made, aid to community colleges in the original student loan bill had to be cut.

Combining the bills gave Democratic lawmakers a way to bypass a threatened filibuster of the bill by Senate Republicans. The combined bill used a legislative procedure called reconciliation that's reserved for budgetary measures, which, under the Senate rules, allows legislation to be passed with a simple majority. The strategy helped get the bill passed, but it required cutting back on some of the financial aid provisions in the student loan bill, to meet complex reconciliation rules. For example, today's New York Times says the student loan bill had originally proposed a new $10 billion program to increase community college enrollments for improving skills in the American workforce. But those funds were among the spending excised to keep the entire package on target. Instead, section 1501 of the final bill authorizes $2.5 billion for job-training grant programs over the next 5 years.

The original bill's main provisions remain intact, however. The federal government will now loan money either directly to students or through educational institutions. The law ends the role of private banks in originating student loans. While private companies can still play a role in servicing loans, they lobbied strenuously against this bill. Even Science Careers received some messages from the industry.

The restructured program will convert savings from loan subsidies and guarantees to private lenders into new Pell grants for low- and moderate-income students.  As we noted two weeks ago, however, the original estimate of $87 billion in savings over 10 years has shrunk  as institutions have gotten a head start, substituting direct lending for private loans in anticipation of the bill's passing. The New York Times puts the savings estimate at $61 billion, with most of the savings ($36 billion) going to fund Pell grants.

March is Women's History Month, and this week in particular there have been some exciting highlights of women in science.

For starters, today is Ada Lovelace Day, a day of blogging about women in science. Bloggers can register their posts with the Finding Ada Web site, where anyone can view a map or a list of the posts by the women profiled in the posts. This list will no doubt update throughout the day and perhaps even longer. (Note: Organizers of today's event note on Twitter that they're victims of their own success -- their Web site keeps crashing from all the visitors. If the links above don't work, check back later.)

I was pleased to see on the list a post from SarahAskew's Sarah Kendrew on Maggie Aderin-Pocock, who heads the optical instrumentation unit at the space firm Astrium. I had the pleasure of meeting Maggie at the U.K. launch of the She Is An Astronomer campaign, and we later profiled her in Science Careers. She's one of those people for whom the term "infectious enthusiasm" was invented. Sarah's post definitely confirms that I'm not the only one who thinks that.

Maggie also made The Independent's list of today's women trailblazers in science, published earlier this week. Another scientist on The Independent's list jumped out at me: Ottoline Leyser, a plant biologist at the University of York. Ottoline is a passionate scientist who is also committed to career development. I'm mentioning her because she received the Royal Society's Rosalind Franklin Award in 2003, and the project she did with the prize money was to assemble a book, "Mothers in Science: 64 Ways To Have it All" (links to full-text PDF of the book). I think this is such an excellent idea and a great resource.

Also this week, the Royal Society published a list of the most influential women in the history of science. The list includes Mary Anning, Dorothy Hodgkin, Rosalind Franklin, and Anne McLaren, to name a few.

Take a look at the lists above -- perhaps you'll be inspired to write a blog post of your own about a woman in science who has inspired you. You can also see who's tweeting about Ada Lovelace Day by searching Twitter for the hashtag #ALD10. There are so many great posts out there this week on women in science that I can't link to them all, but feel free to post your favorites in the comments below.

The hotly debated Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that passed the Senate in December and House of Representatives last night establishes a new center for comparative effectiveness research in health care costs and quality, a topic discussed earlier this month in a Science Careers article.

Section 6301 of the bill establishes an independent, not-for-profit corporation, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI)

"to assist patients, clinicians, purchasers, and policy-makers in making informed health decisions by advancing the quality and relevance of evidence concerning the manner in which diseases, disorders, and other health conditions can effectively and appropriately be prevented, diagnosed, treated, monitored, and managed through research and evidence synthesis that considers variations in patient subpopulations, and the dissemination of research findings with respect to the relative health outcomes, clinical effectiveness, and appropriateness of the medical treatments, services, ... "

PCORI would be funded by a Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund, financed by transfers beginning in 2013 from two other federal medical trust funds. The use of a trust fund for financing helps protect the institute from day-to-day political considerations in funding decisions.

The bill calls for PCORI to establish research priorities and a project agenda based on the prevalence and burden of diseases in the U.S. particularly chronic conditions, as well as a host of patient care and cost-control variables. The proposed research priorities will be open to a public-comment period as well.

The bill also identifies PCORI's research methods: primary research and systematic reviews of existing studies. To conduct its research, the institute will contract with federal agencies -- the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to start -- and non-government researchers.

Research conducted for the institute will be peer reviewed, and the bill allows PCORI to use the processes of the NIH and AHRQ or academic journals. Within 90 days, research findings will be made available to the medical community and general public. AHRQ is also authorized to take proactive steps to disseminate the findings to physicians, health care providers, patients, insurance providers, and even health care technology vendors. The bill calls as well for AHRQ to award grants for training in the research methods used by the institute.

The new law imposes some restrictions on the use of comparative effectiveness research. Perhaps in response to the phony "death-panel" claims -- that comparative-effectiveness research would be used for making end-of-life decisions on individual patients -- made by the bill's opponents, the bill prohibits the use of comparative effectiveness research findings "in a manner that treats extending the life of an elderly, disabled, or terminally ill individual as of lower value than extending the life of an individual who is younger, nondisabled, or not terminally ill."

