Science Careers Blog

Alan Kotok

August 26, 2011

Equality in Academe

Gender inequality in academic science is a much-discussed issue. But a new study reported 23 August by Inside Higher Ed has identified one segment of academe where women's representation and pay match those of men: community colleges. Not only that, female faculty members at two-year institutions are "happy" and "love" their jobs, say sociologists Cynthia Anderson and Christine Mattley of Ohio University, members of the research team.

The article did not explain the reasons for the high level of satisfaction among female faculty at two-year institutions. One factor they ruled out however is shorter working days: The researchers found that the female faculty members did not have workloads any lighter than their colleagues at four-year colleges. Teaching loads at community colleges, for one thing, are twice as heavy as at universities and four-year colleges. The study has thus far looked at faculties at 29 community colleges in Ohio and will look at other states in the future. 

June 30, 2010

To Ink or Not to Ink

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

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

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

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

That said, some scientists have really cool tattoos.

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

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

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

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

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

Hat tip: Experience blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

In his February 2008 Tooling Up column, Dave Jensen offers tips for adding muscle to your marketing materials, particularly your résumé and cover letter. One of those tips is to describe your accomplishments and contributions with "action words" -- terms that convey action and results.

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

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


and my favorite ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Online job ads

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

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

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

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Job market competitiveness

The Conference Board computes a job-market competitiveness measure -- a ratio of online ads to the number of unemployed workers in the job market -- for these categories. However, the most up-to-date unemployment data, taken from Bureau of Labor Statistics' reports, are a month older than the numbers for online job ads, so the ratios calculated below are for April 2010, while the number of employment ads reported above are for May.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Are you qualified? Is it a realistic option?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday's big science news -- the creation of a bacteria cell with a synthesized genome -- comes from the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, and San Diego, California. Craig Venter himself is already a scientific legend due to his role in the sequencing of the human genome. But one aspect of his story is less well-known, and shows how scientific talent can emerge from unlikely sources: In his case, the U.S. Navy and community colleges.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anuradha Lohia, CEO of the India Alliance, will lead a series of seminars next month in the U.S. on biomedical, clinical, and public health research opportunities for postdocs in India. The India Alliance is a partnership between India's Department of Biotechnology and the Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom, formed in 2008.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of Science Careers' most popular stories last year was "Professional Polish", where contributor Sarah Webb collected advice on proper attire for interviewing. For men, under almost all circumstances, that meant wearing a necktie.

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

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

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

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

Hat tip: The Best Career Strategies

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

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

Online job ads

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

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

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Job market competitiveness

The Conference Board computes a job-market competitiveness measure -- a ratio of online ads to the number of unemployed workers in the job market -- for these categories. However, the most up-to-date unemployment data, taken from Bureau of Labor Statistics' reports, are a month older than the numbers for online job ads, so the ratios calculated below are a month older than the statistics noted above.

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

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

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

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

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

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In the blog EmploymentDigest today, career coach Peter Fisher offers a number of tips related to body language in a job interview. Fisher's basic message is that in order to build rapport, interviewees should take their cues from the interviewer.

By the time you get to an interview, you've already made a good impression with your networking, résumé, cover letter, LinkedIn page, and so on; otherwise you would never have made it this far. Your task now is to seal the deal, and a good performance in the interview will go a long way towards doing that.

Fisher stresses building rapport with the interviewer, which means making the interviewer feel comfortable with you. He recommends letting the interviewer initiate the handshake, for example. and watching how the interviewer sits and stands and modeling your behavior on the interviewer. Read the post for details and examples.

There's an exception to Fisher's "let the interviewer lead" principle: The interviewee should always be prepared to initiate eye contact, Fisher says. Looking the interviewer in the eye at the beginning of the interview is vital. "Avoiding the other person's eyes sends out the wrong signals and can give the impression of 'shiftiness', dishonesty, having something to hide, or lacking in confidence," Fisher says.

Don't worry about acting cool, whatever that means, Fisher advises. Act like the person they want to hire. You can go back to being cool once you're on the job.

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.

The retirement of older workers opens up jobs for new workers entering the labor force. But according to a new survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), many older Americans plan to continue working beyond the retirement age. This year, fully one-third (33%) of American workers expect to retire after age 65, up from a quarter (24%) 5 years ago.

EBRI, which conducts its retirement confidence survey annually, says that most reasons for delaying retirement can be traced to the recession. About 3 in 10 (29%) of those who said they have delayed retirement blame the poor economy; another 22% point to changes in their employment situation. Sixteen percent say they cannot afford to retire and 12% cite the need to make up for investment losses (12%).

Nonetheless, EBRI found more Americans very confident they will be able cover their basic needs in retirement -- 29%, up from 25% last year. Yet, the findings suggest that many Americans have a way to go to make that happen.  About 7 in 10 (69%) workers say they have saved for retirement, down a little from 72% last year. But many American workers do not have much saved. More than half of Americans (54%) say the value of their home and pension (defined benefit) plans is less than $25,000. Some 27% say they have less than $1,000 in savings, 7% more than the number who said that last year.

EBRI conducted the survey of 1153 respondents -- 902 workers and 205 retirees -- age 25 and over in January 2010. The sample used random digit dialing, plus a supplementary sample of mobile phone exchanges, and was weighted to reflect a cross-section of the U.S. population.

Most of the networking advice on Science Careers helps expand connections and contacts outside your regular circles, which often means with people at other companies, institutions, or organizations.  This week on his blog, career coach and author Rod Colón recommends that you also pay attention to networks at your current employer. He provides a 10-item test to gauge the effectiveness of your internal networking.

As Dave Jensen pointed out in a 2009 Tooling Up column, "networking is about information exchange -- providing information  about yourself and collecting information about other professionals, professional opportunities, and so on." Thus, even if you are not in the immediate job market, learning about developments in your organization can give you an advantage in finding and competing for career advancement opportunities where you're now working.

Many scientists work in academic, industrial, or government settings where the workforce consists of collections of teams organized into departments. But most of your work takes place in one lab or department, which makes it easy to become isolated from the rest of the organization. Even small companies and organizations often collaborate with others; for example, a small biotech company may work closely on projects with a larger pharmaceutical firm, or with one or more academic institutions. To take Colon's networking test you may need to define "organization" broadly.

Some of Colon's test items look into how well you know people in your organization and how well they know you ...
- Do you know people at all levels of the organization? Do they know your name and what you do?
- Do you know all the people whose work intersects yours in any way?
- Do you know and talk with others about tools to get the job done today and trends that will impact your job in the future?

Several of Colón's questions stress participation in face-to-face encounters with colleagues, for example ...
-  Do you take every opportunity to meet in order to define and discuss complex problems, shifting priorities, areas of responsibility?
- Are you involved in any cross-functional efforts or interdepartmental activities (e.g., temporary assignments, committees, task forces, special projects, volunteer activities)?
- Do you drop by to see people even when you don't need anything?

And some of Colón's suggestions require bureaucratic survival skills that often come in handy in any organization ...
- Are you plugged into the grapevine? Do you find out what's up before your boss tells you?
- Do you know people who have jobs you might like to have some day?

Here's an unlikely alternative career for a scientist: Playing safety in the National Football League. Recent Rhodes Scholar and former Florida State Uiversity (FSU) standout Myron Rolle may just make it happen.  This weekend the Tennesse Titans chose Rolle in the 6th round of the 2010 NFL draft making him the 207th overall pick.

As we reported in January 2009, at FSU, in Tallahassee, Rolle excelled in the classroom and lab and on the playing field, completing his undergraduate work in 2 1/2 years with a 3.75 GPA.  At FSU, he conducted research on metabolic characteristics of human mesenchymal stem cells, for which he received Florida State's 2008 Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Award.

Rolle passed on the 2009 NFL draft, choosing instead to accept a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University in the U.K., where he studied medical anthropology but worked out daily to stay in condition. Last summer, the U.S. Department of the Interior recruited Rolle to help design a health, fitness, and diabetes awareness program for American Indian youth.

Rolle's story may make great copy, but the fact he has options other than football led some NFL scouts to question his commitment to the game. Rolle helped answer those questions in the NFL Scouting Combine, a group skills competition for rookie prospects in February and March, where even with the one-year layoff he was competitive in the workouts.

At the combine, Rolle told Doug Farrar of Yahoo Sports he saw no conflict between his academic and athletic pursuits. "You learn discipline, you learn time management," Rolle told Farrar. "You learn structure, you learn organization, and as a football player those are obviously valuable assets and traits you can use to be great ...."

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.

April 21, 2010

Prepping Your References

At this week, Susan Adams provides tips on how to get your references to provide glowing accounts of your performance. As we pointed out last October, more employers today use the reference-checking process to learn all they can about potential hires, so you should not leave references to chance.

The first rule, Adams says, is to list as a reference people you know for certain will say positive things about you. Adams quotes a human-resources manager who says "Hiring managers expect a rave," so anything less than a completely favorable report will raise questions. And references should spell out specific examples of your contributions and not just generalities. A career coach told Adams that some prospects send their references bullet-point lists of their accomplishments, which references can then read back to employers.

A related tip: Use what you've learned about the employer to brief your references. Another career coach interviewed by Adams recommends asking the hiring manager in the interview to describe the strengths of the previous person in this job. You can then ask your references to describe your attributes in similar terms.

Still another suggestion: Get references representing different types of relationships with previous employers. This "360-degree set," as it is called in the article, should include a supervisor, a colleague, and, if you had supervisory responsibilities, someone who reported to you.

Adams also addresses the sensitive topic of references at an employer you left under less-than-ideal circumstances. You run the risk of tainting your references if you leave a company with guns blazing, Adams says. So when you're heading out, keep your mouth shut. Calm down, let some time pass, then go back and find someone who can give you a good word.

Mary Elizabeth Bradford, a recruiter turned career adviser, published a good explanation last Thursday of the hidden job market on her Career Artisan blog. The hidden job market is made up of unfilled positions that have not yet been advertised and in some cases may not even formally exist. Tooling Up columnist Dave Jensen and contributor Brooke Allen have discussed ways that scientists can learn about these jobs and make a case for getting hired into them.

Understanding the hidden job market means first understanding the recruiting and hiring processes of companies and organizations. Bradford gives a succinct description of these processes, illustrating that posting an open position on a job board comes much later in the process than most people realize. Hiring managers often talk to trusted colleagues or get recommendations from current staff before writing and posting an ad. Furthermore, Bradford adds, the managers may first post the opportunity on an industry association Web site before opening it up to the general public.

Tapping into the hidden job market, Bradford says, means tapping into this pre-announcement process. Networking, she explains, is one part of the overall task -- but it's not a substitute for hunting down the names of decision makers and discovering an enterprise's unadvertised needs. Bradford says that task requires that you understand your target market, research companies in your target market, design your marketing materials for that market, then send those materials to the people making the decision to hire.

Ostensibly, Bradford's career counseling services will help job hunters with this task. We submit that, for scientists at least, reading Dave Jensen's and Brooke Allen's articles, and the other articles in Science Careers, is just as good, even if it's not as customized as what Bradford offers.

Following strong earning reports this week from technology leaders Intel, Google, and Advanced Micro Devices comes news of increased hiring at some of these enterprises and throughout the industry.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Google said this week that it hired 786 new employees in the first three months of 2010. Intel reported plans for its first substantial hiring spree in 5 years, adding 1000 to 2000 new workers this year. In February, Cisco Systems said it plans to hire 2000 to 3000 new staff.

Smaller companies, particularly those active in social networking, are also adding employees. The mini-blogging platform Twitter says it has added 125 employees since May 2009. Professional networking service LinkedIn says it has added 154 new staff so far this year, and anticipates another 300 hires., a technology industry job board, says it now lists 62,000 positions nationwide, up from 51,000 a year ago. Dice told the Journal this was the first year-over-year increase since 2007.

Some tech companies are still shedding jobs, however, particularly those that are going through mergers. Hewlett-Packard's CEO says it had 304,000 employees last October, down from 321,000 a year earlier; H-P is in the process of absorbing Electronic Data Systems. The only jobs H-P has plans to fill are in its sales force. Oracle is cutting jobs as it integrates Sun Microsystems into its enterprise, but Oracle's CEO said in January that the company still plans to hire about 2000 people this year.

