Science Careers Blog

Academic Careers

A survey carried out at the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) suggests that the majority of researchers see interacting with patients' associations in a positive light. The preliminary results were presented today at the French senate as part of a conference gathering INSERM and patients' associations.

Yesterday, the French government announced the adoption of a charter aimed at helping France reach true gender equality in higher education.

The "Charter for Equality" (link goes to PDF) was put together by the Conference of University Presidents (CPU), the Conference of Grandes Ecoles (CGE), and the Conference of the Directors of French Engineering Schools (CDEFI), which together represent 300 universities and other higher education institutions in France. The charter is articulated around the wish to include gender-issues considerations at all levels within institutions; keep track of gender statistics; raise awareness of gender equality issues among staff and students; prevent all forms of gender violence; and use "non-sexist, non-discriminatory, non-stereotyped" language in institutional communication.

Recently Science Careers commented on Mismatch, a provocative and persuasive new book that examines the effects of giving large admissions preferences to minority college students. One of the unintended consequences of such measures, write authors Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor, Jr., is to steer minority students away from majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. This happens, they argue, because large preferences encourage students to attend colleges where their academic credentials place them toward the bottom of their college classes. Science majors, however, overwhelmingly come from the upper end of their college classes, regardless of where they go to college. Students admitted with large preferences--as many African American and Hispanic students are--are therefore deprived of the realistic opportunity to earn STEM degrees.

On 9 October 2012, by coincidence the same day that Mismatch hit the bookstores, the IZA Journal of Labor Economics published "What happens after enrollment? An analysis of the time path of racial differences in GPA and major choice." This study of Duke University students carried out by three Duke professors--economists Peter Arcidiacono and Estaban Aucejo and sociologist Ken Spenner--provides further evidence to support Sander and Taylor's argument. It tracked two classes of Duke undergraduates in all fields of the schools of arts and sciences and of engineering--a total of 1563 students--over the 4 years of their collegiate careers.  It found "dramatic shifts by black students from initial interest in the natural sciences, engineering and economics to majors in the humanities and social sciences."

A new study that looked at data from the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI) found
that scientific misconduct occurs all along the academic career ladder, and that male
researchers are more likely to engage in misconduct than their female counterparts.

In the study, which was published today in the online open-access journal mBio®, Ferric Fang of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, Joan Bennett of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, and Arturo Casadevall of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City analyzed the findings of the cases of misconduct investigated by ORI. Based on the ORI annual reports, the study's authors found a total of 228 individuals to have committed misconduct since 1994.

California state investigator Brian Baudendistel continued his testimony on 20 November in the hearing to determine whether UCLA chemistry professor Patrick Harran will stand trial on felony charges of occupational safety violations that resulted in the death of Sheri Sangji. From a detailed summary of his statements during his first day testifying (19 November) by Michael Torrice at Chemical & Engineering News, it appears that Baudendistel recounted information in the 95-page investigative report he prepared for the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health. 

Also testifying on 20 November was chemical safety expert Neal Langerman. Sangji "absolutely did not have sufficient skill, knowledge or training to be handling tert-Butyllium," Langerman testified, according to the San Jose Mercury News. He added that the Harran lab lacked appropriate equipment and protective clothing.

Because of scheduling issues, cross examination will take place on 18 December, the Mercury News reports.

We at Science Careers have long urged graduate programs to track and make public their graduates' and postdocs' career outcomes so that people considering Ph.D. programs and postdoc appointments can make informed choices. Recent studies from the National Academies and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) include similar recommendations. Now two U.S. senators, Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), have also joined forces to require institutions to reveal to prospective students and their parents what kind of return they may expect on their investments of time and money.

The "Student Right to Know Before You Go Act," which the senators are co-sponsoring, would require colleges to provide data about graduates' earnings. As presently written, the bill applies only to undergraduate degrees. As economist Richard Vedder of Ohio University in Athens writes in Bloomberg, it's not at all clear that income is necessarily the best measure of educational outcome because the specific fields that students pursue and career choices they make also greatly influence their earnings.

This bipartisan effort could, however, be a significant first step toward making educational institutions more accountable to those they ostensibly serve. Once a requirement for tracking student outcomes were in place, it probably could be relatively easily extended to include graduate programs. 

The bill, of course, is nowhere near becoming law. Vedder, furthermore, predicts that "the higher-education establishment will fight" any such requirement in order to safeguard elite colleges' cachet. Many graduate programs that recruit Ph.D. students and postdocs on the basis of faculty members' need for low-cost laboratory and instructional workers rather than on the basis of the career opportunities later available to graduates have also shown strikingly little interest in publicizing alumni outcomes.

As the reports from the National Academies and NIH propose, another approach to getting out information about graduate programs would be for funding agencies to require universities to report on the fate of the students and postdocs supported on their grants. To date, however, the largest agencies have shown no inclination to do so. 

Real progress on this issue therefore lies in the future. Still, it's encouraging that a serious conversation has at least begun.

Science is supposed to be a merit-based, bias-free profession, but research suggests that female scientists are hired less frequently and earn less pay than their male colleagues. Earlier this month, researchers conducted a mock hiring situation and found that science faculty members chose potential male applicants over female applicants and awarded males higher salaries even when the resumes were identical.

Why does such inequality persist? And is there anything that can be done about it?

Join us for a live chat with one of the paper's authors, Jo Handelsman, as well as Princeton president and molecular biologist Shirley Tilghman, today at 3 p.m. EDT.

There was, apparently, a brief moment in history when almost everyone who entered a Ph.D. program ended up in a faculty position shortly after graduation. That moment is long past: Today it takes years of postdoctoral experience before most Ph.D.s can compete for a faculty job, and those jobs are now so scarce that the majority of recently graduated scientists end up in careers off the faculty track.

This realization has spurred several national, institutional, and grassroots efforts to help young scientists develop careers, both inside and outside academia. One approach to the problem is online tools to help scientists assess their skills and career goals and develop an individual professional development plan. For example, in 2009 the U.S. National Postdoctoral Association released the NPA Postdoctoral Core Competencies Toolkit "as: (1) a basis for self-evaluation by postdoctoral scholars and (2) a basis for developing training opportunities that can be evaluated by mentors, institutions, and other advisors," says the NPA Web site.

Then in 2011 the U.K. organization Vitae launched The Vitae Researcher Development Framework (RDF), which "articulates the knowledge, behaviors and attributes of successful researchers and encourages all researchers to realize their potential," Vitae says. The organization, which receives support from Research Councils UK (RCUK), works towards promoting the personal, professional, and career development of research students and staff members at research institutions. Last week, at the Vitae Researcher Development International Conference 2012 in Manchester, Vitae entered a new era by releasing a Web application called the RDF Professional Development Planner, which, Vitae announced in a press release, is aimed at helping researchers use the RDF as a basis "to identify their expertise and capabilities, plan their professional development, set personal targets, and demonstrate evidence of success." The online planner, which replaces Vitae's free but less user-friendly Excel RDF Planner Prototype, will also signpost training and development resources offered to researchers in U.K. institutions. The RDF planner will be available by institutional subscription; Vitae plans to offer individual subscriptions later this year. Meanwhile, Vitae is inviting everyone interested to take part in their pilot phase

September 10, 2012

New ERC Starting Grants

The European Research Council (ERC) today announced the results of the fifth funding round of its Starting Grants. According to an ERC press release, this year 536 early-career
researchers have been selected to share almost €800 million to establish their independent labs in Europe.

Starting in 2007, the ERC has been offering grants of up to €2 million each for up to 5
years to researchers with between 2 and 12 years of postdoctoral experience. Researchers may be of any nationality, but they must be based or willing to move to Europe.

This year, the ERC received a total of 4741 applications, representing a 16% uptick compared to last year (the numbers of applications tend to vary substantially from year to year, with 42% more in 2011 than in 2010, and 14% more in 2010 than in 2009, for example). But with the ERC's budget for the Starting Grants also rising by more than 19% this year, even with the rise in applicants, the success rate only dropped from 12% in 2011 to 11.3% in 2012.

Progress has been made in recent decades on ensuring that foreign graduate students at American universities have sufficient facility in the language--English, in the case of the United States--that they're likely to be teaching in. The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), or the comparable IELTS exam, has long been required for most international students. But with the old paper-based test, which is still in use, a person could ace the test and still be unintelligible in the classroom.

The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) has issued a new report on the responsible conduct of research (RCR) and how to teach it in graduate programs. Research and Scholarly Integrity in Graduate Education: A Comprehensive Approach, summarizes CGS's Project for Scholarly Integrity (PSI), which was funded by the United States Office of Research Integrity.

From the Could-Be-A-Barometer-of-How-Things-Are-Changing-But-Maybe-Not department: This past Tuesday, the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) presented a product fair and technology seminar for its postdocs. The event was written up in a short article in the Daily Pennsylvanian, a Penn campus newspaper. According to the article, the equipment on display ranged from pipette tips to PCR gear.

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 19, 2012

How You Write Matters

Recently our department received an unusual application for an ophthalmology residency. The applicant seemed impressive, a top student at a prestigious medical school with several publications and strong letters of recommendation. What made the application unusual was that the word "ophthalmology" was consistently misspelled throughout the application. I never had the opportunity to inquire how or why this happened, because the student wasn't invited for an interview.

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.

Two more interesting developments that were announced at the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) in Dublin are the publication of a peer review guide for young researchers and the launch of a global umbrella organization for research staff associations.  

Produced by Sense About Science's Voice of Young Science (VoYS) network, Peer review: The nuts and bolts explains the peer review process, offers tips to new reviewers, and discusses the advantages and limitations of peer review. On the same day of the ESOF session, VoYS released an open letter to Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council of England, advocating recognition of peer review activities within the Research Excellence Framework (REF). The REF is a new system in the United Kingdom that is intended to replace the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) in the evaluation of U.K. higher education institutions.

"Recognising reviewing as part of the REF would ensure that it is prioritised and safeguarded by university departments in the longer term so that these activities will continue to be a significant part of the contribution we make to scholarly publishing throughout our lives. More immediately it will ensure that reviewing is approached professionally and seriously, enabling senior researchers to spend time mentoring early career researchers like ourselves in these activities," the young researchers argued in the open letter.

The second development at ESOF was the announcement on Sunday of the launch of the International Consortium of Research Staff Associations (ICoRSA). ICoRSA "serves to nurture communities of researchers and provides a global voice for research staff and postdoctoral scholars." So far, the consortium has 16 members, 9 of them young researchers associations from around the world. 

As announced last Friday during the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) in Dublin, and reported by our colleagues on Science Now, the U.S. National Science Foundation and the European Commission are putting in place a new initiative to help young scientists across the two sides of the Atlantic enter closer research collaborations.

The idea is to give NSF-funded early career scientists the opportunity to come to Europe to
work in the lab of their European Research Council-funded counterparts. The ERC will invite its young PIs to host NSF-funded researchers and engineers, and on the U.S. side NSF will seek proposals for collaboration from junior faculty supported with a NSF CAREER award and NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellows. 

Further details are to be announced, but the winners of the U.S. call are to be incorporated in the ERC-funded teams for 6 to 12 months, where they will receive ERC support like other members of the team. NSF will cover travel costs for U.S. scientists (and their families), and CAREER grantees will be able to keep their NSF grants running during their visit to Europe. As reported by Science Now, about 100 awards will be offered. 

"Connecting U.S. and European researchers with shared interests and complementary strengths will advance the frontiers of science and engineering and address societal challenges," NSF Director Subra Suresh stated. This is an opportunity for U.S. early career scientists and engineers to gain international experience and exposure for their research, he added.

On 16 April th ;European non-profit researchers' association Euroscience launched a survey exploring the working conditions and career development of young researchers. The aim: to fill in gaps in comparable data across European countries to better identify the career needs of young researchers and help improve their situations. So far, about 1900 Masters' students, Ph.D. candidates, postdocs, and industry employees have taken part.

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:

Maybe I've just not been to the right conferences before, but it has always seemed to me that references to personal life don't fit well in the context of scientific conferences.

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.

Last time I talked to Romanian chemist Daniel Funeriu, he was a group leader in chemical biology at the Technical University of Munich in Germany and vice-president of the Romanian presidential commission for science and education. This was 2009 when I was researching an article as part of a Science Careers feature examining how science had fared in Eastern Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall some 20 years ago. 

Romania's government had recently launched an initiative offering scientists with a foreign affiliation up to €1.5 million to spend half of their time at a Romanian host institution for 3 years. Back then, Funeriu called the initiative "a step forward" even though he noted that the application forms were "extremely unfriendly. ... Many people are put off by the bureaucratic requests." 

Funeriu got a chance to change the system from the inside when he became Minister of Education, Research, Youth, and Sports in Romania in December 2009. Today, he is Adviser to the President of Romania on education and science issues, a position he took in February 2012 following a change of government. 

During a session at ESOF 2012 in Dublin, Funeriu talked about his own career path and shared the lessons he learned from his unusual experience both as a researcher and politician.

Too many graduate students and postdocs chasing too few academic jobs has led to a dysfunctional biomedical research system. That's the conclusion of a draft report on the biomedical workforce released this month by an advisory panel to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The panel urged taking steps to shorten young scientists' career paths, including capping how long graduate students can receive NIH support and better preparing them for non-academic careers. The report also encourages university labs to rely more on staff scientists rather than trainees.

The European Commission is running a consultation on how to improve immigration rules on the entry and residence of non-EU-national researchers, students, unremunerated trainees, and volunteers in Europe. You may offer your views whatever your citizenship and current situation.

"Questions regarding visa, EU mobility rules, or labour market access are areas in which the EU could possibly initiate further improvements for students, researchers and potentially other groups," the consultation Web site says. "Respondents are invited to point to areas in which in their view there is a particular EU added value that could be created or improved."

The current legal rules regarding the entry of students and researchers from outside the EU for more 3 months, and their mobility between the Member States, were defined in 2004 and 2005, respectively. The Commission now wants to revise these rules, starting with the release in 2011 of two reports--one for students and the other for researchers--evaluating the implementation of the rules and how well they fulfill their potential.
"We would like to know about any obstacles faced by non-EU nationals concerned when trying to access the EU. You are kindly invited to propose ideas about how to remove these obstacles and further develop the EU as a place to study, carry out research, volunteer, and participate in school pupil exchanges or unpaid training," the consultation Web site says.

The consultation is up until 23 August.

The National Research Foundation (NRF) in Singapore is inviting scientists under 40 years of age to apply for a generous fellowship to carry out independent research in the country.

The Singapore NRF Fellowships offer tenure-track faculty positions that come with a salary package equivalent to that of a local assistant professor and a research grant of up to $2.4 million over 5 years. These are individual fellowships, so researchers get to choose the host institution; NRF Fellows will be able to lead their own teams at the institution of their choice, as long as it's in Singapore. Shortlisted candidates will be invited in January to visit local research organizations for a week, before the final interview, so they may discuss support for their research and choose potential host institutions.

Now in its sixth round, the Fellowship scheme welcomes research proposals in computer science, all branches of engineering, medicine, life sciences, and natural/physical sciences. To apply you must have a Ph.D. and postdoctoral experience. Scientists of all nationalities are eligible.

More information about the scheme and how to apply can be found on the NRF Web site.

Deadline for application: 15 August 2012. The announcement of short-listed candidates will be no later than 30 November 2012.

Tracy Ainsworth, who wrote this week's In Person essay on combining a science career with family in Australia, sent me an e-mail describing her experiences, which I reproduce here with her permission:
Last year I was part of a group of female scientists that spoke with several girls high schools about science as a career. One of the discussion points the students raised was the career not supporting women having families. I came away asking myself, how have we done this? How is it high school students are questioning if the career is possible. Also over the past few years I have seen many graduates leave science at the end of a PhD, not because they don't enjoy the science but because they don't like the career. It is a very sad thing, both for the people who are not following their interest into science and for the career to miss out on what they could have contributed.

In the last decade in Australia institutions and the Research Councils have begun to turn things around with a few significant policy shifts. For example, the ROPE system (Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence) allows researches applying for grants to discuss their research outputs as relative to the opportunities they have had to undertake research.  The tide here has also changed on the idea that if you intend to have kids you are not serious about your career. I feel that my work takes me more seriously because I remain actively engaged in contributing. I know that, if I do well, I am part of my group doing well, and I feel they support me 100%. I don't think I could ask for more. But departments/institutions gain from supporting women in these years - why train someone else to leave when you can have productive people who are good at what they do staying productive.

In between having my 2 children I decided I wanted to stay in a research-only role in the near future. Not because I think tenure and family are prohibitive, but I decided I didn't want that career just yet (I am a much better researcher than I am an educator). Waiting to start having a family was risky and what I learned from my experiences was that I couldn't force my life to fit career expectations established by another generation at a time when the career was different. I want my career to fit my expectations and my life. Anything can happen to anyone at anytime, not just kids. I would say to anyone who thinks having a family is bad for their science, to look at their CV and ignore the past year, 2 years or even seven years, and ask themselves if not having that section of their CV means they would no longer be a good scientist or that the science they did before is no longer good. It doesn't!  I feel it is possible to find another way to achieve a long career in science and academia, and policies here in Australia, do make a difference. Both attitudes and opportunities are changing.

