July 30, 2012
July 29, 2012
"That's generally not the case today," Ride continued. "And that's a problem." Again she was right, especially insofar as recruiting the most talented young Americans to careers in science and technology. According to the Washington Post article by Ride's friend Susan Okie, from which I've borrowed these quotations, the first American woman in space, who died at age 61 on 23 July, worked to remedy this problem by developing materials and programs that would interest young people, and especially girls, in science, and help their teachers nurture that interest. Efforts by Ride and others to convince girls they can do science have met with considerable success in recent years, with women now earning the majority of doctoral degrees in life and health sciences. Their percentages in physical sciences and math are also rising.
Ride "realized that elementary and middle-school students were endlessly curious about space travel, and that sharing her experience was a way to get them excited about science and engineering," Okie writes. So, lack of wonder and fascination at the marvels of science is not the only reason that so many of today's able young people seek careers other than science.
Back when Ride was young, science and engineering were not just enticing and prestigious fields of study; they were pathways to secure, admired, exciting, and well-paid jobs. In many fields, that is no longer the case. Instead, scientists in various disciplines spend years as poorly paid postdocs or struggle with record unemployment. Until steps are taken to restore scientific and technical careers to their former glory, it's unlikely, despite excellent educational efforts such as Ride's, that young people will again consider science "really cool."
July 27, 2012
The university appears to have gotten off very easily, considering the punishments that conviction could have carried. This settlement does, however, appear to open up the University of California to a lawsuit, which the Sangji family has thus far not sought.
The Harran case, meanwhile, has turned even more sordid, given the defense's ad hominem attack on the credibility of the state investigator whose report is an important element in the case against the professor. Obviously, there is much more to come.
With the long-delayed arraigment of Harran and UCLA scheduled for 27 July, this move introduces a new element of surprise. The delays have reportedly been justified by efforts to strike a plea agreement between the prosecutors and the defense. This new development suggests a different defense strategy, to say the least.
July 26, 2012
What makes this even newsworthy--if anything does--is that normally you don't think about postdocs buying things for the lab. They're just the worker bees. So wouldn't it be better to pitch the principal investigators instead?
We should note that this was a postdoc event hosted by Penn's Postdoctoral Biomedical Council; it's not that a bunch of lab equipment vendors got together and said, "Let's try to sell stuff to postdocs." The event was a fundraiser; I'm not sure how, but presumably the 20 vendors who displayed their wares paid booth fees. This year's take wasn't yet tallied when the article was written, but at least year's show--this isn't the very first--they raised about $15,000. Proceeds will go to support postdoc research, the article says.
What's behind the idea of staging an equipment show for postdocs? With postdoc positions becoming longer--and postdocs therefore becoming more experienced on average--they're particpiating more in running the lab and in making purchasing decisions. "Postdocs do a vast amount of ordering for a lot of their labs at Penn, so they're able to better see what's available," fundraising committee chair and postdoctoral fellow Todd Waldron said, quoted in the article. It's implied, I think, that PIs don't know their way around the lab so well anymore. If you'd like to sell something to established PIs you'd be better off selling grant writing services or something more closely related to how they spend their workdays.
This wasn't mentioned in the article, but there's another reason for laboratory vendors to try to sell things to postdocs: A few will soon be setting up their own independent labs, spending startup funds that range into seven figures.
July 26, 2012
July 25, 2012
The courses range in length from about 20 minutes to 2 hours. Successfully completing a quiz on the content qualifies the student for a certificate, which colleges can choose to accept as proof of knowledge of safety procedures. Michael Blayney, head of Dartmouth EHS, played a major role in developing the content. BioRAFT provided expertise in online preparation and NH-INBRE provided inspiration and funding.
To get an idea of the style and level of the presentations, your reporter watched the 20-minute video on safely transferring pyrophoric liquids, the process that UCLA lab assistant Sheri Sangji was attempting when she sustained the burns that two weeks later took her life. Clearly and deliberately, in language fully understandable to this non-chemist, the video explains and demonstrates the proper preparation, equipment, procedures and safety precautions necessary to carry out this potentially very dangerous task safely.
