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Science Careers Blog

June 2010

June 30, 2010

To Ink or Not to Ink

The Jobacle blog today discusses the career implications of getting a tattoo. Sporting a colorful design somewhere on one's body has become much more common than it used to be, but what kind of message does that send to a potential employer when you walk into an interview?

If your tattoo is visible, as opposed to one of those body parts usually kept hidden, then you might have something to worry about. If the hiring manager is older or the employer is known to be conservative, you increase the risk of an upraised eyebrow. And if the job has public contact or management responsibilities, the employer may be concerned about the message the tattoo sends to people inside and outside the enterprise.

Jennifer Brown Banks, the Jobacle blogger, tells about a job-hunting friend who had little trouble getting interviews, but ran into problems during those interviews due to the ink visible on his neck and arms. When he finally got a job, the company asked him to wear long sleeves to cover at least the tattoos on his arms, even in scorching heat.

Something like a tattoo shouldn't make a difference in getting hired, but in a tough job market like the one we have today, little things can make the difference between getting hired and not getting hired.

That said, some scientists have really cool tattoos.


Just when you thought it was safe to think about something other than the long-running contract negotiations between the University of California and its postdoctoral union comes word of the latest move by Chairman George Miller (D-CA) of the House Education and Labor Committee and his two committee colleagues, Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey (both also D-CA).

On Friday, the three Bay area Congressional representatives faxed a letter to Gene Dodaro, acting comptroller general of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, Congress's investigative arm in matters concerning public funds.  They ask the agency to look into "how universities, including the University of California, track how funds provided for laboratory research grants are spent."  "Many...researchers," the letter blandly notes, "are paid by federal funds."  UC has cited a purported inability to determine "the costs of proposals to increase the compensation" of postdocs as a reason for negotiating delays, the letter continues.  The inexplicable difficulty of one of the world's great research institution to figure out how much it pays its own employees "raises serious questions" about UC's--and possibly other universities'--ability to track research funds in general, the letter goes on.

The mildly worded query appears to call UC's bluff on one of the tactics it has used to drag out the talks and avoid committing to the longevity-based pay raises the union has demanded.  The letter pointedly and "respectfully" goes on to request that GAO look into how UC and other universities track "any 'facilities and administrative' overhead payments,...the terms and conditions governing these grants, [and] whether universities comply with these terms and conditions."

The not-very-veiled implication appears to be that UC might find it less unpleasant to settle with the postdocs than to tangle with the committee.  With the next negotiating meeting scheduled for Wednesday, the next installment of the saga may be about to play out.

This morning I received a query from a reader -- a postdoc -- who was interested in submitting an article to Science Careers. I invited her to contribute to our "In Person" personal essay series. I decided to post my response here, lightly edited, as an invitation to others who might be interested in contributing a personal essay to Science Careers:
At Science Careers, we publish three different kinds of articles. We have expert commentary, which we typically label "Perspective". We have freelance-written articles, where the writer is relatively anonymous and compiles the views of other experts; these have no special label, since they constitute the majority of our articles. The third type is the "In Person" category, where individual scientists tell their own stories and contribute their personal observations.

I would welcome you to contribute an In Person article. These are typically short (circa 800 words), to the point, and have a very personal voice. It's typical for "In Person" writers to tell their own stories and then extract a message from those stories -- a mixture of personal narrative and advice. Because it's clear that you are speaking from your own experience -- and not from a scholar's expertise -- you are free to offer whatever advice you wish, without the need for rigorous justification or proof.

If you're interested in writing an In Person article for us, I'm happy to read it. We cannot commit ahead of time to publishing your submission, since we cannot know how good it will be. But if you're willing to work with us, it's very likely that the piece will get published; Almost all In Person submissions are published eventually, though often (but not always) after a lot of editing and revision.

Here is our "In Person" series index, to give you an idea of what we're looking for. You'll notice a lot of variety, but also some common elements:

http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_development/previous_issues/articles/2007_11_16/caredit.a0700166

If you decide you want to do this, please give me, asap, a date by which you are confident you can finish the piece. Then I'll pencil it into my schedule.

Thanks for your interest.

Jim Austin, Editor
Science Careers

On Twitter: @SciCareerEditor

Raytheon Corporation, a defense and security contractor with $25 billion in sales in 2009, is looking for engineers -- a lot of them. William Swanson, Raytheon's CEO, told the Boston Chamber of Commerce this week that the company plans to hire 4,500 engineers this year, and it's having a tough time finding them.

Why? Swanson claims there aren't enough engineering candidates in the American workforce. He notes that the number of American students interested in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) shrinks the further you go in the educational system. Of the 4 million American ninth-graders in 2001, says Swanson, 167,000 will earn a scientific or technical degree by 2011, and of those just 64,000 will become engineers. He expects this to continue for some time.

Raytheon is making efforts to encourage more education in science and technology. Swanson says the company devotes 60% of its charitable giving to math and science education, including development of a simulation and modeling tool to help businesses, educators, and policy makers better understand the dynamics of the STEM labor market.

Understanding the STEM labor market can be a matter of debate, as Beryl Benderly pointed out in Science Careers two years ago. In particular, the experience of shortages by one company may not be reflective of the market as a whole. Benderly talked to experts who study labor market dynamics, who find that a shortage in one discipline or area of the country can go on while other fields or regions are experiencing gluts.

Our editor Jim Austin often discusses dynamics of the scientific workforce on this blog. In February 2009, he described the discrepancies between perceptions and realities of labor shortages and gluts by employers and job-seekers.

Hat tip: Experience blog

Since we're between flu seasons, concerns about encountering ill colleagues in the workplace have abated for now. But there's reason to be concerned, even without an epidemic in the headlines: A large percentage of American workers apparently go to work while sick, including more than half of those without paid sick leave, according to a new survey for the Public Welfare Foundation. The survey also shows that workers without paid sick leave are more likely to use hospital emergency rooms -- one of the least efficient and most expensive forms -- for primary care.

More than one-third (37%) of workers eligible for sick leave said they had gone to work while sick with a contagious illness, while more than half of those who are not eligible for sick leave -- 55% -- said they go to work while sick. Nearly a quarter (24%) of those without sick leave say they send their sick children to day care or school. And about two in 10 (18 to 20%) of workers without sick leave took themselves or family members to hospital emergency rooms for non-emergencies.These numbers are about double what workers with paid sick leave report.

