Science Careers Blog

Editor's Blog

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

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

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

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

An article posted today at Business Insider (reposted from The Guardian? I can't quite tell.) provides a close-in view of the personal side of a scientific career from the perspective of a self-described (male) "trailing spouse". Over the long course of scientific training--before that long-sought permanent post--that trailing spouse developed a life: a business, a house, a garden, kids--and doesn't want to leave. Unfortunately, the wife's fellowship is ending and there are no permanent research posts locally. The author describes her as a "world-class researcher"; apparently she has prepared for the kind of career that you can only consummate by going where the jobs are. Sticking around near where your partner works just isn't a realistic option.

The comments are definitely worth reading. They reflect a lack of sympathy that scientific dual-career couples may find surprising.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released its Employment Situation Summary for the month of July, and it's a pretty good report.

One of the employment metrics we track at Science Careers is the Conference Board's Help Wanted Online survey, a monthly survey which tracks the number of online job ads. This report measures changes in the number of job ads posted online, breaks them down by category, and compares them to unemployment numbers from the previous month (the latest category-specific data available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) to measure the vigor of the current employment market.

First, the big news for scientists: Between May and June, the number of unemployed job-seekers in the Life, Physical, and Social Science category rose by a stunning 11.4%.

In another category of interest to those seeking science employment, over the same period, the number of unemployed job-seekers in Computer and Mathematical Science increased by nearly 4.6%.

What about those online job ads? The overall number was way down in July.

There's really nothing new in this Chronicle of Higher Education article--we've been offering similar advice forever--but reminders are always welcome of the importance of convincing a potential employer that you're eager for--even passionate about--the opportunity. This goes for industry jobs at least as much as academic ones. Nobody wants a new employee who comes in lacking enthusiasm.

Note that this doesn't mean you should get all bubbly or do lots of pretending. In fact, if you don't really want the job, you probably shouldn't be wasting their time or yours. Your "interviewing experience" might be costing another candidate--someone whose enthusiasm would more than offset your superior pedigree or whatever--a shot at a dream job, and your own time could be better spent seeking a position about which you're truly excited. If you don't want the job, get out of the way.

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

What makes this even newsworthy--if anything does--is that normally you don't think about postdocs buying things for the lab. They're just the worker bees. So wouldn't it be better to pitch the principal investigators instead?

We should note that this was a postdoc event hosted by Penn's Postdoctoral Biomedical Council; it's not that a bunch of lab equipment vendors got together and said, "Let's try to sell stuff to postdocs." The event was a fundraiser; I'm not sure how, but presumably the 20 vendors who displayed their wares paid booth fees. This year's take wasn't yet tallied when the article was written, but at least year's show--this isn't the very first--they raised about $15,000. Proceeds will go to support postdoc research, the article says.

What's behind the idea of staging an equipment show for postdocs? With postdoc positions becoming longer--and postdocs therefore becoming more experienced on average--they're particpiating more in running the lab and in making purchasing decisions. "Postdocs do a vast amount of ordering for a lot of their labs at Penn, so they're able to better see what's available," fundraising committee chair and postdoctoral fellow Todd Waldron said, quoted in the article. It's implied, I think, that PIs don't know their way around the lab so well anymore. If you'd like to sell something to established PIs you'd be better off selling grant writing services or something more closely related to how they spend their workdays.

This wasn't mentioned in the article, but there's another reason for laboratory vendors to try to sell things to postdocs: A few will soon be setting up their own independent labs, spending startup funds that range into seven figures.
I'm a bit late in blogging this--sorry about that, but I've been busy.

The 29 June issue of Science includes two letters written in response to AAAS CEO Alan Leshner's 20 April editorial citing the need to establish standards for postdoc training.

The first letter, from Neal Sweeney, a postdoc in the Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology, University of California-Santa Cruz, makes a case for the importance of labor unions and collective bargaining to protect postdoc rights. Sweeney is also the president of UAW Local 5810, the union that represents more than 6000 postdocs in the University of California system.

The second letter, from the board of directors of the National Postdoctoral Association, promotes the NPA's less confrontational approach of setting standards and engaging in dialogue.

A Science site license or AAAS membership is required for access.

The Burroughs Wellcome Fund has announced the latest competition for its Career Awards at the Scientific Interface, which aim to advance the careers of physical, chemical, and computational science researchers and engineers whose work addresses biological questions. The preproposal Deadline is September 4, 2012. From the press release:

BWF's Career Awards at the Scientific Interface provide $500,000 to bridge advanced postdoctoral training and the first years of faculty service.  These awards are intended to foster the early career development of researchers with backgrounds in the physical/mathematical/computational sciences and engineers whose work addresses biological questions.

These awards are open to U.S. and Canadian citizens or permanent residents as well as to U.S. temporary residents.

Eligible candidates for this award may self-nominate by submitting a preproposal by September 4, 2012.

Preproposals will be reviewed by the Interfaces in Science Advisory Committee and selected candidates will be invited to submit a full application. Full invited applications must be submitted by January 10, 2013.
See our video:

For full grant details, see
BWF is a long-time supporter of Science Careers.

Numerous sources claim that Stephen Hawking once said that someone had told him that every equation he put in one of his books would reduce sales by half. Apparently, that's true of biology papers as well.

According to a study by Tim W. Fawcett and Andrew D. Higginson, scheduled to come out today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), including lots of equations in a biology paper reduces its influence, with the most math-heavy papers receiving 50% fewer citations, on average, than other papers.

Strangely, while the article is about biologists--the article is titled "Heavy use of equations impedes communication among biologists"--the EurekAlert press release makes it sound as if this phenomenon applies to science articles in general. But one presumes that you would not find the same bias in, say, a theoretical physics journal.

So what should biology researchers do? Avoiding equations in science--even biology--probably isn't a good idea. Assuming the authors have drawn the correct conclusion--that is, that math-heavy biology papers aren't inherently less important than math-light ones--it probably makes sense to put your equations in an appendix, where, the article's authors say, they did not affect citation rates.

Once the article is live it will appear here

Adam Ruben's most recent column, "Experimental Error: The Unwritten Rules of Journalism," provoked this response from science writer Hannah Holmes. Footnotes are hers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 11, 2012

A Week in Stockholm

If you're looking for a scintillating read, I strongly recommend you check out Yudhijit Bhattacharjee's News Focus article, "A Week in Stockholm," in this week's Science. It's a "you are there" account of the encounter between competing research groups at the events surrounding last year's Nobel Prize ceremony. It's full of color, texture, elation, regret, fire (literally!), and insight into what goes on in the minds of scientists at a moment in their lives that few people experience, when they are at once human and larger than life.

Highly recommended. Subscription or site license required for access.

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

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

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

Last month, the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, part of the National Science Foundation, released a report called "Diversity in Science and Engineering Employment in Industry." I took a look and learned something new -- or maybe more accurately, the numbers caused me to look at things in a new way.

Not only are minority scientists and engineers under-represented in their fields, the proportion of minorities trained in science who stay in science for a career is also smaller.

Counting everyone with a science or engineering degree (bachelor's, master's, doctorate, or professional), 30.2% work in scientific or engineering (S&E) occupations. The rest work in either "S&E-Related" occupations (including, for example, doctors and nurses: 24.4%) or in "Non-S&E occupations" (45.4%).

That number varies a lot by group. Asians with S&E degrees, for example, stay in S&E occupations far more than any other group: 45.6% of them work in S&E fields. Among Asian men, it's 53.5%; this is the only subgroup where more than half of those with S&E degrees were working in S&E fields.

For those who described themselves as Black or African American, the number is 22.4%. Among Black or African-American women, the number is 15.5%.  For Hispanics, it's 24.6%, and for Hispanic women, 14.4%. In the American Indian or Alaska Native category, 24.9% of those with S&E degrees continue to work in S&E professions, and 18.7% of women. Among those with disabilities, 17.9% of those with S&E degrees work in S&E professions, and 15.7% of women. Across all demographics, just 18.1% of women with S&E degrees work in S&E fields.  

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with having an S&E degree and working outside of science; work is a very personal thing and it's important to find the right fit. And I won't speculate on what drives these differences. But when percentages vary this widely -- when Asian men with S&E degrees stay in science with nearly four times the frequency of Hispanic women --  powerful forces are at work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eppendorf AG and Science are now accepting applications for the 2012 Prize for Neurobiology.

Details are at

The headline result from the latest employment report from the Conference Board -- 39,900 more online job ads posted in February than the month before -- delivers good news, but it isn't the kind you'd print in letters 4 inches tall. But when you take a closer look, the numbers look really good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could success be antithetical to transformational research?

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

Garth Sundem, a contributor to the GeekDad blog ("Raising geek generation 2.0"), writes that the conventional view on the most effective learning strategies is almost completely backwards. Sundem interviews Robert Bjork, director of the UCLA Learning and Forgetting Lab in Los Angeles, California, and passes along some surprising strategies.

Many former Science Careers staffers (as well as those who worked for the organization back when it was called Science's Next Wave; we call them ex-Wavers) have gone on to do very cool things and have influential careers. Our former ranks include science academy presidents, chief science officers for companies, professional society executive directors, professors, and many other important folks. But when they do really cool things that relate directly to Science Careers we especially like to brag about them.

Our most recent bragging opportunity comes from a recent publication by Sibrina Collins, the very first Editor of the Minority Scientists Network, in which she unearths the intriguing stories of Ohio's early African-American chemists in the American Chemical Society's Bulletin for the History of Chemistry. Collins is now an assistant professor of chemistry at the College of Wooster in Ohio. I can't get you all the way to the article -- it is only available to those with subscriptions -- but here is the Table of Contents. Maybe you or your institution has access.

Bernie Machen, president of the University of Florida, wants students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields at Florida's public universities to pay more tuition than their peers in other subjects, the Miami Herald reported last week. Testifying before the state House Education Committee, Machen said that STEM students should pay more because they cost more to educate, and also because they can expect a larger return on their educational investment. "If you look at return on investment after graduation, look at the pent-up demand for STEM hires, you can make a good case that since that program costs more you ought to have a (higher) tuition for those programs." Speaking at the same hearing, Eric Barron, president of Florida State University, agreed with Machen.

The proposal comes as Florida, like many other states, pushes for more of its students to major in STEM fields. Machen and Barron propose to use the additional funds generated by the tuition bump to build new laboratories and support improved STEM education. They maintain that the tuition increase would not reduce the number of people pursuing majors in these fields.

Leaders from several other Florida public universities disagreed with Machen's proposal, the Miami-Herald reports. "I think the one way that you don't get people into areas where you need them is to charge them more," James Ammons, president of Florida A&M University, a minority-serving institution, told members of the committee. "I think what we need to be doing, on the other hand, is to find ways to encourage and support students, especially those from under-represented groups, to go into STEM."

Mary Jane Saunders, the president of Florida Atlantic University, and Mark Rosenburg, president of Florida International University, sided with Ammons in opposing the proposal. "If anything, tuition should be lower," Saunders said, according to Rattler Nation, a Florida A&M blog. "If you want to bring people into these programs, you should incentivize them, maybe with more scholarship money."

January 5, 2012

How Do You Define Success?

In today's print issue, Science presents a new feature called NextGen VOICES. Science Editor-in-Chief Bruce Alberts describes the new feature in this week's Science editorial.

Late last year, NextGen asked young scientists, "How will the practice of science change in your lifetime?" A selection of the responses are published in this week's issue of Science, on page 36; a wider selection of essays is posted online, here.

This week, NextGen also announced a new question: "What is your definition of a successful scientist? How has this definition changed between your mentor's generation and your own?" Here's a link to the survey:

Early-career scientists are encouraged to participate.

In a 2 December article in Science Careers, Roz Pidcock quoted Commander William Marks, public affairs officer at United States Naval Academy, on the competitiveness of Annapolis admissions. "Last year we received more than 19,000 applications for about 1240 spots." But, according to an entry yesterday in The Ticker, a Chronicle of Higher Education blog, we -- and a lot of other people -- probably were misled. The Chronicle picked up the story from an article in the Navy Times.

An Annapolis professor is accusing the academy of inflating its application numbers to improve its national rankings. Bruce Fleming, a professor of English, filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the academy's admissions records and learned that the academy counts as applicants people who applied for a week-long summer program and people who never completed their applications. This is from the Chronicle report:
The Class of 2015 was reportedly chosen from 19,145 applicants, but only 5,720 people actually completed applications, according to the documents, which Mr. Fleming gave to the Navy Times. That means the academy's 7.4-percent acceptance rate is actually closer to 25 percent. The academy defended its approach, saying it has used this method of counting applicants for at least 20 years.
Hmm, well I guess that makes it OK then.

The Navy Times article provides more detail, reporting that, while Academy officials defended the practice, they didn't deny it.

On the last Friday of each year, Science Careers publishes a list of what we believe are the year's best articles. In the past, this has been mainly an 'Editor's Choice' listing -- voted on by Science Careers editors and a few select insiders. Here is last year's list.

This year, we're opening the process up to readers. So, please describe your favorites and tell us why these articles mattered to you, and we'll include them in our 'best-of' list along with your comments.

As if we didn't know this already: A new study confirms that engineering and science majors study more than English and business majors. The National Survey of Student Engagement, also known as Nessie, was released today. The study is reported in several news outlets, including the New York Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Here's a nice little essay by a Kashmiri natural-products chemist, describing his experiences as a postdoc at the University of Mississippi. The English is idiosyncratic in spots but it's completely readable and a fun read for anyone interested, as I am, in science-related fish-out-of-water stories:

As soon as I heard from the University of Kashmir, where I was pursuing postdoc for Center for Scientific and Industrial Research at RRIUM, that my application for postdoctoral position in USA at the University of Mississippi (also called OleMiss) had been accepted, a whole montage of images flashed across my mind. Swamps, trucks, cars, roads, clubs, Virginia beaches, Hollywood Beverly hills, the twanging of streets: the idea struck me as downright exotic.

Yesterday, NIH updated its online information on the 2012 Early Independence Awards, the latest iteration of a novel program that allows recent Ph.D. recipients -- applicants must be within 12 months of receiving the degree -- to skip the postdoc and become an independent researcher immediately. The request for applications was posted last week. An FAQ describing the program is also provided. Here's a list of the 2011 winners, with a short description of their research projects.

This year's program appears to be unchanged from last year. NIH expects to make 10 awards of up to $250,000 / year for 5 years in direct costs. (Indirect costs are paid as well.) An institution can submit a maximum of two applications.

Applicants must be supported by an institution. Here's how NIH describes what they expect from the sponsoring institution:
The institution is expected to make a serious commitment to each awardee through the provision of separate lab space, access to common equipment and resources, mentoring similar to that provided to assistant professors, etc. The faculty in the host department should regard the awardee as a colleague, but the institution is not required to provide a tenure-track slot to the awardee. If the position provided for the Early Independence Awardee is not permanent at the institution, the Early Independence Award is expected to position the awardee to compete successfully for a tenure track or other permanent position at the end of the funding period.
Applications are due on 30 January.

India has been an important source of skilled labor for America's information-technology (IT) industry for years. Meanwhile, American companies have engaged in "off-shoring": setting up Indian subsidiaries or contracting with Indian firms to lower operating costs. Also, American companies have been lobbying congress to admit more Indian (and other international) IT workers to help fill what they -- controversially -- insist is a shortage of qualified personnel. And all along, India's own IT industry has been growing.

Whether your talking about foreign workers in the United States, off-shoring, or the growth of India's own IT industry, the main advantage for companies hiring these workers is the lower labor costs. This is old news. But this past weekend in San Jose, California (and the weekend before in Somerset, New Jersey) there was something new: Indian companies (and American companies with operations in India) recruiting on U.S. soil workers to be based in India.

The organizers of these career fairs, reports this article from ComputerWorld, insist that the events were open to any IT worker with an interest in working in India. But the emphasis clearly was on recruiting Indian nationals working in the United States. Computerworld says the companies were seeking experienced IT workers, with 8 years or more of experience and the ability to lead a team.

Participating American companies included the consulting firm Accenture,, Synapse Design, and the computer-security company McAfee (now part of Intel). Indian companies included, an Indian shopping company; SmartPlay Technologies, a semiconductor firm; InfoTech Enterprises, an engineering design firm; and Tata Motors. The organizers said last weekend's New Jersey fair attracted about 1000 people.

The implications aren't clear: More off-shoring of U.S. IT jobs? Or more competition for U.S.-based IT labor? Either way, it's an interesting development. 

On Twitter: @SciCareerEditor

Data from the 2010 Census, released in a study from Georgetown Universities Center for Education and the Workforce, have been much in the news lately, with most mainstream news outlets mining it for news bytes. The most common take: "Here is a bunch of majors where the unemployment rate is really low. Look, most of them are in science."

But some of those who have commented on these unemployment rates have made an obvious mistake, comparing these unemployment numbers (sometimes implicitly) to the nation's overall unemployment rate, which is (and was then) around 9%. It makes far more sense to compare to other college graduates.

Today it's about 4.2%, but in 2010, when these data were collected, the unemployment rate for all college grads was about 5%. That's higher than some scientific fields but lower than others. Here's a sample, lifted from a table in the Wall Street Journal:
  • All college graduates: 5.0%
  • Actuarial science: 0.0%
  • Animal science: 5.7%
  • Atmospheric science and meteorology: 1.7%
  • Cognitive science and biopsychology: 4.5%
  • Computer science: 5.6%
  • Food science: 6.9%
  • Geology and earth science: 5.7%
  • Neuroscience: 7.2%
  • Physical science: 2.8%
  • Statistics and Decision science: 6.9%
Engineering shows a similar distribution: Some subfields have unemployment lower than the average for all college grads, while other fields have higher unemployment. Some of the worst performers are on the periphery of science: Unemployment among clinical psychology majors was reported as 19.5%; psychology does poorly overall. And some of the numbers seem hard to explain: With all the recent layoffs in the pharmaceuticals industry, how could pharmacology majors have a 0% unemployment rate? That doesn't make sense.

It's true, I think, that if you're a college student, it's a good idea to major in science. But it makes a great deal of difference which science major you choose.

And don't lose site of the fact that none of this analysis is relevant to scientists with advanced degrees.

November 10, 2011

Are You Flexible?

We've posted a poll on our Facebook page asking aspiring scientists whether they are determined to have an academic career or whether they're open to non-academic and non-traditional opportunities. (There's a third choice for those who are definitely looking for a non-academic career.)

So far, the results are surprising, at least to me: Only about 20% of respondents say they are determined to pursue the traditional academic career path. About 50% say they are "open to other possibilities, while some 30% are "definitely seeking a non-academic career."

What are your plans? Please cast your vote. It's an informal poll -- decidedly unscientific and mostly for fun.

The latest C&E News presents their latest report on the job market in chemistry and concludes, in a series of articles, that jobs in chemistry might be a little easier to find in 2012 than they were in 2011 -- but not much easier.

Among other interesting observations, Sophie L. Rovner notes (in "Anemic Recovery Restrains Hiring") that the pharmaceutical industry's massive job cuts have slowed dramatically, and that layoffs in the chemical industry, though more numerous in the first three quarters of this year than in the same period a year before, have been far fewer this year than in 2009. Overall, the jobs outlook is likely to improve some in 2011 (from its current lousy state) -- though there is still a possibility that the economy could slip back into recession. That wouldn't be good.

There is one bright spot in the C&E News jobs report: It's a pretty good time to be a chemical engineer.

Earlier this year, my father became one of many patients whose health was put at risk due to a drug shortage. A chemotherapy agent prescribed by his oncologist was unavailable and had to be replaced by a different drug. A news article by Madhumita Venkataramanan in Nature Medicine argues that scientific careers, too, are being placed at risk by drug shortages. The article describes several scientists and students whose clinical trials or other research was delayed by their inability to procure the necessary compounds. "Since the samples won't come in before I graduate, the project has been removed from my thesis," says Kristen Tamburro, a Ph.D. student and Howard Hughes Medical Institute fellow. "It would have been a great experience to have had."

"There are postdoctoral fellows here whose livelihoods depend on this work," adds Ari Melnick, a professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, commenting on his own travails. The result of the delay, he adds, is "these people's careers being derailed."

Melnick is worried about his own career, too -- specifically, his ability to fund his project. When trials are not moving forward, he says, the grants aren't likely to come in. "It all falls apart," he says.

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education says that universities are increasingly promoting the idea that careers outside academe for Ph.D. graduates need not be a consolation prize. Describing such conversations as "taboo", the article describes events and other measures universities are taking to inform their graduate students about alternatives to traditional, linear academic career paths -- and not just in the sciences.

"You're in charge of your career," Paula Chambers told an audience of about 200 arts and humanities students at Ohio State University, echoing familiar Science Careers themes. "My message to you today is you need to prepare to be versatile." Chambers runs the Web site The Versatile Ph.D., which promotes alternatives to the academic track. Her presentation was part of Ohio State's first "Alternative Career Day." Other speakers included the founder and managing partner of a venture capital firm and the director of admissions and student services at Ohio State's school of public affairs.

This isn't new, apparently, but it definitely caught my eye: The National Geographic Society offers grants to young people, ages 18 to 25, to support them as they engage in several different kinds of exploratory pursuits. Applicants are not required to have advanced degrees and the program isn't limited to U.S. citizens. Grants vary in amount, but most range between $2000 and $5000. ($5000 is the maximum.)