National Institutes of Health (NIH) wants a few really new and different ideas on how to achieve more ethnic diversity in the biomedical sciences, and is prepared to pay up to $10 million for those ideas.  Our colleague Jeff Mervis on the Science Insider blog yesterday reported on a new NIH Director's Pathfinder Award aimed to get those breakthroughs.

The announcement for this competition notes that greater diversity in the biomedical research workforce is not just the right thing to do, it also benefits the research enterprise. A more diverse workforce helps achieve greater minority participation in clinical trials, says NIH, and improves patient satisfaction.  

The announcement also makes no bones about its desire for ideas they haven't heard before:

The Director's Pathfinder Award is designed to support extremely creative individual scientists who propose innovative -- and possibly transforming -- approaches to this major challenge to biomedical research. The proposed approaches should have the potential to produce an unusually high impact in an area of research on workforce diversity.

NIH plans up to five awards of $2 million each, for projects lasting no more than three years. For entries to be considered, they must be new projects, not extensions of ongoing research. Plus awardees need to show they will devote no less than 30% of their research efforts to these projects.

Proposals are due on 4 May 2010. Letters of intent -- not required, but encouraged -- are due on 5 April.

Another article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education today and written by Mary Ann Mason, co-director of the Berkeley Law Center on Health, Economic & Family Security, looks at how over the years women have won, and lost, lawsuits for tenure denial based on sex discrimination.  

The laws are there: "Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, race, national origin, or religion. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is an amendment to Title VII and prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions," Mason writes in the article. "What protection those laws offer has been the subject of evolving interpretation by federal courts," however, and it has become "more difficult for a plaintiff in a tenure case to prove discrimination" these last 20 years.

Even if you are successful, the price may just be too high to pay. "In practice, few plaintiffs are reinstated, and most compensation packages do not financially justify the enormous time and expense of the lawsuit and the shame of replaying a failure in the public eye. Colleagues may avoid you, and you may [be] tagged with the odious label of 'troublemaker,' which almost guarantees you will not receive another job offer," Mason writes.

On the positive side, Mason adds, the women who brought up and won lawsuits have contributed to creating a more open tenure procedure where candidates are today better informed of their rights. Still lacking, however, are equal opportunities to mentoring and the creation of a flexible tenure-track.

"Even with a fair, open process and family-responsive policies to help parents (still a distant goal at most universities), there will always be those who suffer the cruel sting of denial. I don't think the answer is abolishing the tenure system... Instead, let's just get on with making a good system a fair system for men and women," concludes Mason.

Case No. 1: You're an assistant professor, married with young children, at a small liberal-arts college... It's been a long year, and you're looking forward to... that long-neglected family vacation. Then your chair... announces that a senior colleague has unexpectedly retired: Can you cover her classes over the summer?

Case No. 2: You have been invited for an on-campus interview for a tenure-track position. At the get-acquainted dinner, the conversation focuses on elementary schools and the best place to hold an 8-year-old's birthday party. One of the committee members turns to you and asks, "So, do you have children?"

An article written by David D. Perlmutter and published today in the Chronicle of Higher Education looks at "When and How to Use the Other 'F' Word" -- Family, that is -- at work. 

"For most of us, but especially for probationary faculty members, family dynamics affect career success. Talking about those issues, however, is risky," Perlmutter writes. In his article, Perlmutter outlines adequate ways to respond in the two situations described above, and preconises not using family as an excuse to bypass faculty obligations, speaking about your family in moderation, and being willing to hear about some family stories even if you don't have kids yourself.

Read the whole article.


The National Human Genome Research Institute, part of National Institutes of Health, unveiled today its Genomic Careers site for students thinking about genomics as a career.

The site introduces students to careers in genomics research as well as fields that apply the science of genomics, such as forensics and biomedical engineering. Visitors will find the site's primary medium is video. Even the introduction to the Web site and an introduction to the field of genomics are given on videos. The site does offer transcripts for those who still favor the written word.

An entire section of the site offers 51 videos including interviews with people working in and around genomics who tell about their careers. Other videos in this section give tours of genomic research centers and companies that commercialize their findings. Another section, called Career Profiles, gives quick overviews of more than 50 jobs in or related to genomics, with details such as salary ranges and medians, minimum education required, projections on growth in job opportunities, and links to other Web resources.

Other parts of the site are more interactive with tests of knowledge of the field, based on what visitors learn while at the site, as well as ratings of the content. Visitors who register with the site and provide ratings of the content can get an assessment of their interest in different types of genomics careers -- such as research, clinical applications, or policy jobs -- based on those ratings. Still another section is designed for teachers and counselors to help students with their genomics career questions.

An Office of Management and Budget (OMB) memo last week gave federal agencies the green light to use more grand challenges and prizes to spur innovation. The memo, signed by Jeffrey D. Zients, OMB's Deputy Director for Management, points out that agencies with funds for grants can use that funding and authority to sponsor grand challenges and prizes.

