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Science Careers Blog

May 2010

Careers blogger and Wall Street Journal contributor Alexandra Levitt this week poses a question faced by a few budding entrepreneurs: Should I start a new business while working at my current job?

For some academic scientists, starting a business is often a question of "when", not "if". Many university campuses have technology transfer offices that encourage university scientists to consider starting a business on the side that's based on their research. And U.S. federal agencies set aside certain research grants for small business competitions, including calls for partnerships between small businesses and academic scientists.

Researchers and other professionals working in industrial or government enterprises, however, have other factors to consider, Levitt writes. For example, planning or running a sidelight takes time, added on either before or after work, or juggled during the work day. On the other hand, having a day job eases some of the financial pressure of starting a business. It also offers a chance to plan your company more for the long term and avoid decisions based solely on the need for immediate income.

Levitt also raises the issue of that tipping point when the new business becomes your day job. A hint: If the revenue from the new venture surpasses the salary in your job, it's time.

Almost any funding application requires you to summarize the academic impact of your research, and many take it a step further and ask for the economic and social impact as well. For the U.K. research councils, that latter statement comes in the form of the newly renamed Pathways to Impact, a two-page proposal document attached to grant application forms. Researchers are expected to explain who could benefit from their work and what steps they will take to reach those beneficiaries.

Cora O'Reilly, Information and Communications Technology Manager with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), led a workshop at the University of Cambridge last week to give some guidance on completing the Pathways to Impact document. Here are some of her top tips:

  • Remember that your application will go through a peer review process, and you will have to convince those peer reviewers about the impact of your research.
  • Social impact -- that is, how you will enhance quality of life and public services -- is ranked as highly as the economical impact of research.
  • When thinking about social impact, think about who your audience is and how you can better engage with them. For example, could you publish your work in an additional publication that will have a wider appeal than a specialty journal?
  • Be clear and explain what exactly you will do, and remember that you don't have to completely fill all of the pages in the Pathways to Impact document. Your proposal will benefit from being clear and concise.
  • Given how many different ways that research can benefit the economy or society, it's unlikely that your work won't have any impact. Simply stating that your research won't have any impact isn't sufficient; if that's what you put in your proposal, you will be expected to explain why this is the case.
  • You can apply for additional funds from your research council to help you fulfil your Pathways to Impact proposal. Extra funding is available, for example, to cover additional publication costs, training or employing people to translate your technical research so that it can be understood by a general audience.

There is an FAQ section and more tips on the Research Councils U.K. Pathways to Impact Web site.

-Sarah Reed


On the Secrets of the Job Hunt blog today, Hannah Morgan advises job seekers who have been offered a job that is less than what they hoped for when the job search started. Her post outlines a systematic method of evaluating job offers.

Morgan provides three sets of criteria for deciding whether to accept the offer:

- Have you been specific about what you are looking for?
In other words, does the employer know this is not your ideal job?

- Are you qualified? Is it a realistic option?

Morgan asks whether you have the skills for the job, but you could ask if you are over-qualified. Brutal honesty is needed here.

- Have you exhausted all your options?
Is it still possible that you'll be offered the job you really want?

Morgan then provides a set of questions to determine if this job may open doors for further professional growth, i.e., sacrifice job satisfaction today for job satisfaction tomorrow. She follows with advice on making the most out of the situation if you decide to take the job: "By all means, don't be resentful, negative, or give an air of superiority. Be grateful to have been given a chance."

In March on Science Careers, Brooke Allen offered another option. Unless making immediate money is absolutely required, you can always consider a volunteer position doing the work you love, until a good job in your field comes along.

In the U.K. general elections earlier this month, University of Cambridge biochemist Julian Huppert won Cambridge's seat in the U.K. parliament. Huppert has been active in local politics for years in addition to leading a small research group at the university. However, his latest political promotion means he'll give up his lab. Huppert spoke with ScienceInsider last week. Some highlights:

Q: Do you plan to give up research or try to find time for it?

J.H.: Being a research scientist and a member of parliament are both full-time jobs. I will have to leave the lab. It was a tough decision. ... The general perception is that I can probably do more for the research community by being a voice who can speak up for it.

Q: On a more practical level then, what's tougher, science or politics?

J.H.: They're both tough in different ways, and they're both unpredictable in different ways. Certainly politics is more sociable -- it allows you to think more about the whole range of different issues, while science often tends to be very narrow.

Q: Growing up, did you want to be a scientist or a politician? Have you always been juggling the two interests?

J.H.: When I was growing up, I was always trying to do something worthwhile. I was always interested in science. Both my parents are scientists in various ways. And so I studied science. I actually initially intended to switch to law. I worked with the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] for a while, then did a Ph.D. in science. But by the time I got to my Ph.D., I was already an elected county councilor. And so I spent my whole Ph.D. and postdoc juggling these two roles. I got my first academic position and then the opportunity to become an MP came up in Cambridge, and so I switched. It's always been a challenge to find the best way of doing something worthwhile.

Read the full interview on Science's policy blog, ScienceInsider.

Related articles:


Among the provisions in the 2010 health care bill -- officially, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- is one that offers grants to help small companies to start wellness programs for employees and offer rebates on health insurance for staff who enroll.  If they need more reasons, a study shows that wellness programs can improve the health of employees and cut insurance claims for employers.

