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Science Careers Blog

Academic Careers: August 2011

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.