Here are the categories:
  • The Committee for Research and Exploration (CRE) funds hypothesis-based scientific research. The CRE Web site has information on the fields of research funded.
  • The Conservation Trust (CT) funds "innovative and applied approaches to conservation with potential for global application."  The CT Web site has information on the types of projects funded.
  • The Expeditions Council (EC) funds exploration and adventure around the world. Consult the EC Web site for more information on the types of programs funded.
There are some restrictions: Basically, the grants may not be used to pay for vacations (although, judging by the third bullet point above, that is debatable), salary, tuition, overhead, or travel for another purpose (scientific or professional meetings of conferences, for example). Also disallowed: "study abroad programs, volunteer activities, legal actions, land acquisition, endowments, construction of permanent field stations, or publication of research results."

The society also asks for the right of first refusal for popular publication and other media coverage of grantee's findings.

Application forms and instructions for applying are available on the society's Web site.

October 28, 2011

Finding Where You Fit

In a recent BioTechniques (Vol. 51, No. 4), Kristie Nybo interviews Barry Honig, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Director of the Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, all at Columbia University.

Honig has made important contributions to the development of tools for structural biology, though I know him -- though not very well -- as a computational biologist.

For me, the interesting part of the interview was the first, after Nybo asks, "In building your career, what was your most significant obstacle." His answer: He was so interdisciplinary that it was difficult for him to find a home.

Honig earned his Ph.D. in chemical physics, then switched to biology for his postdoc. "But when I finished my postdoc," he says, "I encountered a form of cultural bias that still exists to a lesser extent today: physicists and chemists viewed working in biology as  a lower level activity while biologists, rightfully, said I wasn't a real biologist. Consequently, I couldn't find a job."

"Was I a chemist? A biologist? What department would I be comfortable in?," he asked himself. "It was a long struggle, and one I still see today with young people doing interdisciplinary research."  Eventually he made his way to Columbia, where he found a very comfortable fit.

I'm attending the Michigan regional meeting of the National Postdoctoral Association. At a reception last night, I was sitting with four scientists; of the five of us, four had interesting scientist-spouse-related stories:
  • A chancellor's spouse had been an enzymologist, became a cancer researcher, and just finished law school to become a patent attorney.
  • A faculty member's spouse had accepted a faculty position (after a "dual-career" search), became a journal editor, then moved over into the technical side of journal work, serving up science-journal content online.
  • A faculty member's spouse had completed a dual-degree program (M.D./Ph.D.) overseas, and was in the process of doing a new residency in the United States.
  • A physicist (me) had followed a spouse who had received a faculty position, then made a career transition into writing and editing.
It never fails to surprise me how often scientists end up in relationships with other scientists and then have to deal with dual-career complexities. In this case, three of four situations had been resolved satisfactorily (with both partners happily employed), and the fourth seemed to be approaching a happy outcome.

What will the future of science look like? How will your generation mold the way science is practiced? Have ideas? Young scientists, we want to hear from you! Add your voice to the pages of Science by answering this question: How will the practice of science change in your lifetime?  What will improve and what new challenges will emerge?

Please take the survey at

Deadline for submissions is 18 November 2011. A selection of the best responses will be published in the 6 January 2012 issue of Science. Submissions should be 250 words or less.  Anonymous submissions will not be considered. 

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

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

In a speech yesterday on immigration reform, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested that current immigration policies could contribute to the loss of needed, skilled technical talent. This is from The Ticker blog at the Chronicle of Higher Education:
"Turning [foreign students who have just graduated] out of the country is, to put it bluntly, about the dumbest thing that we could possibly do," Mr. Bloomberg said in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Partnership for a New American Economy. "The fact is, there is no such thing as too many engineers, too many scientists, or too many technological innovators. We need all of them in this country."
At Science Careers, we believe in the potential of science to solve crucial problems and promote economic development more than most people do -- including, I suspect, Mayor Bloomberg. But I'm less sure about his claim that you can never have too many. Scientific careers are, among other things, economic entities -- very special ones, but economic entities nonetheless. With any economic entity, when supply and demand get too far out of wack, bad things happen; too much supply leads to falling prices -- wages in this case -- which isn't good for the profession. It's even arguable whether having too many scientists is good for the companies that employ them: Will companies benefit if science becomes a low-prestige, low-wage career? Or would they -- as I believe -- be better off it it remains a career that attracts the most capable members of our society, as well as other societies?

That's something I hope Bloomberg -- and others who believe as he does -- will consider.

According to a recent story in the Hartford Courant, the family of a Yale University graduate student murdered at her research lab in 2009 has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university. The filing claims that "Yale had long taken inadequate steps to ensure the safety and security of women on its campus," the Courant story says. "Sexual attacks on and harassment of women at Yale had been a well-documented and long-standing problem, and there was a widespread belief that Yale repeatedly failed to impose meaningful discipline on offenders." Furthermore, the lawsuit claims that Raymond Clark, the assailant, had "previously demonstrated aggressive behavior and a violent propensity towards women."

In June, Clark was sentenced to 44 years in prison for the murder as part of a plea agreement under the Alford doctrine, which allowed him to concede that he would likely be convicted, without admitting guilt.

In a statement, Yale said that there was "no basis" for the civil suit.

Le was reported missing 2 years ago today. Her body was found stuffed inside a laboratory wall.

July 28, 2011

Dissing the Doctorate

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

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

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

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

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

An op-ed in today's New York Post, by Josh Bloom, director of chemical and pharmaceutical sciences at the American Council of Science and Health, expresses dismay over diminished prospects for scientists in the United States, and astonishment at continuing efforts to sell science as a career in the face of diminished prospects:
The folks at Scientific American have launched "1,000 Scientists in 1,000 Days" -- a program to bring together scientists, teachers and students to improve America's "dismal" showing among wealthy countries (27th out of 29) in graduating college students with degrees in science or engineering. I'm sure they mean well -- but, at least as it applies to the field of chemistry, "1,000 Unemployed Scientists Living With Their Parents at Age 35 While Working at the Gap" would be a better name.
Bloom, who says he spent 20 years working in drug discovery, focuses on the pharmaceutical industry and blames that industry's decline -- and the resulting layoffs and off-shoring of research -- for the sad state of science careers in the United States.

Following a period of modest growth, online job ads were down slightly in June, according to the latest report from the Conference Board, released today. 

A decision last week by a regional official of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) may make it more likely that graduate student assistants at private universities will be allowed to form unions. The decision was reported today in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Technically, the ruling was a win for New York University (NYU) in that a petition brought by an NYU graduate student organization was dismissed. But, in rendering this judgment, Elbert F. Tellem, acting director of the NLRB regional office in Manhattan, concluded that graduate assistants have a "dual relationship" with the university that is "both academic and economic" and "does not necessarily preclude a finding of employee status." Tellem's opinion opens the way for the NLRB to revisit a 2004 decision that held, in a party-line vote, that graduate student assistants cannot unionize.

Only one NLRB member remains from that 2004 board -- chairman Wilma B. Liebman, who was first appointed by President Bill Clinton and was reappointed by President George W. Bush. Two other current members were recess appointments by President Barack Obama. Both have strong union connections. The fourth current member is a Republican appointee. The nomination of Terence F. Flynn, who was nominated by Obama but has served as general counsel to two Republican NLRB members, is pending before the Senate.

Scientific funding bodies often must either balance or choose between two funding-related imperatives: providing opportunity for scientific up-and-comers and ensuring generous support for members of an established, productive scientific elite. With its latest funding program, the United Kingdom's Wellcome Trust shifts towards the productive elite, providing big grants to a few scientific stars at a handful of top institutions using money freed up by canceling smaller funding programs.There are, however, a few up-and-comers on its list of new grantees.

Colin MacIlwain reports in the latest Science that 27 Wellcome Trust Investigators -- 7 in the first 5 years of their first faculty appointments -- will share £57 million. Similar (but smaller) competitions will follow. Eventually, the trust plans to support more than 300 scientists at similar levels.

ScienceInsider reports that a panel has recommended that the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) scrap its current "glue grant" program, which has invested $368 million to facilitate large collaborations since it started in 2000, about 1.8% of the NIGMS budget.

 "So what went awry?" asks ScienceInsider. "The report points to inadequate oversight by NIGMS, goals set by the groups that were "inflexible" or "too sweeping or too narrow," "missing expertise," and poor outreach to the rest of the scientific community. One common weakness was databases. Often investigators generated data, for example, on the functions of molecules, that weren't easily converted into computer-readable form for use by the broader scientific community, Preusch says. 'They were figuring it out as they went along,' Preusch says."

Science Careers explored biomedical data sharing in a recent article.

Read more about the panel's recommendation at ScienceInsider

I was a teenager when I had my first frustrating post-interview interaction. I had interviewed for a summer job at a company that described itself as an "engineering firm." That description can mean many things, but this was the kind of engineering firm that mainly does land surveys for road construction and real-estate transactions. I liked the idea of spending the summer outside doing real work and getting sunburned. The interview went fine and I aced their simple math test. I thought I was a shoe-in.

Weeks passed and no one contacted me. I called the office weekly for updates. They were evasive. After the fourth or fifth phone call I became indignant: If they wouldn't hire someone as smart as me, surely they owed me an explanation.  Obviously they didn't think so.

John Travis, an editor in Science's news department, alerted me to an interview with Marcia McNutt, geophysicist and currently head of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), on the Washington Post employment blog The Federal Coach. McNutt has been a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Stanford University, and she has served as the president and chief executive officer of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

Produced by Tom Fox, the Federal Coach focuses on leadership in a federal-government context. But many of the issues raised are relevant to management in other settings, including academic labs. The blog can also be read productively by non-managers for clues about how things work and how managers expect them to comport themselves.

Fox asks McNutt to describe lessons about leadership that she's learned as chief scientist on oceanographic expeditions. First, she responds, you have to be meticulously well prepared, since you can't easily go back and grab something you forgot. Second, you have to work harder than (or at least as hard as) everyone else on the team. Third, on a research cruise you can't pull rank: You have to treat everyone well. There's lots more advice, some clichéd and some surprising:
  • If you don't fail often, you're not taking enough chances.
  •  The hardest thing about being the first woman director of the USGS is getting past the label.
  • "Except for the fact that the directors happened to be men for many years, [the USGS] was mostly run by women anyway."
  • Motivating people during natural disasters is easy; what's hard is motivating them during normal times. "How do we maintain that spirit of cooperation, collaboration and sense of purpose when we don't have a crisis?" McNutt asks.
  • The most critical event in her development as a leader was becoming a mother.
I encourage you to read beyond this entry, even if you have no plans to seek employment with the federal government. The next entry, for example, is about "Dealing with Debbie Downer", the person on your team who is always saying negative things, imperiling team morale. Fox's refrshing advice: Pay attention. Find out if the negativity is  justified. If it is, fix the problem. If it's not ... well, read on for more advice.

This week's two Science Careers stories offer an interesting juxtaposition. First, there's Mitch Leslie's profile of Liz Cirulli, a young researcher who, when she's not raising king snakes, is trying to help figure out what factors allow some people to live long, healthy lives. Next there's Beryl Benderly's column, Taken for Granted: When Will They Ever Learn?, which focuses on the early, senseless death of a different young researcher, Michelle Dufault, in a machine shop accident.

On the one hand we have a vibrant young person doing research aimed at extending and improving the lives of older people. On the other hand we have a brilliant young woman who will never have an opportunity to grow old.

Beryl's column -- like two previous columns (here and here) -- focused on laboratory safety and the inadequate emphasis placed on it by faculty members, administrators, and academic institutions. As in two other recent incidents that Benderly describes, Dufault's death was avoidable. Compliance with well-known safety standards -- never working alone with dangerous machinery; tying back hair securely when working with a lathe -- would have ensured her survival.

When I was in graduate school, studying physics, I did many potentially hazardous things. I once was shocked rather badly by an old vacuum pump that had been mis-wired, hot and ground wires reversed in a trap unwittingly set by some student, postdoc, or faculty member years or decades earlier. I survived. In a typical sample-prep day I worked with hydroflouric acid, molten quartz, intense UV radiation, gamma rays, and halogen gases -- all part of the same procedure. I could have died or been seriously injured in any number of ways. But I survived. (For the record, I always utilized appropriate safety gear.)

In editing Beryl's column I found myself, reflexively, defending academic institutions with familiar arguments. Science is sometimes dangerous, I argued, so get used to it. We can't afford to be over-cautious. We can't let bureaucracy (for isn't that what the Health and Safety Office is?) get in the way of doing good science. Sterile, immaculate spaces and over-cautious researchers do not promote scientific discovery. And so on.

As Beryl had no trouble convincing me, my reflexive response was wrong. I was employing the wrong metaphor. Safety isn't a straight-jacket, inhibiting discovery. Safety is professionalism. Safety is being properly trained to do the work you're doing, and doing it with meticulous attention. You learn it and forget it, like a pianist's technique.

I am reminded of an old science friend, a German mountaineer, the most experienced and accomplished "alpinist" I have known. When in the mountains he always carries a heavy pack, full of essential safety and rescue gear. He has been involved in -- and prepared for -- several rescues of climbers and others who were less skilled and less prepared than he was.

I am reminded too of my experience, years ago, working in a well-run nuclear power plant. For the employees there -- electricians, mechanical experts, engineers, others -- donning safety gear and doing it properly, doing all the necessary contamination swipes, monitoring radiation levels, and ensuring proper shielding, was habitual. Safety was a manifestation of their meticulous attention to detail. It was part of their professionalism and they took pride in it.

It's natural for young people to be incautious. An aversion to risk aversion is a characteristic that makes young scientists so valuable. And that's precisely why it's so important for those who are older, wiser, and -- hopefully -- more cautious to protect them. We accomplish that by training them. 

Taking unnecessary risks is not an indication of bravery.  It indicates, rather, a lack of skill. It's to be expected in young people but its unforgivable in the people charged with keeping those young people safe. Dufault and the other young scientists Beryl's column mentions died or were injured because no one had taken the time to teach them the proper, careful way that science should be practiced.  No one had taught them the most essential professional skill of all: how to stay alive.

On Monday, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had bad news for grants recipients but good news for postdocs and graduate students with Ruth Kirschstein NRSA fellowships. NRSA fellows, NIH announced, would see their stipends increase by 2% -- not a lot, but not bad in fiscal times like these and very likely better than what NIH-grant-supported postdocs and graduate students, who would be paid from grants slightly smaller than they were last year, are likely to receive.

Following the announcement, I wondered how the increase would work for NRSA fellows who had already received their FY2011 awards. This includes not only new awardees but also scientists who won their fellowships in previous years (and for whom the FY2011 segment of the award has already started).

So I asked Megan Columbus, who works in the communications office of NIH's Office of Extramural Research, to explain. The answer is pretty much what you would expect; here's how Megan put it:
NIH will be revising all FY2011 awards already issued to-date to provide the increase in stipends for the FY2011 budget period. Once the revised award is received, the institution will provide the retroactive adjustment in accordance with its institutional systems/policies.
In other words, the raise is retroactive and the extra funds will be dispersed in accordance with your institution's policies. It could be a lump sum or a higher rate -- say, 3% higher than you've been receiving instead of just 2%, depending on your award date -- for the remainder of the fiscal year.

It's not a lot of money, but if you're living on postdoc or graduate student stipends it could make a big difference. 

A notice from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued on Monday specifies the impact of the recently adopted  2011 NIH budget ago on NIH grantees and NRSA fellows, as ScienceInsider is reporting.

The 1% cut in the NIH budget will cause "non-competing" grants -- that is, new payments for grants that were awarded in previous years -- to fall by 1% at NIH institutes, except for the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Holders of NCI grants will see their existing grants trimmed by 3%.

The news is better for postdocs and graduate students with Ruth Kirschstein National Research Service Awards, whose stipends will increase by 2% across the board. The new stipend for graduate students will be $21,600. The new stipends for postdoc NRSAs are as follows:

















7 or More  


ScienceInsider also notes that according to the NIH budget request for 2012, the number of new grants awarded is expected to fall to 9050. 9386 awards were made in 2010.

At MySciNet, Ric Weibl has blogged an article by Dan Berret at Inside Higher Education (access to the MySciNet entry may require free registration) about a vote by the University of Michigan Board of Regents that allow individual campuses to extend their tenure process to as much as 10 years. The extension is optional, with each college and campus free to decide its own schedule. The board passed the measure despite strong opposition by the faculty senate.

According to the article, faculty and other opponents of the measure worry about the long time to tenure. The measure's supporters note that the changing nature of scholarship, especially at medical schools, makes it difficult to build an adequate dossier in the time currently allotted; the time varies among the UM campuses and colleges. Opponents fear that expectations will expand along with the calendar. Critics are also concerned about faculty governance; the board approved the measure despite near-unanimous opposition by the faculty senate.

 As Weibl notes in his blog entry, there's much more to the story.

From ScienceInsider:

The Boston Globe
reports today that Harvard University cognitive scientist Marc Hauser, who is on leave after a university investigation found evidence of research misconduct in his lab, will not be allowed to teach at the university next year.

A few expert commentators have been in a huff lately about the choices being made by the best and brightest young Americans, and the uses to which their skills are being put. They're worried about a problem that's sometimes called "internal brain drain," where the best minds are unavailable to do the most important work even when they stay close to home.

They have a point, but I think they need to look at the bigger picture.

First, late last month, there was the TechCrunch essay by Vivek Wadhwa, the entrepreneur-turned-academic-thought-leader. In Friends Don't Let Friends Get Into Finance, Wadhwa expressed dismay that so many of his best engineering students (at Duke, where he has a visiting appointment) were entering finance and management consulting instead of pursuing careers as engineers. It's an easy choice, he admits, when Goldman Sachs is offering twice as much as the engineering companies.   

Sister site Science Insider is reporting the death of Yale University senior Michele Dufault in an accident at the machine shop in the Sterling Chemistry Laboratory. More details are available in this article in the New Haven Register.

Sister site ScienceInsider has just put up an interesting post on NIH's efforts to prepare for a government shutdown -- without appearing to prepare for a government shutdown. Very cloak-and-dagger.

ScienceInsider, our sister site, has posted about a new grant program from the European Research Council (ERC) to provide up to €150,000 to help scientists who already have ERC grants to help bring their science to market.

ScienceInsider has posted a post about an interesting (and generous) postdoc fellowship program from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DoE's) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), which combines a mentored research experience with "a young person's perspective." Applicants must propose two separate projects, one that's underway in a prospective mentor's lab and another that's original and maybe a little crazy.

DoE expects to make twenty awards in nine areas: energy efficiency for buildings, industry, and vehicles, and renewable energy using biomass, hydrogen and fuel cells, geothermal, solar, water, and wind power. Other parts of DoE may copy the program.

Bloomberg is reporting that, this morning, former Yale animal-care worker Raymond Clark III pleaded guilty to murder and attempted sexual assault in the killing of Annie Le, a Yale pharmacology graduate student. According to Bloomberg, Clark agreed to a plea deal in which he would spend 44 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for 20 May.

Our colleagues at Science Insider have spotted a report from the San Diego Union-Tribune about a protest outside the office of UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox over the firing of a postdoc. The gathering of 35 protesters was broken up by police. No one's saying why the postdoc was fired, but she Wilda Helen, a stem-cell researcher from Indonesia -- says, "My supervisor has made false allegations about my work."

Helen's visa was scheduled to expire automatically, but she won a reprieve that ends on Sunday, just two days from now. The postdoc-union contract requires an arbitration hearing; the protesters were pressing the university to schedule that hearing before Helen is sent home.

For more information, read the original article and the ScienceInsider post.

Here's a bit of Mad-Men-era fun: a page from a 1960 employment manual for Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), courtesy of Kawtar Hafidi and ANL's wisttalk mailing list, on which I lurk. (I hope they don't throw me off the list when they see this.) Employees, the manual states, are allowed to work overtime, but if they expect to work more than 60 hours in a week, they'll need to make arrangements with the Business Manager's office first. That's the rule for employees.

Having laid out the rules for employees, the manual moves on to a separate category, female employees. Read on, and click on the image below to view a larger, easier-to-read version:

Screen shot 2011-02-16 at 12.57.07 PM.pngI'd love to know how many women Argonne employed on the scientific staff in 1960 and what working there (or at any national lab) was like for them.
Yes, it looks like the recovery in the job market is finally here. Sure, something could still go wrong -- as it did about this time last year, after a promising January. And yes, it's true that over the last few days some major layoffs were announced at pharmaceutical companies. But according to the Help Wanted Online survey -- conducted by The Conference Board and tracked by Science Careers -- we've nearly bounced back from 2+ awful years.

According to the Conference Board survey, the number of job ads posted online increased by 439,000 in January compared to December 2010. That's an increase of more than 10% and the biggest increase since Science Careers began tracking these numbers in May 2008. It's also the biggest percentage increase since January 2010 -- and, yes, that proved to be a false start, so perhaps I should be a little too cautious in my pronouncements.

