Science Careers Blog


A survey carried out at the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) suggests that the majority of researchers see interacting with patients' associations in a positive light. The preliminary results were presented today at the French senate as part of a conference gathering INSERM and patients' associations.

Yesterday, the French government announced the adoption of a charter aimed at helping France reach true gender equality in higher education.

The "Charter for Equality" (link goes to PDF) was put together by the Conference of University Presidents (CPU), the Conference of Grandes Ecoles (CGE), and the Conference of the Directors of French Engineering Schools (CDEFI), which together represent 300 universities and other higher education institutions in France. The charter is articulated around the wish to include gender-issues considerations at all levels within institutions; keep track of gender statistics; raise awareness of gender equality issues among staff and students; prevent all forms of gender violence; and use "non-sexist, non-discriminatory, non-stereotyped" language in institutional communication.

Last month, Science Careers profiled three young scientists who contributed to proving the existence of the long-sought Higgs Boson, at the European particle physics laboratory (CERN) near Geneva, Switzerland. Science declared the discovery the Breakthrough of the Year for 2012.

But this isn't the only thing young scientists at CERN have been up to. A small group of physics Ph.D. students and postdocs have been shooting a 75-minute zombie movie set at CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

In their latest sampling of U.K. industry, released today, business lobbying organization CBI and recruitment specialists Harvey Nash have found a cautious but continuing trend toward growing employment, with job prospects looking especially good for highly-trained people and college graduates.

September 10, 2012

New ERC Starting Grants

The European Research Council (ERC) today announced the results of the fifth funding round of its Starting Grants. According to an ERC press release, this year 536 early-career
researchers have been selected to share almost €800 million to establish their independent labs in Europe.

Starting in 2007, the ERC has been offering grants of up to €2 million each for up to 5
years to researchers with between 2 and 12 years of postdoctoral experience. Researchers may be of any nationality, but they must be based or willing to move to Europe.

This year, the ERC received a total of 4741 applications, representing a 16% uptick compared to last year (the numbers of applications tend to vary substantially from year to year, with 42% more in 2011 than in 2010, and 14% more in 2010 than in 2009, for example). But with the ERC's budget for the Starting Grants also rising by more than 19% this year, even with the rise in applicants, the success rate only dropped from 12% in 2011 to 11.3% in 2012.

Two more interesting developments that were announced at the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) in Dublin are the publication of a peer review guide for young researchers and the launch of a global umbrella organization for research staff associations.  

Produced by Sense About Science's Voice of Young Science (VoYS) network, Peer review: The nuts and bolts explains the peer review process, offers tips to new reviewers, and discusses the advantages and limitations of peer review. On the same day of the ESOF session, VoYS released an open letter to Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council of England, advocating recognition of peer review activities within the Research Excellence Framework (REF). The REF is a new system in the United Kingdom that is intended to replace the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) in the evaluation of U.K. higher education institutions.

"Recognising reviewing as part of the REF would ensure that it is prioritised and safeguarded by university departments in the longer term so that these activities will continue to be a significant part of the contribution we make to scholarly publishing throughout our lives. More immediately it will ensure that reviewing is approached professionally and seriously, enabling senior researchers to spend time mentoring early career researchers like ourselves in these activities," the young researchers argued in the open letter.

The second development at ESOF was the announcement on Sunday of the launch of the International Consortium of Research Staff Associations (ICoRSA). ICoRSA "serves to nurture communities of researchers and provides a global voice for research staff and postdoctoral scholars." So far, the consortium has 16 members, 9 of them young researchers associations from around the world. 

As announced last Friday during the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) in Dublin, and reported by our colleagues on Science Now, the U.S. National Science Foundation and the European Commission are putting in place a new initiative to help young scientists across the two sides of the Atlantic enter closer research collaborations.

The idea is to give NSF-funded early career scientists the opportunity to come to Europe to
work in the lab of their European Research Council-funded counterparts. The ERC will invite its young PIs to host NSF-funded researchers and engineers, and on the U.S. side NSF will seek proposals for collaboration from junior faculty supported with a NSF CAREER award and NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellows. 

Further details are to be announced, but the winners of the U.S. call are to be incorporated in the ERC-funded teams for 6 to 12 months, where they will receive ERC support like other members of the team. NSF will cover travel costs for U.S. scientists (and their families), and CAREER grantees will be able to keep their NSF grants running during their visit to Europe. As reported by Science Now, about 100 awards will be offered. 

"Connecting U.S. and European researchers with shared interests and complementary strengths will advance the frontiers of science and engineering and address societal challenges," NSF Director Subra Suresh stated. This is an opportunity for U.S. early career scientists and engineers to gain international experience and exposure for their research, he added.

On 16 April th ;European non-profit researchers' association Euroscience launched a survey exploring the working conditions and career development of young researchers. The aim: to fill in gaps in comparable data across European countries to better identify the career needs of young researchers and help improve their situations. So far, about 1900 Masters' students, Ph.D. candidates, postdocs, and industry employees have taken part.

Yesterday, on the last day of the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) in Dublin, Pauline Mattsson of the Karolinksa Institutet in Stockholm in Sweden, David Feltz of Euroscience in Strasbourg, France, and Niki Vermeulen of the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, presented some preliminary data from the survey.

Here are some of the main results that are emerging:

Maybe I've just not been to the right conferences before, but it has always seemed to me that references to personal life don't fit well in the context of scientific conferences.

But here in Dublin at ESOF 2012 I have seen several speakers use examples drawn from family life to convey a scientific message or concept. I found the strategy effective at driving home a point and helping the audience remember it. It also helped me relate to the speaker on a deeper level and made me want to listen closer.

Last time I talked to Romanian chemist Daniel Funeriu, he was a group leader in chemical biology at the Technical University of Munich in Germany and vice-president of the Romanian presidential commission for science and education. This was 2009 when I was researching an article as part of a Science Careers feature examining how science had fared in Eastern Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall some 20 years ago. 

Romania's government had recently launched an initiative offering scientists with a foreign affiliation up to €1.5 million to spend half of their time at a Romanian host institution for 3 years. Back then, Funeriu called the initiative "a step forward" even though he noted that the application forms were "extremely unfriendly. ... Many people are put off by the bureaucratic requests." 

Funeriu got a chance to change the system from the inside when he became Minister of Education, Research, Youth, and Sports in Romania in December 2009. Today, he is Adviser to the President of Romania on education and science issues, a position he took in February 2012 following a change of government. 

During a session at ESOF 2012 in Dublin, Funeriu talked about his own career path and shared the lessons he learned from his unusual experience both as a researcher and politician.

Today saw the launch of the 5th Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF), a pan-European and biannual conference mixing science, technology, society, and culture that this year is being held in Dublin, Ireland between 11 and 15 July. 

The opening keynote address was given by Jules Hoffmann, a professor of immunology at the University of Strasbourg and research director at the French National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS) in France. Hoffmann, who has dedicated his career to understanding the mechanisms underlying antimicrobial defenses in the fruit fly Drosophila, won a share of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology for his contribution to "discovering the sensors of innate immunity." 

There are three points I would like to convey from Hoffmann's talk, From Insects to Mammals: Reflections on a European Journey Through Basic Research on Immune Defenses:

The European Commission is running a consultation on how to improve immigration rules on the entry and residence of non-EU-national researchers, students, unremunerated trainees, and volunteers in Europe. You may offer your views whatever your citizenship and current situation.

"Questions regarding visa, EU mobility rules, or labour market access are areas in which the EU could possibly initiate further improvements for students, researchers and potentially other groups," the consultation Web site says. "Respondents are invited to point to areas in which in their view there is a particular EU added value that could be created or improved."

The current legal rules regarding the entry of students and researchers from outside the EU for more 3 months, and their mobility between the Member States, were defined in 2004 and 2005, respectively. The Commission now wants to revise these rules, starting with the release in 2011 of two reports--one for students and the other for researchers--evaluating the implementation of the rules and how well they fulfill their potential.
"We would like to know about any obstacles faced by non-EU nationals concerned when trying to access the EU. You are kindly invited to propose ideas about how to remove these obstacles and further develop the EU as a place to study, carry out research, volunteer, and participate in school pupil exchanges or unpaid training," the consultation Web site says.

The consultation is up until 23 August.

How did you get into science?

Are you doing what you first planned to do?

Which scientific question would you like to answer?

You can answer these questions and more (see below), as well as read other scientists' answers, as part of the 'A Scientist a Day' project, a labor of love from two German scientist-communicators. 

In its fifth edition, the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) will be held this year in Dublin, Ireland on 11-15 July. ESOF is a biennial event showcasing European science and innovation.  The forum gathers researchers in all scientific fields, industry people, and government representatives. You can check out the programs for scientific and career development sessions on the ESOF 2012 Dublin Web site.

Travel grants from various organizations are being made available for early-career scientists wishing to come to ESOF2012. To apply for some of these grants, you need to register with ESOF. Currently, Euroscience, the Swiss Embassy in Ireland, and the Swedish Research Council are for example offering the joint Early-Stage Researcher travel grants. (The deadline is 10 May 2012.)

Other organizations are offering travel grants. You can keep track of these through news announcements on the ESOF Web site or through their Twitter feed (@ESOFHub). Research Foundation Flanders (FWO), for example, is  invites early-career researchers in Belgium to apply, and the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation (DASTI) will soon open a call for early-career researchers based in Denmark.

The Spanish Federation of Young Investigators (FJI/Precarios) is looking for volunteers to produce a video contrasting the situation of Spanish scientists abroad and at home. As reported recently on Science Careers, early-career scientists in Spain are concerned that the current economic context and forthcoming funding cuts are likely to derail their careers at home.

Spanish scientists abroad are invited to record their own answers to a series of questions including:
- "How do you think the research, development, and innovation in Spain compares to the country where you work? What do you think is failing here [In Spain]?"
- "Do you believe that you are more valued as an investigator in another country than in your own?"
- "Do you see what is currently occurring as a brain drain, or it is less serious than this?"
- "What real possibilities do you believe you would have to continue developing your research career in Spain?"

Information on how to contribute a video can be found on the FJI/Precarios Web site.

Together with the Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies, the researchers' association Investigación Digna, and the trade union CCOO, FJI/Precarios also recently released a petition against the funding cuts and hiring freeze announced for 2012.

Today, the United Kingdom Home Office announced stricter rules that will make it more difficult for holders of temporary work visas to settle in the U.K. after 6 years of residence -- but they made an exception for scientists.

"Exceptionally talented people, investors and entrepreneurs will continue to have the option to stay, while skilled temporary workers wanting to apply for settlement will have to earn at least £35,000 or the going rate for their job, whichever is higher," the Home Office said in the announcement. However, "Migrants doing jobs where there is a domestic skills shortage, as well as scientists and researchers in PhD level roles, will be exempt from the £35,000 threshold." 
"Research can take many years and leading international researchers need assurance from the outset that our immigration system will allow them to complete their work so long as it continues to benefit the UK's economy and society," commented Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, which represents 20 major universities in the United Kingdom. "We are pleased that today's announcement means those researchers in the early stages of their career can bring their skills here and continue their work safe in the knowledge they can stay as long as their work is of value to the UK." 
The new settlement rules are part of an overhaul of the U.K. visa system which aims to reduce immigration, including changes to student visas that were initiated last year.

As reported today in several German newspapers (see sources below), many German professors should be getting raises next year, thanks to the complaints of a chemist. 

On 12 January the French government backtracked on its decision to limit the employment of non-EU students when they finish advanced training in France. Under the new guidance, non-EU students with a two-year Master's degree or above can remain in the country for 6 months after graduation in order to look for a job, and obtain a professional visa once they have found one. (For comparison, foreign students in Germany are allowed to stay for a full year under similar circumstances.) The new circular comes just a few months after a previous circular dated May 31 2011 made it much more difficult for students to obtain those very rights, which were first granted in 2006. (The May circular included other changes, too.) The visa refusals and delays that ensued have generated widespread protests from students, researchers, and university presidents.  

The 12 January circular goes further in trying to redress things by granting foreign students who find jobs before graduating the right to stay -- the first time they have had that right in France. A spokesperson representing the Conference des Présidents d'Universités, or CPU, the body representing French university presidents, described this as a welcome measure, in an interview with Science Careers -- but said it would only partly alleviate the red tape that reportedly leads many foreign students to camp overnight in front of the administrative office to get their visas renewed. 

However welcome, this policy shift is a small victory. Higher taxes on student and working visas were introduced in the 2012 finance law. 2011 regulations that require students to prove that they have more substantial resources at their disposal are also likely to put off many prospective students. Specifically, non-EU citizens living in France under a 'student' visa now have to demonstrate that they have funding at least equivalent to 100% of the French government student stipend, which varies between €615 (at B.Sc. level) and €767 per month (at Ph.D. level). That's 30% more funding than was required in 2007, and not all Ph.D. stipends are that large. The immigrant-support group GISTI initiated legal action against the Prime Minister, accusing him of creating a situation in which admission is decided on the basis of ability to pay rather than academic excellence. 

Last September, France imposed additional financial requirements as part of the implementation of the European Blue Card, which was introduced by the European Commission in 2009 to allow highly qualified professionals to move more freely around Europe. Should foreign scientists wish to take advantage of the 'European Blue Card' to spend time working in France, they will have to meet a minimum salary requirement of one and a half times the national average gross salary, currently set at about €4,250/month. 

There is one consolation for researchers who enter France through a hosting agreement at an academic institution or a public or private research organization, including students with a doctoral employment contract. Since October 2011, such researchers are given extended-stay scientific visas (called "VLS-TS"), which means that they no longer must ask for the right to stay after they arrive, though they still need to register with the immigration office. The VLS-TS are valid for up to 1 year, after which they can be replaced by a permit to stay ("carte de sejour") valid for up to 4 years. Another change gives researchers' spouses and children easier access to the right to stay in France. 

All in all, the current regulations offer a mixed picture for professional immigration. Even with the improvements described above, barriers remain for foreign scientists who wish to work in France. Perhaps this accounts, partly, for the 26% decline in professional immigration documented in government figures in 2011.

- By freelance science writer Sabine Louët

January 31, 2012

25 Years of Erasmus

Erasmus, the European Commission's flagship program for training and education, will be 25 years old this year. To date, the program has allowed nearly three million students to study or do a work placement in another EU country.

Around 60 European universities, research institutions, funding agencies, and umbrella organizations gathered today in Barcelona (and will continue to meet tomorrow) to discuss how they can improve the working conditions they offer to researchers. 

Early-career scientists need to have a broad view of where their research field is heading so that they can choose a niche where they can make important and innovative contributions, and eventually establish themselves as independent researchers.

In the field of aging research, this challenge has been made a little easier by the release of the FUTURAGE Road Map, which is to constitute the European research agenda for aging over the next decade. Funded by the European Union, the FUTURAGE two-year consultation gathers the opinions of the field's research leaders, medical professionals, policy makers, industry, and older people across Europe to identify seven priority research themes illustrated by specific research questions.

The seven priority themes are:
  • healthy aging for more life in years;
  • maintaining and regaining mental capacity;
  • inclusion and participation in the community and in the labour market;
  • guaranteeing the quality and sustainability of social protection systems;
  • aging well at home and in community environments;
  • unequal aging and age-related inequalities;
  • biogerontology: from mechanisms to interventions.
You can find the full Road Map here

Earlier this year Science Careers ran a monthly series with a Focus on Aging for advice on how to develop a career in one of the many fields pertaining to aging research.

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.

As highlighted by our sister site Science Insider, the European Council of Doctoral Candidates and Junior Researchers (Eurodoc) today released a report outlining the working conditions of doctoral researchers in 12 European countries (Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden).

Among the most striking findings is the discrepancy in funding available to Ph.D. candidates across the various countries. Science Insider writes: 

In the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries, 90% or more of doctoral students receive some form of scholarship or salary for their work. But in several other countries, 20% to 30% don't receive anything, and in Austria that percentage can rise to 46%. "We did not expect the lack of funding to be so extensive," says Karoline Holländer, a former president of Eurodoc and a co-author of the report. "Many doctoral candidates have to find other sources of income to live on."

Another surprising finding concerned doctoral candidates' perceptions of gender bias in academia. According to Science Insider:

Surprisingly, more men than women said they were at a disadvantage in academia because of their gender. In Finland, for instance, 78% of men felt that their sex was "very much" a disadvantage, whereas only 37% of women did. "We have no explanation for this," says Holländer, who adds that the next round of the survey, to be conducted in 3 to 5 years, may ask further questions on the topic.

You can read the whole Science Insider article here.

Some of the report's other interesting findings include:

  • Most early-career researchers in Norway (91%), Croatia and the Netherlands (89%), Sweden (76%), and Slovenia (73%) are given a short-term employment contract while they work toward their Ph.D.s. Other countries had relatively high percentages of doctoral researchers with no employment contracts of any kind: Austria (25%), Spain (24%), Portugal (18.5%), Finland and Germany (17%), and France and Slovenia (12%).
  • Fewer than one in 10 Ph.D. candidates were aware of the European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the recruitment of researchers, which outlines the roles, responsibilities, and rights of researchers and their employers. The exceptions are Spain (23% knew of them), France (14%) and Portugal (12%). 
  • Most respondents in all the countries surveyed reported having access to training courses during their doctorate programs, but a significant proportion of respondents in Portugal (38%), Germany (37%), Slovenia (32%), Croatia (23%), and Austria (21%) reported not receiving any kind of formal training.
  • In all of the countries surveyed, the majority of doctoral researchers found their supervisor supportive or very supportive. 
  • Whether doctoral candidates can put a contract on hold and get paid while on paternity/maternity leave differs widely across countries.
  • Nonetheless, many doctoral researchers feel pressured to postpone taking parental leave; Spain (18.3%), Germany (30%), and France (34.2%) showed the fewest respondents who felt such pressure.
Eurodoc presented the report at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France this afternoon. You can read the full report on the Eurodoc Web site. You can also catch up on the event on Twitter @Eurodoc: #strasbourg11.

September 13, 2011

New ERC Starting Grants Awarded

On Friday, the European Research Council (ERC) announced the winners of its Starting Grants, which offer early-career investigators up to 2 million euros over 5 years to help them establish or build up their research groups at European institutions.

Now in its fourth year, the program awarded more than 670 million euros to 480 early-career researchers. This year's competition was considerably more competitive than last year's; the ERC received 42% more applications than last year (from 2873 to 4080), but funding was up just 15% -- a nice rise, but insufficient to keep up with the increase in the number of applications. The result: a 12% success rate.

It can be hard for researchers in the economic and social sciences and humanities to know what funding opportunities are available for them within the 7th European Research Framework Programme (FP7), especially beyond the Theme 8, "Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities." The netT4society project (funded by the EU) has just released a report listing current calls in other research areas that are relevant to the socio-economic sciences and humanities; examples include health, nanosciences, and environment. The report, entitled "Opportunities for Researchers in the Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities," can be found on the net4society Web site. The report will be updated each year as new funding opportunities arise in FP7 and other European Research Area initiatives.

Vitae, a U.K. organization promoting the personal and professional development of researchers, has released a podcast with highlights from the first day of the Vitae Researcher Development International Conference 2011 currently unfolding in Manchester. The event gathers research organizations, funding bodies, career development staff, and researchers to discuss policy and practice in researcher development.  

Among the news highlighted in the podcast: the Researcher Development Framework (RDF) which Vitae developed in the U.K. to help individual researchers and research institutions with their professional development is now undergoing trials across Europe as part of a project funded by the European Science Foundation. (See our previous blog entry for some quick background on the RDF).   

Anecdotally, cases of nepotism in Italian academic institutions appear to abound, but just how widespread the phenomenon is has been difficult to pin down. A statistical study published today in PLoS One suggests that nepotistic practices are rampant in Italy, with medicine and industrial engineering among the most inbred disciplines. 

"I often meet other Italian immigrants abroad, and the first 20 minutes of conversation are regularly spent complaining about the state of disarray of academic institutions in Italy," including nepotism, writes the study's author, Stefano Allesina, an Italian researcher who holds an assistant professorship in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago's Computation Institute in Illinois, in an e-mail to Science Careers. So, upon coming across a public database of Italian researchers, Allesina could "not resist the urge of checking if it's really 'a few bad apples' (as the Ministry and other politicians always say) or not," he says.

Between 9 August 2011 and 31 March 2012, the United Kingdom intends to give as many as 1000 visas to "exceptionally talented leaders in the fields of science, humanities, engineering and the arts," in a new visa category: Tier 1 (Exceptional talent). The announcement was made by the UK Border Agency on 20 July.

Many job ads from Germany published in scientific journals contain a statement that says language like, "Persons with disabilities will, with appropriate qualifications and aptitudes, be employed preferentially." While equal opportunity statements are common enough, it's rare to find overt statements of preference. We were curious.

Martin Kock, a lawyer specializing in employment law based in Düren, Germany, writes in an e-mail to Science Careers that statements of preferential treatment are not mandatory under German law, even for the public employers with whom these statements most often originate.

The European Union is inviting applications for its first EU Prizes for Women Innovators, which will reward three women entrepreneurs for their "innovative work in any field or business."

To be eligible, women entrepreneurs must be residing in the EU or an associated country and have founded or co-founded a company before 1 January 2009. The applicant or her company must also have received EU funding for research projects. More detail on the eligibility criteria can be found on the European Commission Web site

There will be three prizes, of €100 000, €50 000, and €25 000, respectively. Applications will be judged according to the originality and marketability of the developed product or service, its economic and social relevance for Europe, and the scientific content of the innovation, which the applicant must have contributed to researching. 

Deadline for submission: 5 p.m. on 20 September 2011 (Brussels time).

For more information and to apply, check out the European Commission Web site.

Nathalie Pettorelli and Seirian Sumner -- two behavioral and population ecologists, both research fellows at the Institute of Zoology in London -- argue in the Guardian Higher Education Network that what is needed for greater gender equality in science is not to attract more girls to science, but rather to help more women scientists stay. 

The European Research Council (ERC) today launched its fifth call for the ERC Starting Grants, which are designed to support outstanding early-career scientists as they set up or consolidate their independent research teams in Europe.

Awarded annually, the ERC Starting Grants scheme gives early-career scientists up to €2
million for up to 5 years to enable "them to get early scientific and professional independence," the ERC press release says. To be eligible scientists must have between 2 and 12 years of postdoctoral experience. All nationalities are eligible, but candidates must be hosted by a university or research center in one of the 27 EU Members states, or one of the 13 associated countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Iceland, Israel, Faroe Islands, Liechtenstein, FYR of Macedonia, Norway, Republic of Montenegro, Serbia, Switzerland, or Turkey).

The Spanish Ministries for Science and Innovation and for Labor and Immigration today announced that they will jointly fund the initial training in research, development, and innovation of Ph.D.-holders and university graduates after recruitment by industry. The program is part of a national effort to boost innovation in Spanish industry. 

The initiative is part of the INNCORPORA funding program, which offers companies, scientific parks, and technological centers loans and grants to facilitate the employment of innovation-oriented staff from Ph.D.-holders to technicians, and support their training. The INNCORPORA initiative, which was launched in 2010, includes the Torres Quevedo program for the employment of Ph.D.-holders and the Titulados Universitarios program for technologists with a university diploma. This year, the Spanish Ministry for Science and Innovation has more than  440 million euros at its disposal to promote the employment of innovation-oriented staff and the competitiveness of the Spanish industry.  