Depending on how it's structured, the availability of sick leave may not keep people away from work, apparently. While more than six 10 (64%) are eligible for paid sick leave, less than half (47%) of workers took advantage. In many cases, paid sick leave is combined with vacation and family leave into a single pool called Paid Time Off (PTO). More than half (58%) of those with PTO get just 10 days or less of paid leave for all of these purposes. If they get sick after using up their PTO, they cannot get paid if they stay home while sick.

For researchers in government or larger industrial labs, sick leave usually comes as part of the compensation package. (In academia, leave is often handled less formally, but it's usually available.) The report cites the 2009 National Compensation Survey compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which shows that nearly nine in 10 (88%) of government workers get sick leave, as well as eight in 10 staff (81%) of companies with 500 or more employees. As companies get smaller, the percentage of workers with paid sick leave drops; about four in 10 (42%) of workers at companies with 15 or fewer employees get paid sick leave.

Part-time and lower-paid workers, the new new survey says, are less likely to be eligible for sick leave than full-time and better-paid employees. Only about a quarter (24%) of part-time workers get sick leave, compared to nearly three-quarters (73%) of full time workers. And only three in 10 of those making less than $20,000 a year get sick leave, compared to eight in 10 workers making $80,000 a year or more.

Survey data were collected by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, via 1,461 telephone interviews.

June 24, 2010

Seeking the Alternative

Yesterday, I posted a short summary of the Academic Careers panel discussion at a mini-symposium called 'Careers in Science: Life After a Ph.D.', organized by the Graduate Students Group at the Institute for Molecular and Cell Biology (IBMC) in Porto, Portugal. The event also featured sessions on other career options, including industry and 'alternative' careers.


If I had to summarize these discussions in just one key message, it would be, 'seize the opportunity as it emerges.' The two stories below illustrated this point particularly well.


Delay the decision. Patrícia Calado hadn't really thought about leaving academia until she got a phone call from a former lab mate, with an interesting offer. At the time, she was doing a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences at the University of Lisbon. She "liked what I was doing," she said, so her first impulse was to say 'no'. But she gave herself some time before giving a definite answer. Thinking about the opportunity -- to lead a team in industry--  got her thinking in new ways. "I love science, but to be a PI, have my own group was not something I would go for," she said. Eventually, she decided to take the position on offer, as a project manager at the biopharmaceutical company Bioalvo in Lisbon.


It wasn't the most comfortable position, but, "You need to feel uncomfortable... because it is the only way to learn and move on in life,"  she told the audience. Discomfort doesn't quite capture her experience; her first reaction was "panic. I didn't know anything about business," she said. And then there's "the language, the abbreviations. You really don't know what they are talking about." So she studied, and studied some more. "After a [4 to 6] months, I realized that this was the good decision because I was controlling things and understanding the differences between industry and academia. I knew I had found my niche," she said. "I am very good at doing things," and in industry, "It's not so much the thinking, but the doing."


Calado was promoted to Drug Discovery and Development Director in 2008, just 2 years after joining the company. She found that in industry, "you can create your own position and you can start doing something and expand. There is always room for improvement." 

Say 'yes',  then make it your own. Marta Agostinho also had an unexpected job offer as she was finishing her Ph.D., in biomedical sciences at the University of Lisbon. She expected to move into science communications, but an opportunity to run a program for Ph.D. students at the Instituto de Medicina Molecular (IMM) in Lisbon seemed too good to pass up, Agostinho said. The communications person at IMM retired soon after she joined, in 2007, so "I decided to propose the creation of a [joint] unit for communication and advanced training." She put a proposal together with a colleague. 


Agostinho became the Ph.D. Programme & Communications manager at IMM the same year, participating in the design and implementation of the IMM International Ph.D. program and running communication and outreach activities. Since then she has earned some extra training -- a postgraduate diploma in science communication from the Open Unversity in the United Kingdom -- and she now holds the position of Director of the Communication & Training Unit at IMM. Among her duties are contributing to the Ph.D. program, offering support to researchers on funding and grant management issues, coordinating the institute's communication strategy, keeping abreast of what IMM researchers are up to, establishing contacts with journalists, promoting public engagement, and designing new outreach activities. As you develop your career, it is important that you "create your [own] project. Focus on what you want to do and like to do," she said.


Last week, I attended a mini-symposium called 'Careers in Science: Life After a Ph.D.' that was organized by the Graduate Students Group at the Institute for Molecular and Cell Biology (IBMC) in Porto, Portugal. During the day I heard some excellent advice on how to be successful in academia that I'd like to pass along here:

  • Take Control of Your Training

Your Ph.D. really is the time to take charge of your own training. "Think about your own education. Don't rely just on your PI. It is important that you take control of it," and make it a continuous effort, said IBMC João Morais-Cabral, a PI at IBMC. And make sure you make the most of your interactions with your adviser. "Prepare when you go and meet your PI... to make the meeting [as] productive as possible... Say, 'this is the result, and this is what I think, and this is what I want to do next'," added Edgar Gomes, a group leader at the Institute of Myology in Paris.

  • Be Mobile

Nowadays, with good institutes all around Portugal, it is not compulsory for Portuguese scientists to go and train abroad. But going abroad is still a plus on your CV, the speakers agreed. From the perspective of a group leader, if a young scientist has been "influenced by different cultures and policies and has been successful all the way, it means something," said Jaime Mota, a PI at the Instituto de Tecnologia Química e Biológica (ITQB) in Oeiras. "It is also normal that someone has a family life and wants to stay in Portugal, but I want to see a serious choice of career" in this case, Mota added. "Moving on is hard, but moving on is important," agreed Morais-Cabral. You get "different perspectives on doing science, learn different things. Staying in one place gives you all the defects of the lab, and every lab has some."

  • Choosing a Lab

When choosing a new workplace, it's important that you go and visit. "You have to talk to the people in the lab, what is the guy like, what is the lab like, because the gut [feeling] will tell you" whether this is a good place for you or not, Morais-Cabral said. Be aware that there are both advantages and disadvantages to going to work in a very young or very established lab. In the first scenario, your PI "depends on your success. If that person is bright and capable, they will invest [in you] and give you a lot of help," Morais-Cabral said. But on the other hand, "a lot of people don't make it, so it's a risk." In a well-established lab, often there's "a lot of money, lots of safety, lots of colleagues that are very bright, but you may not see your boss," Morais-Cabral said. In such situations, it is all the more important to "learn by yourself and from the environment where you are, from the people, from the seminars, etc.," Mota added.