But I'll leave caution to June Shelp, the vice president of The Conference Board. "The very strong seasonal gain to start 2011 is welcome news following seven months of essentially flat U.S. labor demand," Shelp said, quoted in a Conference Board press release. "Last year, after a promising start (up about 350,000 in January 2010), labor demand fizzled, and the last half of 2010 was actually flat with no appreciable gains in job demand. Hopefully the January 2011 increase suggests that employers are seeing a pickup in their businesses and labor demand will continue to improve throughout this year."

Let's look at the numbers in more detail. After the downturn that started in April 2007, driven by the financial crisis, the number of online job ads fell by about 1.8 million, hitting a low point 2 years later in April 2009. Since then, 1.44 million ads -- about 80% of what was lost -- have been added back. One more month like January 2010 and we'll have caught up completely, according to the help-wanted-online metric.

The category most relevant to Science Careers readers -- life, physical, and social sciences -- mirrored the market as a whole: The number of online ads rose by 10.6% month over month. In computer and mathematical science, the number of online ads increased by 11.7%. In the category "healthcare practitioners and technical," the increase was nearly 15%. Online job ads in the architecture and engineering category grew by 14.6%. Even the "education, training, and library" category, which had been especially laggardly of late, rose by more than 13%. All these numbers are month over month. 

There's more to report. Unfortunately (for me, not for you) The Conference Board is improving its methodology, which makes comparisons to our older data useless. However, all the data reported above, for January and for December, are based completely on the new methodology so the comparisons should be sound. The Conference Board is releasing the whole time series in revised form, which will allow us to update our older charts to make them consistent with the new methodology. But the revised time series won't be available until early February. That means you will have to wait a while for even more details.

My colleagues in AAAS's Office of Public Programs are staging an event at the upcoming AAAS meeting in Washington, DC, that will undoubtedly be of great interest to many Science Careers readers.

The workshop -- Responsible Research Practices in a Changing Research Environment -- will take place on Thursday, 17 February 2011. Among the questions the workshop will consider are these:

  • What are the ethical challenges and range of responses associated with research collaborations across national borders?
  • What preparation should researchers have to engage effectively with the media?
  • What do increasing public demands for more socially accountable research imply for the social responsibilities of scientists?
  • What should scientists consider when deciding whether, and if so, how, to engage in policy advocacy? What are the professional and societal risks associated with advocacy? What are the appropriate boundaries of "responsible advocacy"?
Professional improvisational actors will enact scenes that illustrate issues that workshop participants are facing currently or expect to face in the future; then various participant‐suggested solutions to those issues will be enacted.

The agenda is posted at‐on‐responsible‐research‐practices‐2011.shtml#Agenda. Direct all queries to Dr. Mark S. Frankel at

To register for the workshop, for which there is a $25.00 fee, go to http://registration2.experient‐ Follow the steps for "General Attendee." Registrants have the option of selecting only the workshop or choosing also to attend the AAAS Annual Meeting.

Twin-sister geology postdocs are living the dream of every 5-year-old science geek. A newly established dinosaur species has been named for the two women -- the Suarez sisters -- who discovered the site near Green River, Utah, where the dinosaur remains were discovered, according to a press release from Johns Hopkins University (JHU). To be more precise, the new species was named for the site -- the "Suarez Sisters' Quarry -- which, in turn,  was named for the Suarez sisters.

One of the sisters -- Marina Suarez -- is a postdoc at the Johns Hopkins'  Morton K. Blaustein Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.  Her sister Celina is a postdoc at Boise State University. The sisters discovered the site while Marina was a Master's degree student at Temple University. Marina earned her doctorate from the University of Kansas. The twins are 29 years old. They are natives of San Antonio, Texas.

The official name of the new dinosaur species is Geminiraptor suarezarum, which, the press release says, means "twin predatory thief of the Suarezes," which doesn't make a lot of sense, but I doubt they're complaining. The press release says "the 6- to 7-foot-long raptor-like dinosaur with large eyes and dexterous claws is thought to have lived about 125 million years ago, according to Utah's Bureau of Land Management."

Tweeting as @SciCareerEditor

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

What changes? NIH is getting stricter.

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

Tweeting as @SciCareerEditor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In November, the upward trend continued in the number of online job ads in science-related categories -- and in job ads overall. But in science and in the broader economy, the gains were modest. The Conference Board, a private business and economic research institute, provides these data, which are tracked monthly by Science Careers.

In the science-related categories we track, the number of ads posted online rose by 1% in November, or 14,400, compared to October. In the economy overall, the number of ads increased by 1.1%, or 47,400 ads. No science-related category did especially well in November, though heath care practitioners and technical added 2.2% to the number of ads posted online. That marks the second straight month of gains for that category after several months of declining prospects. All the other science-related categories were either flat or showed very small changes.

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And in October -- the last month for which detailed unemployment data is available -- the ratio of the number of unemployed people looking for work to the number of online ads changed very little, overall and in science-related categories.

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While this marks yet another flat month for science job opportunities, two things are worth noting. The first is that the ratio of ads to job-seekers -- a measure of job-market competitiveness -- is far lower (0.7) in science-related categories than it is in the economy as a whole (3.4), indicating that jobs in science-related fields are easier to find than jobs generally. 

The second is that the outlook for job seekers is much better than it was a year ago. In November 2010, the number of online ads in science-related categories was 29% higher than it was in November 2009. In the life, physical, and social sciences -- the category most important for most Science Careers readers -- the number of job ads in November 2010 was nearly 40% higher than a year earlier.

The November/December issue of MIT's Technology Review has a nice piece, posted online, about  Ayr Muir, an MIT materials-science grad who runs a lunch truck in Boston's Kendall Square.

No, this isn't another story of an angst-ridden underemployed science grad. Muir is an environmental entrepreneur -- and a distant relative of environmental legend and Sierra Club founder John Muir -- who is out to make foods with a smaller environmental footprint as cheap and ubiquitous as McDonald's.

Read it online here.

Hat tip: John Travis, Science news.

Irene Levine, our Mind Matters columnist, seeks to interview scientists or science trainees who have encountered a troubled colleague. For example, the colleague may have been depressed, had marital problems,abused substances, had an anger management problem, and so on, that interfered with productivity and/or office morale.

When faced with such a situation, what did you do? Did you tell someone else? If so, when? How did you maintain your professional distance and balance it with your personal one? How do you strike the right balance between being a colleague and a friend?

Naturally, we'll protect your privacy -- and especially the privacy of your colleague.

If you have been the troubled colleague, Irene would love to hear about your experience, too.

Write to Irene-at-IreneLevinedotCom.

December 3, 2010

Truly Taken for Granted

The name of Beryl Benderly's monthly column -- Taken for Granted -- is always appropriate, since every month she writes about scientific workers who are exploited or under-appreciated by the scientific establishment. This includes, notably, postdocs, the scientists at the nexus of contemporary science. They, more than any other group, combine the intellectual insight that science depends on with the hands-on skill -- the actual bench work (or the theoretical or computational equivalent) -- behind most of our scientific output. (Of course, there's a pun hidden in there as well, since these scientists are usually on soft money: "grant"-supported.)

But for this week's column, "taken for granted" is an especially apt phrase, in at least two ways. First is the article's placement on Science Careers: Despite being an important piece of writing, it's listed fourth this week, pretty far down the page. This is partly because the top two articles describe such an exciting, and rare, career opportunity for people with the right skills -- including scientists. But whatever the reason, Beryl's article deserves much higher billing. It's important. So this month it may seem as though we're taking Beryl's art for granted.

The name -- "Taken for Granted" -- is also appropriate in a different sense: Established scientists take it for granted that any clear-thinking woman or member of an under-represented minority group (or any white male for that matter) would choose a career in science if given the opportunity, so all we have to do is remove barriers. That assumption is false and leads, I believe, to faulty policy on issues such as scientific-workforce diversity. Such assumptions also affect perceptions of a different kind of diversity: the diversity of career options. Some traditional scientists disparage non-traditional careers -- even careers like research in industry. It's remarkable how much space there is between common (among established scientists) assumptions about science's desirability and young peoples' perceptions.

Drawing on a recent study by Amanda Diekman and colleagues, this week's Taken for Granted column challenges the assumption that anyone in her right mind would study science, suggesting that that women often don't choose science because they don't think it's consistent with their values. Specifically, Amanda Diekman and coauthors determined that women embrace values of community and caring more often than men, and that people (men and women) who embrace those values most strongly are likely to pursue alternatives instead of the fields in which women are poorly represented.

This idea -- which, like a lot of important ideas, seems obvious once it has been pointed out -- has exciting implications. In recent years, many fields of science have, famously, become more communal. And in some areas -- basic biomedical research is an excellent example -- perspectives have started to shift away from intellectual mastery and penetrating insights and towards the more practical and therapeutic (think CTSciNet and translational research). If the ideas Benderly discusses in this month's column are valid -- and I think they are -- we should expect these changes to lead to improvements in the representation of women in the affected fields.

But there's a point underlying Beryl's column that has even broader significance. It is that good people, who could even be excellent scientists, often have real alternatives and sometimes choose them. It follows that, as I wrote in my commentary on the occasion of Science Careers's 15th anniversary, if you want to make science better, you have to make science a better career. Policy makers have to put themselves into the shoes of science trainees -- and bright young people considering a career in science but who have other appealing choices -- and think hard about how the science career path looks, and how to change it for the better.

Partly this is about perception: Some of the assumptions underlying women's career choices (as determined by the Diekman study) seem wrong. Yet, other unflattering assumptions about science careers -- the prospect of earning $30,000 a year with no retirement well into your 30s after 10 years or more of training, for example, with questionable long-term job prospects -- are accurate. So it's not just a matter of changing perceptions; realities must change as well. Changing perceptions is hard, and changing realities is much harder, but it's something that has to happen if science is to continue to thrive. The status quo is already failing.

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

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

They've also made a cute video:

October was an excellent month for online job ads in the core scientific categories, suggesting a healthy employment market, according to the Help Wanted Online report from The Conference Board. In the Life, Physical, and Social Sciences category, the number of ads was up 8.6%, or 7,500 ads. That's the biggest month-over-month gain in this category -- and the largest total number of online ads -- since we started tracking in June 2009. From September to October a year ago, the number of ads fell by 2.4%. This October's online ads were up 26,900 ads -- 38.5% -- over last October's 68,600 ads.

Totaling all categories, online ads were up 2.6% (113,700 ads) over September, the biggest monthly jump since April. There were 4,409,797 ads in October, the most in any month since August 2008, before the financial crisis sent the job market into a meltdown.

In all science-related categories, ads were up 4.3% compared to September, the biggest gain since March. The number of ads increased in every science-related category.

A more thorough analysis of the new report from the Conference Board will follow soon.

I've just learned about an app for the iPad and the iPhone that allows users to locate and apply for federal jobs. And once you've applied for a job, you can receive status updates through the app. says that currently more than 30,000 jobs are posted, and searchable via the app. You can also be notified via the app about new jobs that match your search criteria.

I own an iPhone, so I gave it a try. I didn't apply for any jobs, so I can't report on the status updates, but I can report on the search capability. First, it's very easy to use -- easier and less confusing than the USAJobs Web site. Search results appear almost instantly, and there are lots of them, though the total number is not reported. Searching on the word "editor" yielded 102 positions, mostly technical writing/editing positions including dozens at Navy field offices nationwide. Searching on "microbiologist" yielded 34 results, all from the Army, the Navy, or the Food and Drug Administration. Searching on "physicist" yielded 108 jobs -- again, many of them at U.S. Navy field offices.  You can refine your search based on salary, grade, location, and 9 other criteria. And once a list of jobs is displayed, you can click on a button to display them on a map. A nifty feature.

The app seems pretty robust, though it did crash on me once. Users rate it 3 starts out of 5. Commonly reported flaws include crashing and problems signing in. (I didn't try signing in.)

If you're interested in government employment, this could be a useful tool.

In August, the number of job ads online in all employment categories increased significantly but modestly, while the number of ads in science-related categories declined, but very slightly.

And  in August -- the last month for which detailed unemployment data is available -- an increase in the number of unemployed people looking for work, coupled with a decline in the number of online job ads, resulted in an uptick in the ratio of job-seekers to online job ads, overall and in all science-related categories combined. That means that, in terms of competitiveness, the job market got slightly worse for job seekers.

This August performance is consistent with a steady upward trend, lasting about 15 months so far, in the strength of the job market for scientists. That, anyway, is our interpretation of the numbers from the Conference Board, released earlier this month.

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

Online job ads

In September, the number of online job ads posted in the science-related categories we track declined by 5300 compared to August, a much better performance than last month's 42,600 decline. In percentage terms, this decline is very small, just 0.4% month over month. 

Taking a longer view reveals progress. In all the categories we track, 219,700 more job ads were posted in August 2010 than were posted a year earlier, an increase of about 18%. Keep reading to learn how the numbers break down by category.

In percentage terms, the best performing category last month was architecture and engineering, which showed a 5.4% increase in the number of posted ads -- 9200 more ads in September than in August. Compared to September 2009, the increase was an impressive 57%.

Also having a good month was computer and mathematical science, which added 15,200 ads, an increase of 2.7%. Year over year, this is a 46% increase in the number of online ads.

It was a down month in the category of greatest interest to most Science Careers readers: life, physical, and social science. Ads in this category declined 5.2%, or 4800. That's 25% higher than a year earlier. 

The category health-care practitioners and technical had its third straight bad month, with online job ads falling 4.8%. This is the only category where the number of ads this month is smaller than it was a year earlier, and the difference is substantial, about 14.6%.  

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Job market competitiveness

The Conference Board computes a job-market competitiveness measure, the ratio of online ads to the number of unemployed workers in the job market for various categories. But because 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, the ratios calculated below are from August 2010, so they're a month older than the numbers for online job ads described above. We report the ratio of job seekers to job ads in each category, so a lower number means better opportunity. 

In August, in the number of job ads in all categories dipped, as did the number of ads in science-related categories. The new Conference Board report reveals that these gains were accompanied by an increase in the the number of unemployed job seekers. The result: Combining all science-related categories, the ratio of job seekers to job ads got a little worse, climbing back to 0.7 job seekers per online employment ad after one month at 0.6. In all these categories, there were, in August, approximately 2 job seekers for every 3 ads.

In August, as measured by changes in this ratio, the best performance was in the category Science Careers readers care most about, life, physical, and social science. Here, an increase in the number of job ads (remember, these numbers are from August, not September, when the number of ads declined), coupled to a decline in the number of unemployed people looking for work, resulted in a ratio of 0.7 job seekers per job add, fully two tenths better than July's 0.9.

In contrast, education, training, and library had a very bad month in August thanks to a huge increase -- 32% month over month -- in the number of unemployed people seeking work. This took the ratio of job seekers per ad all the way back up to 4.7, from 3.6 a month before. 

Another category that made a notable move in July is computer and mathematical science, which saw the ratio of job seekers to online ads decline from 0.4 to 0.3. With 3 ads for every job seeker, that starts to look like a pretty tight market; then again, this is the category where job ads are the most likely to be posted online.

There was no change in the ratio of job seekers to job ads in any of the other science-related categories.

Except for education, training, and library (which includes science-related jobs but also jobs with nothing to do with science), the ratio of job-seekers to ads in the science-related categories we track remains far better than the average across the whole economy. In July, the average for these science-related categories was 0.7 job seekers per online job ad. For the economy as a whole, the ratio was 3.5, which is slightly worse than July's 3.4. It may seem like a very tough job market, but over all in these science-related categories the odds of landing a job were nearly 5 times better in August than the odds the average job seeker encountered.

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Jim Austin Tweets as @SciCareerEditor

A query from Irene Levine, our Mind Matters columnist:

Scientists Dealing with a Troubled Colleague
I would like to interview scientists or science trainees who have encountered a troubled colleague. For example, the colleague may have been depressed, had marital problems, abused substances, had an anger-management problem, etc., that interfered with productivity and/or office morale. When faced with such a situation, what did you do? Did you tell someone else? If so, when? What happened as a consequence? How do you strike the right balance between being a colleague and a friend? If you have been the troubled colleague, I would love to hear your experience, too. Contact: Irene S. Levine, irene-at-irenelevine-dot-com .

Recently, I applied for a job online. No, I'm not looking for a change. I was following up on a tip from an online acquaintance who had described her own experience applying to this organization. The process of applying, she wrote to me in an e-mail, squelched any enthusiasm she might have had about working there. I was curious, so I tried it.

When I talk about applying online, I'm not talking about registering on a Web site then uploading a cover letter and CV in pdf or Word formats. I'm talking about a Web app where you fill in several pages of forms and answer multiple-choice questions. It took me a couple of hours to complete the application.

My conclusion: I agree completely with my online acquaintance. The process was disheartening. Even though I'm not looking for work, there's always a little thrill that comes from new possibilities. But by the time I was finished, I knew I didn't want to work for that organization. Here's why.

Looking for a job is a stressful and difficult business, but it has its rewards. It encourages you to think hard about your capabilities and to reinvent yourself. You're called upon to present yourself at your honest best, which can lead you to look at yourself in new ways. When applying for a particular job, you have to think hard about how you might fit the position, an exercise that allows you to see how useful your skills could be in a new context. It's a creative process. It can all be very encouraging, and it can make you more productive and employable.

Dave Jensen has often encouraged job applicants to customize their applications to match particular openings, and I concur. This may mean rejiggering a CV or resume, but mostly this work happens in the cover letter. The cover letter is where you put on your best face. It's an opportunity for reinvention, to reintroduce yourself to the world (OK, strictly speaking, to reinvent yourself for a particular employer). And a cover letter, of course, is not a work of fiction: It's a genuine rethinking of your capabilities, an honest attempt to bridge the gap between the work you've done before and the work you'd like to do. It's a creative act.

As I worked my way through this online application, I kept wondering: When do I get to the point where I submit my cover letter? When will I have the opportunity to make my best case, to present myself on my terms?

That opportunity never came. There was no cover letter. First, I filled in some personal information. Then I described my educational experience, and then my work experience, via a series of multiple-choice questions and online forms. The core of the application was a series of very specific questions aimed at discovering whether I had ever done precisely the kind of work the new position would require me to do. The cumulative effect was skeptical and severe. When I was done I felt I had been raked over coals.

Have you ever had an interview with the interviewer didn't seem to respect you -- who seemed suspicious about all of your claims and challenged everything you said? Just replace the human being on the other side of the desk with a Web app, and that'll give you an idea of what it felt like. I was being called on to justify myself, not on my terms as I would have done in a cover letter, but on theirs. To a Web app. 

Hey, I get it. I can see the advantages for the employer. It's probably a rather efficient way of screening out applicants who don't have the necessary education or experience, and they probably get lots of those. It may also screen out people who don't really want the job. There's something to be said for hiring motivated, job-seekers, but read on.

What they don't seem to realize -- or perhaps they just don't care -- is that they do not hold all the cards. Job-seekers have some say in the matter. Just as employers decide who they want to hire, job-seekers decide where they want to work. Smart, creative scientists have opinions and options. If you use an alienating online job app, the desperate will still apply, and perhaps take the job if offered. But those with alternatives and self-respect will look elsewhere for work. This organization is likely to lose its best candidates.

Furthermore, the application process sets the tone for all that follows. I understood clearly from this exercise that if I were to go to work for that organization, I would be expected to stay in line, to do exactly what I was told to do. I understood -- or at least inferred -- that creative work would be discouraged. I doubt that's a message they want to send to their future employees. 

This online job app sent me a very clear message: We do not respect you or your experience. We are going to dictate the terms here. If you have a problem with this, work elsewhere.

Which is precisely what I intend to do, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that.

October 8, 2010

U.S. Employment Stagnates

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in September continued to plod along, neither crashing or noticeably improving.

Over all, employment was down 92,000. That's a meaningful number, but the losses were on the government-employment side, where 77,000 temporary census workers finished their assignments, and local governments continued to shed workers to deal with budget shortfalls. Public-sector job losses totaled 159,000.

The news in the private sector is a little better. There, employment increased by 64,000, numerically about half the number of new jobs the economy needed to create to employ the new adults entering the workforce, although it's more than offset, of course, by those public-sector job losses.

So, while the unemployment rate remained the same at 9.6%, U.S. employment lost some a little ground last month, but not too much.

The health care sector had a decent month, adding 24,000 jobs. Employment services added 28,000 jobs, most of them in the temporary-employment industry. Manufacturing was flat, and jobs in the construction sector trended down modestly.

September, in other words, was another lost month for U.S. employment. But there is some reason for hope: In recent months our analysis of online employment ads, which is based on data from the Conference Board, clearly indicates that companies are starting to hire again, even if that trend hasn't yet born fruit in the BLS statistics. We don't have September numbers yet, but they should be available soon, and when they are, we'll report them.

October 6, 2010

Wanna Skip the Postdoc?

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

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

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

September 30, 2010

Dr. Grant Swinger

Do you know Dr. Grant Swinger? Sure you do -- everybody knows Dr. Grant Swinger of the Center for the Absorption of Federal Funds. Or, anyway, they did in the mid-1960s.

In this week's Taken for Granted column, which will be published online this afternoon (I'll post a link here when one is available), Beryl Lieff Benderly reminds the world of Dr. Swinger, the (presumably) fictional creation of Dan S. Greenberg, who wrote for science back then and has since written several important books skewering the world of academic science.