"The objective is to equip the new hires with the training that the company needs in terms of R&D and innovation [and] with the capacities to generate new ideas, knowledge about opportunities for public funding, patents, internationalization, etc," the press release says (in Spanish).

Microsoft's presentation software -- PowerPoint -- is almost universally used at scientific (and other) conferences, but not everyone is a fan. Many scientists have criticized PowerPoint's static and often overcrowded bullet points.

As reported by Peter Sayer in an article published yesterday in CIO magazine, Swiss public-speaking trainer Matthias Poehm dislikes PowerPoint so much that he founded a new political party -- Switzerland's Anti-PowerPoint Party (APPP) -- and is gathering signatures to call for a referendum on the ban of PowerPoint around the country.

A recent study of how well prepared science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) graduates in the United Kingdom feel when looking for a job, and of what motivates them, revealed that:

  • Graduates find extra-curricular activities to be the best way to develop their competencies outside of their degree. 
  • STEM graduates feel least confident in their leadership and self-evaluation abilities. 
  • Applicants' confidence in all competencies drops during a stressful situation, such as job interviews. 
  • A lack of experience concerns graduates most when they're looking for a job. 
  • About three quarters of STEM graduates take the opinions of their friends, family, or lecturers into consideration when choosing a career. 
  • Personal fulfillment is the most important aspect influencing STEM graduates when choosing their first job. 
The study was driven by Teach First, an independent charity that trains teachers and ambassadors to reduce education inequalities for children from low socioeconomic backgrounds. The data -- drawn from two surveys of around 15,500 students -- were provided by trendence, a Berlin-based research institute specialized in student-perception surveys. The Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the Institution of Engineering and Technology, the Institute of Physics, the Ogden Trust, the Royal Society, the Wellcome Trust were also involved.

Read the press release for more information.

The Spanish Federation of Young Investigators (FJI)/Precarios today denounced delays and errors in the allocation of international fellowships for Spanish postdocs. "The terrible management of the postdoctoral grants maintains more than a thousand young investigators in an unsustainable situation," says the press release (translated from Spanish by this blogger). FJI/Precarios is a Spanish umbrella association that was created in 2000 to improve the working conditions of early-career researchers in Spain.

In the announcement, the RI framed the issue like this: "It's the scientists and the engineers who will ultimately develop and build the supply of clean energy we will need, the artificial organisms key to future  biotech, and the robotics crucial to our growing strength in the space sector. But young scientists are fed up with short term contracts, poor salaries and uncertain career progression. Do the 'great and the good' have their interests at heart?"

The Society of Chemical Industry (SCI) reported on the event, highlighting the questions posed by the audience and answers given by David Willetts, the U.K. Minister of State for Universities and Science. You may also listen to the entire debate in a podcast posted on the POD delusion Web site. 

Now the SCI wants to hear your views. You can take part in a forum discussion, or simply vote on whether you agree or not that young researchers have been let down by the establishment.  

Some new regulations for student visas in the United Kingdom go into effect on 4 July. Among the changes is the need for visa applicants to declare that they have the necessary funds to support themselves during their course of study (though a fast-track application process will be put in place for "low risk students" coming from certain countries). One important change is that only postgraduate students whose course lasts more than 12 months, as well as government-sponsored students, will be able to bring dependents to the United Kingdom. 

As reported today by Europa Press, three of Spain's most prominent biomedical researchers have called for more public-private partnerships to support the education of the next generation of Spanish scientists.

The three Spanish researchers are Pedro Alonso, Director of the Barcelona Centre for International Health Research (CRESIB); Valentín Fuster, Director of the Spanish National Centre for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC) in Madrid and the Zena and Michael A. Wiener Cardiovascular Institute at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York; and Mariano Barbacid, Director of the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre. The declarations were made at the 2nd Conference on Biomedical Diagnostics at the Hospital Infanta Sofía de San Sebastián de los Reyes, near Madrid.

Alonso suggested promoting public-private partnerships to encourage scientific vocations in young people before they reach university, "as is done in football schools," Europa Press reports. One such example already exists in Spain, Alonso said, pointing to the CNIC, which runs the ACERCATE program for high school students to be introduced to the scientific method. Fuster explained that the CNIC was able to put in place such programs thanks to private funding, with Barbacid adding that this was "a model to follow."

You can read the whole report (in Spanish) on Europa Press.

The U.K.'s Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) is inviting nominations for the IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Award 2011. The award aims to recognize the best female engineer under 30 years of age currently working in the United Kingdom. Among the qualities the IET is looking for are being an "energetic and technically excellent professional", "a high achiever", "a problem solver", "a team player"-- and being charismatic. 

The awardee will receive £1000 and a trophy, which will be presented during a national ceremony in London in December. The awardee will be called upon throughout the year to act as an ambassador at high-profile events, which the EIT says will give her a chance to network and boost her career.

Two runner-up awards will also be presented, one to an engineer "who has followed an apprentice route" and the other to an engineer "who has followed a graduate route." The former will be awarded the Mary George Prize, the latter the Women's Engineering Society Prize. Both  will "have opportunities to attend high profile events and meet the influential people in our industry."

You may nominate yourself or others through the EIT Web site. Deadline: 29 July.

Throughout the month of May, Science Careers published a feature series exploring academic careers in healthy aging research. We profiled several researchers studying how to help people age successfully and independently, from the perspective of genetics, sociology and psychology, engineering, and neurology.

If you're an early-career researcher already working in the field or would like to find out more about healthy aging research, you may want to attend the annual conference of the European Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) Joint Programme. The AAL Forum 2011 will take place in Lecce, Italy, between 26 and 28 September 2011.

The conference will feature a 'Young researchers' and PhD workshop - research on innovative solutions for the elderly' (YR-RISE reloaded) on the first day.  Early-career scientists investigating technical solutions for older adults are invited to submit an abstract for a poster or a short oral presentation. The workshop is organized along 5 different tracks: computing and serious games; social inclusion, mobility, and networking; ambient assistance and robotics;  neurotechnologies; and all other research topics. You have until 30 June 2011 to submit your abstract.

Research Councils UK (RCUK) have just released a video showing how the public can benefit from interacting with researchers, and how researchers can benefit from engaging with the public. 

The 7-minute movie includes interviews with researchers and members of the public during a public debate about future energy scenarios held as part of the York Festival of Science and Technology. The movie is nicely done and addresses important points -- it is well worth the watch.

Gregg Treinish, a man whose hiking credentials include a stroll along most of the Andes, took part in the Appalachian Trail Days event last weekend with an unusual sense of purpose. On a previous hike, he "felt selfish and ... realized that was a shared feeling amongst hikers and mountaineers," Treinish says.  That feeling, together with a stint studying wildlife biology at Montana State University, gave him an original idea: to offer adventurers the opportunity to share with scientists something that even those who travel light routinely take with them on their adventures: their eyes and ears. Now, wherever he goes, Treinish recruits fellow adventurers for his new organization, Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ACS).

Plenty of researchers seek to include helpful citizens in their projects, as I wrote last year for Science Careers ("Collaborating with Citizen Scientists"), but ACS, launched in November 2010, may be the first dedicated matchmaker, removing some of the recruiting burden from scientists.

On Friday the British Royal Society launched a study to look at how the scientific community can best manage scientific information to improve research quality and boost public trust.

The study, named 'Science as a public enterprise: opening up scientific information', will look at issues like how to make scientific information more accessible, the risks and benefits of open data, and the responsibility of scientists. 

"It is not just scientists who want to be able to see inside scientific datasets, to see how robust they are and ask difficult questions about their implications. Science has to adapt," geoscientist Geoffrey Boulton of the University of Edinburgh, who is in charge of leading the study, stated in a press release. "The impact of science on people's lives, and the implications of scientific assessments for society and the economy are now so great that people won't just believe scientists when they say 'trust me, I'm an expert.'"

You have until 5 August 2011 to send your input. Details on how to do so can be found in the Royal Society's call for evidence

Getting along with your colleagues may not only be good for your work satisfaction and productivity, it could be good for your health, too.

That's according to a new study, published in the May issue of Health Psychology, that looked at the medical history of more than 800 people working in finance, insurance, public services, health care, and manufacturing companies between 1988 and 2008.

The team of researchers, led by Arie Shirom at Tel Aviv University in Israel, looked at peer social support in terms of the participants' perception of how supportive and friendly their colleagues were to them. The researchers found that a high level of peer social support was associated with a lower risk of mortality. When also looking at the participants' age, they found peer social support to have a protective effect only for people aged between 38 and 43. Interestingly, support from supervisors was not associated with mortality rate.

The European Science Foundation (ESF) today released a document expressing basic core principles and good practice guidelines for the peer review of funding proposals. The European Peer Review Guide (links to PDF) is intended mainly to help European funding bodies improve and harmonize their peer review procedures, but young scientists can learn a lot by skimming the document. 

For those new to the funding system, the Guide provides an overview on the different types of funding programs in place around Europe and can help you decide which ones are the most appropriate for you to apply to. The Guide also offers a peek into the peer-review system and processes, and highlights the key criteria your application will be judged by.

If you're further along in your career, the Guide gives you insight in what it takes to be solicited as a peer reviewer. It also offers you a broad view of the grant evaluation process and a sense of your role and responsibilities. You will also find advice on how to handle and score applications for different types of funding. The guide highlights key conditions of the peer-review process you must comply with, such as integrity, absence of conflicts of interest, and respect for confidentiality. 

"By virtue of involving human judgment, even the same peer review procedures can have variable outcomes," Cristina Marras of the Italian National Research Council (CNR) stated in a press release. "Peer review is the most widely used method for distributing research funding. So ... the Guide can help us minimise this inherent variability as much as possible; furthermore, it fosters harmonisation in international peer review."

The European Peer Review Guide was produced with input from more than 30 national research funding and research-performing organizations  in 23 countries, including the European Research Council (ERC) and the European Commission.The Guide can be downloaded from the ESF Web site.  

Developing into a successful researcher takes much more than learning science. Yes, it requires you to gain technical skills and knowledge in your field. But it also requires some less tangible attributes: an ability to see the bigger picture and to work well with others, an understanding of professional and ethical standards, and many other things. Vitae, a U.K. organization promoting the personal and professional development of researchers, has developed an excellent planning tool to help you make progress on all of these fronts. 

Vitae's Professional Development Planner has divided the skills that researchers need in order to be effective into four major areas: knowledge and intellectual abilities; personal effectiveness; research governance and organization; and engagement, influence and impact. The Planner can be downloaded for free as an Excel sheet that will allow you to determine which skills you should focus on at what stage, and to come up with an action plan. The Professional Development Planner is accompanied with a screencast that will take you through the process, and examples of how other researchers have used the Planner.

The Professional Development Planner is a resource that was developed by Vitae as part of a broader initiative called the Researcher Development Framework (RDF). Launched in September, 2010, the RDF identified the "knowledge, behaviours and attitudes of researchers" described above and encourages researchers "to aspire to excellence through achieving higher levels of development," the Vitae Web site reads. 

In addition to developing researchers, the RDF is designed to help PIs in their mentoring role, and U.K. higher education institutions in supporting researchers' development. According to a survey carried out by Vitae in February, 62% of 42 U.K. responding higher education institutions were using the RDF principles, and another 29% planned to begin using them. 

The Spanish Minister of Science and Innovation (MICINN) announced earlier this week that non-European visiting scientists will now be able to obtain residence and work permits within 45 days instead of the current 90.

To get such a permit, you first need to find and sign a hosting agreement with an accredited university, national research institute, or other research center in Spain. The permit will cover the entire duration of the research project.

The changes to the Spanish Immigration Law were adopted by the Council of Ministers last Friday. The new regulations aim to "facilitate the employment and attraction of international talent and improve the mobility of researchers," according to the press release

About a fifth of the Ph.D. degree holders currently employed within the Spanish research system with MICINN support are foreigners. 54.8% of them come from Europe. 

In an article published on University World News at the end of March, two German industry organizations claim that German industry is facing an acute shortage of scientists and engineers. The two organizations are the Confederation of German Industry (BDI), which describes itself as "the voice of German industry" and claims to represent 100,000 businesses, and the Confederation of German Employers Associations (BDA), an umbrella organization for employer's groups.

"German industry has warned of the need to tackle a shortage of staff in mathematics, informatics, natural sciences and engineering, to stop economic momentum from stalling. Industry federations have put the swelling skills shortfall at 117,000 people in the four fields," the article reads. Where does that number come from? Oliver Koppel, a science and engineering (S&E) labor market expert at the Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW), explains in an e-mail interview with Science Careers that "The figure ... represents the aggregate difference between vacancies and unemployment in S&E jobs ... as of February 2011," The original source is a report put together by the IW and the German Federal Employment Agency
The article points to high student drop-out rates as part of the problem, citing figures from the German higher education statistics agency Hochschul Informations System GmbH, which put the drop-out to  28% in math, informatics, natural sciences, and engineering. 

Read the full article here.

April 6, 2011

How Would You Name It?

The European Commission has been scratching its head about what to call the new EU research and innovation funding program. They're asking for help. The new funding program will replace the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) after 2013.

Provided you're not an employee of one of the European institutions or a direct family member, you are invited to enter the ongoing competition for the new name. Your proposal "should be easily associated with research and innovation, while also being original, memorable, either usable in a wide range of languages or easily translatable, and easy to pronounce and spell," the European Commission Web site reads

The three best suggestions will be selected by an international jury and further voted on by the public. The winner, to be announced on 10 June, will get an all-expense-paid trip to Brussels for the European Innovation Convention later this year.

Entries will be accepted until midnight Central European Summer Time on 10 May to send your proposal. 

Then consider taking part in this year's European Satellite Navigation Competition (ESNC). 
The aim of the competition -- initiated by a center called Anwendungszentrum GmbH Oberpfaffenhofen, which gathers companies, entrepreneurs, and research institutions -- is to support promising ideas for commercial applications of satellite navigation. Anwendungszentrum GmbH Oberpfaffenhofen is located near Munich, Germany.

Applicants' business ideas will be evaluated regionally, by expert panels. Applicants may  compete separately for seven special topic prizes and  a prototyping prize, all sponsored by companies and research organizations like the European Space Agency (ESA). 

Prizes differ by region and by topic, but may include a cash award, support from a business incubator, technical assistance, coaching, access to data and user communities, and the opportunity to present your idea to industry. A "Galileo Master" will also be selected across all categories to receive a grant of 20,000 euros and access to a six-month incubation program.

Look on the ESNC Web site for further information on the competition. If you can, also attend the ESNC International Kick-off Conference in London on 11 May, as this will be a rare chance to get advice from experts and past winners.  

You have until 30 June 12:00 p.m. CET to submit your idea.

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.

With the current European Union funding framework program for research (FP7) drawing to 
an end in 2013, the European Commission is drafting a new strategy to cover the next funding period, based on the objectives of the EU's Europe 2020 strategy for growth. A public consultation was launched mid-February. 

One important change in the EU's funding strategy after 2013 would be the design of a Common Strategic Framework for research and innovation, which up to now have largely been funded through separate initiatives. The idea is that the new framework "would enable 
the development of a simpler and more efficient structure and a streamlined set of 
funding instruments covering the full innovation chain in a seamless manner," the Green Paper reads. Particular questions the European Commission wants your opinion upon are: "How should the Common Strategic Framework make EU research and innovation funding more attractive and easy to access for participants?"; "How should EU funding best cover the full innovation cycle?"; and "What should be the measures of success for EU research and innovation funding?" 

Regarding research priorities, the European Commission plans a greater focus on societal challenges like an aging population, climate change, and declining natural resources, but asks "How should a stronger focus on societal challenges affect the balance between
curiosity-driven research and agenda-driven activities?" Also for your consideration: "How could EU research and innovation activities attract greater interest and involvement of citizens and civil society?"

The European Commission is also looking into how to boost Europe's competitiveness through a more effective transfer of research results to market. "How should industrial participation in EU research and innovation programmes be strengthened?" the Green Paper asks. "How should intellectual property rules governing EU funding strike the right balance between competitiveness aspects and the need for access to and dissemination of scientific results?"

Even more directly relevant to early-career researchers is another area of debate that focuses on Europe's science base. Some of the questions here for you: "How should the role of the European Research Council be strengthened in supporting world class excellence?"; "How should the role of Marie Curie Actions be strengthened in promoting researcher mobility and developing attractive careers?"; "What actions should be taken at EU level to further strengthen the role of women in science and innovation?"

You have until 20 May to take part into the debate.


In time for the International Year of Chemistry 2011, the German Chemical Society (GDCh) has published a 72-page booklet in German on choosing and pursuing careers in chemistry and related fields. In it, chemists write in the first person about their careers and everyday life in a variety of work environments, including academia, large industry, small business, and freelance consulting.

The booklet also highlights non-traditional careers such as journalism and teaching. At the end, it offers practical tips on job searches, interviewing, and workplace etiquette. The society will pass out the booklet at its events and has also made it available for download in pdf format.

If you are a Ph.D. candidate or received your Ph.D within the last 2 years, and if you are looking for new avenues to do interesting work for industry, you may be interested in entering for the 'PhD Challenge.'

Organized by PhD Talent, a Paris-based Ph.D. students' association launched in March 2010 to promote innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology transfer, the PhD Challenge presents Ph.D. students with an opportunity to form multidisciplinary teams online to tackle a company's specific need.

After pre-selection in late April, online teams will be invited to propose their most innovative solutions during a 2-day contest to be held in June in Paris. The members of the winning team will have 15,000 euros to share between them, with the second and third runner-up teams receiving 5,000 and 3,000 euros, respectively.

There's more information on the PhD Challenge Web site, especially in the Terms and Conditions section at the bottom of the page).

Last week saw the release of a new, free, online strategy game whose aim is to inspire more European young people to choose research careers. Produced by Austrian companies Biolution and TPM Games, 'Power of Research' was funded with more than 600.000 euros from the European Commission and been endorsed by several Nobel Prize winners and research institutes around Europe.

I was intrigued and more than willing to try out 'Power of Research' for myself even though, admittedly, I'm not much of a game player. My verdict a few days in: Overall, the game does a great job of introducing players to the world of research, but there are some career, technical, and scientific aspects that I think should be improved.

2 December was the official launch date of OpenAIRE -- Open Access Infrastructure for Research in Europe -- providing researchers with open access to publications emerging from research funded by the European Commission's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The 2-week-old site is still small, but it's growing quickly.

The launch of OpenAIRE is the latest part of a European Commission pilot initiative to encourage open access to the research it funds. Since August 2008, EC-funded researchers in the fields of energy, environment (including climate change), health, information and communication technologies, and research infrastructure have been required to make their peer-reviewed research articles freely available in an institutional or subject-based repository within 6 months of publication. Researchers in social and socioeconomic sciences and the humanities are given 12 months.

OpenAIRE aims to be a one-stop shop for exploring EC-funded research articles in those repositories as well as articles that did not find an open home. As I write this entry, about 200 papers are available online. Articles can be browsed by year, scientific area, or language.

For more information on the EC open access pilot project and OpenAIRE, see the OpenAIRE Web site.

The European Research Council (ERC) announced the results of its third Starting Grants competition this week.

Altogether, 427 early-career researchers won a total of about €580 million that they will use to establish independent labs in Europe. Launched in 2007, the Starting Grants offer researchers of any nationality and age, and with between 2 and 12 years post-Ph.D. experience, as much as €2million over 5 years to build a research team anywhere in Europe.

On average, this year's ERC awardees are 36 years old. A little more than a quarter of them (26.5% compared to 23% last year) are women. Host institutions are in 21 countries, with the United Kingdom (79), France (71), and Germany (67) attracting the most grantees. Looking at research areas, 45.7% of the winning proposals are in physical sciences and engineering, 35.8% in life sciences, and 22.2% in social sciences and humanities.

A total of 2873 scientists applied for the grant this year, a 14% increase over last year but far below the more than 9,000 applications drawn by the first ERC call. With the ERC budget for the grants rising 40% this year, this year's success rate reached 15%. The budget for these grants is expected to continue to rise.

You can browse the list of winners by country or research domain (social sciences and humanities, / life sciences, / physical sciences and engineering). More statistics can also be found here. The deadline for applications in physical sciences and engineering has already closed, but life scientists may apply until 9 November 2010, and social scientists and humanists have until 24 November.
"Students should think more broadly about what a PhD could prepare them for. We should start selling a PhD as higher level education but not one that necessarily points you down a tunnel...We should not see moving out of academia as a failure. We need to see it as a stepping stone, a way of moving forward to something else."

-Stephen Curry, professor of structural biology at Imperial College London, quoted in Times Higher Education in 'Postdoctoral scientists urged to spread their wings'. Click the link to read the full article and a rather lively discussion in the comments section about that statement.
You may feel that, once you've got tenure and set up your lab and life in a place you like, your scientific career will go on forever. But while it's quite common for professors in the United States to remain active and productive researchers in older age, national laws and cultural traditions make it much more difficult for professors in Europe to do the same.

A recent article in The Scientist highlights the difficulties professors face if they wish to continue running a lab beyond the retirement age imposed by many European countries: "When a recently retired colleague warned [former Karolinska Institutet professor Jan-Åke] Gustafsson, who was quickly approaching Sweden's upper mandatory retirement age of 67, that emeritus professors aren't taken seriously in Sweden, he began to realize it was all too true. Emeritus colleagues received fewer and shorter grants and were more segregated from their departments," the article states.

For many well-established professors, the only way to keep their research going at full speed, if at all, is to start all over again overseas. Of course, you're much more marketable and can land much more prestigious positions if you've got a life-long career's worth of achievements on your CV. But the advice that the later-career professors offer for starting over at a new institution strike me as applicable to scientists at the beginning of their careers. Here's some of their advice:

Research your options
"'Start early, at around 60, to really think about what you want to do,' says Gustafsson... Gustafsson talked with colleagues about the pros and cons of becoming an emeritus professor before making his decision, and once he was sure, began his search for a new institution several years before reaching retirement age." 

Plan ahead
"Careful planning will allow you to avoid the worst aspect of moving - the loss of productivity, says Gustafsson. 'Organize the move efficiently, starting with the administrative details, a year before,' he says."

Don't burn any bridges
"As [former University of Helsinki, Finland Albert] de la Chapelle dissolved his lab in preparation for the move, able to only bring a few junior faculty members with him, he was faced with seven dependent doctoral candidates still at Helsinki. 'We had to really scramble to get their lives organized and get them co-mentors in Finland,' says de la Chapelle... But it was worth it: Today, those graduate students remain his key ties back to the university, he says."

Forced retirement is one reason why you may have to unwillingly leave your institution, at least in Europe, but in these days of economic recession even tenured professors have been made redundant. This makes it all the more important to keep your career-development skills well-honed all along the way for when you might need them.

You can read the full article on The Scientist's Web site.

Last week I attended a talk about presentation skills at the Microsoft Research Summer School in Cambridge, U.K., an annual event for computer science Ph.D. students. I've attended many presentations in the course of my work, but none have left me feeling as energized at 9:30 in the morning as this one did. What made this talk so different? The speaker, Ken Shaw from Benchmark Communication Techniques, comes from a theatrical background, where he learned how to engage effectively with an audience -- and he has transferred those skills to giving presentations brilliantly.

Following a successful career in theatre, Shaw moved into training corporate clients in presentation skills 19 years ago. Since then, he's also worked closely with the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge, training future CEOs how to communicate effectively. Then, about 2 years ago, someone from the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge approached him about teaching these skills to academics too, and since then he has been helping Ph.D. students and postdocs bring a bit of corporate showmanship into academic presentations. "Half of Ph.D. students will enter the corporate world and another quarter will regularly interact with corporate companies in their research," Shaw says. "Changes are happening in academia and I'm attending to that need."