Zients encouraged agencies to use such competitions, a form of "crowdsourcing" that gathers broad public input in the search for innovative solutions to problems. Agencies were urged to collaborate with outside organizations for the design and management of these prize competitions. OMB promised that within four months the Administration would have a Web-based platform for agencies to post their prize and challenge competitions and invite communities of problem solvers to take part.

The memo outlined the legal and financial mechanisms enabling agencies to offer prize competitions and challenges, including grant-making authority. Zients notes that a grant "is defined in the Federal Grant and Cooperative Agreement Act (and in OMB Circulars) as financial assistance by the Federal Government that provides support or stimulation to accomplish a public purpose;" a cooperative agreement is defined similarly, but calls for the agency's substantial involvement.

Where agencies have the authority to give grants, the memo says, they can offer a cash prize for a competition under the same authority as long as the prize is consistent with legislation authorizing those funds. Competitive grant programs like the ones commonly used to fund research are especially suitable, the document says, since their legislative authorizations often do not specify how the funds should be distributed.

Zients cited several examples of prizes or challenges as evidence of the value of the approach, notably DARPA's grand challenge to develop robotic cars and NASA's Centennial Challenges to develop technologies, from lunar landers to astronauts' gloves. Zients also pointed to Department of Energy's L Prize, used to develop more efficient alternatives to incandescent bulbs.

Hat tip: Peter Modigliani

    In my May 2009 Taken for Granted column, I wrote about the laboratory fire in a UCLA laboratory in December 2008 that caused the death of UCLA technician Sheri Sangji. On Friday, Cal/OSHA, California's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, released records related to a fire that occurred in another UCLA lab more than a year before the Sangji incident.
The university did not report the November 2007 event to state authorities, even though the graduate student employee involved in the fire sustained injuries serious enough to require admission to a burn unit, followed by a week in a hospital. The California Division of Occupational Health and Safety learned of the incident "while they were investigating other issues at the campus," lab safety expert Neal Langerman tells Science Careers in an interview. Last week, the agency fined the university $23,900 for violations related to the earlier fire, according to a news report.

    Unlike the Sangji incident, which involved a "high risk" pyrophoric material, the November 2007 fire began when during a "low risk" operation when a "simple flammable liquid, ethyl alcohol" spilled onto the student's hands and clothing and was ignited by a Bunsen burner, Langerman says.  Like Sangji, the student wore a synthetic shirt and no protective lab coat.

    Also unlike the fire that injured Sangji, the earlier one "was put out locally" without the involvement of emergency services, Langerman says, and the victim made his own way to the university health service. A burn unit admitted him the following day.  "The university has a regulatory obligation to report promptly all hospitalizations," Langerman says, adding, "Cal/OSHA considers failure to report as serious as a willful violation."

    Cal/OSHA has levied additional fines of $67,720 fines on UCLA for violations alleged to have occurred since Sangji's death. The university announced on Friday that it intends to fight those citations.

    After determining that inadequate training and failure to use protective clothing contributed to Sangji's injuries, Cal/OSHA cited and fined UCLA.  Since then, the university has made significant changes to its lab safety practices, including providing lab coats.  Whether reporting the 2007 incident might have changed the outcome for Sangji must remain forever in the realm of surmise, but it's likely, Langerman notes, that lab coats could have reduced the damage in both incidents. 

    Nor is it known whether the revelations about the 2007 fire "will affect the deliberations of the LA district attorney office" about possible criminal charges in the Sangji case, Langerman says.

    But the situation "speaks to the fact that safety in the past had no priority at UCLA," he says.  "I wish I could say that UCLA was unique in that regard, but it's not.  It really is a common feature of life at academic institutions."
In the Doctor Dolittle children's series by Hugh Lofting, the amazing Doctor Dolittle gains the gift of talking to the animals and learning their secrets. Today there are real "Doctor Dolittles" -- veterinarians learning the secrets of animals and their genetics, immunologic mechanisms, brain and nerve functioning, pathogenesis of malignancies, and much more -- by state-of-the-art scientific means. And the knowledge they gain is extremely important to humans and for understanding human diseases.

The University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine is one of the most research-orientated veterinary schools in the United States. The Veterinary school is located a stone's throw from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, and there is much interaction and collaboration between the two schools.

Having partnered in research with some academic veterinarians and communicated with many others, I thought I had a pretty good idea what they did. I assumed their research training and research prospects were analogous to ours in the human-focused medical field.

However, in preparation for writing this blog entry I sat down with one of their most distinguished veterinarian-scientists, Richard Dubielzig, and was surprised to learn that while many parallels exist, there are also striking differences between their careers and those of their medical school counterparts.

The curriculum at veterinary medicine schools is very similar in concept to the medical school curriculum:  an intensive 4 year course divided between basic science and clinical learning. As at medical schools, the amount of research emphasis varies widely by institution. The following is a partial list of veterinary schools that have built a solid reputation for doing research and producing quality researchers in veterinary medicine:

University of Wisconsin
University of California-Davis
Colorado State
Ohio State
University of Pennsylvania
University of Florida
North Carolina State
Washington State

One difference between veterinary and medical training is that in veterinary training there is less opportunity to train for a career in research than there is in pursuing a medical degree. So if you want to be a veterinary researcher, you'll need to earn a Ph.D. degree either before, during, or after veterinary school. Opportunities for combined degrees -- D.V.M.-Ph.D. -- are more rare and less well-defined than at medical schools.
Veterinary schools offer excellent opportunities for an introduction to veterinary research. Most schools offer summer vacations between the first and second and second and third years; these are great opportunities to spend a few weeks in a research lab. Frequently, students planning a research career will take leaves of absence and work in a laboratory or on a research project between years 2 and 3, or between years 3 and 4, of veterinary school. NIH T32 grants, which pay students stipends to spend a year in a research laboratory, are available at several schools.

