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Science Careers Blog

Americas: January 2010

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

03/12/2010: Please be advised that this grant opportunity is now closed.

Earlier this month, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, killing more than 150,000 people in the capitol of Port-au-Prince and leaving many more injured and missing. Among those affected by the disaster are students from Haiti at American colleges and universities who are cut off from their families in Haiti and, in many cases, from the financial support the families provided.

To help these students, the Institute of International Education (IIE) has created Haiti-Emergency Assistance for Students (EAS) grants. These grants provide financial assistance to citizens of Haiti who are undergraduate and graduate students at accredited U.S. colleges and universities. Eligible students must have non-immigrant visa status, good academic standing, and a demonstrated financial need that was caused by the earthquake.

Students must be nominated by campus officials, including international student advisers. Each campus may nominate up to five students to receive $2000 grants for the spring semester. IIE has a downloadable nomination form on its Web site. A separate form must be completed for each student. Applications should be sent by e-mail to HaitiEAS@iie.org. The deadline for nominations is 12 February 2010.

For an overview of this grant visit GrantsNet. For the full announcement please visit the IIE Web site.

IIE is also accepting financial donations to fund more grants through the EAS program. Please contact development@iie.org if you would like to contribute to the fund.

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.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Let us know what you think.


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 Grants.gov? Have you found you must deal with variations in grant-application policies at different federal agencies even if they use Grants.gov? 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 Grants.gov, 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 Grants.gov, which makes applying for a government grant more difficult for individuals and institutions.

A later GAO audit, in July 2009, highlighted more problems with Grants.gov, 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 Grants.gov, 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 Grants.gov 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.

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.