Science Careers is a great resource and place to find inspiration, and does make a difference for many people in the early stages of their career. I wrote the essay late at night (on my iPhone), while up with my 4month old because I was reading the Science Careers app while he as feeding. I was inspired to speak up about my recent post-doctoral experiences and how they have changed how I approach my career in science.

A small but poignant dramatic moment occurs whenever the researcher--young or old--opens the e-mail containing a decision letter about his or her latest research article and knows the fate of it has been largely decided by the advice of anonymous reviewers. Inevitably, we bless or curse those reviewers--but I suggest that you join them and do it early in your career.  

Like many upstanding universities, the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia has long aspired to take good care of its postdocs. That includes paying them decently. But, also like other universities, it had a ways to go to achieve that objective.

Penn's stated goal has been to close the gap between the stipends that National Institutes of Health (NIH) NRSA postdoctoral fellows receive and what employee postdocs--most of whom are paid from research grants--receive.

According to a post by Steven J. Fluharty, Penn's Senior Vice Provost for Research, the university's minimum postdoctoral stipend from 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2013 will be exactly the same as current NRSA stipend levels.

It must be mentioned that these stipends remain absurdly low relative to postdocs' skills and training. That's evidence of postdocs' commitment to science, and of a glut of expert labor that threatens to turn science into a low-wage profession: a dangerous and scary possibility. But it still represents significant progress.

Yet, it's troubling to note that despite their sacrifices--which most make in anticipation of an academic career--only a minority of these postdocs will ever attain a tenure-track faculty post at a college or university.

So new is the field of Environmental Science (ES) that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the first generation of scientists in the field are beginning to reach retirement age -- one reason that some people anticipate growth in the number of available jobs in the field.

ES came into being as a real branch of science in the 1960s and 1970s, answering a need to understand complex environmental problems and deal with a flood of new environmental laws that required specific environmental investigation protocols. The ultimate cause was public awareness and concern about the environment raised by the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson's exposé Silent Spring, and later reinforced by the energy crisis, global warming, Hurricane Katrina, and the Gulf oil spill, among other changes and events. (1)

This week, Science's Letters section features the results of their most recent NextGen VOICES poll, in which early-career scientists are asked to respond to career-related questions. In January, the poll asked, "What is your definition of a successful scientist? How has this definition changed between your mentor's generation and your own?" 150 scientists responded, and 21 of their answers are printed in this week's Science. Those 21 and 50 more responses are posted online.

This week's issue also presents a new assignment: Describe a specific experience and how it changed your science, training, or career goals.

To submit an answer, go to The deadline for submissions is 18 May. A selection of the responses will be published in the 6 July issue of Science. Submissions should be 250 words or less. Anonymous submissions will not be considered. Readers are asked to please submit only once.

On Wednesday, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an excellent advice piece by Michael J. Spires, a proposal development specialist from the Smithsonian Institution, about interacting with program officers for funding agencies. I believe every aspiring (and early-career) academic scientist -- anyone who isn't experienced and successful in getting funding -- should read it.

It's common for mentors and self-appointed experts to advise young scientists who are just beginning to seek grants to call up their program officer for a chat. It's always good if the person with the money is your buddy, after all. But that's a scary prospect for many inexperienced grant seekers -- and with good reason. There's a lot at stake, especially for investigators who don't yet have reputations or established funding records. Furthermore, many young scientists have found that when they tried to follow that advice, it didn't work. They left a message, but the program officer never called them back. Why not?

That program officer could be doing them a favor. Like a lot of relationships, it's important to get this one off to a good start. What's great about this essay is that it tells you how to do that.

Spires' advice seems aimed at helping you avoid making two mistakes: 1. Don't act like an undergraduate trying to win brownie points; and 2. Don't waste the program officer's time. You can avoid both of these mistakes by only calling when you have a really good reason.

So, for example, don't call to ask a question you can easily find the answer to online. Don't call just to chat. Do call to get insight into a specific funding program and whether it might fit the research you're hoping to do. (But keep the conversation short and focused.) Use e-mail whenever it makes sense: With e-mail there's a record, and it allows the program officer to answer at his or her convenience. Even in an e-mail, keep it concise. And while you might be accustomed to rapid communication in this area of chat and IM, don't be a pest. Give him or her a reasonable amount of time to get back to you. (That implies, by the way, that you shouldn't wait until the last minute to make contact.)

Always take care with your communication: Prepare for the conversation. Edit the e-mail. Search for the answer online before you send it off.

You need not always be strict and formal. There are times when it's OK to chit-chat with a program officer, such as when you meet them at a scientific meeting, for example, especially during coffee breaks. But when they're in their office, respect their time.

There is one other mistake you must avoid making, Spires indicates: When a funding decision doesn't go your way, don't be a jerk. Never respond when you're angry, and when you do respond, focus not on the negative decision but on how you might do better the next time.

A program officer is an important resource, one you really shouldn't try to do without. You need to have a good relationship with program officers working in your area. So call or write when there's a good reason to. Just exercise restraint and treat them with respect.

How did you get into science?

Are you doing what you first planned to do?

Which scientific question would you like to answer?

You can answer these questions and more (see below), as well as read other scientists' answers, as part of the 'A Scientist a Day' project, a labor of love from two German scientist-communicators. 

The Boston Globe is reporting that unionized postdocs at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass Amherst) have overwhelmingly approved a new contract with the university after 2 years of bargaining.

According to the Globe, the contract provides for a minimum postdoc salary of $38,500, 2% raises to current salaries, and guaranteed health insurance and other benefits for family members. Inside Higher Ed reports that the agreement also includes partial compensation for childcare expenses and holiday and sick leave equivalent to that of regular employees. Other sources also cite dental benefits and improved healthcare coverage for postdocs. UMass Amherst postdocs are represented by Postdoctoral Researchers Organize/UAW (PRO/UAW). According to a union press release, 95% of postdocs voted in favor of the contract. Also according to the union, before the contract nearly half of UMass Amherst postdocs did not have university-provided health insurance.

Reports also say the contract provides protections for foreign postdocs, such as guaranteeing that they won't lose pay due to visa processing delays.

In its fifth edition, the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) will be held this year in Dublin, Ireland on 11-15 July. ESOF is a biennial event showcasing European science and innovation.  The forum gathers researchers in all scientific fields, industry people, and government representatives. You can check out the programs for scientific and career development sessions on the ESOF 2012 Dublin Web site.

Travel grants from various organizations are being made available for early-career scientists wishing to come to ESOF2012. To apply for some of these grants, you need to register with ESOF. Currently, Euroscience, the Swiss Embassy in Ireland, and the Swedish Research Council are for example offering the joint Early-Stage Researcher travel grants. (The deadline is 10 May 2012.)

Other organizations are offering travel grants. You can keep track of these through news announcements on the ESOF Web site or through their Twitter feed (@ESOFHub). Research Foundation Flanders (FWO), for example, is  invites early-career researchers in Belgium to apply, and the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation (DASTI) will soon open a call for early-career researchers based in Denmark.

The Spanish Federation of Young Investigators (FJI/Precarios) is looking for volunteers to produce a video contrasting the situation of Spanish scientists abroad and at home. As reported recently on Science Careers, early-career scientists in Spain are concerned that the current economic context and forthcoming funding cuts are likely to derail their careers at home.

Spanish scientists abroad are invited to record their own answers to a series of questions including:
- "How do you think the research, development, and innovation in Spain compares to the country where you work? What do you think is failing here [In Spain]?"
- "Do you believe that you are more valued as an investigator in another country than in your own?"
- "Do you see what is currently occurring as a brain drain, or it is less serious than this?"
- "What real possibilities do you believe you would have to continue developing your research career in Spain?"

Information on how to contribute a video can be found on the FJI/Precarios Web site.

Together with the Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies, the researchers' association Investigación Digna, and the trade union CCOO, FJI/Precarios also recently released a petition against the funding cuts and hiring freeze announced for 2012.

That was the provocative title of a session at the 2012 AAAS meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on Saturday morning. The session was less controversial than the title suggests, but it did raise a provocative question, at least for me.

In the first (and most interesting) presentation, Catherine Beaudry, of École Polytechnique de Montreal, asked, how do the productivity and impact of scientists vary with age?

In the case of productivity, the trends are very clear, she said, and easy to explain. 
In the data set Beaudry studied -- which was based on Canadian researchers -- scientific productivity peaked around age 44, or 17 years after a researcher's first publication. Why so late? One important reason is that more experienced scientists have more resources to work with. Another reason might be that better established networks lead to more co-authorships and more respect from reviewers.

However, research funding peaks at age 53, suggesting that for about 9 years, productivity declines even as funding increases.

What about impact? One curious slide -- which Beaudry showed but discounted, saying it was not robust -- showed that the very first publication was the most cited and that citations declined steadily thereafter. This result is clouded by the fact that first publications by most scientists are of graduate or even undergraduate work, and don't include scientists' original ideas. (Citations, by the way, were measured over the 5 years following publication.)

A second metric also suggested that scientific impact -- as measured by citations -- declines with age, and this result seems more robust, Beaudry said. She insisted that this was a very narrow measure of scientific impact and that later-career scientists impact science and society in a wide variety of ways. 

So, what was provocative? It was the suggestion -- or maybe I just read it in, since no one actually said it -- that there could be not just opposite trends but an actual direct conflict between publications and impact. After all, if your work is really revolutionary, getting it published is likely to be harder, and the longer you're around -- the more grant money and publications you accrue -- the greater the risk of indoctrination into the status quo. The longer you're around, the more successful you become, the safer your research becomes, in many cases.

Naturally, there are likely to be exceptions. Some scientists are naturally adventurous and eschew safe science. Others cultivate daring. But we're studying averages here.

Could success be antithetical to transformational research?

One of the approaches tried over the years to help women access the higher rungs of the political, business, and academic career ladders have been "affirmative action programs," where women are given an advantage when competing for promotion. Such measures have been controversial, however, with critics alleging that they hamper the chances of filling higher-up positions with the best available candidates. 

Research performed by Loukas Balafoutas and Matthias Sutter, economists of the University of Innsbruck in Austria, and published today in Science (subscription required) challenges the foundation of such criticism.

In case you missed it: Near the end of a Science Careers blog post from Michael Price yesterday, on a report documenting the results of an National Institutes of Health (NIH) survey, was this:
The working group recommends in the report that NIH "[r]educe the number of students and post-doctoral fellows supported," increase awareness of alternative careers for people trained in science, and work on ways to increase funding and promote a wider distribution of funds.
Here are NIH's "Action Recommendations," from that report:
  • Reduce the number of students and post-doctoral fellows supported, and improve awareness and understanding of the branching career path available to new scientists (supply-side).
  • Increase total funding and revise current funding structures to promote wider distribution of funds (demand-side).
It will be fascinating to see whether the NIH administration embraces these recommendations.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) last week released a report from its Working Group on the Future Biomedical Research Workforce exploring the career and workplace concerns of biomedical researchers working in the United States. NIH queried hundreds of scientists working both inside and outside NIH and received 219 responses.

In the surveys, NIH asked respondents to rate the eight issues listed below according to their significance to the respondents' careers:
  • Supply and Demand
  • PhD Characteristics
  • Postdoc Fellow Training Characteristics
  • Biomedical Research Career Appeal
  • Clinician Characteristics
  • Staff Scientist Career Track
  • Effects of NIH Policies
  • Training-to-Research-Grant Ratio
Respondents also commented on those issues and provided additional concerns. In these comments, four additional issues recurred frequently enough that NIH added them to its analysis:
  • Diversity
  • Mentoring
  • Early Educational Interventions
  • Industry Partnership
The working group further parsed the respondents' comments into 498 "quotations" and sorted those into the 12 broader categories listed above. The image below, taken from the report, shows the distribution of those concerns among the respondents' comments:
Around 60 European universities, research institutions, funding agencies, and umbrella organizations gathered today in Barcelona (and will continue to meet tomorrow) to discuss how they can improve the working conditions they offer to researchers. 

"He was super smart, but so what? ... Pure intellectual heft is like someone who can bench-press a thousand pounds. But so what, if you don't know what to do with it?"

That's how math professor Paul Zeitz describes his high school friend and director of MIT's Broad Institute, Eric Lander, in an article in Tuesday's New York Times. Lander, whose Ph.D. is in pure mathematics, now heads up a molecular biology and medical genomics lab. Although he excelled in his math studies, he craved the more tangible fruits of biological research and threw himself into that work. In addition to his MIT post, he serves as co-chairman to President Obama's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.

Lander's case illustrates well the role passion, creativity, and persistence play in the careers scientists carve out -- or fail to carve out. It's also a good reminder that your Ph.D. isn't your destiny.
"The aging process is not fun, but when it begins decades ahead of schedule, it's tragic" (See Editor's Choice: Splicing Therapy Comes of Age, Science 11 Nov 2011, Vol. 334, p. 739). Substitute the word "retirement" for "aging" and you have the problem facing many career scientists today. While scientific journals and the science establishment bemoan the macroeconomics of "U.S. Science and Austerity" (See News Focus: U.S. Science and Austerity, Science 11 Nov 2011, Vol. 334, pp. 750-759), those working in university laboratories, research institutes, and hospitals see the tragic results among themselves and their colleagues as grant funding dries up. This "professional progeria" unexpectedly and increasingly strikes talented researchers with track records of success and accomplishment. As John Lennon noted: "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." Still, for individuals entering science careers, it's wise to make those plans now to prepare for when the grants stop coming. If that never happens, so much the better.

Early-career scientists need to have a broad view of where their research field is heading so that they can choose a niche where they can make important and innovative contributions, and eventually establish themselves as independent researchers.

In the field of aging research, this challenge has been made a little easier by the release of the FUTURAGE Road Map, which is to constitute the European research agenda for aging over the next decade. Funded by the European Union, the FUTURAGE two-year consultation gathers the opinions of the field's research leaders, medical professionals, policy makers, industry, and older people across Europe to identify seven priority research themes illustrated by specific research questions.

The seven priority themes are:
  • healthy aging for more life in years;
  • maintaining and regaining mental capacity;
  • inclusion and participation in the community and in the labour market;
  • guaranteeing the quality and sustainability of social protection systems;
  • aging well at home and in community environments;
  • unequal aging and age-related inequalities;
  • biogerontology: from mechanisms to interventions.
You can find the full Road Map here

Earlier this year Science Careers ran a monthly series with a Focus on Aging for advice on how to develop a career in one of the many fields pertaining to aging research.

Published in the 4 November 2011 issue of our sister publication Science is an essay written by Tiago Branco, the 2011 Grand Prize winner of the Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology.

Launched in 2002, the annual and international competition invites young neurobiologists to write a 1,000-word essay based on research they have done in the last three years. The winner gets his or her essay published in Science together with a $25,000 cash prize. The 2011 award will be presented during the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience on 12 November in Washington, D.C.

Branco, a postdoctoral fellow at the University College London Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research in the United Kingdom, received a medical degree from Lisbon University in Portugal followed by a Ph.D. in neuroscience from University College London. His essay -- "The Language of Dendrites" -- won Branco recognition "for his outstanding contributions to research into how single neurons in the brain can compute and convert information into behavior," the prize announcement says. 

The other finalists for the prize were Aaron Gitler, Assistant professor in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and Roger Clem, who recently accepted an appointment to assistant professor of neuroscience at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

For more information about the prize and how to apply for next year's round, see the Science Web site.

Sister site ScienceInsider (SI) is reporting a new scheme in Sweden that aims to provide generous funding to postdocs from around the world to help them move into faculty positions at Swedish universities. The SI post, written by Science Careers contributing editor Elisabeth Pain, says that Sweden plans to offer 25 awards each year for the next 5 years, worth about 7.5 million SEK each -- that's about €820,000 or $1.14 million -- to be paid out over 5 years. That adds up to a total cost of about 937.5 million SEK, or $142 million. It's a private program, funded by the non-profit Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.

To put those figures in perspective, consider that the gross domestic product of the United States is about 35 times that of Sweden. A proportionate commitment to early-career researchers in the United States would fund 4200 awards altogether -- 840 per year for 5 years -- at more than a million dollars each, dwarfing the closest U.S. equivalent program, NIH's Pathway to Independence. The "Pathway" program makes between 150 and 200 awards available each year to postdocs in the biomedical sciences.

October 3, 2011

How Big a Help is an Ig?

Winning an important scientific prize doesn't just acknowledge outstanding work.  Often, it also gives a matchless boost to the recipient's career and reputation. This week, for example, the world's attention is riveted on the announcement of the Nobel Prizes, the incomparable honors that propel scientists to the top rung of prestige and recognition.