  • Challenge Yourself

Maximize your training by leaving your comfort zone. Working in the U.S., in particular "was a culture shock for me, and it was fantastic," Morais-Cabral said. He found himself surrounded by people who frequently challenged each other to think on their feet, sharing their ideas and what they stood for. "I learned never to open my mouth without thinking," Morais-Cabral said. And always seek bright people to work with. "I think that you should always try to work with people who are smarter than you," Morais-Cabral said. "That scared me, but they made me better also."

  • Talk to People

Don't stick to the people you already know at scientific meetings. Building up a network early in your training will help you when the time comes to apply for a postdoc. An easy way to approach senior scientists is to ask about their research. This approach also allows you to "get to know who is interesting -- and they know you," Morais-Cabral said. That way, you won't find yourself sending letters to people who receive thousands of application letters from all over the world, with no particular reason to pick you over someone else, Morais-Cabral added. It is "very competitive to get a position. You have to sell yourself. Being very shy doesn't help. People don't have the time or the patience. They will not remember you if you are the shy one."

  •  Papers versus Contacts

"Of course, it is always better to have at least one paper, one piece of solid work" already published when applying for a postdoc, Mota said. "If you are going to apply for a postdoctoral position to someone who doesn't know you, you need something to attract the attention of this person. A paper is a good way," Mota added. But it can also happen that "your work was very good but you were stopped at least momentarily." In such a case, "you need to have some sort of recognition or somebody that will support you, that knows you, and that will recommend you for a postdoctoral position."

All three speakers felt that having a paper in a very high-profile journal was not necessary during your Ph.D., and it might sometimes work to your disadvantage. One concern for PIs is "ego. If the Ph.D. has a fancy paper, it might be a problem," Gomes said. PIs may also  question what a newly graduated Ph.D. student will be able to achieve without extensive support, Morais-Cabral said. "It is more important what [your references] tell me. You can ask if this person is good or not," he said.

The pressure to publish goes up during your postdoc. Try "to find something very cool and very novel" that's likely to make a broad impact in many areas, said Gomes, adding that one paper in Cell got him his current job. "You have to be known for something," he said. "It is great if you have a fantastic, sexy paper," Morais-Cabral agreed. Still, "I know people who are [PIs] at Yale who never had a paper in Science or Cell. But they had the recognition of all the peers... as clearly the leading people in the field," Morais-Cabral added.

  • Feeling Ready

Once you start getting nice papers, well-intentioned people may advise you to go after a group-leader position. But "It is important that you are able to define yourself" first, said Morais-Cabral, who delayed taking a PI position until he felt ready for it. He used his 5 years of Ph.D. training to define himself as a structural biologist, and his first postdoc to "completely define myself as a professional crystallographer," he said. He got bored with "just solving structures," and decided to go for a second postdoc, with a ion channel researcher who needed a structural biologist in the lab. "I am specialized in ion channels now," he added. "A postdoc can be a continuation of the professional definition, but choose your postdoc in a way that you can start differentiating yourself."

  • Explore Other Horizons

Deciding to do a Ph.D. doesn't commit you to a career in academia, Gomes said. If you're not sure it's the right path for you, give yourself some space to explore other opportunities. During the first two years of a postdoc at Columbia University in New York, Gomes took some business classes and helped a tech transfer officer by assessing scientific projects. "It helped me realize the fact that I enjoyed basic science," Gomes said. After some tough times, publishing his data in Science gave Mota "the confidence to stay in science and in academia, but still I had some doubts," he said. An interview for an editor position at an EMBO journal helped him realize that editing, "wasn't the type of thing I wanted to do after talking about their everyday job."

  • Allow Yourself Some Mistakes

Try and make wise choices, but follow your gut feeling. "You have to make decisions," but mistakes along the way are inevitable, Gomes said. "Don't look back [saying], 'Oh, I made the wrong decision. Maybe it was," he added, but that's just fine. "It's how it works."


This reporter regrets that a vacation to Alaska prevented her from bringing readers timely news of the latest episode in the continuing drama of postdoc unionization at the University of California (UC).  (Not that she regrets the wonderful trip, just the delay in reporting).

On June 9, while she was marveling at the pristine majesty of Glacier Bay National Park, the UC postdoc union, known as PRO/UAW, filed an unfair labor practices charge against UC with the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) over the protracted but as yet inconclusive negotiations for a first contract.  This move, according to PERB's website,   initiates a multi-stage process of investigation and possible hearings and appeals.  In the meantime, the next negotiation session is scheduled for June 30 and reaching an agreement could render the issue moot.  Stay tuned for further developments.
In his February 2008 Tooling Up column, Dave Jensen offers tips for adding muscle to your marketing materials, particularly your résumé and cover letter. One of those tips is to describe your accomplishments and contributions with "action words" -- terms that convey action and results.

Action words may help your materials stand out from the mass of others and improve your chances of getting an interview. Many résumés today, unfortunately, still give lists of duties rather than tell about applicants' results or contributions.

In his 2008 piece, Jensen links to a document with list of action terms offered by the law school at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC). The CareerRocketeer blog recently posted its own list of 30 more résumé action terms, many of which are not on the UDC list. Some of these lend themselves to scientific or technical work. Here are a few ...

Enhanced
Formulated
Generated
Integrated
Intensified
Pioneered

and my favorite ...
Masterminded

The importance of a good mentor for early-career scientists has been well documented on the pages of Science Careers and even by the National Academies. But finding a mentor who can open doors for you, and not just offer advice, takes special effort. In an entry posted yesterday on the Wall Street Journal's Hire Education blog, Steve Walters offers a few tips on how to make that special effort.

Walters calls this super-mentor a "whale": "somebody who is a recognized voice, widely admired or otherwise well-accomplished -- in other words, a high-achiever." Once you have identified an industry or profession in which you want to work, Walters suggests looking for executives, entrepreneurs, consultants, and other recognized experts with at least 10 years experience in that industry or profession. They likely will have networks including plenty of contacts in the field.

Whales can be people you know -- a current or former professor, for example. Or if none of your acquaintances fit that description, you can search online for authors of articles or blogs, or executives of industry associations. Walters then suggests making contact at near-by events, such as conferences or workshops, where the whales are likely to appear.