Also, in his first contribution to Science, he seems to have predicted, in 1964, the Internet, the World Wide Web, Google, PubMed, and who knows what else:

Let's Hold a Conference: Herewith, an Imaginary Dialogue Between the Collector and his Quarry

This is amazing stuff, most of it just as relevant today as it was when it was published more than 40 years ago.

Herewith, a guide to Dr. Grant Swinger's appearances in Science Magazine. You may need a Science subscription, or an institutional site license, to access these articles:

1965: Herewith, a Conversation with the Mythical Grant Swinger, Head of Breakthrough Institute

Questions and Answers with Grant Swinger

Grant Swinger: Reflections on Six Years of Progress

Atlantic Community: G. Swinger Takes Part in Discussions

Academic Protocol: From the G. Swinger Manual

In August, the number of job ads posted online, overall and in science-related categories, declined a little after healthy gains the previous month. And  in July -- the last month for which detailed unemployment data is available -- the aforementioned healthy increase in job ads, and a modest decline in the number of unemployed job-seekers, indicate a slight improvement in the employment market.

This July performance is consistent with a steady upward trend, lasting about 14 months, in the strength of the job market for scientists. That, anyway, is our interpretation of the numbers from the Conference Board, released earlier this month.

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

Online job ads

In August, the number of online job ads posted in July in the science-related categories we track declined by 42,600, or 2.8%, month over month. 

Taking a longer view reveals progress. In all the categories we track, 220,200 more job ads were posted in August 2010 than were posted a year earlier, an increase of nearly 18%. Keep reading to learn how the numbers break down by category.

In percentage terms, the best performing category last month was the one most relevant to Science Careers readers: life, physical, and social science, which showed a 3.1% increase in the number of posted ads -- 2800 more ads in August in this category than a month before. Compared to August 2009, the increase was 21,800 job ads, or about 30%, indicating that the market for scientists is much stronger than it was a year ago.

The only other category to show a month-over-month increase in the number of job ads posted online was the education, training, and library, which added about 700 ads, or 0.8%. 

The category health-care practitioners and technical had its second straight bad month, falling 5.5% following a 3.1% dip the month before.  

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 Job market competitiveness

The Conference Board computes a job-market competitiveness measure, the ratio of online ads to the number of unemployed workers in the job market for various categories. But because 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, the ratios calculated below are from July 2010, so they're a month older than the numbers for online job ads described above. We report the ratio of job seekers to job ads in each category, so a lower number means better opportunities. 

In July, in the number of job ads in all categories dipped, as did the number of ads in science-related categories. But the new Conference Board report reveals that these gains were more than offset by a reduction in the the number of unemployed job-seekers. The result: over all science-related categories, the ratio of job seekers to job ads improved a little declining from 0.7 to 0.6 job seekers per online employment ad, reversing the increase of the previous month. That means that in all these categories there are approximately 2 job seekers for every 3 ads, slightly better than in June.

The best performance was in the category where the job prospects are the worst: education, training, and library.  But things improved dramatically for job seekers in this category, from 4.3 job seekers per ad to 3.6 job-seekers per ad in the course of just one month. This remains by far the worst category we track -- it's the only science-related category in which the ratio of job-seekers to ads is more than 1 -- but it's now only slightly worse than the job market as a whole, in which the ratio of job-seekers to online job ads is 3.4. 

Another category that made a notable move in July is computer and mathematical science, which saw the ratio of job seekers to online ads decline from 0.4 to 0.3. With 3 ads for every job seeker, that starts to look like a pretty tight market; then again, this is the category where job ads are the most likely to be posted online.

All the other categories saw the ratio either increase slightly (life, physical, and social science; architecture and engineering) or decrease slightly (health care practitioners and technical).

Except for education, training, and library (which includes science-related jobs but also jobs with nothing to do with science), the ratio of job-seekers to ads in the science-related categories we track remains far better than the average across the whole economy. In July, the average for these science-related categories was 0.6 job seekers per online job ad. For the economy as a whole, the ratio was 3.4, which is slightly better than June's 3.5. It may seem like a very tough job market, but over all in these science-related categories the odds of landing a job are more than 5 times better than the odds the average job seeker is faced with.

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Jim Austin Tweets as @SciCareerEditor
The August employment numbers from the Bureau of Labor statistics (BLS) are in. The result: Pretty much No Change from one month earlier. Though it could be worse, that's not good news.

The U.S. economy lost 54,000 jobs from July to August 2010, including the loss of 114,000 temporary census jobs. Overall, governments shed 121,000 jobs -- just 7000 non-census jobs -- a pretty good result compared to the July, when state and local governments in a state of fiscal crisis shed 58,000 jobs in addition to the 143,000 temporary census jobs that ended that month. Meanwhile, the private sector gained 67,000 jobs.

A closer look at the report yields little of obvious interest: Most sectors either gained a few jobs or lost a few. One exception, perhaps, is the number of part-time workers who would rather be working full time, which increased by 331,000 over the month.

Since the size of the workforce increases by at least several tens of thousands every month, a flat month means employment is losing ground slowly. The economy has added 763,000 jobs since it's low in December 2009 -- but according to BLS statistics, the economy needs to add more than 7.5 million jobs just to get back to where it was at its peak in December 2007.

August 31, 2010

Seeking Anxious Scientists

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

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

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

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

On the surface, the employment report released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics looks bad: 131,000 jobs lost in the midst of what many hoped was a recovery. Dig just a little deeper and it looks a little better -- maybe -- but still not very good.

Last month's job losses resulted from an anticipated event: more temporary census workers -- 143,000 of them -- reaching the end of their assignments. In the private sector, real jobs were created: 71,000 of them. That's good. But beyond the 143,000 census jobs, governments shed an additional 58,000 jobs -- 10,000 from state payrolls and 38,000 from local -- as those governments struggled to deal with budget deficits. 196,000 census workers are still temporarily employed. In July the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 9.5%.

In addition to the new July numbers, the new BLS report revised downward June's numbers. Last month, the bureau said, the economy shed 221,000 jobs, nearly 100,000 more than the  125,000 reported in early July.

Lately, reported corporate profits have been strong, but economists say this is largely due to cost-cutting, a strategy these companies seem to be continuing. There doesn't seem to be much interest in adding jobs.

If there's reason for hope, perhaps it's in the Conference Board's survey of online job ads, which showed that in July the number of online ads increased by a healthy (but unspectacular) 139,200 -- a much better number than a month before. And taking the longer view, the number of science-related online job ads has increased by 28% over the last 12 months.

In July, the number of job ads posted online, overall and in science-related categories, showed healthy growth after 2 flat months. But in June -- the last month for which detailed unemployment data is available -- flat job-ad gains and a substantial increase in the number of unemployed job-seekers result in a mixed picture of the health of the employment market. But overall there's a steady upward trend in the strength of the job market for scientists. That, anyway, is our interpretation of the latest numbers from the Conference Board, released yesterday.

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

Online job ads

The number of online job ads posted in June in the science-related categories we track increased by 28,800, or 2.0%, month over month. That's a bit worse than June but far better than May, when the number of ads in these categories declined by 52,700.

Taking a longer view reveals how far we've come over the last 12 months. In all the categories we track, 331,300 more job ads were posted in July 2010 than a year earlier, an increase of more than 28%. Keep reading to learn how the numbers break down by category.

The strongest science-related category in July was Architecture and Engineering, in which 11,000 new job ads were posted, for a 6.9% month over month increase. Computer and Mathematical Science also did well, adding 31,800 ads, an increase of 5.7%. Education, Training, and Library added 3.4%. Life, Physical, and Social Science added 1,100 job ads, or 1.9%.  

The only category that did badly in July was "health-care practitioners and technical," which fell by 18,400 ads -- 3.1% -- after a strong increase a month earlier.  

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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 various 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 June 2010, while the number of employment ads reported above are for July 2010.

We report the ratio of job seekers to job ads in each category, so a lower number means more opportunity. 

As we reported last month, in May the number of job ads increased by a healthy 2.7%. But the new Conference Board report reveals that in science-related categories, these gains were more than offset by the number of unemployed job-seekers. The result: over all science-related categories, the ratio got a little bit worse, creeping up from 0.6 to 0.7 job seekers per online employment ad.  The best performances were in Biological, Physical, and Social Science, where the ratio of job-seekers to ads improved from 0.8 to 0.7. In Architecture and Engineering, the ratio fell from 0.9 to 0.8. In "Healthcare Practitioners and Technical" the ratio got slightly worse -- from 0.4 up to 0.5. In the two remaining categories the ratio was unchanged: Computer and Mathematical Science (stable at 0.4 job-seekers per ad) and Education, Training, and Library, where the ratio -- always much worse than the other categories we track -- stable at 4.3. (The ratio of job-seekers to job ads for this category has reached as high as 7.0 in recent months, peaking last September.)

Finally, let us note that except for Education, Training, and Library (which includes science-related jobs but others as well), the ratio of job-seekers to ads in all the science-related categories we track is always far better than the average across the whole economy. In June, the average for these science-related categories was 0.7 job-seekers per online job ad. For the economy as a whole, the ratio was 3.5, which is slightly better than May's 3.6.

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Jim Austin Tweets as @SciCareerEditor.

Do you know an early-career scientist or engineer whose efforts to engage the public with science and technology exemplify excellence? Nominations are invited now through 15 October for the new AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science. Endowed by Bob and Margee Hazen and other donors, the new award will specifically focus on public engagement with science activities that promote interactive dialogue with a non-scientific, public audience.

The award will include a $5000 prize and support to attend the 2011 AAAS Annual Meeting. Nominations may be made by AAAS affiliate organizations, universities, government agencies, media, research organizations, and individuals. The award is open to individual "early career" scientists and engineers who have been working in their current field for less than seven years (at a pre-tenure or equivalent level).

For more information, read the full story:

Award eligibility and nomination procedures:

High-level administrators who blog are pretty uncommon, and high-level administrators who blog substantively are rarer still. That makes National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) director Jeremy Berg a rare bird.

In recent days, Berg has posted to the NIGMS blog NIGMS Feedback Loop a three-part (so far) analysis of NIH's new system for assigning scores to grant applications, in which reviewers assign a separate score for each of five core criteria. (The three blog posts are here, here, and here.) Berg has been analyzing the data to determine the correlation between each of the five criterion scores assigned by the reviewers and the overall impact score assigned by the study section. The analysis answers the question, which of the five criteria -- significance, investigator, innovation, approach, and environment -- matter most. The analysis is based on NIGMS data only, and so far from only one grant-reviewing cycle. Assuming the trends hold up, the results could be very useful for people applying for research grants from NIGMS. And assuming the trends apply across other NIH institutes -- which remains to be seen -- the results could be applicable to NIH grants generally.

The conclusions are mostly unsurprising, but they are also reassuring, especially for investigators who haven't yet established reputations. Here's Dr. Berg's primary conclusion:
 This analysis indicates that approach and significance are the most important factors, on average, in determining the overall impact score, at least for this sample of NIGMS R01 grant applications.
"Approach," with a Pearson correlation coefficient of 0.74, was the most closely correlated to the impact score; "significance" was next, at 0.63. The criteria least closely correlated with the impact score are "investigator" (0.49) and "environment" (0.37). That means that, at least for the sample Berg analyzed, the data show that the quality of your ideas matter far more than your reputation. That's good news for early-career scientists.

Also notable: the weak correlation of "environment" with the impact score shows that where you are -- your institution and the facilities it offers -- matters even less than who you are.
On Twitter: @SciCareerEditor  
In 1961, just 4 years after Sputnik shocked the American science establishment and led policy makers to emphasize science as never before, the New York Yankees featured Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris; that's the year both chased Babe Ruth's single-season home run record, with Maris eventually breaking it. Yogi Berra was at catcher for the Yankees, and their pitching rotation included Whitey Ford, who won 25 games that year.

The Yankees beat the Reds (with Frank Robinson) 4 games to 1. Ford won the MVP, pitching 33 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, setting a new World Series record (another Babe Ruth record that was broken that year; as most baseball fans know, was an amazing pitcher before he became the greatest home run hitter ever, and he held the consecutive-scoreless-innings record before Ford broke it).

2009 was a pretty good year for science budgets in the United States, with a new, science-loving President and a generous bonus budget from the stimulus act. The Yankees won yet another World Series title, with A-Rod and Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera and company beating the Philadelphia Phillies 4 games to 2.

If the 1961 Yankees played the 2009 Yankees, who would win? Sure, the '61 team was legendary, but today's players are bigger, stronger, faster...

OK, enough with the baseball;  this is a blog -- and a blog entry -- about science careers. Yesterday's anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing got me thinking:  The post-Sputnik era is known as the golden age of U.S. science. It's when the space race propelled the U.S. to focus on science as never before, and American science accomplished great things. It was during this period, from the mid-'60s (approximately) through sometime in the '70s -- there are no fixed end points, that the Apollo program got off the ground, resulting eventually in a successful moon landing. I was a kid at the time, growing up in Florida, just south of the Space Coast, so I paid close attention; my school mates and I would watch the Cape Kennedy launches from the school playgrounds.

It was also, I have heard, a golden age for science employment, at least in the physical sciences. I later worked with physics faculty who got their first jobs in that era. They told me that multiple offers, with no postdoc, were common in those days. One former colleague, who got his first job in that era, once told me he had seven offers right out of grad school. He was a very good scientist, but no superstar.

Today there's far more competition now for each science job. Several hundred well-credentialed applicants compete for tenure-track post at a research institution. And most new hires have much more training than they did back then, with 3, 4, or even 5 years of postdoc experience on top of their graduate training.

So here's the question I've been wondering about: Are today's established scientists -- the better (or at least longer) trained cream off the top of a very full vat -- better than those post-Sputnik scientists? Or is it the other way around?

I realize that it's an impossible question to address scientifically, or at least very difficult. I'd have to define "better", which I'm not prepared to do, and decide on a metric. And we'd have to account for the fact that so much more is known -- and must be learned -- today than back then, and that, very likely, the problems are harder.

But never mind that. Ignore the difficulties and give it your best shot. Use whatever criteria you wish.

This isn't just a random diversion; I think it's an interesting question. Because, if the answer is that scientists were better then, we have to ask ourselves why, given that today's scientists get so much more training and the competition is so much more intense. And if the answer is that scientists are better now, then maybe we need to rethink our image of the post-Sputnik era a such a golden age; it was great for its time, but have today's scientists left it in the dust? What do you think?

It always feels good to get your hands on sound, reliable data about scientific employment -- or it does, anyway, when you're an editor of a science careers journal. One of the organization that consistently provides such data is the American Institute of Physics (AIP), a meta-society consisting of 10 physics-focused professional societies, with 25 affiliate member societies (including AAAS) representing related disciplines.

The latest statistical snapshot from AIP focuses on what bachelor's degree physics majors do after they graduate. They combined two consecutive classes -- 2006 and 2007 -- and asked them what they were doing shortly after graduation. The numbers are interesting -- especially for aspiring physicists (and career geeks like me).

Unsurprisingly, the AIP data reveal physics as a major for the grad-school bound: about 57% of graduates from the 2006 and 2007 classes went on to graduate school in physics or some other field. Four percent were still unemployed. Even those who took jobs right out of college -- or many of them -- intend to return to graduate school eventually. 25% reported planning to return to school after a year of working -- the standard "post-bac" experience -- and fully half were planning to return to school in no more than 3 years.

39% of recent grads took jobs right away. Where did they work? Working in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields was common, but working directly in physics and astronomy was rare: 70% of these grads were able to stay in STEM-related fields, but only 5% were working in physics or astronomy. Instead, most physics grads took jobs in engineering (32%) or information technology (16%). 7% were working in other natural sciences (other than physics and astronomy that is) and 9% in other technology-related positions. 29% took jobs in non-STEM occupations.

These jobs were mainly in the private sector; 59% took jobs there. 13% of physics graduates were employed at high schools, presumably in teaching posts. Another 10% were employed at colleges and universities. 6% were employed in civilian government (including federally funded but privately operated research centers), and 5% in the military.

These physics grads were called on to do several things a physics major doesn't generally prepare them for. While almost all reported solving technical problems as part of their jobs, nearly as many had to work on teams. Other common activities were technical writing, programming, management, and quality control.

In measures of job satisfaction, the military did very well. The military led  in the level of satisfaction with intellectual challenge, salary and benefits, and advancement opportunity. The only area where they didn't rank highest was in the level of job responsibility, where the military ranked third; the leading sector here was high school teaching.

One especially useful information resource on the employment of recent physics bachelor's degree recipients, is contained in a separate document, also from AIP. It's a state-by-state list of companies that have recently employed physics grads.

If you're an undergraduate physics student, or someone who advises them, you should definitely check out these resources.
On Twitter: @SciCareerEditor

The U.S. Employment Situation Summary issued this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals a labor market running not quite fast enough to stay in place.

The headline numbers appear contradictory: a reduction of 0.2% in the unemployment rate, to 9.5%, and a net loss of 125,000 new jobs. But the more meaningful number is 83,000, the number of new jobs added by the private sector. This was offset by the expected end of 200,000+ temporary census jobs. The best-performing category was professional and business services, which added 46,000 jobs. The unemployment rate is measured by the BLS Household Survey, while new-job growth is determined by the BLS Establishment Survey.

The rate of growth in private-sector jobs is just below the median of what economists had predicted; predictions ranged from around 20,000 private-sector jobs up to about 200,000, with a median of about 110,000, according to the New York Times. Economists say that the U.S. economy needs to produce about 100,000 jobs each month to accommodate the growth in the working-age population.

There was a substantial gender difference in the household survey results: Unemployment among adult women improved by 0.3%, to 7.8%, while the rate for adult men worsened by 0.1%, to 9.9%.
On Twitter: @SciCareerEditor

In June, the number of job ads posted in the "healthcare practitioners and technical" category recovered, partially, from a large decline in May -- but all the other science-related careers tracked by Science Careers declined or were flat. That's the conclusion of an analysis of numbers released yesterday by the Conference Board. The latest numbers also show that May, in retrospect, was a pretty good month for the job categories tracked by Science Careers, as declines in the number of job-seeking unemployed meant more advertised jobs for every job-seeker in most of these categories.

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

Online job ads

The number of job ads posted in June in the science-related categories tracked by Science Careers increased by 2.7%, month over month. Taking a longer view reveals how far we've come since last year: In all the categories we track, 300,000 more job ads were posted in June than in June2009, an increase of more than 25%. Keep reading to learn how the numbers break down by category.  

According to the Conference Board data, in June, online employment ads in the "health-care practitioners and technical" category increased by 51,900 -- an impressive 9.6% increase. This fails to offset declines in the number of job ads the previous month, but it's still an impressive number: Fully 27% of May's unemployed job-seekers in this category found jobs in June, the numbers suggest.

The numbers in the other categories aren't as good. The number of job ads in the life, physical, and social sciences category increased by about 500, or about half of one percent of May's total. The number of ads in architecture and engineering was completely flat. Ads in computer and mathematical sciences declined by 12,700 -- about 2.2%. Ads seeking employees in education, training, and library fell by about 900, or about 1.1% of May's total.

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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 May 2010, while the number of employment ads reported above are for June.

In May, computer and mathematical science, and health-care practitioners and technical, remained the best sectors to be looking for work, according to this ratio: There are far more job ads than unemployed people looking for work, with 0.4 unemployed job-seekers per job ad in both categories.

The market also looked good for life, physical and life scientists; in this category, in May, there was 0.8 job-seeker for every ad, the same as a month before. The ratio for architects and engineers was just a little worse, at 0.9. But that's a bit improvement from the previous month, when there were 1.2 job seekers for every online ad. That leaves education, training, and library, where, despite dramatic improvement in May, the outlook still looks dismal. The ratio of job-seekers to job ads in this category decreased from 5.1 to 4.3 from April to May. That's the best number we've seen since we started tracking these numbers a year ago. But it's still far worse than any other category we track.

Across all the categories tracked by Science Careers, this ratio improved dramatically in June, thanks to a healthy reduction in the number of unemployed. 955,200 unemployed people sought jobs in these categories in May, compared to 1,085,900 the month before -- a 13.6% reduction in the number of job-seeking unemployed. This brought May's overall ratio of online ads to the number of unemployed workers to about 0.6, down from 0.8 a month earlier.

How does this compare to the labor economy as a whole? Except for one category -- education, training, and library -- job-seekers in science-related categories continue to be in far better shape than the average job-seeker, by this metric. In May there were 3.6 job-seekers overall for each online job ad, suggesting that there is six times as much competition for the average job than there is for jobs in these science-related categories.

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On Twitter: @SciCareerEditor

This morning I received a query from a reader -- a postdoc -- who was interested in submitting an article to Science Careers. I invited her to contribute to our "In Person" personal essay series. I decided to post my response here, lightly edited, as an invitation to others who might be interested in contributing a personal essay to Science Careers:
At Science Careers, we publish three different kinds of articles. We have expert commentary, which we typically label "Perspective". We have freelance-written articles, where the writer is relatively anonymous and compiles the views of other experts; these have no special label, since they constitute the majority of our articles. The third type is the "In Person" category, where individual scientists tell their own stories and contribute their personal observations.