These reports support the data we've highlighted recently from The Conference Board on the job market for scientists, engineers, and related workers. For computer scientists and mathematicians, the number of posted job ads has increased in five of the last six months. Moreover, for each unemployed computer scientist or mathematician looking for work, there are 2.7 job ads -- far better than in the workforce at large, where nearly four unemployed workers are looking for work for every online job ad.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) last week released a report showing demand for H-1B skilled temporary worker visas is well below the levels experienced in recent years.

H-1B visas enable American employers to hire foreign workers in jobs that require advanced scientific or technical skills, such as engineers, scientists, and computer programmers. The law caps the number of visas issued at 65,000 per year, with another 20,000 positions reserved for applicants with a master's degree or higher. The latest application season began on 1 April 2010, and after one week, USCIS received 13,500 regular H-1B applications, plus another 5,600 requests for advanced-degree visas.

These numbers don't come close to the demand in previous years. Last year at this time, USCIS had about 32,500 applications for regular visas, about half of the 65,000 limit, while just about all of the 20,000 advanced-degree visas were taken up. Yet even those rates were considered slow compared to 2008 and 2007, where almost all H-1B visas were snapped up by this time.

The H1-B program has both vocal supporters and critics. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, and trade groups like the Technology Policy Institute favor lifting the caps on H-1B visas, in order to bring more of the world's scientific and technical talent to the U.S.

But reports of enterprises and institutions abusing these visas have tarnished the H-1Bs. In 2008, Indian technology outsourcing companies grabbed one of every six visas issued. And last year the Department of Justice filed criminal conspiracy and mail fraud charges against 13 defendants for filing false statements and documents related to H-1B visas. As a result, some of the H-1B program's supporters in Congress have started distancing themselves from it.

Our columnist Beryl Lieff Benderly has also documented how postdocs with H-1B visas working on American campuses are more liable to be exploited, with lower salaries and fewer publications.

UPDATE 1: Amy Smorodin, v.p. of Technology Policy Institute wrote in to clarify that "the Technology Policy Institute isn't a trade group ‑ we are an independent, non‑partisan think tank".

UPDATE 2: ComputerWorld today reports on federal extortion charges levied against two employees of a Chicago-area IT consulting company that allegedly threatened retaliation against an H-1B visa holder who filed complaints with the Department of Labor about being owed back wages. The threats were allegedly delivered in unannounced late-night visits, with forced entry to the visa holder's home. The report says the victim used audio and video devices to record later conversations, which were given to investigators. The defendants face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

In numerous Science Careers articles and blog posts, we've recommended LinkedIn as a tool for making and maintaining contacts. LinkedIn is a social network with professional orientation -- much more than Facebook, which is more about personal connections. By extending your circle of contacts out several layers, LinkedIn can multiply the impact of your one-on-one personal network to uncover job opportunities. Moreover, LinkedIn's profiles capture details of work histories that let job-hunters describe their accomplishments and talents. LinkedIn also allows colleagues add recommendations and testimonials to your profile.

In his blog last week, Chris Hoyt -- a corporate recruiter for AT&T in Dallas, Texas, who writes under the nom de blog RecruiterGuy -- shared his take on some of the uses and misuses of LinkedIn he's encountered. Hoyt says he's a fan of LinkedIn, but he unloads on lazy job-seekers who think finding his LinkedIn page is all they need to get a job at his company.

Hoyt cites as an example the job seeker who started a LinkedIn message with "Dear Respected Madam" (Hoyt is male) and a compliment on a speech at an event Hoyt says he never attended. Hoyt also tells about several requests for résumé help, and frequent messages with variations on the "Please look at my résumé do you have any jobs?" theme.

All it takes to get his attention, Hoyt says, is honesty and professionalism. "Please understand that I'll go the distance in helping job seekers to find a match for their skills -- if they're honestly trying.  If they've taken the time to construct a full sentence when sending me a solicitation... If they've taken a look at what's posted on the job boards or the career portal of my employer."

In the blog post Hoyt reproduces a real example of an effective LinkedIn message from someone who was seeking a management position. Hoyt notes how the writer described the kind of work he wanted and the strengths he could bring to AT&T. His tone was conversational but confident and courteous.

Using this example, Hoyt offers advice to job-seekers sending e-mail or LinkedIn messages:

If you're engaging a recruiter or manager about employment, try and remember that it's a person on the other end of the e-mail.  Remind yourself that just because your message is being delivered in writing doesn't mean that it's your brightest move to use the same tone or shorthand that you'd use when messaging a friend or college buddy.  Step up your game and spend a whopping 5 minutes to craft a message that is similar to what you'd say in person to the recruiter.

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.

If you didn't get enough Cinderella from Butler University's improbable rise to college basketball success, take a look Rochester Institute of Technology's (RIT's) ride to the NCAA hockey's championship this weekend in Detroit, Michigan. Like Butler, RIT's  championship aspirations fell short, losing to a superior University of Wisconsin team -- the tournament's no. 3 seed -- 8-1 in the national semifinals, which are known as the Frozen Four.

Until 5 years ago, RIT, in Rochester, New York, played hockey in Division III. This year, RIT won the Division I Atlantic Hockey Association championship. While that gained an invitation to the NCAA hockey tournament, RIT was seeded  15th of the 16 teams in the tournament. Like Butler, RIT upset some of the tournament favorites and skated its way into the Frozen Four with a 2-1 victory over favored Denver University and a 6-2 pounding of University of New Hampshire to win the regional final. 

RIT's roster is hardly a typical collection of college jocks. Like Butler, RIT has a small athletic program and plays in a small conference. RIT offers no athletic scholarships. One-third of the 24-man squad is majoring in science or engineering. Three are majoring in biomedical science, including sophomore defenseman Chris Haltigin, who has a 3.75 GPA. Another three players are in RIT's packaging science program, which combines materials science, economics, and business. Forward and co-captain Sean Murphy, a civil engineering student, was an academic all-American last year.

One advantage a school like RIT has over colleges with elite athletic programs is NOT being elite. RIT's coach Wayne Wilson told the New York Times that many pro hockey prospects leave their big-name college teams after 1 or 2 years, but RIT's team members play together for 4 years, where they gain experience and teamwork. While RIT's squad may not get the pro contracts, they are more likely to finish their degrees in solid academic disciplines that complement the great memories of their near-championship season.

Full disclosure: I attended printing technology classes at RIT in 1990.

In Friday's New York Times, Steven Greenhouse describes how unpaid internships may get companies offering these opportunities in legal hot water. The story tells about students not only working gratis at some of these jobs when the law says they should be paid, but also doing tasks that could hardly be called an educational experience.

Greenhouse cites evidence that the number of unpaid internships is growing, along with the eagerness of students to get their names and faces in front of potential employers. But three states -- Oregon, California, and New York -- have begun investigations of unpaid internships, which may violate minimum wage rules. And the U.S. Department of Labor is increasing its enforcement of internships that may break federal wage and hour laws.

The Labor Department has six criteria that must be met for companies to hire unpaid trainees:

- The training must be similar to that given in an academic institution or vocational training school

- The training benefits the trainees

- The training cannot displace regular employees and trainees must be closely supervised

- The company that provides the training gains no immediate advantage from the trainee's activity

- Trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the end of the training experience

- Both employer and trainee understand that trainees are not entitled to compensation for the time spent in training

If any of those standards are not met, the Labor Department says, then the trainee is considered an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act and due at least the minimum wage.

Oregon, one of the states investigating unpaid internships, found cases where unpaid interns displaced regular workers and were not working in an educational environment. Greenhouse says an investigation of unpaid internships at a solar-panel manufacturer in Oregon led to two interns receiving $3,350 in back wages.

Greenhouse also described menial work experiences of interns that come nowhere close to anyone's definition of "educational". In one case, a New York University (NYU) film student who hoped to get training in animation did an unpaid internship for a production company in Manhattan. However, she was assigned to the company's facilities department and ordered to wipe off doorknobs to prevent the spread of the swine flu virus. In another case, a law firm in New York -- a company that would have a problem claiming ignorance of the law -- hired an NYU student for the summer, withheld the promised $10.00 an hour wage, and required the intern to make coffee and sweep out bathrooms.

The laws get fuzzy, Greenhouse says, when not-for-profit organizations offer internships. In some cases, it is difficult to tell where volunteer work for charities ends and unpaid internships begin. Another gray area involves course credits. In California and some other states, unpaid student interns can receive college credits for the experience. But the U.S. Labor Department says companies still need to meet the six criteria for unpaid internships, even if students also receive course credits.

Science students have more opportunities for landing paid internships. As we mentioned in our blog post last week on internships, many science-related student internships offer real money for the experience thanks to research grants or other training funds. And as noted earlier in March, paying interns in a well-designed internship program can pay off handsomely for employers as well.

In a post on, posted yesterday, columnist Bill Bartman gives advice to budding employers on the five traits he believes make for great hires. While intended for employers, his advice offers insights into the thinking behind hiring decision, particularly in small businesses or quickly changing industries, that could be helpful to job seekers.

Bartman, who claims to have made a fortune buying and selling bad loans, says his companies have hired almost 10,000 people over the years; he doesn't say how many years or companies. He also says that his employee turnover rates were far lower than industry averages. Why? Presumably because he hired well. Here's what he suggests new bosses look for in their new hires ...

- Aptitude. Experience is nice, says Bartman, but if you want to turn your industry on its head or start an entirely new line of business, experience can be more of a disadvantage. Instead of people who claim to know their way around the industry, he says, look for raw talent and skills you can build on, like the ability to build rapport quickly, and to handle rejection.

This emphasis on raw skills rather than years of experience can be important in fast-moving industries such as biotech, genomics, or green energy, where you often need to adjust to new circumstances and opportunities. It can also benefit recent graduates, while it works against the interests of mid-career job hunters.

- Attitude. Bartman tells about a FedEx driver who applied eight times for a job with one of his companies. Her persistence impressed Bartman, who later hired her. Bartman also tells about one of his employees who, when her car broke down, walked 15 miles to work. He was so impressed with her loyalty he bought her a new car. You may not have an opportunity to demonstrate this kind of motivation to an employer, but you can demonstrate in your resume, cover letter, and interview that you keep at a task to see that it gets done right, or go the extra mile for a customer.

- Intelligence. Here Bartman says he's talking about creativity rather than IQ. He advises new business owners to ask candidates about situations where they broke through time or budget constraints, or other barriers. These kinds of questions resemble behavioral interviewing, which we've discussed on this blog and in Science Careers articles.

 - Intensity. By intensity, Bartman means a sense of urgency and excitement about the work. This quality is one of those "intangibles" that employers look for in interviews, but it's difficult to describe or quantify. Bartman says he would tell candidates that working in his company would be the hardest job they ever had, but also the best. If Bartman saw that the statement rattled candidates, he wouldn't hire them.

- Integrity. Bartman looks for people's ability to deliver what they promise. "I also expect employees at any level," Bartman says, "to have the guts to deliver bad news rather than shade it or hide it." This trait likely would not come out in a resume or even in interviews, but it would in reference checks, which are becoming much more comprehensive and probing.

Bartman says these traits are not easy to train in new hires, so they need to be uncovered in the hiring process, which is not an easy task. "These are not traits that show up like a swallowed coin on an X-ray," Bartman says, so employers need to develop their sensors to pick up on them.

The number of online opportunities in most science and engineering categories increased in March, while ads seeking health care professionals jumped substantially.  The ratio of job-seekers to online ads for most scientists and engineers in February -- the latest month  data are available -- remained about the same as January, with prospects for engineers and architects becoming more favorable for job-hunters but the outlook for education, training, and library staff getting worse.

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

Online job ads

In all the categories of scientists and engineers followed in the Science Careers index, the number of online job ads either increased in March or remained about the same as February. Postings for computer scientists and mathematicians increased 2700 in March, its fifth gain in 6 months beginning in October 2009. During that period the number of ads for these professionals has increased by about 100,000 per month, or 25%. Ads for engineers and architects jumped by 2100 in March to more than 137,000, its fourth increase in 5 months. The number of opportunities for life, physical, and social scientists showed little change from February, increasing by 800 to 80,000+.

March was a very good month if you're a health care practitioner or technician. The number of online ads for these positions 88,000, a jump of more than 16%, to 627,300 -- the single largest monthly percentage gain in any category since the Science Careers index began in July 2009. Postings for education, training, and library workers slipped by 1100 from February, its second straight decline.

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Job market competitiveness

The Conference Board computes a job-market competitiveness measure -- a ratio of online ads to the number of unemployed workers in the job market -- for these categories. However, the most up-to-date unemployment data, taken from Bureau of Labor Statistics' reports, are a month older than the numbers of online job ads, so the ratios calculated below are from February 2010, a month earlier than the statistics cited above.