Walters describes a process for approaching a whale, including a straightforward way demonstrate your abilities: volunteer your services for one of  the extra projects whales tend to accumulate, like barnacles. In an article for Science Careers this past March, Brooke Allen mentioned the abundance of opportunities for volunteer work that are related to professional development. "There's plenty of work to do, even if there's no money to pay you to do it," Allen says.

Walters offers ideas on maintaining a relationship with a mentor and even for developing a network of mentors, since there's no rule that says you should have only one. "Once started, fostering these relationships should be one of your top career priorities," Walters says, "since you don't know where they may lead."

Even if you haven't heard of Linda Bartoshuk, you probably have heard of her research. Now a professor at the University of Florida, Gainsville, Bartoshuk coined the term "supertasters" to describe the 25 percent of the population who have an unusually high number of taste buds,  affecting how food tastes. She has spent nearly 50 years studying psychophysics, the study of how physical stimuli from the environment lead to subjective experience, focused mostly on taste. In this week's Science (subscription required), correspondent John Bohannon writes about her career and her latest projects, including developing new evaluation methods for sensory research.

While Bartoshuk's research involves the senses, some of her stories are more likely to arouse your emotions: Now 71, Bartoshuk grew up in an era where women just didn't do science.  She faced blatant discrimination throughout her career. Here's an excerpt from the Science article:
As a girl born in mostly rural South Dakota in 1938, science was not high on the list of career options for Bartoshuk. But after reading every science-fiction book she could get her hands on, the young Bartoshuk dreamed of astronomy. Her high school had other plans for her. "They forced me to take secretary classes," she recalls with a wry smile. They did accede to Bartoshuk's request to take trigonometry, physics, and chemistry. "I was the only girl in the class, and I was as surprised as anyone when I got the highest grades." It helped her win a scholarship to attend Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota -- her family couldn't afford the tuition otherwise -- and it was science ever after.

Bartoshuk says she abandoned astronomy when she learned that "women weren't allowed to use the big telescopes." She switched to the field that would become the scientific love of her life: psychophysics, the study of how physical stimuli from the environment -- sugar on your tongue, vibrations in your ear, heat on your skin -- lead to the mysterious phenomenon called subjective experience. ...

As a first-year graduate student at Brown University, Bartoshuk wanted to work with Carl Pfaffmann, the first to identify the nerves that send taste signals from the mouth to the brain. She vividly recalls her first conversation with the man who would become her Ph.D. adviser. "Pfaffmann told me point-blank that he didn't want women in his lab," Bartoshuk says. "They're always crying and washing their hair."
I spoke with Bartoshuk this week to learn more about the resistance she faced throughout her career. She spoke about her rocky relationship with her Ph.D. adviser, and how she managed to succeed in his lab. She talked about the discrimination she faced from the director of the research foundation where she worked. "The discrimination against me was so blatant that I had all kinds of social support," she says. "The more subtle discrimination is much much harder to live with, I think."

While she'll gladly share her stories, her path is not one to emulate, she says: "There's no moral here. I think I should have done things differently, and I didn't. In the era I lived in, it turned out that that was a survival path, and I can't tell you the sympathy I have for women who just don't get lucky like that."

It's clear from reading the Science article and from talking with her that she absolutely loves her research -- and that is the key to working in science, she says: "The fact is, you can't make luck happen. So my advice is, work in an area you love. If nothing else, you get to go to work every day and enjoy what you're doing."
 
Here is an edited version of our conversation:



[alternate link to mp3]


Or, listen through AudioBoo:

Listen!

Woody Allen famously said, "Eighty percent of success is showing up," and new research suggests he may be on to something. This new research suggests that your physical presence on the job, while maybe not 80% of your success, can add a few percentage points to your perceived value.

The findings are published in a paper in the June issue of the journal Human Relations. Kimberly Elsbach and Jeffrey Sherman of University of California at Davis, and Dan Cable of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill talked in-depth with 39 first-line or mid-level managers about the implications of workers being present in the workplace. The findings from these open-ended interviews suggest that employees seen at work during normal business hours are considered dependable, reliable, conscientious, and trustworthy. As one respondent remarked, "So if I see you there all the time, okay, good. You're hard working, a hard working, dependable individual."

Showing up was particularly important for workers doing work that was not easily quantified, such as creative or specialized tasks. Being physically on the job assured the managers the workers were working diligently, even if they weren't completely knowledgeable about their output.

And if staff were seen on the job outside of normal working hours, they more often were considered committed and dedicated, and thus even more valuable. Speaking of staff who put in the extra hours, one respondent told the authors, "I think it's seen as a higher level of commitment, and you get thought of as an overachiever because you're seen after hours." This extra effort, according to another respondent, is "definitely one of the tests of management material."

The researchers followed the interviews with more of a controlled experiment that suggests this attribution of positive traits to those who show up could be a spontaneous or unconscious process. The team gave 60 professional-level employees a written scenario describing the activities of an office worker who was on the scene and observed by others. The participants were then asked to identify traits of the person described in the scenario from a list of test words, in what was presented to the subjects as a test of memory. Four of the test terms -- Dependable, Committed, Dedicated, and Responsible -- were NOT used in scenario. Nonetheless these terms were identified by far more respondents than other non-occurring terms such as Creative, Friendly, Unproductive, and Lazy.

An interesting angle on this research is that the authors focused solely on fellow workers' or managers' impressions of employees based on the extent to which they were physically present in the workplace, what they call "passive face-time." They did not get into other factors, such as substantive interactions with employees or even the nature of the work they performed.

Thus, just showing up could make a difference in how managers and fellow workers think about your value to the organization. Telecommuting and virtual organizations can cut costs, save energy, and allow for more time with your family, but you need to be breathing the same air if you really want your colleagues to recognize the good that you do.

Anyone who has been on the job market for any length of time knows the anguish experienced when a potential employer asks for a salary history as well as a C.V.  Author and career blogger Eve Tahmincioglu offers advice for dealing with this vexing requirement, and while there's no easy answer, there are ways of handling it productively.

When an employer asks for salary history, it can cut two ways. For job hunters making less than they feel they deserve, the salary history is seen as a way for employers to offer another low salary. For those lucky enough to be paid well, it is seen as a way for employers to arbitrarily remove their names from consideration in favor of lower-paid candidates.

A reader of Tahmincioglu's Career Diva blog falls into the first category, finding what she considers a dream job but with a requirement for salary history. The reader worked for a not-for-profit unit of a university that had faced one budget crisis after another, and as a result had only one pay raise in 5 years. Many readers of Science Careers, working at universities and not-for-profit organizations that have been particularly hard-pressed lately, can probably sympathize.