I would welcome you to contribute an In Person article. These are typically short (circa 800 words), to the point, and have a very personal voice. It's typical for "In Person" writers to tell their own stories and then extract a message from those stories -- a mixture of personal narrative and advice. Because it's clear that you are speaking from your own experience -- and not from a scholar's expertise -- you are free to offer whatever advice you wish, without the need for rigorous justification or proof.

If you're interested in writing an In Person article for us, I'm happy to read it. We cannot commit ahead of time to publishing your submission, since we cannot know how good it will be. But if you're willing to work with us, it's very likely that the piece will get published; Almost all In Person submissions are published eventually, though often (but not always) after a lot of editing and revision.

Here is our "In Person" series index, to give you an idea of what we're looking for. You'll notice a lot of variety, but also some common elements:

If you decide you want to do this, please give me, asap, a date by which you are confident you can finish the piece. Then I'll pencil it into my schedule.

Thanks for your interest.

Jim Austin, Editor
Science Careers

On Twitter: @SciCareerEditor

As noted in my previous post, our recent article on housework caught the attention of some feminist-scientist bloggers in a not-entirely-positive way. The result: a hundred or so comments on the blog of Dr. Isis, a few comments on that earlier post on the Science Careers blog, and brief mentions on a couple of other blogs.

One point that was made in a comment on the Isis blog by (among others) one Dr. FabulousShoes is that we should have pointed out more forcefully that it's not OK that women have more domestic responsibilities than men. Here's how Dr. Fab put it:
My point was parallel (I think) to Dr. Isis's - that by refusing to point out that these things aren't fair and that they should not continue makes it more likely to continue.
OK, my bad. I thought it was completely obvious that these things aren't fair -- does that really need to be pointed out again and again? I didn't think so -- and anyway, I'm sure the message is at least implicit in the article -- but maybe I was wrong, and maybe implicit isn't good enough.

So, men, just so you know, if you didn't already: It's not OK to expect your professional (perhaps scientist) wife to do more housework than you just because she' s a woman. It's not fair, OK? And it's not OK to just cruise along, taking advantage of a favorable situation you happen to have fallen into. Even if she's willing to do more than her share, insist on doing yours, OK? This is especially important at critical career stages, such as the probationary faculty period, or just before a big grant proposal is due. But it's just as true at lower-stress times -- that is, pretty much always.

To the critics reading this: Please know that I do not believe that by writing this I have fully dispatched my obligations. Those obligations are ongoing, and I will strive to meet them.

I feel compelled to add, as I have written in many blog-post comments over the last few days, that I deeply respect the value and autonomy of individual relationships -- and this, too, is an important part of this calculation. Asking a woman to do more because she is a woman is never fair. But personal relationships are not appropriate places for philosophers or career advisers to lurk. It's up to each couple -- not me, not feminist critics, not tradition -- to negotiate housekeeping, childcare, or other domestic responsibilities, and the other aspects of personal relationships. The goal is for those choices to be freely made and not coerced. So men, and women: It's up to you and your partner to set the terms, but please make sure those decisions are made as freely as can be achieved. Such decisions are never made "in a vacuum," as Dr. Fab put it. There are always social pressures. But within the context of your relationship, you can ease those pressures by being supportive of your partner and helping them to choose -- or, rather, to negotiate with you, from a position of strength, a domestic arrangement that works well for both partners.  

This is the opinion of me, Jim Austin, the editor of Science Careers. It not a statement of official Science or AAAS policy.

Thanks for your attention. You may go back to whatever you were doing.

On Twitter: @SciCareerEditor
Vijee Venkatraman, who wrote the recent, excellent article Time to Hire a Housekeeper?, wrote to me to point out a not-entirely-positive discussion of the article by Dr. Isis on her blog, On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess.... The discussion is shoe-horned in to a long post on John Tierney's column in Tuesday's Science Times resurrecting the Larry Summers/Women in Science debate. Our housekeeping article gets tag-teamed, two critical bloggers at once, as Isis releays comments sent to her by e-mail, by ScienceMama:
Recently ScienceMama from the Mother of All Scientists sent me a link to this article from Science about how successful academic women learn to outsource daily tasks like housekeeping, childcare, and laundry.  While, I think the advice is generally good, ScienceMama picked up on the underlying social message of the article.  She wrote to me:

I can't exactly put into words why this article bothers me so much.  I understand the general intention of the article, but for some reason the take home message for me seems to be "If you're a female scientist, you need to hire a housekeeper, whereas if you're a male scientist you can just get a wife."

By focusing just on female scientists, it seems like what the article is saying is that domestic chores are a woman's responsibility.  Why shouldn't male scientists also be encouraged to get a housekeeper to cover all the work they are clearly neglecting at home?

Again, I understand that the article was well-intentioned (spend your limited free time with your family or on a hobby instead of mopping your floors), but the fact that it's aimed only at female scientists seems to reinforce the idea that all of the domestic chores are the woman's responsibility.

She's exactly right. 

No, she's not. Why single out women in suggesting a housekeeper? Because men don't seem to have a problem. Men, on average, don't need help with the housekeeping. This is not about should; it's about doing what you have to to make your life -- personal and professional -- work. I don't mean to be patronizing, but this is kind of obvious, isn't it? 

Indeed, the ScienceMama/Dr. Isis account seems to me the result of a careful, selective, and uncharitable reading of what Venkatraman wrote. One of the explicit themes of the article was: Feeling guilt over not meeting a woman's traditional roles? Get over it!

What would they advise instead? Wait until the social norms have changed and THEN go into science? Get a divorce, then (re)marry for domestic skills instead of love? The latter could be a fine choice for some women, but it's deeply personal, and you won't catch me advising it.

I've done my best over the years to make Science Careers a source of practical advice for aspiring scientists. That's a more noble and difficult challenge than being on the right side of some principle. True, since I've been editor, Science Careers articles have consistently made it clear that there's a point where you have to stand on principle, and it's up to each scientist to decide for him or herself where that point is. But, given a choice between moral brownie points and helping someone get tenure, I'll choose the latter every time, and so will the writers who write for Science Careers.

There's one more question I need to take on, the question of standing. I am, after all, a guy. But I think I have standing partly due to the 9 years -- I've just realized that TODAY is the ninth anniversary of my employment at AAAS -- I've worked to advance the interests of younger scientists -- especially (but not exclusively) scientists from under-represented groups. (An aside: These days youth itself is under-represented in science, and I've spent virtually every working moment of the last 9 years working to advance the interests of younger scientists.)

But there's another thing that gives me standing: I can claim a distinction that's rare among men, and I claim it proudly: I gave up a research career (in physics) so that my wife could pursue one (in chemistry). She's now a full professor, finishing up a 4-year stint as department chair.

My wife deserves all the credit for her accomplishments. She earned her success with tireless, excellent work. But I have done my share of housework.

On Twitter: @SciCareerEditor

Previously omitted hat-tip: @acidflask on Twitter.

The News-Gazette of Central Illinois is reporting that Jayandran Palaniappan, 34, a postdoc at the University of Illiniois Champaign/Urbana, probably cast himself over Niagara Falls after learning that he lost his funding. Police say he was believed to have jumped on 11 May. Apparently there were four witnesses. Police say he left a note but his body has not been found. Palaniappan earned his undergraduate degrees in India and a Ph.D. from UIUC. After completing his Ph.D., he worked in private industry for a while in the U.S., then went to work at the Beckman Institute in Urbana about a year ago. The article says he learned a couple of weeks before leaving for Buffalo that the funding for his position had ended. Mike Insana, head of the department of bioengineering at the UI and a team leader of a group at Beckman, and Palaniappan's postdoc adviser, says that Palaniappan "left very careful notes" indicating where things could be found in the lab.

"He was just so gentle all the time. When he first came to work, he spent time training other students in lab. He was always helpful, a member of the team," Insana said.

The Prodigal Academic has posted an excellent and detailed post on how the process of screening of applicants for tenure-track jobs works in the searches she (he?) is involved in. Prodigal Prof -- who self-identifies as an assistant professor on a science faculty -- describes how a pool of 210 applicants is reduced to 140, then 70, then 35, then five. Those five applicants are then invited for interviews, Prodigal Prof says, and they all start out with a fresh slate.

Of particular note: Unless they're "super amazing," candidates without a postdoc are trimmed right off, along with candidates who are not in the right subfield. ("Super amazing" candidates are retained without a postdoc, and even if the subfield is wrong.) Many applications are thrown out because they're not complete -- usually a missing reference letter (one missing letter is blamed on a flaky writer and forgiven; two means instant elimination).

Also of interest: Prodigal Prof says they don't really care where you got your Ph.D. or did your postdoc; it's your productivity they're measuring. Science or Nature papers aren't required, but journal quality has to be high. They seek a mix of first-author papers (indicating independence) and non-first-author papers (indicating collaboration).

They expect serious "weirdnesses" -- no adviser letter; a major gap in the CV; an exceptionally long postdoc -- to be addressed in the cover letter or a reference letter. Otherwise, that's grounds for elimination. And the final vetting -- the reduction of the long list of 35 to the list of five who are interviewed -- involves a great deal of luck, Prodigal Prof admits.

There's lots more good information in the post -- and also in the comments, which all seem to be from other science-professor bloggers. This is required reading for aspiring academic scientists.
On Twitter: @SciCareerEditor
Update: It occurred to me after posting this entry that I had left out some important information. In his e-mail, Finkelstein wrote, "This year ... our NINDS payline is set at the 14th percentile. However, we are funding almost all new PI R01s to the 20th percentile, and most "early stage investigators" (i.e. those within 10 years of terminal degree) to the 25th percentile." By "almost all" and "most", I think he means 'in most study sections.'
* * *
An announcement issued on Friday by the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke has caused some confusion. Here's the first confusing part:
Previous NINDS language stated that R21 proposals were "limited to those with the potential for truly ground-breaking impact".  We would like to emphasize that such impact, as described in the trans-NIH parent R21 announcement (, can be achieved in many different ways. For example, projects can assess the feasibility of a novel area of investigation, develop new techniques or models, apply existing methodologies to a new scientific area, etc. (see parent announcement for additional examples). 
What is NINDS really saying here? The point of this section, writes Robert Finkelstein, the director of the NINDS extramural division, in an e-mail, is to correct the apparently widespread impression -- created by earlier NINDS language -- that NINDS imposes an additional burden on investigators. "Over the last few years, we've learned that the NINDS language cited in the broad announcement was confusing many reviewers and applicants, who seemed to believe that our goals are very different from those described in the announcement," Finkelstein writes. "This is in fact not true." (It's important to note that the message is intended for reviewers as well as applicants.)  The take-home message: Send in those R-21 applications...

... UNLESS you're a new investigator. Because, later in the NINDS announcement, there's this:
It is important to note that analyses of new investigator applications to NINDS indicate that the success rate for R21 applicants is lower than for R01 applicants ... [so] the NINDS encourages New Investigators, and in particular Early Stage Investigators (, to apply for R01 grants when seeking first-time funding from the NIH.
This part of the announcement was necessary, Finkelstein writes, because "a large fraction of R21 applications come from new PI's" -- under the mistaken impression, probably, that their odds of winning the smaller grant are better. "Many new PI's seem to believe that the R21 is an easier way to get money, which it definitely isn't." Consequently, "we, like many other NIH Institutes, would prefer to see new investigators submit R01 applications. Our current policies are designed to ensure that success rates for new R01 investigators are approximately equal to those for established investigators."

NINDS, then, wants experienced investigators to submit more R-21 proposals, and new and early-stage investigators to submit fewer of them -- and to apply instead for R-01 grants, where the budgets are larger, the funding rates are higher, and mechanisms are in place to make sure new and early-stage investigators get a fair shake.

To me, only one question is left unresolved: What incentive do experienced investigators have to apply for R-21s in greater numbers when the funding rates are lower, etc.? NINDS is hoping, apparently, that once new and early-stage investigators get the message and stop applying for R-21s, that program's funding rates could rise, making it a better bet for experienced investigators who wish to fund their potentially transformative research.
The U.S. economy added an estimated 290,000 jobs in April, the best performance in more than 4 years. 231,000 of those jobs were in the private sector. About 66,000 temporary workers were hired by the U.S. census bureau. The last time the economy did better was in March, 2006, when 326,000 jobs were added.

The April employment report also revised upward employment numbers for February and March: In March the economy added 230,000 jobs, up from 162,000 estimated in early April, when the March report was issued. In February the economy added 39,000 jobs; the previous report had estimated that 14,000 jobs had been lost that month.

A year ago in April, the economy shed 528,000 jobs, and in March 2009, 753,000 jobs were lost. So far this year, according to current estimates, the economy has added 527,000 jobs; at this point in 2009 the economy had shed 2,786,000 jobs.

The economy's job gains were broad-based. The professional and business services sector, which includes most scientists and many engineers, added 80,000 jobs, while health care added 20,000.

For more information, see the Employment Situation Summary for April 2010, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On Twitter: @SciCareerEditor

The 1536-well microtiter plate -- or its even higher-capacity siblings -- is likely familiar to most Science Careers readers, whether as a practical laboratory device or as a metaphor for high-throughput screening, a technique that has become ubiquitous in drug discovery. But who says high-throughput screening has to involve robots?

This article in Consumer Energy Report describes a very different approach to churning through and screening a large number of candidate compounds, in a context very different from the drug-discovery lab: high school students doing solar energy research.

Caltech researchers are utilizing the hands and minds of Pasadena, California, high school students to assess a range of compounds to see which have the most promise for use in solar energy conversion.

While high school kids may not have indefatigable precision of laboratory robots, they have other advantages: for one thing, the potential to become great scientists someday. The high school students are mentored and advised by CalTech graduate and undergraduate students. Instead of doing rote training experiments with no connection to scientific inquiry, they learn something about real science and real life. "They're learning to negotiate through disappointments," said Patty Tsai, a CalTech alumna who teaches AP chemistry at one of the local high schools. "That's a good skill to have as a human being."
A long time ago -- 9 years and one month to be precise -- I wrote an article for Science Careers profiling Tom Murphy, then a postdoc in physics at the University of Washington in Seattle. Murphy was then on a quest to locate a needle in a haystack -- or, less metaphorically, to bounce lasers off a mirror on the surface of the moon and then detect the reflected light.

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

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

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

The story was covered as a ScienceShot on ScienceNow.

In a January Mind Matters column, Irene Levine argued that in the science lab, gossip has some positive aspects but needs to be handled very carefully. Not long after, I got a response from Richard Weiner, a writer and PR specialist who has written 23 books and made an informal study of the topic of gossip. He even has a blog devoted to the subject:

Weiner is a fascinating guy. He has written for many high-profile publications, including the New York Times. He broadcast the first radio description of an actual childbirth. William Safire described him,  in one of his language columns in the New York Times magazine, as "the media maven." He received the Gold Anvil Award for lifetime achievement in the PR field, from the Public Relations Society of America, the field's highest honor.

Remember the Cabbage Patch Kids phenomenon, when Christmas-shopping moms got in fistfights in the aisles of K-Mart, fighting over stuffed dolls? Richard Weiner, Inc., was the PR firm. In my estimation that makes Weiner the Babe Ruth, or maybe the Michael Jordan, of public relations.

Weiner wrote to take issue with our claim that lab gossipers should "proceed with caution."

An interview has just been posted at NatureJobs with Harmit Malik of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, who won the 2010 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science. The interview was conducted by Virginia Gewin.

There's much that's interesting about what Malik says but what's most refreshing is the seriousness with which he approaches the training of his protégés. Consistent with the people interviewed for our Audacity series, Malik believes it's important to be bold, to take scientific risks. But he also believes in sheltering his people from those risks:
I encourage my students to be very creative in their efforts to push paradigms beyond what we know. To do that, I encourage them to take risks. In exchange, I provide the safety net to make sure it won't hurt their careers.
Most impressive, however, is what he regards as his career-defining moment. Was it winning a scientific prize? Getting published in a top-tier journal? A prestigious faculty appointment? No. His career-defining moment was watching his first postdoc succeed:
I was still unclear on how the field would view our work when the first postdoc from my lab started exploring the job market. It was daunting. But when she started getting awards and fantastic job interviews, I was quite relieved. I remember thinking: 'We're training people who will do well. We're not destroying someone's career.'
On Twitter: @SciCareerEditor

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

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

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

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

A new InfoBrief from the U.S. National Science Foundation says that between 2004 and 2008 the number of jobs in science and engineering (S&E) increased by 13.7% compared to 5.5% for all occupations and 4.9% for non-S&E occupations -- an annual growth rate of 3.3%. Interestingly, all the job growth in science and engineering occurred in higher-level non-management jobs; technician, programmer, and S&E management jobs fared especially poorly, declining by 0.2%.

The fastest growth was seen in jobs related to science and engineering but outside of S&E proper (and also outside the health professions) -- a group that roughly maps onto what are commonly called alternative, or non-traditional, science careers. Jobs in this category grew by 16.8% over the period. Other fast-growing areas were social science (16.2%), life science (16.0%), and mathematical and computer science (15.9%).

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I've been lucky enough to stay employed throughout this long, deep recession. But when I read the bulk email this morning from the Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and learned that the economy had added 162,000 jobs in March -- and, in a correction, 14,000 each in January and February -- I got a tiny taste of what it must feel like to learn that a war is over and our side won. Serious elation.

I realize, of course, that there's still a great deal of unemployment-related suffering out there, and that the suffering will continue for months or years to come. The unemployment rate didn't budge, after all, and 40,000+ of the jobs added in March are temporary census jobs.

Yet, with three straight months of added jobs, the third month with substantial gains, it feels like we've turned a corner. The gains were fairly uniform; even manufacturing added jobs, and construction held steady. Those are good signs. Add in March's up-tick in the number of online job ads in most STEM-related categories and there's good reason to be hopeful. With continued enlightened government policies, there's reason to expect the scientific job market to begin to grow again at a healthy pace. I've got my fingers crossed. 
It would seem so, if statistics (free download -- pdf reader required) just published by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) are to be believed.

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

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

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

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

You can download the AIP report, in pdf form.

We've written about what a lousy job market we're in for early-career scientists -- see Tenure-Track Jobs Remain Scarce for the latest account.

But there are scarier examples out there of how lousy the times are for academic scientists. An example: Florida State University (FSU) has laid off 25 tenured faculty members as the departments of geology, oceanography, and anthropology are disbanded and merged into a new Earth and Atmospheric Sciences unit. Reportedly, three tenure-track assistant professors also lost their jobs. All told, about 200 people, faculty and staff, are expected to lose their jobs.

There's an account of the fall-out -- Layoffs Lower Morale by Senior Staff Writer Courtney Griffin -- published last Thursday at, the online edition of FSU's student newspaper. Other Florida universities are also laying off tenured faculty members, but in far fewer numbers than FSU.

The faculty -- including Philip "Flip" Froelich, Francis Eppes professor of oceanography, who will lose his job, is incensed. "The university administration has torn the fabric of the faculty, there's no trust between the faculty and the upper administration of this university," Froelich said, quoted in the article.

Hat Tip: National Student News Service

Friend-of-Science-Careers (FOSC) Danielle Lee will be defending her dissertation -- An Investigation of Behavioral Syndromes and Individual Differences in Exploratory Behavior of Prairie Voles, Microtus ochrogaster -- this morning at 10 a.m. Central Standard Time (11 a.m. on the east coast) at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. That's a big deal for her; we're proud and wish her well. But dissertations are defended by FOSCs every day; why does her defense merit a blog post on Science Careers?

Because it's the first dissertation defense I've heard about that will be both live-streamed and live-tweeted on Twitter. Lee is the blogger behind Urban Science Adventures (read her last-minute thought on her defense here) and she Tweets as @FeteSociety. You can access the live stream at and follow her defense on Twitter using the hashtag #LeeDefense. (Lee herself won't be tweeting. She'll be rather busy.)

We at Science Careers wish soon-to-be-Dr.-Lee excellent luck.

(Speaking of Twitter, you can follow me @SciCareerEditor.)

Update: At approximately 1:30 p.m. eastern time, Danielle announed to the world, via Twitter, that she is now officially Dr. Lee.

Last week Beryl Benderly wrote about the successful effort to unionize postdocs on three University of Massachusetts campuses. Beryl wrote, "Having collected signed union cards from a majority of the approximately 300 postdocs at UMass's Amherst, Boston, and Dartmouth branches -- Canovas's Worcester campus is not involved -- the new union received certification this week from the Massachusetts Division of Labor Relations. It can now begin contract negotiations with the university."

That's all true -- except, possibly, for the part that say the Worcester campus was not involved. Accounts differ, but it seems likely that there was an attempt to organize the Worcester campus -- home of the UMass Medical School -- but that so far the attempt has not succeeded.

Here's one more small correction on that story. Postdocs at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell were originally certified by SIEU as Benderly wrote in the article, but have since joined the Massachusetts Teachers Assocation, which is affliated with the National Education Association.

Sound crazy? That's just what Brooke Allen suggests in this week's lead story, Perspective: Keep Working (Even if You Don't Get Paid). And I think he makes his case.

I admit it; for the blog headline above, I chose the most provocative point in a very compelling article. Read the whole thing and give us your feedback. Please. Send Brooke an email -- or, better yet, leave a comment below.