The February ratios for most of the groups showed little change from January. Prospects for architects and engineers improved somewhat in February. This improvement happened more due to the number of unemployed people seeking these jobs shrinking by nearly 50,000. As a result, the ratio of job hunters to online jobs also fell from 1.8 in January to 1.5 in February.

For education, training, and library workers -- a category already plagued by very bad job-ad:to-seeker ratios -- job prospects deteriorated even further in February 2010.  The number of online job ads in that category fell by 3300 as ten times as many -- some 33,000 -- additional unemployed workers joined the competition. All told, the number of people in February looking for a job in education, training, or library work increased from 4.9 to 5.5 per online ad.

Two groups tracked by Science Careers continued to have more job ads in February 2010 than job-hunters: computer scientists and mathematicians, and health care practitioners and technicians. Each of these categories enjoyed about 2.7 job ads for each job seeker. The number of life, physical, and social scientists looking for work in February remained about the same as the number of posted ads.

For the U.S. overall, the number of online job ads decreased slightly in March 2010, by 29,500 to 3,927,000. In February, there were 3.8 unemployed workers for each posted opportunity, about the same as the 3.7 job hunters per ad recorded in January.

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In an EmploymentDigest blog post from yesterday, Bill Vick advises job hunters who land an interview to assess the style of the interviewer and be prepared to react accordingly as the session progresses. Vick, a recruiter, entrepreneur, and consultant, parses interviewers into five types and says that recognizing an interviewer's type early in the interview can give interviewees tools for getting their message across when the interviewer is -- to be charitable -- less than an expert at it.

How many of these interviewers have you encountered?

- Non-stop talker. This interviewer talks more -- much more -- than he asks questions. The non-stop talker makes it tough for candidates to break in with their selling points, but the friendly chatter also can lull the candidate into saying something he or she might not want to divulge. Vick recommends staying focused and waiting for an opportunity to ask questions about the position or organization, to help get the discussion back on track.

- Drill sergeant. This style is the opposite of the non-stop talker. Here, the interviewer fires off questions in monotone, which can be intimidating. Here again, Vick says to keep your focus, maintain eye contact, provide solid answers, but don't try to engage in small talk. To the extent possible, return questions with your own questions, but be prepared for more drill.

- Traditional interviewer. This interviewer follows a predictable script, often with prepared questions. Vick says the traditional interviewer may be trying to stay completely objective, or he or she may just be using the script as a crutch. The advice here is to allow the interviewer to remain in a comfort zone by following his or her lead, but to use opportunities in the discussion to follow up with questions of your own so that you can learn more about the organization and make your own points.

- Inexperienced/newbie. As Vick says, "everyone has to start somewhere." You may run into an interviewer who doesn't know where or how to begin. This is a tricky situation because you want to get across your selling points but you do not want to embarrass or confuse the interviewer. Vick advises staying on message -- but don't ask questions you suspect the interviewer can't answer.

- Inappropriate interviewer. This interviewer crosses the line with questions that are unrelated to employment or just too personal. On this blog last month we discussed Interview Questions from Hell, where some questions are so egregious they break laws, not just the bounds of good behavior. Vick says candidates should keep the session on a professional level and turn the discussion back to the job and the company.  If the interviewer continues being a jerk, conclude the discussion.

Vick's interview types generally apply to one-on-one interviews conducted in person. There will be variations for other kinds of interview sessions. Here are links to Science Careers articles discussing telephone, informational, and panel interviews.

On Friday, Tara Weiss in offered some pointers for students on landing a coveted summer internship. Hunting for an internship is a lot like hunting for a permanent job in that it takes both preparation and professionalism. Interns may generally be younger or paid less, but that still means you have to look and act like a pro when applying.

Weiss says that according to National Association of Colleges and Employers the market for internship hunters is improving; employers are hiring 5.8% more interns this year than last year. But applicants for internships are also getting more aggressive: Last week I gave an informational interview to a candidate for an internship here at Science, the first time I had been information-interviewed for an internship.

In finding internships, you need to look past college bulletin boards and campus recruiters to identify places to work. Weiss recommends making a list of companies or organizations where you would like to intern. Rattle your networks of professors, recent grads, friends, and family to find the names of the hiring managers. Then see if your contacts can make an introduction or referral on your behalf. In many organizations, employee referrals get more serious consideration than those coming in cold.

If you don't know anyone in those companies, use impersonal means such as company Web sites or  LinkedIn to get the names of managers in the department offering the internship. Send your résumé to those managers as well as the H.R. department.  

Like hunting for a permanent job, Weiss says, do your homework on the target companies. Read their annual report and news about the organization -- and not just the press releases on the company Web site -- to learn what's going on in the organization, the products and services offered, and who are their customers. Customize your cover letter and résumé to display this background research. Few hiring managers will expect an intern to have a lot of direct experience in their kind of work, but you still can highlight problems solved or leadership provided in campus organizations or in part-time jobs you've held.

If you get an interview it will likely be held over the telephone -- unless you're local -- since few companies have the resources to pay travel for intern interviews. In a 2006 Tooling Up column, Dave Jensen gave advice on nailing telephone interviews. More phones have gone mobile since then, but Dave's advice still applies. And if you're lucky enough to get a personal interview, career coach G.L. Hoffman earlier this month gave students a few pointers on job interviews from the hiring manager's perspective. (Really dudes, lose the chewing gum.)

In the interview, Weiss advises, ask about next steps and timetable, which will show your enthusiasm for the internship and give you an idea of when to follow-up if you don't hear anything. And send a thank you note -- hard copy or e-mail -- that offers a sincere 'thank you' and also emphasizes your strengths, or covers over rough spots in the interview.

Pay is always a touchy subject in internship interviews. Fortunately, many science internships are paid positions, supported by research grants or programs like NSF's Research Experiences for Undergraduates. If, however, you're being considered for an internship with a not-for-profit organization or start-up company, you may need to balance the desire for experience against the limited compensation they offer. Here's where you will need to think through in advance potential scenarios and make a decision based on your current needs versus future opportunities.

Consistent with the plan we mentioned 2 weeks ago on the Science Careers blog, the House of Representatives lumped much of their student-loan bill into the package of fixes to the health care reform bill. Yesterday, both the Senate and the House passed this package, which now goes to President Obama for his signature. But in order to get the deal made, aid to community colleges in the original student loan bill had to be cut.

Combining the bills gave Democratic lawmakers a way to bypass a threatened filibuster of the bill by Senate Republicans. The combined bill used a legislative procedure called reconciliation that's reserved for budgetary measures, which, under the Senate rules, allows legislation to be passed with a simple majority. The strategy helped get the bill passed, but it required cutting back on some of the financial aid provisions in the student loan bill, to meet complex reconciliation rules. For example, today's New York Times says the student loan bill had originally proposed a new $10 billion program to increase community college enrollments for improving skills in the American workforce. But those funds were among the spending excised to keep the entire package on target. Instead, section 1501 of the final bill authorizes $2.5 billion for job-training grant programs over the next 5 years.

The original bill's main provisions remain intact, however. The federal government will now loan money either directly to students or through educational institutions. The law ends the role of private banks in originating student loans. While private companies can still play a role in servicing loans, they lobbied strenuously against this bill. Even Science Careers received some messages from the industry.

The restructured program will convert savings from loan subsidies and guarantees to private lenders into new Pell grants for low- and moderate-income students.  As we noted two weeks ago, however, the original estimate of $87 billion in savings over 10 years has shrunk  as institutions have gotten a head start, substituting direct lending for private loans in anticipation of the bill's passing. The New York Times puts the savings estimate at $61 billion, with most of the savings ($36 billion) going to fund Pell grants.

The hotly debated Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that passed the Senate in December and House of Representatives last night establishes a new center for comparative effectiveness research in health care costs and quality, a topic discussed earlier this month in a Science Careers article.

Section 6301 of the bill establishes an independent, not-for-profit corporation, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI)

"to assist patients, clinicians, purchasers, and policy-makers in making informed health decisions by advancing the quality and relevance of evidence concerning the manner in which diseases, disorders, and other health conditions can effectively and appropriately be prevented, diagnosed, treated, monitored, and managed through research and evidence synthesis that considers variations in patient subpopulations, and the dissemination of research findings with respect to the relative health outcomes, clinical effectiveness, and appropriateness of the medical treatments, services, ... "

PCORI would be funded by a Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund, financed by transfers beginning in 2013 from two other federal medical trust funds. The use of a trust fund for financing helps protect the institute from day-to-day political considerations in funding decisions.

The bill calls for PCORI to establish research priorities and a project agenda based on the prevalence and burden of diseases in the U.S. particularly chronic conditions, as well as a host of patient care and cost-control variables. The proposed research priorities will be open to a public-comment period as well.

The bill also identifies PCORI's research methods: primary research and systematic reviews of existing studies. To conduct its research, the institute will contract with federal agencies -- the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to start -- and non-government researchers.

Research conducted for the institute will be peer reviewed, and the bill allows PCORI to use the processes of the NIH and AHRQ or academic journals. Within 90 days, research findings will be made available to the medical community and general public. AHRQ is also authorized to take proactive steps to disseminate the findings to physicians, health care providers, patients, insurance providers, and even health care technology vendors. The bill calls as well for AHRQ to award grants for training in the research methods used by the institute.

The new law imposes some restrictions on the use of comparative effectiveness research. Perhaps in response to the phony "death-panel" claims -- that comparative-effectiveness research would be used for making end-of-life decisions on individual patients -- made by the bill's opponents, the bill prohibits the use of comparative effectiveness research findings "in a manner that treats extending the life of an elderly, disabled, or terminally ill individual as of lower value than extending the life of an individual who is younger, nondisabled, or not terminally ill."

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.

An Office of Management and Budget (OMB) memo last week gave federal agencies the green light to use more grand challenges and prizes to spur innovation. The memo, signed by Jeffrey D. Zients, OMB's Deputy Director for Management, points out that agencies with funds for grants can use that funding and authority to sponsor grand challenges and prizes.

Zients encouraged agencies to use such competitions, a form of "crowdsourcing" that gathers broad public input in the search for innovative solutions to problems. Agencies were urged to collaborate with outside organizations for the design and management of these prize competitions. OMB promised that within four months the Administration would have a Web-based platform for agencies to post their prize and challenge competitions and invite communities of problem solvers to take part.

The memo outlined the legal and financial mechanisms enabling agencies to offer prize competitions and challenges, including grant-making authority. Zients notes that a grant "is defined in the Federal Grant and Cooperative Agreement Act (and in OMB Circulars) as financial assistance by the Federal Government that provides support or stimulation to accomplish a public purpose;" a cooperative agreement is defined similarly, but calls for the agency's substantial involvement.

Where agencies have the authority to give grants, the memo says, they can offer a cash prize for a competition under the same authority as long as the prize is consistent with legislation authorizing those funds. Competitive grant programs like the ones commonly used to fund research are especially suitable, the document says, since their legislative authorizations often do not specify how the funds should be distributed.

Zients cited several examples of prizes or challenges as evidence of the value of the approach, notably DARPA's grand challenge to develop robotic cars and NASA's Centennial Challenges to develop technologies, from lunar landers to astronauts' gloves. Zients also pointed to Department of Energy's L Prize, used to develop more efficient alternatives to incandescent bulbs.

Hat tip: Peter Modigliani

When we last checked in on the proposed Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which aims to reform the student loan process, the bill had passed the House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate due to a threatened Republican filibuster. The New York Times reports this morning that Democratic leaders in both houses of Congress have worked out a deal to move the bill to a vote.

According to the Times, the deal would fold the student loan bill  into the Senate's health care reconciliation bill, which needs a simple majority (50 + 1 votes) to pass rather than the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster. Senate rules allow the use of the reconciliation method only for budget-related legislation, and most provisions of the student loan bill meet that criterion. Ezra Klein of has a good, brief explanation of the reconciliation process proposed for the health care bill.

The student bill would end the role banks and and other private lenders play in making student loans. Students now can borrow money from private lenders through the Federal Family Education Loan Program, which provides subsidies and guarantees to banks and other lenders. Students or their families can also borrow directly from the U.S. government's Federal Direct Loan Program. The bill would fold all lending into the Direct Loan program, leaving the private sector with a much-reduced servicing role.