Here is a summary of his advice:

Look and sound confident

• Do vocal exercises before your presentation. This will help you articulate your words and sound more confident. Some exercises: Move your tongue to the back of your throat and say the months of the year. Then bring your tongue to the front of your mouth pointing downwards, between your lower teeth and your gum, and again go through the months of the year.

• People often get nervous in front of audiences because they feel like they are being looked at. Instead, reverse this feeling and look at your audience: Who got here early? Is anyone in the front row? Are people clumping together into groups?

Why should the audience listen to your talk?

• Don't just impart information during your talk -- you could do that via email. Instead your talk must be a proposal, with a recommendation backed up by justification. That's when a presentation shifts from being boring to dynamic.

• People shouldn't know that the presentation is over just because you've stopped talking. You should have a clear point to make and when you've arrived at that point, that is the end.

General presentation advice

• Try giving a presentation without using slides and turn the talk into a discussion. By doing this, the audience will feel more comfortable to ask questions. (Showing by example, Shaw used no slides or backdrops during his talk. It was just him on stage, engaging with the audience--and it worked!)

• Think about reversing the norm of having a large segment dedicated to the presentation with a few minutes at the end for questions, because a talk only gets interesting when someone questions or challenges what you've said. For a 30-minute presentation, Shaw recommends 10 minutes for the presentation and 20 minutes for Q&A. Also, instead of just asking at the end if there are any questions, try to steer the discussion into the direction that you would like to take it. This removes some of the fear about the final Q&A segment.

• Allow humor into your talk, but don't fall into the trap of telling jokes. There's a danger your jokes could fall flat -- or worse, offend your audience. You're not there to entertain; your main aim should be content and clarity.
• Presenting to a large audience is different than giving the same talk to a small group of people. Large audiences are far more passive and require more encouragement to keep them engaged.

esof-th.pngIt's pretty common for a scientist who participates in a press conference to appear in a news article that same day. And that was indeed the case for Elin Ekblom-Bak, who presented her ongoing work on the possible detrimental health effects of sitting for prolonged periods at a July 4 satellite event at the Euroscience Open Forum in Turin, Italy. But it wasn't her research that made the headlines; it was the critical goal she scored the previous day in a soccer match against the former champions of a professional women's football (soccer) league in Sweden.

Elin Ekblom-Bak, from Ekblom-Bak, 29, is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Medicine at the Karolinska Institute and the Astrand Laboratory of Work Physiology in the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences. She's also a midfielder for a professional soccer team. It's a combination of activities that she finds complementary. "They're very similar, these two worlds," she says. "At the elite, national level, playing soccer is a competition -- you have to stand out, you have to be tough. Science is a tough world to show off your knowledge and  ... you have to dare to do things. It's really helped me being a soccer player at that level to get the mental strength" for science.

Her research did make headlines in January when she was the lead author on an editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that outlined what has become the core hypothesis of her Ph.D.: That sedentary behavior may be harmful even in people who get regular exercise. In other words, working out hard several times a week may not compensate for the ill effects of a desk job. "We know that not exercising and prolonged sitting are two distinct behaviors," she says. There have been a handful of studies in this area (compared to thousands focused on physical activity and fitness), and animal studies suggest that prolonged inactivity -- 3 to 4 hours or more -- alters expression of lipoprotein lipase, which can affect, for example, muscle glucose levels, fatty acid metabolism, and cholesterol levels. Ekblom-Bak aims to clarify the role of prolonged sitting on long-term health using a population-based dataset at the Karolinska Institute. She plans to do some mechanistic studies as well, she says.

She got into health science and physiology because, as she says, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." Her father is a professor of physiology, and Ekblom-Bak works in his group at the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences. "It's really fascinating to be able to work with him. I really adore that."

On the sports side of her life, she has been playing football since she was 4 years old. For her, though, it wasn't a matter of choosing between an academic career and a sports career: "I did not choose. I loved [soccer] too much. But I saw a lot of bad examples of girls playing football and when they were 35 years old they [had] two knee injuries and no job, no education, nothing." She trains in the afternoons and evenings, which leaves her mornings free to study and work on her research.

She juggles more than soccer balls and science. She and her husband (who is the chiropractor for her soccer team) have a 9-month old daughter. She also works as a television commentator for major soccer games, which has made her enough of a celebrity to warrant an article about her comeback after her daughter was born.

Her medium-term plans are to keep playing soccer and keep working on her research -- because both the soccer and science aspects of her life are unpredictable. "It's a tough world. You have to create your own opportunities, search for your own money and your own job," she says. "You have to have good luck to get a good opportunity. If you have the right spirit, I think you can do it."

If you want to start an organization aimed at encouraging and supporting young scientists, get senior scientists involved. This was one of the key messages of a presentation by Jenny Baeseman of the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS) at this weekend's Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) in Turin, Italy.

APECS was born out of the involvement of young scientists in the 2007-2008 International Polar Year (IPY), a story told on Science Careers in April 2008. Among the goals of the polar year "was to expand the polar community," said David Carlson of the International Polar Year program office in the United Kingdom. "There was nothing in the system preventing young scientists to come with ideas and say, 'we want to be the next generation of polar scientists.'" And that's effectively what the founders of APECS did.

penguins_h1.jpgAPECS started out with no budget but a lot of enthusiasm and the support of the IPY program office, Baeseman said. Its early members used free tools such as Google Groups and Skype to organize themselves and start creating an active community of young polar scientists. But "from the very beginning, we decided that it is great that young people get together... but we don't want to be by ourselves," Baeseman said. "We wanted to learn from senior researchers ... to continue the continuum of knowledge."

In 2008, APECS signed a memorandum of understanding with two large international polar organizations -- the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) and the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) -- that gave them recognition as the primary organization for young polar researchers. This "gave us institutional recognition, even though we were just was a Google Group and Web site," Baeseman said.

APECS soon started organizing career development activities at other organizations' meetings, inviting senior polar researchers to sit on discussion panels and share their experience. "And then we all go for a beer and it gets nice and lively," Baeseman said. APECS also runs discussion forums and technical workshops in which "we invite experts to come and give advice... Nothing that we do is by ourselves," she said. It is "always with senior researchers."

APECS runs a mentorship program with a database of senior scientists interested in mentoring younger researchers. This makes it easier to find the right connections if, say, you're a young scientist in Norway who wants to go and work in Germany, Baeseman said. "You know they are willing to support you," she said. The organization also hosts virtual poster sessions on their Web site, which they like to think of as "the Facebook of polar science," Baeseman said. 

Today APECS is tied into several international organizations, gets involved in science policy, organizes its own conferences, and runs education and outreach activities. "When you're a grad student you're trained to do the science, you're not trained to be a scientist," Baeseman said. "We help to provide the training to be a scientist."

While Baeseman credits the success of APECS to dedicated volunteers, support from established organizations, and support from senior researchers devoted to promoting young researchers, Baeseman's own dedication to the organization belongs on that list. When Science Careers first met Baeseman at a 2007 conference in Lindau, Germany, she was a tenure-track faculty member at Kent State University. "I decided that the tenure track wasn't for me," she said.

The opportunity came up to go to the Arctic Research Consortium of the United States in Fairbanks, Alaska, to continue to develop APECS, so she took it. Toward the end of that time, the association put out a call to individual countries to host an international office for APECS. Norway stepped forward, and Baeseman now lives there and works full time as director of APECS.

She continues to do some research for a National Science Foundation grant she received while she was in Fairbanks; she published a research paper and wrote a book chapter this year. "I think it's important that when you start to make this transition from a research career to something else that you try to keep a foot in the research door."

At the same time, her devotion to APECS and its mission has provided her with a new career: "You have to find your talent and figure out where you can help science the most, and for me I think it's the administration level, helping scientists make science happen."

-by Elisabeth Pain and Kate Travis

Almost any funding application requires you to summarize the academic impact of your research, and many take it a step further and ask for the economic and social impact as well. For the U.K. research councils, that latter statement comes in the form of the newly renamed Pathways to Impact, a two-page proposal document attached to grant application forms. Researchers are expected to explain who could benefit from their work and what steps they will take to reach those beneficiaries.

Cora O'Reilly, Information and Communications Technology Manager with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), led a workshop at the University of Cambridge last week to give some guidance on completing the Pathways to Impact document. Here are some of her top tips:

  • Remember that your application will go through a peer review process, and you will have to convince those peer reviewers about the impact of your research.
  • Social impact -- that is, how you will enhance quality of life and public services -- is ranked as highly as the economical impact of research.
  • When thinking about social impact, think about who your audience is and how you can better engage with them. For example, could you publish your work in an additional publication that will have a wider appeal than a specialty journal?
  • Be clear and explain what exactly you will do, and remember that you don't have to completely fill all of the pages in the Pathways to Impact document. Your proposal will benefit from being clear and concise.
  • Given how many different ways that research can benefit the economy or society, it's unlikely that your work won't have any impact. Simply stating that your research won't have any impact isn't sufficient; if that's what you put in your proposal, you will be expected to explain why this is the case.
  • You can apply for additional funds from your research council to help you fulfil your Pathways to Impact proposal. Extra funding is available, for example, to cover additional publication costs, training or employing people to translate your technical research so that it can be understood by a general audience.

There is an FAQ section and more tips on the Research Councils U.K. Pathways to Impact Web site.

-Sarah Reed

In the U.K. general elections earlier this month, University of Cambridge biochemist Julian Huppert won Cambridge's seat in the U.K. parliament. Huppert has been active in local politics for years in addition to leading a small research group at the university. However, his latest political promotion means he'll give up his lab. Huppert spoke with ScienceInsider last week. Some highlights:

Q: Do you plan to give up research or try to find time for it?

J.H.: Being a research scientist and a member of parliament are both full-time jobs. I will have to leave the lab. It was a tough decision. ... The general perception is that I can probably do more for the research community by being a voice who can speak up for it.

Q: On a more practical level then, what's tougher, science or politics?

J.H.: They're both tough in different ways, and they're both unpredictable in different ways. Certainly politics is more sociable -- it allows you to think more about the whole range of different issues, while science often tends to be very narrow.

Q: Growing up, did you want to be a scientist or a politician? Have you always been juggling the two interests?

J.H.: When I was growing up, I was always trying to do something worthwhile. I was always interested in science. Both my parents are scientists in various ways. And so I studied science. I actually initially intended to switch to law. I worked with the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] for a while, then did a Ph.D. in science. But by the time I got to my Ph.D., I was already an elected county councilor. And so I spent my whole Ph.D. and postdoc juggling these two roles. I got my first academic position and then the opportunity to become an MP came up in Cambridge, and so I switched. It's always been a challenge to find the best way of doing something worthwhile.

Read the full interview on Science's policy blog, ScienceInsider.

Related articles:

March is Women's History Month, and this week in particular there have been some exciting highlights of women in science.

For starters, today is Ada Lovelace Day, a day of blogging about women in science. Bloggers can register their posts with the Finding Ada Web site, where anyone can view a map or a list of the posts by the women profiled in the posts. This list will no doubt update throughout the day and perhaps even longer. (Note: Organizers of today's event note on Twitter that they're victims of their own success -- their Web site keeps crashing from all the visitors. If the links above don't work, check back later.)

I was pleased to see on the list a post from SarahAskew's Sarah Kendrew on Maggie Aderin-Pocock, who heads the optical instrumentation unit at the space firm Astrium. I had the pleasure of meeting Maggie at the U.K. launch of the She Is An Astronomer campaign, and we later profiled her in Science Careers. She's one of those people for whom the term "infectious enthusiasm" was invented. Sarah's post definitely confirms that I'm not the only one who thinks that.

Maggie also made The Independent's list of today's women trailblazers in science, published earlier this week. Another scientist on The Independent's list jumped out at me: Ottoline Leyser, a plant biologist at the University of York. Ottoline is a passionate scientist who is also committed to career development. I'm mentioning her because she received the Royal Society's Rosalind Franklin Award in 2003, and the project she did with the prize money was to assemble a book, "Mothers in Science: 64 Ways To Have it All" (links to full-text PDF of the book). I think this is such an excellent idea and a great resource.

Also this week, the Royal Society published a list of the most influential women in the history of science. The list includes Mary Anning, Dorothy Hodgkin, Rosalind Franklin, and Anne McLaren, to name a few.

Take a look at the lists above -- perhaps you'll be inspired to write a blog post of your own about a woman in science who has inspired you. You can also see who's tweeting about Ada Lovelace Day by searching Twitter for the hashtag #ALD10. There are so many great posts out there this week on women in science that I can't link to them all, but feel free to post your favorites in the comments below.

March 8, 2010

Celebrating Women

Today marks the 100th annual International Women's Day. Here are a few sites online that are promoting women in science today:

AthenaWeb is highlighting videos of this year's L'Oreal-UNESCO laureates, who come from the United States, Mexico, France, Philippines, and Egypt.

CERN is celebrating International Women's Day by letting viewers peek in at the experiment control rooms to see how many women are working at any given time (when I checked in earlier, it was about half-and-half men and women). Be sure to scroll down to see some great posters of women scientists in various departments at the megalab.

Imperial College London has an exhibit called 100 Women - 100 Visions that features photos and quotes from women at Imperial at all levels -- undergraduates on up to senior faculty.

I'd love to know about more special online events for women in science; feel free to add them in the comments section below.

On Science Careers, we've profiled some awesome women in the last year or so:

  • Patricia Alireza, a physicist who started her Ph.D. after her kids were in school and finished at age 45;
  • Laia Crespo found that, for her, a career in science meant a career in venture capital;
  • Gina Wingood, public health professor who has devoted her career to designing AIDS intervention programs for African-American women;
  • Regan Theiler, a physician-scientist who works in both the laboratory and the delivery room to improve women's health;
  • Cecilia Aragon, a computer scientist in the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Computational Research Division, who returned to finish her Ph.D. after a more than a decade spent working as a pilot;
  • Michal Sharon, a structural biologist at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, who recently landed a starting grant from the European Research Council.

Attending a professional conference can boost the career prospects of science students and postdocs, but getting to these events can be expensive. GrantsNet recently added travel grants from NextBio and the Pasteur Foundation to help students and postdocs defray the cost of attending a scientific conference. NextBio's competition is limited to its student users while the Pasteur Foundation's grants will support student or postdoc attendees at one of its upcoming events.

NextBio, a software company in the life sciences, is holding a competition for Student Travel Grants that will help the winners attend the scientific conference of their choice. The grants are for student researchers currently enrolled in an M.S., M.D., or Ph.D. program and registered with Nextbio. Applicants must submit a one-page essay telling how NextBio has assisted them in their research and must include a link to the applicant's NextBio profile. First, second, and third-place winners will receive funding of $1000, $500, and $250 respectively. Grant applications must be submitted to NextBio by 30 March 2010. Recipients will be notified by 29 April 2010.

The Pasteur Foundation offers travel grants for American scientists who have already registered to attend the International Congress on Viruses of Microbes at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. Applicants must be Ph.D. students or postdoctoral researchers who will be presenting a poster or oral presentation at the meeting. Zuccaire Travel Grants-Viruses of Microbes offer funding up to $2000 to attend the conference, which will take place 21-25 June 2010. Send all necessary documents to and The application deadline is 1 April 2010.

The full announcements and application details for these programs can be found on the Nextbio and Pasteur Foundation Web sites.

If you're interviewing for jobs, the folks doing the hiring will probably do a Google search on your name -- at a minimum. This isn't news; we've certainly written about it before. But it may be surprising to learn that, according to a recent survey of 1100 hiring managers, 70% of U.S. companies say they have disqualified candidates based on what they find online when they do those searches. That same survey found that only 7% of U.S. consumers think their online footprint affects their job search.

The survey, commissioned by Microsoft and released earlier this year, included interviews with recruiters, hiring managers, human resources professionals, and consumers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France. There were some notable differences in responses across the countries; for example, 41% of hiring managers in the U.K., 16% in Germany, and 14% in France said they've disqualified candidates base on what they've found out about the candidate online.

At the same time, 13% and 10% of consumers (who aren't well defined in the report, other than the fact that they use the Internet and half of them were under age 30) in Germany and France, respectively think that online information about them would affect their job search. This figure is 9% for U.K. consumers.

Three-quarters of recruiters and HR professionals surveyed say their companies formally require that hiring personnel research each applicant online. Recruiters reported that they look at social networking sites, photo and video sharing sites, professional and business networking sites, personal web sites, blogs, news sharing sites, online forums, virtual world sites, and online gaming sites, among others, though the percentage of recruiters who search each of these categories varies.

So why would a company reject a candidate based on what they find online? In descending order, the answers given were as follows:

  • concerns about the candidate's lifestyle
  • inappropriate comments and text written by the candidate
  • unsuitable photos, videos, and information
  • inappropriate comments or text written by friends or relatives
  • comments criticizing previous employers, co-workers, or clients
  • inappropriate comments or text written by colleagues or work acquaintances
  • membership in certain groups and networks
  • discovery that information given by the candidate was false
  • poor communication skills displayed online
  • concern about the candidate's financial background.

Eight in 10 consumers say they make some effort to keep personal and professional online identities separate. What do they do? Here are some of the responses:

  • Regularly search for information about themselves online
  • Use alerts to notify them when their name is mentioned online
  • Use privacy settings on social networking sites
  • Restrict access to personal Web site
  • Use multiple online profiles

The take-home message (though not one that's emphasized in the survey report) is that you need to pay attention to what people can find out about you online, particularly if you're doing a job search. Be mindful of what a simple search of your name and your e-mail address will bring up. You can't really do anything about data on people with the same name as you, but if there is potentially harmful or untrue information about the real you, try to get rid of it. And, consider carefully those college photos that anyone can search and find. Our favorite in-house story on that last category: Our editor did a Google search on a source quoted in an article on professionalism and found that the source's Facebook profile photo showed him sitting on a toilet, beer in hand. Fortunately for him, he already had a job.

The full survey report (PDF) and a slide presentation on it are available on the Microsoft Web site.

This week, the U.K. Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) announced that it will commit up to £15 million (about US$23 million) to training in food security research and development through its Advanced Training Partnerships scheme. "The scheme will support the development of staff within the sector and help companies with succession planning in niche skill areas. Collaboration between training providers and industry partners will ensure that high level skills relevant to crops, livestock, and food are employed throughout the development pipeline," it says here.

It's a timely announcement, as Science Magazine devotes much of this week's issue to the critical issue of food security -- that is, ensuring an adequate food supply for the world's population, expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. The coverage includes reviews, perspective articles, a special news package, and an editorial. This week's Science podcast is devoted entirely to food security.

Science Careers pitched in with two articles on the topic: An overview piece, Careers in Food Security Span Several Disciplines, by Wales-based writer Cath Janes, and a profile, Plant Geneticist Cultivating a Future for Peanut Farming in Uganda, written by freelance writer Gaia Vince.

The articles both illustrate the multidisciplinary nature of a career in food security. "You have to ask yourself how you can get into food security," U.K. science adviser John Beddington told Janes. "There are lots of disciplines relating to food security, and that makes it an attractive career. Yet you have to understand the science as well as how your work is applicable to food producers in tackling a lack of water or their fight against pests."

Greetings to those of you coming to the blog from the Working in the Media event at the University of Cambridge! And hello to everyone else, too. :) Below is a round-up of articles and resources on science writing, editing, and similar careers. Enjoy!

Articles from Science Careers:

Starting a Career in Science Writing

Careers in Science Editing: Feature Index
This feature contains more than two dozen profiles of scientists who have found careers in scientific editing, whether it's at book publishers, journals, or international agencies.

Getting the Message Across: Scientists in Public Relations
More than a dozen profiles of scientists who've found rewarding work in public relations at agencies and scientific organizations.

Science Broadcasting: Feature Index
Scientists from around the world talk about working in radio and television, whether it's full time or an occasional thing.

Careers in Medical Writing: Opening Doors *Feature Index*
Medical writing includes many different types of jobs, from working in biotech companies to regulatory agencies. This collection of essays covers some of these diverse jobs. We also revisited this topic more recently in Working as a Medical Writer.

Associations and Other Resources:

The Association of British Science Writers has some useful resources, including its booklet, "So you want to be a science writer".

The World Federation of Science Journalists has an online course in science journalism, with modules written by experts in each topic.

The European Commission has published the European Guide to Science Journalism Training, which does what it says on the tin.

If you'd like to try out a career in the media, why not apply for a media fellowship? The two largest programs available are the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows Program and the British Science Association Media Fellowships. (The deadline for the AAAS fellowship has unfortunately passed (it was Jan. 15), but the deadline for the British Science Association fellowship is March 2.)

According to a story published today by Zoë Corbyn in the Times Higher Education supplement, the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of Newcastle in the United Kingdom has urged its principal investigators (PIs) to keep a better check on the originality of draft papers written by younger scientists.

The faculty's research strategy committee recently recommended "appropriate supervision of postdoctoral staff, 'including the previewing of draft papers' and the use of 'native English-speaking staff to support junior colleagues," Corbyn writes. The recommendation follows a case of plagiarism that led to the withdrawal of a paper that had been published last July. As explained by the faculty's dean of research, "the postdoc had inappropriately copied a large piece of text, and the principal investigator... had not checked his work," Corbyn reports.

Close mentoring and good training are needed to help young scientists learn proper procedures -- some plagiarism is unintentional -- and adopt appropriate ethical standards. But there is something in the recommendation that makes me a little uneasy. While it puts the onus on the PI to guarantee original research and writing, it seems to imply that only early-career scientists are prone to plagiarism. 

To me, a more appropriate recommendation would be to encourage and train both PIs and young scientists on how to avoid, detect, and report plagiarism -- by their younger AND their older colleagues.

Read the full THE story here.

More than 70% of employers say they are not receiving enough applications from doctoral graduates. That is the finding of a new report, "Recruiting Researchers: Survey of Employer Practice 2009," by Vitae, the U.K.-funded career development organization for doctorate holders and postdocs. "What we are looking for is first class brains," one employer noted.

Vitae surveyed 104 employers from a diverse mix of sectors, size, and academic orientation, ranging from, for example, QinetiQ and AstraZeneca to Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Office Depot. Nearly three quarters of the companies are interested in recruiting doctoral graduates, but many employers feel they are not adequately reaching this group of potential employees. This could indicate a trend of increasing interest among employers toward doctoral graduates, the report's authors hypothesize, proposing an additional study for 2010 to establish if this is in fact the case.  

About a third of companies surveyed say they do actively recruit doctoral graduates, and 73% said they would welcome more applications from Ph.D. holders. Doctoral graduates, then, should take note of this and learn to articulate their unique skills to stand out during the ranking process, the report concludes.

What are those unique skills? David Cairncross, secretary of the CBI Inter-Company Academic Relations Group, writes in the report, "The process of achieving a doctorate develops an enquiring mind, problem-solving abilities and the ability to assimilate new ideas quickly" -- which are all highly valued skills even in a tough job market. The participating employers ranked data analysis, problem solving, and drive and motivation as the skills in which they expect top performance from doctorate holders. Project management, interpersonal skills, leadership, and commercial awareness were generally ranked lower.

"We must ensure that there is awareness on all sides of the very real commercial benefits which can be gained by the U.K. economy from employing an extraordinarily talented and diverse group of people," Cairncross writes.

