Science Careers Blog

Alan Kotok: May 2008

National Science Foundation has posted a page in its Science and Engineering Statistics section to request revised tables from its 2006 Survey of Earned Doctorates. The note at the top of the page says, "SRS (Division of Science Resources Statistics) will be releasing revised tables from the 2006 Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) for the Summary Report, Race/Ethnicity/Gender (REG) and Baccalaureate-Origin tables released by the survey contractor in previous years. Copies of the new 2006 SED tables will be forwarded via email, at no charge." The page then gives a form to request the new tables.

As we reported two weeks ago and last month, NSF had stopped reporting data on numbers of minorities earning doctorates in some scientific specialties if those numbers fall below a certain threshold. NSF promised earlier this month to release the missing data, including those in its 2006 survey.


The blog Scientiae, maintained by a group blog of women in the STEM professions, devoted its May monthly carnival -- a collection of contributions from each blogger -- to sharing experiences on the development of their careers. The comments, collected by blogger FlickaMawa, cover issues such as pressure to publish, balancing family and work, meeting expectations of parents and mentors, and hopes for the future.  Women reading this blog probably will find many familiar issues and concerns, and at least some men will find the post quite revealing.

FlickaMawa collected the contributions from the group and posted the comments as an extended essay, with many direct quotes from the contributors. Some of the bloggers were happy with where they ended up; as ScienceWoman says, "My job requires both teaching and research and expects me to be good at both. It’s not exactly what I planned, but I really think it’s where I was meant to be." Liberal Arts Lady, however, had to make some adjustments for the sake of her family.

I started out as a gung-ho, I’ll-suffer-anything-for-the-project undergrad, and although I’ve really enjoyed the majority of my field time, over the past few years I’ve become much more reluctant and resigned to field work as actual work that also takes me away from my home life.

The blogger Young Stellar Objects discovered an inconvenient truth about being a postdoc.

[I]t isn’t just about having good ideas. It’s as much about politics and networking and self-promotion and schmoozing as it is about writing papers and winning grants. My postdoc years have been a lot about becoming savvy about self-promotion and trying to get over being an introvert.

Hannah likewise learns that achieving success depends as much on others as well as herself.

When it comes time to apply for faculty positions and tenure and all that, it’s more about the impact of your research. This is where the networking comes in: you gotta give talks, go to conferences, talk important people up, promote your ideas, yadda yadda. You need to find people who will promote your ideas for you as well: advisors and mentors.

There's plenty more, from overcoming dyslexia to remembering one's favorite job.

My favorite job, bar none, was at the video store. I loved that store. I liked the coworkers, I adored and respected my boss, I liked (most of) the regular customers. I loved that I was getting paid to stand around talking about movies, watching movies (free tape!), repairing broken tapes, and, best of all, just interacting with people all day.

Hat tip: Ric Weibl, AAAS


Marci Alboher, the New York Times careers columnist, posted an entry on her blog last week about the conflicts and guilt generated about trying to do one's work after a death in the family. A death occurred in Alboher's own family, and she reported on her own conflicts and guilt. For anyone who has lost a close family member recently -- and even if you haven't -- it is worth a read.

After a death in the family, your first responsibility is to other family members. But as Alboher notes, there are often times when not much is going on and you're tempted to check in with the work place, via telephone or e-mail. That's where the internal conflicts kick in.

For scientists in the a lab or engineers working on a tightly scheduled project, losing a family member can cause serious disruptions in work schedules, even where fellow lab or project partners pull together to help out a buddy in crisis.  While companies or institutions may have policies about taking time off for bereavement, it is difficult to predict how much time a person needs to reconnect with work. As Alboher says, "So here I am, physically back at work, and wondering when my mind will join me back in the office."

While Alboher's post is personal, perhaps part of her own grieving process, it's a reminder of the need to expect the unexpected and build connections with your colleagues for when the unexpected happens.

Last week, we reported on this blog that that National Science Foundation has stopped reporting data on numbers of minorities earning doctorates in some scientific specialties if those numbers fall below a certain threshold. NSF told us yesterday they plan to release the missing data, including those in its latest survey.

The Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED), an annual survey of doctoral awardees conducted for NSF and five other federal agencies by the National Opinion Research Center, no longer displayed data for table cells where NSF believes the reporting of small numbers in those cells may divulge personal or confidential information. We then asked NSF for its rationale for the decision. In response to our inquiry, Bobbie Mixon, a spokesperson for NSF, said ...

SRS [NSF's Division of Science Resources Statistics] has instructed the contractor to release all data collected for the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED), as in previous years.  There are privacy and confidentiality issues that must be addressed, particularly in the context of small data sets.  The question of how to aggregate the data in future years will be addressed with the data user community over the next few months and new tables will be used for the 2007 SED Summary Report.

Mixon subsequently said NSF would release the data in the latest (2006) report, noting that "The contractor will release all SED data collected for the 2006 SED."

NSF did not give us a timetable for any of these actions. However, we will monitor the SED and report when the missing data appear.

Tucked away in a news release from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on 11 April is a notice that DHS has proposed doubling the fee for student visas from $100 to $200. The fee is required of all new applicants for visas to attend academic and vocational schools in the U.S., and is non-refundable. DHS wants to raise other fees as well, including a nearly five-fold increase in the fee to certify American schools to accept foreign students, from $350 to $1,700

The proposed regulations--fee increases are officially considered regulations--are open for public comments, which can be submitted online. The due date for comments is 20 June.

Hat tip: Boston Globe