The video emphasizes the need for proper personal protective equipment; a nearby partner, fire extinguisher, shower and eyewash; meticulous preparation of the appropriate equipment and materials; careful attention to technique; and a deep respect for danger. In short, it constitutes a virtual catalog of everything Sheri was not taught about pyrophorics. Those 20 minutes of detailed explanation, one suspects, might have saved her life. One wishes safe and successful work to the many young scientists the Web site's creators hope will watch.
July 24, 2012
The first American woman in space--she was preceded by two Soviet women, Valentina Tereshkova in 1963 and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982--Dr. Ride died of cancer on 23 July at the age of 61.
July 19, 2012
I work at my university as a mentor for undergraduates applying to medical schools and medical students applying to internships and residencies. I also review manuscripts submitted by physicians/scientists at the start of their careers to the peer-reviewed journal I edit. In all these areas, accurate spelling, correct grammar, and even proper punctuation greatly influence how seriously I--and doubtless others in similar positions--consider the submitted material. What you write is a proxy for who you are, and careless and sloppy writing reflects strongly on the impression the acceptance committee or reviewers will have of you.
July 16, 2012
Yesterday, on the last day of the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) in Dublin, Pauline Mattsson of the Karolinksa Institutet in Stockholm in Sweden, David Feltz of Euroscience in Strasbourg, France, and Niki Vermeulen of the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, presented some preliminary data from the survey.
Here are some of the main results that are emerging:
July 15, 2012
But here in Dublin at ESOF 2012 I have seen several speakers use examples drawn from family life to convey a scientific message or concept. I found the strategy effective at driving home a point and helping the audience remember it. It also helped me relate to the speaker on a deeper level and made me want to listen closer.
July 14, 2012
July 14, 2012
The competitive pressures that young scientists face today are much more severe than in the past and can make ethical problems more acute, said Maria Leptin of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) in Germany and the Initiative for Science in Europe. Today's intense competition greatly increases incentive to produce the maximum number of publications and to have one's name on as many papers as possible. This in turn produces temptation to engage in a number of questionable practices, such as "beautifying" data and developing biased research designs in order to produce desirable results, she said. The attitude that "everyone does it" can seriously threaten the integrity of research, she added.
July 14, 2012
July 13, 2012
July 12, 2012
Can women researchers overcome the obstacles to commercializing their research? Absolutely, the panelists agreed.
July 11, 2012
The opening keynote address was given by Jules Hoffmann, a professor of immunology at the University of Strasbourg and research director at the French National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS) in France. Hoffmann, who has dedicated his career to understanding the mechanisms underlying antimicrobial defenses in the fruit fly Drosophila, won a share of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology for his contribution to "discovering the sensors of innate immunity."
There are three points I would like to convey from Hoffmann's talk, From Insects to Mammals: Reflections on a European Journey Through Basic Research on Immune Defenses:
July 11, 2012
The 29 June issue of Science includes two letters written in response to AAAS CEO Alan Leshner's 20 April editorial citing the need to establish standards for postdoc training.
The first letter, from Neal Sweeney, a postdoc in the Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology, University of California-Santa Cruz, makes a case for the importance of labor unions and collective bargaining to protect postdoc rights. Sweeney is also the president of UAW Local 5810, the union that represents more than 6000 postdocs in the University of California system.
The second letter, from the board of directors of the National Postdoctoral Association, promotes the NPA's less confrontational approach of setting standards and engaging in dialogue.
A Science site license or AAAS membership is required for access.
July 9, 2012
It must have taken some bold reporting in the tradition of the Post's legendary Woodward and Bernstein to nail this scoop. Why, reporter Brian Vastag even goes so far as to quote our own Science Careers Editor Jim Austin to the effect that "Anyone who goes into science expecting employers to clamor for their services will be deeply disappointed." Seriously, Brian deserves credit for getting onto the front page a story that contradicts the prevailing media narrative.
So, what Science Careers has been saying for years, and years, has finally been corroborated by the Post. Now, if only some of the policy makers who claim to read the paper every day would finally do something about this Washington D.C.-created mess. They could, for example, follow some of the rather mild recommendations in the National Institutes of Health and National Academies reports issued last month. Or, they could--heaven forfend--do what really needs to be done and institute root-and-branch reform of the academic pyramid scheme that depends on grad students and postdocs as cheap, temporary labor on grant research.