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

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

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

(Please follow me on Twitter: @SciCareerEditor )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Readers interested in knowing how science fared in the President's (U.S.) budget request should check out Science Insider, from Science's news department. SI is posting frequent updates and analysis of the proposal. The news for science is generally very good for such a tight budget year.

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

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

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

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

Academic Scientists @ Work: Negotiating a Faculty Position

Be Honorable and Strategic

Negotiation Tactics and Strategies

Nine Key Negotiating Points

Please Sir Can I Have Some More?

Business Sense: Starting an Academic Lab

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

Some of her observations are worth a read. Read the comments; though some are insipid ("look how great my grades were in college, except in yoga!") a couple offer real insight into what's needed in, for example, a "Statement of Purpose."

This is the second in an irregular series of blog post on managing people. You'll find the first one here.

I serve on the association board for my condominium. In that capacity, I recently got to meet the consulting engineer we rely on for our building's maintenance. She -- yes, a female mechanical engineer -- was in the process of planning a job repairing some steel beams in the building's parking garage.

During the course of our conversation, she made an important point about management: "Do it like the carpenters say," she advised. She was using "carpenters" as shorthand for 'people who actually do the work,' as opposed to those who just plan it. 

"If you tell them to do it this way," she said, gesturing with her hands, front to back, "and the carpenters say to do it that way "-- now she gestured side to side -- "you ought to do it that way" -- again, gesturing side to side, in solidarity with 'the carpenters.' 

This may be surprising advice if you're used to putting lots of faith in theoretical expertise. But her advice has a lot to recommend it. First there's the fact that "the carpenters" know what works best in the real world; there may be unanticipated obstacles to doing it your way that you haven't thought of yet.

Importantly -- and this was the engineer's main point -- if you do it the way they want to do it, you'll get a better job because you've empowered them by putting your faith in their decisions.

Coincidentally, this morning I was editing an article (you'll see it later this week) that included a quote from George Box, the industrial statistician. Here's a version of that quote, found on the Internet:

The benefits provided by worker participation are twofold. Quality is improved because of the finding and fixing of a very large number of problems, but also, and perhaps equally important, morale is improved.
So trust your carpenters.

January 14, 2010

Future Jobs

The U.K. government has commissioned a consulting company to speculate on what new jobs people might be doing in 20 years or so, and they have published their report. Among the more interesting prospective career paths with scientific content:

* Body-part maker
* Memory augmentation surgeon
* Pharmer (a farmer of biotech crops)
* Nano-medic
* Space pilot (sign me up!)
* Science ethicist
* Quarantine enforcer
* Waste-data handler.

You can read about these and other future careers at the UK's Science: [So What? So Everything] site.

January 12, 2010

Send Us Your Essays

Regular Science Careers readers know that we occasionally publish personal essays written by interesting scientists in our In Person series. Most of these essays start as unsolicited reader submissions.

We're seeking such submissions. We're looking for good writing, interesting personal stories, descriptions of unusual careers or compelling narratives about conventional ones. The key to a good In Person piece is its fresh, personal perspective: Your essay should connect your story with the larger scientific/career context in a way that entertains and informs the reader.  You'll find guidelines at the top of the series index page.

Bloggers, please help us spread the word about this opportunity.

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

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

Applications must be received by 15 February.

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

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

This may be the sort of thing we wish didn't happen in science, but it's still an entertaining read.
After I posted that last blog entry, I decided I should provide a little more information. What's the point of the expedition that Posada-Swafford is participating in. In part, at least, the scientists are hunting fossils. Posada-Swafford writes in an e-mail:

We will arrive in Punta Arenas tomorrow and on the 23rd will sail to Seymour Island to install the paleontologists' camp, will hang out with them (hopefully walking around in search on dinos and mammals) and sail to Palmer Station 2 days later.

The paleontologists are Ross MacPhee of the Natural History Museum in New York and Matt Lamanna, a long time friend (what a coincidence!) from Carnegie, an expert in Patagonic dinos. They are going to look for clues of mammals and hopefully a dino from a specific geologic era that will give evidence of a land bridge between South America and Antarctica and Australia. Very cool. Wouldn't it be fabulous if we found something new?

Over the next few weeks, Angela Posada-Swafford will be sending dispatches from her fossil-hunting journey to the coldest continent. Posada-Swafford is a Miami, Florida-based science journalist who has built quite a reputation writing mainly for the Spanish-language market.

"I am doing A LOT of things with this trip," she writes, via e-mail. "We are doing (and this is first for NSF at Palmer and indeed, in Antarctica) a series of 6-party live video conferences with science museums and educational institutions in 3 Latin American countries (Colombia, Chile and either Mexico or Uruguay)." She continues:
The loveliest thing is that I managed to involve in the conferences this isolated, forgotten community in the Colombian pacific jungles, the Universidad del Choco, and are so thrilled at the idea of just seeing the ice! They are asking a thousand questions already.

Only once before had NSF allowed streaming video and that was for 10-minute reporting for the Ophrah Winfrey show. But now they are going full one or more hours per video conference and I have decided that I want 2 of them, one week apart. The kids at the different museums get to ask questions as I tell them all about the station's LTER research (long term ecological research), climate change from the molecular to penguin levels, etc.

Here are the links, also, to two websites that are following my expedition to the detail, through my own dispatches, which will come in every day with pictures, audio and video. They are doing an animated map of the trip, and a zillion more things, which already started with my chronicles of the preparations for the trip. I haven't left and there are already many comments.

This is a great opportunity to talk science to people! One of the links is for my magazine in Spain, MUY INTERESANTE. The second one is for the very sophicticated science museum in Bogota, Colombia, which is orchestrating the video conferences in Latin America:

The videoconferences can be seen at the Maloka website in real time and later, as they'll be recorded. The dates are:

  • Saturday 5 December at 2 p.m. U.S. eastern time (4 p.m. Palmer time)
  • Saturday 12 December at the same time.
(Saturdays are good for the children in Latin America and they are also good for the Palmer scientists who will take those days off!)
In addition to talking science to people, Posada-Swafford will also be sending us regular updates, posted on our blog, telling us about the scientists she meets and what it's like to do science in Antarctica.

November 24, 2009

Beyond the Boys Club

A new book offers "strategies for achieving career success as a woman working in a male-dominated field," to quote the books subtitle.

Beyond the Boys Club (U.K.: Wit and Wisdom Press, 2009) is written by Suzanne Doyle-Morris, an "executive coach" who earned a Ph.D. at Cambridge with a dissertation focused on women in engineering.

I haven't yet seen the book so this is NOT a review. Yet, from what I've seen about it so far -- via this promotional YouTube video, this review in Nature (you'll need a subscription or a site license to read the whole thing), and this review in a blog -- it's likely to be useful for women working in science who, while technically competent, have not yet mastered the skills of raising their profile in their working communities. The book is available at and other retail outlets.

You might do just as well, however, by reading Stephanie Pfirman, et al.'s "Maximizing Productivity and Recognition" series on Science Careers, which focuses on science and hence, for academic scientists at least, more directly relevant. So far the series includes:

Part 1: Publication, Citation, and Impact
Part 2: Collaboration and Networking
Part 3: Developing a Research Plan

Part 4, which is about making sure you're regarded as a peer and not as a pet or mascot in your collaborations, and within your own department, will be published in January.

Best of all, the Science Careers articles are free and provide immediate gratification; no need to wait until a book is delivered.

November 19, 2009

Family Plans

Last month we ran Returning to Science by Sarah Webb, an article about women returning to science after extended family leaves. The same week we also published A Life Lived Backwards by Angela Saini, about Patricia Alireza, the University College-London physicist who didn't even start graduate school until her family was grown.

In connection with those articles we conducted an online poll to figure out how our readers -- overwhelmingly postdocs and graduate students -- are planning to balance family and career. Of those who took the survey, 49% were graduate students and 43% were postdocs. The remaining 8% were split evenly between "undergraduate student" and "other".

The result of the survey was, to me, both surprising and pleasing: The most popular approach, it seems, is not to wait. Nearly half of our readers "expect/plan to have children while still in training." More than a quarter of respondents already have children. About a quarter -- 24.5% -- plan to wait until after their careers are established before having children. 2% don't intend to have children at all.

All these choices are valid, but with the training phase getting longer and scientific independence happening later, it's good to see that among those who want children, nearly half feel they don't have to wait. The results follow in graphical form.

My thanks to Managing Editor Alan Kotok for designing and setting up the online poll.

Our package on science in Eastern Europe provoked the following reply from Yale Richmond, an expert on the subject:

Elisabeth Pain and Kate Travis in Science Careers (November 6, 2009) are correct in discussing the changes in science that have taken place in Eastern Europe since "The Fall of the Wall." But the two authors are mistaken when they write that "Research in those countries [the Soviet bloc] was done in near-complete isolation from the international community."
Using primarily cultural and scientific exchanges, in addition to espionage, the Soviets had a very effective system for learning what scientists in countries of the West were doing. During the 30 years of the U.S.-Soviet Cultural Agreement more than 50,000 Soviet citizens came to the United States on exchange, many of them scientists and engineers, and many thousands more came to countries of Western Europe that had similar agreements. And because the exchanges were reciprocal, U.S. and other Western scientists went to the Soviet Union in exchange. The Soviets were all cleared by the KGB in advance of nomination for their exchange visits, but before their U.S. visas were authorized they were also screened by the U.S. intelligence community to ensure that they would have no access to U.S.-funded defense research, and that the exchanges were mutually beneficial. The watchword was "Is the Soviet scientist going to learn more from us than we will learn from him?"  And they were all "hims," since no women scientists were nominated by the Soviets.

In our "flagship exchange," of graduate students and young faculty for a full academic year, we would send real graduate students in language, history, and literature, while the Soviets, in the early years of the exchanges, would send us mainly scientists and engineers who already had their Kandidat degree, more or less equivalent to our PhD. Each U.S.-USSR cultural agreement, renegotiated every 2 or 3 years, also contained a section devoted to exchanges of delegations of scientists in various fields.

In addition to the exchange programs of the State Department, our National Academy of Sciences and Atomic Energy Commission also had exchanges with the Soviet bloc. To give you an idea of the extent of those exchange programs, when martial law was declared in Poland in 1981, we had several hundred Polish scientists stuck in the United States and unwilling to return home. Also, Pain and Travis fail to consider the 11 cooperative agreements in S & T signed with the Soviet Union during the detente years of the 1970s which brought hundreds more Soviet scientists to the United States, and a reciprocal number of Americans to the Soviet Union.
After their return home and their debriefing by science officials, the Soviet scientists who had studied abroad were required to give talks to their colleagues on what they had learned during their foreign visit. As a result of all those exchange programs, Soviet science was anything but isolated from the international community.
For more on this, read my book, Cultural Exchange and the Cold War: Raising the Iron Curtain (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003).

             - Yale Richmond

(We'll post the authors' reply in a separate post. My thanks to Yale Richmond for his thoughtful reply.)

I received a note this morning from Nell Brady, project manager at WAMC Northeast Public Radio in Albany, New York, alerting me to a new series of radio programs featuring women with disabilities in science. The series is being produced by the radio station as part of the NSF-funded Access to Advancement project.

Eventually there will be 10 segments, five focused on "tools, educational practices, and programs designed to broaden the participation of women with disabilities in science," Brady says, along with  "five profiles of women with disabilities who are successfully working or learning in science fields."

So far two "access" stories have been produced and posted to the station's Web site dedicated to women in science. The first features the "DO-IT" program at the University of Washington, which aims to increase the success of people with disabilities in college and careers.The second is a profile of computer scientist Patricia Walsh, who lost her sight at age 14 and now works for Microsoft. The other eight will follow next year.

Although Brady wrote to alert me to the "Access" series, when I visited the Web site I discovered a wealth of programming focused on women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (aka, STEM).
The Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) has published a new book, Excellence Everywhere, aimed at scientists working in places that lack the extensive resources commonly found in the developed world. (Full disclosure: BWF is the funder of Science Careers's CTSciNet.)

Not long after I joined Science Careers -- called Science's Next Wave at the time -- I had the honor of working with BWF and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to develop their first Lab Management Course, a 4-day event held at HHMI headquarters in 2002. I was responsible for units on project management, getting funded, and the financial side of lab management (see "From Science Fair to Science Fare," Part 1 and Part 2). I learned much and had great fun getting to know so many great people, including many young scientists.

Experienced writers were hired to observe the course and take notes, and then to assemble its contents into a book. The result was Making the Right Moves: A Practical Guide to Scientific Management for Postdocs and New Faculty.

The course was repeated in 2005 and the book was revised as a result. The above link takes you to the free pdf of the second edition. You can also order a hardcopy, if copies are still available. If you aspire to a career in academic science and haven't read it, you definitely should.

The material collected in Making the Right Moves has been revised again, by BWF's Victoria McGovern, with extensive new content on dealing with the challenges faced by researchers in "the low- and middle-resource regions of the tropics and sub-tropics." The result is Excellence Everywhere, which can be downloaded for free -- you can also request a free hardcopy -- at You can learn more about the book and its conception in the October edition of Focus, the BWF newsletter.

A great post over at our sister site, Science Insider, describes a new paper by B. Lindsay Lowell and Harold Salzman of Georgetown University and the Urban Institute, respectively.

The new study makes a point that we at Science Careers have been making for years: If you care about science, you want to make sure that science remains an attractive career. Focusing on the supply side -- training more scientists -- as many do, runs the risk lowering salaries, causing working conditions to deteriorate, and making professional prospects less certain for people with scientific training. Do that, and fewer smart people will enter the field. It's a negative-feedback loop. Here's how my colleagues Yudhijit Bhattacharjee put it in the Science Insider entry:

The researchers--led by Lowell and Harold Salzman, a sociologist at the Urban Institute and Rutgers University, New Brunswick--argue that boosting the STEM pipeline may end up hurting the United States in the long-term.

This happens, they say,  by depressing wages in S&T fields and turning potential science and technology innovators into management professionals and hedge fund managers.

So how do you create a vibrant scientific economy? You invest more in science itself. There will be shortages. Salaries will rise. Science will once again be viewed as an elite career:

The way to promote US competitiveness in STEM fields is to "put more emphasis on the demand side," says Lowell, noting that U.S. colleges and universities produce three times more STEM graduates every year than the number of STEM jobs available. Cranking out even more STEM graduates, he says, does not give corporations any incentive to boost wages for STEM jobs, which would be one way to retain the highest-performing students in STEM.

Of course, many people in business don't like this approach because they want to be able to continue hiring scientists cheaply. It's short-sighted, but understandable:

Susan Traiman of the Business Roundtable criticizes the new study, saying that it gives an illusion of a robust supply because it bundles all STEM fields together. There may be an oversupply in the life sciences and social sciences, she argues, but there is no question that there are shortages in engineering and the physical sciences. The findings "are not going to make us go back and re-examine everything we've been calling for," she says.

No question? The Conference Board reports that things are especially bad for engineers, with two online ads for every job opening. To compare, there is only one job-seeking health worker for every three opportunities posted in that sector.

October 27, 2009

Video Inspiration

I'm not a subscriber, but I'm an admirer of Make magazine. I love the whole DIY culture, and I'm confident it -- Make and DIY culture generally -- will plant many seeds that mature into scientists and engineers.

Make has just issued a press release promoting a new project. Called Elements of Humanity (and found at, the project comprises a dozen (so far) short video interviews with working scientists explaining what it was about science that first captured their attention and made them want to become scientists.

I've watched only two videos so far, but look forward to watching the rest. Good stuff. Recommended.

Maybe it's because I was trained as a scientist: Even as I've written, many times over several years, about the importance of interpersonal skills in employment, it always felt a little, well, soft. It was only recently that I figured out what bothered me about the advice I -- and everyone else -- was giving. It's too generic. GC-MS is a practical career skill: it allows you to accomplish a particular task. Javascript and Perl are practical career skills: ditto. Sharing small talk in the lunchroom, or managing not to get into a fist fight with the person at the next bench, are not career skills.

In this weekend's New York Times, I read something about interpersonal skills that really resonated with my own professional experiences.

For the "Corner Office" column, Adam Bryant interviewed Susan Lyne, the former CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, who is currently CEO of the Gilt Groupe, an online, members-only luxury-goods purveyor. That's about as far from science as you can get, but that doesn't make her advice irrelevant. The interview focuses on hiring and evaluating talent, mostly for senior-management positions.

There's much that's worth reading, but here's the part that got my attention:

"Somebody might be a great manager of a team but incapable of working across the company to get things done because they're competitive, or because of any number of reasons...

...there is very little [in the typical MBA training] about how to work with your peers where you need to get X done, and you need these other three departments to give you X amount of time in order to succeed at that.

The people who truly succeed in business are the ones who actually have figured out how to mobilize people who are not their direct reports. Everyone can get their direct reports to work for them, but getting people who do not have to give you their time to engage and to support you and want you to succeed is something that is sorely missing from B-school courses."
That's just one interpersonal challenge--there are many others--but it's one that I, personally, have struggled with. How do you win, and deploy, the loyalty of people who don't report to you and are always very busy with other work? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Read the whole interview here.

October 1, 2009

Job Reference Myths

Here's a really important topic that I don't know much about--so I found this article on, with information provided by Heidi Allison, Managing Director at Allison and Taylor, a prominent reference-checking firm, so helpful. The article provides a useful perspective on the important issue of reference checking when you're looking for a job.

Just remember that in academia, all bets are off. Sure, rules and guidelines apply even here, but many professors don't know them--or if they do, ignore them. Consequently, references from university profs often go far beyond the typical name, rank, and serial number, for better or for worse.

One additional caution: Beware the letter than damns you with faint praise. As an undergraduate, I got badly sick one semester and received a very bad grade in a physics class. My professor in that class despised me. I took the course again as an independent study and got an A. Triumphantly, I asked that professor for a letter of recommendation as a way of addressing that blemish on my transcript.

Bad idea. He wrote a one-sentence recommendation saying that he was sure that "I would make a fine graduate student," or something. I got into grad school, he's probably dead by now, and my physics career has come and gone. But I admit it: I'm still a little bitter.

Well, kind of. A call in show scheduled to start in about 5 minutes was "inspired" by Anne Sasso's article, Audacity, Part 1. Unfortunately Anne herself was completely out of contact while the show was being planned, so she won't participate. But there should be some interesting discussion, including with some of Anne's sources for the story.

You can listen in by visiting the station's homepage at and clicking on the "Listen Now" button in the blue box towards the right side of the screen.

Dear Editor,

I read with interest the following article: "A Physician-Researcher Thrives in the Balance" by Chelsea Ward, September 11, 2009.

I congratulate Dr. Regan Theiler on her accomplishments. However, I believe you are giving the wrong message to young women physician-researchers. In this article, Dr. Theiler had essentially stated that having a successful personal family life and a successful translational research career are both not possible. The author of the article further highlights this point in bold.

In the 21st century, I think that it is quite possible to be a physician-researcher and have a successful personal life. I am an example and so are many professional women that I interact with. The article implied that a career must be given up to have a good family life or vice versa. It is certainly not an example that I would share with my children or the upcoming women researchers of today. Perhaps it would be more important to share with others how successful women balance family and career.

Thanks for your attention.

Deepali Kumar MD MSc FRCPC
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Transplant Infectious Diseases
University of Alberta

Dear Dr. Kumar,

Thank you for taking the time to send us your thoughts about our recent profile of Regan Theiler. We are aware that Theiler's statement was rather provocative. (To remind us all, here it is: "This career path is not for someone who wants to have a big, happy family and go on three vacations a year with them and eat dinner with them every night. It's just not going to happen.")

We are dedicated to promoting women in physician-scientist careers, and I know her statement seems to contradict that. Nevertheless, we thought it important to convey an honest account of Dr. Theiler's experiences and opinions. In my interactions with the physician-scientist trainee community, there are many women (and men) who ask the question, "can I succeed at having both a family and a career?" Theiler gave her honest opinion, which I appreciate and I hope others do, too. But this answer will be different for people in different specialties, in different medical centers, and with different work ethics. Each person's work-life balance is unique.

We will tell stories in future issues of women with different opinions on the subject, and we'll tell the stories of women who do have families and different work-life interactions. Earlier this year, we published two articles on women physician-scientists -- "Women M.D.-Ph.D.s: Life in the Trenches" and "Perspective: Ensuring Retention of Women in Physician-Scientist Training".

I hope to publish more on the issue, and I hope there will be a lively discussion of the subject on our online community for clinical and translational scientists, which will launch in a few weeks. Meanwhile, I thank you for sharing your concern.

Kate Travis
Contributing editor, Science Careers
Editor, CTSciNet, the Clinical and Translational Science Network

It sounds really confusing, and it is pretty hard to capture in a title, but it's really fairly simple. Blogger Livia Blackburne is a neuroscience graduate student at MIT--her work focuses on reading--who spends her time outside the lab writing fantasy stories for young adults. Her blog focuses on creative writing, taking a novel, analytical approach. It's interesting.

But lately she's been taking career advice from her neuroscience adviser and repackaging it for people aspiring to writing careers. But even repackaged, her adviser's good advice, as recounted on her blog, remains useful for aspiring scientists, too. In fact, the twist she gives it, oddly, gives it a certain freshness.