The usual route for veterinarians planning a research career is to earn a Ph.D. after veterinary school graduation. That graduate training may or may not have a clinical component. To qualify for an entry-level (Assistant Professor) tenure-track faculty position in a veterinary school, a candidate usually must have completed a  D.V.M., a Ph.D., residency training, board certification, and postdoctoral training.

Many veterinarians with research ambitions find fulfilling careers in the safety or research and development (R&D) divisions of pharmaceutical companies. Here, a Ph.D. in toxicology or board certification in veterinary pathology, respectively, is required. While these jobs have higher salaries than academia, the scope of research is narrower and more directed.

Both Dr. Dubielzig and I are impressed with the enthusiasm and gratification veterinary scientists show for their research. And once appointed to a tenured track, achieving tenure is usually less stressful than it is in most medical schools. The greatest professional challenge is often managing to meet clinical responsibilities while also getting research done. This can lead to stress, insecurity, and feelings of being under-appreciated. Not surprisingly, there is more moving around among positions in both academia and industry among veterinary scientists than there is for physician scientists. But when you ask the veterinary scientist if they would do it all again, the answer is usually an enthusiastic "yes!"

When we last checked in on the proposed Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which aims to reform the student loan process, the bill had passed the House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate due to a threatened Republican filibuster. The New York Times reports this morning that Democratic leaders in both houses of Congress have worked out a deal to move the bill to a vote.

According to the Times, the deal would fold the student loan bill  into the Senate's health care reconciliation bill, which needs a simple majority (50 + 1 votes) to pass rather than the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster. Senate rules allow the use of the reconciliation method only for budget-related legislation, and most provisions of the student loan bill meet that criterion. Ezra Klein of has a good, brief explanation of the reconciliation process proposed for the health care bill.

The student bill would end the role banks and and other private lenders play in making student loans. 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.

The bill would also redirect the anticipated savings from the end of private-lender subsidies to more funding for the Pell grant scholarship and Perkins loans that students can get through their institutions. When the bill passed the House in September, the Congressional Budget Office estimated those savings at $87 billion over 10 years. The Times this morning says that many institutions, in anticipation of the new bill, have increased their use of federal money for Perkins loans to students, thus reducing the amount of private loans. Because of this cutback in private student loans, the estimated savings are now down to $67 million over 10 years.

Linux software vendor Ksplice tells how they conquered a difficult management problem with a unique staffing approach: Hire interns. In December of 2009 the company, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, found itself with a host of pending engineering projects outside of its core business functions, and it needed to complete these projects quickly for a new product launch last month.

Ksplice's solution: hire a dozen student interns from nearby MIT -- for one month. Each intern was assigned one of the company's pending projects to complete in that period of time. Adding the 12 interns quadrupled the size of its engineering staff. In a blog post yesterday, Ksplice says all 12 of the interns completed their tasks.

How did Ksplice do it? The company is located in the shadow of MIT and founded by MIT alumni, which helped Ksplice locate and hire the best talent. It also helped that MIT sets aside the month of January for students to pursue independent activities Here are a few other tips that Ksplice offers companies considering a similar project:

- Pay well. If you want the best talent in a place like Cambridge, you have to pay for it. Ksplice says it pegged its compensation to the high-end of prevailing pay rates for on-campus jobs.

 - Devise the tasks to be as self-contained as possible. Because each of the assignments involved tasks outside the Ksplice's core technology, the interns did not have to become super-familiar with Ksplice's systems. Instead, they could concentrate on solving their specific problems, with minimal ramp-up time

- Design the interns' projects in advance. Ksplice had to plan this intern project carefully to make it work. Before hiring the interns, they had to plan the interfaces between each task and the company's core technology so that they could give the interns specific targets to meet.

- Tolerate a little crowding. Ksplice works in a suite of two rooms, into which all 12 interns piled for a month. A photo on the company blog shows the interns at work. It is evident they got to know each other very, very well.

Hat tip: Ed Dodds

It would seem so, if statistics (free download -- pdf reader required) just published by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) are to be believed.

The AIP analysis reveals -- unsurprisingly, to this former physicist -- that physics majors scored 161.5, on average, on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) -- higher than any other major. Math majors came in just a little lower, at 159.7. All of the six top-scoring majors were science related -- assuming that you consider economics to be science-related. The highest-scoring non-science major is English, followed very closely by two more science fields, biology and then computer science. Pre-law, by the way, comes in a distant 12th of 13 majors, and criminal justice guards the rear.

Physicists also do very well on the MCAT -- the Medical College Admissions Test -- but they miss out on the top spot by a hair. The best scoring major on the MCATS is chemical engineering, followed by physics, electrical engineering, economics, neuroscience, and mathematics. Interestingly, English was again the highest-scoring non-science field, again ranking seventh (of 13).