A CNN-Money story from earlier this month describes the law's provision authorizing the Department of Health and Human Services to give out $200 million to help companies with fewer than 100 employees start new programs on nutrition, smoking cessation, physical fitness, and stress management. That part of the program begins next year. To sweeten the deal, beginning in 2014 workers taking part in wellness programs can get rebates of up to 30% of their premiums if they meet certain health-related benchmarks. (Hat tip: Jobacle Blog)

This provision can be especially helpful to the smaller businesses that employ scientists, such as many biotech companies. Many larger companies -- another major source of scientific employment -- already offer wellness programs. A study released on Friday at the Quality of Care and Outcomes Research in Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke 2010 Scientific Sessions shows that one such program benefited employee health and cut the company's insurance costs. The company in this case is CSX Transportation, a national freight rail and logistics provider with 30,000 employees. In 2004, CSX found it had higher than average rates of cardiovascular disease in its workforce, and correspondingly higher insurance costs, and decided to do something about it.

CSX's wellness programs offer health screenings, nutrition and exercise coaching, and on-site fitness centers. Analysts from CSX and pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer Inc. led by Kenneth Glover of CSX, compiled health data from 5768 employees on the CSX payroll from 2006 to 2008 and analyzed medical and hospital claims.

The results showed measurable improvement in the employees' cardiovascular health. CSX employees with high cholesterol found average total cholesterol declining and with the average high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL -- the good kind) increasing. Also, the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL decreased over this period, while the percentage increased of employees in the program who cut their levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL -- the bad cholesterol).

Among participants with hypertension, their systolic and diastolic blood pressure measurements dropped from levels the American Heart Association considers abnormally high to slightly above normal. The percentage of employees meeting their blood pressure goals increased from 43% to 67%.

CSX's health insurance budget benefited, too. The percentage of medical claims for these cardiovascular conditions, as well as diabetes, declined from 14% of the company's claims to 13%. The percentage of CSX employees filing cardiovascular-related medical claims dropped more sharply, from 57% to 43%. Among cases requiring hospitalization, cardiovascular claims dropped from 2.5% to 1.7%, and the proportion of CSX staff with hospital claims dropped from 6% to 4%.

The Prodigal Academic has posted an excellent and detailed post on how the process of screening of applicants for tenure-track jobs works in the searches she (he?) is involved in. Prodigal Prof -- who self-identifies as an assistant professor on a science faculty -- describes how a pool of 210 applicants is reduced to 140, then 70, then 35, then five. Those five applicants are then invited for interviews, Prodigal Prof says, and they all start out with a fresh slate.

Of particular note: Unless they're "super amazing," candidates without a postdoc are trimmed right off, along with candidates who are not in the right subfield. ("Super amazing" candidates are retained without a postdoc, and even if the subfield is wrong.) Many applications are thrown out because they're not complete -- usually a missing reference letter (one missing letter is blamed on a flaky writer and forgiven; two means instant elimination).

Also of interest: Prodigal Prof says they don't really care where you got your Ph.D. or did your postdoc; it's your productivity they're measuring. Science or Nature papers aren't required, but journal quality has to be high. They seek a mix of first-author papers (indicating independence) and non-first-author papers (indicating collaboration).

They expect serious "weirdnesses" -- no adviser letter; a major gap in the CV; an exceptionally long postdoc -- to be addressed in the cover letter or a reference letter. Otherwise, that's grounds for elimination. And the final vetting -- the reduction of the long list of 35 to the list of five who are interviewed -- involves a great deal of luck, Prodigal Prof admits.

There's lots more good information in the post -- and also in the comments, which all seem to be from other science-professor bloggers. This is required reading for aspiring academic scientists.
 
On Twitter: @SciCareerEditor
 
Yesterday's big science news -- the creation of a bacteria cell with a synthesized genome -- comes from the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, and San Diego, California. Craig Venter himself is already a scientific legend due to his role in the sequencing of the human genome. But one aspect of his story is less well-known, and shows how scientific talent can emerge from unlikely sources: In his case, the U.S. Navy and community colleges.

After high school, Venter joined the Navy and served in Vietnam as a medical corpsman in 1967-68. Corpsmen, like medics in the Army, treat wounded Navy sailors and Marines at the scene, sometimes in the midst of battles. Venter says the experience exposed him to the
"best and worst of human behavior", and also sparked his interest in medicine and science. Like many veterans, Venter has maintained his links with his service buddies, and in 2008 Vietnam Veterans of America honored him for his contributions to science and veterans issues.   

In an undated interview with the Foundation for California Community Colleges, Venter says that, growing up in San Francisco's East Bay area, he was hardly a stellar student.  So after the Navy, he chose to attend College of San Mateo (CSM), a community college, rather than a 4-year college. "Because of my prior experiences in the educational system," Venter says, "I was uncertain if I was cut out for academic life or if academic life was cut out for me." The G.I. Bill for returning veterans at that time provided a $130 monthly stipend for each month of service, for up to 36 months.

Venter credits CSM for his scientific success, including the human genome sequencing. "Had I not met such strong, enthusiastic professors right away at CSM, my educational experience and my life would have been very different from that point onward," Venter says. He names Bruce Cameron, an English professor, and Kate Murashige, a chemistry professor; Venter says both are still friends. The CSM experience prepared him well for upper-division classes when he enrolled at University of California, San Diego, Venter says.