Here's a link to the first item in the series, which includes a short introduction and her first tip: Choose your projects carefully.

Since the links to the subsequent posts are none too obvious, I'll include them here:

2. Know the literature
3. Don't spread yourself too thin
4. Don't take criticism personally, and respond professionally


Professor Robert Klebe of the University of Texas Health Science Center has won a lawsuit against his employer--and a $900,000 jury award, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

Klebe alleged retaliation and age discrimination after the university allegedly cut the pay of the tenured professor by 25% and hired younger researchers at a higher salary.  The jury rejected the age discrimination charges but made the award as compensation for Klebe's mental anguish, the story by Don Finley says.

From a science-career perspective, the story is interesting in a couple of different ways. First, it's an example of a practice that is already common and seems to be increasing: scientists being offered tenure but no guaranteed salary. Professors are guaranteed the right to continue to be employed--but not necessarily to get paid. If you lose your grants, under such an arrangement, you may also lose your income, or at least a portion of it. Klebe argued in the lawsuit that the pay cut was an attempt to terminate his employment, along with other older, tenured faculty members. Klebe is 66. It raises the question, what good is a job guarantee if getting paid isn't part of the deal?

Also interesting is the back story. Klebe is the inventor of potentially important bioengineering technology. But, according to Klebe, the university erred in licensing the technology to "competing biotechnology companies," killing its development.

The article says Klebe had been seeking a trial since 2005. Then, in March, on the trial's second day, he suffered a stroke. The jury's decision came 2 weeks ago. The decision will be reviewed and the award amount may be reduced to comply with Texas law.

For more details, see the original article.

September 17, 2009

Life After Tenure

Have you, or someone you know, failed to get tenure, then gone on to bigger and better things? Or lived out the rest of what was left of your life in squalor and destitution?

If you've suffered a negative tenure decision and lived to tell about it, we'd like to hear from you for an article we're working on. Anonymity can be negotiated. We're not interested in your tenure decision; we're interested in what comes next. Please contact me at jaustin at aaas dot org.

The Science Careers Forum just finished a competition to see who could come up with the best expression of science career wisdom. The catch: You only got six words.

Entrants were judged, and a winner announced, by the Forum Advisers. There was also an Editor's Award, awarded by me.

I'll cover some highlights here, but I encourage you to read the original forum thread.

The adviser's winner was "Scientists aren't born. They are developed." I didn't vote for that one because, though appreciate the implication that you can accomplish a lot with hard work and savvy--and you can--I'm not sure I completely agree.

My winner: Still looking: A career. My terms.

That one was posted by Michael C. I liked it because it expresses what I think is a very important attitude: You have to imprint yourself on your science, and your own desires on your scientific career. If you try to plug yourself in like some kind of generic part driving the machine of science, you may end up with a perfectly satisfying career and a happy life. Yet there's a lot to be said for uncompromising ambition. You need it if you want to be a star. My terms. You also need it to go your own way, against the grain, on a course that doesn't involve Nobel prizes and fancy research chairs.

Some other favorites:

From VSR: Job needs experience gained from jobs.

From JCB: Science: Stress. Overwork. Underpayment. Meaningful. Crucial.

From Russell: Shot for moon. Missed. Cold, dark. (Pairs up nicely with the winner from Michael C, doesn't it? My terms.)

From R.X.H.: Students, postdocs work; professors given credit.

I encourage you to check out the complete list.

September 3, 2009

Doing More with Less

One of the few apparent bright spots in recent economic reports is in the area of worker productivity. According to the U.S. labor department, productivity increased by 6.6%, year over year, during the last quarter, which ended in June, the largest increase in worker productivity since 2003. That reflects an upward revision over original estimates.

So what's behind the increase? No surprise: The increase is the result of pinched wages, layoffs, and the remaining workers getting the work done.

There's a (reasonable) assumption that higher worker productivity should lead to higher wages, sharing in the gains they made possible. But as often as not over the last couple of decades, it hasn't worked out that way. And anyway, it assumes that there are gains: this time around, in the midst of the deepest recession in decades, some are saying that increased worker productivity seems merely to have helped employers stay afloat. Translation: Just be glad you still have a job.

That does not, however, seem to be the whole story. Quoted in the San Jose Mercury News, Bill Schultz, chief investment officer at McQueen, Ball & Associates in Bethlehem, Pa., says that "profits have recovered nicely." The problem is that they've recovered mainly due to cost cutting--layoffs--and not revenue growth. "It's more the way that they have recovered that gives people pause," Schultz says. "The key is to somehow blend this cost-cutting with revenue growth." If companies can pull that off, maybe we'll get raises next year, and maybe our economic futures will start to look brighter.

The following announcement comes from Daniel Poux and the AAAS Science and Policy Fellowships program:

For 36 years, the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships have provided scientists and engineers with a unique opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills to national and international issues in the federal policy realm, while learning first-hand how to craft policy in Congress and implement policy in more than 15 federal agencies.


AAAS seeks candidates from a broad array of disciplines, ethnicities and disability status. Fellows represent a spectrum of career stages, from recent PhD graduates, to faculty on sabbatical, to retired scientists and engineers. Fellows also come from a range of sectors, including academia, industry, non-profit organizations and government labs.


Click here to RSVP for a webinar on 2 October, 2009 at 12:00 pm EDT you can learn more about the fellowships application, selection, placement processes and ask questions of former Fellows about how the experience affected their careers. If the above link is not active, please paste the following into your browser:



Eligibility & Criteria:


To be considered for a fellowship via AAAS, successful applicants must hold a doctoral level degree (PhD, ScD, MD, DVM, etc.), in any of the following:


* Social sciences

* Health sciences

* Biological sciences

* Physical sciences

* Earth sciences

* Computational sciences

* Mathematics


Applicants with a MS in Engineering and three years of post-degree professional experience also qualify.


All degree requirements must be completed by the 15 December, 2009 application deadline.


Additionally, successful applicants must:

* Show a commitment to serve society

* Exhibit good communication skills and the ability to engage with non-scientific audiences

* Demonstrate problem-solving ability, flexibility and leadership qualities

* Hold U.S. citizenship


Federal employees are not eligible.


This is a year-long opportunity, beginning 1 September, 2010 and ending 31 August, 2011. Fellows in most executive branch agencies have the opportunity to renew their fellowship for up to 12 additional months.



Stipend: Approximately $73,000 to $95,000 (depending on years of experience and previous salary).


Relocation Allowance: Up to $4,000 for first-year Fellows with stipends via AAAS if move is greater than 50 miles outside Washington, D.C.


Health Insurance: Monthly reimbursements for Fellows who receive stipends via AAAS. Insurance coverage via agency for those hired directly as temporary federal employees.


Travel/Training: Minimum of $4,000 for Fellows receiving a stipend via AAAS, to be used for fellowship assignment-related travel, conferences, and/or training.


Professional Development: A year-long program including orientation, monthly seminars, skill-building workshops, career sessions, and networking events.


Apply: The deadline is 15 December, 2009


AAAS accepts online applications only. Full details at


AAAS partners with approximately 30 scientific and engineering societies that also sponsor fellowships. They conduct separate application and selection processes and may provide different stipend and benefits support. Individuals interested in the Science & Technology Policy Fellowships are encouraged to apply with all scientific and engineering societies for which they qualify. Please see our website at for details.


Click here to RSVP for a webinar 2 October, 2009 at 12:00 pm EDT you can learn more about the fellowships application, selection, placement processes and ask questions of former Fellows about how the experience affected their careers. If the above link is not active, please paste the following into your browser:

August 31, 2009

We Miss You Bell Labs

Last week, on the Science Careers forum, the discussion turned briefly to jobs for physicists in industry. As a physicist who once sought employment in industry, I took an interest. The conclusion: These days, too little basic research is done in industry. There are too few physics jobs in industry.

Also last week, Business Week published a piece by Adrian Slywotzky on a related topic. "Where Have You Gone, Bell Labs?," the headline cried, wondering whatever happened to those industrial labs, the breakthroughs they facilitated, and the millions of new jobs those breakthroughs led to. This is one of those rare articles that says what needs saying so completely, there's not a lot left to say. America needs jobs--badly--and her chief engine of job creation--investment in basic research--is in decline.

I think Business Week may have a smart new editor somewhere in the organization, since this is the second article in a few days (here's my blog entry about the first) that questions the conventional wisdom that global structural changes are behind the decline in America's leadership in technological innovation and its economic consequences. While very different in their specific topics--the first focuses on call centers, the second on basic research labs--the two articles share a premise that declining competitiveness can be traced not to changing global fundamentals but to choices America--specifically American companies--have made in recent decades. We can't compete in service industries because we have failed to invest in  people. We can't compete in technology jobs because we have failed to invest in the development of knowledge and tools.

Is the argument correct? I suspect that 10 economists would have at least 7 different opinions. But to me it just seems right, like a return to fundamentals that deep down we always knew still applied. Doing what has always worked--investing in knowledge, new tools, and people--just seems like a promising strategy; though globalization no doubt complicates things, maybe a return to fundamentals will work just like it used to.

Here's a sort of corollary: Between World War II and the new millennium, the financial industry grew from a 3% share of American economic activity to more than 8% (source: Thomas Philippon, NBER Working Paper No. 13405). In other words, 5% more money was tied up in making money by manipulating money than 60 years before. That extra 5% of GDP--in case you were wondering, that's about $700 billion every year--was in financial instruments instead of other kinds of economic activity, such as the creation of actual new products and useful stuff and the research and development that goes into it.

So maybe, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the financial sector will shrink back to a more reasonable size and physicists will once again be able to find jobs doing physics, figuring out how to make money for companies by making things instead of figuring out how to make money for companies by making money. There's nothing wrong with being a quant (a/k/a, quantitative financial analyst)--you certainly can make the case that physics has done more harm than quantitative finance, though I like to think it has also done more good. But my main concern, as always, is with careers. Maybe we can have a new era of Bell Labs and Xerox PARC and other great corporate laboratories. It would be really great, in my opinion, if more physicists could make a living doing physics.
A survey report released in June by Yaffe and Company, Inc., reveals that fully 2/3 of private colleges and universities have plans to freeze or reduce compensation: 67% of institutions intend to freeze salaries and 9% intend to reduce them, the survey found, while 24% intend to increase salary. 80% of the institutions that say they intend to freeze salaries intend to do so across the whole institution, while 15% will freeze only the salaries of top executives.

A few more details can be found at the Chronicle of Higher Education (you'll need a subscription or site license for access), and a sample of the survey can be downloaded in pdf form from Yaffe's Web site.

These last few days have put me in a pensive and sentimental mood. I'm a child of the 1960's, 5 years old when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon. Those were times when people were excited about science and jobs were--apparently--abundant. Stephen Shafroth, a senior colleague during my physics years (we also co-edited an esoteric book together), told me once (if memory serves) that he had 7 offers after his Ph.D., with no postdoc. That would have been, I think, in the early 1970s, not long after Apollo 11. Stephen was a good physicist, but he was not Einstein. Those were good times to be a physicist.

Today, multiple offers are relatively rare, and only a minority of scientists who pursue academic careers ever attain them. Our recent worldwide economic woes, and the resulting state-university budget cuts and private-university endowment losses, have made things quite a bit worse.  The sputtering drug pipeline means poor prospects in the pharmaceuticals industry, and the generally weak economy means generally weak private-sector employment.

Which is why it gives me such great pleasure this week to illustrate, on Science Careers, not one but two career paths where prospects are good and multiple offers are not rare.

The first area--as illustrated by Chelsea Wald--is research on mathematics education, which offers excellent opportunities in--and, surprisingly, beyond--academia.

The second area doesn't really have a name, but you might call it network science. As Siri Carpenter shows us, this new field--or set of fields--offers excellent job prospects across many disciplines.  How often do you find a discipline that's equally loved by physicists, ecologists, sociologists, and whatever you call people who study e-mail and cell phones?  Even the Department of Homeland Security, and all the branches of the military, are interested in network science.

It's a tough economy, and people in traditional fields are feeling the pain. So it's nice to be able to show off at some areas of science that offer real professional promise. We'll see what other bright spots we can turn up in the coming months.
Susan J. Ainsworth, a Dallas-based correspondent for C&E News,  has written a nice article about corporate flexible-work policies.

I have never spent extended time working in a remote location (unless you count my home in Portland, Maine), but it has always been a fantasy of mine. I think a summer in McMurdo would suit me just fine, as long as I had some music.

Which is pretty much a non sequitur, but I'll leave it in. This video featuring scientist-dancers from the Toolik Field Station on the North Slope of Alaska performing Michael Jackson's Thriller brought a huge smile to my face. Note the nearly ubiquitous bug nets (which I suspect were functional and not merely decorative) and the pervasive lab gloves worn on one hand. Turn up the volume and run it full-screen.

Hat tip: C&E News.

In the post below, I wrote "Maybe there's an answer--if someone can convince me that this is as it should be, I'll happily admit to it"--and now I shall do so, in light of the comment to this blog entry, below.

Caroline Moore was in fact properly acknowledged, in the following reference:

Puckett, T., Moore, C., Newton, J., & Orff, T. 2008, Central Bureau Electronic Telegrams, 1567, 1 .

...and that there is no reason that she should have been listed as a coauthor on the paper, since her contribution was documented following the standard procedure in the field.

Furthermore, I acknowledge that her observation was not made using a backyard telescope--although this sort of thing does still happen sometimes.

Here, by the way, is the complete author list of the forthcoming publication, available already at

Ryan J. Foley, Ryan Chornock, Alexei V. Filippenko, Mohan Ganeshalingam, Robert P. Kirshner, Weidong Li, S. Bradley Cenko, Pete Challis, Andrew S. Friedman, Maryam Modjaz, Jeffrey M. Silverman, and W. Michael Wood-Vasey.

I offer my sincere apologies to these authors.

Here's the original post:

Along, perhaps, with meteorology and taxonomy, astronomy remains one of the few fields of science where amateurs can have a big impact. All you need is a decent telescope, a dark, clear night, and some knowledge.

Here's a nifty story with an unfortunate (in my view) twist: A 14-year-old girl from upstate New York has detected one of the most interesting supernovas ever seen. The young astronomer is Caroline Moore, and the supernova is especially interesting because it's so weak.  Her finding led to a paper by Ryan Foley, Ryan Chornock, Mohan Ganeshalingam, Weidong Li, Bradley Cenko, Maryam Modjaz, and Jeffrey Silverman of UC Berkeley, along with Peter Challis and Andrew Friedman of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and Michael Wood-Vasey of the University of Pittsburgh. The paper has been accepted for publication in the Astronomical Journal, and is available online at

But can someone please explain to me why Moore is not listed as a coauthor on the paper--or even in the acknowledgments? Or why her name is mentioned nowhere on the preprint? I know all the arguments about making an "intellectual contribution" and all that. But if she hadn't been in her back yard with a telescope for the sheer love of it and curiosity, the careers of those nine professional scientists would never have benefited from this discovery.

When the curiosity-driven back-yard research of a 14-year-old girl yields a major scientific discovery, and her contribution is not even acknowledged in the paper that results, the professionalization of science has gone much too far. Maybe there's an answer--if someone can convince me that this is as it should be, I'll happily admit to it.

Hat Tip: Slashdot.
An interesting, if not novel, post on Michael White's Adaptive Complexity blog:

The bottom line is this: a career in academic science, especially biology, demands a lot of you in terms of training, skill, time, and dedication, and the rewards are uncertain and in any case a long way off. Obviously doing science is great, which is why a lot of people still go into the career, yet perhaps we're luring in fresh undergraduate recruits with a little bit of false advertising: you go in thinking what could be better than having the same kind of job Einstein had, and then, 12 years later, it dawns on you that it's actually kind of hard to stake your claim to a corner of the scientific landscape that shows potential for paradigm-shifting discoveries. You can go through years of training, letting the opportunity costs add up, and wind up working on research problems that are interesting, but not enough to keep away the doubts about your career choice and the opportunities you gave up to pursue science.
Although there is nothing particularly new here, it's a point that cannot be made too strongly or too often. Even as policy makers continue to try to attract more smart people into science, they fail to address the main obstacle to recruiting and keeping people in the field: The uncertainty in career prospects.

It's not that science isn't a good career path. Most people who enter science end up, eventually, with satisfying careers. Unemployment rates for people with scientific training are quite low.

The problem is that the jobs people end up in, more often than not, are not the jobs they start out seeking, and the jobs they end up in are not very visible even to people well along in their training. The future looks cloudy even for graduate students--even for postdocs who are, in principle at least, just one step away from that tenure-track professorship most of them have been seeking (but most will not get).

And of course, the more new people enter the field--without a proportionate increase in career opportunities--the worse this problem gets.

If I go to medical school, I know I'll emerge (after residency and perhaps some specialist training) with a good job. If I earn an MBA--just 2 years of graduate work!--I can count on employment in a good-paying, mid-level executive position. But if I graduate with a Ph.D. in most fields of science, the path to my future job is far from clear.

Women are at least as successful as men when they compete for tenured and tenure-track science faculty positions at academic research institutions and when they stand for tenure and promotion--and usually more successful.

Yet in almost every scientific field, women consistently applied for academic jobs, and stood for tenure, less often than men. As a result, they continue to be hired and promoted less often than their male colleagues.

That's the conclusion of Gender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Faculty, the latest report from the U.S. National Research Council's Committee on Gender Differences in Careers of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Faculty, which was released moments ago.

The new report is strikingly different in its approach and conclusions from the previous National Academies report on gender disparities in the sciences, Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering, which was released in 2006 by the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP).

According to the new, data-driven report, academic institutions have done very well in hiring and tenuring the women who apply. For example, in biology, 26% of applicants to tenure-track faculty positions at R1 universities were women, but a larger percentage--28%--of interviews went to women, and 34% of offers went to women. In electrical engineering, 11% of applicants were women, whereas 19% of interviewees were women, and 32% of job offers went to women. This trend--towards better-than-average success by women--holds across all six disciplines studied.

Unfortunately, another trend was just as consistent: the percentage of women who applied for tenure track jobs was consistently well below women's representation in the Ph.D. pool. For example, while 45% of recent (1999-2003) Ph.D. graduates in biology were women, just 26% of R1 job applicants in biology were women. The descrepency is smallest in fields where women are the least well represented; in physics, women are 14% of the doctoral pool and 12% of the applicant pool; in electrical engineering, 12% of the Ph.D. pool were women, while 11% of the applicant pool were women.  Yet the general trend of under-representation in the applicant pool persists across all six of the disciplines studied.

At the tenure decision the pattern was repeated. Again, women were consistently more successful than their male colleagues. But the percentage of women going up for tenure was smaller than women's representation on the R1 tenure track. And again, this under-representation was most dramatic in the fields--biology and chemistry--where women are best represented. In biology, 36% of R1 assistant professors are women, but only 27% stood for tenure. In chemistry, the numbers were 22% and 15%, respectively.

Other interesting findings:

* Strategies intended to increase the number of women applying for jobs were generally unsuccessful. Yet, representation of women on the hiring committee--and having a woman at the head of the committee--was correlated with greater representation of women in the applicant pool. 

* Both men and women took advantage of "clock-stopping" policies at their universities, extending the amount of time before the tenure review, but women took advantage more than men. 19.7% of women stopped the clock, while 7.4% of men did. Stopping the clock did not seem to affect the probability of eventual promotion and tenure.

The study points out the need for a "deeper understanding" of career paths in the sciences. Specifically, the authors argue for more and better longitudinal data (their study is a "snapshot"), and more attention to the question of why women apply less often than men.

Chronicle Careers has a nice piece by Anne Gallagher and Kathy Trower in which they take on the issue of balance and flexibility in academic careers. This is the fourth installment in a multi-part series. The other parts, too, are worth a read. Those earlier articles are:

A Call for Clarity
Why Collegiality Matters
The Demand for Diversity.

Trower, by the way, wrote the excellent "Women Without Tenure" series on Science Careers:

Part I
Part II: The Gender Sieve
Part III: Why They Leave
Part IV: Why It Matters; What to Do.
Saturday's Globe and Mail, from Montreal, included an article that while it was putatively about the poor state of science's reputation in Canada, might as well have been focused on the United States and the rest of the West.

Is Canada Losing the Lab Rat Race?, by Erin Anderssen and Anne McIlroy, describes the attitudes towards scientific careers of students in the International Baccalaureate Program, an elite, science-focused program for high school students. "These are students who spend half of their time in labs," the authors write, "working through experiments, not dozing off during lectures - the kind of education most scientists wish they had had. If any group should be producing lab-coat keeners, it should be this one." The students their love science, but few of them plan to pursue a scientific career:

Julia Dutaud, 16, sitting in the back in her school-rugby T-shirt, would like to study environmental science - a field growing as rapidly as any - but she wonders if she could make a good living at it: "Going into science would be a nice thing to do," she says. "But we aren't sure how much opportunity we would get after university."

A study released this week found that in Canada and many other Western countries, few of the best high-school science students are interested in trading their A's for electron microscopes and brain scanners. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reported that on average 60 per cent of the highest-achieving, 15-year-old science students were uninterested in careers in advanced research.
Our educational systems often gets the blame for the lack of interest in scientific careers among young people, but this shows that that's not the only, and probably not the main, problem. Clearly, science is not an attractive career option. It's pretty obvious what the problem is--too few good jobs for far too many bright young people. It's far less obvious what the answer is. The more science we do, of course, the more scientists we'll need. And the more scientists we need, the more opportunities there will be for scientists. But right now, young, smart Americans--on both sides of the border--know that there are more dependable career options: clinical medicine, say, or law, or business.