Last week, on the other hand, media around the world (including our sister blog, Science Insider) covered the awarding of a rather less coveted -- but much more comical -- set of prizes, the IgNobels, which annually honor -- if that's the word -- science "that makes people laugh, and then makes them think."  

Well, they got us thinking, too.  Specifically, since we're Science Careers, we wondered what winning a spoof award does to the career prospects of recipients, a number of whom, we noticed, are quite early in their careers.  Do tenure and promotion committees look with favor on a publication that garnered the authors and their institution world-wide attention for being, well, downright laughable?  Or do they recoil in horror from a piece of work that might be taken, at first at least, as, er, exceptionally frivolous?  Or do they just take the dignified approach of ignoring the whole thing?  To find out, we asked Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, which sponsors the annual IgNobels.

As highlighted by our sister site Science Insider, the European Council of Doctoral Candidates and Junior Researchers (Eurodoc) today released a report outlining the working conditions of doctoral researchers in 12 European countries (Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden).

Among the most striking findings is the discrepancy in funding available to Ph.D. candidates across the various countries. Science Insider writes: 

In the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries, 90% or more of doctoral students receive some form of scholarship or salary for their work. But in several other countries, 20% to 30% don't receive anything, and in Austria that percentage can rise to 46%. "We did not expect the lack of funding to be so extensive," says Karoline Holländer, a former president of Eurodoc and a co-author of the report. "Many doctoral candidates have to find other sources of income to live on."

Another surprising finding concerned doctoral candidates' perceptions of gender bias in academia. According to Science Insider:

Surprisingly, more men than women said they were at a disadvantage in academia because of their gender. In Finland, for instance, 78% of men felt that their sex was "very much" a disadvantage, whereas only 37% of women did. "We have no explanation for this," says Holländer, who adds that the next round of the survey, to be conducted in 3 to 5 years, may ask further questions on the topic.

You can read the whole Science Insider article here.

Some of the report's other interesting findings include:

  • Most early-career researchers in Norway (91%), Croatia and the Netherlands (89%), Sweden (76%), and Slovenia (73%) are given a short-term employment contract while they work toward their Ph.D.s. Other countries had relatively high percentages of doctoral researchers with no employment contracts of any kind: Austria (25%), Spain (24%), Portugal (18.5%), Finland and Germany (17%), and France and Slovenia (12%).
  • Fewer than one in 10 Ph.D. candidates were aware of the European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the recruitment of researchers, which outlines the roles, responsibilities, and rights of researchers and their employers. The exceptions are Spain (23% knew of them), France (14%) and Portugal (12%). 
  • Most respondents in all the countries surveyed reported having access to training courses during their doctorate programs, but a significant proportion of respondents in Portugal (38%), Germany (37%), Slovenia (32%), Croatia (23%), and Austria (21%) reported not receiving any kind of formal training.
  • In all of the countries surveyed, the majority of doctoral researchers found their supervisor supportive or very supportive. 
  • Whether doctoral candidates can put a contract on hold and get paid while on paternity/maternity leave differs widely across countries.
  • Nonetheless, many doctoral researchers feel pressured to postpone taking parental leave; Spain (18.3%), Germany (30%), and France (34.2%) showed the fewest respondents who felt such pressure.
Eurodoc presented the report at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France this afternoon. You can read the full report on the Eurodoc Web site. You can also catch up on the event on Twitter @Eurodoc: #strasbourg11.

September 13, 2011

New ERC Starting Grants Awarded

On Friday, the European Research Council (ERC) announced the winners of its Starting Grants, which offer early-career investigators up to 2 million euros over 5 years to help them establish or build up their research groups at European institutions.

Now in its fourth year, the program awarded more than 670 million euros to 480 early-career researchers. This year's competition was considerably more competitive than last year's; the ERC received 42% more applications than last year (from 2873 to 4080), but funding was up just 15% -- a nice rise, but insufficient to keep up with the increase in the number of applications. The result: a 12% success rate.

It can be hard for researchers in the economic and social sciences and humanities to know what funding opportunities are available for them within the 7th European Research Framework Programme (FP7), especially beyond the Theme 8, "Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities." The netT4society project (funded by the EU) has just released a report listing current calls in other research areas that are relevant to the socio-economic sciences and humanities; examples include health, nanosciences, and environment. The report, entitled "Opportunities for Researchers in the Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities," can be found on the net4society Web site. The report will be updated each year as new funding opportunities arise in FP7 and other European Research Area initiatives.

Vitae, a U.K. organization promoting the personal and professional development of researchers, has released a podcast with highlights from the first day of the Vitae Researcher Development International Conference 2011 currently unfolding in Manchester. The event gathers research organizations, funding bodies, career development staff, and researchers to discuss policy and practice in researcher development.  

Among the news highlighted in the podcast: the Researcher Development Framework (RDF) which Vitae developed in the U.K. to help individual researchers and research institutions with their professional development is now undergoing trials across Europe as part of a project funded by the European Science Foundation. (See our previous blog entry for some quick background on the RDF).   

The President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness announced yesterday at a panel discussion in Portland, Oregon, that it had secured a commitment from 45 companies to double the number of engineering internship opportunities they offer by 2012. The move is part of the council's effort to train and graduate an additional 10,000 engineers from U.S. colleges and universities every year. Yesterday's announced commitments will add close to 6,300 new internships.

Paul Otellini, president and CEO of Intel and a member of the council, said that there simply aren't enough qualified engineers in the American workforce to meet the needs of the market. One reason so many companies are looking to relocate their R&D departments to China or India is that those nations are graduating about 10 times more engineers, making it all the more important that the United States bolster its own engineer-training programs, he said.

August 31, 2011

Dance Your Ph.D.

It's official: The 2011 'Dance your Ph.D.' contest is now on.

Launched by the "Gonzo Scientist" (Science columnist John Bohannon) and sponsored by Science, the annual contest challenges scientists to explain their doctoral work to a lay audience through the medium of dance. Scientists from any discipline with a Ph.D. or working toward one are invited to apply. There are four categories -- physics, chemistry, biology, and social sciences -- each with a cash prize of $500. Whoever wins the 'Best Ph.D. Dance of 2011' gets an extra $500 and a paid trip to Brussels to attend the TEDxBrussels event in Belgium this November.

You have until 10 October to submit your dance video. More information on how to enter the contest on the Gonzo Labs Web site.

Come on, it's fun!

Last week, Science published a study that found that black biomedical scientists are 10 percentage points less likely than their white peers to receive an R01 research grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). (See Science Careers's discussion of what that means for the career prospects of black scientists.) And earlier this month, a government study found that men out-earn women in the sciences by about 12% and outnumber women in the science, technology, math, and engineering fields by about 24%.

NIH, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other U.S. agencies have funneled large sums of money into programs designed to reduced such disparities, but clearly minority scientists still face significant challenges to their professional success. What will it take to achieve real equality in the sciences?

Science Live will host a live chat on Thursday, August 25, 3:00 - 4:00 p.m. EDT to explore that question with two former NIH researchers: Laure Haak, chief science officer at the scientific consulting firm Discovery Logic, and Chad Womack, founder, president and chair of TBED21, a technology and education development company.

Join in and let your voice be heard!

Last week, the National Academies announced the creation of a new committee that will explore the state of the modern postdoctoral experience for scientists and engineers. By identifying the current number of postdocs, number of tenure-track positions available, tenure success rates, and the working conditions, salary, and benefits for postdocs, they hope to inform future policies that could better the situations of postdoctoral researchers in the United States.

"There's an awareness that we have a lot of capable people in their twenties and thirties that are in these holding patterns in their careers," says Kevin Finneran, director of the National Academy of Science's (NAS) Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy and responsible staff officer for the new committee, in an interview with Science Careers.

Tseen Khoo, a research grant developer at a Melbourne university with 5 years' experience editing an academic journal, gives some tips on how to deal with journal editors on The Research Whisperer blog. 

Khoo's blog post "is a plea for a basic level of etiquette when submitting your work for consideration," she writes. In 'Build your journal karma' (which she alternatively entitled 'How not to piss off editors'), Khoo reminds academics of basic yet too-often-forgotten rules on how to be "professional and considerate" with journal editors, like sticking to deadlines, honoring your commitments, following the house rules, and delivering a finished product. 

Hat Tip: Guardian Higher Education Network

An article published today on Inside Higher Ed reports new findings on how scientific careers affect family decisions. "Nearly half of female faculty members in top science departments wish they'd had more children, but didn't because of their careers, while about a quarter of their male counterparts feel the same way," the article says. 

The study, which was performed by sociologists Elaine Howard Ecklund of Rice University in Houston and Anne Lincoln of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, looked at the marital status, number of children, and weekly hours spent at work of more than 3,400 scientists across all careers stages in top university departments. 

Anecdotally, cases of nepotism in Italian academic institutions appear to abound, but just how widespread the phenomenon is has been difficult to pin down. A statistical study published today in PLoS One suggests that nepotistic practices are rampant in Italy, with medicine and industrial engineering among the most inbred disciplines. 

"I often meet other Italian immigrants abroad, and the first 20 minutes of conversation are regularly spent complaining about the state of disarray of academic institutions in Italy," including nepotism, writes the study's author, Stefano Allesina, an Italian researcher who holds an assistant professorship in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago's Computation Institute in Illinois, in an e-mail to Science Careers. So, upon coming across a public database of Italian researchers, Allesina could "not resist the urge of checking if it's really 'a few bad apples' (as the Ministry and other politicians always say) or not," he says.

Between 9 August 2011 and 31 March 2012, the United Kingdom intends to give as many as 1000 visas to "exceptionally talented leaders in the fields of science, humanities, engineering and the arts," in a new visa category: Tier 1 (Exceptional talent). The announcement was made by the UK Border Agency on 20 July.

The Careers blog for postgraduates from the United Kingdom's University of Salford yesterday published an entry highlighting the writing, memory, and organizational difficulties faced by students with dyslexia. The entry was prompted by word circulating in social media about a series of videos produced by Emma Jefferies on how she coped with dyslexia while doing a Ph.D. in design, which she obtained last year.

Jefferies's series of 8 videos is well worth watching, as it offers a rare insider's perspective on the challenges (and even some positives) associated with dyslexia, practical advice on how to cope with the condition, and the attitudes of peers and supervisors who supported Jefferies during her Ph.D. You can watch Jefferies's 'DpH: The Dyslexic PhD' on her Web site.

The Careers blog for postgraduates' entry goes on to provide a list of the services the University of Salford offers students with dyslexia. Nowadays, most universities offer support services to students with such special needs. If you need help, ask your careers services or office of student affairs about the range of services that your university offers.

The Careers blog for postgraduates points to additional sources of information about dyslexia.

You can read the entire entry here

Many job ads from Germany published in scientific journals contain a statement that says language like, "Persons with disabilities will, with appropriate qualifications and aptitudes, be employed preferentially." While equal opportunity statements are common enough, it's rare to find overt statements of preference. We were curious.

Martin Kock, a lawyer specializing in employment law based in Düren, Germany, writes in an e-mail to Science Careers that statements of preferential treatment are not mandatory under German law, even for the public employers with whom these statements most often originate.

Moving from invention to commercializing it is a tough process, one for which scientists are often ill-prepared. In an article published yesterday on, Ph.D.-holder and licensed patent law practitioner Nadya Reingand offers academics practical advice on whether and how to embark on the process. 

In her article, Reingand helps academics decide whether they should attempt to commercialize their invention by explaining how to assess whether their inventions are "novel, profitable, owned by you." Reingand goes on to highlight the traditional lack of training for academics as one of the main challenges of commercialization, pointing readers to sources of help as well as specialized courses and workshops. She also alerts readers to the thorny issue of ownership in the context of student inventions.

"Although it is very satisfying to see an invention become a commercial success (and the monetary rewards are also nice!), this process usually takes a long time and much perseverance. Continuing research is often more fun," Reingand writes. Yet, with external funding becoming an increasingly important criteria in the evaluation of scientists by their universities, "rather than complaining about commercialization, individual scientist-inventors should focus on turning inventions into a rewarding part of their careers," Reingand continues. 

You can read the entire article here.

July 28, 2011

Apps as Academic Tools

An article published today in The Times Higher Education discusses how apps developed for smartphones are becoming increasingly valuable for academics in their jobs. "As well as research, apps are being used by academics to help with teaching and administration, and as a new way to engage with the public," writes Times Higher Education reporter Sarah Cunnane.

Cunnane gives the example of how Ph.D. student George MacKerron developed an app to gather field data for his research into how people's environments affect their happiness: every now and then the app prompts mobile phone users to record their states of mind while simultaneously taking note of their location and the level of surrounding noise. 

But academics do not necessarily need to be involved in developing apps to benefit from them. Cunnane mentions freely available apps like Evernote, which makes it easier and more efficient for academics to manage information. "Evernote allows users to take 'notes' in the form of sounds, pictures, text, websites or even handwritten sentences that can then be sorted into folders, tagged and edited," Cunnane writes.

Read the full article for more apps of interest to academics as well advice on how to develop your own app. 

July 28, 2011

Dissing the Doctorate

In case you missed it (as I did, until just now): Science Careers columnist Adam Ruben published his grad-student rap "Dissing the Doctorate" in the Education Life supplement of the New York Times on Sunday. You can access it online here.

If you're not already a regular reader, you should check out "Experimental Error," Ruben's monthly humor column for Science Careers.

Nathalie Pettorelli and Seirian Sumner -- two behavioral and population ecologists, both research fellows at the Institute of Zoology in London -- argue in the Guardian Higher Education Network that what is needed for greater gender equality in science is not to attract more girls to science, but rather to help more women scientists stay. 

The European Research Council (ERC) today launched its fifth call for the ERC Starting Grants, which are designed to support outstanding early-career scientists as they set up or consolidate their independent research teams in Europe.

Awarded annually, the ERC Starting Grants scheme gives early-career scientists up to €2
million for up to 5 years to enable "them to get early scientific and professional independence," the ERC press release says. To be eligible scientists must have between 2 and 12 years of postdoctoral experience. All nationalities are eligible, but candidates must be hosted by a university or research center in one of the 27 EU Members states, or one of the 13 associated countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Iceland, Israel, Faroe Islands, Liechtenstein, FYR of Macedonia, Norway, Republic of Montenegro, Serbia, Switzerland, or Turkey).

Last Tuesday, the American Council on Education (ACE) released a report on the legal issues surrounding faculty retirement in U.S. higher education institutions. 

While tenured faculty in the United States are free to choose when to retire (since mandatory retirement was abolished in 1994), higher-education institutions may offer retirement incentive programs. Because "Higher education institutions face increasingly complex legal challenges," ACE produced a report -- called 'Supporting the Culminating Stages of Faculty Careers: Legal Issues' and funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation -- assessing faculty's civil rights and employment and tax issues in the context of retirement.   

The notorious scientific fraud of former Columbia University chemist Bengü Sezen harmed a lot more than scientific knowledge, reports William G. Schulz in Chemical & Engineering News on July 7. The graduate work and Ph.D. prospects of three other young would-be scientists working along with Sezen in the lab of their mutual mentor became collateral damage in Sezen's spectacular deceit.

Two "lengthy reports" by the university and the U.S Department of Health and Human Services reveal Sezen's "massive and sustained effort...over the course of more than a decade to dope experiments, manipulate and falsify NMR and elemental analysis research data, and create fictitious people and organizations to vouch for the reproducibility of her results," Schulz reports. The elaborate and skillful deception, for which she was ultimately found guilty of 21 counts of research misconduct, goes all the way back to the work for her Ph.D., which Columbia University is seeking to withdraw. 

Microsoft's presentation software -- PowerPoint -- is almost universally used at scientific (and other) conferences, but not everyone is a fan. Many scientists have criticized PowerPoint's static and often overcrowded bullet points.

As reported by Peter Sayer in an article published yesterday in CIO magazine, Swiss public-speaking trainer Matthias Poehm dislikes PowerPoint so much that he founded a new political party -- Switzerland's Anti-PowerPoint Party (APPP) -- and is gathering signatures to call for a referendum on the ban of PowerPoint around the country.

As an editor (and former scientist), I've had many discussions over the years with my wife, a chemistry professor, about the challenges she faces in teaching writing-intensive introductory science courses. her challenge reflects a recent trend toward teaching writing in the context of particular subjects, including scientific subjects. It's all perfectly normal if the subject is economics, history, or literature -- but not so much in the natural sciences. Teaching science students to write as they learn about science is hard, especially for faculty members who have never thought much about how to teach writing. They can do it, and do it well, but it takes a lot of work.

An article today in Inside Higher Education describes some of the challenges MIT's math department faced when called upon to teach writing in their courses. It's quite an interesting discussion of differences among different types of writing, such as the "artful variation" often used in non-technical writing to break up monotony -- but which can lead to confusion in mathematical (and other scientific) writing because technical readers assume you must have a good reason -- something more concrete than the desire to be artful -- for using a different word.