Community colleges have become something of a family tradition with Venter. His son, niece, and nephew started their college educations at community colleges before transferring into the University of California system. Even his mother took classes at CSM.

Students and recent grads hunting for internships often have problems finding internship opportunities, unless they are advertised on campus, broken out separately on job boards, or discussed in Science Careers. At the same time, many entrepreneurial companies can be a good source of experience for interns -- but they may not have the recruiting resources to find interns. An online service called YouTern now aims to bridge this gap.

Officially unveiled last Friday at a Silicon Valley entrepreneurs show, YouTern aims to connect students and recent grads to internship opportunities with start-up or early-stage companies. Still in an early stage itself, YouTern is beginning in California, which has the highest concentration of startup-up companies and investments, the company says.

YouTern's advanced search capability lets job-seekers refine their search by a number of criteria including industry, academic major, amount of experience required, location -- within 5 to 100 miles of a city or zip code -- and whether the internship is paid.  But a quick test of some of these capabilities revealed that YouTern is still a work in progress. A search for paid engineering internships within 100 miles of zip code 90210 (I watch too much television) returned 50 jobs. But a number of those jobs were located all over the country: New Mexico, Massachusetts, Virginia, far from 90210.

A quick search of the YouTern database looking for Los Angeles-based internships with the keyword "science" also returned 50 hits. A few of these announced opportunities to work in a lab or do research, but many specified computer skills. And many, if not most, of the hits were with large, established companies such as CNN, IBM, Sony, and Northrup-Grumman -- not startup companies. Very likely, working for a big established company would make for a very different internship experience..

Among the capabilities still in development is integration with a general job board, with which these sample searches apparently coincided. An e-mail from a YouTern spokesperson today says YouTern has been testing this feature, and noted: "Although the test was successful from an engineering point of view, the additional postings were not sortable by what we would consider standard fields (including zip radius). Also, we were not 100% able to suppress particular companies using [the job board's] 'Advanced Search' function."

Update: It occurred to me after posting this entry that I had left out some important information. In his e-mail, Finkelstein wrote, "This year ... our NINDS payline is set at the 14th percentile. However, we are funding almost all new PI R01s to the 20th percentile, and most "early stage investigators" (i.e. those within 10 years of terminal degree) to the 25th percentile." By "almost all" and "most", I think he means 'in most study sections.'
* * *
An announcement issued on Friday by the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke has caused some confusion. Here's the first confusing part:
Previous NINDS language stated that R21 proposals were "limited to those with the potential for truly ground-breaking impact".  We would like to emphasize that such impact, as described in the trans-NIH parent R21 announcement (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PA-10-069.html), can be achieved in many different ways. For example, projects can assess the feasibility of a novel area of investigation, develop new techniques or models, apply existing methodologies to a new scientific area, etc. (see parent announcement for additional examples). 
What is NINDS really saying here? The point of this section, writes Robert Finkelstein, the director of the NINDS extramural division, in an e-mail, is to correct the apparently widespread impression -- created by earlier NINDS language -- that NINDS imposes an additional burden on investigators. "Over the last few years, we've learned that the NINDS language cited in the broad announcement was confusing many reviewers and applicants, who seemed to believe that our goals are very different from those described in the announcement," Finkelstein writes. "This is in fact not true." (It's important to note that the message is intended for reviewers as well as applicants.)  The take-home message: Send in those R-21 applications...

... UNLESS you're a new investigator. Because, later in the NINDS announcement, there's this:
It is important to note that analyses of new investigator applications to NINDS indicate that the success rate for R21 applicants is lower than for R01 applicants ... [so] the NINDS encourages New Investigators, and in particular Early Stage Investigators (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-08-121.html), to apply for R01 grants when seeking first-time funding from the NIH.
This part of the announcement was necessary, Finkelstein writes, because "a large fraction of R21 applications come from new PI's" -- under the mistaken impression, probably, that their odds of winning the smaller grant are better. "Many new PI's seem to believe that the R21 is an easier way to get money, which it definitely isn't." Consequently, "we, like many other NIH Institutes, would prefer to see new investigators submit R01 applications. Our current policies are designed to ensure that success rates for new R01 investigators are approximately equal to those for established investigators."

NINDS, then, wants experienced investigators to submit more R-21 proposals, and new and early-stage investigators to submit fewer of them -- and to apply instead for R-01 grants, where the budgets are larger, the funding rates are higher, and mechanisms are in place to make sure new and early-stage investigators get a fair shake.

To me, only one question is left unresolved: What incentive do experienced investigators have to apply for R-21s in greater numbers when the funding rates are lower, etc.? NINDS is hoping, apparently, that once new and early-stage investigators get the message and stop applying for R-21s, that program's funding rates could rise, making it a better bet for experienced investigators who wish to fund their potentially transformative research.
 
Anuradha Lohia, CEO of the India Alliance, will lead a series of seminars next month in the U.S. on biomedical, clinical, and public health research opportunities for postdocs in India. The India Alliance is a partnership between India's Department of Biotechnology and the Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom, formed in 2008.