The bill would also redirect the anticipated savings from the end of private-lender subsidies to more funding for the Pell grant scholarship and Perkins loans that students can get through their institutions. When the bill passed the House in September, the Congressional Budget Office estimated those savings at $87 billion over 10 years. The Times this morning says that many institutions, in anticipation of the new bill, have increased their use of federal money for Perkins loans to students, thus reducing the amount of private loans. Because of this cutback in private student loans, the estimated savings are now down to $67 million over 10 years.

Linux software vendor Ksplice tells how they conquered a difficult management problem with a unique staffing approach: Hire interns. In December of 2009 the company, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, found itself with a host of pending engineering projects outside of its core business functions, and it needed to complete these projects quickly for a new product launch last month.

Ksplice's solution: hire a dozen student interns from nearby MIT -- for one month. Each intern was assigned one of the company's pending projects to complete in that period of time. Adding the 12 interns quadrupled the size of its engineering staff. In a blog post yesterday, Ksplice says all 12 of the interns completed their tasks.

How did Ksplice do it? The company is located in the shadow of MIT and founded by MIT alumni, which helped Ksplice locate and hire the best talent. It also helped that MIT sets aside the month of January for students to pursue independent activities Here are a few other tips that Ksplice offers companies considering a similar project:

- Pay well. If you want the best talent in a place like Cambridge, you have to pay for it. Ksplice says it pegged its compensation to the high-end of prevailing pay rates for on-campus jobs.

 - Devise the tasks to be as self-contained as possible. Because each of the assignments involved tasks outside the Ksplice's core technology, the interns did not have to become super-familiar with Ksplice's systems. Instead, they could concentrate on solving their specific problems, with minimal ramp-up time

- Design the interns' projects in advance. Ksplice had to plan this intern project carefully to make it work. Before hiring the interns, they had to plan the interfaces between each task and the company's core technology so that they could give the interns specific targets to meet.

- Tolerate a little crowding. Ksplice works in a suite of two rooms, into which all 12 interns piled for a month. A photo on the company blog shows the interns at work. It is evident they got to know each other very, very well.

Hat tip: Ed Dodds

In a piece posted today, Todd Bavol -- author, blogger, and self-styled Job Search Ninja -- tells why the way you start off a new job is so important and offers tips on getting started off right.

Bavol urges new hires to use the time between acceptance of the job and the start date  --  a few weeks or more when typically there's little contact with the employer -- to get familiar with the enterprise, cement contacts with people met during your interviews, and to meet their new coworkers.  Bavol recommends making on-site appointments with the new boss and colleagues prior to the start date. That exposure will give you a better feel of the new surroundings so when the job starts things seem more familiar and you feel and act less like a newbie. It's even more important to get to know your new colleagues in a less stressful atmosphere than the job interview. These meetings will help you begin to  can learn more about the job's real expectations, which almost always differ from what's in the formal job description. Finally, the fact that you're doing this on your own time will likely make a good impression with your new colleagues.

Another step Bavol recommends is reading anything and everything written about your new employer -- again, before the start date. This includes public materials such as annual reports and articles but also internal policies and procedures manuals that often are restricted to staff, but which you can probably convince your new colleagues to share. You may not have time to fully digest these materials once you've started, and this is yet another way to make a good impression before you start.

I would recommend a third step, either in advance or soon after starting a new job: Introduce yourself to the support staff in the organization with whom you may not have a lot of contact. These administrative and technical specialists provide vital services that keep the enterprise afloat, including human resources (though you will have met some of them already), accountants, bookeepers, the computer help staff, receptionists, security guards, and so on. Their help, when you need it, can make your work more pleasant, productive, and fulfilling.

Sometimes even the best planning and good luck aren't enough in your job search. Consider the following scenario.

At conference, you get introduced to a department chair at a university, who mentions they just got a big new grant and may have positions opening soon. Instantly, you reach for your a business card and hand it to Dr. Chair so that she won't forget your conversation.

Unfortunately your cleverly-designed business card, with special stylized fonts on a dark background, with contact information printed on both sides, doesn't work very well in the OCR scanner Dr. Chair -- or, more likely, her assistant -- uses to capture the details of people she meets at these events. Your business card hits the bottom of the trash can, your scanned-in contact information is illegible, and your networking near-triumph instead fails.

In an age of rising productivity and dropping technology prices, tools like business card scanners are becoming more common and less expensive. There's even an iPhone app for that. So job hunters need to  make sure their business cards are scanner-ready.

Nancy Nally in yesterday's WebWorkerDaily provides some tips on making your business card scannable. Nally scanned over 100 business cards into her Mac to figure out what works and what doesn't. Here's what she found:

- Use big text. Human eyes can squint; scanners will just ignore text that is too small. If you have to squint to see the text it is probably too small for a scanner to read.
- Use plain text. Fancy fonts may be visually compelling but they can confuse a scanner. You might think a sans-serif font like Helvetica is boring, but a scanner doesn't think so.

- Give the text some space. Crowding, too, can confuse a scanner, and anyway it's bad design.

- Use a light, plain background. Dark backgrounds may make for unforgettable business cards but also unscannable business cards. Also do not print text over a pattern. The human eye can tell what is text and what is pattern, but scanner cannot.

- Use text for all key information. A company logo may look cool on the card, but it won't scan.

- Put all key contact information on one side. One reason business card scanners are inexpensive is that they scan only one side of the card. Using both sides is fine, but put the key contact info on side 1.

- Put your name and title on separate lines. When printed on one line, the scanner won't know where your name ends and your title begins.

- Print the text in one direction: horizontal. People can rotate the business card to read text printed both vertically or at an angle, but scanners just get confused when that happens. Scanners get confused easily.

Ads posted online for science, engineering, and related workers stayed about the same or declined in most categories during February 2010. But in one category of interest to Science Careers readers, the job market improved markedly for job seekers.

In January -- the latest month for which this information is available -- the ratio of unemployed workers seeking science and engineering jobs tightened slightly, reflecting a somewhat improved market for job hunters. The Conference Board, a private business and economic research institute, provides these data, which are tracked monthly by Science Careers.

Online job ads

For most categories of science and engineering employment, the number of online job openings in February ended a string of consecutive gains in the previous 2-4 months. But opportunities for life, physical, and social scientists advertised online increased by about 5000 to nearly 80,000, the largest monthly gain recorded for this group since the Science Careers index began in July 2009. In contrast, ads for computer and mathematical science jobs declined in February by 6500, to 510,000 -- still well above the 474,000 recorded in December 2009. Architecture and engineering jobs posted online in February stayed about the same as January, at 136,000.  

In the related categories of health professionals and education staff, however, the numbers of online job ads declined, for one group markedly. Online ads for health care practitioners and technical workers declined by more than 30,000 to 537,000 in February, a one-month drop of 5% that more than reversed the gains for that group in January. During most of 2009, opportunities for health professionals had been one of the bright spots in a generally dismal employment picture, but the number of ads in this category have not exceeded the 600,000 recorded in September 2009.

Online jobs for education, library, and training staff declined by 3100 in February, to 83,000, ending four-month string of gains but remaining well above the 75,000 registered in December 2009.

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Job market competitiveness

The Conference Board provides a gauge of job-market competitiveness -- a ratio of online ads to the number of unemployed workers in the job market -- for these categories. However, the most up-to-date unemployment data, taken from Bureau of Labor Statistics' reports, are a month older than the job-ad numbers, so the ratios calculated below are from January 2010, a month earlier than the numbers cited above.

The January Conference Board ratios showed considerable improvement for life, physical, and social scientists. In January 2010, the number of unemployed job seekers in this group dropped by more than 27%, to about 73,000, while their number of online ads increased by 3700 to nearly 75,000. As a result, the number of job seekers was about equal to the number of job ads in January -- a decline in the job-market ratio from 1.4 in December 2009 to about 1.0 in January.

Indeed, in most categories during January 2010 the number of new online employment ads generally exceeded the number of newly unemployed job hunters, resulting in a somewhat improved market for people seeking those jobs. The main beneficiaries of this improved job market were education, training, and library staff, where online job ads increased by nearly 11,000 and the number of unemployed job hunters dropped under 425,000. The result: In this category the number of job seekers per online ad dropped from nearly six in December to about five in January. That's still a very tough market, the worst in the Science Careers index and the only group tracked by Science Careers where the ratio is worse than the overall U.S. job market.  

Among the other three categories tracked by Science Careers, the ratios of job seekers to job ads stayed about the same in January 2010 as in December 2009. For computer and mathematical scientists, and health care practitioners and technical workers, this meant there were more job ads than unemployed workers seeking those jobs, at least through January. Architects and engineers continued facing a more competitive job market that month, with about two job hunters for each online ad.

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For the U.S. overall in February, the number of online job ads declined by 67,000 to just under 4 million, ending three straight monthly gains but remaining well above the 3.6 million level registered in December 2009. In January 2010 the number of job ads overall increased by nearly 382,000 while the number of unemployed job seekers declined to under 15 million for the first time since August 2009. These changes resulted in a ratio of 3.7 unemployed job hunters per online job ad, an improvement from the ratio of 4.2 recorded in December 2009.

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.

February 24, 2010

Job Hunting in Campaign Mode

To get your job search organized and energized, sometimes you need to take a step back and view it from a different perspective. On the Career Hub blog this week, résumé coach Louise Fletcher suggests that job hunters think about the task as a campaign, such as a political or marketing campaign.

According to Fletcher, the language we use frames the way we behave in the job hunt. If you consider a job search as a succession of job applications, you can get into a passive rut. "Applying sounds weak," says Fletcher. "It makes us sound subservient -- we are asking for something when we apply for it."

Instead, Fletcher suggests, you should approach job hunting as a campaign, much like political candidates when they run for office. "When a politician runs a campaign, he is engaged in the act of marketing. He is deploying a variety of strategies in order to communicate his value. He is being creative. He is engaging other people. He is offering solutions."

So how does this translate into job hunting? Fletcher recommends:
- Keeping your lines of communication open with peers and recruiters, even if you're not looking for a job. Networking doesn't stop even when you're in a job you like.
- Choosing language for your résumé that describes the value you added to your employers, not just the duties you carried out.
- Contacting employers you want to work for even if they do not have positions advertised that you fit, which means finding people to contact and figuring out where and how to contact them.
- Approaching interviews with a set of solutions rather than merely answering the interviewer's questions. This means at least helping to set the agenda of the interview, which takes initiative and a certain amount of risk. It also means approaching the interview as a conversation between equals rather than as what Fletcher calls "terrifying rirtuals".

About a year ago, Dave Jensen's must-read Tooling Up column, "The Cold, Hard Truth About Finding a Job in 2009" urged job hunters to take a positive attitude. Fletcher's advice adds to that positive attitude a different, more assertive mindset for attacking the job of finding a job.

A story in the New York Times tells how Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts now accepts videos as optional supplements to the traditional application forms and essays. Some 1,000 of the 15,000 applicants took up Tufts on the video offer, including some clever mathematics and engineering candidates.

The article quotes Tufts's dean of undergraduate admissions, Lee Coffin, who got the idea last spring when watching a YouTube video someone had sent him. "I thought, 'If this kid applied to Tufts, I'd admit him in a minute, without anything else," Coffin told the Times.

In the past, Tufts has encouraged unorthodox thinking in their application essays, and this year applicants used the one-minute videos to demonstrate their creativity, as well as expertise with the medium. Many of the videos played on the elephant theme -- the school mascot is an elephant -- but engineering candidate Michael Klinker took the idea further. He built a miniature remote-control helicopter shaped like an elephant and filmed it -- technically, his father did the filming -- as it flew around his back yard.

Applicant Amelia Downs sent a video that combined her passions for mathematics and dance, with choreographed representations of common statistical charts such as bar graph, scatter plot, and (my favorite), pie chart.

Coffin says the videos are optional, and the only way they can hurt an applicant is if, in Coffin's words, "there was something really disgusting."

One of Tufts's concerns was that the videos would give one more advantage to affluent applicants -- yet two-thirds of the submissions were sent in by financial aid candidates.

The Times includes 12 samples of the Tufts videos with the article.

It isn't every day that an intern working at a government agency can analyze the costs and benefits of a livestock disease-tracking program, then go out and throw a baseball 95 miles per hour with pin-point accuracy. That day has arrived: Ross Ohlendorf, a starting pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates and 2006 graduate of Princeton University, spent part of the off-season this winter as a volunteer intern with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, D.C.