Also mentioned in the piece is a Web site under development by MIT mathematics faculty members and sponsored by NSF, "that is meant to be a forum for those teaching communication skills to mathematics students. Faculty will be able to crowdsource their ideas, post lessons, exercises and classroom examples, reflect on their experiences, and develop some consensus about what works."

The striking characteristics of the nutritional sciences are its long and colorful history, its broad scope and complexity, its ability to integrate with other scientific disciplines, and the excellent opportunities it offers for a scientific career.

Its long history includes the first written nutritional research study -- reported in the Book of the Prophet Daniel, in the Bible. In Chapter 1, Daniel and his companions, captives of King Nebuchadnezzar, disdain the food and wine they are offered from the royal table and request a diet of vegetables and water. After a 10-day "clinical trial," they look healthier and better fed than the "control" group eating from the royal table. As a reward, the King admits the group into his service.

The broad scope of the nutritional sciences is well documented by the information provided by the more than 160 graduate programs offering advanced degrees in the field. Nutritional sciences encompass all aspects of an organism's interaction with food, and can be investigated at levels ranging from molecules to populations.

The Spanish Federation of Young Investigators (FJI)/Precarios today denounced delays and errors in the allocation of international fellowships for Spanish postdocs. "The terrible management of the postdoctoral grants maintains more than a thousand young investigators in an unsustainable situation," says the press release (translated from Spanish by this blogger). FJI/Precarios is a Spanish umbrella association that was created in 2000 to improve the working conditions of early-career researchers in Spain.

In the announcement, the RI framed the issue like this: "It's the scientists and the engineers who will ultimately develop and build the supply of clean energy we will need, the artificial organisms key to future  biotech, and the robotics crucial to our growing strength in the space sector. But young scientists are fed up with short term contracts, poor salaries and uncertain career progression. Do the 'great and the good' have their interests at heart?"

The Society of Chemical Industry (SCI) reported on the event, highlighting the questions posed by the audience and answers given by David Willetts, the U.K. Minister of State for Universities and Science. You may also listen to the entire debate in a podcast posted on the POD delusion Web site. 

Now the SCI wants to hear your views. You can take part in a forum discussion, or simply vote on whether you agree or not that young researchers have been let down by the establishment.  

As reported today by Europa Press, three of Spain's most prominent biomedical researchers have called for more public-private partnerships to support the education of the next generation of Spanish scientists.

The three Spanish researchers are Pedro Alonso, Director of the Barcelona Centre for International Health Research (CRESIB); Valentín Fuster, Director of the Spanish National Centre for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC) in Madrid and the Zena and Michael A. Wiener Cardiovascular Institute at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York; and Mariano Barbacid, Director of the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre. The declarations were made at the 2nd Conference on Biomedical Diagnostics at the Hospital Infanta Sofía de San Sebastián de los Reyes, near Madrid.

Alonso suggested promoting public-private partnerships to encourage scientific vocations in young people before they reach university, "as is done in football schools," Europa Press reports. One such example already exists in Spain, Alonso said, pointing to the CNIC, which runs the ACERCATE program for high school students to be introduced to the scientific method. Fuster explained that the CNIC was able to put in place such programs thanks to private funding, with Barbacid adding that this was "a model to follow."

You can read the whole report (in Spanish) on Europa Press.

The U.K.'s Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) is inviting nominations for the IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Award 2011. The award aims to recognize the best female engineer under 30 years of age currently working in the United Kingdom. Among the qualities the IET is looking for are being an "energetic and technically excellent professional", "a high achiever", "a problem solver", "a team player"-- and being charismatic. 

The awardee will receive £1000 and a trophy, which will be presented during a national ceremony in London in December. The awardee will be called upon throughout the year to act as an ambassador at high-profile events, which the EIT says will give her a chance to network and boost her career.

Two runner-up awards will also be presented, one to an engineer "who has followed an apprentice route" and the other to an engineer "who has followed a graduate route." The former will be awarded the Mary George Prize, the latter the Women's Engineering Society Prize. Both  will "have opportunities to attend high profile events and meet the influential people in our industry."

You may nominate yourself or others through the EIT Web site. Deadline: 29 July.

Throughout the month of May, Science Careers published a feature series exploring academic careers in healthy aging research. We profiled several researchers studying how to help people age successfully and independently, from the perspective of genetics, sociology and psychology, engineering, and neurology.

If you're an early-career researcher already working in the field or would like to find out more about healthy aging research, you may want to attend the annual conference of the European Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) Joint Programme. The AAL Forum 2011 will take place in Lecce, Italy, between 26 and 28 September 2011.

The conference will feature a 'Young researchers' and PhD workshop - research on innovative solutions for the elderly' (YR-RISE reloaded) on the first day.  Early-career scientists investigating technical solutions for older adults are invited to submit an abstract for a poster or a short oral presentation. The workshop is organized along 5 different tracks: computing and serious games; social inclusion, mobility, and networking; ambient assistance and robotics;  neurotechnologies; and all other research topics. You have until 30 June 2011 to submit your abstract.

Research Councils UK (RCUK) have just released a video showing how the public can benefit from interacting with researchers, and how researchers can benefit from engaging with the public. 

The 7-minute movie includes interviews with researchers and members of the public during a public debate about future energy scenarios held as part of the York Festival of Science and Technology. The movie is nicely done and addresses important points -- it is well worth the watch.

Gregg Treinish, a man whose hiking credentials include a stroll along most of the Andes, took part in the Appalachian Trail Days event last weekend with an unusual sense of purpose. On a previous hike, he "felt selfish and ... realized that was a shared feeling amongst hikers and mountaineers," Treinish says.  That feeling, together with a stint studying wildlife biology at Montana State University, gave him an original idea: to offer adventurers the opportunity to share with scientists something that even those who travel light routinely take with them on their adventures: their eyes and ears. Now, wherever he goes, Treinish recruits fellow adventurers for his new organization, Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ACS).

Plenty of researchers seek to include helpful citizens in their projects, as I wrote last year for Science Careers ("Collaborating with Citizen Scientists"), but ACS, launched in November 2010, may be the first dedicated matchmaker, removing some of the recruiting burden from scientists.

On Friday the British Royal Society launched a study to look at how the scientific community can best manage scientific information to improve research quality and boost public trust.

The study, named 'Science as a public enterprise: opening up scientific information', will look at issues like how to make scientific information more accessible, the risks and benefits of open data, and the responsibility of scientists. 

"It is not just scientists who want to be able to see inside scientific datasets, to see how robust they are and ask difficult questions about their implications. Science has to adapt," geoscientist Geoffrey Boulton of the University of Edinburgh, who is in charge of leading the study, stated in a press release. "The impact of science on people's lives, and the implications of scientific assessments for society and the economy are now so great that people won't just believe scientists when they say 'trust me, I'm an expert.'"

You have until 5 August 2011 to send your input. Details on how to do so can be found in the Royal Society's call for evidence

For many young scientists aspiring to academic careers, learning to be an effective teacher can present a considerable challenge. For many, developing that ability takes years of practice.

Now, a study published in Science (links to free summary; subscription required for full text) finds that postdocs without significant teaching experience can outperform experienced and well-regarded senior professors at teaching physics to undergraduates.

Louis Deslauriers of the University of British Columbia and coauthors compared what two groups of engineering students learned when the groups were taught the same physics material through different instructional methods.

It is common to hear undergraduates and recent college graduates preparing for a career in science complain: "I think I wasted a lot of time in college being forced to take humanities classes that had nothing to do with my area of study." This is one of many manifestations of the ongoing centuries-long battle over the relationship between the sciences and the humanities.

From a historical point of view, until the mid-19th century, the humanities (i.e., grammar, rhetoric, history, literature, languages, and moral philosophy) held the upper hand. At Oxford and Cambridge Universities, the gold standard models for American education, the areas of study consisted mainly of classics, mathematics, or divinity.

However, in 1847 Yale College broke with this tradition and formed the School of Applied Chemistry. This became the Yale Scientific School and in 1861 it was renamed the Sheffield Scientific School. Sheffield's 3-year undergraduate program focused on chemistry, engineering, and independent research. It offered the best scientific training in America. The "Sheffs" studied and lived apart from other undergraduates taking the classic curriculum and roomed together in the "college yard." The two groups did not mingle. The old truism that a classical education assured success was being challenged. Science had begun its separation and was ascending vis-a-vis the liberal arts in American universities.

The need for science majors to take courses in the humanities has been contentious ever since. The required core curriculum at most colleges and universities has atrophied over the years, while at the same time governmental funds for support of any new research in the humanities has dried up. Authorities both within and outside of science have expressed concern that scientists do not learn enough about the humanities -- to the detriment of society.

In this environment, it's difficult for the undergraduate to determine the desirability of taking courses in the humanities -- or which and how many to take. In fact, some applicants to college regard a strong core curriculum requirement as a negative factor, opting instead for programs with a minimum number of required core courses and maximum flexibility.

All this considered, I would offer the following 10 reasons why students pursuing science careers should augment their education with a strong foundation in the humanities.

Getting along with your colleagues may not only be good for your work satisfaction and productivity, it could be good for your health, too.

That's according to a new study, published in the May issue of Health Psychology, that looked at the medical history of more than 800 people working in finance, insurance, public services, health care, and manufacturing companies between 1988 and 2008.

The team of researchers, led by Arie Shirom at Tel Aviv University in Israel, looked at peer social support in terms of the participants' perception of how supportive and friendly their colleagues were to them. The researchers found that a high level of peer social support was associated with a lower risk of mortality. When also looking at the participants' age, they found peer social support to have a protective effect only for people aged between 38 and 43. Interestingly, support from supervisors was not associated with mortality rate.

The European Science Foundation (ESF) today released a document expressing basic core principles and good practice guidelines for the peer review of funding proposals. The European Peer Review Guide (links to PDF) is intended mainly to help European funding bodies improve and harmonize their peer review procedures, but young scientists can learn a lot by skimming the document. 

For those new to the funding system, the Guide provides an overview on the different types of funding programs in place around Europe and can help you decide which ones are the most appropriate for you to apply to. The Guide also offers a peek into the peer-review system and processes, and highlights the key criteria your application will be judged by.

If you're further along in your career, the Guide gives you insight in what it takes to be solicited as a peer reviewer. It also offers you a broad view of the grant evaluation process and a sense of your role and responsibilities. You will also find advice on how to handle and score applications for different types of funding. The guide highlights key conditions of the peer-review process you must comply with, such as integrity, absence of conflicts of interest, and respect for confidentiality. 

"By virtue of involving human judgment, even the same peer review procedures can have variable outcomes," Cristina Marras of the Italian National Research Council (CNR) stated in a press release. "Peer review is the most widely used method for distributing research funding. So ... the Guide can help us minimise this inherent variability as much as possible; furthermore, it fosters harmonisation in international peer review."

The European Peer Review Guide was produced with input from more than 30 national research funding and research-performing organizations  in 23 countries, including the European Research Council (ERC) and the European Commission.The Guide can be downloaded from the ESF Web site.  

Developing into a successful researcher takes much more than learning science. Yes, it requires you to gain technical skills and knowledge in your field. But it also requires some less tangible attributes: an ability to see the bigger picture and to work well with others, an understanding of professional and ethical standards, and many other things. Vitae, a U.K. organization promoting the personal and professional development of researchers, has developed an excellent planning tool to help you make progress on all of these fronts. 

Vitae's Professional Development Planner has divided the skills that researchers need in order to be effective into four major areas: knowledge and intellectual abilities; personal effectiveness; research governance and organization; and engagement, influence and impact. The Planner can be downloaded for free as an Excel sheet that will allow you to determine which skills you should focus on at what stage, and to come up with an action plan. The Professional Development Planner is accompanied with a screencast that will take you through the process, and examples of how other researchers have used the Planner.

The Professional Development Planner is a resource that was developed by Vitae as part of a broader initiative called the Researcher Development Framework (RDF). Launched in September, 2010, the RDF identified the "knowledge, behaviours and attitudes of researchers" described above and encourages researchers "to aspire to excellence through achieving higher levels of development," the Vitae Web site reads. 

In addition to developing researchers, the RDF is designed to help PIs in their mentoring role, and U.K. higher education institutions in supporting researchers' development. According to a survey carried out by Vitae in February, 62% of 42 U.K. responding higher education institutions were using the RDF principles, and another 29% planned to begin using them. 

The Spanish Minister of Science and Innovation (MICINN) announced earlier this week that non-European visiting scientists will now be able to obtain residence and work permits within 45 days instead of the current 90.

To get such a permit, you first need to find and sign a hosting agreement with an accredited university, national research institute, or other research center in Spain. The permit will cover the entire duration of the research project.

The changes to the Spanish Immigration Law were adopted by the Council of Ministers last Friday. The new regulations aim to "facilitate the employment and attraction of international talent and improve the mobility of researchers," according to the press release

About a fifth of the Ph.D. degree holders currently employed within the Spanish research system with MICINN support are foreigners. 54.8% of them come from Europe. 

ScienceInsider, our sister blog focused on science policy, reports on the findings of a new study released yesterday by the British Royal Society that identifies today's big research producers around the globe and tracks the growth of international scientific collaborations.

Last week saw the release of a new, free, online strategy game whose aim is to inspire more European young people to choose research careers. Produced by Austrian companies Biolution and TPM Games, 'Power of Research' was funded with more than 600.000 euros from the European Commission and been endorsed by several Nobel Prize winners and research institutes around Europe.

I was intrigued and more than willing to try out 'Power of Research' for myself even though, admittedly, I'm not much of a game player. My verdict a few days in: Overall, the game does a great job of introducing players to the world of research, but there are some career, technical, and scientific aspects that I think should be improved.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) is widely regarded as the father of modern physics. For those of us old enough to have seen him in person, listen to him speak in public or on the radio, and read his writings when they were current, these memories are precious. In addition to being a great theoretical physicist he was looked upon as a philosopher and statesman. His intellectual interests and profound observations extended widely into the other sciences and the social aspects of human endeavor. In the 21st century he remains one of the most influential and iconic thinkers of all time.

Einstein is possibly the most frequently quoted figure in the history of science, but as is often noted, many of these quotations are of dubious authenticity. Alice Calaprice, a senior editor at the Princeton University Press, has worked with the Einstein papers at the Institute for Advanced Study for more than 30 years. In 1996, she published a volume entitled The Quotable Einstein, a comprehensive, meticulously referenced, annotated, and carefully arranged compilation of Einstein's quotes. For 2011, Calaprice has enlarged this to The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, a nearly 600-page volume of approximately 1600 quotations--the "final" and definitive edition.

On a recent visit to Princeton, I had the good fortune to obtain an advanced copy of this work and delighted in it as I have in few other books. I have selected and arranged these quotations to simulate an interview with Einstein, circa 1955, on the topic of science careers.

With every new year comes change, at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as elsewhere. At NIH, though, the operative date is not 1 January but 25 January. That's the first application due date of 2011, and the date on which the changes take effect.

What changes? NIH is getting stricter.

  • The 2-day correction window will end. 
  • After a proposal is submitted, NIH will only accept new materials resulting from unforeseen administrative issues "(with exceptions specified for institutional training mechanisms and certain RFAs). Corrections of oversights/errors discovered after submission of the application will not be allowed. See NOT-OD-10-091."
  • Resubmissions must be submitted within 37 months of the original submission.
  • Applicants for career development and training awards -- including individual National Research Service Awards -- must use the new ADOBE-FORMS-B1 package.
  • It's hard to imagine that this happens, but I guess it must: Apparently, some investigators have been dodging page limits by sticking extra materials in sections that don't have limits, like Protection of Human Subjects. This strikes me as unwise; wouldn't you make a better impression by just following the rules? Anyway, NIH is instructing its reviewers that, starting with the first submission date of 2011, they need not consider such materials, and "In egregious cases, NIH has the authority to withdraw such an application from review or consideration for funding. See NOT-OD-10-077."
There are a couple of other rule changes. You'll find the whole document here.

Tweeting as @SciCareerEditor

Today's Chronicle of Higher Education includes a nice profile, by Kevin Kiley, of chemist Emily Carter, who was recently appointed the director of Princeton University's new Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, which was funded by a $100 million gift.

With our CTSciNet project, Science Careers has been focused lately on translational research. That phrase normally refers to medical research and the pursuit of human therapies, but there's a lot in the Carter profile that resonates with translational-research ideas.

Kiley was trained as a quantum chemist, with a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology. She spent the first part of her career doing surface chemistry. "I had been working a lot of different projects and developing software tools to probe the properties of materials, but I hadn't had a laser-beam focus on any one particular issue," she says.

Then she read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2007 report and altered the direction of her career. "I felt like I had an obligation, a responsibility to use my expertise to solve these big problems," she says. "I no longer had the luxury to just do intellectually stimulating research projects. My research had taken on a purposeful perspective." Specifically, Carter began to apply her scientific skills to solving the problems of energy and the environment. "Anyone who has expertise in an area related to this should be working on these problems," she says.