Lohia's seminars begin on 2 June at NIH in Bethesda, Maryland, and end on 17 June at MIT in Cambridge Massachusetts. Other stops on her tour include Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, U.C. San Francisco, and Columbia University in New York. Event locations, dates, times, and registration forms are found on the India Alliance Web site.

The India Alliance offers fellowships for new and established postdocs, as well as more senior researchers. Applicants do not need to be Indian nationals. Early and intermediate fellowship applicants do not need to be resident in India at the time of application.

A couple of weeks ago, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author Thomas Friedman published an optimistic column in the New York Times about the start-up company EndoStim, which has developed a medical device to treat acid reflux. The company started out as one doctor's idea - an extension of his clinical practice - and was helped along by several investors. Friedman, who likes to stay ahead of current trends, sees EndoStim as the future of scientific innovation and economic development.
 
Friedman's analysis of EndoStim's success in combining science, business, and technology reflects ideas that can open career opportunities and directions for researchers. For example, EndoStim's way of doing business hews close to the methods of the open-science movement discussed in a Science Careers article last month. Indeed, EndoStim's approach might be called "open everything." Its lack of a formal structure and use of technology allowed the company to bring in ideas and capital from all over the world, taking advantage of the fluid nature of information.  As Friedman explains:
"EndoStim was inspired by Cuban and Indian immigrants to America and funded by St. Louis venture capitalists. Its prototype is being manufactured in Uruguay, with the help of Israeli engineers and constant feedback from doctors in India and Chile. Oh, and the C.E.O. is a South African, who was educated at the Sorbonne, but lives in Missouri and California, and his head office is basically a BlackBerry."
Another point that Friedman hints at -- and that another Science Careers article discusses -- is the motivation behind the success of these scientist-entrepreneurs, which is not always profit. Financial success, of course, is a big reason scientists start their own companies. But in many cases the chance to develop useful -- in some cases life-saving - products or processes from their research is as important. As one bioengineer told Science Careers, "You have to have faith...You have to believe in your technology and what you're trying to do."

If you've got an idea based on your research and think it's marketable, now may be a good time to push forward. And if you want to do something truly new and interesting, it's a good time to investigate novel business models like this one. For more on founding a science start-up, in addition to Science Careers, see this Depth-First blog post from 2008.
This guest post is contributed by Angela Martin, who writes on the topics of Career Salaries.  She welcomes your comments at her email:  angela.martin77 [at] gmail.com.

 
Healthcare in America has been in the spotlight for a number of months. The picture portrayed in the media is of a giant "black box" into which 16% of our gross domestic product (GDP) goes and out of which comes healthcare whose quality and quantity is under debate.  Within that black box is a complex mix of healthcare workers and their organizations, hospitals, insurance companies, government agencies, private agencies, big and small pharma, instrument corporations, citizen groups, corporate executives, politicians, lobbyists, and scientists, each with its own agenda and goals.

Of these components of healthcare, none is more attractive and respected than the group committed to the "protection, promotion, and optimization of health and abilities; prevention of illness and injury; alleviation of suffering through the diagnosis and treatment of human responses; and advocacy in healthcare for individuals" -- the nurses. (The definition is from the American Nurses Association.)  Holding a special position in the nursing profession, a carefully chosen group carries out research -- a career choice that merits consideration by qualified young individuals seeking a research career in healthcare.  A nursing Ph.D. program is an excellent way to enter such a career.

Since I work as a physician-scientist at the University of Wisconsin (UW) School of Medicine and Public Health, I have long been aware of the increasingly important role nurse researchers and nurse Ph.D.'s play in modern healthcare.  Barbara J. Bowers, Associate Dean for Nursing Research at UW-Madison, kindly gave me a generous amount of her time to convey an in-depth view of the opportunities and challenges of nursing Ph.D. programs and research careers in nursing. Much more information nursing Ph.D. programs and research careers is available on these institution's Web sites.

My discussion with Dr. Bowers made it clear that -- to paraphrase an old General Motors ad -- this is not your mother or grandmother's career in nursing.  For starters, nursing is no longer a gender-specific profession.  Nearly 15% of the entering class in nursing at the UW is men, a number that reflects the national average -- and that is increasing.

Let's look at how nursing education has changed in the last couple of decades.  In decades past, great number of nurses entered the profession with an associate degree -- a technical degree conferred after 2 to 3 years in a community or technical college or hospital. With additional coursework, these nurses could earn a bachelor's degree.  Those interested in a research career could later earn a master's degree, and eventually a Ph.D., most commonly in education, psychology, or sociology. 

In present-day nursing education, many students begin with a 4-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing ( BS or BSN) program.   These programs are often competitive; at UW-Madison, about 400 applications are received for 150 places. Those accepted generally have GPA sof 3.5 or higher.  Nursing-bound high school students need courses in mathematics, science, social studies, humanities, foreign languages, and communication skills.  Strong preparation in physical and social sciences is essential.

The curriculum of the nursing baccalaureate program at UW-Madison is representative of most programs.  The first 2 years concentrate on general education and includes prerequisite courses in the sciences, humanities, and social studies.  Applied skills are acquired during the junior and senior years via core lecture, laboratory, and clinical courses and elective courses that allow students to pursue individual interests.