The full report (PDF) and a short summary of the report are available on the Vitae Web site.

- Sverker Lundin

January 4, 2010

The Playground of Life

As we waved goodbye to the Noughties (a term I hadn't actually heard until about 2 weeks ago) and welcomed 2010, I found myself doing the annual personal inventory of what I accomplished last year and what I want to do in the next. I kept coming back to a question I heard repeated over and over a few months ago: "How are you going to have no regrets on Sunday?"

This isn't a question about Catholic guilt (unless you want it to be): It's a question for anyone who's due (or overdue) for a hard look at his or her personal goals and career interests. It came from Peter Hawkins, director of the Windmills program, who gave the closing plenary talk at the Vitae Researcher Development Conference in September. He had asked us to think of our lives as a week: You're born on Monday morning. Monday night, you're 12 years old. By Tuesday night, you're 24; Wednesday, 36 years old; and so on.

Sunday is the last "day" of your life ("If you do the health and fitness stuff, you might have a bank holiday Monday," Hawkins quipped). "Where are you in the week?" Hawkins asked. "Where are the people who are important to you in your life? Wherever you are in your week, how are you going to have no regrets on Sunday?"

He led us through a series of exercises to get us thinking about how each of us would answer that question. He started by asking, of the hundreds of skills you have (yes, you have hundreds of skills), do you know which five or six you really love using? What are they? Then, are you maximizing those skills in a way that inspires you every day?

climbing.JPGThe next set of exercises came from Monday morning -- childhood, in other words. He used six things found on a playground to frame the discussion: Swings (life is full of ups and downs), see-saw (you've got to find balance), a roundabout (merry-go-round to Americans -- life can spin us in circles), a climbing frame (there are obstacles), a bench (the community around you), and a slide (the things you need to do to take the plunge).

I thought the series of questions he asked for some of these items were useful, so I'll share them here.

To avoid getting stuck in the roundabout, think about what you'd like to achieve in four areas:
-In terms of work, what would you like to achieve? What is important in the next 10 or 20 years of your career to have no regrets on Sunday?
-What would you like to learn? What skills and talents would you like to acquire?
-In terms of playing and having fun, what would you like to accomplish? Have you focused on your passions? Have you travelled as much as you'd like? Pursued hobbies you've dreamed of doing?
-What would you like to do in terms of giving? "In a hundred years' time, you won't be remembered for the size of your house, the size of your bank balance, or the speed of your car. You'll be remembered for whose lives you've touched," Hawkins said. How have you used the skills you're passionate about to give to others?

slide.JPGThen, the obstacles: What is the biggest barrier that's preventing you from having no regrets about what you can accomplish? Then, question it. If it's time, how much time? If it's money, how much money? "Is the barrier a real barrier or is it just a reasonable excuse not to live your life?" Hawkins asked.  
Next, who is sitting on your bench supporting you? Who are your mentors? Who is missing from your bench?

Finally, think about one thing you could do to push yourself down the slide to accomplish your goals. "What leap of faith are you going to take your personal or professional life forward?" he asked.

At the conference in September, these exercises meant different things to different people at my table. For some, it was a very career-oriented exercise. For others, the questions struck an intensely personal chord. Grab a notebook and answer those questions for yourself if you'd like -- I surprised myself when I saw my answers on paper. If you have a half an hour or so, you can watch Hawkins' presentation on the Vitae Web site. Hawkins also has more exercises on the Windmills Web site.

"We only have one shot at it," Hawkins said at the end of the talk. "We're all going to have the ups and downs, we're all going to have challenges with the balance. We're all going to go around in circles. Find the right people on your bench, and take the plunge."

Happy 2010, everyone: May it be a year full of personal discovery, growth, success, and no regrets.

seesaw.JPGThe author and her husband work on balance during a 50-mile bike ride in the Suffolk countryside.

rachel-small.jpgRachel Armstrong defies categorization. Trained as a physician, Armstrong practiced medicine for about 6 years before leaving to work in pharmaceutical communications and to pursue artistic collaborations. Now a teaching fellow at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London, she was a 2009 TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Global Fellow, where her talk centered on her current work on "metabolic materials" to solve architectural challenges -- such as growing a synthetic reef under Venice to save it from rising water levels.

So, it's next to impossible to describe what she does in a few words -- and that's deliberate: "Once you start becoming categorized, you start restricting your available options to solve problems," she told an audience at the Wellcome Collection in London earlier this month.

The work she does now is part synthetic biology, part chemistry, part architecture, all with a healthy dose of creativity: "I'm driven by the fundamental creativity of science," she said. "We hear about the rational side of science, we don't really get to hear about the emotional commitment that scientists make to their research. It is not your rational brain that keeps you in the lab until 11 o'clock at night."

Armstrong loved both biology and art as a kid, but was nudged toward the sciences in school. "By the time I went through school, I was told that sciences was where I wanted to be. So by the time I'd reached university and enrolled in medical sciences, I hadn't even thought about what the outcome would be -- that I'd end up as a doctor."

She found that, while she loved interacting with patients, she felt a sort of ethical conflict in practicing medicine. "The tension I felt was practicing by protocol as opposed to practicing from first principles," she said. "That's where my sense of an ethical conflict came from. You go into medicine as a complete idealist, but then you end up with someone else's politics."

When she left medicine, she worked as a multimedia producer in the pharmaceutical industry. At the same time, she started collaborating with artists such as Orlan and Stelarc. "I used the creative aspects of science to ask the questions that interested me, but outside the laboratory."

Her interest and curiosity converged in architecture. She had been invited to teach students about the impact of technology on the body, she says, but "I realized that rather than making buildings that were body-centric, the paradigm could be reversed so that we could consider our architecture as a kind of artificial ecology," she told me in a follow-up e-mail this week. "This was really exciting as it allowed me to think about the synthetic biology questions that I loved in a new way. Not only was the science that I enjoyed now accessible in a social (rather than a laboratory) space but could be challenged at a whole new level of scale."

At the Wellcome Collection talk, she joked that when she left medicine, she basically had no qualifications as a scientist. "You're good for nothing," she quipped. So I asked her by e-mail this week how she made herself into an expert in this niche of living architecture:

"By having a vision and pursuing it with passion, despite the obstacles and contradictions of not really 'fitting' in with any readily recognizable discipline. But I would also say that I am lucky. I think we are in the midst of a change in the way that we view the world," she wrote. "As we realize that most things are not based on Cartesian mechanics which assumes that objects are made of the sum of their parts, nothing more, we now are having to admit that 'life' is much more complex and interconnected, so we are having to talk across disciplines and fields of expertise and cross-fertilize our knowledge."

Photo credit: Wellcome Images

December 4, 2009

Learning British Culture

"Nobody queues like the British," Crispin Harris said recently to an audience of career advisers. At the time, the 50 of us in the room were, in fact, standing in a queue -- a single-file line that snaked around the room, formed within seconds from a chaotic group milling about.

The significance of this might be lost on some, but to an expat (like me), standing in a queue to, say, get on a bus is a uniquely British behavior. Harris and his colleague Pete Bailie are co-directors of VOX Coaching, which runs courses and workshops on giving presentations, networking, and managing relationships. They've recently teamed up with the University of Manchester to develop a course on British culture. The point of the queuing exercise was to emphasize that recognizing such subtle, ahem, cues about behavior can be a key to understanding a person's and a country's culture.

"Very often people just find the English hard to read," Harris said in an interview after a workshop, "Culture Club: Why Are the British Like That?" at the Vitae Researcher Development Conference held in September at the University of Warwick. "It's not that they find the behavior difficult or challenging or threatening; it's that they find it incomprehensible. They can't read it, so they can't learn."

Recognizing cultural differences in behaviors and ways of conducting business can help people interact better with the others around them, Bailie added. "A lot of the information that we're giving off is through our vocal tone and our body language, and that's where we make judgments about people," Bailie said. "So you have to think, OK, what of that is them personally, and what is them culturally?"

This comes into play particularly in the lab, both with supervisor relationships and with relationships with lab peers, who may be from very different regions of the world and have to work closely together. "In terms of management style, the British management style is to give quite indirect suggestions, often with a bit of humor, in a very roundabout way, and then muddle through, whereas the model in Germany or the USA or Japan is very different," Bailie said. "In the States, communication is much more direct and ... people appreciate a bit more inspiration and a bit of sell. In Britain, that really doesn't go down well."

At the September session, Bailie and Harris handed out a worksheet that divided certain cultural characteristics into three groups: linear active, multi-active, and reactive. Do the people around you talk half the time, talk most of the time, or listen most of the time? Are they polite but direct, emotional, or polite and indirect? Do they use limited body language, unlimited body language, or subtle body language?

Acknowledging these types of differences in the people around you is the goal of Bailie and Harris workshops, rather than telling people how to adapt their behavior when they come to Britain, Harris emphasized. "We're not saying that people will learn how they should behave," Harris said. "[They will] just understand some of the processes whereby they will learn by observing, by questioning, by asking for help, and by trying out different things."

This morning I took part in a local career event organized by the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) Barcelona and the Parc Científic Barcelona (PCB). This career event, entitled 'Career progression in science -- options beyond the bench' took an unusual format that I think worked really well. 

In a 1-hour session, 7 speakers each talked about their own career transition for 5-10 minutes. A good breadth of career options were represented; among the speakers were a research and innovation manager, an entrepreneur, an investment manager, a science communicator, a European grant program officer, a patent attorney, and a science journalist (that was me).

It was interesting to see the many common themes that emerged from these presentations:  the realization at Ph.D. or postdoctoral level that a career in science is not the right path, either because one doesn't enjoy some particular aspects of research or because one isn't a first-division researcher; the risk that leaving a career in academia represents; the many small steps one has to make to stir his or her career in a new direction; the readiness to experience different jobs and countries; and the importance of continuing to have a wide range of professional experiences even after the transition. 

After these presentations, we all went into a coffee room where each speaker was allocated a table. Attendees were then left free to go and chat with any speaker they were interested in. The smell of coffee and the nice pastries helped give this session an informal and interactive feel.

One theme that kept coming back around my table was, how do you break into science journalism? Should I go for a journalism course or start working right away? Should I get a job or go freelance? These are all legitimate questions, but impossible to answer decisively. I felt I was being asked for a kind of recipe for baking a science journalism career.

My response: try and explore a range of opportunities that is as broad as possible. This will help you get to know the sector and can help you decide whether this is really what you want to do. If you are in the lucky position of having to choose between different opportunities, pick the one that best suits your aspirations and personal circumstances.

Altogether, this informal session lasted for 2 hours, and all of the speakers were kept busy with a constant stream of questions. Both speakers and attendants seemed really pleased with the event. I certainly was.

The number of science and engineering students from abroad jumped 20% at American institutions in the 2008-09 academic year, with the biggest gains recorded in engineering and computer science. Science and engineering students now comprise about half of all international students in the U.S. and nearly two-thirds of international graduate students.

According to the Open Doors survey, conducted annually by the Institute of International Education (IIE, funded by the U.S. Department of State), the number of science and engineering students increased from about 267,000 in the 2007-08 academic year to about 319,000 in 2008-09, an increase of nearly 20%.  That's about half (48%) of the 671,600 international students in the United States in 2008-09, up from 43% of the total in the previous year.

Except for agriculture, international students in all the scientific and engineering categories increased by double-digit percentages in 2008-09. Engineering and computer/information science students increased by about a quarter (24%), while life, physical, social, and health science disciplines all increased between 14-17%. The number of agricultural students from abroad stayed about the same as in 2007-08.

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Nearly two-thirds (65%) of international graduate students at American universities during the 2008-09 study science or engineering. About a quarter (24%) of international graduate students are in engineering programs and 13% of international graduate students are in the physical and life sciences. About 11% of international graduate students are studying mathematics or computer science,  and 9% of international graduate students are in the social sciences.

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About 4 in 10 international undergraduates are in science or engineering programs. Some 12% of international undergrads are studying engineering, while nearly 1 in 10 (9%) are majoring in the social sciences. About 5-7% each are in undergraduate physical/life science, mathematics/computer science, or health programs.

Overall, the number of international students in the U.S. increased by nearly 8% in 2008-09, to 671,600. Of the total, about 41% come from India, China, or South Korea. The number of students from China increased by about 21% year over year. Vietnamese students increased by 46%, to about 12,800, compared to 2007-08 -- the largest increase for any country. (IIE did not provide country breakdowns by field of study.)

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.)

The Wellcome Trust plans to phase out its 3-year to 5-year research grants in favor of larger and more flexible grants that last up to 7 years, reports Jocelyn Kaiser in this week's issue of Science. The organization will put $183 million toward the new Investigator Awards beginning in 2011.

"The idea is to empower the very best scientists to tackle difficult, long-term questions," says Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, a U.K.-based charity that funds biomedical research. The organization hopes that the awards will help researchers more successfully tackle large research questions without the constraints of low funding or a short grant cycle.

Read the full story in this week's issue of Science, and see the Wellcome Trust Web site for the announcement of the new program.

A Wall Street Journal reader wrote to Toddi Gutner, one of the newspaper's careers advisers, about a question uppermost in the minds of job-hunters over the age of 40: How do you deal with your age in interviews and resumes? The reader said, in his question published today, that he received conflicting advice from people he trusted.

While most Science Careers' readers are early-career scientists, this is not a far-fetched issue for some of our readers. Among our Facebook fans, for example, 6% are age 45 or older. Our  Science Careers story last week about the career of Patricia Alireza, who earned a Ph.D. in physics at the age of 45 after raising a family, got a few "thumbs up" on our Facebook page.

In one respect, the current tough job market may give older job-hunters an advantage. "This is a good time to position yourself as a deeply competent and confident professional in your area of expertise and experience," Rabia de Lande Long, a consultant and executive coach told Gutner. "In uncertain economic times, employers can be drawn more to experienced workers who join with ready-to-use skills and a shallow learning curve."

One specific question the reader asked was whether to include the dates of college degrees on your resume, since they enable hiring managers can calculate your age. Gutner says that in most cases it's a good idea to include the dates. If you don't, it suggests that you have something to hide, which would raise even more questions among H.R. departments and hiring managers. Plus, employers frequently verify dates of previous employment and educational attainment, so there is little reason to hide the dates on your resume.

If you are in your mid-50s and older, be prepared for more resistance among hiring managers. But there are ways to deal with it. A flattering photo on your LinkedIn profile may dispel some doubts. But more importantly, says career coach de Lande Long, you want to use your cover letter to differentiate yourself from the common perception of older candidates, "by showing results, (understanding of) technology and demonstrate ease in interacting with colleagues of all ages," she says.

Another professional advises older job-seekers to avoid the 'been there, done that' attitude. Instead, show interest, commitment, enthusiasm and energy. "If you're bored with your profession, you can be sure that comes through in an interview," says Susan Chadick, a principal at Chadick Ellig, an executive-search firm serving small and mid-size companies and startups.

As a science journalist, I've had the opportunity to interview several Nobel prize winners. Such high-profile scientists are usually pretty obsessed with their science and more than happy to talk about it all day. But it's one thing to ask a Nobel winner to explain how her research fits into our greater understanding of life. It's another to ask if she has any tips for balancing family life with lab life.

Yet I had just such an opportunity earlier this month when I got to listen in on a conference call of this year's four science/economics women Nobel laureates, convened by Science deputy news editor Jeff Mervis. Jeff started off with the policy-oriented issues: What immediate steps should be taken to increase the number of women going into science and improve conditions for those already in the field? Are gender-based awards useful? How is it possible for an organization such as the National Institutes of Health to launch an award competition and announce a class of grantees that is all men?

Once everyone had warmed up a bit, we started in with some more personal questions. For example: To what extent do you have to blend your personal and your professional lives to achieve a balance? Has there been anything that's helped you be successful in terms of managing your time?

Here are some highlights of the conversation:

On work-life balance:

- Elizabeth Blackburn, age 60, professor of biology and physiology at the University of California, San Francisco, who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: "I think that the message of balance is somewhat overplayed, in my view, because if you're doing something intense like having a family and doing science, they're both intense things, and so this idea that somehow every day is sort of balanced I think it's really a bad message, actually, to try and send people. ... So I try and send the message, for goodness sake, don't go for balance. That sounds very boring to me, you know, in this sort of 9 to 5 and you're balancing your life. Go for these things intensely in the periods when you have to go for them and the balance will take care of itself over decades."

- Carol Grieder, age 48, professor of molecular biology and genetics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: "It's actually very nice to be in science because what we're judged on in the end is how productive we are and what we get done and it's not necessarily 9 to 5, and so I feel like I do have a lot of freedom. You know, I'll go out for my son's play at school at 2 o'clock in the afternoon and then come back again, and that kind of freedom to have a flexible schedule, I think, is not always true in other professions. So it's a reason for people to choose science over some other careers that they might have."

- Ada Yonath, age 70, professor of structural biology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, who shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry: "In my day-to-day life, I don't sit and think about this, it just comes. This is the way I am and this is the way I run my life, and I don't really sit and organize myself . ... It just happens. And I'm very happy that I have a very fantastic relationship with my daughter and granddaughter, although I'm not what is called a normal mother, if there is something like normal mother." 

On choosing family and career:

- Indiana University professor Elinor Ostrom, age 76, the first woman to ever receive the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel: "Well, as a somewhat older participant, I had a clear decision and made a decision not to have a family because in earlier times that would have been a very, very difficult thing to accomplish."

- Greider: "I come from the other spectrum in that I was able to see around me a number of women, including Liz, who were able to have children and have a career, and although there were many fewer women in the higher ranks of academia, there were still some to suggest that it could be done. So just in the same way that you have to go forward with experiments sometime, not knowing what's going to happen, I just went forward with the experiment of having kids and the career and trying to do both full-time."

- Blackburn: "I think there's a lot of conventional ideas about what it should be to be a mother and, you know, certain sorts of formulary and stereotypes are there and I really think that they're not terribly helpful, some of these ideas, because I really think children are busy, you know, scientists do get family lives that are, perhaps, different in some ways but not less good."

And my favorite part of the conversation: Learning that Blackburn's secret to balancing a successful scientific career and motherhood can be found in your grocer's freezer section. I asked the laureates if there's anything that's helped them be successful in terms of managing their time. "Is it time for me to tell the Bagel Bites story?" Blackburn asked. "It's about producing beautiful cookies or cupcakes with beautiful icing and you're up till 2 a.m. making them for your children. This is what motherhood is supposed to be like, right?

"Well, it turns out that if you go to your supermarket, you can buy these little Bagel Bite things, they're called commercially, and you put them in the oven and they have cheese on the top and they bubble and they're lovely and brown and taste wonderful. And you take them to any children's function, and the children swarm over them, they love them, ... and it takes 12 minutes in the oven to cook. So my feeling is there's plenty of time ... to catch the essence of what it is that people like mothers to do, but you don't have to do it in a very laborious, conventional way."

Read more highlights of the interview in this week's Science, listen to highlights in this week's Science podcast, or listen to the entire interview.

And, for more on work-life balance (if there is such a thing) and other related Science Careers articles, check out Work and Life in the Balance, Mind Matters: On Balance, Scientists as Parents, and Reflected Glory: Life With a Nobelist Parent,  

In May 2008, Science Careers' Elisabeth Pain told of recruiting efforts by the European Space Agency (ESA) to find four new astronauts for upcoming missions. ESA is back this month, but this time they're seeking pretenders. ESA is looking for a team to simulate a 520-day mission to Mars. While ESA requires professional credentials of these volunteers, compensation will be in line with taking part in a clinical trial, and not a professional salary.

The crew of six chosen for this mission will live and work in a sealed facility in Moscow, Russia operated by ESA and Russia's Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP). ESA and IBMP hope through this exercise to learn more about the psychological and medical toll on its crew members. The mission aims to simulate a 520-day space flight, including a 30-day visit to the Martian surface. During this surface-exploration phase of the simulated journey, half of the crew will move to a Martian simulation module and the main facility will be sealed off.

Candidates must be in the age range 20-50, in good health, no taller than 185 cm (about 6 feet), and fluent in English or Russian, the working languages of the mission. Candidates must have a background and work experience in medicine, biology, life-support systems engineering, computer engineering, electronic engineering, or mechanical engineering. Participants are restricted to nationals and residents of member countries in ESA's European Programme for Life and Physical Sciences: Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Spain, France, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Norway, The Netherlands, Sweden and Canada.

The call for volunteers does not mention compensation, except for "a fixed compensation that is in line with international standards for participation in clinical studies." The deadline for applications is 5 November.

Hat-tip: Slashdot

Most postdocs in the U.K. are generally satisfied with their current jobs and their work-life balance; however, up to a third of them don't feel that their wider contributions are appreciated, according to a new survey published by Vitae, the U.K.'s career development organization for postdocs (a.k.a. research staff) and graduate students.

The survey, which includes nearly 6000 responses, representing 16% of the total number of U.K. postdocs, from all disciplines -- not just science -- asked postdocs about their employment contracts, their job experience, experiences within their institutions, their career planning support, training and development, and their career aspirations.

Of those who responded:

  • 21% found their current positions by word of mouth only.
  • 71% feel they are integrated into their departmental research community.
  • 31% don't feel their efforts in managing staff and managing resources are appreciated.
  • 58% hope to have a career in higher education in 5 years' time that combines research and teaching.
  • 28% responded that they want to pursue a career outside of research.
  • 50% say they have a clear career plan.
In addition, 85% of the respondents had been postgraduate researchers for 1 to 5 years; 12.5% reported that they work part-time; and they're funded by a variety of mechanisms: 21% are funded by the institution, 38% by the research councils, 20% by charities, 6% by industry, 14% by the U.K. government, and 9% by the European Union or Commission.

The report's recommendations are mostly targeted at higher education institutions so they can best meet the needs of research staff. But if you'd like to have a look at the report to see how your answers might stack up against 6000 other postdocs, you can find the report on Vitae's Web site (links to PDF).

The European Commission has launched a public consultation on mobility opportunities in Europe following the release of its Green Paper, 'Promoting the Learning Abilities of Young People.'

The Green Paper focuses on all young people, not just scientists, but it can be an informative read for European scientists considering a move to another European country for the first time. The document refers to European mobility initiatives and information portals, and highlights aspects of relocation that you may not have considered, like the legal issues and the portability of grants and loans.

If you have experience with mobility around Europe, you can take part on the consultation until 15 December, and help new European policy enhance mobility experiences for other young scientists.


Monday's announcement of the Nobel prize in economics brought the number of women honored in this year's Nobel Prizes to five (out of 13 total): "The largest number ever to join the ranks in a single year," noted the Web site.

It's tough to know whether this is something to celebrate.

Let's set aside the gender imbalance for a moment and instead focus on the women:

On Monday, Indiana University professor Elinor Ostrom became the first woman to win the economics prize (officially called the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel) for her analysis of economic governance. (She's also a member of Science's Board of Reviewing Editors.) In an interview with Adam Smith from, Ostrom noted that economics is a male-dominated field. "I've attended economics sessions where I've been the only woman in the room," Ostrom said. "But that is slowly changing. I think there's a greater respect now that women can make a major contribution, and I would hope the recognition here is helping that along." (See also ScienceInsider's item on the economics prize.)

Last week, Herta Müller, a Romanian-born German writer, became the 12th woman (out of 106 recipients) to win the Literature prize. She, "with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed," according to the Nobel committee.