There's much about Carter's approach to science that resembles common ideas in translational research. First, there's a belief that purely curiosity-driven research is an indulgence we -- or at least scientists with sets of skills appropriate to solving practical problems -- can't afford right now; social needs are too compelling. Second, there's her interdisciplinarity: Her lab includes physicists, chemists, materials scientists, and engineers, Kiley writes. She calls herself "multilingual" because she can talk with scientists in different fields and departments.

The idea that we should all be applying our scientific skills to solving the day's most important problems is compelling. But there is an alternative point of view:  Fundamental, curiosity-driven research often yields insights that are important for the next generation of practical technologies. Applied research can be short-sighted because it can be difficult (probably impossible) to know ahead of time what will ultimately matter. So we need to keep dedicating resources -- funding and human resources, including our own -- to fundamental, curiosity-driven research. That's the argument made by many basic scientists.

Of course we do. But not every researcher who eschews applications does the kind of basic research that's likely to yield such high-powered fundamental insights. As Carter says in the article, "You have to look at your technical strengths and say, Where I can make the best contribution?" Your set of skills may best prepare you to work on important fundamental problems. But if, after some honest reflection, your work doesn't seem to be headed towards such fundamental insights, consider asking yourself, as Carter did, what important problem those skills might effectively address.

The new Andlinger Center, by the way, plans to hire 9 new scientists.

The latest (2009) National Science Foundation Survey of Earned Doctorates found significant gains in the number of doctorates earned in the United States. Doctorates awarded grew 1.6% overall, and 1.9% in science and engineering (S&E) fields, over 2008. In S&E fields, the increase is entirely accounted for by a 4.8% increase in the number of doctorates awarded to women; 622 more S&E doctorates were awarded to women in 2009 than in 2008. The number of S&E doctorates awarded to men declined slightly.

This rate of increase is slow by recent standards. Over the period 2004 - 2007, the number of S&E doctorates awarded increased at a rate of 6.5% per year. Still, the new totals -- 49,562 total doctorates and 33,470 S&E doctorates -- are all-time records. The number of S&E doctorates awarded to women -- 13,593 -- is also an all-time high.

The growth in the number of S&E doctorates awarded to members of minority groups was also impressive, up 6.4% compared to 2008. The longer-term trend looks better still: Since 2004, the number of S&E doctorates awarded to members of minority groups is up 34.3%.

Also notable: The number of S&E doctorates awarded by U.S. institutions to temporary visa holders declined by 3.35%.

The survey also sampled employment outcomes. The number of S&E doctorate recipients who already had employment commitments was down slightly from 2008 and about the same as in 2007. And of those who had employment commitments, a record number were for postdoc positions. The proportion with employment commitments from industry was down in most fields, while the proportion with employment commitments in "other employed position increased." This category includes government, non-academic non-profits, primary and secondary schools, and "other employment." This could indicate an increase in interest in non-traditional science jobs, and it could indicate that the number of S&E doctorate recipients settling for substandard employment is increasing.

1.    Learn on whose shoulders you stand.

On February 5, 1676, Isaac Newton wrote a letter to his rival and adviser, Robert Hooke, which he concluded with his famous aphorism: "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Two hundred years later another great scientist, the French physiologist Claude Bernard, enlarged on these words: "Great men have been compared to giants upon whose shoulders pygmies have climbed, who nevertheless see further than they. This simply means the science makes progress subsequently to the appearance of great men, and precisely because of their influence. The result is that their successors know many more scientific facts than the great men themselves had in their day. But a great man is, none the less, still a great man, that is to say, a giant."

The Coalition on the Academic Workforce, a coalition that includes the American Association of University Professors and a dozen or so other academic and higher education groups, has developed an online survey of non-tenure-track faculty members, the Survey of Contingent Faculty Members, Instructors, and Researchers. You can learn more about the coalition and  the survey at

Because the Department of Education does not track these positions, data is hard to come by. So far, the coalition has recieved about 20,000 responses to the survey so far, but the sciences underrepresented, so they're hoping to hear from more scientists.

They've also made a cute video:

Scope, the blog from the Stanford University School of Medicine, posted the video below this week of Stanford scientists Carla Shatz and Helen Blau. According to the video, Shatz and Blau met in 1978 when they became the first women to be hired on Stanford medical school's basic science faculty as part of an affirmative action initiative. The video doesn't dwell on this, though, and instead lets the women talk about their research careers, and their friendship over the years. Well worth the 7 minutes to watch.

Hat tip: Dr. Shock MD PhD

Timothy Cordes graduated as valedictorian of his class at the University of Notre Dame. He was admitted to the University of Wisconsin (UW) where he recently earned an M.D. and a Ph.D. in biomolecular chemistry. He is currently a resident physician in the psychiatry department while fulfilling his role as a husband and father. Tim is blind. That this uncommon constellation of accomplishments can occur is notable. Ten or twenty years ago, it would have been impossible.

Twenty years ago, while serving as a faculty pre-med advisor at Harvard College, I was assigned a candidate for medical school admission: a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, an outstanding student, a basketball player, personable, and impressive in every way. He was a "dream" candidate with one exception: He had been born deaf. Our efforts to gain his admission to medical school were a nightmare. Despite personal communications to medical school deans and admission directors, as well as letters from his professors attesting to his abilities, all doors were closed. He entered a Ph.D. program in pathology at the University of Pennsylvania and, following postdoctoral training at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), now does exciting research in the field of congenital deafness.
Recently, I was reminded of this experience when I sat down for a mentoring session with a second year medical student here in Madison. "I'll need to see your lips," the student cautioned me as we began our conversation, "I'm congenitally deaf."

October 6, 2010

Wanna Skip the Postdoc?

If so, do we have the plan for you -- if you're good enough.

ScienceInsider is reporting that NIH has announced a 5-year, $60 million pilot project to fund recent Ph.D.s for their first faculty posts. All they have to do is find an institution willing to sponsor them.

NIH Director Francis Collins announced the new program -- dubbed the Early Independence Award Program, in a Nature Commentary.

"Students should think more broadly about what a PhD could prepare them for. We should start selling a PhD as higher level education but not one that necessarily points you down a tunnel...We should not see moving out of academia as a failure. We need to see it as a stepping stone, a way of moving forward to something else."

-Stephen Curry, professor of structural biology at Imperial College London, quoted in Times Higher Education in 'Postdoctoral scientists urged to spread their wings'. Click the link to read the full article and a rather lively discussion in the comments section about that statement.
A first-year medical student I mentor recently asked me:  "What's the point in buying textbooks? Sure, I could pull it from a shelf in the library - or save time and just Google it. But wouldn't I learn more from a Google search or a Medline search than by reading all those pages?"

This seems to be the current thinking of students in general. Our medical book store recently removed a large portion of its shelves of books and replaced it with a bigger area for computer hardware and software; the store's manager tells me that textbook sales have declined by 10-15% in each of the past several years. The medical library has replaced a major portion of its text reference section with computer carrels. Fewer new textbooks are being published, and new editions of standard texts are appearing less frequently. And the financial news tells us of the loss of profitability and financial difficulties faced by publishers.

August 31, 2010

Seeking Anxious Scientists

For an upcoming Mind Matters column for Science Careers, psychologist/writer Irene Levine is seeking stories from scientists and science trainees  about the impact anxiety has had on their professional productivity.

When do you get anxious? What symptoms do you experience? How has it affected your work? How do you deal with it? Has anxiety had a positive or negative impact on your career?

Can advisors/supervisors reduce -- or help their subordinates manage -- anxiety in the workplace? Or do they just make it worse?

Please e-mail Irene -- irene(at)irenelevine(dot)com -- with your thoughts and contact information. If you want to be anonymous in the article, that's okay. Check out Irene's previous columns at

Each year, the American Academy of Ophthalmology meets in a major U.S. city and attracts around 25,000 ophthalmologists from the United States and abroad. Among the courses frequently offered at the meeting is one, entitled "Key to Successful Publications in Peer Review Literature," taught by the editors of the three leading clinical journals in our field.  The course tends to attract residents and young doctors at the start of their careers. I have enjoyed being involved in teaching this course for a number of years and have come to anticipate the questions that will be asked. These include the following four questions, all related to the first steps in research publishing:

1.    Why should clinicians do research?
2.    Is the scientific method optional for current medical reports?
3.    What is "peer review" and why is it important?
4.    How do I select a journal to publish in?

These questions apply to persons interested in participating in medical research, and I will  discuss them briefly here.

As the practice of medicine and the delivery of health care over the last half-century has grown in complexity and content, training to be a practicing physician has gone from being analogous to a cross-country track event to a virtual marathon in time, effort, and expense. With the explosion of knowledge and technical complexity in the biological sciences, M.D.-Ph.D. candidates preparing for a life of medical research are found in a triathlon by comparison. Those who cross the finish line are well equipped to take on the challenges of being a physician-scientist.

Based on personal involvement within my own institution, discussion with program directors, and interaction with M.D.-Ph.D. program graduates, I will present a brief overview of this challenging pathway to a science career.

Why was the M.D.-Ph.D. program created?

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.
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
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 " 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.

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."

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
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 (, 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 (, 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.
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.

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.

University of Arizona president Robert Shelton sent a memo today to the campus community saying that Arizona's new immigration law, SB 1070, has already caused students from outside Arizona to reverse plans to attend the institution. In the memo, reported by a Tucson television station, Shelton noted,
We have already begun to feel an impact from SB 1070. The families of a number of out-of-state students (to date all of them honors students) have told us that they are changing their plans and will be sending their children to universities in other states. This should sadden anyone who cares about attracting the best and brightest students to Arizona.
Shelton also expressed concerns about the school's international community:
I cannot state more firmly that the health and safety of our international students, faculty, and professional staff are priorities of the highest order for us, and we are going to do everything possible to help each of them understand the law and its impact. We intend to put in place whatever procedures are necessary to ensure their safety and free movement on campus and in our community.
The bill, signed into law by Arizona's governor last Friday, "Requires officials and agencies to reasonably attempt to determine the immigration status of a person involved in a legitimate contact where reasonable suspicion exists regarding the immigration status of the person." People stopped by authorities need to show a valid driver's license, tribal identification, or other federal, state, or local government-issued identification. Those arrested can be held until their citizenship is verified by the federal government.

A long time ago -- 9 years and one month to be precise -- I wrote an article for Science Careers profiling Tom Murphy, then a postdoc in physics at the University of Washington in Seattle. Murphy was then on a quest to locate a needle in a haystack -- or, less metaphorically, to bounce lasers off a mirror on the surface of the moon and then detect the reflected light.

"It's like winning the lottery and then being told there's an equally remote chance the money will make it to your bank account," he told me back then. Murphy wasn't -- isn't -- motivated merely by the challenge. The idea is to use the reflected light as a very sensitive test of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. The technique is called Lunar Laser Ranging. Today, Murphy and his team have popped into the news for "locat[ing] a long lost Soviet reflector on the moon," according to a UCSD press release

Murphy, who is now a professor at the University of California San Diego, has been bouncing light off moon-based reflectors for years. He and his group "routinely use the three hardy reflectors placed on the moon by the Apollo 11, 14 and 15 missions," Murphy said, quoted in that press release, "and occasionally the Soviet-landed Lunokhod 2 reflector--though it does not work well enough to use when illuminated by sunlight. But we yearned to find Lunokhod 1."

That's because "Lunokhod 1, by virtue of its location, would provide the best leverage for understanding the liquid lunar core, and for producing an accurate estimate of the position of the center of the moon -- which is of paramount importance in mapping out the orbit and putting Einstein's gravity to a test," Murphy said.

The story was covered as a ScienceShot on ScienceNow.

Last month, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), part of National Institutes of Health, put on a two-day workshop to help postdocs make the transition to independent researchers. NIGMS now has videos from the workshop available for viewing on its Web site.

Each of the 17 sessions from the 11-12 March event is in a separate video. Topics range from general career advice ("Making the Right Career Choice") to specific tips on how to move on in your research career ("Establishing a Lab") or survive in the process ("How to Have a Life"). Presenters include leaders in career development for scientists such as Isiah Warner of Louisiana State University and Jo Handelsman of Yale University as well as Peter Agre, former president of AAAS (publisher of Science Careers), and former Science Careers columnist Jeremy Boss of Emory University.

NIGMS also offers a list of career resources including a booklet of recent Science Careers articles on job searching.

The recent book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, has become a "must read" bestseller among scientists and non-scientists (Science, vol. 327, 26 February 2010 p. 1081).  When I read this book and heard Skloot speak at length about the "HeLa experience," it led me to think about the role these cells had on my own career and the subsequent lessons I learned related to them.   

When HeLa cells became available in the 1950s, I was an undergraduate biology major in need of a project for my honors thesis.  My older brother, a medical student in the Baltimore area, alerted me that I could obtain a unique immortal line of cancer cells, the HeLa cells, to use as a basis for my project.  I got caught up in the excitement among researchers and in the lay press about the fact that this cell line was the successful culmination of decades of effort to keep cancer cells alive outside of the body.  In Skloot's words, "cell culture was going to save the world from disease and make man immortal."

PRO/UAW, the union representing postdocs on the University on California's ten campuses, won official recognition in August 2008.  Nearly 2 years later, the two sides in the postdocs' contract negotiation remain stuck, despite regular meetings that have produced agreement on a number of issues. Now, in a very unusual step, the Committee on Education and Labor of the U.S. House of Representatives has announced a hearing focused on these talks.

Entitled "Understanding Problems in First Contract Negotiations: Post-Doctoral Scholar Bargaining at the University of California," the event will take place at a not-yet-determined location in Berkeley on 30 April.  Details of which committee members will attend and who will testify are not yet available, according to committee spokesperson Andra Belknap.  The committee's chairman, California Democrat George Miller, whose 7th District starts minutes away (by car or subway) from the UC-Berkeley campus, will almost certainly preside.
Less clear is the specific impetus for this unusual high-level Congressional probe into a particular union negotiation.  First pacts between unions and employers can, according to labor experts, be  hard to fashion, and the current fiscal constraints on California's universities haven't helped speed the process.  Miller may have a purely intellectual interest in an issue at the intersection of his committee's concerns.  But the fact that his district, where housing is less pricey than Berkeley, probably  contains many more lower-paid union members than top-echelon administrators is another likely motivation.  At any rate, it's likely to be e a publicity coup for the union.  Stay tuned for further developments.

Many of the Open Science advocates I talked to for last week's story, Scientists Embrace Openness, pointed me to their active community on FriendFeed. In particular, Steve Koch of the University of New Mexico suggested that I start a discussion there after the story came out. I did, and the result (pasted below, lightly edited) was a fascinating, wide-ranging conversation on topics related to Open Science, some of which we hadn't had space to cover in the original story. Highlights include discussions about Open Notebook Science tools (OpenWetWare, Google Docs, BenchFly), the opinions of "mainstream" and young scientists about Open Science, and the obstacles to doing medical research in an open way. We even compared notes on getting "scooped" in science and journalism.

If you'd like to leave your own comments, you can do so on this blog or in the original FriendFeed thread.