UW-Madison offers an innovative option for top students interested in entering a research career in nursing:  the early-entry Ph.D. program selects first year students who are invited to plan, in conjunction with the faculty advisory committee, an individualized program of study and research. The program includes early and intensive research training, clinical practice, and required and recommended coursework.  Each student works closely with a senior faculty member whose research matches their own interests.  This research  is combined with graduate courses in the area they select and completion of the required and recommended undergraduate and graduate courses in nursing and related disciplines.  Students completing the program receive 3 degrees: B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. 

Research areas of current students in this program include the ethnocultural influences on pain and pain management, effects of global environmental change on human health, and symptom management for patients.  Students publish their findings in major professional journals and present their work at research conferences.

More traditional post-baccalaureate Ph.D. nursing programs -- my university has one of those, too -- offer a strong emphasis on research training in nursing through an apprenticeship model.  Students work closely with their nursing school preceptor and faculty committee to follow an individualized, research-driven program of study.  The preceptor advises the student on the selection of courses and serves as a liaison to the major department and other departments in the graduate school. 

Students in both programs receive financial support through graduate assistantships and traineeships. Stipends usually run about $30,000, plus tuition remission.

A major financial supporter of these programs is the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  NINR currently has fourteen "priority areas":

  1. Research related to low birth weights
  2. HIV infection care delivery
  3. Long-term care for older adults
  4. Management of pain and other symptoms associated with acute and chronic illness
  5. Nursing informatics to enhance patient care
  6. Health promotion for older children and adolescents
  7. Technology dependence across the lifespan
  8. Community-based nursing models
  9. Preventing HIV/AIDS in women
  10. Preventing diabetes, obesity, and hypertension
  11. Cognitive impairment
  12. Coping with chronic illness
  13. Families at risk for violence
  14. Behavioral factors relation to immunosuppression

This list illustrates the scope and importance of some of the key issues that are the focus of  nursing research

At a time when job opportunities in general can be hard to come by, graduates of nursing Ph.D. programs are in demand in a variety of educational, clinical, and governmental settings. Ph.D. nurses have faculty appointments or positions as research scientists or research directors.  Faculty positions usually start at the assistant professor level, on the tenure track, with annual salaries of about $70,000 to $80,000 a year.

What's unique about this type of research career, Bowers stresses, is its involvement with people -- living and working with them and dealing with the challenges their health problems present.  It's a stable and rewarding career with a range extending from gerontology to health policy.  Graduates entering into it can expect to remain engaged, satisfied, and see their research funded. 

Are there special characteristics that identify people particularly well suited for a career in nursing research?   Bowers cites an interest in finding more effective ways to solve complex care problems and a high level of curiosity. Physicians tend to be more interested in diagnoses and treatment while nurses are more focused on prevention of poor health outcomes by changing lifestyle and helping patients and their families live with diseases.  Beyond this, the attributes she associates with students suited for a career in nursing research are commitment to improved health and more effective health care delivery, initiative, a desire to "push the envelope," and, above all, a feeling of excitement when carrying out research.

For those qualified individuals who want a "hands-on" career in dealing with people and their health problems, consider nursing research.  Few other careers can match its challenges and rewards.


According to the Arizona Republic, two universities in Mexico canceled their academic exchange programs with University of Arizona (UA) as a result of a new Arizona law that allows police to question individuals they feel might be in the U.S. illegally.  Among the canceled exchanges is a program for scientific researchers from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the country's largest university.

In other fallout from the new law, an organization of Hispanic and Native American scientists removed Phoenix, Arizona as a potential site for its 2012 conference.

Francisco Marmolejo, UA's assistant vice president for western hemisphere programs, told the Phoenix newspaper last Friday that UNAM would no longer send students on exchange programs due to fears of harassment from authorities. The Autonomous University of San Luis Potosí, a state college in eastern Mexico, also canceled its exchange programs with UA for similar reasons.

Two exchange programs with UA were immediately canceled, including a delegation of 10 scientific researchers from UNAM. The other immediate cancellation involved a program for nursing students from the San Luis Potosí institution.

As we reported two weeks ago, UA's president Robert Shelton sent a letter to to the campus community after Arizona's governor signed the law, known as SB 1070. In the letter, Shelton told of students who initially chose to attend UA, but changed their plans after the law passed, as well as his concerns about the campus's international community. According to the Arizona Republic, UA has some 200 students from Mexico.

SACNAS, a 37-year-old organization made up of scientists and science students of Hispanic and native American origin removed Phoenix from consideration as a site for its 2012 annual conference. In a letter to Arizona's governor, SACNAS president president Jose Dolores Garcia said, "the immigration law SB1070 will make the state inhospitable to people of color, especially Hispanics."

The Arizona Republic reports that the National Association of Black Accountants, the International Communications Association and the National Urban League, and the oldest African-American Greek-lettered fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, have already canceled scheduled conventions in Phoenix because of the law.

An amendment to the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 5116)  that would force public universities with unionized research staffs and COMPETES Act funding to promptly disclose information required for contract negotiations passed the House Wednesday by a vote of 250 to 174.  Proposed by George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, the amendment responds to the long delays that have stalled negotiations for a first contract between the University of California and the union representing the UC postdocs.  At a hearing about the negotiations held in Berkeley on April 30, Miller probed a claim by UC vice president Dwaine Duckett that the university could not, after a year and a half of talks, provide certain needed employment information about the postdocs.