Tahmincioglu spells out three common options when faced with a salary-history requirement, none of which are fool-proof:

- Lie about your current salary, which can come back to haunt you if employers check your salary -- and they will.

- Put down your desired salary, but with an asterisk indicating "market rate"

- Don't answer, and put off the discussion until the employer makes an offer. This may work, but it's a crap shoot.

Tahmincioglu quotes a fellow careers consultant who lays out an interesting strategy: answer honestly but also spell out your circumstances, explaining why you deserve a higher salary. Then investigate prevailing rates of pay and the employer's financial situation in advance of  salary negotiations.  

In 2006 Dave Jensen devoted two of his Tooling Up columns to salary negotiations. The June 2006 column advises job hunters how to approach salary negotiations (Hint: You got more power in these negotiations than you think) and in July 2006 offers tools and tips for salary negotiations. And in another Tooling Up column coming up later this week, Jensen points out that some potential hires are more likely to encounter such difficult questions than others.

As noted in my previous post, our recent article on housework caught the attention of some feminist-scientist bloggers in a not-entirely-positive way. The result: a hundred or so comments on the blog of Dr. Isis, a few comments on that earlier post on the Science Careers blog, and brief mentions on a couple of other blogs.

One point that was made in a comment on the Isis blog by (among others) one Dr. FabulousShoes is that we should have pointed out more forcefully that it's not OK that women have more domestic responsibilities than men. Here's how Dr. Fab put it:
My point was parallel (I think) to Dr. Isis's - that by refusing to point out that these things aren't fair and that they should not continue makes it more likely to continue.
OK, my bad. I thought it was completely obvious that these things aren't fair -- does that really need to be pointed out again and again? I didn't think so -- and anyway, I'm sure the message is at least implicit in the article -- but maybe I was wrong, and maybe implicit isn't good enough.

So, men, just so you know, if you didn't already: It's not OK to expect your professional (perhaps scientist) wife to do more housework than you just because she' s a woman. It's not fair, OK? And it's not OK to just cruise along, taking advantage of a favorable situation you happen to have fallen into. Even if she's willing to do more than her share, insist on doing yours, OK? This is especially important at critical career stages, such as the probationary faculty period, or just before a big grant proposal is due. But it's just as true at lower-stress times -- that is, pretty much always.

To the critics reading this: Please know that I do not believe that by writing this I have fully dispatched my obligations. Those obligations are ongoing, and I will strive to meet them.

I feel compelled to add, as I have written in many blog-post comments over the last few days, that I deeply respect the value and autonomy of individual relationships -- and this, too, is an important part of this calculation. Asking a woman to do more because she is a woman is never fair. But personal relationships are not appropriate places for philosophers or career advisers to lurk. It's up to each couple -- not me, not feminist critics, not tradition -- to negotiate housekeeping, childcare, or other domestic responsibilities, and the other aspects of personal relationships. The goal is for those choices to be freely made and not coerced. So men, and women: It's up to you and your partner to set the terms, but please make sure those decisions are made as freely as can be achieved. Such decisions are never made "in a vacuum," as Dr. Fab put it. There are always social pressures. But within the context of your relationship, you can ease those pressures by being supportive of your partner and helping them to choose -- or, rather, to negotiate with you, from a position of strength, a domestic arrangement that works well for both partners.  

This is the opinion of me, Jim Austin, the editor of Science Careers. It not a statement of official Science or AAAS policy.

Thanks for your attention. You may go back to whatever you were doing.

On Twitter: @SciCareerEditor
Vijee Venkatraman, who wrote the recent, excellent article Time to Hire a Housekeeper?, wrote to me to point out a not-entirely-positive discussion of the article by Dr. Isis on her blog, On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess.... The discussion is shoe-horned in to a long post on John Tierney's column in Tuesday's Science Times resurrecting the Larry Summers/Women in Science debate. Our housekeeping article gets tag-teamed, two critical bloggers at once, as Isis releays comments sent to her by e-mail, by ScienceMama:
Recently ScienceMama from the Mother of All Scientists sent me a link to this article from Science about how successful academic women learn to outsource daily tasks like housekeeping, childcare, and laundry.  While, I think the advice is generally good, ScienceMama picked up on the underlying social message of the article.  She wrote to me:

I can't exactly put into words why this article bothers me so much.  I understand the general intention of the article, but for some reason the take home message for me seems to be "If you're a female scientist, you need to hire a housekeeper, whereas if you're a male scientist you can just get a wife."

By focusing just on female scientists, it seems like what the article is saying is that domestic chores are a woman's responsibility.  Why shouldn't male scientists also be encouraged to get a housekeeper to cover all the work they are clearly neglecting at home?

Again, I understand that the article was well-intentioned (spend your limited free time with your family or on a hobby instead of mopping your floors), but the fact that it's aimed only at female scientists seems to reinforce the idea that all of the domestic chores are the woman's responsibility.

She's exactly right. 

No, she's not. Why single out women in suggesting a housekeeper? Because men don't seem to have a problem. Men, on average, don't need help with the housekeeping. This is not about should; it's about doing what you have to to make your life -- personal and professional -- work. I don't mean to be patronizing, but this is kind of obvious, isn't it? 

Indeed, the ScienceMama/Dr. Isis account seems to me the result of a careful, selective, and uncharitable reading of what Venkatraman wrote. One of the explicit themes of the article was: Feeling guilt over not meeting a woman's traditional roles? Get over it!

What would they advise instead? Wait until the social norms have changed and THEN go into science? Get a divorce, then (re)marry for domestic skills instead of love? The latter could be a fine choice for some women, but it's deeply personal, and you won't catch me advising it.

I've done my best over the years to make Science Careers a source of practical advice for aspiring scientists. That's a more noble and difficult challenge than being on the right side of some principle. True, since I've been editor, Science Careers articles have consistently made it clear that there's a point where you have to stand on principle, and it's up to each scientist to decide for him or herself where that point is. But, given a choice between moral brownie points and helping someone get tenure, I'll choose the latter every time, and so will the writers who write for Science Careers.

There's one more question I need to take on, the question of standing. I am, after all, a guy. But I think I have standing partly due to the 9 years -- I've just realized that TODAY is the ninth anniversary of my employment at AAAS -- I've worked to advance the interests of younger scientists -- especially (but not exclusively) scientists from under-represented groups. (An aside: These days youth itself is under-represented in science, and I've spent virtually every working moment of the last 9 years working to advance the interests of younger scientists.)