A "Career Tools" article in the 27 April C&E News delivers practical guidance on delivering an effective oral presentation. It's a nice piece emphasizing preparation, and a worthwhile read.

My favorite part: Nobel Laureate Peter Agre of Johns Hopkins University admitting that, "Oftentimes, I get lost in the first 10 minutes." And you thought you were the only one. The implication of course is that it's their fault, not yours.

By the way, Science Careers has taken on this topic several times over the years. Here are a few articles from our archives on this theme, or related themes:

The All-Important Research Talk

Mastering Your PhD: Giving a Great Presentation

Transferrably Yours: Powerful Presentations

Academic Scientists at Work: The Job Talk

Tooling Up: Job-Talk Jitters

Update: One research administrator has reported, on a listserv, that the number of Challenge Grant proposals received by NIH could be as high as 30,000.
On Wednesday, this blog reported that, despite the high volume of NIH Challenge Grants, things seem to have gone reasonably well for the research administrators charged with submitting those grants electronically--in defiance of predictions that, the governments electronic grant-submission system, would crash and burn.

In investigating that piece, I asked NIH how many applications NIH had received for the Challenge Grant program. Demonstrating their superior investigative reporting skills, our colleagues in Science's news department have tracked down an approximate answer in just 2 days, not the 2 weeks NIH told me to check back in. The answer: NIH received more than 10,000 applications for just 200 available grants.

It's possible that the individual institutions will throw in some additional funds so that more than 200 grants can be funded. But if NIH funds just 200 grants as it had planned, the funding rate for the competition will be less than 2%.

We wish all applicants good luck. You're going to need it.

May 1, 2009

The Nature of Genius

I've been traveling a lot lately, attending an alphabet soup of scientific meetings in Washington, D.C., (ACRT, AFMR, CRF) and Chicago (AAP, ASCI, APSA). And in those travels I repeatedly encountered an idea I had not seen before: the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert or genius at something. That idea seems to have entered the zeitgeist, popularized perhaps by Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, "Outliers."

It's an appealing idea in that it places nurture before nature, giving most of us a shot at becoming very good at something, even if we're not naturally gifted. The idea that talent is in-born--some god-like quality certain rare people possess--at once seems to limit the possibilities of those of us who are not so blessed and to forgive us for our laziness or lack of drive. The new theory: Just practice some 10,000 hours, in the right way, over some period of time and you're good to go, as long as you've got the basic ability. And a lot of people do. 

David Brooks writes about these new theories in an op-ed piece in this morning's New York Times. In "Genius: The Modern View," Brooks writes:

In the view that is now dominant, even Mozart's early abilities were not the product of some innate spiritual gift. His early compositions were nothing special. They were pastiches of other people's work. Mozart was a good musician at an early age, but he would not stand out among today's top child-performers.

What Mozart had, we now believe, was the same thing Tiger Woods had--the ability to focus for long periods of time and a father intent on improving his skills. Mozart played a lot of piano at a very young age, so he got his 10,000 hours of practice in early and then he built from there."
According to the modern theory, the key to success, Brooks writes, is "deliberate practice"--with the emphasis on "deliberate." Brooks points readers towards "two enjoyable new books: 'The Talent Code' by Daniel Coyle; and 'Talent is Overrated' by Geoff Colvin."

To me, one of the most interesting things about the theories--at least as Brooks describes them--is the implication for mentorship. Read this:

If you wanted to picture how a typical genius might develop, you'd take a girl who possessed a slightly above average verbal ability. It wouldn't have to be a big talent, just enough so that she might gain some sense of distinction. Then you would want her to meet, say, a novelist, who coincidentally shared some similar biographical traits. Maybe the writer was from the same town, had the same ethnic background, or shared the same birthday--anything to create a sense of affinity.
The idea is that the shared traits would help the girl to visualize what she could become. Later, Brooks mentions another role a mentor can play: providing detailed feedback and correction. It need not be the same mentor.

The next key ingredient is drive; the girl spends years reading voraciously, for example. Then, let's say she starts to write. The process is "slow, painstaking, and error-focused." The idea is to focus meticulously on technique.

The idea, Brooks says, is to "delay the automatizing process. The mind wants to turn deliberate, newly learned skills into unconscious, automatically performed skills. But the mind is sloppy and will settle for good enough." You need to resist your mind's sloppiness so that you can internalize "a better pattern of performance."

I remember observing, during my own graduate training, that the the keys to success include drive and endurance. I was partly right, but I missed two other keys: I never found a mentor I could related to--there was never a model of a life I wanted to live in science--and I didn't practice well. Instead of focusing on the fundamentals, meticulously, I rushed things. I raced to start doing real, high-level work. I did OK with that--I published quickly and often--but I lacked the capability to do really penetrating work. Even today, in my work as an editor, I have that tendency, but I've learned to resist it and to focus on fundamentals. Maybe some day I will have put in my 10,000 hours and be a masterful editor.

This may be nothing but the latest pop theory--Gladwell, certainly, is a great popularizer--but I'm reassured by the fact that its message runs counter to most popular self-help recipes. It emphasizes years of dedication and hard work instead of some easily attainable psychological adjustment. Work hard and long, find a model to emulate--or several. And practice well. I think that's good advice, pop theory or not.  

Prior to the 27 April deadline for the NIH Challenge Grants--the main grant program resulting from the economic stimulus act--program officers and research administrators were predicting a huge volume of proposals, perhaps enough to destabilize, the federal government's already creaky electronic grant-submission system.

The proposal volume does seem to have been impressive. A research administrator at a major cancer-research center reported that her facility had submitted  64 proposals a full week before the deadline, with more to follow. Arizona State University reportedly filed more than 150 before the deadline.

As the 27 April deadline approached, some research administrators--who have already been encountering errors with the electronic submission system--predicted that would crash and burn under the huge load.  Some administrators suggested, half in jest, that some of the stimulus funds should be used to upgrade, or replace,

But today, 2 days past the deadline, disaster seems to have been averted. did, reportedly, go down at least once, but there wasn't much damage and the site was back up quickly.

Most administrators agree that things went more smoothly than they had feared. "I was pleasantly surprised by the relative ease with which I could submit my Challenge proposals," writes one research administrator. Another writes, "We submitted several over the course of the day, with the last one submitted at what should have been the worst time: 4:50 PM EST. In every case the submissions went through quickly and smoothly, with rapid email confirmation of receipt," writes another.

Not everyone was so lucky.  Some problems were reported as the deadline approached. "We had only one that was really at the wire and I sat and submitted over and over from 3:30 until 5 with no success," writes a third research admin. "I tried the tricks...--nothing worked." There were also complaints about unclear or contradictory instructions. There was also some confusion over which budget form to use, NIH says, and there were some false errors over DUNS numbers.

Despite the absence of major problems, some administrators and PI's remain nervous. That's because they haven't yet received the e-mail "validation" NIH sends out confirming successful submission. NIH anticipated this; the normal "window" for sending out these notices is 48 hours, but last Friday NIH announced it was extending that window to 5 days in anticipation of the large proposal volume. But not everyone got the word.  And until those emails are received, there's no guarantee that the proposals have made it through the final hoop, and PI's and research administrators may not sleep soundly.

Update, 30 April. Yesterday I asked NIH for information on the total volume of applications received in response to the Challenge Grant solicitation. This morning I got a response: It's too soon to tell, so call back in a week or two.

Essential Reading: What You Need to Know about Electronic R01 Submissions.

Over the years, many European countries have put in place funding programs that allow early career scientists to do Ph.D.s jointly in academia and industry in an effort to bridge the two worlds. A survey carried out in France suggests that these programs have been effective in helping Ph.D. scientists enter industry. But the survey shows that doing a Ph.D. in partnership with a company may also make it more difficult to find a job in academia.

The survey, which was released by the French National Association for Research and Technology (ANRT), looked at the CIFRE (Convention Industrielle de Formation par la Recherche) program (also run by the ANRT). Since its launch in 1981, the CIFRE program has allowed more than 12,700 students to complete Ph.D.s under the joint supervision of an academic and an industrial supervisor in France, with a completion rate of 87%. 

The survey drew a response rate of 22% and the vast majority (86%) of the responding CIFRE graduates said they had fulfilled their career ambitions.

Ninety-six per cent of the responding CIFRE graduates reported obtaining a job within a year of their graduation. Almost half of them (42%) were recruited by their host company, while 16% continued working in their academic Ph.D. labs. Altogether, about one fifth of them (22%) continued with a postdoc, most often in France.  

At the time of the survey, the majority of the responding graduates worked in a large company (38%) or in a public higher education and research institution (27%). Almost a quarter of them (23%) worked in a small or medium-size company and another 5% were employed in a non-research public institution.

Three quarters of those who obtained their Ph.D.s in the 1980's reported having some managerial responsibilities, and between 20 and 30% of the respondents with most experience reported salaries higher than 60k€. 

Altogether, 40% of the responding graduates had either taken a new position or left for a new employer at least once in their career. In the majority of the cases, this career change occurred in the year following graduation.

"It seems that the doctorate, supported by the CIFRE program, has served the respondents' careers well, significantly at the beginning of their professional careers, with the rapid and relatively durable stabilization of their employment and sector of activity," the ANRT report concludes.

Seventy per cent of the responding graduates felt that doing a Ph.D. under the CIFRE program indeed helped them overcome the misconceptions that industrial employers traditionally have in France. Yet the study also shows that those who chose to come back to academia had a harder time: 40% of the respondents felt their CIFRE Ph.D. closed university doors. Thirty per cent of those who eventually found a job in academia felt it had been a handicap, a feeling that was shared by almost half of the respondents working in industry at the time of the survey.

The data indicate wariness among academic science toward research projects done in partnership with companies, the report says. Consequently some CIFRE graduates may also have been thwarted in their hopes to one day join academia, the report adds. Ultimatelty, if your career goal is to eventually work in academia, a CIFRE Ph.D. may not be the best preparation.  

You can download the full report from the ANRT Web site (in French)

A study by an Australian management professor suggests that those who surf the Web for fun during working hours--a practice dubbed WILBing (for "Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing")--are on average 9% more productive than those who don't.

Why? The study's author, Brent Coker, of the University of Melbourne, speculates that "Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a day's work, and as a result, increased productivity." He warns, however, that Web browsing can become an obsession and a great waster of time; his conclusion--that 9% productivity bump--was for workers who spend 20% of less of their time WILBing.

Those who are interested in the idea that leisure improves productivity should also investigate Slack, a book by management consultant Tom DeMarco. "Organizations sometimes become obsessed with efficiency and make themselves so busy that responsiveness and net effectiveness suffer," DeMarco writes. "Tom DeMarco goes after one of the most pervasive and pernicious myths of business -- that humans are efficient the same way machines are. This book will change the way you manage and understand your business," adds ClueTrain Manifesto author David Weinberger.

Hat Tip: Slashdot

February 14, 2009

Hidden Opportunities

If you've never attended a AAAS meeting, you should. It tends to be a bit less technically hard-core than most scientific meetings, but much of it is also higher-impact. You get to witness the presentation of science that makes big news; no doubt, you're reading about much of it now (perhaps the Neanderthal genome).  Also, there are lots of good career-related events, opportunities to meet and greet journalists and scientists, and other stuff that's just plain fun. One problem: It can keep you too busy to get any blogging done.

Yesterday Science Careers hosted two career events. Both were well attended and, in my estimation at least, very successful. In this post I'll describe the first, "Finding Hidden Value in the Job Market," which Brooke Allen, the presenter, spontaneously renamed "Finding a Job in a Bad Economy."

It was a provocative presentation--not your typical how-to-write-a-resume type of career event--though I found myself wishing it was longer. (That's my fault, since I'm the one who chose to apply for the 60-minute format instead of a 90-minute slot.)

Brooke's major theme: A bad economy is a great time to look for a job. He took the irony further: A company with a hiring freeze, he suggested, is a great target for employment.

On its face, it seems an absurd suggestion: How can you get a job at a company that isn't hiring? But his argument is compelling. First, in companies that cannot hire--and often are laying people off--the work piles up. As Brooke said, "There has never in the history of the world been a shortage of work." The only question is whether you can get paid for that work.

Furthermore, Brooke suggested, companies that are cutting back their professional workforce often offer buy-out (or "early retirement") packages to current employees. The best employees tend to accept because they know that they can get another job (along with the lump-sum payment that comes with a buy-out offer. So the best employees go away, leaving those who are least secure about their prospects of replacing their current jobs. The less accomplished employees, in other words. The result is a smaller, less competent workforce. But usually the quantity of work does not decline. So there's plenty of work to be done, much of it good, satisfying work.

The trick, Brooke suggested, is to be resourceful. Find a way to make contact, to insert yourself into the company. Brooke told the story of a time, during times like these, that he wanted to work for the (now-defunct) Pam-Am Airlines doing operations-research work. They were in the midst of a hiring freeze. Still, he managed to get in touch with the person at the company who supervised his kind of work. He invited that person out to lunch.

At this lunch, Brooke offered to buy lunch for the whole Pan Am group--about 12 people. At that event, he sat and listened to the complaints and all the problems (including technical problems) the Pan Am folks needed to solve.  He offered to give a seminar, and the offer was accepted.

Brooke's thinking was that it's always possible to get an exception to a hiring freeze--"Where there's a will, there's a way," he said. But in this case, getting an exception took 4 months, and during that time Brooke heard nothing from Pan Am. By the time they called to offer him a job, he had already taken a different job. Accustomed to less resourceful applicants, the folks at Pan Am were upset when their employment offer--which, after all, they'd gone to a lot of trouble to make, getting special permission from the board of directors--was rejected.

Brooke described himself as a "promiscuous networker" and suggested that the members of the audience emulate him in this. To get them started, Brooke presented a networking game in which the players listed their "Haves" and their "Wants" on cards, which they exchanged with as many people as possible. When the 'haves' of one were compatible with the 'wants' of another, contact information was exchanged. The objective: To reach as many people as possible in the alloted time.

The game was interesting, but this was fascinating: the game continued spontaneously after the session. For another half hour, I was offered networking cards outside the meeting room.

Here's what I take as the overarching theme of Brooke's workshop: Interact with others "promiscuously." Be willing to ask for help and to help others. Help connect people who might benefit from knowing each other. The presentation was filled with stories about unlikely contacts leading to unlikely opportunities.  Brooke is a great storyteller and his life is evidence of his thesis. If everyone networked as conspicuously and effectively as Brooke, one suspects, the market for professional labor would work much more effectively and the unemployment rate would be significantly lower.

A central fact about labor markets--translated into real-world terms that means jobs for job-seekers and suitable employees for companies with positions to fill--is that they're hideously inefficient. That means it's hard to match up buyers and sellers.

In stark contrast to a commodity market, the parts of a labor market are not interchangeable. And the higher up the employment hierarchy you go, the more specialized you get, and the less interchangeable the parts become. You, as an expert in (fill in your biological science specialty here) are not, in most ways, interchangeable with that person you used to say hello to on the quad when you were in graduate school, who eventually emerged from his dark laboratory in the building across the way with a Ph.D. in physics. Your training is specialized. To get hired, you need to find a job that matches your credentials.

January 29, 2009

A Small World

A recent post at the new Science Origins blog resonates strongly with Science Careers. The post is by Janet Iwasa, who became a scientific illustrator with support from NSF's regrettably discontinued, much lamented Discovery Corps program, which also trained Geoffrey Bothun, who Science Careers profiled in 2004. The post also mentions Graham Johnson, a scientific illustrator I profiled the following year.

Apart from the Science Careers connections, it's a good read, describing how one scientist made a successful career transition, from studying small, hypothetical structures in early forms of life to animating them.

January 22, 2009

Honor Your Mentor

An email from MentorNet informed me this morning that today is Thank Your Mentor Day and that January is National Mentoring Month. MentorNet suggests that you take this opportunity to thank your mentor--perhaps by contributing $10, which will allow you to express your gratitude by posting your mentor's name on their Mentor Honor Wall. The money goes to support MentorNet, a worthy organization.

Of course there are many other ways to express your appreciation for your mentor's contributions. Do what you think is best. But it's always a good idea to express your gratitude to people who have helped you.

January 19, 2009

Life After Big Pharma

OK, my last C&E News related update for a while. Their 8 December issue includes their employment outlook--which, tellingly, focuses on alternatives to traditional employment--specifically, on contract-research jobs. (We covered contract research a year earlier, but with a focus on pharma and biotech.)

In slightly related news, this issue of C&E News describes AAAS's On-Call Scientists program, which provides scientists with science-related volunteer opportunities. Such volunteer work can lead to new expertise and new career opportunities.
Continuing my attempt to catch up on Chemical and Engineering News...

In the 15 December issue, lots of bad news. Leading off is news about massive layoffs at Dow, DuPont, and other companies.

Just two pages later comes Hard Times for Academe, which describes the effects of severe budget cuts on chemistry departments resulting from state revenue shortfalls and endowment losses.

Want more bad news? The suffering isn't limited to the United States. Germany's chemical industry, the largest in Europe, expects "stagnation in 2008 and decline in 2009."

And finally, amidst all this bad employment news comes word that the number of chemistry degrees awarded at every level continues to increase: more people seeking fewer jobs. (ACS membership required for access.)
I'm catching up on my reading of careers coverage in Chemical and Engineering News (C&EN) from the American Chemical Society (ACS).

According to an article in the 22 December issue, the representation of women on U.S. chemistry faculties has edged up--slowly--reaching 16% in the latest survey.

Also of interest in this issue: Lots of bad employment news, with short items ("Business Concentrates") on planned (and since consummated) job cuts at Bristol-Meyers, Pfizer, Jazz Pharmaceuticals, EntreMed, and Panacos. And if you're a chemist you should probably read the Chemical Year in Review, which highlights some of 2008's biggest chemistry advances.

More recent bad news from the same publication: the chemical industry lost 15,000 jobs in 2008, about 1.8% of the chemical-industry workforce. 
At this point I don't know why, or what she'll be talking about, or how long she'll be talking. But I've learned that Science Careers writer Beryl Benderly, who writes our Taken for Granted column, will appear on CNN's Lou Dobbs Journal tonight. The show starts at 7 p.m. eastern time, at least on the east coast. 
I hate to admit it, but The Scientist has been publishing some good career-related stuff over the last couple of years. From their latest issue:

Balancing Life and Science, a series of profiles by Jennifer Evans. One profile is of Ahna Skop, whom Anne Sasso profiled in more detail last January in the virtual pages of Science Careers.

Don't Fight to Be Cited, wherein Steven Wiley suggests publishing not in the most prestigious journals but the ones most likely to be read by your grant reviewers. (I take issue with his suggestion to "forget Science..." but his basic message is sound.)

You may need to register to read these articles, but registration is free.

January 7, 2009

Orwell's Golden Rules

Over at the Survival Blog for Scientists (named for the book by Ad Lagendijk), Ramy El-Dardiry relays, from George Orwell's book Politics and the English Language, some simple but excellent rules for communication.  "It (the English language) becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish," Orwell writes, "but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts." Hence the importance of simple, clear, jargon-free language.

Click on the link to read the rules. Lots of other good stuff at the Survival Blog for Scientists.
Every scientist has heard of "back of the envelope" calculations, and many have had the experience of sketching out ideas for a project or grant proposal on the back of an envelope. The University of Alabama-Birmingham's School of Public Health has taken this idea one step further with its Inaugural Back of the Envelope Awards.

Applicants for these seed grants, which are funded from state coffers, are required to submit  proposals on the backs of standard letter-sized envelopes. The department received 19 applications and made 4 awards.

January 2, 2009

'Early Stage' at NIH

Those of you in the biomedical-research world are no doubt aware of the weirdness surrounding early-career independent investigators. Under Zerhouni, the organization worked very hard to ensure that scientists at the beginning of their careers got their share of research grants. They've been pretty successful.

But their success has come at the expense of some strangeness. Let's review. First there were the "FIRST" awards, a competition that was open only to scientists who hadn't been funded before by NIH. These were relatively small compared to R01s and carried a certain stigma; as a result, NIH found in a study, FIRST awards were ineffective in helping scientists get their first R01s. Rather than increase the size of the awards to make them more effective in this respect, NIH discontinued the program.

Next, NIH created "New Investigator" status for its R01 applicants. If you've never before received a real NIH research grant (an R01 of equivalent), you get special treatment. Standards for "New Investigators" aren't so much lower as different, with less emphasis on preliminary data and more emphasis on potential. Anyway, that is how it's supposed to work.

Then NIH discovered that approximately half of their "New Investigators" were not early in their careers. So they created a new status: "Early Stage Investigator." An early-stage investigator is a new investigator who received their doctoral degree within the last decade. 

Here's the latest twist: Now you can apply for an extension in your early-stage-investigator status if you've had a period of less-than-full-time research for reasons "that can include medical concerns, disability, family care responsibilities, extended periods of clinical training, natural disasters, and active duty military service."