Universities that do not comply with the amendment's time limits would have to present a convincing explanation or risk losing funding for Facilities & Administration costs until they forked over the required facts.  Funding for grants themselves would continue.

"These scientists are among the most highly trained, highly skilled and yet lowest paid professionals in the country," Miller said in a statement.  "This amendment ensures that our federal tax dollars are well managed and that these critical investments accomplish the goal of developing the next generation of American scientists."  At the hearing,  Miller declared himself shocked and dismayed by what he heard about the realities of postdocs' working lives.

This amendment is the second step that Miller has taken in as many days to speed up the UC negotiations.   It will take more than a union contract to make science a financially viable career for many of those working in university labs.  How far Miller will go to improve conditions for early career scientists is unclear -- but the UC postdocs appear to have a friend with power and determination.

In a sharply worded letter faxed yesterday to University of California President Mark Yudof, Chairman George Miller (D-CA) of the House Committee on Education and Labor expressed his "deep concern regarding the failure" to resolve the outstanding issues in the seemingly endless negotiations for a first contract between UC and PRO/UAW, the postdoc union covering the huge system's ten campuses.  

The "thoroughly disappointed" Miller described the dismay he felt during the hearing on the negotiations that his committee held in Berkeley on April 30.  At the hearing Dwaine Duckett, UC's Vice President for Human Resources, asserted that the university cannot negotiate across-the-board raises because of fears that the small number of postdocs paid directly by outside funders rather than through grants to the university might "end up posing a significant burden on state general funds," Miller wrote.  Yet, he added, Duckett gave "no evidence that even a single dollar of state general funds has been used for Paid Direct salaries."    Resolution of the issue "remains elusive because of UC's still 'incomplete' record gathering," Miller continued.

Ensuring that "a resolution of these negotiations is not subject to unnecessary delay" is "your responsibility," Miller told Yudof.  Miller also praised the frank testimony of UC postdoc Ludmila Tyler, which "was instrumental in helping the Committee understand the work of postdocs," and reminded Yudof of UC's "long history of providing testimony to Congressional hearings" and the "prohibitions against any form of retaliation as a result of testimony before Congress."

The postdocs and graduate assistants at New Jersey Institute of Technology have joined forces to form a union, the state's second representing postdocs.  On May 6, the United Council of Academics at NJIT (UCAN), which represents both groups, filed for certification with the state Public Employees Relations Commission. "We teach your classes. We work in your labs. We contribute valuable research to projects across the university. We are the academic workers of NJIT, and we deserve to be treated as the professionals we are," says UCAN's mission statement.

Affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the AFL-CIO-affiliated national union that last summer also organized the postdocs on the three campuses of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, UCAN claims on its Web site to have support from a "truly overwhelming majority" of the 450 postdocs and graduate employees at NJIT, which adjoins the Rutgers-Newark campus in the city's University Heights section. Rutgers union colleagues are in fact invited to the celebration UCAN has planned for Thursday evening. 

Meanwhile, negations on a first contract continue between the Rutgers union and the university.

Louise Fletcher, résumé coach and career blogger, suggested last week adopting techniques from real estate sales to make your résumé stand out from its hundreds or thousands of competitors. Before you turn up your nose at the idea of scientists using such tactics, read Dave Jensen's Science Careers column from last October, "Focus Your Industry CV". You will see some common themes.

Fletcher says that successful real estate ads sell more than a physical structure; they sell the dream of a new life. Before they talk about number of bedrooms and baths, home ads often talk about the neighborhood, surroundings, or lifestyle the new home can bring to its owners. Likewise, Jensen advises scientists and science students to focus their résumés on the needs of the employer rather than only discussing themselves. "The overwhelming question on the mind of the hiring manager as she scans your material," Jensen says, is, 'What's In it For Me?'" Sell the potential employer on the dream of a new employee -- you.

Just as listing the square footage of each bedroom probably won't entice many home buyers, a job hunter's list of experience and accomplishments aren't likely to make much of an impact unless they're put in the context of the hiring manager's desires. That takes work, starting with solid research about the company and the open position.

Focusing your résumé like real estate agents focus their ads also requires not trying to appeal to everyone, Fletcher says. Instead, call attention to the elements of your experience most powerful and relevant for the "buyer" -- employer -- you're targeting. In Jensen's October column, he advises making a quick, compelling case in your résumé and cover letter for why the organization needs to hire you for the job. As Jensen notes, "With the number of people looking for jobs today, you need to look like a 'must call' in just 30 seconds," Jensen says.

By taking a few hints from home sellers -- and Science Careers columnists -- you can put more punch into your résumé. And you don't even have to learn the fine points of mortgage finance.

Writing on her Career Diva blog yesterday, MSNBC careers columnist and author Eve Tahmincioglu gives advice to job-hunters on how to find out about the person who could be your boss at a company where you interviewed.

In Science Careers, Tooling Up columnist Dave Jensen encourages job hunters to do their due diligence on companies that have expressed an interest in you. Jensen's tells how to research the company and provides questions to ask in the interview of the hiring manager and others.

Tahmincioglu focuses entirely on the boss, including his or her personality and management style. There's a commercial service that, for $20.00, will search public databases for arrests, legal proceedings, and news reports. But Tahmincioglu tells how you to use your own networks to find out if your prospective boss is a good fit for your future, or someone who will give you fits.