Ada Yonath, professor of structural biology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, was the 4th woman to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry for her work on the structure and function of ribosomes. "I never thought about me being a woman or not when I did science," she said in an interview last year. Indeed, the wisdom she had for those of us in the audience at last year's European Platform of Women Scientists Annual Conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, focused on the process of science rather than on any issue of gender:

"In the 27 years that I was working with ribosomes, ... I took away this fantastic piece of wisdom: According to some theory, almost anyone can be a genius if they focus on a single endeavor to the exclusion of all else," she said. "But how can people today maintain such focus when they face so many distractions? In my opinion, it can only be done by being allowed to work on demanding projects for relatively long periods, even when no physical results are emerging. We worked 20 years until we had the first structure [of ribosomes]. We had a huge puzzle to put together, and every piece was for us a big, gratifying moment."

In fact, it was a Nobel Prize-worthy puzzle. (Click here for ScienceNOW's coverage of the chemistry Nobel prize.)

Last but not least, this year's winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine included Elizabeth Blackburn, professor of biology and physiology at the University of California, San Francisco; and Carol Grieder, professor of molecular biology and genetics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, for their work on telomeres and telomerase. (Click here for ScienceNOW's coverage of the physiology or medicine Nobel prize.)

People often note that there the telomere field seems to be dominated by women. Grieder addressed this in her interview and in Tuesday's New York Times. I like what Blackburn had to say in her interview with "It's fairly close to the biological ratio of men and women. It's all the other fields that are aberrant. This is the normal field," she said, laughing.

Smith asked Blackburn if she worked to promote women in the science. "I've only actively promoted what we always hope is good science. It's not as if one would favor a woman researcher in this area over a man researcher in the area. Women have come into this field, perhaps because ... of the kinds of things that I've been doing, and Carol [has been doing]. We are women, and we tended to have women students and postdocs--not 100%; they tended to be 50-50 men and women, which is already higher than the usual ratio. There's a self-perpetuating aspect to that." She continued: "You want women to have access to science because it's such a wonderful thing to do."

Blackburn's comments reinforce the notion that a mentor who looks like you can have a positive effect. So, while it's hard to know whether to celebrate or bemoan the fact that, for the first time ever, 38% of the new Nobel laureates are women, I am happy that these women have been recognized and hope they will be inspiration for the current and emerging generation of women scientists.

The European Commission recently released a book to celebrate the achievements of European women scientists of all times. "For much of human history, women were officially excluded from the scientific realm," Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for Science and Research states on the book's Web page. Yet "many women, throughout the centuries, have managed to overcome their marginalisation and excel in their chosen field, making vital contributions to the sum of human knowledge."

The book, entitled Women in Science, tells the story of 40 women scientists, some of them well known and some others less so. The book is a reminder that "women scientists, even when the odds are stacked against them, are the equal of men. Celebrating the achievements of the women of yesteryear can provide young women today with role models and examples to aspire to in their quest for scientific excellence," reads the introduction.

You may read the book for free here or listen to the story of each woman in separate audio files.

If you're interested in learning more about Hypatia of Alexandria in particular, you'll even soon be able to watch part of her story in a totally unrelated initiative: Spanish film director Alejandro Amenábar has just made a new movie called Agora that explores the life and work of the Alexandrian astronomer, mathematician, and philosopher. (The movie is to hit Spanish cinema screens on 9 October.)

If you are a European woman in the life sciences who is looking for new professional opportunities, you may want to join the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO)'s WILS database of expert women in life sciences.

The WILS database aims to promote gender equality in Europe by making female scientists more visible to the scientific community, research bodies, political institutions, and journal editors. For women life scientists, this could mean opportunities to apply for open positions, speak at conferences, participate in interesting service opportunities, or review research manuscripts for journals. 

You may join the database by submitting an application here. Eligibility criteria include being of European nationality or working in Europe, already having earned a Ph.D., and having at least one international publication as the first or last author. (Current postdocs need to have obtained at least one publication from their postdoctoral work.)

"It is the purpose of the database to increase the participation of women at all levels and make it easy for scientists to identify women who may not be in their direct field. We all know that in particular at the higher level female scientists are scarce, which makes them easy to overlook. The database will fill that gap," Gerlind Wallon, EMBO Deputy Director, writes in an email to Science Careers.

The WILS database will build upon the Database of Expert Women in the Molecular Life Sciences that was launched in 2005 by the European Life Scientist Organization (ELSO). ELSO merged with EMBO at the end of 2008.


COST, an intergovernmental framework that facilitates cooperation among European nations in science and technology, has just released a video about its COST training schools. The COST schools, which are run in 9 different research fields, are open to early-career European scientists, and grants are available to cover the cost.

The video briefly outlines the main benefits of attending a COST training school. It's an opportunity, the video says, to learn new theoretical and practical things, look at your research from a different angle, share your experience with other young scientists, expand your network, and initiate new collaborations.

Watching the video can help you decide whether such a program would be worth the investment of a week of your time.

Hat tip: Athena Web

Our colleague Eli Kinitsch has posted an exchange of notes on the Science Insider blog with two early-career scientists about the paperwork burden forced on junior researchers. Their particular gripe is the amount of time devoted to writing grant proposals.  The post is a response to a recent story in PLOS Biology from an anonymous British researcher bitterly complaining about the burden of grant writing to support a lab, including the "salesmanship and networking" required.

The two researchers offer ideas on how to reform the system, including a call for better training in the business skills needed to run an independent lab. It's worth a look.

Science Careers's Elisabeth Pain recently told how several early-career scientists in the U.S. and Europe who achieve independence are coping with this system and offers a list of resources (including related Science Careers articles) to help junior researchers achieve and keep their independence.

One lesson gained from Michael Moore's film Sicko, and from this year's health care debate, is that Americans can learn a lot about health care from other countries. Now, the Commonwealth Fund offers fellowships in health care policy for experts from Europe and elsewhere to come to America, learn, and teach.

The Harkness Fellowships in Health Care Policy offer an opportunity for mid-career health-services researchers and practitioners from Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom to travel to the United States to conduct research on health policy and share what they discover.

Awardees receive up to $107,000 to spend 9-12 months working with U.S. health policy experts. After completing their research, awardees will publish their findings in a peer-reviewed journal or a report for policy-makers. The Commonwealth Fund hopes that these reports will provide a mix of health care ideas that have worked in other countries that can be combined with a U.S. health care strategy. The foundation expects the research to contribute to a system that provides Americans with better health care options.      

The Commonwealth Fund is a New York-based foundation that promotes the development of a health care system that achieves better access, improved quality, and greater efficiency for all people, particularly the most vulnerable: people with low-incomes, the uninsured, minority Americans, young children, and elderly adults.

The deadline for applications is 15 September. More information about the Harkness Fellowships in Health Care Policy, is available on GrantsNet and the Commonwealth Fund Web site.

- Donisha Adams

Donisha Adams is the GrantsNet Program Associate for Science Careers.

The European Commission has launched a feasibility study of pan-European pension funds for researchers, according to a statement (if a blog entry is considered a statement) from Janez Potočnik, European commissioner for research.

The idea is to make it easier for researchers to contribute to, and ultimately collect, a pension fund no matter what country they are or have previously worked in. Science Careers outlined these problems last year in "A Comfortable Retirement." That article summed up the issues nicely:

Although the European Union (E.U.) has made it possible for scientists to cross borders for work almost seamlessly, scientists can be penalized for that mobility when they retire. At fault is the lack of consistent laws regarding pensions across countries: Some don't allow people who take positions outside of their native countries to pay into the system during years spent abroad, and others even penalize them for leaving by cutting their pension payouts drastically. Even when scientists are allowed to pay into pension schemes in the countries in which they work, keeping track of all of them can be a bureaucratic nightmare. Communication among pension agencies is slow and sometimes nonexistent. A retired scientist might have to collect funds from several countries.

A May 2008 European Commission communication, "Better Careers and More Mobility: European Partnership for Researchers," outlined the potential benefits of a pan-European pension fund:

Pension providers should be encouraged to open up pan-EU pension schemes targeted to researchers and companies should be encouraged to use pension providers in other EU Member States. This would allow mobile researchers to contribute to the same supplementary pension fund while working in different EU countries and still comply with the different social, labour and pension legislation in the participating Member States. This will require the possibility of opting out where researchers are obliged to participate in a domestic pension fund by law.

According to Potočnik, the feasibility study will look at how to best meet the needs of researchers while complementing the established pension schemes in member countries. The original tender for the study listed it as an 11-month contract (which was awarded to Hewitt Associates), so, if the study stays on schedule, expect results next summer.

"For me, the link between the work in this area and securing the sustainability of our future research economy is clear," Potočnik writes. "A more mobile, more professionally secure and confident European research workforce is in everyone's interest. And this is especially important when research careers are more 'mobile' than most and are often based on short-term contracts. We owe it to researchers!"

July 20, 2009

Studying Humans in Space

Forty years ago today, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon. But four decades later, how much do we know about how space flight affects the human body?

A new master's degree in human space exploration sciences at the University of Houston (UH) aims to open up the science behind human spaceflight. According to a cleverly timed press release, the new course will cover human physiology in space and how humans may cope with environments on Mars and the moon. It will also teach techniques for building and testing hardware used in space flight, management skills, and the history of the space program.

The course, it says here, is aimed at a variety of people, from students hoping to continue into Ph.D.s in human spaceflight to current space industry workers looking to broaden their knowledge. Course faculty will include NASA's Gary Kitmacher, an expert in astronaut health and habitat; Johnson Space Center's Charles Layne, a human coordination expert; and William Paloski, a UH professor of health and human performance and former NASA researcher in how space flight affects postural stability of astronauts.

Although this may be one of only a handful of degrees devoted to the subject, there are several research groups around the world studying the effects of space flight on the body. Here are some of them:
Space Life Sciences division, Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas
Universities Space Research Association's Division of Space Life Sciences (DSLS), Houston, Texas
National Space Biomedical Research Institute, Houston, Texas
Cleveland Clinic Center for Space Medicine, Cleveland, Ohio
Vanderbilt Center for Space Physiology and Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee
Institute of Aerospace Medicine, Köln, Germany
The Yuri Gagarin Russian State Science Research Cosmonauts Training Centre, Moscow

-Claire Thomas

All this week, Vitae will be publishing new articles daily on research careers and the recession. The first article, written by career adviser Fiona Christie from the University of Salford, has some good general tips: know your sector; know the status of research funding in your country and at your institution; use the careers service at your institution as a resource; and know yourself, your skills, and your limitations. Read the entire article here, and watch this page for new articles throughout the week.

Elizabeth Wilkinson at the University of Manchester has also put together a series of recession-related articles and discussions here. Wilkinson (who recently spoke to us for an article on social networking) also maintains the Manchester Postgraduate Careers Blog.

For a few recession-related Science Careers articles, see Tooling Up: The Cold, Hard Truth About Finding a Job in 2009; In Person: Finding Opportunities in a Dysfunctional Job Market; and Financial Crisis Reshaping the Life Sciences Industry.

July 10, 2009

On Inspiration

This week's Darwin Festival is drawing to a close in Cambridge. It's been an amazing week of lectures, discussions, plays, and performances all to celebrate Charles Darwin on his 200th birthday.

All of us at Science Careers tend to ask people what or who inspired them to go into science. Some people cite Darwin as their inspiration; they are more likely to say that his life's work is inspirational. There's another name that comes up frequently, particularly here in the U.K.: David Attenborough.

Also Cambridge-educated (he studied geology and zoology at Clare College), Attenborough is best known as a television presenter. Off and on for 50 years, he's written and presented countless programs about the natural world -- among his most famous are Life on Earth (and the entire "Life" series), The First Eden, and Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives. Earlier this year he hosted a show called Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life. His excitement and fascination with the natural world shows through in his programs, and he's brought the the natural world to the TV screens of generations of viewers, young and old.

Now 83 years old, Attenborough was the special guest at a sold-out dinner last night at King's College, Cambridge. "Above all, Darwin demonstrated ... that we are members of the natural world, that we're not separate from the natural world, that we're subject to its laws. And if we deny that, we deny our responsibility to ... the future. Charles Darwin is indeed the man who put that in our minds, and for him we should all be grateful."

Why hold the Darwin Festival in Cambridge? Long before the HMS Beagle voyage, settling in Down House, or writing The Origin of Species, Darwin was an undergraduate theology student at Christ's College, Cambridge. Here he developed a love for the natural world, and studied under botany professor John Henslow. He collected beetles on the banks of the River Cam, a hobby he would continue for much of the rest of his life.

The festival has been a testament to the reach of his work: nobel laureates Paul Nurse and Harold Varmus spoke here this week; Lords Martin Rees and Robert May, current and former president, respectively, of the Royal Society, made appearances as well; as did evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. But the festival isn't just for scientists: Authors Terry Pratchett and Ian McEwan, among others, were here to discuss Darwin's influence on literature. At dinner last night I sat next to a lecturer in literature at a U.K. university who has written a book about Darwin in poetry that will be published this autumn. Darwin certainly influenced a wide variety of careers, both in science and out.

An article published last week by The Scientist looks at the short- and long-term consequences of scientific misconduct on the careers of those who perpetrated it.

In Life After Fraud, three scientists give their versions of the facts that led the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI) to declare them guilty of scientific fraud. These scientists were barred from applying for federal funds for up to 5 years, and their names appeared in official documents together with details of their wrongdoings.

While guilty scientists have their names removed from official blacklists once they've paid their dues, remaining traces of their wrongdoings on the Internet keep haunting them long afterwards. All three scientists in the article managed to stay in science, but they had to deal with a tarnished reputation, which sometimes led employers to withdraw job offers after doing a Google search.

In an accompanying editorial, The Scientist's editor and publisher Richard Gallagher finds that "the current ORI procedure for the investigation of fraud seems fair. And the range of penalties for the guilty look, if anything, too lenient." But Gallagher argues that scientists found guilty of scientific misconduct suffer harsher penalties than intended. "A debarment from receiving federal funds for 3 years can effectively turn into a life sentence for researchers, permanently shutting down opportunities and eliminating career advancement," he writes. Gallagher makes a controversial call for a new system of dealing with fraud that also allows the rehabilitation of offenders.


Biology doctoral student, blogger, and Science Careers Facebook fan Danielle Lee points us to a competition that gives the winner an all-expenses-paid trip to Antarctica. The contest offers bloggers--Danielle is one of the contestants--a chance to post an essay on why they deserve to win the voyage. Visitors to the site vote on who they believe most deserves to go.

Quark Expeditions is holding the contest. The company says it has conducted commercial polar expeditions since 1991. Bloggers must post their essays, no longer than 300 words, on the Quark Expeditions site. The contestant who receives the most votes and a companion will receive a free cruise in February 2010 on one of Quark Expedition's vessels, plus round-trip air travel to Ushuaia, Argentina, where the ship departs.   

So far, 188 hopefuls have entered. A quick review of the entries shows that many science students and early-career scientists from around the world have signed up, as well as environmentalists of all ages. The competition opened on 19 June and continues to 30 September. Registration with the site is required for voting.

Up to this year, National Science Foundation (NSF) offered artists and writers opportunities to visit Antarctica, but that program has been put on hold. Here's last year's GrantsNet entry describing the program. NSF hopes to continue it after 2010. 

It was just a coincidence, but last Saturday I went to see a movie that tied in with the career renewal feature we published just the day before on Science Careers. If you get a chance, go and see it. It's a lovely story providing food for thoughts for academics.


'The Visitor' features a university professor in Connecticut who has spent his career researching and giving lectures on the economic development of poor countries. But, as 62-year-old Walter Vale (played by Richard Jenkins, an Academy award nominee for best actor) writes his fourth book, he realizes that it has been years since he felt excitement for his subject. All Vale has been doing lately--though he has been doing it very successfully--is pretending to work.


The pretence starts to crumble when a colleague he wrote a paper with gives birth and is unable to present the research at a conference in New York City. Asked to substitute for her, Vale initially declines. His contribution to the work was to put his name on the paper--nothing more. But Vale eventually agrees, to avoid having the issue go to the dean.


The conference becomes a life-changing experience for Vale, though not for academic reasons. Upon coming to stay in a flat he owns in New York City, Vale finds out it has been illegally rented to a couple of young immigrants. Vale allows them to stay until they find another place to live, and an unlikely friendship develops between Vale and the young man, a musician from Syria. Under his guidance Vale enters a new musical world that revitalizes his life and awakens a new passion in him--playing the African drum.


Vale is dragged into yet another world as the young musician is arrested for being an illegal immigrant. Despite Vale's passionate efforts to help him, the young man is deported back to Syria. The movie stops there, but it is easy to imagine Vale's encounter with the young man renewing his professional life. Left with a feeling of injustice, anger, and uselessness, Vale may have felt compelled to document the everyday struggles of citizens of developing countries who come and live in the United States, and other countries, as illegal immigrants.

June 25, 2009

Where do Ph.D.s work?

Anywhere from 30% to 60% of doctoral graduates in the sciences end up in research, depending on the discipline. That's according to a new report, "What Do Researchers Do? First Destinations of Doctoral Graduates by Subject," released yesterday afternoon by Vitae, the U.K.-funded career development organization for doctorate holders and postdocs (called research staff in the U.K.).

The report builds on previous reports the organization has put together, including "What Do Ph.D.s Do?", which we reported on in 2007. Now, though, the folks at Vitae have 5 years' of data to work with, which means they could analyze where Ph.D.s end up by specific subjects, not just by broad categories.

For example, the biological sciences overall had the highest percentage of graduates entering research careers -- some 60% go into research, whether that's as a postdoc, in some other form of academic research, or in industry. Among a narrower slice--biochemistry, molecular biology, and biophysics graduates--that number is above 70%.

In the physical sciences, about 43% of doctoral graduates end up in research roles. That percentage was around 60% for the geology and chemistry graduates and below 30% for mathematics doctorate holders. As a whole, 7.8% of physical sciences and engineering graduates reported that they went into business and finance; among the mathematics subgroup, some 25% of doctorate holders went into the business and financial sector. Check out the report to see where people in your field end up after getting their Ph.D.s.

By looking at the data in the report, "you can do a sense check" of what you think your career options are, says Janet Metcalfe, chair and head of Vitae. "Then, you can look at the variety of sectors and occupations people go in, and you can realize there's a whole world out there of exciting jobs and possibilities." 

The data come from the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey, which captures information on the first jobs of doctorate holders who graduated in 2003 through 2007. There's a caveat, though: The new report only analyzes data on U.K. graduates who stay in the U.K. The occupations are reported in 14 categories, including commercial, industrial, and public sector managers; scientific research, analysis & development professionals; health professionals; education and teaching professionals; marketing, sales, media, and advertising professionals; and even numerical clerks and cashiers, clerical, retail, and bar staff. (Geology and math doctorate holders have the highest percentage of cashiers and bartenders among them, with 4.4% and 4.7%, respectively.) 

Also released yesterday, a collection of 40 profiles of doctorate holders who are now in jobs ranging from lecturers, research associates, program managers, consultants, and even a chairman of a banana business (his Ph.D.: plant science). They all highlight that there is no one research career path and no single solution to what is the "correct" career path.


A new study finds a strong correlation between hidden or unconscious stereotypes that link males with science and mathematics to higher achievement among males in those fields. The findings, by University of Virginia psychology professor Brain Nosek, are published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study matches data from two independent databases, one on common biases and the other on science/math achievement. The first database, dubbed Project Implicit, examines hidden, unspoken stereotypes lurking among people in all walks of life, even those who consider themselves fair and open-minded. The project gathers data on gender, race, age, religion, and other social stereotypes and has collected data on the attitudes of more than 4.5 million people worldwide. Project Implicit has used Web-based questionnaires for data collection since 1998.

Nosek and his team matched the Project Implicit data to the achievement results in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). TIMSS gathers achievement data from 4th and 8th grade students worldwide. The latest TIMSS effort collected achievement results in 2007 on 8th grade students in 48 countries and 4th grade students in 36 countries.

Using the TIMSS 8th grade data, Nosek found that 70 percent of the Project Implicit participants in 34 countries with TIMSS  results hold implicit stereotypes connecting science and math to males more than females. And in those countries where the stereotypes were most pronounced, the gender differences in test scores were also more pronounced.

Project Implicit asks respondents to quickly associated male terms (e.g., he, father, son) or female terms (she, mother, daughter) with science terms (physics, chemistry, biology) or liberal arts (literature, history, arts). Most participants associated science terms with male terms rather than with female terms. The study also found these implicit connections at about the same rate among male and female respondents.

Nosek used data collected by Project Implicit from July 2000 through July 2008. The Gender-Science Implicit Association Test is one of the several demonstration tests on the Project Implicit site, if you want to test your own potential biases.

The full report of the March 2009 conference, Tomorrow's Women, Tomorrow's World, is now available online from the U.K. Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering, and Technology. Conference reports aren't usually page-turners, but I attended this excellent meeting, and I think the report sums everything up nicely and succinctly. For me, the highlights were:

-Meeting Maggie Aderin-Pocock, who launched the U.K. portion of "She is an Astronomer" at the conference. We profiled her in Science Careers last week.

-Hearing Wendy Schultz talk about her work as a futurist. I'm so glad the world has people like her to think about about change on a global level. (Hear her plenary talk and see her workshop materials.)

-Appreciating BBC journalist Maggie Philbin's contributions to the discussion and her excellent job as meeting moderator (hey, it's a true skill to move discussion forward and keep everyone on schedule).

-Talking to so many fabulous women scientists, including Rhian Chapman, a recent engineering graduate who's now at Selex Galileo -- who later spoke with us for an article on careers in the defense industry.

If reading a brief conference summary is still too much, how about Tweets? I did my first experiment with Twitter from this conference, and the highlights are below. (We now have an official Science Careers Twitter feed, @mysciencecareer.)

>Lord Drayson: Children should be learning about more modern science heroines.

>Silvia Walby: women have moved out of the home so now the whole world can exploit them.

>Susie Uppal: Why is it that something as wonderful as having children can have such a negative effect on women's careers?

>Annette Williams: gender equality doesn't require 50/50 representation, it requires equal choices and equal opportunities

>UKRC statistics: percent of SET employees who are women now: 18.5%. In 2030: 20.9%. Good? Not so good? (SET=science, engineering, tech)

>Helen Walker: "Most female astronomers marry male astronomers. Must be those long nights."

>Royal Society of Chemistry: intention of staying in research halves among women between beginning and end of chemistry PhDs.

>"at times of war, turmoil favors the bold woman."

>Quick poll taken here: does working from home improve work-life balance? 83.9% say yes. Agree?

>That's all from Tomorrow's Women, Tomorrow's World. Check out women in SET blog here: KT in London, over and out!


All the workshop materials for Tomorrow's Women, Tomorrow's World are collected here.

Earlier this month, the Guardian talked to computer scientist Wendy Hall about her career choices, her experience as a woman in a male-dominated field, and her latest project, among other topics. (Hall spoke to Science Careers in 2007 for an article on career frameworks for early-career scientists.)

Hall, professor of computer science at the University of Southampton, was named a Dame Commander of the British Empire earlier this year. ("People may knock the honours system, but they can't knock the fact that very few people make it to this level, and to have made it for science and technology is fantastic," she tells the Guardian.) She's the former senior vice president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, a member of the Council for Science and Technology, and a past president of the British Computer Society.

She's a visible presence on the women-in-science circuit in the U.K. At the same time, she notes in the Guardian interview, "Every minute I'm standing up talking about women in science or talking to young women, my male colleagues are writing the research papers, getting the grant proposals, getting increases in salary."