Chelsea Wald to Chelsea's feed, Science Commons, Open Notebook Science Solubility Project, Science 2.0
Hi, everyone! Today I'm here discussing my ScienceCareers story, "Scientists Embrace Openness," about the career implications of Open Notebook Science, Open Data, and general science openness: Let me know what you want to talk about...
April 9 
Michael R. Bernstein, Paul Bacchus, Mike Chelen and 31 other people liked this

Hi Chelsea, great article, what led you to write it? - Andrew Lang

Thanks, Andrew! Jim Austin [@SciCareerEditor on Twitter], the editor of ScienceCareers, assigned me this article. (There are two main ways to get work as a freelance writer: pitch or get assignments.) I'm not sure what exactly led him to the topic, but I know that a conversation with Brian Krueger played a role. I knew very little about the topic, but Jim intuited that it would be a good fit for me as a writer. It turned out to be a really fun story to report and write. - Chelsea Wald

Anthony Salvagno asked me in an email: "How long did it take from first concept to publishing?" I sent my first email interview request on Feb 11, so the story took me about two months to write. (This, of course, doesn't count the time Jim spent coming up with the idea.) I wasn't working on the story full-time, though. Depending on my other projects, some weeks I worked intensively; others, hardly at all. It helped that the Pacific Northwest Science Commons Symposium took place soon after I got this assignment; I attended virtually (when the video stream was working) and got something of a crash course. - Chelsea Wald

HI, Chelsea. I very much enjoyed the article and will be adding it to my ONS delicious tag arsenal! What I appreciated about the read was its focus on practitioners -- in the class where I discuss ONS as a practice (I am not a scientist, but train young scientists to write), there is always at least one student who writes an elegantly argued, pro-ONS piece, and having an essay that is about people rather than focusing on the ideal itself works nicely to help that student feel less isolated. - Mickey Schafer

Hi, Mickey. Yes, I was tasked with writing an article on the practical challenges associated with openness, especially for early-career scientists. I quickly came to appreciate that ONS practitioners have to go to fairly heroic lengths in order to make their notebooks open, and I wanted to emphasize that. I also came to appreciate that those same ONS practitioners realize that it's simply not practical for most scientists to do the same -- at least with the current state of technology (not to mention the standard measures of academic success). I don't know why, but I expected a more rigid ideological stance, and I was totally wrong. By the way, it's really cool that you're discussing ONS in a scientific writing class. I bet others here (and I) would be interested in hearing more about it. Do a lot of students write essays arguing against it? - Chelsea Wald

Mickey - what you are doing with your class sounds very interesting - are your students willing to share some of their essays? - Jean-Claude Bradley

Hi folks. Thought I would join in here and say that I started developing an interest in Open Science perhaps 6 months ago. I've been monitoring it, but not too closely, since then. A couple of Twitter posts, perhaps channeled from FriendFeed, got me off my butt and made me decide it was time. Though I don't remember what it said, one of those posts was from Brian Krueger. I contacted him and he got me started. I handed this off to Chelsea and she took it from there, very skillfully. - Jim Austin

Jim - thanks for the feedback on how it came about - I hope your interest in Open Science continues! - Jean-Claude Bradley

I'll definitely continue to keep an eye on it. I think it connects to a couple of other big issues right now -- importantly, data sharing and trying to achieve a more integrative science, especially medical science. There's a lot riding on that, it seems to me, and a lot of people these days are talking about, and working on, integrating research resources. - Jim Austin

Hi Chelsea, thanks for referring me to this discussion! I think the Koch and Bradley labs are great examples of the younger generation of scientists embracing available technologies and trying to improve the research process by taking a new approach, which should be applauded. I really like Jean-Claude's idea of trying an open project out on the side to get started- it's a nice way for people to test the waters with minimal risk. I think it's essential that open access resources extend beyond notebooks to training materials as well, which was my goal in starting BenchFly- allowing people to document and share how they perform techniques in their labs. Technology affords us a tremendous opportunity to democratize science by providing expert instruction to anyone with an internet connection. - Alan Marnett

Mickey - do you see any trends in your students' opinion of ONS? Is it generally for or against? Any year-to-year trends? - Alan Marnett

Hey Chelsea and Jim and everyone, sorry I'm getting to the party late. Yesterday you mentioned a conversation between you and Koch about parallels between Journalism and ONS. Could you go into more detail? I would like to hear your take on it and figure out if there are any ways the we (the ONS community) could help you attain more openness. Of course, like JCB says, starting small is a great way to get involved. - Anthony Salvagno

Hi, Anthony. The party's going on all day. It's more like an open house, I guess. The back story is this: When I was reporting this story, Steve suggested that I ask his students (including you) questions about working in an open lab. We tossed around the idea of doing it on FriendFeed, so that others could listen in and participate. I liked this idea but became concerned that it could tip off other (read: competitor) journalists who could then scoop me. Sound familiar? I didn't get around to asking Jim for his take on it because soon after that I had my first, pretty painful experience with a "scooping." (In this case, it doesn't mean that someone stole my idea, just that she got around to publishing a story about it first -- in this case, she beat me by about a week. This happens often in journalism, as in science.) Still smarting from that, I decided to go for a more traditional, closed approach. (more coming) - Chelsea Wald

Do you think you might experiment with live reporting? By this I mean you "publish" information as you receive it in an informal method. Scientists can preprint articles in something like Nature Precedings and get early feedback. Then you could publish your formal written report when it is all done using the information you had previously compiled. - Anthony Salvagno

Also, how likely would it be for journalists to collaborate on a project? Maybe have more names attached to one article like we do for journal articles. - Anthony Salvagno

Because I was reporting the ONS story at the same time, I a) became more sympathetic to the concerns of scientists with respect to being open, and b) began to wonder whether there was a place in journalism for an "open notebook" approach. What would it look like? Would sources agree to participate in it? Would editors agree to it? Would it help establish a priority so that scooping would be less likely, or would it make it much more likely? I know I'm not the first person to ask these questions, but I haven't yet heard a serious discussion of it in the journalism world (not that there hasn't been one; I just haven't heard it yet). - Chelsea Wald

Gosh, this is getting (even more) interesting. Keep it going !! - Graham Steel

Anthony, here's an example of a rough-draft article that has left some journalists mystified recently: (Note that the writer is a Science Careers contributor.) I have not discussed this project with anyone in the know. - Chelsea Wald

As for collaboration, it happens sometimes within news organizations, but it would be hard to see how that would work across organizations. In science, if you find out that someone at another institution is working on the same thing, one response is to turn your competitor into a collaborator and publish together. But could that work in journalism? Doubtful. The usual response is to try to get to print as fast as you can. - Chelsea Wald

Chelsea, Thanks for pointing out Beryl's article. Beryl is, as Chelsea notes, a long-time contributor to Science Careers. She has written a monthly column for -- not sure -- maybe 5 years? And she writes on many of those same topics for us. As you may know, Scientific American is now owned by Brits -- the publishers of Nature -- so I suppose that represents a kind of sharing. ;-) - Jim Austin

Hi, Chelsea. I also really enjoyed the human element your article brought to the process, across all levels from tenured to faculty down to graduate students. I'm also intrigued by your parallels in the journalism world. While ONS has led me to new collaborations, it's often been something I've had to approach very cautiously with most collaborators. How do others address this? - Carl Boettiger

There are some really important differences between journalism and science -- but there are also some parallels. As may of you are probably aware, there's a parallel discussion going on about journalism, openness, and business models. - Jim Austin

Hi, Carl! Glad you found this. Many people told me that they had to close off projects due to collaborators. That, or drop the project altogether. Maybe others will weigh in on specific examples. - Chelsea Wald

Yes, Jim's right that we shouldn't forget about major differences between journalism and science. In the article, Jonathan says: "Given that taxpayers are paying for our work, I think that the default should be to be open unless you can prove that it's a bad idea." Taxpayers are NOT paying for my work. Journalism is a public service, but it also has to make money. - Chelsea Wald

I will just add to Chelsea's comment: Non-profit models of journalism exist, but even they need revenue -- which means inventing new ways to ensure objectivity. What happens to National Public Radio when there's a Republican Congress? (A: They lose funding.) So you can see that there are interesting parallels and differences. It's all research, even if the methods, and the nature of the knowledge, are different. - Jim Austin

But in journalism, value typically equates to exclusivity, especially today. If you want to generate revenue, you have to be able to offer something that people can't get for free. I think that's a major difference. - Jim Austin

Now, I'd like to ask a question of the scientists here. One of my preoccupations these days is with translational research -- trying to accelerate the rate at which basic-science breakthroughs become real-world therapies. If you're not biomedical, then consider the obvious parallels, like materials for electronics. Does running an open lab take you completely out of that game? Is an open laboratory only for the non-applied? - Jim Austin

Hi Chelsea. As I said on Jon Eisen's thread yesterday, I was very impressed with this article. As a patient advocate and non scientist (very interested in science) as I blogged about here , I personally would like to work more openly and am of the view that your article and this discussion has had a positive effect/impact, so thank you !! - Graham Steel

Thanks, Graham. You bring up some interesting questions about tools in your post. I use google docs all the time, and my understanding is that many ONS researchers do, too. Does anyone care to discuss collaboration/ONS tools? - Chelsea Wald

Chelsea, ask Bora Zivkovic about "Open Notebook" journalism: - Martin Fenner

@ Chelsea, Jean-Claude, -- sorry for the late reply -- I am on a grading frenzy and wasn't supposed to be checking in at FF at all until next week! The essays in questions are blog posts replying to Michael Neilson's "Future of Science" essay and an HHMI article titled something like "So you wanted a revolution" (both can be found linked here: that blog has remained private according to student wishes. This year, one student wrote a passionately worded and rather elegant post about ONS (she's on her way to med school). She gave me permission to make it public, but I don't know how to make a single blog post public and keep the rest private. If/when I get my blog started, her post will find its way there. - Mickey Schafer

@ Alan -- same apology as above! I have only held this discussion 2 times, so there are no trends to report. Last year, there was more open skepticism, but there were also more argumentative personalities who knew each other well. It will be interesting to watch over time. This year, a couple of students remarked it might have been better to have this conversation before they had finished their research. No student has yet ever heard of it, so also did not know any practitioners. - Mickey Schafer

Thanks for checking back in, Mickey! - Chelsea Wald

@Jim -- "What happens to National Public Radio when there's a Republican Congress? (A: They lose funding.)" -- this is about the scariest thing I've heard in a while. I live and breathe NPR. They had an interesting discussion last week, I think it was, about the fate of CNN. Given the importance of "branding" to attract a particular audience, CNN is losing ground to Fox and MSNBC alike. They quipped the same could be true of NPR -- at least NPR has public supporters paying out of their pockets. - Mickey Schafer

@Mickey, I didn't mean they would be totally unfunded, NPR is notable for having a relatively stable revenue base, and an independent news apparatus. I was thinking of 2005 when, accused of having a liberal bias, their funding -- about $400 million at the time from the CPB (including both NPR and PBS) -- came under threat from Congress. NPR works hard and successfully (as far as I can tell) to divorce editorial decisions from private-sector (including nonprofit private-sector) contributions. It's a good model. - Jim Austin

Hi, Martin. Thanks for pointing me to that post (I'm familiar with Bora and his work, but I hadn't seen this). I'm noticing, however, that "traditional media" don't get mentioned until step 4 of his model. I suppose that means it wouldn't work if someone gets assigned a story, as I did in this case; unless, of course, the publication agreed to it. - Chelsea Wald

@Chelsea: "...unless of course the publication agreed to it." I would welcome an intelligent proposal, as long as it was on topic (that is, about Science Careers). I'm always eager to try new things. - Jim Austin

Wow, cool! You all heard it here first! - Chelsea Wald

Very interesting. I let Bora respond to that. - Martin Fenner

Talk about coming to the party late... This is a really good discussion. I thought the article gave a good perspective on the topic. In your research, did you get a feel for how mainstream researchers feel about the topic, Chelsea? I know my quote came off as quite skeptical, but in my work with LabSpaces, I've found most researchers to be unwilling to talk openly and publically about their current research secrets. When I first launched the site, the University of Iowa legal department contacted me and told me to put a disclaimer on there that any public dissemination of ideas/data could make obtaining patents nearly impossible. - Brian Krueger - LabSpaces

Its a common sentiment Brian expresses, but I think it is becoming less common. When everyone holds their cards to their chest, they don't learn as fast that their great idea was tried and rejected by 4 people before they happened upon it. Most of the secrets are really neither that secret nor patentable. This is one of the areas I'm most hopeful open science will illuminate. - Mr. Gunn

Hi, Brian. You were here in spirit. ;) My sense is that most researchers would say that Open Notebook Science is fine...for other scientists. You know, everyone I talked to was pretty realistic and probably wouldn't disagree with you: The entire scientific enterprise is not suddenly going to go open. By the way, I'm fascinated by your interaction with the legal department. Any of the scientists here have similar experiences? - Chelsea Wald

Jim, I recently wrote about some of the obstacles of doing medical research online here: Some issues are patient privacy, recruitment and reporting bias when clinical trial results would be openly available in an ongoing study, and commercial interests of pharma companies that sponsor trials. - Martin Fenner

Drug companies are starting to be more open as well: Is open innovation the way forward for big pharma? - Martin Fenner

For this story, I emailed with Sriram Kosuri of OpenWetWare. His comments didn't make it into the story, so I thought I'd add them here (a luxury I don't normally have!): Q: How many users does OWW have? Of those, how many are actually posting bona fide Open Notebooks, as opposed to, say, just hosting lab websites? If you don't have exact numbers, can you estimate? What kind of growth are you seeing? Are there any other Open Science/Open Notebook Science trends that you're seeing that might be of interest to our readers? A. You can get a feel for the general statistics here: (7423 registered users: which is a gross overestimate of the actual every day users, as is any site like this) and here, which gives a better view of daily activity as well as notebooks specific activities: Another good place to look to see what people are editing at any given time is here: Q. Many Open Notebook scientists are telling me that OWW is a good (and even necessary) place to start with an Open Notebook, but that it's not sufficient. They're also using, for example, google spreadsheets. Are you planning to roll out any features in the near future (say, the next year or so) that will make OWW a more comprehensive solution for ONS? Is that even a goal for OWW? A. We have been trying to be pretty responsive to the needs of the ON contingent on OWW. We think that people using such notebooks tend to contribute to more knowledge available to the public related to the actual process of doing science, both indirectly by people being exposed to those notebooks, and directly by having more users directly contributing to OWW. I think the biggest notebook user group comes from the iGEM competition that is held every year. Since these teams are mostly composed of undergraduates for a mostly friendly competition, they don't mind having their stuff up in public, and secondly, need online collaboration tools to keep a team together to work towards a shared goal. By being a part of the community, especially a group that is learning about biology, they sometimes have a better incentive to contribute to protocols and other information on the site so that it is easier to find and digest. In terms of actual tools that will help, I think there are a lot coming from the outside that we are thinking of incorporating, but we don't have a massive team, and we are mostly at the mercy of our volunteer community. So we help where we can (setting up the lab notebook feature for example was something requested by the community, and most of the revisions were spearheaded by folks using the service). Q. Any other thoughts about OWW and ONS? A.I think on our front, we are engaging many in the ONS community that have been really pioneering stuff by providing them with as many tools as we can. I think in terms of thought leaders, Cameron Neylon really helped us along the way, though I have a feeling you've already have been engaging him. - Chelsea Wald

Sorry for the lousy formatting there. Any help on how to make it better? - Chelsea Wald

That's the longest comment I've ever seen on FF. Formatting aside, how did you manage to do this ?? Cool !! - Graham Steel

Haha! I didn't know it wasn't supposed to be possible. Cut and paste, baby! - Chelsea Wald

Dang and thanks again !! Right. I need to lie down so off to watch Apparently, it's meant to be rather good. Next? - Graham Steel

@Martin, Thanks for the links to your posts. I will read them with interest. - Jim Austin

@Chelsea, I don't know if you've spoken to Koch about this, but we have a patent for our optical tweezer technique. I don't know all the specifics of it because I'm just a slave in the lab (just kidding) but I know we are open and we have this (as an example of people other than medical sciences). - Anthony Salvagno

As for tools I'm really big into Google Docs. My notebook is on OWW and I hate making tables in html and css and starting using google docs as soon as I discovered they existed. I also use Evernote to quickly get pictures from my pc on the web. Because of friendfeed's ability to add rss feeds (among other things) I can create groups here that contain possible related posts from all my web work. I can then simply link or frame that group into my OWW if I need to gather information from various places. I also just got a droid and have been using apps to help me control everything. - Anthony Salvagno

Examples of what I'm talking about: and and - Anthony Salvagno

I'm providing a bunch of links of pages in my notebook that have integration from different sources. I also have protocol pages not in my notebook and upload video protocols to youtube and embed them in right on the page with the protocol (see here: I've been meaning to switch to BenchFly but I ran into a snafu. Alan has been working on the issues very diligently trying to fix the problem and we've found a workaround for now (thanks Alan!). - Anthony Salvagno

Also if you'll note posting lots of comments could be another way for you to format one really long comment. Sorry if I pissed anyone off. - Anthony Salvagno

One more note... this thread kicks ass! It's so awesome I want to curse more, but I'll hold back. - Anthony Salvagno

@Mickey would it be possible to send me the student essay that hasn't been posted? I could post it on my blog and give you and said student full credit. Another alternative would be to post the essay here on ff as a series of comments with the thread being the title of the essay. What do you think? - Anthony Salvagno

Thanks for these contributions, Anthony. I'm sure people will find it useful to see the tools of ONS in practice. I also have to say that I use google spreadsheets for my personal and business finances, and it's reassuring to know that scientists trust them enough to keep their precious data safe! - Chelsea Wald

Anthony, I enjoy seeing how you embed google spreadsheets into your notebook; I've been frustrated by formatting tables in html and this looks very promising! I've been using OWW's rss reader ( to display articles I've recently added to my library in my notebook, would be interested to see more about how you're using both rss and other apps. - Carl Boettiger

@Carl I really have no good way for handling RSS as I don't use them that much. I don't like how OWW handles RSS. I've actually been trying to figure out a good way to port my notebook as an RSS feed so it goes to friendfeed or yahoo's program that I haven't been able to use yet. The few feeds I do link to get funneled into friendfeed. As for other apps... I've been using Picasa (Google) to upload images or Flikr, I've also been working with Jack Zerby from to get better acquainted with handling RSS feeds for scientific use. Flavors is a nice website that contains a bunch of web sources (youtube, blogger, etc), but doesn't have much for RSS sorting. I use Youtube, Google Docs, I tried to get Google Calendar for the lab but no one uses it, Blogger, Friendfeed. I'm sure I'm forgetting stuff too. Ever since I discovered how to iframe things I've been able to embed just about anything on the internet into my notebook which has been super useful. You could email me if you wanna talk more about all this. - Anthony Salvagno