Doing anything, of course, will require overcoming the blandishments of industries and universities with financial interests in keeping supply of labor up and costs down. That sort of thing happens all too rarely here in Washington D.C. But now at least policy makers can say that they read about it in the Post.
July 6, 2012
Bright Future Jobs describes itself as "Techies working on the real American Dream." The report analyzes 100 listings posted on the jobs Web site Dice.com, which claims to be "the leading career site for technology and engineering professionals." The ads noted in the report all appear to be aimed at hiring foreigners rather than Americans for jobs in the United States. Some of these jobs appear related to offshoring of work. Although the study only covers IT jobs, it's unclear whether similar practices are also occuring in science fields, especially as companies in the pharmaceutical industry and elsewhere are moving increasing numbers of science jobs abroad.
The ads cited in the report use abbreviations that refer to particular short-term visas and are generally unfamiliar to Americans. They also often promise sponsorship for permanent residency. They therefore "may involve multiple legal violations of discrimination law for a U.S. citizen job applicant who is bypassed based on his or her national origin," says the Bright Future Jobs Web site. The group urges Dice.com to remove such discriminatory ads, which apparently form only a portion of the site's listings.
Writing about the report, Grant Gross noted in an article at PCWorld, "A search on Dice.com Thursday [July 5] found more than 300 job listings for OPT jobs." The Optional Practical Training (OPT) visa is aimed at people who recently received degrees from U.S. institutions. Gross goes on to report an additional 200 listings aimed at foreigners still studying at U.S. colleges and therefore eligible for the Current Practical Training (CPT) visa, and 160 ads seeking holders of the H-1B temporary worker visa. "Exclusively for OPT/CPT students," announces one ad highlighted by Gross.
Discrimination by citizenship or national origin is generally prohibited by U.S. law. The report, however, discusses less upfront methods that some employers use to discourage or disqualify American citizens from applying for jobs. Dice.com's terms of service, for example, forbid "any job requirement or criterion...that discriminates on the basis of citizenship or national origin." Interestingly, with its home office in Urbandale, Iowa, Dice.com is located within the state represented by Senator Chuck Grassley (R), an ardent advocate for stricter regulation of high-skilled immigration.
"It doesn't make sense for U.S. IT companies to complain about a U.S. worker shortage when they aren't looking for U.S. employees," Gross writes, paraphrasing the report's author, Jan Conroy, who is also executive director of Bright Future Jobs. Actually it does, if doing so helps to persuade politicians of a need to admit more foreign workers to meet the purported shortage, depressing wages and providing a cheap, compliant workforce.
July 6, 2012
BWF's Career Awards at the Scientific Interface provide $500,000 to bridge advanced postdoctoral training and the first years of faculty service. These awards are intended to foster the early career development of researchers with backgrounds in the physical/mathematical/computational sciences and engineers whose work addresses biological questions.BWF is a long-time supporter of Science Careers.
These awards are open to U.S. and Canadian citizens or permanent residents as well as to U.S. temporary residents.
Eligible candidates for this award may self-nominate by submitting a preproposal by September 4, 2012.
Preproposals will be reviewed by the Interfaces in Science Advisory Committee and selected candidates will be invited to submit a full application. Full invited applications must be submitted by January 10, 2013.
See our video: http://www.youtube.com/embed/7BUCJzQJoxg
For full grant details, see www.bwfund.org
July 5, 2012
Using a method that measures workers' skills (rather than their paper credentials) and then matches those skills to the demands of particular jobs, one employer Mayo mentioned successfully filled every technical opening with workers who performed satisfactorily throughout the first year. Some of those hires lacked the conventional credentials supposedly required for their jobs, but they did well anyway.
American employers, Mayo said, rarely try to find out about what potential employees actually know and are capable of learning and instead simply review résumés to see what credentials they have amassed.