She says something few women will say out loud, particularly to a reporter -- she didn't think she could be a mother and a successful scientist: "There was always something more interesting to do than have babies, and I didn't feel I needed a baby to complete my life. But I did always think that I couldn't do both. I'm very in awe of women who do manage to."

Hall is one of the founding directors of the Web Science Research Initiative, an interdisciplinary effort to create the field of Web science. "We're trying to track what's changing with the technology and how that allows people to do things differently," she tells the Guardian. "These are longitudinal studies, which we tend not to do in computing - tracking users over time against the background of what the technology's doing."

Good stuff. Click here to read the full article.

The days when all Ph.D. holders worked at universities are long gone: According to a new report from the European University Association (EUA), more than 50% of the doctorate holders in Europe are in careers outside of academia, many of whom land in industrial R&D and non-research positions. Given the reality that many doctorate graduates are destined to leave academia, new demands on their training are arising, the report says, and involving industry in doctoral training is one way to prepare students for corporate careers.

The report, "Collaborative Doctoral Education: University-Industry Partnerships for Enhancing Knowledge Exchange," examines existing industry-university doctoral programs and describes both the advantages and the challenges of them, putting emphasis on the employability of students in such programs. The report points out that, when at its best, a collaborative doctoral program benefits all parties: the university, the company, and student. Students gain a deeper understanding of how to turn ideas into business and how to handle legal matters such as intellectual property rights and market regulations. As one student interviewed for the report put it, "Yes, it made me more employable in industry. Industry employers appreciate that you have gained experience in working with their particular industry and gained insights in how it functions."

However, the report points out some concerns to keep in mind if you're considering a collaborative doctorate program. You should look into how intellectual property rights issues will affect your ability to publish your results, as your need for speed may be in conflict with the company's wish to capitalize on your research. As you are likely to have supervisors both from the university and the company, good communication becomes even more essential than in a conventional Ph.D. project. All parties need to be committed to the project and have similar expectations in the outcomes, otherwise you may find yourself torn between supervisors trying to mediate a solution, which will inevitably take valuable research time away from you.

The EUA report found that companies in general have high expectations of the research knowledge a doctorate holder has. However, the companies are also interested in soft skills, such as an understanding of the market, a business mindset, and good communication abilities. Small and medium-sized companies tended to have higher demands on these skills, possibly because an employee fills multiple roles in a small company while in a larger one there is more room for specialization.

A take-home lesson from the report is to always point out any strengths you have in business skills and communication, especially if you're applying for a job in a smaller company, as it may give you some leverage over candidates who fail to do so. Also, if you're doing a Ph.D. right now, it's worth considering how you can strengthen your transferrable skills so you're more attractive on the labor market, particularly if you are interested in pursuing an industry career.

-Anna Ehrlund
Designer Geoffrey Beene LLC is leveraging its iconic status in the men's fashion world to help elevate the status of science among students. The Smart Set blog points out that Geoffrey Beene's philanthropic arm unveiled a new ad campaign in the June issue of GQ magazine featuring photos of high-profile rock stars getting down with leading scientific authorities.

The campaign, called Rock Stars of Science, aims to increase support for public research funding, particularly for Alzheimer's research, a continuing concern of the Geoffrey Beene Gives Back philanthropy. But the campaign also promotes awareness of research issues and seeks to improve the image of science among students. The Rock Stars of Science site plans to add an online petition and allow visitors to nominate future Rock Stars of Science.

The spread in GQ leads off with Francis S. Collins, former director of the Human Genome Project at NIH and Harvard neurology/genetics professor Rudy Tanzi (both in shades), along with Aerosmith's lead guitarist Joe Perry. And don't miss the Black Eyed Peas' Will.I.Am getting rhythmic with Ron Petersen of the Mayo Clinic, Steven Dekosky of University of Virginia, and Sam Gandy of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

My favorite: Harold Varmus, president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, accompanied on guitar by Grammy Award winner Sheryl Crow.

Combining a high profile in the fashion world with the cause of science is nothing new. L'Oréal Paris has joined with UNESCO since 1998 to highlight the contributions of women scientists and encourage other women to join their ranks. Disclosure: The company sponsors a booklet on young women in science now on the Science Careers Web site.

Hat tip: Ric Weibl, AAAS.

[Updated 29 May 2009]

The European Space Agency (ESA) today announced the winners of its latest recruitment competition for the European Astronaut Corps--the first such competition since 1992. Among the 6 new astronauts who will now join ESA are two Italians, one German, one Danish, one British, and one French. The group includes one woman and five men. You may read their short biographies on the ESA Web site.

"We are now entering a new phase of utilisation of the unique capabilities offered by the ISS [International Space Station] and preparation for international exploration of the Moon and beyond," ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain stated in a press release. "This new phase required the recruitment of young to become, step by step, the representatives of Europe in space who, together with their international colleagues, will live, work, explore and bring back to planet Earth and its citizens their unique experience, their accomplishments and their confidence in the future. They all represent the generation that will move from low earth orbit to the Moon."

ESA received more than 8,400 valid applications from all over Europe and the selection process--which involved psychological, medical, and aptitude tests--took a little less than a year. The six new astronauts are now to start training at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne in Germany.  


Tomorrow (Friday, May 8), Science Careers and the Cambridge Research Institute are putting on a day-long workshop, "Broadening Your Scientific Career Horizons," here in Cambridge (the U.K. one). Topics will include industry career paths, bioentrepreneurship, making the most of your postdoc, and networking.

If you don't happen to be in Cambridge, never fear: I'll be live-Twittering the event on @mysciencecareer and with #sciencecareers, doing my best to extract the key messages in 140 characters or less. (If that sentence made no sense to you, just go to some time tomorrow to read short, hopefully useful tidbits and tips from the workshop.)

And if you're in the mood for even more career advice, check out the archived Webinar, "Nontraditional Careers: Opportunities Away from the Bench," which was recorded April 28 in Washington, D.C.

AND, don't forget to become a fan of Science Careers on Facebook, where you'll find links to recent blog posts, articles, and upcoming events.

Portugal has added Harvard Medical School to the list of American universities it collaborates with extensively.

On 27 April, Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Portuguese Ministry of Science, Technology, and Higher Education announced a long-term collaboration in translational research and education. The HMS-Portugal Program, to be launched officially on 21 May, will fund 12 collaborative translational and clinical research projects, streamline postgraduate medical training in Portugal, and provide career development awards to Portuguese M.D. trainees.

The overall aim of the new program is to "help populate Portuguese research institutions with an increasingly sophisticated clinical and translational research capacity, and to expand the rate and quality of Portuguese clinical and translational research contributions to the international community. The program is also designed to foster longlasting collaborative ventures, both within Portugal and between Portuguese and Harvard research groups," the press release states.

The HMS-Portugal program is part of a broader initiative launched in 2006 by the Portuguese government to give a boost to the country's research and education capacity. Already, similar programs exist between Portugal and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the University of Texas, Austin (UT Austin).

To get a glimpse of what it's like to be involved in one of these programs, from both sides, read former Science intern Sara Coehlo's article on Science Careers.

To get ahead in industry, "confidence is everything," says Ruth McKernan, chief scientific officer of Pfizer's new Regenerative Medicine Unit in Cambridge, England. McKernan spoke yesterday at a meeting of the Cambridge Association of Women in Science and Engineering.

 McKernan began her career with joint honors biochemistry and pharmacology, followed by a Ph.D. in molecular neuroscience. After a much enjoyed postdoc at the University of California in San Diego -- "I had a great time. I learned to surf" -- she settled into a job at Merck's former neuroscience research center in Harlow, England. She became the center's head 17 years later. In 2005, she moved to Pfizer, eventually helping launch the Pfizer Regenerative Medicine Unit in November 2008.

 Moving into industry can be a daunting prospect for Ph.D.s and postdocs, but it's not as foreign as you might think, McKernan says. You'll have to give presentations often, and much of the time you'll be working on collaborations with industrial and academic partners, "so you need to be a good communicator."

Industry research is well-funded, but you'll be working on projects that benefit the company, rather than focusing on your pet topic. "If [for example] you are totally passionate about protein structure, and that's all you ever want to study, then this is not the job for you," McKernan explains. But if you are passionate about science in a broader sense, or about making medicines, it could prove a good personal career move.

One huge contrast between academia and industry is the corporate aspect. "There is a different way of encouraging people in industry compared with academia," McKernan says. "You will be evaluated against your peers every year. Money will be used to label your performance in a way you won't have experienced before." This can be intimidating. But it means you'll know when you're doing a good job, she adds.

However, don't get too caught up in the rivalry, McKernan cautions. Don't view everyone as a competitor. Instead focus on what they can bring to your team. That's the guidance she received from a mentor in her early career and it has proved useful. "They don't have to be your best friend, but your competitors may be your partners somewhere down the line. So don't burn your bridges."

So how do you to make that first leap into industry? "Contacts," McKernan stresses. If you send your resume to the recruitment department, chances are it'll get lost in the pile. "Get names and contact details," she says. "Go to meetings and find out who in industry is working in you field."

Once you get to the interview stage, make sure you know your skills, she advises. There will be technical questions about your research, and employers will be looking to see how well you can apply this knowledge. Accentuate your positives, be confident, but be honest about what you can do. "If you come across as smart, flexible, and easy to work with, that will trade off with a lack of wholly specific skills," McKernan says. "If all else fails, pretend to be someone else," she quips: Think of a confident person you admire and try to emulate them. "I often think, what would Susan Greenfield do?"

Eurodoc, the European Council of Doctoral Candidates and Junior Researchers, is conducting an online survey of the working conditions of doctoral researchers in Europe.

A collaboration with the International Centre for Higher Education Research at the University of Kassel in Germany, the survey aims to gather the testimony of 100,000 doctoral researchers all over Europe. Answering the survey will take about half an hour of your time, and you may do so until 31 May 2009 (the original 30 April deadline has now be extended).

Set up in 2002 with the mission of representing doctoral researchers in Europe, Eurodoc aims to use these data to further improve the training and research conditions of doctoral researchers in Europe.

April 21, 2009

Difficult Accents

In the Society for Science & the Public's ScienceNews blog, Janet Raloff puts her finger on an issue that may at first seem minor and not politically correct, but is nonetheless important.

Raloff refers to how strong foreign accents can make it difficult for talented and actually articulate scientists to communicate effectively. At a recent international conference, "while I could understand most of what was spoken during the majority of presentations, there were a few that I just couldn't fathom, no matter how hard I tried," she writes. "The presenters I'm referring to are smart. They've done clever work. And now they're trying to share their findings with the world. Except that their non-native inflections erase any chance of the audience following more than what's on their PowerPoint pages." This can advance neither science nor their reputation, she adds.

That's a tricky issue. As a non-native English speaker pointed out in a feedback comment, foreign speakers are already making a significant effort to speak in another language. So in return "it will be very reasonable that native English speaking people shall be wider in their interpretation of our language mistakes," the reader says. As a non-native English speaker myself, I agree that sometimes a greater comprehension and exposure of native speakers to foreign accents would help. But you cannot count only on that.  

Raloff sees getting someone else to talk for you while you are perfecting your accent as a possible solution. "Sometimes it might be as simple as handing a typed paper to another person to read or asking a colleague to describe what you've done," she wrote in reply. "The goal should be to minimize confusion and mistakes -- and to help people get appropriate credit for their research accomplishments."

In my view, it might be a short-term solution, but it's unlikely that one will be able to progress that way. If you live in an English-speaking country, after a while your accent should start improving. But if you are based in another country, international conferences will often be the only setting you have to speak in English yourself.

Raloff also suggested giving a written hand-out of your talk to the audience, and this seems a better option to me. In another feedback comment, a native English speaker who often gives talks in foreign languages also recommended paying greater attention to preparing slides.

Perhaps another solution, provided you have some native English-speaking colleagues or friends, would be to ask them for their honest feedback and a little bit of help with the pronunciation.  

Following a recent meeting in the Czech Republic, the European University Association (EUA) has released a new strategy to successfully face global challenges. Out of the 10 measures outlined in the new EUA Prague Declaration, 4 are directly relevant to students and young researchers.  


In particular, the EUA pledges to widen opportunities for higher education; to provide study programmes that are innovative and relevant in today's rapidly-changing job market; to improve research careers by giving postdocs more independence and making recruitment and promotion procedures more transparent; and to provide students and university staff with more and better opportunities for mobility between sectors and institutions.


The EUA is also holding out for a major investment in Europe similar to the recent U.S. economic stimulus package, which supports research, students, and families struggling to pay for higher education. "Europe must not sacrifice a generation of young researchers: a Europe-wide stimulus programme is needed to create opportunities and incentives to maintain young researchers across the continent in research careers," the EUA Prague Declaration also states.


It seems young researchers would have everything to gain from it. "In return, as universities, we commit to enhancing career opportunities for young researchers and to ensuring implementation of the issues addressed by the European Commission's Charter for Researchers and Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers."


If, that is, the measures become concrete ones. The declaration will be presented to 46 education ministers at the Bologna Process Ministerial Summit on 29 April.

This week, Sheril Kirshenbaum over at The Intersection published a great list of science policy fellowships she assembled with the help of AAAS staff and interns. We wrote about getting into science policy this time last year in the article, "A Matter of Policy," where you can read about several scientists who did policy fellowships. Factoring heavily in both our article and Sheril's summary are the AAAS science and technology policy fellowships. Applications have closed for this year, but definitely bookmark that link and that of any of your professional societies that also offer policy fellowships.

Here in the U.K., I just got an announcement that the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Wellcome Trust are offering 3-month policy internships to Wellcome Trust-funded Ph.D. students. They're offering four internships, one at a time, between September 2009 and September 2010 to basic biomedical students in their third or fourth year of their Ph.D. The deadline is April 27, and there's more info here.

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)

Despite the low salary, landing on the first permanent rung of the academic career ladder in France is difficult, and not just because they are highly competitive. The procedures for applying can also be daunting. If you are new, or foreign, to the current application system for a position of maître de conférences in France, this step-by-step guide published (in French) by David Allais on the news on French higher education Web site, the Observatoire Boivigny, is a good starting point.

If you're a researcher in training in France, or if you're considering faculty employment at a French university, you may be interested in the following, which suggests that financial prospects for young faculty members are, in a word, grim.

In an article published on Rue89, a French Web site for information and debate, Marie Conquy puts the financial situation of Jérôme P., a French enseignant-chercheur in physics at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, under the microscope.

In his first year on the faculty, Jérôme P. earns about 1,800 euros a month after taxes, with a bonus of 500 euros per semester. Given the high living costs in the French capital, Jérôme P., aged 29, says he can not afford to rent a two-roomed flat, so he lives with his parents instead. He estimates that he spends around 500 euros a month in food, 230 euros for transportation, 100 euros in Internet and phone bills, and 130 euros in health and car insurance. Thanks to the expedient of living with his parents Jérôme P. is left with significant disposable income: between 600 and 700 euros, which he splits between hobbies--mainly fishing--and savings towards a flat.

This article drew many comments, mainly from readers outraged at seeing 10 years of study being rewarded with a low salary. One reader, tony38, commented that he left the CNRS to work in Canada, where he now earns more than twice his French salary. And according to Ongaku, a recent graduate from a French Engineering School, entry-level ingénieurs (who in France are traditionally perceived as being better equipped to compete for jobs than doctors) earn between 2,000 and 2,500 euros a month in industry.  

Still, we all know that, whichever your country, if you go into academic research it's not really for the money. "When choosing this profession, I have never looked at the salary. I am really passionate" about it, Jérôme P. says in the article. 

Read the full article and comments (in French) here.


Yesterday's New York Times tells about increasing problems with visas encountered by foreign postdocs and students in the United States, particularly those in science and technology disciplines.

The problems, according to the article, involve delays, missing paperwork, and less-than-helpful U.S. embassy staff. They appear to be more serious for visitors from China, India, the Middle East, and Russia. A postdoc in genetics at MIT, from Belarus, ran into 3 months of bureaucratic delays and lost documents when she tried to renew her visa with the U.S. embassy in Minsk on a visit home. She ended up having to go to Moscow to get the visa.

An anonymous State Department source told the Times that delays like these (2-3 months) are common and a result of "an unfortunate staffing shortage." The Belarus postdoc, by the way, has decided not to do further work in the U.S.

The international student director at MIT says the problems often occur when the students or postdocs leave the U.S., for brief visits home or to attend scientific meetings. Trying to get a visa to return is when the problems often begin.

Visa procedures tightened markedly after the 11 September 2001 attacks but in recent years, the U.S. government improved the procedures that cut delays to about two weeks, and students began returning. In the 2007/2008 academic year, according to the Open Doors survey by International Institute of Education, the number of international students on U.S. campuses jumped 7% over 2006/2007. And the 2006/2007 year itself showed a 3% gain over 2005/2006. The Open Doors surveys also show that life science, physical science, computer science, engineering, and mathematics account for more than one-third (34.5%) of foreign students in the United States.

The problems, according to the article, caused AAAS (publisher of this blog and Science magazine) to convene a meeting with the National Academy of Sciences and several dozen other science organizations, to bring those problems to the attention of the State Department.  As the MIT international student director told the Times, "There are other countries that want these folks. They are the best of the best. They have other options."

Update: The Times story reminds us of a 2004 account in Science Careers of Haitham Idriss, a Thomas Jefferson University postdoc who went to Canada one weekend for some R&R. When he tried to reenter the United States, he was told he needed to register for a program called NSEERS, the provisions of which he found onerous. He refused and was not readmited. Outside the U.S., he never found another scientific position.

The last time we spoke to Idriss, we learned that he had given up on research and started a new scientific journal, Annals of Alquds Medicine, which now seems to be defunct. It was a pretty standard journal in all but two respects: it didn't allow submissions from an Israeli address, and it didn't allow references to evolution--which, Idriss maintained, contradicted Islamic orthodoxy. Make of this what you will. 

Going back to the workplace after being away for a number of years can be difficult for anyone, but especially for parents who choose being a full-time mom or dad. Today's Wall Street Journal reports that companies and institutions in science and engineering are setting up programs to help women (many more moms than dads leave the workplace for parenting) return to their former professions.

For employers, career re-entry, as this process is called, offers a source of experienced, skilled, and reliable talent. Even in tough economic times, their investment apparently pays off.

The Journal article by Sue Shellenbarger cites re-entry programs by companies such as Honeywell, IBM, General Electric, and BBN Technologies that provide training, mentoring, and referrals -- and sometimes even jobs -- to help women rejoin their working colleagues. The article also mentions programs by the British government and a General Electric initiative at its research center in Bangalore, India, as examples outside the U.S.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge offers a 10-month "Career Re-engineering" training course for engineers and scientists returning to work. MIT expects enrollment to grow from 10 to 24 by next fall.

Science Careers has covered career re-entry in some detail, particularly as it affects women outside the U.S. A story by Chelsea Wald in March 2008 detailed a number of career re-entry programs in Europe. And last month James Pauff and Misty Richards looked at this and related issues affecting women physician-scientists.

The Web site, described in the Journal article, has additional advice and resources.

Note: Paragraphs 3 and 4 corrected, 25 February 2009

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 signed into law last week (a.k.a. economic stimulus bill) contains provisions that make it more difficult for some companies -- those involved in the TARP financial bailout package -- to hire workers on H-1B temporary work visas. Beryl Benderly discussed the impact of H1-B visas in her column last month in Science Careers.

According to ComputerWorld, an IT industry publication, the stimulus bill says that for 2 years companies receiving funds from the government's Troubled Asset Recovery Program (TARP) are deemed "H-1B dependent." This designation, usually reserved for companies where H1-B holders comprise 15% or more of their workforce, imposes limits on companies seeking to hire more H-1B staff.

Companies deemed H-1B dependent must attest that they've made good-faith efforts to find American workers to fill their openings before recruiting H-1B talent. These employers must certify that they have offered minimum prevailing wages during their recruitment. The measures are aimed at preventing the company from claiming that they could not find workers while offering unrealistically low pay.

There are other restrictions on H-1B dependent companies. They cannot lay-off an American worker 90 days before or after filing an H-1B petition. And they must also have offered the job to to an American worker who applied and is at least equally qualified than the H-1B worker. If a company claims to have followed these rules, but a subsequent audit shows they did not, they can be banned from further participation in the H-1B program. According to the immigration law firm Shihab & Associates, the Department of Labor has recently increased these H1-B audits. 

The practical impact of this provision in the stimulus bill on hiring will likely be minimal. The limits affect new hires, not existing holders of work-related visas. And while the amount of TARP money is staggering, the number of companies involved -- generally in the financial services industry -- is relatively small. Only about 1 percent of workers in this industry have H-1B visas. Our look in November at the financial services industry as a source of alternative employment for scientists suggests this segment of the economy isn't poised for explosive growth anytime soon.

The stimulus bill also does not impose any limitations on outsourcing, which according to Rochester Institute of Technology professor Ron Hira, has increased among American banks since the rescue bill passed last fall. Charles Kuck, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, however, told ComputerWorld, "These banks will not able to hire qualified foreign talent to pull them out of this mess -- if that was necessary." Kuck added,  "Maybe we've got all the homegrown talent we need to pull us out of this mess, because now we have to hope we do."

Update, 25 February 2009: The Economic Times of India reports a growing protest in India to the stimulus bill's provisions, including calls for a boycott of American multinationals.

Update, 10 March 2009. The Charlotte Observer reports today that Bank of America has rescinded job offers to "a small number of foreign-born business students" who held H-1B visas, because of the restrictions in the stimulus bill. The bank, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, did not say how many offers were rescinded. The story reported, however, that in 2008 Bank of America applied for less than 100 H-1B visas to work in North Carolina, mainly in computer engineer and programmer positions.

The global economic downturn has affected each European country's science and education system differently. Some countries are pumping more money into higher education, while in others, the weakening economy hasn't had much of an effect because science and education were already chronically underfunded.

But most countries lie somewhere in the middle, and last week the European University Association released a Snapshot of the impact of the economic crisis on European universities. The report notes that universities in Norway haven't felt any direct effects yet; universities in Denmark will receive extra funds for research that the government put aside in 2006. Budget cuts for universities are being proposed or have been enacted in Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, and Poland.

In Germany, a government stimulus package will pump money toward university infrastructure. In the U.K., funds that relied on endowments have suffered, as have universities with investments in Icelandic banks. However, no change in government funding is expected. In Greece, "Chronic under-financing of Greek universities should not be eclipsed by the current economic crisis," the report states.

Outside of universities, there are examples of fiscal belt-tightening. For example, in the Netherlands, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences has suspended several of its smaller funds because of concerns about returns on capital investments. In the U.K., the Wellcome Trust released a statement this month announcing that the charity, whose assets have dropped £2 billion compared with last year, is cutting its 2008/9 budget by £30 million, to £590 million. The organization has also warned its grant applicants that there will probably be increased competition for upcoming grant cycles due to reductions in funds elsewhere.

Our colleagues over at ScienceInsider have also highlighted a few cutbacks around Europe; Sara Coelho writes about the research-funding cutbacks in the Netherlands and specifically at Leiden University. And in December, John Bohannon wrote about budget cut scares in Austria.

Welcome to those of you coming here from the Cambridge Media Event -- and welcome to everyone else, too! We often get questions about careers in science writing, editing, and similar careers. So, I thought I'd take the occasion of the Cambridge Media Event to assemble some links to our many features and articles on this subject.