Both Tahmincioglu and Jensen advise against ignoring warning signs or deluding yourself into thinking that you somehow can get along with a bad boss or in an organization with a toxic corporate culture. As a colleague tells Jensen, "If it smells funny, and it looks funny, try to avoid stepping in it."

The U.S. economy added an estimated 290,000 jobs in April, the best performance in more than 4 years. 231,000 of those jobs were in the private sector. About 66,000 temporary workers were hired by the U.S. census bureau. The last time the economy did better was in March, 2006, when 326,000 jobs were added.

The April employment report also revised upward employment numbers for February and March: In March the economy added 230,000 jobs, up from 162,000 estimated in early April, when the March report was issued. In February the economy added 39,000 jobs; the previous report had estimated that 14,000 jobs had been lost that month.

A year ago in April, the economy shed 528,000 jobs, and in March 2009, 753,000 jobs were lost. So far this year, according to current estimates, the economy has added 527,000 jobs; at this point in 2009 the economy had shed 2,786,000 jobs.

The economy's job gains were broad-based. The professional and business services sector, which includes most scientists and many engineers, added 80,000 jobs, while health care added 20,000.

For more information, see the Employment Situation Summary for April 2010, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On Twitter: @SciCareerEditor
 

Unless you're into agricultural research, you may have missed a new U.S. Federal funding source for life sciences research. On 1 October 2009, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) took over the duties of the Cooperative, State, Research, Education and Extension Service, (CSREES). NIFA offers grant programs that support research in science related to food production, engineering, biotechnology, and more.

NIFA was established through the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008. Its mission is to enhance knowledge in human health, agriculture, environmental science, and related disciplines within the land-grant university system and other public, private and non-profit organizations. Land-grant universities date back to the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890, and traditionally focus on agriculture, engineering, and science.

In an 8 October speech at the opening of NIFA, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that he wants the agency to operate differently than CSREES. "It is no exaggeration to say that NIFA will be a research 'start-up' company," Vilsack said. "We will be rebuilding our competitive grants program from the ground up to generate real results for the American people."  

Examples of the research Vilsack called for can be found in GrantsNet:

- NIFA's Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Fields program supports research and extension projects focused on topics such as (1)  safe and nutritious food supplies;  (2) support for 21st century rural communities; and (3) climate change. These institutional grants aim to increase the participation of women and underrepresented minorities from rural areas in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. The deadline for the current competition is 7 June.

- The Critical Issues: Emerging and New Plant and Animal Diseases research program provides one-time seed funding for research on plant pests and diseases. Some $370,000 in funds will be available in fiscal year 2010. The project period will be up to 2 years. The deadline is 21 June.

For more information about these programs and other NIFA research opportunities, click on the GrantsNet links above or visit the NIFA Web site.

The following letter was submitted in response to Chelsea Wald's article Scientists Embrace Openness.

Open Results from Biomedical Research Projects: Where Are They?
Maojo, V., Garcia-Remesal, M, Crespo, J., de la Calle, G., de la Iglesia, D. and Kulikowski, C.

Wald has addressed scientific openness in a recent Science article (1), including data and methods used for research. Advances in software tools for bioinformatics search helps (2), but, just becoming aware of open results of research projects funded by public agencies* -- e.g., databases, software, papers, e-books* -- and finding them efficiently still proves harder than it should.

In the course of producing an advanced, automatically generated on-line inventory of bioinformatics resources (3), we analyzed results from research projects publicly funded by the European Commission, Spanish agencies, and the National Institutes of Health. We discovered that finding the complete set of available information reported to have been generated by the projects could prove quite elusive. Non-peer-reviewed summary reports were commonplace, but specifics of electronic resources, with Web locations, were frequently not, even when researchers mentioned their existence as being openly available.

To enable searches with sophisticated text mining, publicly-funded projects should provide a minimum information set including titles, authors, funding agency, annotations with concepts from ontologies or controlled vocabularies that characterize the functionalities of the resources, papers reporting significant findings using these resources *peer-reviewed quality indicators,* and their Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs).

Earlier suggestions for structuring abstracts of papers (4) resulted in an experiment with disappointingly limited success (5). However, to provide basic information resources from projects already on the Web ought to be more straightforward. Requiring a minimum information set like the one we propose to be available online under clearly specified standards might help bring about more comprehensive open access, which would promote wider reuse of resources and avoid duplication in scientific projects, worldwide.

Agencies are increasingly requiring that papers reporting research funded by them become publicly available. Our proposal is that they require that other products of research, like open electronic resources that back-up a paper's results, should be made equally easily accessible.

1. Wald, C. Scientists Embrace Openness. Science Issues and Perspectives. Science. April 09, 2010
2. Dinov ID et al. iTools: a framework for classification, categorization and integration of computational biology resources. PLoS One. 2008 May 28;3(5):e2265
3. de la Calle G, García-Remesal M, Chiesa S, de la Iglesia D, Maojo V. BIRI: a new approach for automatically discovering and indexing available public bioinformatics resources from the literature. BMC Bioinformatics. 2009 Oct 7;10:320.
4. Gerstein M, Seringhaus M, Fields S. Structured digital abstract makes text mining easy. Nature. 2007 May 10;447(7141):142.5.     
5. Lok C. Literature mining: Speed reading. Nature. 2010 Jan 28;463(7280):416-8.