Ohlendorf earned his degree from Princeton in operations research and financial engineering, a program that combines engineering, mathematics, and economics. For his senior thesis, Ohlendorf combined these academic disciplines with his baseball background to compare the future financial return to a major league team of rookie signing bonuses, as opposed to signing a veteran player as a free agent  -- after the player's contract is up. At Princeton, Ohlendorf's achievements on the field and in class (including a 3.75 GPA) earned him the George Mueller award in 2006, awarded to a senior who excels in both engineering and intercollegiate athletics.

Ohlendorf became a fourth-round draft pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks, but was soon traded to the New York Yankees. Towards the end of the 2008 season, Ohlendorf was then traded to the Pirates and in 2009 became a starter, achieving an 11-10 record and a 3.92 earned-run average in 29 games. The hard-throwing right-hander is one of only 40 pitchers in all of baseball history to ever strike out three batters in an inning with the minimum of 9 pitches, joining such greats as Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan.

His celebrity status helped Ohlendorf land the internship at USDA. He sent his resume to Doug McKalip, an assistant to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a Pittsburgh native and Pirates fan. But Ohlendorf's family also owns a cattle ranch in Texas, where he helped manage a herd of longhorn cattle. Because of that combination, McKalip told the New York Times, "Ross was especially qualified."

From October through mid-December, Ohlendorf analyzed the USDA program that traces diseases in livestock  -- cattle, swine, sheep, goats -- and poultry. He also analyzed the insurance costs facing farmers who take part in the program. He worked at USDA in the mornings, reserving the afternoons for working out.

Ohlendorf and other Pirate pitchers began their 2010 spring training workouts yesterday in Bradenton, Florida, where Ohlendorf hopes to add a change-up pitch to his fast ball and slider.

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.

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.

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

In September, we reported on the U.S. House of Representatives passing the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act and sending it on to the Senate, where many observers expected it to move quickly, as it did in the House. The New York Times reports this morning that the bill has bogged down in the Senate thanks to aggressive lobbying by private lenders and the Senate's changing politics.

The bill would end the role banks and and other private lenders play in making student loans. Students now can borrow money from private lenders through the Federal Family Education Loan Program, which provides subsidies and guarantees to banks and other lenders. Students or their families can also borrow directly from the U.S. government's Federal Direct Loan Program. The bill would fold all lending into the Direct Loan program, leaving the private sector with a much-reduced servicing role.

The bill would also redirect the anticipated $87 billion in savings over 10 years from ending the private-lender subsidies to more funding for Pell grant scholarship and Perkins loans that students can get through their institutions.

The student loan industry, led by Sallie Mae, the largest student-lending company, was not about to let that $87 billion go without a fight, says the Times.

Sallie Mae has plenty to lose if the bill goes through. The company spent $8 million on lobbying last year, the Times says. It originated $21.7 billion in federally-subsidized loans in 2009, compared to $3.2 billion in private loans last year. The company held town-hall meetings, circulated petitions, and button-holed legislators to stress the legislation's impact on jobs. Sallie Mae says it stands to lose some 2,300 jobs if the bill becomes law.

The Times quoted anonymous sources who say that some Senators are wavering, particularly fiscal conservatives and those in states where the lenders operate, including Florida, Illinois, Nebraska, New York, and Pennsylvania. The industry claims the bill amounts to a federal takeover of the student loan industry, an argument that gets the attention of conservatives. Adding one more Republican senator in Scott Brown of Massachusetts helps the lenders' cause as well, says the Times.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the Times that they anticipated the industry's push-back and the administration is stepping up its own lobbying in the Senate. In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama told cheering Democrats, "To make college more affordable, this bill will finally end the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that go to banks for student loans." Republicans remained silent during that part of the speech.

At the Career Hub blog today, career consultant Billie Sucher unveiled her top-ten list of illegal or inappropriate interview questions that her clients said they were asked in 2009.  Sucher noted that the items she listed were those she could post; there were still other doozies not fit for a family-oriented blog.

Here's a sample ...

- You're too pretty to hire...productivity would drop with you around.
- Has it ever occurred to you to dumb yourself down a little?
- We noticed you're driving a Mercedes...convince us you need this job.

And my personal favorite ...

- You remind me of my grandpa...he's in his 60's.

Enjoy the full list for yourself.  

Sucher refers readers to human-resources guru Alison Doyle, who blogs about job-searching on About.Com, for background on interview questions prohibited by law. Doyle says "employers should not be asking about your race, gender, religion, marital status, age, disabilities, ethnic background, country of origin, sexual preferences or age," and offers advice on what to do if confronted with one of these gems, such as ...

- Are those your real fingernails or are they fake?

The number of online job ads for science, engineering, and related occupations continued to climb in January 2010. But as reported last month, plenty of unemployed job seekers are returning to the job market to keep the hunt for these jobs at least as competitive as before. The Conference Board, a private business and economic research institute, provides these data, which are tracked monthly by Science Careers.

Online job ads

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Jobs in computer science and mathematics continue to lead the other groups in the numbers of new positions posted online. In January, more than 40,000 new ads for these jobs were recorded, a 9% increase over December and the biggest monthly gain since Science Careers began tracking these data in July 2009. Online ads for engineers and architects increased by more than 10,000 or 8% in January, the third monthly gain in a row and also the largest increase in new ads since July 2009. Likewise, posted ads for the life, physical, and social sciences increased by nearly 4,000, a 5% jump and the second consecutive monthly gain for this group.

Ads for jobs related to science and engineering work also showed healthy increases in January. Postings for health care practitioners and technical positions, one of the few employment bright spots during this recession, increased by more than 24,000, a 5% jump. Online ads for education, training, and library workers at all levels increased by nearly 11,000 in January, an increase of 14%, its largest monthly gain since the Science Careers tracking began in July.

Job market competitiveness

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The Conference Board provides a gauge of job-market competitiveness -- a ratio of online ads to the number of unemployed workers in the job market -- for these categories. However, the most up-to-date unemployment data, taken from Bureau of Labor Statistics' reports, are a month older than the job-ad numbers, so the ratios calculated below are from December 2009, a month earlier than the numbers cited above.

During December, the number of unemployed job-seekers added to the labor market in three of the five science, engineering and related categories increased to match the number of increased job ads that month, keeping the the ratio of job hunters to ads at about the same level as November. The number of unemployed engineers and architects looking for work in December remained at about double the number of online ads for these positions. However, two categories continued to enjoy the enviable condition of having more job ads than unemployed workers: There were 2.8 computer science and mathematics ads, and 3.3 health care practitioner and technician ads, for each unemployed job-hunter in those categories, about the same as the previous month.

For life, physical, and social science job seekers, their job market became somewhat more competitive in December. That month saw more than 20,000 life, physical, and social science job hunters added to the market, while only 4,500 more job adds were posted. This imbalance increased the ratio of job-hunters to posted jobs from 1.2 in November to 1.4 in December. Earlier in 2009, there were about equal numbers of job-seekers and online job ads in this category, but the trend the last two months of 2009 was towards more candidates rather than more jobs.

Among education, training, and library workers, the trend is moving in the favor of job-hunters, but the market for these staff remains bleak. In September there were seven job hunters for each education, training, and library job ad. By December, that ratio had dropped below six (5.8) unemployed workers for each job ad. Despite the encouraging trend, this is the only category of the five tracked by Science Careers with a job market ratio greater than the U.S. as a whole.

For the U.S. overall, the number of posted job ads jumped nearly 382,000 in January, a 10.5% gain. In December, the number of online job ads outpaced the number of unemployed workers looking for jobs, which brought down the job-seeker to job ratio to 4.2 from 4.5 in November.

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

In 2003-2005, Dick van Vlooten, a Dutch management consultant, wrote a series for Science's Next Wave (the predecessor to Science Careers), where he drew lessons for job-hunters about networking from social science research. One of van Vlooten's columns discussed the need to build open networks, where you break out of your usual comfortable circles and find what he calls "fairly odd friends" who have access to potential employers with which you may not be familiar.

Last week, career consultant Kevin Donlin discussed a similar idea on the blog WorkBloom, what he calls "weak ties," casual acquaintances you may barely remember or with whom you have a tangential relationship. These weak ties can be former college classmates, co-workers, clients, vendors, neighbors, or people you met while volunteering for a good cause, and can provide leads to unfamiliar companies or organizations.

Like van Vlooten, Donlin bases this advice on research, in this case the sociologist Mark Granovetter, who Donlin quotes as saying, "[T]hose to whom we are weakly tied are more likely to move in circles different from our own and will thus have access to information different from that which we receive."

Donlin goes one step further than van Vlooten and suggests ways of mining these contacts to get job leads, based on the experiences of real people he advises or who had some connection with Donlin and contacted him. In one example, Donlin received an e-mail from a fellow alumnus of the same college he attended, asking if Donlin knew any people at a list of companies, asking for a referral. Donlin says he made a referral as a result of that request.

In another example, Donlin tells about a client who mailed hard-copy letters to weak-tie contacts describing his career goals and accomplishments and asking for leads or referrals. Researching postal addresses, plus the printing and mailing, will be time consuming, but Donlin says it got this job hunter more leads than e-mail.

Another approach Donlin discusses seems to me more dubious, which is to offer a financial reward. He talks about a job hunter who works in marketing and is offering $1000 to anyone who can give the job hunter a "warm introduction" to a senior decision-maker that leads to an offer of employment. Donlin defines a warm introduction as one where the referrer gushes (Donlin's word) about the person being referred. Needless to say, this last approach generated a lot of comments from readers.

On Monday, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) -- Uncle Sam's human resources department -- unveiled a new Web site and slicker search engine for jobs in the federal government.  The site, called USAJOBS, gives visitors a simple search window to start but more powerful tools just beneath the surface.

The USAJOBS home page looks something like the classic Google search page, asking for keywords and location to start a job search.  Those with better idea of what kind of work they want to do, or where, can browse for jobs in specific agencies or locations, or by type of job. And for those who really want to drill down, the site's advanced search page lets job-hunters search by keyword within job titles or descriptions, as well as by government occupational category, location domestic and foreign, agencies, compensation ranges, and eligibility requirements.

The site has pages to aid searches on special criteria such as top management jobs in the Senior Executive Service, jobs for veterans, student opportunities, and employment for people with disabilities. Job hunters can create accounts to store resumes and to save search factors and specific jobs returned by previous searches.

Searches on science-related keywords offered a glimpse of the site's workings.  A simple search on the keyword 'physics' returned 1400 open jobs. A review of the first few pages of results showed that the current openings include research scientists, engineers, technicians, and project managers, among others. A simple search on a narrower discipline -- neuroscience -- returned 13 jobs including jobs for researchers, medical officers, nurses, physician's assistant, and social workers.

Job hunters can refine their searches by grade level, salary, location, occupation series, agency, student jobs, posting date, and work schedule (full-time or part-time). Of the 1400 jobs returned for a search on physics, for example, 11 are for students, with openings at NASA, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of the Interior.

A geographic search of these 1400 jobs with the keyword Physics returned 176 entries for California and 55 for Louisiana.  However, these geographic returns are misleading; of the 55 entries for Louisiana, 50 of the jobs give their location as "nationwide," which may or may not include openings in Louisiana.

Each listed job has a detailed job description with instructions on how to apply. Many but not all of the jobs allow online applications, but online applicants must first have a USAJOBS account.

For recent college graduates, finding a job at any time is difficult, since they often lack experience outside the classroom -- a situation made worse by the current tough job market. The trick for recent grads is to find entry-level jobs, which can lead off professional careers but normally require little more than a solid, relevant educational background. Started by a 2006 college grad who ran into this very problem, One Day One Job identifies these entry-level opportunities.

One Day One job profiles a few employers each week, reviewing the organization's work and its job opportunities, highlighting those where entry-level applicants would have a shot. It gives some background about the organization, including unfavorable news like adverse legal judgments, along with links to the enterprise's "about", leadership, annual report, news, and of course jobs/careers pages. In some cases, it reviews the organization's current job openings, pointing out those not requiring extensive previous experience. One Day One Job includes links that search Facebook and LinkedIn for current employees of the companies profiled. A separate section discusses internship opportunities at the profiled enterprise.

Two recent issues on the site appear to have opportunities for junior-level engineering and science grads.
- In the 24 January 2010 issue, the site talks about the U.S. Green Building Council in Washington, DC, and finds two entry-level jobs looking for applicants with computer and engineering training.
- On 23 January, the site reviewed the Educational Testing Service (ETS), headquarted in Princeton, New Jersey, and with locations in six other U.S. cities. We found several junior-level jobs (with the title of "associate") for statisticians and social scientists in the ETS jobs section.