What's the lowest-scoring major on the MCSTs? "Premedical."

An aside: When professional associations start telling you how good preparation in their field is for other careers, you can bet the job market in the field isn't good.

You can download the AIP report, in pdf form.

We've written about what a lousy job market we're in for early-career scientists -- see Tenure-Track Jobs Remain Scarce for the latest account.

But there are scarier examples out there of how lousy the times are for academic scientists. An example: Florida State University (FSU) has laid off 25 tenured faculty members as the departments of geology, oceanography, and anthropology are disbanded and merged into a new Earth and Atmospheric Sciences unit. Reportedly, three tenure-track assistant professors also lost their jobs. All told, about 200 people, faculty and staff, are expected to lose their jobs.

There's an account of the fall-out -- Layoffs Lower Morale by Senior Staff Writer Courtney Griffin -- published last Thursday at, the online edition of FSU's student newspaper. Other Florida universities are also laying off tenured faculty members, but in far fewer numbers than FSU.

The faculty -- including Philip "Flip" Froelich, Francis Eppes professor of oceanography, who will lose his job, is incensed. "The university administration has torn the fabric of the faculty, there's no trust between the faculty and the upper administration of this university," Froelich said, quoted in the article.

Hat Tip: National Student News Service

Friend-of-Science-Careers (FOSC) Danielle Lee will be defending her dissertation -- An Investigation of Behavioral Syndromes and Individual Differences in Exploratory Behavior of Prairie Voles, Microtus ochrogaster -- this morning at 10 a.m. Central Standard Time (11 a.m. on the east coast) at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. That's a big deal for her; we're proud and wish her well. But dissertations are defended by FOSCs every day; why does her defense merit a blog post on Science Careers?

Because it's the first dissertation defense I've heard about that will be both live-streamed and live-tweeted on Twitter. Lee is the blogger behind Urban Science Adventures (read her last-minute thought on her defense here) and she Tweets as @FeteSociety. You can access the live stream at and follow her defense on Twitter using the hashtag #LeeDefense. (Lee herself won't be tweeting. She'll be rather busy.)

We at Science Careers wish soon-to-be-Dr.-Lee excellent luck.

(Speaking of Twitter, you can follow me @SciCareerEditor.)

Update: At approximately 1:30 p.m. eastern time, Danielle announed to the world, via Twitter, that she is now officially Dr. Lee.

Last week Beryl Benderly wrote about the successful effort to unionize postdocs on three University of Massachusetts campuses. Beryl wrote, "Having collected signed union cards from a majority of the approximately 300 postdocs at UMass's Amherst, Boston, and Dartmouth branches -- Canovas's Worcester campus is not involved -- the new union received certification this week from the Massachusetts Division of Labor Relations. It can now begin contract negotiations with the university."

That's all true -- except, possibly, for the part that say the Worcester campus was not involved. Accounts differ, but it seems likely that there was an attempt to organize the Worcester campus -- home of the UMass Medical School -- but that so far the attempt has not succeeded.

Here's one more small correction on that story. Postdocs at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell were originally certified by SIEU as Benderly wrote in the article, but have since joined the Massachusetts Teachers Assocation, which is affliated with the National Education Association.

In a piece posted today, Todd Bavol -- author, blogger, and self-styled Job Search Ninja -- tells why the way you start off a new job is so important and offers tips on getting started off right.

Bavol urges new hires to use the time between acceptance of the job and the start date  --  a few weeks or more when typically there's little contact with the employer -- to get familiar with the enterprise, cement contacts with people met during your interviews, and to meet their new coworkers.  Bavol recommends making on-site appointments with the new boss and colleagues prior to the start date. That exposure will give you a better feel of the new surroundings so when the job starts things seem more familiar and you feel and act less like a newbie. It's even more important to get to know your new colleagues in a less stressful atmosphere than the job interview. These meetings will help you begin to  can learn more about the job's real expectations, which almost always differ from what's in the formal job description. Finally, the fact that you're doing this on your own time will likely make a good impression with your new colleagues.

Another step Bavol recommends is reading anything and everything written about your new employer -- again, before the start date. This includes public materials such as annual reports and articles but also internal policies and procedures manuals that often are restricted to staff, but which you can probably convince your new colleagues to share. You may not have time to fully digest these materials once you've started, and this is yet another way to make a good impression before you start.

I would recommend a third step, either in advance or soon after starting a new job: Introduce yourself to the support staff in the organization with whom you may not have a lot of contact. These administrative and technical specialists provide vital services that keep the enterprise afloat, including human resources (though you will have met some of them already), accountants, bookeepers, the computer help staff, receptionists, security guards, and so on. Their help, when you need it, can make your work more pleasant, productive, and fulfilling.

March 8, 2010

Celebrating Women

Today marks the 100th annual International Women's Day. Here are a few sites online that are promoting women in science today:

AthenaWeb is highlighting videos of this year's L'Oreal-UNESCO laureates, who come from the United States, Mexico, France, Philippines, and Egypt.

CERN is celebrating International Women's Day by letting viewers peek in at the experiment control rooms to see how many women are working at any given time (when I checked in earlier, it was about half-and-half men and women). Be sure to scroll down to see some great posters of women scientists in various departments at the megalab.