But there's another thing that gives me standing: I can claim a distinction that's rare among men, and I claim it proudly: I gave up a research career (in physics) so that my wife could pursue one (in chemistry). She's now a full professor, finishing up a 4-year stint as department chair.

My wife deserves all the credit for her accomplishments. She earned her success with tireless, excellent work. But I have done my share of housework.

On Twitter: @SciCareerEditor


As reported by Dan Clery in this week's issue of Science, there is a pending shake-up in the landscape of pan-European research organizations: The European Heads of Research Councils (EUROHORCs) and the European Science Foundation (ESF) are planning a merger.

EUROHORCs' national science funding agencies collectively control about 25 billion per year -- an 85% share of the overall research money available in Europe (the European Union contributes a 5% share). But, as Clery notes, EUROHORCs has no headquarters or staff. On the other hand, ESF, which has an annual budget of 50 million a year, has more than 120 staff members in Strasbourg, France, has been funding research, supporting networks and conferences, and developing science policy for decades. 

The two pan-European bodies got to collaborate in response to EU's efforts to develop the European Research Area (ERA), which aims to facilitate the mobility of researchers through the harmonization of career structures and funding systems across Europe. EUROHORCs and ESF together issued a roadmap on how the ERA might be achieved, but they realized their voice would be stronger and clearer if the two bodies merged.

Among the planned changes would be a greater role in science policy development and in joint funding coordination for the new organization -- tentatively called the European Research Organization. ESF would stop distributing money (which came mostly from EUROHORCs members).

You may read the whole article on the Science Web site (subscription required).

 

Tenure-track faculty are more at risk of suffering burnout from their teaching duties than their tenured and non-tenure track counterparts, according to a study presented yesterday at the American Association of University Professors annual conference in Washington. Articles on the study appear in today's Inside Higher Ed and yesterday's Chronicle of Higher Education.

The research is based on a survey carried out in 2008 by then Ph.D. candidate Janie Crosmer of Texas Woman's University. Crosmer analyzed self-reported burnout among 411 full-time U.S. professors, half of whom were tenured, a quarter non-tenured, and another quarter on the tenure track. Burnout levels were measured in terms of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization (defined as "An unfeeling and impersonal response toward recipients of one's service, care, treatment or instruction") and perceptions of personal accomplishment.

Crosmer found that, overall, faculty members are not more burned out than the average working population. But a closer analysis of the data revealed differences depending on the career stage of the faculty respondents. The survey tool measured emotional exhaustion on a scale of 0-54; 14-23 was average burnout and 24 and higher was a high degree of burnout. Tenure-track faculty reported an average level of emotional exhaustion of 22.3, well above the tenured faculty's 20.9 and non tenure-track faculty's 16.4. Women seemed more at risk than men, scoring a 20.9 average compared to 18.5 for men.

And while no significant differences were detected in the level of professional satisfaction between the 3 different career stages, tenure-track faculty (including men and women) experienced the highest level of depersonalization, compared to tenured professors and non-tenure track faculty, Inside Higher Ed's article reports. 

In the Chronicle of Higher Education article, Crosmer mentions the "Lack of time, poorly prepared students, cumbersome bureaucratic rules, high self expectations, unclear institutional expectations, and low salary" as the key reasons for burnout. And she attributed the greater emotional exhaustion of women to "gender expectations: You have to be a wife, a mother, a caretaker, and a professor all at once."

Still, The Chronicle reports, Crosmer offered one solution to help reduce burnout: "If departments would adopt collectivistic values. It's sometimes hard for professors to feel like they're in a community, a community where they can share the workload. If one faculty member is really busy working on getting a grant, for instance, maybe a colleague could step up and teach their classes. If faculty members didn't feel like they had to do it all, that they had someone within their community to turn to, I think that would help."

Some follow-up comments dismissed the idea as unrealistic. The commenter 'Porcupine' for example saw pre-tenure competition as an important factor to burnout and a very good reason for not asking for help: "If I were to ask an untenured colleague to teach my classes so that I can work on a grant, the colleague would rub their hands together in glee, because I would have given them great ammunition in the ongoing competition, not to mention endless opportunities for snarky remarks - clearly I am not up to the job if I need to ask for help. I simply wouldn't mention it to a tenured colleague, because they might see my asking for help as a reason to vote against my tenure case."

And even if you're well-intentioned and want to help, often you simply can't afford the luxury, also commented 'northwest'. "Let's get past this notion that somewhere in our schedules we have 'extra' time to share and start talking about hiring some of the unemployed and underemployed PhDs to help reduce our loads to manageable levels."

Nonetheless, I think Crosmer's suggestion is well worth exploring. How much flexibility you may have in juggling your duties probably depends a great deal on your particular situation, colleagues, and institution. Admittedly, she is at the tenured level, but when I recently talked to Begoña Vittoriano, a successful and appreciated scientist at the Complutense University of Madrid in Spain who combines her mathematical research with development cooperation activities in poor countries, she mentioned to me that she sometimes swaps teaching duties with colleagues to make some of her traveling possible.

   

 

Conflict of interest policies have been a hot topic in recent weeks. Here's an unscientific roundup of some recent articles on the subject:

A couple of weeks ago Science Insider reported on new conflict of interest guidelines from the National Institutes of Health. Jocelyn Kaiser writes: "NIH wants to lower the definition of "significant" financial conflict from $10,000 to $5000, or any equity in a nonpublicly-traded company (the previous cutoff was 5%). Researchers would have to tell their institutions about all conflicts over this threshold that "reasonably appear to be related to the Investigator's institutional responsibilities"--leaving administrators, not the investigator, to decide which are related to a specific NIH-funded project."

In a May 21 JAMA editorial about the proposed regulations, NIH Director Francis Collins and Deputy Director for Extramural Research Sally Rockey wrote: "Capitalizing on innovation to benefit health requires a robust partnership that joins bias-free research with the most effective methods for translation and dissemination. As NIH strives to accelerate the movement of discoveries from the laboratory to the clinic, it is clear that already complex relationships between NIH-funded researchers and industry will likely become more complicated, even as they become more exciting and more productive."  That editorial also includes a handy table to illustrate the current and proposed rules.