That wasn't always the case. Not all that long ago, American employers used to hire for many technical positions based not on certificates but on employment tests related to the skills or knowledge needed for the specific jobs. Many fewer now do this. The reason, argue economist Richard Vedder, who retired from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, and co-authors, is the unintended consequences of the case of Griggs v. Duke Power and the potential consequences of the case of Ricci v. DeStefano.
The Griggs case found that an employment test was racially discriminatory. This outcome persuaded many employers to eschew such tests in hiring decisions and instead evaluate candidates on the basis of the more "objective" criterion such as degrees and certifications. As Mayo persuasively argues, it's time to rethink this approach, and develop new methods of evaluating skills and knowledge in candidates for various kinds of jobs without regard to their paper accomplishments. That, her experience seems to argue, would go a long way toward ending the illusory shortage of American workers who know or can learn how to do things.
I've written before about the massive job losses that have hit my home state's pharma workers. But over at Chemical & Engineering News, blogger David Kroll provides a revealing insight into what the Nutley research campus meant to those living nearby. A beacon of opportunity, for generations the campus made becoming a scientist an exciting and highly desirable ambition, explained Kroll, a chemist and former Jersey boy. An uncle of Kroll's was a maintenance man for the company that was long the town's leading employer. Kroll's relatives "hoped I'd be like Uncle Tommy and work at Roche, but as a scientist," he writes. Kroll did, in fact, interview for a research post at Nutley after earning his Ph.D. "I chose to go elsewhere but I credit the presence of Roche with inspiring me to a career in pharmaceutical sciences." Kroll became a molecular cancer pharmacologist and took a professor position in a state university in North Carolina.
That's what we at Science Careers have long observed--it's not only an interest in science that persuades bright young people that they ought to be scientists. It's also believing that they can have excellent, worthwhile, prestigious careers--certainly not what talented students in northern or central New Jersey are observing today. We'll get more of our brightest young people to follow Kroll into research when they, like his younger self, see that as the path to secure, successful careers.
July 5, 2012
Chemistry World's Chemistry World Science Writing Competition 2012 is open to students and early career scientists anywhere in the world. You can enter in one (or both) of two categories: writing and multimedia. As you would expect, you must write or talk about the chemical sciences. The deadline is midnight UK time, 31 August.
Winners in each category will see their entry published on Chemistry World and receive a £300 cash prize. Runners-up--one in each category--will receive a £100 cash prize.
The winners will be announced during an evening reception in London at The Chemistry Centre on 10 October. Twenty shortlisted entrants will be invited to join the reception (but overnight accommodations will be reimbursed only if you are traveling to London from more that 2.5 hours away).
More information can be found on the competition's Web site. The FAQ also offers sound advice on science writing and multimedia communication.
July 3, 2012
The successful candidates, if that's the word, not only needed "excellent" degrees, but vehicles of their own. The university would be generous enough to provide reimbursement for gas, space to work, and "regular supervision." Gosh, could the research project really afford all that? After critics pointed out that advertising for people to work for nothing is exploitative and illegal in Britain, the School of Psychology at Birmingham cited a generous motive for the ad: In a statement, it claimed that it had wanted to make this "opportunity" to work for free "available to all" rather than just to those "with existing networks and contacts." The university says the "honorary" posts were intended as "training positions," but the ad did not reflect that.
The university has withdrawn the offer. But, as the THE article indicates, unpaid internships are widespread in today's depressed job market. There's a fine and murky line between positions that actually provide interns valuable experiences or training and those that merely exploit people's desire to add a line to their résumés.
On this side of the Atlantic, some are also concerned that many unpaid so-called internships may be illegal and a number of lawsuits have been brought against employers. Specific requirements must be met for an unpaid position within a for-profit employer to be legal. Basically, the position must benefit the intern and not the company and cannot be work that paid employees would ordinarily do. At nonprofit organizations, which include universities, however, doing unpaid volunteer work is permissible, even if it is routine work that provides no educational benefit to the volunteer. Thus the door is open to potential exploitation.
The University of Birmingham was shamed into withdrawing its ad. But young researchers eager to better their credentials need to be wary of academic entities that seek to exploit that desire in exchange for uncompensated scut work.