The site is the creation of Willy Franzen, a 2006 graduate with a BS degree from Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations. After experiencing the same job-search frustrations as other recent grads, Franzen started the One Day One Job site in 2007.

A common tip offered to job interviewees is to send a thank-you letter to the hiring manager soon after the interview session. Catherine Jones in the Job Search Secrets blog now tells why the thank-you letter is a good idea and offers suggestions on what should go in it.

Jones says the thank-you letter will make you stand out from the other interviewees. She cites statistics (source unknown) that only 1 in 10 interviewees send a thank-you letter. If you don't believe the interview went well, the letter will at least raise your profile with the hiring manager. And if the interview did go well, the thank-you letter can seal the deal. Jones also notes that few hiring managers make their decisions immediately after an interview, which provides an opportunity for a prospect to make his or her case in the thank-you letter.

As for the letter itself, Jones recommends that the text have:

- A thank you to your interviewers for taking the time to see you.
- An expression of desire to work for them.
- A summary of why you fit the bill.

Jones adds that a recent candidate remembered a comment in a conversation after the interview about the failing health of the interviewer's cat, and in her cover letter the prospect wished the cat well. This prospect ended up winning the job. While Jones cannot be sure that the good wishes expressed about the cat won her the job, the comment did help raise the candidate's profile, and added a feel-good factor to the decision.

January 15, 2010

Bending the Job Hunt Rules

When you're job hunting, particularly if you're out of work, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the competition, with often hundreds or thousands of applicants vying for the same limited number of jobs. As Dave Jensen pointed out in a 2006 column for Science Careers, sometimes you need to bend the rules a bit and engage in "guerrilla marketing" to get an advantage over the competition.

This week, Colin Daymude on the CareerRealism blog offers a variation of this advice, particularly for unemployed professionals, to get your skills and talents in front of prospective employers. Daymude says that many small companies like his  -- he runs a human-resources and training firm -- often need the help of skilled professionals to do their work but are not in a position to hire full-time staff. He recommends marketing yourself to these companies as a consultant or contractor to show first-hand your skills and abilities.

As with any marketing campaign, you need to do a lot of background work: to identify company prospects and key decision-makers and to learn enough details of their business to make a credible pitch. Once you have selected the prospects, Daymude suggests two different approaches:

- If you have products of a recent project that you can send to a prospect, package it (literally, in a box) and send it to it out to those prospects.  Companies in your field of expertise would recognize good work and it would offer a way of getting their attention. One caution, however, that Daymude overlooks: make sure you are not bound by any intellectual-property restrictions or a non-compete agreement before taking this step.

- Daymude also recommends that you prepare and mail a printed coupon on a post card, offering a day of free consultation in your line of work. This coupon offer can get you in the door and actually perform your services, which can then give you a way of discussing follow-on work, either as a direct hire or a contractor.

In either case, you have short-circuited the usual process of responding to advertised jobs and beaten the hordes of competitors to these enterprises. Even if the companies you canvas are not in a position to use your skills, you at least have made contacts. And you can mine those contacts later in follow-up calls if the initial campaign doesn't pan out.

Daymude's ideas are not a substitute for the traditional job search and probably would not work with many larger employers, such as government agencies and academic institutions, which often have strict hiring policies. But in a tough job market like this one, you need to consider any and all methods that may get you a job in your line of work, as long as they're not unprofessional or excessively risky.

Have you or your institution had problems registering or submitting a grant application through Have you found you must deal with variations in grant-application policies at different federal agencies even if they use Then the Grants Policy Committee (GPC), part of the federal government's U.S. Chief Financial Officer Council, wants to hear from you.

Last May, we reported on a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study of, the centralized federal service for grant announcements and applications. That GAO study looked at the varying procedures among federal agencies for handling grant applications through, which makes applying for a government grant more difficult for individuals and institutions.

A later GAO audit, in July 2009, highlighted more problems with, particularly the cumbersome and lengthy registration process, which has to be completed before you send your first grant application. It's a multi-step process that Science Careers described in 2007, just as NIH was preparing to move from paper to all electronic applications. Some of the steps required by, such as getting a DUNS identifier, are the same as any company or organization faces when first getting into high-volume electronic business. But as GAO found, the registration process can take a week or longer.

The GPC is collecting real-life experiences from grant applicants through an online form to help the committee respond to the GAO report.  A Federal Register notice posted on 7 January, gives more details about the inquiry. The deadline for comments is 31 January.

At the WorkBloom blog this week, résumé coach Jessica Holbrook discusses the optimum length of a résumé, and the advice she gives can be summed up as "it depends." Holbrook says that one size won't fit all job-hunters, but finding the right size depends (that word again) on the amount and type of experience the job-seeker has to offer.

Holbrook says that most American business résumés should be 1 to 3 pages. Entry-level workers and recent grads can probably get by with a single-page, since they have less of a story to tell than their more experienced counterparts. Mid-career workers will probably need 2 pages for their professional histories; a 3rd page, if needed, should be devoted to publications, honors, and continuing education.

Holbrook emphasized that job hunters should be as concerned about the content and quality of their résumés as with their length. The goal of the résumé is to give the hiring manager a clear picture of your professional history. Filling up space with a lot of fluff will probably hurt more than help your case. Likewise, says Holbrook, if your work history is measured in decades rather than years, you probably want to concentrate on the most recent several years and leave out some of the details about your early experience.

A common source of confusion in academic and scientific employment is the difference between a résumé and curriculum vitae, or CV. The CV is a comprehensive description of education, work history, publications, and presentations used for academic hiring. A CV often runs many more pages than the typical business résumé. (An additional source of confusion is the fact that in some European countries "CV" is used to describe a document very similar to what we call a résumé). About a year ago, Science Careers columnist Dave Jensen defined résumé, CV, and a host of other common terms used in job-hunting and career development. In an earlier column, Jensen also described how a CV can be adapted for business use.

A recent Wall Street Journal's careers section advises job hunters to pay attention to details when interviewing for jobs, particularly in this highly competitive job market, and explains what happens when they don't. Writer Joann Lublin offers horror stories of interviews gone bad, because job candidates did not prepare, were in attentive or careless, or just left their good common sense at home.

In a what-was-he-thinking example, one interviewee who underestimated the travel time to the employer's office, jogged 12 blocks on a summer's day to the interview site, where -- soaking wet -- he asked the receptionist if the office had shower facilities that he could use before the session. They didn't have those facilities and he didn't get the job either.  Lublin advises prospects to plan ahead and give yourself plenty of time. You can always find a place away from the interview site to wait and keep cool.

Attire, of course, is important in an interview, and a June 2009 Science Careers article provides tips for making the best sartorial impression.  One piece of advice in that article was not to push the fashion envelope in a job interview, a point apparently lost to an applicant mentioned by Lublin. This candidate apparently wore a low-cut dress that exposed not only cleavage, but also a tattoo when she leaned over the desk. The job, at a hospital in a small conservative Texas town, was filled by another applicant.

Where the interview involves a meal, you need to remember more than just your table manners, says Lublin. Being on time is always good advice, but particularly when a meal is involved where your tardiness is more visible. In one case of an employer who took a group of candidates out for a meal, one candidate arrived late, well after the rest of the group was seated. A business etiquette specialist telling the story to Lublin, said the candidate compounded the error by ordering the most expensive item on the menu and then ate so quickly that he was finished even before others in the group had been served.  

Employers like prospects who show enthusiasm, but there are limits. One candidate cited by Lublin waved his hands wildly during the interview first knocking over a water bottle -- fortunately still sealed -- but later sending an uncovered mug of coffee sailing across the conference table.

One way to make a better impression is to pay attention in the interview. Lublin tells of one candidate who mispronounced the interviewer's name four times -- even after being corrected three times. The interviewer told Lublin it was probably a case of nerves, but he chose another candidate who seemed to be less easily flustered.

The number of online employment ads for scientists, engineers, and related occupations all increased in December. The numbers of unemployed job-hunters in these occupations also increased, keeping the ratios -- and, hence, the ease or difficulty of finding a job -- about the same as before. The Conference Board, a private business and economic research institute, provides these data, which are tracked monthly by Science Careers.

Ads for computer and mathematical science jobs climbed by 23,300 in December, the third straight monthly gain. Postings for life, physical, and social scientists increased by 4300 in December, reversing an extended decline that began in September. The number of job ads for engineers and architects also rose, by 9200 -- the second consecutive monthly increase for engineers and architects; before November, these occupations suffered 4 straight months of declines.

Ads for healthcare practitioners and technicians, positions sometimes sought by scientists and engineers, increased by 45,100 in December to more than 541,000. This 9% increase in opportunities reversed declines in October and November. Postings for education, training, and library workers at all levels -- another source of employment for some scientists -- also rose in December, by 8.7%, to 75,000.

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The Conference Board report computes a ratio of online ads to the number of unemployed workers in the job market for these categories, an indicator of job-market competitiveness. The most current unemployment data, taken from Bureau of Labor Statistics' reports, are a month older than the job-ad numbers, so the ratios calculated below are from November, a month earlier than the numbers cited above.

In all of the occupational categories tracked by Science Careers, the number of unemployed job-seekers increased in November, reversing two months of declines for some groups. As a result, the ease or difficulty of finding a job stayed at about the same level as in October. The Conference Board's report does not give reasons for entering or leaving the cohort of job hunters.  

Candidates for computer and mathematical science jobs had one of the better job-search environments in November, where for each unemployed job seeker employers posted 2.5 online ads, about the same ratio as in October. Many other job seekers had a tougher time in November: Candidates looking for life, physical, and social science jobs found a declining number of job ads at the same time as nearly 81,000 new job hunters entered the market. As a result, the ratio of job-seekers to ads rose to 1.2:1.

Engineers and architects looking for work also ran into nearly 7000 new job-seekers in November, but for this group at least the number of job ads increased a little (about 3500), which kept the ratio of job hunters to posted ads at about 2 to 1. Education, training, and library job seekers have one of the most difficult job-hunting situations currently, with about 6.5 unemployed workers for each advertised position. A modest increase of 1200 job ads in November didn't provide much relief.

Perhaps the best job-hunting environment in the country for any occupational group is for healthcare practitioners and technicians, where in November each unemployed job seeker could choose from nearly 3 posted positions, on average. This 1-to-3 ratio continued in November despite a decline in ads of 37,000 for these positions.

For the country as a whole, the number of online employment ads in December increased by 255,400, more than double the number of new job ads recorded in November. So, the total number of job hunters remained about the same in November as it was in the previous month, resulting in a slight decrease in the ratio of job hunters to posted ads, from 4.8 in October to 4.5 in November.

Many students preparing for the job hunt get to know their universities' career centers quite well, since these offices often provide counseling, resume help, job leads, and interview advice. According to a New York Times article last week, some of these same career centers now offer their services to graduates who have been out of school for a while.

In general, campus career centers provide services to current students or those who graduated recently, usually in the past 6 to 12 months. But at the University of Colorado in Boulder,  the career office was forced to add an extra staff member  to help its not-so-recent graduates. While some campus career centers charge alumni nominal fees ($25 - $50) for their services, Boulder keeps its alumni assistance free.

State University of New York at Albany is another campus the article says has seen a sharp jump in requests for help from alumni. SUNY Albany's career center says the number of counseling sessions with alumni has jumped 28% in the past year. Rutgers University in New Jersey also provides career assistance to its alumni, and even held a speed-networking event where they introduced unemployed alumni and students to employed alumni with the aim of helping them find jobs.

For the universities, the motivation to open their career centers to graduates is more than altruistic. As the Times article notes, these interactions help campuses keep in touch with alumni so that they can hit them up later for contributions once their former students land jobs.

Several Science Careers articles and blog posts in the past year or so have encouraged job hunters to sharpen their online identities, since more employers now search the Web and social networks to find out more about their leading job candidates. To help with this task, the authors of a 2007 book on personal branding offer a Web-based service that reviews your online identity and lets you know if it needs fixing up.

William Arruda and Kirsten Dixson, both career consultants, provide an Online Identity Calculator that asks a few questions about your current employment and career goals, then steps you through a Google search of your name and its results. Based on the number and type of responses that show up in the search, the online calculator assigns you to a spot in one of four quadrants on a two-dimensional scale. The two dimensions are:
- Volume: number of returns in the search, and
- Relevance: if the returns are favorable vs. unfavorable or irrelevant.