One more note about RSS feed from wiki (OWW): I learned recently that there is a mediawiki extension that enables you to export your work as an RSS (see I've emailed Bill asking to implement it but I think he's disappeared. Sorry for digressing off topic. - Anthony Salvagno

Excellent article! And great thread here. Don't know if you saw the video from this panel on Open Science at Columbia about a year ago: As for open journalism - that is tough, but definitely worth a thought. Some newspapeprs (famously Greensboro News & Record as a very early adopter of the practice) now put their article drafts online first, open up for comments, edit according to corrections/suggestions from the readers, and then publish the improved version in the paper edition. Carrboro Citizen has an interesting model - they have a student site (UNC students of a particular journalism class) called Carrboro Commons from which the Citizen editors pick most interesting articles, edit them and publish in the paper: - Bora Zivkovic

I know I'm very late to the party here (inconvenient time zones) but the question Chelsea raises about translational research is a very interesting one. For me its all about asking the question "how do we most efficiently maximise return on investment, in this research, for the investor?". Where the investor is the public and its not directly patentable stuff the answer is clear. Where something is directly patentable and the investor is a private citizen or company it might be the case that keeping it private is better (especially in a very large company with good internal communications). But for instance if you are doing early stage exploratory drug development with public money, today, you probably should keep it under wraps because if you don't and can't patent then in the current environment no-one will be prepared to run with it into clinical trials. Maybe (hopefully) this will change in the future and I bet there are cases where it isn't true. What would be really interesting would be good case studies that really show where the edges are...both legal, financial, and social - Cameron Neylon

Jim and Chelsea, it would be great if discussions like this were linked from the article. Either by allowing comments (as in the PLoS journals and now Nature), or by showing links to blogs, Friendfeed, etc. that talk about the article. - Martin Fenner

+1 Martin. - Graham Steel

@Bora Thanks for the ideas on open journalism. I guess I might try an experiment in the near future here. - Chelsea Wald

@Cameron Thanks for joining! You bring up some great points. Does anyone paying attention to this thread know of some case studies that could help shed light on those "edges"? - Chelsea Wald

Martin and Graham: I agree. I don't know whether something like that is in the works, but I'll make sure that the suggestion gets passed on. - Chelsea Wald

There is a Research Information Network funded study going on in the UK at the moment that is looking at researcher perceptions in this space but I don't know of any solid social science studies of outcomes (as opposed to opinions and perceptions) at the moment. The example I give isn't hypothetical tho - I am involved in a research consortium seeking funding to do such development. If we get it I'll look at the situation but it seems likely that my part of the project won't be able to be open for the reasons I describe. No point doing this if we prevent it going into human trials because we can't patent. - Cameron Neylon

Great discussion! Concerning embedded Google spreadsheets, my students do use them in our notebooks but I try to discourage their use in general - or at least make sure that there is a link to the spreadsheet nearby in the page. The problem is that when we create an archive of the notebook and all associated data files, embedded content still appears live in the archived version while links to Spreadsheets get converted to links to frozen Excel sheets. You also can't view the formula and web services called directly from embedded Google Spreadsheets, which is critical for data provenance. For more details see: - Jean-Claude Bradley

On Open journalism, two quotes from : (1) "The Nieman Lab's Josh Benton noted that this "cult of rewriting" is grossly inefficient: what added value do journalists bring to the table when all they're doing is rewriting one another's work? Such journalists are at best aggregators and curators, much like bloggers: only a few traditional media hubs have the resources to do original reporting, and they often end up coming back to blogs as sources." (2) "The result is a constant reshuffling and repackaging of content, with very few assurances that it's accurate - just as in 18th century New York." --> What if we developed a habit of linking to the raw data? Yet the problems start earlier - journalists all too often "forget" to link to the appropriate source. Case in point: . - Daniel Mietchen

The previous comment (and this one too) was submitted from - will try embedding FF threads into OWW as another way of archiving. Jean-Claude's comments above on Google Docs may apply, though. - Daniel Mietchen

@Anthony -- yes, I think either sending to you or posting here would be possible. The teacher-y side of me wants her to be protected, as an undergrad with all that status or lack thereof implies -- I have students getting butts kicked by PIs who've just decided after 2 years to take an interest in their work, 3 weeks before graduating -- turns out there is a strong prejudice against the premeds in many labs that I didn't know about -- very disturbing to me. - Mickey Schafer

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) today released its annual faculty compensation report for 2009-10, and it had little good news for American academics or those hoping to join their ranks. AAUP's findings show the recession is cutting deep into campus finances at both public or private institutions, from community colleges to doctoral degree-granting universities.

Faculty members don't take a vow of poverty, and they aren't starving. Average annual salaries range from $59,400 at schools giving associate degrees to $91,060 for faculty at institutions granting doctoral degrees. But this year, the average salary increase amounted to just 1.2%, which didn't approach the rate of inflation: 2.1% as of February 2010.

Even the meager 1.2% average increase may be an overstatement. The 1200 campuses taking part in the survey reported their contracted salaries, not what faculty members were actually paid. Left out of the calculations were unpaid furloughs imposed on public institutions in some states (including Arizona and Georgia). Also, the survey covered full-time faculty only, not part-time or adjunct faculty who usually are paid less.

Even using the reported numbers, nearly a third (32%) of the reporting institutions cut faculty salaries from last year. Slightly more (35%) either held salaries at the same level as last year or granted increases less than the rate of inflation. As a result, faculty salaries at two-thirds (67%) of the institutions failed to keep up with the cost of living.  Four-year colleges and associate-degree granting schools were the hardest hit; there, about four in 10 schools cut salaries compared to about a quarter of universities granting masters, professional, or doctoral degrees.

The survey found wide differences between salaries paid to men and women on college and university faculties. Male faculty members received an average of $87,206, compared to $70,600 for their female counterparts. Higher salaries for men were found at all levels of degree-granting institutions and at all faculty ranks, from full professor to instructor.

Other forms of compensation were also cut, the survey showed.  Some 13% of surveyed institutions, including one-fifth of colleges giving bachelors degrees, cut employer contributions to faculty members' retirement accounts.

AAUP's report highlighted the key role benefits pay in the compensation packages of faculty members. Even with the cuts in employer contributions, schools paid the equivalent of about 10% of their faculty's salaries into retirement accounts.  In another retirement expense -- one required by law -- institutions paid 5-7% of faculty salaries for Social Security. Amounts paid for medical/dental insurance ranged from 18% of salaries at associate degree-granting colleges to 10% at doctoral degree institutions. The AAUP report also gave anecdotal evidence of other benefit cuts, notably sabbatical leave and meeting attendance.

Science Careers reviewed the grim academic job market earlier this year and about a year ago. Our most recent monthly compilation of data from The Conference Board on posted job ads found indications of an improving job market, with one exception -- jobs for education, training, and library staff (at all levels), where the number of unemployed job-seekers exceeded the number posted opportunities by more than 5 to 1.

It probably happens all across the country every year, but few take notice. At Stanford the milestone was commemorated by an article in today's Stanford Report, the university's daily news vehicle.

At the beginning of 2010, Stanford had 1754 postdocs -- more than ever before. Postdocs at Stanford now outnumber every undergraduate class. That's worth repeating and pondering: At Stanford, postdocs now outnumber freshmen.

It's not just a new record. It's the product of a remarkable spike in Stanford's postdoc population: 10% in just 6 months, says Ranja Sanford, Stanford's assistant dean for postdoctoral affairs, in the article. There has been a steady upward trend in the number of postdocs on campus, Sanford says, and then a sudden leap that she attributes to the bad economy. The number of Stanford postdocs has increased by 37% since 2000.

The article provides an interesting snapshot of the postdoc population at a major research university because unlike most universities Stanford keeps careful tabs on their postdocs:
  •  About 40% of all Stanford postdocs are women.
  • The biggest group -- 601 -- is from the United States. 242 have Chinese passports. "Rounding out the top five countries on the list are Korea (98), India (86) and Canada (70)," the article by Kathleen Sullivan says. 306 are from the European Union, nearly four dozen are  from Russia or Eastern Europe, 33 are from the Middle East, and 32 are from Latin and South America. "More than two dozen postdoctoral scholars are the sole representatives of their countries on campus, including Jamaica, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe," Sullivan writes.
  •  2/3 of Stanford postdocs are at the medical school. About 200 are in engineering. Of the balance, 80% are in biology, chemistry, physics, and applied physics. The rest are distributed among 10 departments including history, linguistics, philosophy, East Asian studies, psychology and sociology. 
On Twitter: @SciCareerEditor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can download the AIP report, in pdf form.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An interesting footnote to the Arrowsmith novel is the fact that Lewis was greatly assisted by a Ph.D. microbiologist, Paul de Kruif, now best remembered for his book Microbe Hunters. Even though Lewis was listed as sole author, De Kruif's contributions were sufficient to merit receipt of 25% of the royalties. Thus, even in the creation of a story of a successful physician-scientist, a Ph.D. proved invaluable.
A Web site to help educators in the geosciences advance their careers and professionalize their teaching has won an award for online resources in education from American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The Web site, titled On the Cutting Edge, hosted at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota offers guidance to students on preparing for a career in geoscience education and advice to new faculty on advancing their research and professionalizing their teaching.

For geoscience teachers at any level, the site provides detailed tips on course and curriculum development, including outlines of substantive topics, such as mineralogy, paleontology, and structural geology. The site also addresses topics with public policy implications such as climate change and human health.

On the Cutting Edge is a project of National Association of Geoscience Teachers and funded in part by a grant from National Science Foundation's Division of Undergraduate Education. The site developed out of a series of workshops in 2002. An article in this week's Science magazine (subscription required) tells more about the site.

The Science Prize for Online Resources in Education was designed to honor and promote the originators of the best online materials available to science educators. Nomination for the 2010 prize close on 31 March. AAAS is the publisher of Science magazine and Science Careers.

We write about dual-scientist couples every so often, since scientists do have a knack for pairing off with each other. This month, we've published two articles on dual-scientist couples in which both partners work in the same -- or a very similar -- field.

Today we've posted a profile of physician-scientists Deepali Kumar at Atul Humar, transplant infectious disease specialists at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. When I spoke to them earlier this month, they offered this advice on working with your partner: "If you're going to work together as a couple, you really, really have to like each other and get along well," Atul said. "A lot of people tell me, 'oh, if I had to work with my wife all day, I think I'd go crazy.' For us it's just not the case. I think we work really well together."

Earlier this month in A Husband and Wife Play Science on the Same Team, we noted that Michael Crickmore and Dragana Rogulja had different interests when they started out in science, but their work and research questions now regularly overlap. An excerpt:

Even as their research interests have converged, Crickmore and Rogulja have tried to keep their careers and professional identities separate. They decided, for example, not to include each other as co-authors on their papers even though "we easily could have been," Crickmore says. "Dragana reads my manuscripts more than my boss." It's not rivalry, they say: They simply think they can help each other more if they keep some distance. "My secret weapon is that Dragana is both my adviser and my postdoc," Crickmore says. They even have complementary traits, they say: Crickmore obsesses over the details of problems whereas Rogulja likes to zoom out to see the big picture.

You might think we planned these stories around Valentine's Day, but really it just worked out that way. Eric Berger at the Houston Chronicle did plan his Valentine's Day article: an excellent profile of Wadih Arap and Renata Pasqualini, both based at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center where they study the unique molecular signatures of blood vessels. Medical oncologist Christopher Logothetis had a nice observation about the couple: "They feed off of each other and it creates a synergy," he said in the Chronicle article. "Him being a physician, her being a pure scientist, he's more pragmatic, and she's more of a risk-taker. Together, they're a perfect match."

Follow the money that drives science research in the United States, and more often than not you'll end up in Washington, D.C. The dollars don't reach labs on their own, though: Institutions, interest groups, and individuals help legislators decide what to fund -- and science competes with every other federal program for resources.

This year scientific research is one of the few areas slated to gain ground in the proposed federal budget, but that budget is not law yet. "If people want to see the research and development funding increase they're going to need to get up there and say, 'Look we feel that we need those increases, they're vital for the future, they're vital for job creation [and] our future economic competitiveness,'" said Bob Simon, staff director of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, at a session of the American Association of the Advancement of Science conference, on Saturday in San Diego, California.

Along with Tobin Smith, associate vice-president for federal relations of the Association of American Universities, Simon laid out a map of the roads through which scientists can offer their insight to their elected officials in Congress. Smith, who described his job, with his tongue in his cheek, as "cross-cultural communications," said that for scientists to help policymakers they need to make the effort: "You're scientists, you don't have time...but you can learn to navigate it just as if you were going to a foreign country."

Simon explained that most legislators leave the nitty gritty of science policymaking to legislative assistants, who are based in D.C. offices. Scientists can start by reaching out to "Constituent Services Representatives" -- a senator or representative's ears to the ground in their home district or state offices. These people can help a scientist reach the right legislative assistant in D.C. Legislative assistants act as gatekeepers for the committees they serve, helping decide who can testify before a committee, for instance. Home offices, university lobbyists, and professional-society lobbyists often organize springtime group visits called "fly-ins," where constituent groups can meet with committee staff in D.C., Simon said.
Knowing who to speak with and when are important: No legislative aide wants to hear advice on a vote the week after it takes place, Smith noted, but the way scientists communicate with legislative aides is also critical. "Build a relationship," he advised, instead of just barging in with a data set and an opinion. He cited the example of one university that organized science-outreach days on campus on behalf of their representative, who was then able to take credit for promoting science. He also advised catching legislators at their home offices, where they often feel more comfortable and have less hectic schedules than in the capital.

Legislative Committees Scientists Should Know

House of Representatives: Science and Technology, Energy & Commerce, Natural Resources, Homeland Security, Appropriations, Ways & Means

Senate: Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Environment and Public Works, Energy and Natural Resources, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Appropriations, Finance

Both speakers stressed the importance of putting science in context in clear, simple language for government decision-makers, very few of whom have a science background. "Science is only one piece of the policy-making puzzle," Smith said.  Legislators think on electoral timeframes and must weigh economic and security issues, and public opinion, whereas scientists usually think more about a decision's long-term impact. Yet the public still has great respect for scientists, and when they -- scientists -- speak in a unified, clear voice, the public and their leaders take notice. It may not be easy to bridge the language barrier, Smith said, but if they take the time to cultivate a better understanding of how to reach legislators and their staff, scientists have the potential to make a big impact.

-    Lucas Laursen

February 17, 2010

Role of Collegiality in Tenure

Sparked by the faculty-meeting shooting in Huntsville, Alabama, Janet Stemwedel, on her blog Adventures in Ethics and Science, raised the role collegiality should play in making tenure decisions. Stemwedel puts her position on the issue right in the blog post title: "Collegiality matters".

You shouldn't have to be the life of the party or a good drinking-buddy to get tenure, she says. But Stemwedel underscores the consequences for someone lacking in social skills when it comes time to make the tenure decision: "People smart enough (in terms of both intellect and wisdom) that you'd want to be colleagues with them for 20 or 30 years are not going to happily grant tenure to someone who is an absolute pain in the ass, who shirks shared responsibility, or who poisons morale in your department."

Stemwedel acknowledges that establishing baselines or criteria for collegiality is tricky. There are no objective measures, and it's entirely possible to use lack of an ability to get along with colleagues as a way of masking discrimination.The ability to schmooze should not trump publishing and teaching accomplishments, she adds. Nonetheless, Stemwedel says, "The ability to work with your colleagues is part of the job." (original emphasis). If you can't or won't do that part of your job, she says, then don't expect your colleagues to want you around for the rest of their careers

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) offers guidance to universities on incorporating the factor of collegiality in tenure decisions. AAUP argues against establishing collegiality as a separate criterion, but encourages collegiality as a factor in attaining the required standard in the primary criteria of scholarship, teaching, and service, in tenure decisions. 

As you can imagine, an extended thread of comments follows the blog post, including some comments with the heat turned up. Some comments echo Stemwedel's concerns about the imprecise nature of collegiality, while others point to the faculty member's ability to get funding, which can trump all other criteria. One comment, however, stands out ...

Early in my career, I voted yes on a tenure decision when I should have voted no. After I realized this, I considered how I should proceed in the future. I decided that if I had to think about whether a person should be tenured or promoted, I would vote no. I am well convinced I voted correctly in every instance after making this decision.

Several years ago, during an internship in the NIH Director's office, while fulfilling a requirement for my Master's of Health Administration, I learned an interesting fact. In an internal review of when and why researchers falter in their request for NIH R01 grants, it was determined that revised applications become increasingly necessary after the 3rd 3-5 year cycle, and rejections peak after the 4th and 5th cycle. At that point in their careers, researchers are often no longer at the cutting edge in their field and, despite the benefits of experience and accomplishments, are less competitive for NIH grants.