The 1536-well microtiter plate -- or its even higher-capacity siblings -- is likely familiar to most Science Careers readers, whether as a practical laboratory device or as a metaphor for high-throughput screening, a technique that has become ubiquitous in drug discovery. But who says high-throughput screening has to involve robots?

This article in Consumer Energy Report describes a very different approach to churning through and screening a large number of candidate compounds, in a context very different from the drug-discovery lab: high school students doing solar energy research.

Caltech researchers are utilizing the hands and minds of Pasadena, California, high school students to assess a range of compounds to see which have the most promise for use in solar energy conversion.

While high school kids may not have indefatigable precision of laboratory robots, they have other advantages: for one thing, the potential to become great scientists someday. The high school students are mentored and advised by CalTech graduate and undergraduate students. Instead of doing rote training experiments with no connection to scientific inquiry, they learn something about real science and real life. "They're learning to negotiate through disappointments," said Patty Tsai, a CalTech alumna who teaches AP chemistry at one of the local high schools. "That's a good skill to have as a human being."
 
One of Science Careers' most popular stories last year was "Professional Polish", where contributor Sarah Webb collected advice on proper attire for interviewing. For men, under almost all circumstances, that meant wearing a necktie.

But where do you learn to tie a necktie? Young men of my generation learned to tie a tie from their fathers, who most likely learned it from their fathers. But with a necktie becoming much more of an exception in business wear, at least since the 1990s, it's entirely possible that many young men today have not had that special father-son chat.

To the rescue comes the Web site tie-a-tie.net. The site offers instructions in drawings and videos, on how to tie four different necktie knots: Windsor, Half-windsor, Pratt, and Four-in-Hand. Also included are instructions for tying a bow tie, for those more formal occasions.

The site provides a calculator for estimating the length of a tie you need; big or tall men may need something longer than the standard 58-59 inches. There's even advice on how to untie a tie. (Yes, there's a wrong way to do it).

Disclosure: The author has tied a Windsor knot every workday except Fridays for most of his career.

Hat tip: The Best Career Strategies

Job seekers in scientific and engineering fields found the market for their skills improving over the past 2 months, according to data released today by The Conference Board. Not only did the number of online job ads in April increase for these occupations, but in March the number of unemployed job-seekers in most of these occupations decreased, easing the job hunt for those out of work.

The Conference Board, a private business and economic research institute, provides these data, which are tracked monthly by Science Careers.

Online job ads

In April, for all of the categories of scientists, engineers, and related occupations tracked by the Science Careers index, the number of online opportunities increased, in some cases substantially. This was the first across-the-board increase in posted job ads since January. Ads for computer and mathematical science staff increased the most, up 32,500 in April, a jump of 6.3%. Job ads for engineers and architects registered a solid 6% gain in April, and postings for life, physical, and social scientists followed close behind with a 5.7% increase.

In the related fields of education, training, and library workers, the number of online ads increased by just 1,700 in April, but this gain reversed two straight months of losses. Postings for health care professionals and technicians also recorded a small gain -- 3300, or 0.5% -- much smaller than March's 16% jump.

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Job market competitiveness

The Conference Board computes a job-market competitiveness measure -- 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 numbers for online job ads, so the ratios calculated below are a month older than the statistics noted above.

In all but one of the categories tracked by Science Careers, the number of unemployed job seekers decreased in March, making their job-hunting task at least a little easier. Computer science and mathematics job seekers were the exception, increasing by nearly 41,000 to about 224,000. For this group, however, the number of employment ads also increased in March, which kept the market favorable for job hunters, with less than 1 (0.4) job seeker for each job ad, and thus more job ads than job seekers..

In the life, physical, and social sciences, as well as in engineering and architecture, the number of job seekers decreased slightly in March, while their number of online job ads increased. As a result, the ratios of job hunters to job ads improved somewhat. Life, physical, and social science job seekers about equaled their March number of employment ads. In engineering and architecture, there were more (1.4) unemployed job hunters per job ad, but was still their most favorable ratio recorded by Science Careers since this index began last May.

In the related category of education, training, and library workers, the number of unemployed job hunters dropped substantially in March, decreasing by 43,500 to just over 82,000. This drop in job seekers more than offset a small drop in online job ads in March, which improved the ratio to 5 job-hunters for each posting. Even with this improvement, their ratio is the gloomiest tracked by Science Careers and the only one higher than the overall national average of 3.8 unemployed workers per job ad.

The most favorable job market among all of the categories followed by Science Careers is the one for health care professional practitioners and technicians, one of the few groups with more job ads than job hunters. For this group in March, not only did the number of online job ads increase by 16%, but the number of unemployed job hunters decreased by 21% or 43,000. As a result, the job market ratio for these workers improved slightly from 0.4 to 0.3 job seekers for each online posting.

The more favorable job market for science and engineering staff reflected improvements in the overall U.S. job market. The number of online employment ads increased in April by nearly 223,000, the first monthly increase since January. The number of unemployed job seekers rose only slightly overall (134,000) in March, which kept the job market ratio at 3.8 job hunters for each online opportunity.

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