Starting a Career in Science Writing

Careers in Science Editing: Feature Index

This feature contains more than two dozen profiles of scientists who have found careers in scientific editing, whether it's at book publishers, journals, or international agencies.

Getting the Message Across: Scientists in Public Relations

More than a dozen profiles of scientists who've found rewarding work in public relations at agencies and scientific organizations.

Science Broadcasting: Feature Index

Scientists from around the world talk about working in radio and television, whether it's full time or an occasional thing.

Careers in Medical Writing: Opening Doors *Feature Index*

Medical writing includes many different types of jobs, from working in biotech companies to regulatory agencies. This collection of essays covers some of these diverse jobs. We also revisited this topic more recently in Working as a Medical Writer.

If you'd like to try out a career in the media, why not apply for a media fellowship? The two largest programs available are the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows Program and the British Association for the Advancement of Science Media Fellowships. (We wrote about the BA fellowships earlier this month; the deadline for applications is March 10.)

One of the fun parts of working for Science Careers is that we get to meet people -- all sorts of people. And when you meet someone who's so totally passionate about her or his science that it's infectious, well, that's great fun.

For this week's article Keeping Order, I interviewed entomologist Erica McAlister in the staff cafeteria at London's Natural History Museum. We had a good conversation, but it was during a tour of the collection later that afternoon that Erica's excitement and enthusiasm really came through. She  lights up when she's explaining the insects, and she was incredibly patient with me in explaining even very basic concepts about insects. And when I later listened back to our interview and started writing up the article, I found myself thinking how cool it would be to be a curator in entomology. (I have absolutely no qualifications to do this.)

Those of you living in the United Kingdom and curious about how the media work may be interested in applying for a British Science Association Media Fellowship. These fellowships offer researchers with at least 2 years of postgraduate experience the opportunity to spend between 3 and 8 weeks working with a print, broadcast, or online media organization. You can read about past fellows' experiences and find details on how to apply on the British Science Association Web site. Deadline for applications: 10 March.

These fellowships are intended for scientists who want to stay in research (which doesn't mean you can't use one to make a career switch to science journalism). If you are interested in leaving the bench to become a press officer, a new guide released by Stempra, the PR association for U.K.-based science, technology, engineering, and medicine, offers practical guidance on writing press releases, preparing scientists for media interactions, and dealing with ethical issues. This guide is likely to be most helpful once you've landed a PR job. But even now it can also help you understand what a science-PR job would be like so you can decide for yourself whether such a career is for you.

A report released last week by the European Commission offers the latest snapshot of scientific training and employment in the EU-27 countries in comparison to global trends. Below are some of the key findings. 

First, the 2008 Science, Technology, and Competitiveness key figures report found that the number of researchers has grown twice as fast in the EU-27 as in the United States or Japan. Yet in 2006, Europe ranked second in total numbers, counting 1.33 million researchers compared to 1.39 and 1.22 million in the U.S.A. and China, respectively.  

The report largely attributed the growth in the number of researchers in Europe to greater employment in the private sector. But with about half its researchers employed in companies, the EU-27 business sector still employed proportionately fewer researchers than the United States (79%) or Japan (68%).

Another interesting trend is the increase of the number of doctoral researchers trained in the EU-27 by 4.8% annually, compared to 4.6% in Japan and 3.3% in the United States. In real numbers, the EU27 ranked first with around 100,000 new doctoral degrees awarded, compared to 53,000 in the United States and 15,000 in Japan in 2005.

The 169-page report looks at all aspects of European research, from trends in R&D investment and patenting to international collaborations. The full version may be found here.

For a summary of the funding trends see Daniel Clery's coverage in this week's Science (subscription required).   



A real-life experiment has just shown how easy it is to compile the story of your life just by following the traces you're leaving on the Internet.

I first read about it in the French national Le Monde, but many French media outlets have now reported on the mésaventure of a young architect in France who not long ago discovered the entire story of his life published in the French independent magazine Le Tigre.

With the aim of showing how careless we are with the dissemination of private information over the Internet, Le Tigre drew its "first google portrait" by collecting details of the young architect's professional and private life from Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube. The article first appeared in print in December and has since been replaced on Le Tigre's Web site with a softer and more anonymous version at the young architect's request.

The young architect suffered no serious consequences, but the story shows that you may encounter pieces of yourself on the Internet that you'd rather not see aired quite so publically. As Alex Türk, the president of the national French Data Protection Authority (CNIL), said in that same Le Monde article:

"During a job interview, a young man saw himself being shown a picture of his buttocks. His potential employers had found it on the Internet. This image was the consequence of a night with plenty of wine. He didn't get the job." 

Have you tried googling yourself recently?

See also: Opportunities: E-Persona Non Grata

and: Tooling Up: Enhance Your Job Search Online

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.)
Myron Rolle, star defensive back at Florida State University, has chosen a Rhodes Scholarship studying medical anthropology over the immediate riches of an NFL career. Rolle completed his pre-med undergraduate degree in 2 1/2 years and is considered a top prospect at strong safety by NFL scouts.

Unlike most student-athletes, where the emphasis is on "athlete" rather than "student," Rolle found as much satisfaction in the classroom and lab as on the football field. Tim Logan, a biochemistry professor at Florida State, recognized Rolle's talents and offered him a chance to conduct research on metabolic characteristics of human mesenchymal stem cells. For this work, Rolle received Florida State's 2008 Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Award.

Getting the Rhodes Scholarship turned out to be a minor adventure as well. The interviews for Rhodes finalists were scheduled for Saturday 22 November, in Birmingham, Alabama,  the same day as Florida State's game at the University of Maryland. Rolle went to Birmingham for the interviews--then, with the help of a police escort and a private airplane, flew to College Park, Maryland (outside Washington, DC) in time to play the second half of the game, where Florida State trounced Maryland 37-3.

After completing his master's degree at Oxford, Rolle intends to enter the 2010 NFL draft. He also plans to go to medical school. There's no word whether Oxford intends to recruit Rolle for its rugby side.

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.
All job forecasts have their limitations, especially in a climate of economic crisis, but the conclusions of a new European Commission report struck me as possibly good news for scientists in search of alternatives to pure academic careers.
With the recent launch of its 'New Skills for New Jobs' strategy, the European Commission aims to better assess labour market needs across European countries and better match these needs with people's skills. A first EC report assessing the European job landscape through 2020 forecasts that more jobs will require high education levels. A great number of jobs are expected to be created in the service sector in particular, including IT, insurance, and consultancy. And with the market for environmental products and services set to double by 2020, a great number of jobs related to renewable energy development, sustainable construction and agriculture, and climate change mitigation are also expected to be created.
As for the skills needed in the near future, the report concludes that "across sectors, transversal and generic skills will be increasingly valued on the labour market: problem-solving and analytical skills, self-management and communication skills, the ability to work in a team, linguistic skills and digital competences."
Now, aren't these the skills any Ph.D. student living in a foreign country is poised to gain?
The complete EC document may be downloaded from here.
While reviewing this week's article "Smarter Than the Average Desk" I had to ask what the term "digital natives" meant. The answer, once you hear it, is obvious: 'digital natives' are the youngish people who grew up surrounded by digital technology. In the article, we note that scientists, engineers, and educators are designing classroom technology that must meet the needs of these digital natives, who have been exposed to electronic gadgets and fast-paced multimedia since birth.

On his blog Zero Percent Idle, Tim Windsor elaborates on digital natives by excerpting from Don Tapscott's book Grown Up Digital. This new generation (or 'Net Generation,' as Tapscott says) wants freedom in everything they do, loves to customize and personalize their technology, and seeks entertainment in all aspects of life: work, education, and social life. These are the factors that those in education technology have to keep in mind when creating devices and learning technologies meant to captivate their audiences.

These characteristics will be on display as this generation enters the workforce; for example, this cohort is used to constant socializing and collaborating through social networking sites and online projects. Understanding these generational characteristics will be important for employers who want to recruit and maintain their workforce. We discussed these issues in last year's article, "The Truth About Gen Y."
In an article titled "How to Fix Your Life in 2009," Wednesday's Wall Street Journal offers a list of helpful hints for 2009 covering personal finance, retirement planning, health care costs, and a few career issues. The piece has contributions from several of the Journal's writers and focuses on particularly troublesome issues related to the recession.

The career-related hints, however, seem to apply to any economic conditions. If your job hunt has hit a dead-end, Sarah Needleman recommends investing time in networking, attending business meetings and events, and fixing your Facebook or MySpace profile so it does not display inappropriate content. She also suggests creating profiles on more business-oriented networks (e.g. LinkedIn) and hiring a career coach to critique your resume and improve your interviewing skills.

(On the last point, we think you could save a little money and read Science Careers to get much of the same information. Admittedly, we're a little biased.)

Elsewhere in the article, Joseph De Avila tells how to get your name off embarrassing photos that others might post on Facebook and MySpace, and how to avoid it in the future.

Sarah Needleman returns later to advise readers how to update the resume they haven't touched for 5 years.  Start with an objective that summarizes the kind of job you are seeking, says Needleman. Then outline your work history, describing your contributions to each employer. Then have someone review and proofread the text. If you want to use an outside resume service, Needleman tells how to go about choosing one.

Other timeless advice in the column includes how to keep your produce from rotting too quickly (store fruits and vegetables separately) and what to do about those four-inch stiletto heels that are killing your feet.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) announced last week a £250 million investment in 44 doctoral training centers across Britain. The move will generate more than 2000 new Ph.D. students in areas such as climate change, sustainable energy, and global security.

Britain needs "scientists and engineers with the right skills to find answers to these [21st century] challenges, build a strong economy, and keep us globally competitive," U.K. Minister of Science Paul Drayson said at a press conference announcing the program. "EPSRC’s doctoral training centers will provide a new wave of engineers and scientists to do the job."

The centers, which will be located at 22 universities across Britain, will include formal taught coursework designed to develop a broad set of skills combined with research in a multidisciplinary environment. Seventeen of the new clusters will be industrial training centers where students will also acquire business and entrepreneurial skills. 

The project is funded with £250 million from the EPSRC training and education budget. The centers will receive funding for 5 years, with a review after the first 3 years. Each center will take in around 10 students a year starting in 2009.

-Sara Coelho

In early December, three German research organizations are offering information sessions in Washington, DC, San Francisco, and Los Angeles about research and research training in Germany. The sessions, called "Research Careers Made in Germany: Explore Opportunities in German Academia," will include representatives of the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG), the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH).

The meetings are aimed at current and prospective Ph.D. students, postdocs, and faculty. The presenters will discuss Germany's Excellence Initiative to promote university research and support young scientists. The meetings will also cover the academic job market in Germany and opportunities for international collaboration.

Here's the schedule for the sessions ...

Washington DC:
  Monday, 1 December 2008
6:30 PM to 8:30 PM
  German Historical Institute
  1607 New Hampshire Avenue NW
  Washington, DC 20009

San Francisco:
    Tuesday, 2 December 2008
6:30 PM to 8:30 PM
    530 Bush Street
    San Francisco, CA 94108

Los Angeles:
    Thursday, 4 December 2008
6:30 PM to 8:30 PM
    5750 Wilshire Boulevard
    Los Angeles, CA 90036

To enroll in one of the meetings, send an e-mail to by Monday, 24 November 2008. DAAD asks enrollees to put "Info Session SF," "Info Session LA," or "Info Session DC" in the subject line. More details are available on the DAAD-New York Web site.

Dear Editor,

My name is Debora Keller, I am a 1st year PhD student in Molecular mechanisms of Cancer at the Federal Polytechnical School of Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, and also member of the Young European Biotech Network (YEBN).

While reading your article on the "political scientist", I could not help but agree.  Yes, young scientists tend to focus on the scholarly output first (if not only), and yes, the advisors (aka "boss") also tend to see any other activity apart from being in the lab and doing experiments as a waste of time. And trying to communicate with the media or with policy makers is the worst of betrayals and will keep you from becoming an excellent scientist...or so it seems!

Scientists in general, be they younger or older, also tend to lament themselves when politicians reduce the funding, or pass laws that just make no sense, scientifically speaking! But how can these politicians take "informed" decisions when only 5% of them have a scientific background (at least in the European Commission, according to Zoran Stancic, deputy director general of the European Commission's Directorate General Research)? Can we expect the same politicians to take the right decisions to promote research and development, and life sciences in general?

During the EuroBio2008 conference (the european counterpart to BIO) that took place in Paris from October 7th-9th, 30 young scientists and students in Life Sciences from the Young European Biotech Network and coming from France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and Switzerland decided to get involved in the political process and engage with policy makers and stakeholders of Europe.
This event, bringing together researchers, industry and decision makers, was meant to discuss the future shape of the Life Sciences and Biotech sectors and issue a "Call for Change" report to Make Change Happen in a Europe that wants to become THE leader of a knowledge-based economy (according to the Lisbon Agenda).

The "rising generation" was key in bringing forth their vision of the future and debated passionately with international stakeholders on several hot topics such as "axe the CAP and spend money on R&D instead" or "nationalism is the greatest enemy of Biotechnology in Europe" during the House of Commons. They contributed actively with critical comments and concrete questions and proposals to the BioDialogues on Red, White and Green Biotechnology. After all, they would be working in these areas in the coming years and, as Professor Federico Mayor (former director general of the UNESCO) pointed out at the reporting plenary,  the future is indeed in the hands of the young generation!
The enthusiasm and dedication of these young scientists that dared to set aside for a few days their important scientific experiments and take vacation to attend EuroBio2008 and become "politically active" led to the comment by Eric Poincelet - Commissioner General of EuroBio2008" : "next time, you will not be thirty only, you will be one hundred"!

This comment is already a success in itself. It was definitely NOT a waste of time for these young scientists to participate to these debates, and the appreciation for this will be measured by the outcome of the conference, the "Call for Change" report, as our YEBN chairman Francesco Lescai pointed out: “The YEBN contribution to EuroBio2008 was an example of the fresh inputs these kind of discussions need most: our students and young researchers were capable to break the schemes of the discussions and highlight some critical points to be addressed with high priority. Everyone seemed to appreciate: we will be able to measure this appreciation with the number of suggestions that will actually appear in the Green Paper to be delivered to the European Commission".

So, as stated in Peter Fiske's article, when "many members of the scientific community retreat to the comfort of their laboratories or lecture halls" we believe that it is the "Science's next wave" that has to take a step forward and make their voice heard. We encourage our young scientists that pursue excellence in their research to become "political YOUNG scientists" and Make Change Happen!

Yours sincerely,

Debora Keller
Young European Biotech Network (YEBN)
Communication Task Group Leader

October 5, 2008

Math(s) on Prime Time

If you're in England, tune in to BBC4 at 9 p.m. on Monday for the first of a four-part series called "The Story of Maths." The show is the creation of Oxford University mathematics professor Marcus du Sautoy, who is something of a national celebrity when it comes to, well, math celebrities. My colleague Elisabeth Pain wrote about a talk du Sautoy gave at the Euroscience Open Forum in July, where he discussed his career path and devotion to communicating science. Here is du Sautoy's summary of the four episodes in the series.

As you may recall, back in April the European Commission was putting together a practical guide to EU funding opportunities for research, development, and innovation. The objective was to help researchers get funding from the various sources available under the seventh framework program. (If you need to refresh your memory, look at Kate Travis's coverage here:
The final version of this guide is now available. The guide includes advice on how to develop project ideas and assess their funding potential at every stage of their development with a checklist and scorecard.

As for those wanting to apply for a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC), be advised that a conference will take place in Paris on 7 October where European officials, ERC panel evaluation members, and last year's grant winners will discuss past experiences. One of the aims of the conference is to help new candidates and their host institutions to prepare for future calls (deadlines for this year's call in physical sciences and engineering is 29 October 2008; social sciences and humanities, 19 November; Life Sciences, 10 December). For more information see the press release and conference Web site. If you can't make it to Paris, the debate will be broadcast live.

The 'researcher' profile applies to many jobs that don't actually involve research, said Andrew Dearing, secretary general of the European Industrial Research Management Association, at Tuesday's plenary session at the Vitae Researcher Development Conference in London. Of course, this statement is one of the very reasons Science Careers exists -- to highlight the breadth of job opportunities open to someone with research experience.

I talked to Dearing afterward and asked what jobs he'd include on that list. He gave his personal history as an example: He had jobs in academic research and industrial research, but then moved out of research into science policy and the non-profit sector. "When I was doing my Ph.D., I didn't know any of these options existed," he said. "I think most people don't."

Other jobs he'd add to that list include product support, product development, and jobs that involve figuring out how to provide a service with a particular technology. "It's about extending from what you know into a broad range of careers," he said.

He went on to note that there are two characteristics that will NOT help you land a job in a non-research company: a lack of confidence, and overconfidence. He said many young researchers don't appreciate that they have the skills to do something completely different. On the other hand, other researchers are overconfident that the specialized skills they have are the only ones that matter.

The main point: If you've decided a research career is not for you, there are plenty of jobs that will make use of your skills and, in fact, that need your skills. We've highlighted many such jobs on Science Careers, but for one example, check the Career Magazine next Friday for a special package on working as a program officer.


September 8, 2008

Over-measuring success?

The research world has become one of hyperevaluation, said Professor Sir Richard Brook, director of the Leverhulme Trust, who spoke today at the Vitae Researcher Development Conference in London. Researchers can be obsessed with measures such as their university's Shanghai Jiao Tong ranking, their personal h-index, and journal impact factors.

These measures are useful, but what truly matters is a researcher's passion for his or her research, Brook said. "We're putting too much faith in quantified measures of professionalism," he said. When researchers approach the Leverhulme Trust for a grant, he said, the most important thing is the researcher's passion for the subject -- not how prominent the university or the researcher's citation rate calculated out to three decimal places. These evaluations are not genuine measures of quality, he said: "Please emphasize the research rather than the metrics."

The comments were well received by the nearly 500 people in the audience, most actively engaged in postgraduate and postdoc training and advising. During the discussion Brook and fellow panel members pointed out that some metrics will always be important. For example, the government will always want to know that their research investment has been well spent, and quantitative measures are probably the best way to do that.

On Thursday, the European Research Council issued its second call for starting grants. As we've mentioned before, these are hefty (up to 2 million Euros for up to 5 years) grants for young scientists of any nationality with 3-8 years of post-Ph.D. experience who are working, or who will move to work, in Europe. This call will have the same budget as the first round -- about 290 million Euros -- so competition will likely remain stiff; only about 3% of 9167 applicants got funded last time.

Given the flood of applications the ERC received for the first call, the organization has decided to set deadlines by subject area for the second call: October 29 for the physical sciences and engineering, November 19 for social sciences and humanities, and December 10 for the life sciences. The newly updated ERC Grant Schemes Guide for Applicants notes that there are other changes to the application process as well; be sure to read the guide closely.

At the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) last weekend, I heard a couple of grantees from the first round of starting grants talk about their experience. "The application is part of the scientific process," said Jan Eeckhout, an economist who's moving from the University of Pennsylvania to Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona for his starting grant. "One-sixth of my proposal was trashed immediately." The feedback you get on your proposal can guide your research, he added.

For some advice on what makes for a good starting grant proposal, check out Elisabeth Pain's article, Getting to the Top of a Big Pile.

Also, deadlines for Marie Curie actions are rapidly approaching. The deadline is August 19 for Intra-European Fellowships for Career Development (call for applicants), International Incoming Fellowships (call for applicants), and the International Outgoing Fellowships for Career Development (call for applicants).

The deadline is October 8 for the International Reintegration Grants (call for proposals) and the European Reintegration Grants (call for proposals).

At this link, you can find an overview of the Marie Curie program under Framework Program 7, and check out the network for current and former fellows with the Marie Curie Fellows Association.

In a plenary session this Sunday at the 2008 Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) Marcus du Sautoy, a professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, delighted us with his career story… and the mathematics of symmetry.

Marcus du Sautoy’s first career ambition was rather remote from the world of mathematics. As a kid, du Sautoy was yearning to be a spy. With his mum owning a gun for working at the U.K. Foreign Office, "I immediately assumed that my mum was a spy and I wanted to get a job like my mum had," du Sautoy said. So he started learning French and Russian, two languages he had decided were essential for a spying career. But du Sautoy soon became frustrated with languages. It was "a total disaster," he said.

Du Sautoy didn’t contemplate a career in mathematics until later when his high-school teacher asked him to come and see him at the end of the class. "'I think you should find out what mathematics really is about. It’s something much more exciting than what we do in the classroom,'" du Sautoy says his teacher told him. The teacher recommended du Sautoy to read A Mathematician’s Apology, (PDF) by G.H. Hardy, on the aesthetics of mathematics. Du Sautoy, who at that time was contemplating a career in the arts, realized that mathematics is "beautiful in its own right," he said. Another book--Frank Land’s The Language of Mathematics--and du Sautoy was hooked. "The language of mathematics seemed to be the best language to comprehend the world around us. Everything made perfect sense. That appealed to me."

During the rest of his talk du Sautoy took us through the beauty and history of symmetry--"a universal language that binds the arts and the sciences"--as a mathematical concept. To get his message across du Sautoy used simple analogies with the biological and the chemical worlds, pieces of Bach’s music, and pictures of symmetric elements found in renowned buildings all over the world.

It worked. Du Sautoy didn’t lose me even once in the meanders of mathematical symmetry. This obvious talent for communication has made of du Sautoy a regular writer for British newspapers, an author of popular mathematics books, and a scriptwriter and presenter for the national TV and radio.

The 9 young scientists who spent some time a solas with du Sautoy during the 'Tapas with the Prof' session that followed the plenary lecture got to know a little more about that particular aspect of du Sautoy’s career.

Du Sautoy stepped into science communication after chatting informally about mathematics with an editor of The Times newspaper at a party in Oxford. The editor invited him to write an article but "I didn’t do anything. I was quite young then. You don’t want to expose yourself too early because you get criticized" by your peers, du Sautoy said. But when he met the editor again three years later at the same party, and saw that the editor remembered the invitation, du Sautoy was so impressed he gave it a go.

Since then he’s never stopped communicating to the public, even though "for many years I have been really looked down upon from my colleagues for doing that," said du Sautoy, who in 2001 won the Berwick Prize of the London Mathematical Society for the best mathematical research done by a mathematician under 40. Typically, communicating to the public "is not considered a core part of your work" like research and teaching. It was perceived as "not the proper thing to do."

Today du Sautoy still gets mixed support from his peers, but he obtained a Senior Media Fellowship from the U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council for somebody else to do his teaching. This is "one of the reasons I can do what I do," du Sautoy said. "I think [communicating to the public] is important."

In an ESOF session on alternative careers for scientists on Saturday, I heard something I haven't heard expressed out loud in a while: Women do need to choose between a career and family.

The provocative statement came from Susana Asensio Llamas from the Spanish National Research Council, and another panelist, Maria Aguirre of the Biobask Agency, agreed. Now, both women noted that they are roughly the same age (mid-career, let's say) and from Spain, so their situations won't be the same as young women scientists from other geographic areas coming into the ranks now. Both women felt that their career changes and their job hops around Europe and the world wouldn't have been possible with a family in tow.

I was somewhat baffled by this sentiment, so I felt a need to find some women who would say it is possible to have a career and family. In a session on the Marie Curie Actions, I met Nancy Tokola, a physician by training and mother of four who's had some pretty amazing positions, such as a visiting professor of biomedical ethics at the University of Mongolia and a field researcher at a malaria research institute in Turkey. "There was no way I was going to sacrifice having a family," Tokola says.