Imperial College London has an exhibit called 100 Women - 100 Visions that features photos and quotes from women at Imperial at all levels -- undergraduates on up to senior faculty.

I'd love to know about more special online events for women in science; feel free to add them in the comments section below.

On Science Careers, we've profiled some awesome women in the last year or so:

  • Patricia Alireza, a physicist who started her Ph.D. after her kids were in school and finished at age 45;
  • Laia Crespo found that, for her, a career in science meant a career in venture capital;
  • Gina Wingood, public health professor who has devoted her career to designing AIDS intervention programs for African-American women;
  • Regan Theiler, a physician-scientist who works in both the laboratory and the delivery room to improve women's health;
  • Cecilia Aragon, a computer scientist in the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Computational Research Division, who returned to finish her Ph.D. after a more than a decade spent working as a pilot;
  • Michal Sharon, a structural biologist at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, who recently landed a starting grant from the European Research Council.

Attending a professional conference can boost the career prospects of science students and postdocs, but getting to these events can be expensive. GrantsNet recently added travel grants from NextBio and the Pasteur Foundation to help students and postdocs defray the cost of attending a scientific conference. NextBio's competition is limited to its student users while the Pasteur Foundation's grants will support student or postdoc attendees at one of its upcoming events.

NextBio, a software company in the life sciences, is holding a competition for Student Travel Grants that will help the winners attend the scientific conference of their choice. The grants are for student researchers currently enrolled in an M.S., M.D., or Ph.D. program and registered with Nextbio. Applicants must submit a one-page essay telling how NextBio has assisted them in their research and must include a link to the applicant's NextBio profile. First, second, and third-place winners will receive funding of $1000, $500, and $250 respectively. Grant applications must be submitted to NextBio by 30 March 2010. Recipients will be notified by 29 April 2010.

The Pasteur Foundation offers travel grants for American scientists who have already registered to attend the International Congress on Viruses of Microbes at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. Applicants must be Ph.D. students or postdoctoral researchers who will be presenting a poster or oral presentation at the meeting. Zuccaire Travel Grants-Viruses of Microbes offer funding up to $2000 to attend the conference, which will take place 21-25 June 2010. Send all necessary documents to and The application deadline is 1 April 2010.

The full announcements and application details for these programs can be found on the Nextbio and Pasteur Foundation Web sites.

Sound crazy? That's just what Brooke Allen suggests in this week's lead story, Perspective: Keep Working (Even if You Don't Get Paid). And I think he makes his case.

I admit it; for the blog headline above, I chose the most provocative point in a very compelling article. Read the whole thing and give us your feedback. Please. Send Brooke an email -- or, better yet, leave a comment below.

In 1925 the American author Sinclair Lewis published the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Arrowsmith, which inspired subsequent generations of 20th century high school and college students, including me, to consider a career in medical research.

Arrowsmith relates the tale of the bright and research-minded Martin Arrowsmith, from a small town in a fictional counterpart of Wisconsin, who progresses through medical school, private practice, and a position as a regional health official to become a dedicated medical researcher. In the story, his research talent is recognized by his medical school mentor, and Martin attains a position in a Rockefeller-like institute in New York where he discovers a phage that destroys the bacteria causing bubonic plague.

There's much more to the plot, and if you haven't read it yet I suggest you do. The issue at hand, however, is, could Martin, as a medical student and physician interested in research, follow the same path and make as meaningful a contribution in the 21st century? My answer is yes, he could, but if I were Martin's mentor, I'd suggest other ways that might suit him as well or better.

It is worth noting from a historical point of view that when Arrowsmith was written, the doctor of medicine degree in the United States had only recently gained a full measure of respectability. As a result of the Flexner Report, sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation, the standards and curriculum of present-day medical schools came into being. Medical schools became integral parts of large and established universities, the length of medical education became 4 years, faculty became "true university teachers" typically with full-time university appointments, and students were required to have college or university preparation. Also, medical education came to consist of two years of basic science training followed by two years of clinical work in a teaching hospital.

In this setting, and within the confines of this curriculum, there was opportunity for individuals such as Martin Arrowsmith to identify areas of particular interest and specific researchers they wanted to work with, through the lectures they attended. The students would work in the researchers' laboratories, under the mentor's guidance, during their vacation and spare time. This led, in turn, to numerous outstanding and gratifying research careers well into the late 20th century.

It is a path still available to medical students today, but with somewhat greater difficulty, and modified rewards. The alternative routes for a career in medicine or as a clinician-scientist include pursuing a combined M.D.-Ph.D. curriculum, or Ph.D. training before or after getting an M.D. degree. So what are the main advantages and disadvantages of these approaches over the Arrowsmith pathway?

The Arrowsmith approach is easier and more flexible. No formal or written applications, contracts, or other types of commitment are required -- just select a researcher and a topic of research according to your desires. The amount of effort and the logistics are arranged to fit with the schedule of the student and researcher. Required reading, seminars to be attended, and courses to be audited are all determined by mutual decision. The length of medical training usually is not extended, unless the student decides to take a year or semester off to devote entirely to research. There are no additional tuition costs -- beyond the cost of medical school -- and often the trainee can obtain a student grant or be listed on the established researchers grant to help defray his or her living expenses. The entire arrangement is "customized" to suit the student and the teacher. If either is dissatisfied, the arrangement is easily dissolved.