If the search of your name has only a few returns and they do not say good things about you, you fall in the Digitally Dissed quadrant. If the search yields a lot of returns, but they are still not favorable, you're really in trouble: the Digitally Disastrous quadrant. In either of these categories, you need to get those negative items removed or start generating content that says good things about you and your work; examples -- a LinkedIn profile or thoughtful comments on leading blogs.

If your name search yields only a few returns but they are generally favorable, Arruda and Dixson say you are Digitally Dabbling. In this group, your online identity still needs work, but you're in better shape than the people with unfavorable details in their searches. And if you have both high volume and favorable content in your name search, you've reached Digitally Distinct status. Arruda and Dixson warn, however, that even at this stage -- what they call "the nirvana of online identity" -- you still need to monitor your online presence, in case negative information pops up.

There's a fifth category: Digitally Disguised. You're assigned to this category if the search yields nothing and you don't even make into the chart. Since most science grad students and postdocs today are identified somewhere on their institutions' Web sites, they should have little risk of totally falling off the chart.

Be aware that you need to give your e-mail address at the beginning of the review, and you get a follow-up message from the authors' consulting firm when you complete the process. You can chose to unsubscribe from further mailings, however.

In May on this blog, we told how the state of Florida had expanded the number of community colleges offering bachelor's degrees, many in science and technology. Now California is considering a similar idea, according to an article by Matt Krupnick last week in the Contra Costa Times, published in northern California.

Up to now, California has made a sharp distinction between its four-year colleges and universities and community colleges that only offer associate's degrees or certificates. But the state's budget crisis and the resulting deep cuts in education funding are driving at least one state lawmaker to reconsider this division. Assemblyman Marty Block of San Diego, the article says, raised the issue at a hearing earlier this month on California's higher education master plan. He is considering introducing a bill in the legislature enabling the state's community colleges to offer 4-year degrees.

Block said that budget cuts forced San Diego State University to deny admission to many deserving California residents. "We have a lot of well-respected community colleges down in San Diego, and they think they could do a fine job offering those next two years to students, at least in certain disciplines."

Florida community colleges already offer bachelor's degrees in science education and public safety -- the latter including forensic-science courses. Kenneth Walker, president of Edison State College in Fort Myers, Florida, which offers both 2-year and 4-year degrees, told the newspaper that bachelor's degrees at his institution cost a little more than its 2-year programs but are still much less expensive than universities.

Even if Block's proposal passes, it will probably take a while before the state's community colleges could start offering bachelor's degrees. The Contra Costa Times notes that California's 110-campus system of community colleges is already overflowing with its current 3,000,000 students. The newspaper also says it would be difficult to keep costs of a 4-year degree close to the current $26 per credit hour now charged for community college students.

Hat tip: Washington Monthly

December 22, 2009

Aunt Hillary Needs You

Nina Federoff, the science and technology adviser to the Secretary of State, recently made a pitch for scientists to serve in the State Department, telling how scientists can serve as diplomats without venturing too far from their research specialties. She was speaking at the Science and Technology Policy Leadership Seminar, put on by AAAS, publisher of Science Careers, held 16-20 November in Washington, DC.

Federoff said partnerships between science and U.S. diplomacy began during the Cold War and focused largely on weapons matters. But since then, science-diplomacy collaborations have broadened to cover issues such as climate change and economic development, where the expertise of scientists is needed to develop, conduct, and explain complex policies.

Most people interested in a diplomatic career in the State Department would need to go through the Foreign Service Officer (FSO) selection process, which includes a written examination followed by a personal narrative essay, and group-skills assessment. As Federoff noted, however, scientists have other ways of working with the State Department for short periods of time without going through the FSO process.

One approach Federoff mentioned is the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowships program, which includes a track for diplomacy, security, and development. Fellows serve for 1 year in a professional position at State or in other foreign-affairs or national security agencies. Applicants must have completed their doctorates and be U.S. citizens; dual-citizenship is OK.  They can be at any career stage. The 2010 call for applicants has closed, but watch for the next call next fall.

Another route to State that Federoff mentioned is the Jefferson Science Fellowship program, which is offered by the National Academies. Jefferson Fellows, too, serve 1-year assignments, either in the State Department or the Agency for International Development, and must be U.S. citizens. However, this program is open to tenured faculty only. Jefferson Fellows agree to be available for short-term projects for five years following the fellowship period. The deadline for applications to the next class of Jefferson Fellows is 15 January 2010.

Disclosure: Alan Kotok serves on the selection panel for AAAS Diplomacy, Security, and Development Fellows.

With the end of the year coming up, many people are taking time off, school terms are ending, and it may seem like a good time to put the job hunt on hold for a while.

Eve Tahmincioglu, careers columnist at MSNBC,  thinks this is the right time to ramp up some aspects of your job search, or at least to take it in a different direction.

Tahmincioglu gives seven holiday-time hints job hunters, many of which can apply to the rest of the year as well. Here are a few of those tips:

- Party hearty, with networking in mind. "Go to every party you can so you can get out of the house," Tahmincioglu says. She quotes the director of the office of career services at Eastern Connecticut State University who advises accepting as many party invitations as possible to reconnect with people you know and connect with people you don't. It is not a time be picky. In this economy holiday events put on by professional, community, or political groups -- or individuals -- can put you in contact with people you may not otherwise meet. Use the opportunity to let these people know who you are.

- Give and ye shall receive. It's the season of giving, Tahmincioglu says -- a reminder that networking is a two-way street, that helping other job hunters builds reciprocity and develops  trusting relationships with others in your network. Dick van Vlootten spells out in detail how this works in a 2004 article in Science's Next Wave, the predecessor to Science Careers.

- Spruce up the online image. What comes up first or second when you put your name into search engines? If the search returns information that isn't completely flattering, you need to take action -- immediately. On this blog, we've discussed how more companies are using social network sites like LinkedIn or Facebook to identify candidate leads and complement reference checks. Tahmincioglu also recommends putting meaningful and intelligent comments on blogs read widely in your industry, which will improve your online impression when potential employers go searching.

- Spruce up the physical image. Give yourself the gift of looking great in that first interview in 2010. Use the downtime to get more rest, get a haircut, clean the interview suit, and start an exercise routine if you already don't have one (particularly if you take to heart the partying advice given above).

- Mellow out until 1/1/2010. You can use the downtime at the end of the year to chill yourself, as well as the champagne, Tahmincioglu says. She quotes on expert who calls stress "battery acid on the brain". Irene S. Levine has devoted the past few articles in her Mind Matters column on Science Careers to dealing with stress, including her column earlier this month on making good use of downtime, like the kind we find at the end of year.

December 11, 2009

Defining Your Unique Talents

Career coach Sital Ruparelia had a post last month on his blog about defining your unique talents. Ruparlia defines unique talents as your natural abilities plus your unique way of expressing those abilities.

By identifying these unique talents, Ruparelia says, you can start defining what makes you different and better from other job hunters, which can help your resumé and cover letter stand out. And after landing a job, you can use the same approach to identify your unique contribution to your employer, something that will come in handy when it's time for performance review and salary-raise negotiations.

To find out your natural abilities, Ruparelia asks 13 questions, some straightforward and some more probing. The more straightforward questions include ...
- What's the work you've done effortlessly ever since you can remember?
- What's work or activities energize you (rather than tiring you) after you've completed them?
- What types of problems would your friends, colleagues and family pay you to fix out of their own pockets?
- What type of tasks and activities make you completely lose track of time?

Some of the more probing questions that aim for underlying talents are ...
- What do you do when no one is looking? Ruparelia believes that one of the clues to finding happiness in a job is what you did in the past when you were only interested in your own satisfaction and not in meeting the expectations of a teacher, co-worker, or family member. Think back 5, 10, or 15 years and ask yourself what professionally-related activities really made you happy.
- The 20/10 test, which Ruparelia takes from the book Good to Great, by Jim Collins. This test has two questions: (1) If you inherited $20 million right now, would you spend your days the same way you spend them now? (2) If you knew that you had only 10 years left to live, would you stick with your current job or career? If the answers to these questions are "no", what you would do instead?

To uncover your unique way of expressing these special abilities, Ruparelia asks 5 questions, including these:
- What's unique about the way you express those abilities?
- What things make you stand out when you're with your peers? (positive or negative)
- What's the quirkiest thing about you?

Ruparelia says this process can take time and requires brutal honesty and introspection. But once you have identified them you can find organizations and people that can benefit from the unique talents you have to offer.

A nationwide U.S. survey of chief information officers (CIOs) shows that more employers now plan to hire rather than lay off IT professionals in the first quarter of 2010, with most hiring for entry-level and junior staff in full-time jobs.

The survey found nine in 10 CIOs (89%) plan to keep staffing at about their current levels, but 7% say they will increase the number of employers while 4% expect to decrease their workforce. While the percentage of companies expected to hire is the lowest in two years, the anticipated percentage of layoffs is also the lowest since the first quarter of 2009. In the previous survey -- which asked about hiring plans for the current quarter -- the CIOs anticipating layoffs equaled the number of those expected to hire, at 6% each.

Of the CIOs with hiring plans, the vast majority (81%) plan to hire junior-level staff next quarter, divided about evenly between those with 2 years of experience or less (41%) and those with 2 to 5 years of experience (40%). One in five CIOs who plan to hire new staff expect to recruit senior-level professionals, defined as those with more than 5 years experience.

A majority of the CIOs (58%) who plan to hire next quarter expect to recruit full-time workers, with almost 3 in 10 (28%) expecting to use a mix of full-time and contract hires. Only about 1 in 10 CIOs plan to bring in only contractors.

The survey asked about broad functional expertise and specific IT skills most in demand by CIOs. The functional expertise CIOs consider the most challenging to find among skilled professionals is networking -- technical, not interpersonal -- cited by 1 in 5 respondents (19%).  Another 13% of CIOs say security expertise and 10% say applications development are tough to find in today's workforce.

Specific IT skills, as opposed to functional expertise, cited as most in demand by half or more of the CIO respondents are network administration (70%), end-user desktop support (66%), Windows operating system administration (62%), database management (58%), and wireless network management (52%).

The Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Index and Skills Report, released last week, is based on telephone interviews with 1400 CIOs during October 2009, randomly selected from companies with 100 employees or more. Robert Half, a staffing company, has conducted the survey quarterly since 1995.

In November 2009, the number of online job ads increased for computer scientists, mathematicians, and engineers, while opportunities for other science and related jobs remained flat or decreased. The cohort of unemployed science and engineering job-hunters generally declined, however, which at least made their task of finding a job no worse than before. The Conference Board, a private business and economic research institute, provides these data, which are tracked monthly by Science Careers.

Online postings for computer scientists and mathematicians increased by 35,400 in November, an 8.6% jump and one of the bright spots overall in The Conference Board's November report.  Online job ads for engineers and architects inched up by 2600 to 116,100 in November, that category's first monthly gain since July, when Science Careers began tracking these data.

However, the number of opportunities posted for other science and related positions either stayed about the same as October or declined. Online ads for life, physical, and social science jobs fell in November by 1800 to 66,800. Online postings for jobs in the related category of healthcare practitioners and technicians fell by nearly 36,000 in November to 497,400, although the drop was half the size of the October decline. The number of education, training, and library job ads stayed about the same as October, gaining only 700 to 68,500.

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The Conference Board report also includes a ratio of online ads to the number of unemployed workers in the job market for these categories, an indicator of job-market competitiveness. The most current unemployment data, taken from Bureau of Labor Statistics' reports, are a month older than the job ads numbers; so this month the unemployment numbers re from October 2009. Thus the ratios calculated below are from October, a month earlier than the numbers cited above.

Among the science, engineering, and related groups tracked by Science Careers, the number of unemployed job-seekers declined in October, much as we saw in September. (The reports do not give reasons for declining numbers of job-seekers.) For computer scientists and mathematicians, the number of unemployed job-hunters in October dropped by nearly a third to 159,400. Meanwhile, the number online ads increased by 7,500 for these workers, which made this market one of the tightest for any group in the country: more than 2.5 computer scientist or mathematician jobs for each unemployed person looking for work.

The number of unemployed life, physical, and social science job-hunters also declined in October to 61,200, a 14% decline. This drop helped offset a decline the number of online job ads in October for these scientists, which kept the ratio of unemployed job-seekers to online ads about at about 1-to-1. The number of unemployed engineers and architects looking for work also declined by about 20,000 in October, maintaining a less-favorable (for job-seekers) ratio of two job-hunters for each online job ad.