In today's JAMA, Bridget Kuehn writes about provisions in the health reform law passed in March that will require drug and device manufacturers to report any payments they make to physicians and hospitals. The new law "will require manufacturers to disclose individual payments or goods or services with a value of $10 or more and cumulative payments or gifts exceeding $100, including travel, meals, consulting fees, honoraria, research funding, and royalties," Kuehn writes.

The May/June issue of Boston Review includes an editorial by Marcia Angell, former executive editor and editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, called "How Corporate Dollars Corrupt Research and Education." She writes, "Much of the time, the institutional conflict-of-interest rules ostensibly designed to control these relationships are highly variable, permissive, and loosely enforced. At Harvard Medical School, for example, few conflicts of interest are flatly prohibited; they are only limited in various ways."
And later on:
"To be clear, I'm not objecting to all research collaboration between academia and industry--only to terms and conditions that threaten the independence and impartiality essential to medical research. Research collaboration between academia and industry can be fruitful, but it doesn't need to involve payments to researchers beyond grant support. And that support, as I have argued, should be at arm's length." She goes on to suggest her three "essential" reforms.

In a February Perspective in the New England Journal of Medicine, UC San Francisco professor of medicine Bernard Lo discusses conflicts of interest in the context of the differing missions of academic health centers and for-profit companies. "Sound conflict-of-interest policies require careful analysis of the benefits and risks of a relationship between academia and industry," he writes, following that with several questions policymakers should ask when crafting conflict-of-interest policies.

Later, Lo summarizes the responsibility of the individual physician-investigator in developing such policies: "In their roles as clinicians and researchers, physicians tackle difficult, complex problems, clarify countervailing interests and values, make tradeoffs explicit, develop innovative approaches, and rigorously analyze the advantages and disadvantages of various options. Physicians should apply these skills to help improve conflict-of-interest policies for AHCs and professional societies."

While it's important to communicate potential conflicts to scientific peers, the true end users of that information are patients. Do they really care? An April study in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that they do. In a literature analysis of studies of patients', research participants', and journal readers' views of financial ties to drug and device companies, researchers found that, overall, patients do believe disclosure of financial ties is important, and research participants say that such disclosures would affect their decision on whether to participate in a clinical study.



In recent days, sports writers and broadcasters have focused on the death of former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.  Wooden's impressive record of 10 NCAA championships in 12 years and 88-game winning streak by the Bruins received much attention.  However, the emphasis from his former players was "...how he taught us about life....he had the perspective of what was really important, and he always reinforced what he said by what he did," as Andy Hill says, quoted in the June 7 NY Times.  In other words, his players insisted he was more than a coach - he was a mentor. 

Lorraine Stomski, an expert in leadership education and coaching, explains, "People often confuse coaching with mentoring.  Coaching, which provides specific feedback, can be used within mentoring.  But mentoring is more holistic than coaching, in that it develops the whole individual - through guidance, coaching and development opportunities" (June 6 NY Times).

This was of particular interest to me because I was recently asked to give a talk to medical students on the topic, "Optimizing Your Mentored Experience."  In preparation for my talk, I spent a weekend perusing material in print and online.  My initial impression was that everything that can be said has been said and is readily available, so the best one can do is to summarize succinctly and emphasize a few key points from the mind-numbing expanse of material.  But reflecting on my more than 50 years experience being a mentor and mentee (protégé is now the preferred term), I want to share my perspective and first hand observations.

Tomorrow, the Science Careers team will be recording another webinar for our Science Careers webinar series.  Join us to learn more about mentoring and advising the next generation of scientists. Here are the details:

Date: Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Time: 12 noon Eastern, 9 a.m. Pacific, 4 p.m. GMT

One of scientists' important roles, whether they work in academia, industry, or government, is mentoring the next generation of scientists. Join us for a round-table discussion to look at strategies for helping scientists develop new skills, maintain lines of communication, handle difficult situations, and successfully pursue independent careers. This webinar will provide nuts and bolts advice about the best ways to help students, postdocs, and other early-career scientists start their careers on the right foot. Questions can be asked and answered, live!

Visit our Web site to learn more about, and to view, our webinars on career options outside of research, job searching, lab management, and networking.

Canada's Université de Montréal is recruiting businesses to supplement traditional government grants for cancer research on its campus. The university's Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC) models this program on a similar partnership that funded Canadian athletes for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The new program, called B2Discovery, hopes to enlist the for-profit private sector to fund research into cancer causes, diagnostics, drugs for prevention, and therapies for cures. According to Dr. Guy Sauvageau, CEO and Scientific Director of IRIC, the private funding will supplement traditional government funding, which Sauvageau says in a news release today "meets only part of the needs of our researchers." 

The model for B2Discovery is the B2Ten program, which supplements athletes' main sources of funding, providing access to the extra training and services athlete's need to excel internationally.  B2Ten's private-sector funds supported some 20 athletes that competed for Canada at the Vancouver Olympics. Like the B2Ten program, enterprises make charitable contributions to B2Discovery and take no ownership of the research findings.

B2Discovery is attracting interest from companies beyond biomedical industries. One of the early backers is Pomerleau, a construction company based in Saint-Georges, Quebec. Pierre Pomerleau, the company's president, says they signed on to B2Discovery because of its important mission and the role business can play. "Cancer is the leading cause of mortality in the country," Pomerleau says. "To conquer this devastating disease, we must be innovative."

Previously omitted hat-tip: @acidflask on Twitter.

The News-Gazette of Central Illinois is reporting that Jayandran Palaniappan, 34, a postdoc at the University of Illiniois Champaign/Urbana, probably cast himself over Niagara Falls after learning that he lost his funding. Police say he was believed to have jumped on 11 May. Apparently there were four witnesses. Police say he left a note but his body has not been found. Palaniappan earned his undergraduate degrees in India and a Ph.D. from UIUC. After completing his Ph.D., he worked in private industry for a while in the U.S., then went to work at the Beckman Institute in Urbana about a year ago. The article says he learned a couple of weeks before leaving for Buffalo that the funding for his position had ended. Mike Insana, head of the department of bioengineering at the UI and a team leader of a group at Beckman, and Palaniappan's postdoc adviser, says that Palaniappan "left very careful notes" indicating where things could be found in the lab.

"He was just so gentle all the time. When he first came to work, he spent time training other students in lab. He was always helpful, a member of the team," Insana said.