For these applicants, there is a need to retool: to learn new techniques, gain new skills, and get fresh insights and ideas. One of the most efficient and enjoyable ways to do this is to take a sabbatical year. The origin of the term sabbatical is a "year during which land remained fallow, observed every year by the ancient Jews" (American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd College Ed. p. 1082). In modern academic parlance, it means a leave of absence with financial support given to tenured faculty member for the purposes research in a new venue, academic study and writing,  and related travel. However, from there the working definition diverges, depending on the university and department you're with.

Having a more competitive faculty member with his or her battery recharged would seem to be in the best interests of both the institution and scientist, but institutions don't always encourage sabbaticals, or support them well. I spent the first half of my career at Harvard; I've spent the last half (so far) at the University of Wisconsin. At Harvard, sabbaticals were encouraged, facilitated, and well supported. At Wisconsin, sabbaticals are less common and, in the medical school at least, require outside funding and considerably more advance planning, personal effort, and perseverance. A university's policy toward sabbaticals depends on precedent and culture, as well as finances and manpower issues. If you have a sabbatical in mind, the time to explore an institution's policies on sabbaticals is during your recruitment.

In my experience, a successful sabbatical requires at least 3 years of planning. First, you must figure out what you expect from the experience, your personal goals for the sabbatical. Then you have to match them up with the available opportunities, finding the best people and environment to help you achieve your goals. The best way of investigating this is professional interactions at meetings, conferences, and collaborations, and preliminary, exploratory visits. You may need to visit several labs before you find the right situation, or it may be obvious early on which situation is best. You may select a laboratory half a world away, but you could also end up in another laboratory on your own campus.

Traditionally, home institutions will support a semester away at full pay or an entire academic year at half pay. Departmental and institutional support varies widely; you may need to find supplemental support, especially for a year-long sabbatical, through the host institution or a funding agency. Happily, targeted support for sabbaticals from government agencies and foundations is generally not difficult to obtain, and is often generous. Almost all are posted on the Internet and easy to find and apply for.

Well in advance of granting leave, all institutions require that the faculty member make provisions for the supervision of his or her laboratory and the fulfillment of teaching and administrative responsibilities. You may need to twist your colleague's arms or do some horse trading. It is also important to know what the host lab expects. Often you're expected to teach as well as learn, which can come as a shock if you haven't worked this out ahead of time.

My own experience has been that housing is not a problem if the sabbatical term is spent at a major institution. At any one time, a portion of an institution's faculty is on sabbatical, and many institutions own faculty housing, so there are good housing options available at reasonable cost; housing can be arranged through the institution's housing office. Sometimes, though, housing arrangements aren't made until the last minute; it can be disconcerting not knowing where you will live.

Your home institution is likely to require written assurance that you'll return after the sabbatical and remain for a year or two -- which could be inconvenient if your very successful sabbatical leads another institution to offer you your dream job soon after your return.

Is sabbatical worth all the trouble? My answer is an emphatic YES. Ask the scientist who just returned from a sabbatical -- which is a very good place to start your planning.
As more details emerge about the shooting at University of Alabama in Huntsville that killed three members of the school's biology faculty and wounded three others, the biology department is trying to pull together and keep functioning. Today's New York Times describes how the department is trying to cope.

Last December, Sara Coelho described for Science Careers how two labs at universities in the U.K. dealt with the deaths of individual faculty members, in both cases by natural causes. Coelho distilled from her interviews six steps that labs and departments can take when a death occurs, with recovery being the first step.

The shooting left 4 holes to fill -- the three faculty members who were killed, and the shooter. Three more were hospitalized -- and only one of those has since been released. Among those still hospitalized is Stephanie Monticciolo, the department's administrator, who, colleagues told the Times, was the one on the team who "doles out hugs and birthday reminders".

University president David Williams told ABC News that a campus memorial service is planned for Friday. Beyond that formal observance, department colleagues, particularly those that witnessed the shooting first-hand, will likely need counseling to deal with the events. Students, too, are likely to be affected. Among the lessons Coelho learned from the people she interviewed is not to push the grief aside, and to seek help if you feel in trouble. Other steps include looking after your personal health, planning ahead, communicating with your colleagues colleagues, staying focused on your research -- but also staying open to new opportunities.

I've just stumbled on Better Posters -- a blog on scientific poster design from Zen Faulkes (aka DoctorZen), a neuroscientist at the University of Texas Pan-American. All the advice is top-notch, and he critiques real posters from real conferences -- and in some cases actually revises them.

While general advice on oral presentations is common (if not always sound), specific information on how to make a good poster is rare.

DoctorZen also runs the blog NeuroDojo, which also sometimes includes scientific career advice.

(Please follow me on Twitter: @SciCareerEditor )

Yale University announced last week it would reduce the number of applicants admitted to its graduate schools by up to 15%, which would directly hit doctoral programs and could affect the conduct of research on the Yale campus. The admissions cut is one of 10 measures unveiled last Wednesday that Yale says it needs to respond to a 26% drop in the university's endowment caused by the global financial crisis of 2008-09.

University President Richard Levin and Provost Peter Salovey said in a letter that the Graduate School would reduce its admission of new students in the 2010-2011 academic year by 10-15%. In Friday's Yale Daily News, reporters Vivian Yee and Lauren Rosenthal said that the reduction would fall almost entirely on doctoral students, since unlike doctoral candidates, masters degree students pay tuition. Levin told the Daily News that the university spends $65,000 to $70,000 a year on fellowships and stipends to support each doctoral student. Also in their Wednesday letter Levin and Salovey announced a 2% increase in those stipends.

Chairs of science faculties at Yale said the admission cut might cause more financial problems than it solves. "Reducing the number of graduate students in the sciences is unfortunate and short-sighted," Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department (EB&B) Chair Richard Prum tells the Daily News. Prum says his department received a surge of grants from the federal stimulus program, which include funds for paying graduate students. "Even though the income of our grants has gone up," says Prum, "the number of graduate students we're able to accept has gone down."

Computer Science chair Avi Silberschatz tells the Daily News he has a similar situation. Silberschatz noted that if these projects are not delivered, it may be difficult to win future grants.

Among current students, the Daily News found a mixed reaction to the announcement. Cynthia Chang an E&EB doctoral candidate tells the reporters that the proposed enrollment cuts would be "a huge detriment to our department and to any department." However, Mark Klee, an economics student they interviewed, likes the increased stipends in the proposal. "I think that cutting down on admissions as opposed to cutting down on stipends is probably the right way to go," Klee says.

Hat tip:  Washington Monthly

At Science Careers, we've written a lot about dual-career -- and especially dual-scientist -- couples. The most recent example is the excellent piece by Chelsea Wald, A Husband and Wife Play Science on the Same Team.

This article started me wondering what other current, prominent scientist-couples are out there,  with both partners making important contributions to science. I quickly realized that I don't know very many. The example that comes immediately to mind is Eva Silverstein and Shamit Kachru, who moved together last year from Stanford University to the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at UCSB. Another example is Amy Palmer and Alexis Templeton, both at the University of Colorado, whom I wrote about in 2005. This article in The Scientist lists three more couples. And there are, of course, several important historical examples (including very recent history, like Kirschstein and Rabson), but that's not my focus here.

What other important, current scientist-couples can you think of where both are currently making important contributions to science?

(Please follow me on Twitter @SciCareerEditor )
The excellent physics-and-math blog Not Even Wrong, published by Columbia mathematician Peter Woit (who has a book with the same name as the blog), has an interesting post about an analysis of the job market in high-energy theoretical physics. The post describes data compiled by Erich Poppitz, a theoretical physicist at the University of Toronto. Poppitz's analysis is available as a pdf download. The data were taken from the Theoretical Particle Physics Jobs Rumor Mill maintained at UC Davis; Poppitz insists that there's no guarantee of accuracy. 

Among Poppitz's interesting conclusions (most of them noted by Woit) are these:
  • A typical recent year brought 20 new faculty appointments in high-energy theoretical physics in the United States; over the last 16 years the average number of new U.S. appointments in the field is about 17. The best recent year was 2007, when 28 new high-energy theory faculty were hired.
  • Two years later, in 2009, U.S. universities made just 9 new faculty appointments. 
  • In the same year, Princeton University alone hired 8 new postdocs in theoretical particle physics, so that one university cohort could nearly fill all of America's theoretical physics faculty slots in a bad year. The stats don't say how many postdoc appointments there were nationwide.
  • If you want a job in high-energy theory, the numbers suggest, you'd better get your Ph.D. from one of a handful of universities, since that's where most new faculty members come from. And all six are in America: Princeton (24 new Princeton Ph.D.s were hired into faculty slots over the last 16 years), Harvard (19), Berkeley (18), Stanford (13), MIT (12), or the University of Texas (10). Those six schools produced 35% of all new high-energy theory faculty members since 1994; the other 180-or-so positions were distributed among another 76 or so universities throughout the world.
  • Another key to getting hired is to choose your subfield carefully. "You pretty much have to work in cosmology or phenomenology to have some sort of job prospects," since no one is hiring at the more formal end of the field, Woit writes.
(Follow my science-career-related posts on Twitter @SciCareerEditor)

According to a story published today by Zoë Corbyn in the Times Higher Education supplement, the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of Newcastle in the United Kingdom has urged its principal investigators (PIs) to keep a better check on the originality of draft papers written by younger scientists.

The faculty's research strategy committee recently recommended "appropriate supervision of postdoctoral staff, 'including the previewing of draft papers' and the use of 'native English-speaking staff to support junior colleagues," Corbyn writes. The recommendation follows a case of plagiarism that led to the withdrawal of a paper that had been published last July. As explained by the faculty's dean of research, "the postdoc had inappropriately copied a large piece of text, and the principal investigator... had not checked his work," Corbyn reports.

Close mentoring and good training are needed to help young scientists learn proper procedures -- some plagiarism is unintentional -- and adopt appropriate ethical standards. But there is something in the recommendation that makes me a little uneasy. While it puts the onus on the PI to guarantee original research and writing, it seems to imply that only early-career scientists are prone to plagiarism. 

To me, a more appropriate recommendation would be to encourage and train both PIs and young scientists on how to avoid, detect, and report plagiarism -- by their younger AND their older colleagues.

Read the full THE story here.

A press release from Robert Madore, the Director of Region 9A of the United Auto Workers says that postdocs at 3 University of Massachusetts campuses have voted to unionize.

According to the press release, a majority of the 300 postdocs at the Dartmouth, Amherst, and Boston campuses of the University of Massachusetts "have signed cards authorizing UMass Postdoctoral Researchers Organize/United Auto Workers (UMass PRO/UAW) to represent them in collective bargaining, triggering a process that will require the university to negotiate over wages, health insurance, job security, and other workplace issues." The release says that a certification petition has been filed with the Massachusetts Division of Labor Relations.

This is the same union that is in currently in negotiations with the University of California on behalf of some 5000 postdocs at that institution. We'll have more about those negotiations in this week's "Taken for Granted" column, which will be posted tomorrow afternoon on Science Careers. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hat tip: Washington Monthly

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

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

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

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

Academic Scientists @ Work: Negotiating a Faculty Position

Be Honorable and Strategic

Negotiation Tactics and Strategies

Nine Key Negotiating Points

Please Sir Can I Have Some More?

Business Sense: Starting an Academic Lab

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us know what you think.

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

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

Applications must be received by 15 February.

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

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

This may be the sort of thing we wish didn't happen in science, but it's still an entertaining read.
More than a century ago, Sigmund Freud famously (or infamously) wrote, "The great question that has never been answered, and which I have as yet been unable to answer despite my 30 years of research,, 'What does a woman want?'" In a similar vein, medical students engaged in research projects, both male and female, frequently ask, "What does my principal investigator (P.I.) want?" Unlike Freud's question, this one can be easily answered.  The answer is, 'commitment.'

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

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

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

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

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

A scientific career is, for many of us, one of the most intense endeavors that we undertake.  It both captures and defines our lives.  As a scientist, you often think and worry about your work when you are out of the laboratory -- even while lying in bed at night.  You experience waves of enthusiasm, rebelliousness, and even self-doubt as you continually weigh your efforts.  You are sometimes haunted by the feeling that your results justify your existence.  Yet no matter the extreme stresses that come with the work, the benefits of gaining new knowledge and insight into the natural world bring rewards that make other aspects of everyday life dull and drab in comparison. 

A successful career in science depends on many factors beyond native abilities, skills, education, and experience.  The importance of mentors and mentoring has been greatly emphasized in academic centers;  the need for wise and dedicated counselors and teachers is self-evident.  The necessity for colleagues, collaboration, and networking is well understood.

But the importance of friendship can often be taken for granted.  The intangibles that build professional relationships into the knowledge, trust, and bonds of friendship are complicated and deep.  Certainly they involve elements of equality, unselfishness, and concern.  The components of friendship are many and hard to define.  Out of the multitude of definitions for friendship, a favorite of mine is "one who knows all about you and loves you all the same."  It contains more than a grain of truth.

I was strongly reminded of the importance of friendship in my own career as a visual scientist by the recent death of Ruth Kirschstein (See Retrospective, Science 13 November 2009: Vol. 326, p. 947, and Beryl Benderly's recent tribute in Science Careers).  My years as a Clinical Fellow at the NIH in the 1960s provided me with training and direction that were important in ensuing decades.  Although assigned to an ophthalmology and visual science section at the NIH, I was given sufficient "elective" time to find my way to the laboratory of Alan Rabson, a rising star in experiential pathology.  Here I was introduced to viral oncology and became grounded in the fundamentals of pathology, tissue culture, viral transformation, and electron microscopy. 

To know and be mentored by Al Rabson was to know Ruth Kirschstein, his wife, for they were an inseparable team.  She too was in the early stages of her distinguished career in research and administration.  Their interest and support, as well as gracious hospitality, made my years at the NIH a very special time that has been an inspiration for me ever since. 

I later returned for visits to NIH and stayed in contact with both of them.  We shared scientific and personal updates and sought and offered advice to each other as opportunities and adversities presented themselves.  As the decision tree in my scientific career unfolded, their friendship was a resource I came to treasure. 

In recent years, when my own career took an administrative turn and I spent time meeting my Masters of Health Administration requirement with an internship in the NIH Director's Office, I came to appreciate fully and benefit from their idealism and vision.  Their friendship and the friendship of others has been a major factor in the advancements and enjoyments that I have experienced throughout my career.  
For individuals starting a scientific career today, the stresses and complexities of science are certainly more intense than 40 years ago.  But the opportunities to build friendships are there if one takes the time and makes the effort.  When such an opportunity arises, I implore you to go beyond a mentor-student, role-model, or colleague-to-colleague relationship and build a lasting friendship. Such friendships will enrich and support your career.  Friendships formed and continued early in your career have a strength and value that more than justifies the effort.  

A few weeks ago, the visual science journal I edit received a manuscript from an outstanding group of research physicians at a major university center.  In addition to two senior authors, the manuscript had four additional authors, each of whose credentials and roles in the study were well defined.  On reading the manuscript, my impression was that the study was well done and contained useful new information.  Accordingly, I assigned it for more detailed review to two reviewers who are authorities in the field.

The first review advised acceptance after some minor changes.  The second review was basically in agreement, but stated that the discussion contained a plagiarized paragraph from a previously published work.  The reviewer cited the original source.  On checking, I found this was indeed the case. I called the second reviewer and asked her how she had recognized the plagiarism.  She said the literary style of the paragraph in question was different from the rest of the paper.  She entered the paragraph into Google and it brought up the publication in which the paragraph first appeared.

We contacted the senior author of the submitted manuscript and he was surprised and embarrassed to learn of the plagiarism. He said the paragraph of concern had been contributed by one of the authors, who was a medical student working on the study.  This student called me soon after and, in the ensuing tearful conversation, explained she had recorded the paragraph verbatim with the intention of rewriting it in her own words, but was caught up in exams.  Under pressure from the senior author to contribute "her portion" of the manuscript and in the heat of the moment, she  inadvertently submitted the original material without quotation marks or citing its source.

She was obviously frightened and contrite and, indeed, had reason to be.  Plagiarism, even if inadvertent, is a serious offense in science.  It is the usual policy of our journal and many others to report plagiarism to the respective university authorities in the case of academic research. Disciplinary action usually follows.  The submitted paper is rejected and editors of other journals in the field are alerted to the plagiarism and the names of those involved.  Future works from the offending authors are handled with intense scrutiny and caution.

This was explained to the author responsible for the plagiarism, as well as her fellow authors.  After rejecting the paper and carefully investigating the matter, we were finally convinced that this was a bitterly regretted "first offense" for the responsible author and a unique occurrence for all the authors involved.  Consequently, we did not carry it beyond the rejection and stern warning. 

It is nonetheless a cautionary tale because plagiarism can derail a scientific career at any stage.