Because of the ongoing clinical training, the Arrowsmith pathway is particularly well suited for careers involving clinical trials, other forms of clinical research, or translational research.The medical degree is sufficient to qualify one for a postdoctoral position and ultimate consideration for a faculty appointment in a clinical academic department.

However, there are some negative aspects to this pathway. With the advent of problem-based learning as a major tool in medical school curricula, there has been a melding of clinical and basic science training. Also, with the explosion of knowledge in the biological sciences in past decades, basic science training for the physician is less comprehensive and rigorous than it used to be in earlier years.

Accordingly, the Arrowsmith pathway is not ideal preparation for a career focused on basic science research. Nor is the M.D. degree alone sufficient for a faculty appointment to most medical school basic science departments. While such preparation suffices for a career in clinical medicine and for concurrent clinical and translational research, it is problematic for assurance of a long-term research career in basic science. These gaps and blind spots in one's knowledge can be filled in on the basis of individual effort, but this can be difficult.

This problem was illustrated to me in a striking way while I was a clinician-scientist on the Harvard Medical School faculty. There were a number of gifted undergraduates potentially interested in a medical physician-scientist career working in various laboratories in our department. In order to motivate them to consider the Arrowsmith pathway toward a physician-scientist career, our Chair assembled them for a group meeting with a distinguished Ph.D. basic scientist who were also on the medical school faculty. We anticipated an inspirational talk encouraging the undergraduates to pursue such a career. To our surprise, the message given was a short and blunt: "If you follow this pathway for a career in basic science, the PhD's will 'eat your lunch.'"

In summary then, while it's still possible to emulate Martin Arrowsmith, today his pathway is better suited for clinical or translational research than a long-term career in basic science.

An interesting footnote to the Arrowsmith novel is the fact that Lewis was greatly assisted by a Ph.D. microbiologist, Paul de Kruif, now best remembered for his book Microbe Hunters. Even though Lewis was listed as sole author, De Kruif's contributions were sufficient to merit receipt of 25% of the royalties. Thus, even in the creation of a story of a successful physician-scientist, a Ph.D. proved invaluable.
Sometimes even the best planning and good luck aren't enough in your job search. Consider the following scenario.

At conference, you get introduced to a department chair at a university, who mentions they just got a big new grant and may have positions opening soon. Instantly, you reach for your a business card and hand it to Dr. Chair so that she won't forget your conversation.

Unfortunately your cleverly-designed business card, with special stylized fonts on a dark background, with contact information printed on both sides, doesn't work very well in the OCR scanner Dr. Chair -- or, more likely, her assistant -- uses to capture the details of people she meets at these events. Your business card hits the bottom of the trash can, your scanned-in contact information is illegible, and your networking near-triumph instead fails.

In an age of rising productivity and dropping technology prices, tools like business card scanners are becoming more common and less expensive. There's even an iPhone app for that. So job hunters need to  make sure their business cards are scanner-ready.

Nancy Nally in yesterday's WebWorkerDaily provides some tips on making your business card scannable. Nally scanned over 100 business cards into her Mac to figure out what works and what doesn't. Here's what she found:

- Use big text. Human eyes can squint; scanners will just ignore text that is too small. If you have to squint to see the text it is probably too small for a scanner to read.
- Use plain text. Fancy fonts may be visually compelling but they can confuse a scanner. You might think a sans-serif font like Helvetica is boring, but a scanner doesn't think so.

- Give the text some space. Crowding, too, can confuse a scanner, and anyway it's bad design.

- Use a light, plain background. Dark backgrounds may make for unforgettable business cards but also unscannable business cards. Also do not print text over a pattern. The human eye can tell what is text and what is pattern, but scanner cannot.

- Use text for all key information. A company logo may look cool on the card, but it won't scan.

- Put all key contact information on one side. One reason business card scanners are inexpensive is that they scan only one side of the card. Using both sides is fine, but put the key contact info on side 1.

- Put your name and title on separate lines. When printed on one line, the scanner won't know where your name ends and your title begins.

- Print the text in one direction: horizontal. People can rotate the business card to read text printed both vertically or at an angle, but scanners just get confused when that happens. Scanners get confused easily.

If you're interviewing for jobs, the folks doing the hiring will probably do a Google search on your name -- at a minimum. This isn't news; we've certainly written about it before. But it may be surprising to learn that, according to a recent survey of 1100 hiring managers, 70% of U.S. companies say they have disqualified candidates based on what they find online when they do those searches. That same survey found that only 7% of U.S. consumers think their online footprint affects their job search.

The survey, commissioned by Microsoft and released earlier this year, included interviews with recruiters, hiring managers, human resources professionals, and consumers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France. There were some notable differences in responses across the countries; for example, 41% of hiring managers in the U.K., 16% in Germany, and 14% in France said they've disqualified candidates base on what they've found out about the candidate online.

At the same time, 13% and 10% of consumers (who aren't well defined in the report, other than the fact that they use the Internet and half of them were under age 30) in Germany and France, respectively think that online information about them would affect their job search. This figure is 9% for U.K. consumers.