Suzanne Lucas, a blogger and former human resources manager, answers a question from a reader today on the management Web site BNet about the wisdom of telling a potential employer about health problems. Lucas's short answer is "don't do it," at least not right away.

Lucas's reader is applying for jobs that require a college transcript, and in this case, the transcript shows the reader got less than stellar grades in some classes. The reason: medical problems. Also in this case, the reader's most recent grades were high and the mediocre grades received during the medical problems were in subjects unrelated to the work being applied for. A hiring manager, Lucas says, probably would not care about those mediocre grades, so the reader would be better off not mentioning them.

Lucas also addresses the broader question of leveling with a potential employer about chronic medical problems, noting that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination in hiring because of disabilities, and that employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. However, a study published in 2000 by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, reported that the hiring of people with disabilities actually decreased after the passage of ADA. Lucas says some observers attribute that decline partly to the cost of meeting those reasonable-accommodations requirements.

Lucas says applicants with chronic health issues should concentrate first on getting the job. Given the continuing tough job market, you don't want to give a potential employer any reason not to hire you. Once on the job for a while, you can disclose the health problems to the human-resources department, who can advise your supervisors on any accommodations you may need. By that time, says Lucas, it will probably be too late for management to fret much about the hiring decision.

Science Careers devoted a June 2004 feature to health issues in the scientific workplace, including a Mind Matters column by Irene S. Levine on disclosure of health problems. Levine, like Lucas, notes that the issue is not always clear cut, but offers a series of steps people with chronic health problems can take, including consultations with the employer's human resources department.

The number of online job advertisements for science and engineering staff increased in May 2010, but ads for related jobs in health care and education declined, according to data released Wednesday by The Conference Board. In April, the ratio of unemployed scientists and engineers competing for jobs posted online stayed about the same as the previous month or inched lower, continuing trends that began earlier in the year.

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

Online job ads

In May, online employment ads for scientists and engineers increased, led by computer science and mathematics specialists with more than 567,000 openings, a gain of 18,000 over April. For the first time since the Science Careers index began last summer, the number of ads for computer and math workers jumped ahead of ads for health care practitioners and technicians. It was also the single largest number of ads for any occupational category recorded in May by the Conference Board.

Online employment ads for engineers and architects also jumped in May, by nearly 13,000 to just under 160,000, a gain of 8.7% over April. Opportunities for life, physical, and social scientists also rose, but by only 1,600 to more than 87,000, a gain of less than 2%.

Ads for health care practitioner and technician jobs, which often hire people with scientific training, dropped some 13% in May to 540,000, from 623,000 in April. This category was one of the few employment bright spots during the tough economic times this past year. Opportunities for education, training, and library workers, also a category considered alternative employment for people with scientific backgrounds, dropped by 2,300 in May. Since January, ads for education, training, or library staff have either dropped or stayed flat every month.

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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 for April 2010, while the number of employment ads reported above are for May.

Among scientists and engineers, the ratio of unemployed job seekers to online ads dropped somewhat in April for two of the three occupational categories or remained about the same as March, but still favorable for those looking for work. For life, physical, and social scientists, the job market reached an important milestone in May: for the first time recently there were fewer job seekers than posted ads. For most of 2010, the number of job-seekers in this group about equaled the number of online job ads. In May, that number dropped to 0.8 job hunters per ad.

Engineers and architects also enjoyed an improved job market in April. The combination of 9000 more job ads and 7700 fewer job hunters in April lowered the competitiveness ratio to 1.2 job seekers per ad. That's a big improvement over last Fall when there were about 2 job hunters per online ad for engineers and architects. Computer scientists and mathematicians continued in April to enjoy one of the most favorable job markets, with 0.4 job hunters per online ad, a ratio that has not changed since September 2009.

While the number of online job ads for health care practitioners and technicians has fluctuated over the past 12 months, the ratio of job seekers per online opportunity in this group has stayed remarkably stable, at 0.4 or 0.3 job hunters per employment ad. For education, training, and library staff, the job market (as measured by this ratio) remains dismal, at about 5 unemployed job seekers per online ad -- the only ratio tracked by Science Careers that is higher than the ratio for U.S. workers overall.

For the U.S. in general, the number of online employment ads stayed about the same from April to May, at just over 4 million. In April a slight increase in the number of job seekers to 15,260,000 was more than matched by nearly 223,000 more job ads that month, to tighten somewhat the competitiveness ratio from 3.8 to 3.7 job hunters per online ad.

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Last week the Wall Street Journal reported on hot jobs of the future. The article noted that several careers in science and technology are predicted to have the largest job growth over the period 2008 - 2018, including:

Biomedical Engineers 72% growth
Medical Scientists 40% growth
Biochemists and Biophysicists 37% growth

Science-related careers include:

Network Systems and Communications Analyst 53% growth
Physician Assistants 39% growth
Veterinarians 33% growth
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Labor, published the predictions in the latest edition of the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which reports career trends and predictions biannually. Though the Handbook has accurately predicted fast growing jobs in the past, it is important to note that the report does not take into account unpredictable events, like the 2007-2008 recession, which leads to errors. For example, the article noted that in 2000 the Handbook predicted computer programming as a fast growing field. That prediction was made just before the dot-com collapse.

Resources like the Occupational Outlook Handbook could help young students decide which fields to study when entering college. However, it is important to explore several information sources -- including career counselors, industry experts, and local job market data -- and to do some self-examination to assess your own interests. Local data can be found at ACT's College 2009 Readiness Report, which lists, state by state, the career interests of prospective students.

José Fernández
Tweeting @jose_fernandez

In March 2006, Science Careers interviewed Ken Fink as part of a feature on teaching science as a career. Fink, who started a company that offers science education outside the classroom, seemed to having a blast at this kind of work when we first talked to him. An extended news segment on Philadelphia's NBC affiliate that aired on Friday confirms it.

The big news in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, these days is its National Hockey League team, the Philadelphia Flyers, playing in the Stanley Cup finals. So Fink and a colleague described for TV viewers how the ice on a hockey rink freezes and stays frozen, even on warm days. Instead of explaining the physics behind this process with charts and graphs, Fink and his partner use exploding trash cans.

Fink, who earned degrees in physics and music from Columbia University, also completed graduate programs in marketing from the Wharton School of Business at University of Pennsylvania, and in education at Drexel University, both in Philadelphia. He started Wondergy, as his company is called, in 2002 with a colleague. The company now has four presenters, all with science or engineering backgrounds.