In the related category of healthcare practioners and technicians, the number of unemployed workers looking for a job in October dropped by 35% or nearly 78,000, which more than offset the 71,100 decline in online ads that month. The market for healthcare professionals and technicians remains one of the most favorable for job-hunters, with 3.7 jobs for each unemployed job-seeker. The number of unemployed education, library, and training staff fell by 7100 in October, which more than offset the decline in job ads (4900) that month. However, the job market ratio for this group remains one of the most unfavorable for job hunters, with 6.4 unemployed workers for each online opportunity.

Overall, the number of online job ads in the U.S. increased by 106,500 in November to about 3.4 million. That jump in new opportunities may improve the overall job-market ratio, when that number is calculated early next month. Meanwhile, the latest overall numbers are from October, when there were 4.8 unemployed workers (up from 4.5 in September) for each online job ad.

The number of online employment ads for scientists and engineers continued to decline in October, reflecting overall weakness in the U.S. job market. In some cases these losses were offset by declining numbers of job-seekers, according to a monthly index of online opportunities compiled (with seasonal adjustments) by The Conference Board, a private business and economic research institute, and tracked by Science Careers.

The only good news in an otherwise grim report was the number of online ads for computer scientists and mathematicians, which increased to more than 409,000 in October, up 7200 from September. Ads for life, physical, and social scientists dropped by 1100 in October to 69,200, and opportunities for engineers and architects continued the monthly declines that started in June, dropping another 900 postings to 113,300.

In the related career category of health care practitioners and technicians, the decline in online employment ads from September to October was particularly steep, dropping by almost 69,000 -- more than 11% -- to 535,600. This category had been one of the bright spots in the overall U.S. jobs picture, increasing by 86,000, or 16.5%, during August and September.

In another related occupation group -- education, training, and library workers -- the news is a little better. The number of employment ads increased by 4400 in October, a gain over September of nearly 7%. The number of ads in this category had dropped by about this same number in both August and September.

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The report also includes a ratio of online ads to the number of unemployed workers in the job market for these categories, an indicator of job-market competitiveness. The most current unemployment data, derived from Bureau of Labor Statistics' reports, are a month older than the job ads numbers, in this case for September 2009. So the ratios calculated below are from September, a month earlier than the numbers cited above.

Among the main science and engineering groups tracked by Science Careers, the number of unemployed job-seekers declined in September, which in some cases eased the tightness of the job market in those categories. (The reports do not give reasons for declining numbers of job-seekers.) Among life, physical, and social scientists, the number of job-seekers dropped from 83,100 in August to 71,500 in September, a decline of 14%. Meanwhile, the number of online ads in this category declined slightly from August, so the job market for these scientists improved a little, according to this measure, to the point where the number of job seekers approximately equaled the number of posted opportunities.

Something similar happened among engineers and architects. The number of job-seekers in this group declined by more than 11% in September to 233,200. So even though the number of job ads declined by 3300, the job market ratio improved slightly from the perspective of those looking for jobs; in September there were 2 engineers or architects for each posted job, slightly better than in August.

Among computer scientists and mathematicians, the number of unemployed job seekers hardly changed in September. Even though the number of online employment ads declined by 4200, the number of posted jobs (402,000) comfortably exceeded the number job-hunters (236,100).

In the related career category of health care practitioners and technicians, both the number of job-seekers and the number of online ads increased in September. The result was 2.73 posted jobs for each job seeker. That ratio will likely change for October, given last month's sharp drop in the number of posted ads. 

Among education, training, and library workers, the job market ratio for September ballooned to 7 job seekers for each posted opportunity, as the number of job ads in September declined by 4200 compared to August and the number of job seekers jumped 29% to more than 442,000.

By comparison, the job-market ratio for the U.S. overall inched up in September to 4.5 job-hunters for each posted job ad. In October,  the total number of online ads posted dropped by 83,200 to less than 3.3 million. So don't look for much overall improvement in the October ratios.

For the past few months, Science Careers has tracked the number of online jobs advertised for scientists and engineers, as reported by The Conference Board, a private business and economic research institute. In September, the number of ads for scientists and engineers declined, compared to August, with only the related field of medical practitioners and technicians recording an increase.

Among scientists, opportunities for life, physical, and social scientists advertised online declined only slightly from their August levels, from almost 71,000 in August to 70,300 in September, less than a 1% drop. The number of ads for those scientists had risen in both July and August compared to the previous month.

Online opportunities for computer scientists and mathematicians also dropped less than 1% to about 402,000 in September, but that still represents almost 4,000 fewer ads than in August. As with the life, physical, and social scientists, the number of ads for computer and math scientists rose in July and August.

The number of online ads for engineers and architects took a bigger hit in September. Ads for these jobs declined by 3,300 to about 114,000 from August to September, a decline of 2.8%. Unlike ads for scientists, opportunities in this category declined in July and August, compared to the previous month.

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In the related field of education workers -- including training and library staff at all levels -- online ads declined by more than 4,000 in September to about 63,000, a drop of more than 6%. The number of ads for education workers declined by about the same amount in August.

The Conference Board's report does not comment on seasonal variations within occupational categories, so we do not know if these declines normally happen at this time of year in these groups.

The only bright spot in The Conference Board report was in the number of online ads for the related category of health care practitioners and technicians (health care support staff are reported separately). The number of employment ads for these workers increased by 28,000 to almost 606,000 in September, a 4.8% increase. This increase was still only about half of the nearly 60,000 more job ads for this group in August.

The Conference Board computes a ratio of online ads to the number of unemployed workers in the job market for these categories, which offers an indicator of job market competitiveness for employers and job-seekers. A ratio of less than 1.0 means there are more jobs posted online than there are unemployed workers seeking those jobs. When the ratio exceeds 1.0, there are more job seekers than online opportunities. However, this ratio is computed for the previous month, since there's a one-month lag in capturing data on unemployed workers.

In August, people seeking work as health care practitioners and technicians had the most favorable job market with a ratio of 0.3, which means there were about 3 opportunities advertised for each job-seeker. Computer scientists and mathematicians also had more posted opportunities than job-hunters in August, with 1.7 jobs for each of the nearly 236,000 in this group seeking work.

Other scientific and engineering job seekers faced a more difficult market. People seeking jobs as life, physical, and social scientists were somewhat more numerous (83,100) than the number of online jobs posted (70,900). For architects and engineers, the number of job-hunters exceeded posted jobs by more than 2-to-1.  And for education, training, and library workers, the environment was downright dismal, with about 5 job seekers for each opportunity posted online.

While it is little consolation to education workers, their plight is not that much worse than the job market overall. Nationwide, the number of online opportunities declined by nearly 102,000 in September, with 4.3 unemployed job seekers for each advertised job in August.

UPDATE, 16 October 2009. Frank Tortorici and June Shelp of The Conference Board kindly tell us that their data that we report on are indeed seasonally adjusted. Here's what they say ...

"The occupational data that is provided in the [Help-Wanted OnLine Data Series] monthly release is seasonally adjusted.  In other words, for occupational categories like life, physical, and social scientists where the academic calendar is important the seasonally adjusted data would adjust for the seasonal swings that are typical for that occupation.  Similarly, the unemployment data for the occupations is also the seasonally adjusted data.  Seasonally adjusted data is typically the data that if reported in the major federal data series for employment and unemployment as it provides the clearest picture of month-to-month changes."

One job market indicator we follow on Science Careers is the number of online job ads, which is tracked monthly by the Conference Board, a private business and economic research institute. In August, the number of online advertisements for scientists posted healthy gains over July, although the number of employment ads for engineers remained flat.

Judging by these numbers, the job outlook for scientists appears to be improving.  In August the number of help-wanted ads for computer scientists and mathematicians rose by 9,000 to to almost 407,000. The number of ads for life, physical, and social scientists rose by 4,200 in August, to about 71,000--a healthy 6% increase. In both cases, the number of new ads were greater in August than July.

Keep in mind that these could reflect regular seasonal changes, since academic jobs in particular tend to have regular hiring seasons. We're not expert enough yet to compensate for seasonal differences. We'll see how the trends play out over time.

For engineers and architects, however, the outlook is not as rosy. The number of employment ads for these jobs remained at 117,700 in August, the same as in July. This number is still below the 121,700 jobs for engineers and architects posted online in June.

New online ads for health care professionals and technicians (on the one hand) and education workers (on the other) show sharply contrasting trends. Employment ads for health care practitioners and technicians rose by nearly 53,000 in August to more than 574,000, the largest jump for any occupational group this month. This increase reversed a decline of nearly 4,000 ads from June to July. The number of posted education, training, and library jobs fell by 3,300 in August, to 68,000, which almost wiped out a 3,700 increase in job ads in July.

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The Conference Board also calculates a supply/demand rate as an indicator of job-market strength, comparing the number of job seekers, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to the number of online employment ads.  The higher the rate, the more job seekers per ad and the worse the market is for job hunters. There's a one-month delay in reporting these data. In July, the number of job seekers increased in most categories, which indicates finding a job in July remained a challenge, even in fields in which job ads increased.

By this measure, computer scientists, mathematicians, and health care practitioners/technicians had among best job markets in July. In both cases, they had rates of less than 1, which means the number of online ads exceeded the number of job seekers. Life, physical, and social scientists had about a 1-to-1 ratio of job ads to job seekers in July. Other career groups, however, faced tougher job markets. For engineers and architects, the number of job seekers in July exceeded job ads by a 2-to-1 margin. Education, training, and library workers faced even worse prospects: a nearly 5-to-1 ratio of job seekers per online ad.

Overall, the number of online ads increased nationwide to nearly 3.5 million in August, an increase of more than 169,000 compared to July which barely registered an increase over the previous month. In July, however there were overall 4.4 job seekers per online employment ad, about the same as the 4.5 per ad recorded in June.

Keeping track of current trends in job markets is a difficult business. One approach that's more promising than most is tracking online job ads. Long-term trends in technology (e.g., the rise of social media and the decline of static ads) may skew the results over time, but month-to-month trends are likely to be meaningful.

The Conference Board tracks these statistics, and their index of online help-wanted ads for July had a little good news for scientists and health care professionals, but bad news for engineers and architects.

The number of online employment ads for life scientists, physical scientists, and social scientists increased by 2,300 to nearly 67,000 in July 2009 compared to June--a healthy 3.5% increase. Ads for computer scientists and mathematicians increased slightly, with about 1,100 more jobs listed in July 2009, to 397,800. In both of these categories, the numbers of online help-wanted ads exceeded the number of job seekers reported for June by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for that month. That's the good news.

The bad news is for engineers and architects, who face much bleaker prospects, according to the Conference Board. The number of online employment ads for engineers and architects declined by 4,000 in July, to 117,700. Worse, in June there were about about 1.6 job-hunters for every online ad.

Related categories had mixed results. The number of online education, training, and library employment ads increased by 3,700 in July, to 71,300, but it's still an extremely tight market: There were still 4.7 job seekers for every online ad in this grouping. In contrast, there were more than 2 ads for each job hunter in the health professions and practitioners group--but the trend is in the wrong direction: In July, the number of ads in this category dropped by nearly 4,000 compared to June.

The Conference Board is a private business and economic research institute. Its index of online help-wanted ads is published monthly.

The number of online job ads increased in May compared to April, according to the Conference Board, with among the largest increases noted for jobs in computer and mathematical science. Engineering and architecture job ads, and ads for jobs in other fields of science, also increased in May.

The Conference Board is an independent business-research association that publishes a number of economic and employment indexes, including surveys of help-wanted ads, which offer indicators of the nation's employment picture. It's count of May 2009 online employment ads increased by 250,000 over April, the first month-to-month increase since October 2008's modest (21,000) rise, and the largest such gain since October 2006. Before too many celebrations begin, however, the Conference Board notes that May's numbers are still 25% below last year at this time.

Among the occupational categories making the largest gains was computer and mathematical science, which rose some 35,000 in May, to 417,000. Only management and office/administrative job ads had bigger increases; each rose more than 40,000. After managers and lawyers, computer and mathematical science jobs also pulled the the highest hourly pay rate, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data cited in the report: $35.82 per hour.

Online architecture and engineering job ads rose by 6,800 to 131,300 in May, while the total of life, physical, and social science ads increased by 3,400 to 67,500. According to the BLS data in the report, these groups are still among the better paid workers. Architects and engineers earn on average $34.34 an hour, which scientists get paid $30.90 an hour.

Prospects for your non-science and engineering neighbors may be getting better as well. The Conference Board reports more online job ads in all occupational categories in May.