Science Careers Blog

Editor's Blog: January 2010

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.