Three-quarters of recruiters and HR professionals surveyed say their companies formally require that hiring personnel research each applicant online. Recruiters reported that they look at social networking sites, photo and video sharing sites, professional and business networking sites, personal web sites, blogs, news sharing sites, online forums, virtual world sites, and online gaming sites, among others, though the percentage of recruiters who search each of these categories varies.

So why would a company reject a candidate based on what they find online? In descending order, the answers given were as follows:

  • concerns about the candidate's lifestyle
  • inappropriate comments and text written by the candidate
  • unsuitable photos, videos, and information
  • inappropriate comments or text written by friends or relatives
  • comments criticizing previous employers, co-workers, or clients
  • inappropriate comments or text written by colleagues or work acquaintances
  • membership in certain groups and networks
  • discovery that information given by the candidate was false
  • poor communication skills displayed online
  • concern about the candidate's financial background.

Eight in 10 consumers say they make some effort to keep personal and professional online identities separate. What do they do? Here are some of the responses:

  • Regularly search for information about themselves online
  • Use alerts to notify them when their name is mentioned online
  • Use privacy settings on social networking sites
  • Restrict access to personal Web site
  • Use multiple online profiles

The take-home message (though not one that's emphasized in the survey report) is that you need to pay attention to what people can find out about you online, particularly if you're doing a job search. Be mindful of what a simple search of your name and your e-mail address will bring up. You can't really do anything about data on people with the same name as you, but if there is potentially harmful or untrue information about the real you, try to get rid of it. And, consider carefully those college photos that anyone can search and find. Our favorite in-house story on that last category: Our editor did a Google search on a source quoted in an article on professionalism and found that the source's Facebook profile photo showed him sitting on a toilet, beer in hand. Fortunately for him, he already had a job.

The full survey report (PDF) and a slide presentation on it are available on the Microsoft Web site.

Ads posted online for science, engineering, and related workers stayed about the same or declined in most categories during February 2010. But in one category of interest to Science Careers readers, the job market improved markedly for job seekers.

In January -- the latest month for which this information is available -- the ratio of unemployed workers seeking science and engineering jobs tightened slightly, reflecting a somewhat improved market for job hunters. The Conference Board, a private business and economic research institute, provides these data, which are tracked monthly by Science Careers.

Online job ads

For most categories of science and engineering employment, the number of online job openings in February ended a string of consecutive gains in the previous 2-4 months. But opportunities for life, physical, and social scientists advertised online increased by about 5000 to nearly 80,000, the largest monthly gain recorded for this group since the Science Careers index began in July 2009. In contrast, ads for computer and mathematical science jobs declined in February by 6500, to 510,000 -- still well above the 474,000 recorded in December 2009. Architecture and engineering jobs posted online in February stayed about the same as January, at 136,000.  

In the related categories of health professionals and education staff, however, the numbers of online job ads declined, for one group markedly. Online ads for health care practitioners and technical workers declined by more than 30,000 to 537,000 in February, a one-month drop of 5% that more than reversed the gains for that group in January. During most of 2009, opportunities for health professionals had been one of the bright spots in a generally dismal employment picture, but the number of ads in this category have not exceeded the 600,000 recorded in September 2009.

Online jobs for education, library, and training staff declined by 3100 in February, to 83,000, ending four-month string of gains but remaining well above the 75,000 registered in December 2009.

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Job market competitiveness

The Conference Board provides a gauge of job-market competitiveness -- a ratio of online ads to the number of unemployed workers in the job market -- for these categories. However, the most up-to-date 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 January 2010, a month earlier than the numbers cited above.

The January Conference Board ratios showed considerable improvement for life, physical, and social scientists. In January 2010, the number of unemployed job seekers in this group dropped by more than 27%, to about 73,000, while their number of online ads increased by 3700 to nearly 75,000. As a result, the number of job seekers was about equal to the number of job ads in January -- a decline in the job-market ratio from 1.4 in December 2009 to about 1.0 in January.

Indeed, in most categories during January 2010 the number of new online employment ads generally exceeded the number of newly unemployed job hunters, resulting in a somewhat improved market for people seeking those jobs. The main beneficiaries of this improved job market were education, training, and library staff, where online job ads increased by nearly 11,000 and the number of unemployed job hunters dropped under 425,000. The result: In this category the number of job seekers per online ad dropped from nearly six in December to about five in January. That's still a very tough market, the worst in the Science Careers index and the only group tracked by Science Careers where the ratio is worse than the overall U.S. job market.  

Among the other three categories tracked by Science Careers, the ratios of job seekers to job ads stayed about the same in January 2010 as in December 2009. For computer and mathematical scientists, and health care practitioners and technical workers, this meant there were more job ads than unemployed workers seeking those jobs, at least through January. Architects and engineers continued facing a more competitive job market that month, with about two job hunters for each online ad.

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For the U.S. overall in February, the number of online job ads declined by 67,000 to just under 4 million, ending three straight monthly gains but remaining well above the 3.6 million level registered in December 2009. In January 2010 the number of job ads overall increased by nearly 382,000 while the number of unemployed job seekers declined to under 15 million for the first time since August 2009. These changes resulted in a ratio of 3.7 unemployed job hunters per online job ad, an improvement from the ratio of 4.2 recorded in December 2009.