She admits her path is pretty unique: She's a "trailing spouse"--her husband's diplomatic job takes the lead and takes them around the world. She's got a self-described service mentality, so even though her husband's career has been the most consistent, she's applied her expertise in whatever region she's in. "I believe it's my responsibility to prepare myself to say yes to opportunity," Tokola says. She adds that she's managed work-life balance by having a husband who's 100% supportive and by having outside help with childcare. Now, at age 54, Tokola is starting a Ph.D. on poverty-related diseases in Mongolia.

This morning, I went to a session on women in science around the world, chaired by Marja Makarow, chief executive of the European Science Foundation--the first woman to hold that post. Zohra Ben Lakhdar, physics professor at the University of Tunis El Manar, offered up a statement about choices that was slightly different from the one I had heard on Saturday: "In life, you have to choose. There are moments for each step, each thing has importance at some time," she said. For example, she and her husband, also a physicist, decided not to have children until they both finished their Ph.D. theses. They later had two daughters.

The other speaker, Josee E. Leysen of VU University Amsterdam, had one child during her Ph.D. and a second right after -- and then she and her husband divorced. For the 10 years following, she says, her supportive family was key in maintaining a successful work-life balance. Now, her new partner does as much as she does in terms of home and family life.

I spoke with someone today who attended Saturday’s alternative careers session, and she actually said she found it refreshing that the women were so candid about thinking that they did need to choose. We women are only human, after all, and we also have the choice to choose -- and not try to do it all.

To read some inspirational stories about women in science, check out our new L'Oréal Women in Science Booklet.


With a title like that, it's no surprise this Saturday session at the ESOF 2008 meeting was packed full of postdocs and Ph.D. students, even at the early hour of 8:30 a.m. (It is Barcelona, after all.) But once the question and answer period began, it became clear that the path into a research career is anything but carved in stone.

One of the first questions came from a Ph.D. student at the Centre for Genomic Regulation here in Barcelona. She pointed out that the career options are limited for a person who doesn't necessarily want to be a principal investigator, and that there's no established view of a long-term career as a researcher. Session chair Massimo Serpieri, a policy officer at the European Commission, pointed out that this lack of a clear path was a major motivation for the creation of the European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers, which he describes as a "bill of rights and responsibilities" for early-career researchers and research institutions.

Fulvio Esposito, rector of the University of Camerino in Italy, also pointed out that PI positions are competitive -- and people know that not everyone can become a PI. With that in mind, young researchers should always be thinking about their entire range of options and not just a single path. But the questioner quickly pointed out that these responses are very general and not specific to anyone's career path. How should someone go forward with such general advice?

Karoline Hollander, the current president of Eurodoc, suggested that the Bologna Process, which aims to harmonize national higher education systems across Europe, is having a negative effect in this regard: Perhaps the standardization of degrees has made the system too prescribed, such that the lack of structure in a Ph.D. can be overwhelming. I thought that was an interesting point, although I'm not sure to what extent it might be true.

Finally, Serpieri offered up what I thought was the most concrete answer to the question: Researchers themselves need to take ownership of their research career to find the best path. That's not to say that funders, institutions, and industry employers can't do their part to make the process transparent, fair, and as seamless as possible, but ultimately, it's on you to determine what your definition of a concrete career path is.

There are no recipes for success, but there are some basic principles to follow, Nobel Prize winner Aaron Ciechanover told a small group of young scientists during a "Tapas with the Professor" session here at the Euroscience Open Forum in Barcelona.

Ciechanover, a researcher at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, received the Albert Lasker Award for basic medical research in 2000 and the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2004 for his work on cellular protein degradation. Even in the face of adversity, Ciechanover never deviated from his principles on how to be a scientist, he told the seven Ph.D. students and postdocs sitting around the table.

Ciechanover’s mottos are the following:

·        Be confident. In the late 1980s, Ciechanover’s research was not rallying great support from the scientific community. “People never really doubted our science but [doubted] the focus of it,” he says. If your research ideas are original and you are able to build the set of tools you need to pursue them, then “don’t get influenced by the ground noise, stick to your ideas,” Ciechanover says.

·        Gain your independence early. Having started making some important discoveries as a Ph.D. student, Ciechanover worried he would never be able to step out of his supervisor’s shadow. During his postdoc, he made a point of finding his own niche and funding. “I became a freelancer, working on my own subject,” during which he published five papers. “Then people didn’t identify me with my mentor anymore.”

·        Find a good mentor. Having a good mentor who gave him some bench space and materials so he could follow his own lines of research was nonetheless critical in his success, Ciechanover says. He advised the young scientists around the table to choose their mentor carefully. “I didn’t just read [about the groups], I went to the U.S. for three weeks for interviews and then I chose my mentor,” Ciechanover says. Avoid picking a “big shot who doesn’t care… [or] a young P.I. who doesn’t know,” he says. The institution, too, is important. “You want to be in a big environment where you can run around in the corridors and find what you need.”

·        Don’t get hung up on journal ranks. “If you look at my CV, you will see a distribution [of journals], not only Science and Nature,” Ciechanover says. “If the community recognizes that you are really good, then it doesn’t matter where you publish.”

·        Constantly ask questions. Young scientists should regularly ask themselves whether they are on their way to independence. “You can do a lot by keeping yourself alert all of the time,” Ciechanover says. Ask yourself whether the question you’re looking at is important or whether you are tying up loose ends for your mentor, and how important your role within the group is.

·        Allow yourself some mistakes. You can’t do it too many times, but if you really don’t like your mentor or supervisor, or you realize you went down the wrong career track, allow yourself to get it right, says Ciechanover, who swapped a physician’s career for research. You have to be true to yourself and say, ‘it’s a mistake… Don’t get stuck into something you don’t want to do.’”

Ultimately, what you want to do to be successful in research is build an identity for yourself, says Ciechanover. “Then build the tools and the means to do it.”

You can read about Ciechanover's plenary lecture on Science's news blog, Findings.

July 20, 2008

A Brand New Bag


The European editors of Science Careers are at the Euroscience Open Forum 2008 (ESOF 2008) in Barcelona this weekend. Yesterday I went to a session on career alternatives, sponsored by Naturejobs. Just before it, session organizers were handing out black nylon bags with the Naturejobs logo on them. A postdoc from Spain who was sitting behind me declined it. He quipped, "I don't need a bag. I need a job."

It sure would be nice if universities, research councils, and other employers handed jobs out as conference swag. But, perhaps they do, indirectly. Conferences are great places to network, make new contacts, and learn about jobs. Get some tips in Mastering Your Ph.D.: Making the Most of a Conference, The Scientific Conference Guide (Or, How to Make the Most of Your Free Holiday), and How to Work a Scientific Conference.

We'll share more tidbits from ESOF 2008 over the next few days, and the European Science news crew is here too and blogging their stories over at Findings, the Science Magazine news blog.

And, by the way, guess what swag you can get at the Science/Science Careers booth? A new bag.

July 8, 2008

A Vos Casseroles!

The fourth edition of the Rencontres Sciences, Art & Cuisine -- an international molecular gastronomy contest promoted by Hervé This, one of the pioneers of molecular gastronomy -- has just been announced. Molecular gastronomers and others interested in the science of cooking may take part in the competition. This year's themes: Revisiting traditional dishes with molecular gastronomy, and innovating with methylcellulose as an ingredient.

To participate in the competition, you first need to register by sending an e-mail to You then have up to 16 February 2009 to come up with your new culinary creations and send off a report to the Rencontres organizers. The award ceremony will take place on 27 March.

Keep tuned for more information on (the organizers).

Read the profile of two past winners from Portugal on Science Careers.

The European Commission has rebranded and repackaged its Web sites for researchers under the name "EURAXESS -- Researchers in Motion." Launched  late last month, EURAXESS pulls together four previously existing sites: the European Researcher's Mobility Portal, the ERA-MORE Network, the European Charter and Code, and ERA-Link. Those four areas have new names on the new site: Jobs, Services, Rights, and Links.

Personally, I still find it a little heavy on links to other places (some of which aren't always helpful) rather than one-stop-shopping for information, but hopefully pulling everything together under one umbrella will eventually lead to greater consistency of information across countries.

July 2, 2008

ERC Advanced Grants

The European Research Council (ERC) received a total of 2,167 applications in its first call for the ERC Advanced Grants. The grants will support established researchers with a track record of at least 10 years, providing funding of up to 3.5 million for 5 years.

Among the submitted research proposals, 766 are in life sciences and medicine, 997 in physical sciences and engineering, and 404 in social science and humanities. Fifty different nationalities are represented (the grants will be awarded to scientists of any nationality working in Europe or willing to move over here), but only 14% are women. "We are aware that the relatively low proportion of women applicants is a general problem in European research, especially in the target group of established researchers. This is a concern which the ERC will continue to address at every level," ERC President Fotis Kafatos stated in a press release.

Substantially fewer proposals were received than for the ERC Starting Grants last year, when more than 9,000 proposals were submitted. "Limiting measures were taken by the ERC Scientific Council after the overwhelming mass of applications received for the first ERC call,"  Kafatos said.

Proposals have gone through a first step of peer-review already; the second peer-review phase ends in September.

More information in the press release.

This week Research Councils U.K. (RCUK) announced a new agreement that outlines the rights and responsibilities of researchers and employers in the development of research careers. At the same time, they announced the creation of a new organization whose mission is to support the research careers of doctoral students and postdocs.

In some respects, both the agreement and the organization are grown-up versions of existing entities. The "Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers" is an updated and revised version of a concordat created in 1996. The new document takes into account changes in the last decade, such as legislation that affects fixed-term contracts and changes in RCUK grant terms. Its principles include, for example, ensuring transparent pay scales, rewarding good research management, providing researchers with a career development strategy within their organization, evaluating researchers' performance regularly, and recognizing that researchers are responsible for maintaining and developing their own careers.

By signing the new concordat, the signatories, which include Research Councils U.K., Universities U.K., the Royal Society, the British Academy, the Wellcome Trust, and many others, also sign themselves up to the European Charter for Researchers and a Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers. Prior to this announcement, no U.K. organization had signed the charter.

The newly announced organization, called Vitae, is the New and Improved version of the UK GRAD program, whose charter expired last year. But rather than just promoting the careers of doctoral students, as UK GRAD did, Vitae will also incorporate career development for research staff (postdocs). Vitae will officially kick off in September at its first Researcher Development Conference, but the organization already has pooled some good resources on its Web site.

After the application process for the European astronaut selection closed on 16 June, the ESA counted 8,413 complete applications. Candidates come from all 17 ESA Member States, but France is the best represented, with 22,1% of all applicants, followed by Germany's 21.4%, Italy's 11%, the United Kingdom's 9.8%, and Spain's 9.4%.  16% of the candidates are women.

Those who make it through pre-screening will be invited to take the first round of psychological tests. "Those tests aim to identify the psychological and technical skills of the applicants, who will be tested in different fields including visual memory and psychomotor aptitude," according to a press release.

For more information click on the ESA Web site and on Science Careers.

June 17, 2008

Fly Your Thesis!

Registration for the European Space Agency (ESA)'s astronaut selection may now be closed, but another opportunity to make it into microgravity has just popped up for young scientists.

ESA's education office has launched a new programme called "Fly Your Thesis! – An Astronaut Experience" in which European university students may take part in a competition and carry out their experiments in microgravity as the winning prize.

The students' mission is to design an experiment they'd like to perform up in the sky as part of their Masters or Ph.D. research project. They must first register as a team with an outline research proposal. Up to 20 teams will then be selected by the end of September 2008 to prepare a more detailed proposal with the help of a mentor provided by ESA. Those teams will go to ESA’s European Space Technology and Research Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands to present their project to a jury.

Up to 4 teams will be selected in January 2009 to take part in ESA's Autumn 2009 Microgravity Research Campaign in Bordeaux, France. Students will fly three times aboard an Airbus A300 Zero-G aircraft, experiencing each time 30 parabolic flights and about 10 minutes of microgravity.

All along, students will be given scientific support by the ESA Education Office, ESA microgravity experts, and members of the European Low Gravity Research Association. ESA will also pay students' travel and accommodation expenses and cover part of the experiments.

To be eligible you must be a citizen from one of the ESA member and cooperating states, and be a full-time student in one of those countries. You also must be under 28, and although these do not figure in the eligibility requirements, there are some medical requirements for parabolic flights you should be aware of. Teams may be 2-4 students, and a professor or supervisor must take the responsibility for the experiments.

Deadline for registration: 31 August 2008. More information on the competition the can be found on the ESA Web site.

If so, now is an opportunity to shine. Your Amazing Brain Web site, the European Dana Alliance for the Brain, the British Neuroscience Association, and Focus magazine are calling for entries to their 2008 national brain science writing competition.

The assignment is to write a newspaper-style article about your own field of research in no more than 750 words. Any scientist residing in the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland and working in brain science, psychology, or the nervous system in humans or other organisms may apply, regardless of their educational and professional level.

The top winner will get a cash prize of £250 and see his or her article published in Focus, the British Neuroscience Association's magazine, and on Your Amazing Brain Web site.

Above all, get your inspiration quickly: deadline for entries is 30 June. For more details about the competition and how to enter, click here.

Both male and female European researchers see combining research with children as very difficult. But, according to a recent study, men and women perceive workplace obstacles differently.

Just like many previous studies, a new survey funded by the European Commission and published this month in EMBO Reports concludes that women remain largely absent in many fields of science, get lower wages, and have fewer opportunities than men to climb the career ladder.

But the EMBO survey, which collected the views of 143 scientists, 53.1% men and 46.9% women, also compared the barriers they perceived to gender equality. Seven out of ten female researchers, and six out of ten men, perceived as very difficult to both keep a career in science going and look after children. But while more than 75% of the female scientists saw the frequent participation of women in administrative duties as a barrier in the workplace, it was seen as such by only 33% of the men. Almost half of the female scientists complained about men getting the most interesting jobs. Interestingly, 57.4% of the female participants -- versus 27.3% of men -- believed this is due to women's lack of competitive attitude in the context of their careers. 

In addition, "the results confirm that many women participate more actively at the beginning of their scientific career, with their work ambitions reduced after having children," says lead author Simona Palermo in a press release. 

Full publication in EMBO reports here (Subcription required). A press release may be found here.

The United Kingdom has had great record of attracting international students, but a new report questions whether that success will continue, noting that reforms in other European higher education systems are making their programs more competitive for students.

The report from the U.K.'s Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) notes that the U.K. currently has 248,635 international scholars among its 1,433,040 undergraduate and graduate students, making it second only to the United States in attracting students from abroad. Many come to England's schools because of the good employment record their graduates have and the high rate of return for students in term of salary. On the other hand, the U.K.'s fees for international students are the highest in Europe, and U.K. higher education institutions rely on international enrollment to provide 8% of their average income.

But many European countries are altering and upgrading their degree programs to bring them in line with the mandates of the Bologna process, a series of accords aimed at standardizing higher education degrees across Europe. The majority of the countries now have 2-year master's programs with research components, while the U.K. still offers 1-year master's courses. This means they may be less competitive than master's courses in other countries and may be seen as inappropriate preparation for a Ph.D. In this sense, other European Union members argue the U.K. has been "Bologna-disrespectful," according to the report.

Other countries are also starting to offer complete programs in English to compete with the U.K. for the international student market.

HEPI concludes that there is no "immediate threat" to the U.K. share of the international market. However, the report's authors say that to protect that market in the long term, the U.K. will need to identify meaningful measures of what students can do at the end of their program of study, apply strong methods of entrance selection, and demonstrate the good quality of teaching methods and the overall quality of U.K. system.

The HEPI report can be found here. The Royal Society expressed its concern earlier this year; read about it here.

-Emma Gatti

The U.K. government has announced a £13 million fellowship program aimed at attracting the world's best postdoctoral researchers from across all disciplines of natural and social sciences, engineering, and the humanities. The catch: You have to be from anywhere but the U.K.

The Newton International Fellowships--sponsored by the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society, and Research Councils U.K.--provide an opportunity for early-career scientists from any country outside the U.K. to work at a U.K. research institution for up to 2 years. The fellowships provide a salary of £24,000 per year and £8,000 to cover research expenses, plus a one-off relocation allowance of £2000.

An attractive bonus of the scheme: All Newton Fellows who remain in research will be granted a 10-year follow-up funding package worth £6000 per year. The goal, organizers say, is to encourage young scientists collaborate with U.K. researchers and to establish international networks.

Program organizers expect to award 50 fellowships in the first round, for which the closing date is August 4. Eligible applicants should have completed a Ph.D. and have up to 6 years of postdoctoral or equivalent experience; should be working outside the U.K. and should not hold U.K. citizenship at the time of application; and must be competent in oral and written English.

For more information, including how to submit an application, visit

--Emma Gatti

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

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

Hat tip: Boston Globe

There have been a few interesting European reports that I've been meaning to write about, so here they are, all in one convenient package!

First up: Europe's scientific workforce is aging.

Europe's population as a whole is aging, so it's not a big surprise that the scientific workforce is aging, too. Eurostat recently took a look at the demographics of human resources in science and technology (HRST), which they define as people with higher education or employment in science and technology. Rather than refer to people as an acronym, though, I shall call them "folks in science."

Eurostat estimates that 40% of the folks in science in Europe are between ages 45 and 64, and the percentage of workers in that age group has been increasing by 3.3% per year since 2001. Bulgaria has the oldest scientific workforce (with 46% of folks in science over age 45), followed by Finland, Germany, and Sweden. Spain has the youngest scientific workforce (with 30% between ages 45 and 64), followed by Ireland and Portugal.

The report also looks at the gender breakdown (47% of folks in science aged 45 to 64 are women, it says here -- that's overall, and the report breaks it down by country but nothing else), job-to-job mobility (2.9% of folks in science aged 45 to 64 changed jobs in a one-year period compared with 6.2% of those in the whole group surveyed -- those aged 25 to 64), and unemployment (2.9% of the total folks in science are unemployed, compared with 2.2% of the older group, with, of course, huge variations by country). 

The report's authors don't include too much strong language in the way of recommendations: "The impact of this labour force aging needs to be closely monitored, in particular regarding the highly qualified section of the labour force, to ensure knowledge transfer," the report's authors write. I suspect we'll see numbers from this analysis pop up in a future report aimed at drawing young people into science in Europe. 

You can read the Eurostat report here, and a summary of it here.

Next: Women are underrepresented in senior science positions.

A mere 15% of full professors in European universities are women. That statistic in itself isn't new, but it's one of many in a new report that was put together by an independent panel charged by the European Commission "to review the procedures for evaluating and promoting research personnel and to identify measures taken to promote women into senior positions," according to a press release.

To accomplish this, the report's authors reviewed the issues in depth, including the latest statistics on women in the scientific workforce, the latest legislation in each country that pertains to gender equality in the workforce, and reviews of programs that seem to be successful in promoting women in the workforce. The report -- called "Mapping the maze: getting more women to the top in research" -- makes several recommendations: There should be national and international committments to equality in the workforce, training efforts should inform high-level officials and administrators on gender aspects of the workforce, create more transparent hiring processes by requiring all job positions to be publicly advertised, collect better data on hiring and workforce, and recommend that institutions make public information on their faculty's age, gender, and income distribution.

There are many more recommendations, of course, and you can read them in the full report.

And finally: The European Commission wants to help you get the right funding for your project.

The Commission has developed its "Practical guide to EU funding opportunities for research, development and innovation," which describes three funding mechanisms: the 7th Framework Program (FP7), the Competitiveness and Innovation Program (CIP), and structural funds. According to the new guide, FP7 "provides funding to co-finance research, technological development and demonstration projects based on competitive calls and independent peer review of project proposals." CIP is meant to "promote innovation (including eco-innovation), foster business support services in the regions ... , encourage a better take-up and use of information and communications technologies, help to develop the information society and promote the increased use of renewable energies and energy efficiency." And structural funds are meant "to strengthen economic, social and territorial cohesion by reducing
disparities in the level of development among regions and Member States."

The new guide is meant to help researchers choose which one of these funding mechanisms is the right one for their project -- or even how to combine funds from different sources. The guide provides a checklist to help compare each funding type. The guide itself is still in draft form, and the Commission is soliciting comments through the end of April. You can read the consultation document here, the draft practical guide here, draft checklist here, and draft scorecard here. Oh, and there's also a press release.

A few European countries are setting aside money to fund top-notch European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant proposals that didn't quite make the cut for the ERC's competition. You can read about it in this week's Science (subscription required). Briefly, 430 proposals of the more than 9,000 submitted were deemed worthy of funding, but the ERC estimates that the €290 million budget will only fund about 300 of those. France, Italy, Switzerland, and Spain all have announced that they will step up and provide some form of funding for those top-tier proposals that don't get funded.

France's Agence Nationale de la Recherche has announced it will put up €10 million to fund the unfunded ERC proposals submitted by scientists at French host institutions. Italy has set aside €30 million for any unfunded Starting Grant finalist, on the condition that they perform their research in Italy. Switzerland's National Science Foundation has announced that it will review the ERC finalist proposals from Swiss host institutions and provide some sort of funding for those that meet certain additional criteria. And Spain will provide €100,000 to the Starting Grant finalists at Spanish host institutions to help them set up labs or get their projects started while they apply for funding elsewhere.

We here at Careers are pretty impressed with this idea: The European Commission already put in the time end effort to peer review the grants, so the national governments can't really go wrong funding proposals already deemed excellent. In this era of tight federal budgets, could this model work for, say, top-notch-but-turned-down NIH proposals? Could a state government or private foundation pick up NSF proposals that would have been funded if the payline had been more favorable? It's an interesting way to get additional mileage out of the grant/peer review system.

A press release about the alternate funding can be found here. Feel free to read our previous blog posts on the nationalities of the finalists and the selection of the finalists; also check out Elisabeth Pain's article last July, "Getting to the Top of a Big Pile," in which she talked to ERC proposal reviewers about what makes a proposal stand out in a pool of 9,167 applications.

For basketball fans in the U.S., the Final Four -- the semifinals and finals of the collegiate basketball championship, which start on Saturday -- is one of the year's top attractions. Among this year's contenders is the University of Kansas, a perennial basketball power.  Its center, Sasha Kaun, is an imposing figure in the computer lab as well as the basketball court.

At the start of the season, Kaun, at 6'11" and 250 lbs (2.108 meters and 113.398 kilograms), was the Jayhawks ' starting center, but now he comes off the bench where he, as MSNBC notes, "contributes points, rebounds and blocked shots, but also does a lot of little things that don’t show up in the box score."

In a sport where fewer star players are getting their bachelors degrees and the term student-athlete is a running joke, Kaun is a senior studying computer science, not your typical jock major. He excels in the classroom; Kaun was one of two Kansas players named to this year's Big-12 all-academic team.

The story of how Kaun got to Kansas to play for one of college basketball's top teams is quite a tale in itself. Kaun's family lived in the Siberian town of Tomsk, where his father worked as a computer programmer in a bank. Some 10 years ago, the 13 year-old Sasha Kaun came home to learn that his father was found dead in a parking garage under mysterious circumstances (Russian authorities call the death a suicide, which the family disputes). Kaun still carries his late father's picture in his wallet and credits his father with the inspiration to study computer science.

Three years later, Kaun heard from a friend who just graduated from the Florida Air Academy, a private boarding school in Melbourne, Florida.  The school was recruiting students from Russia;  Kaun jumped at the opportunity to come to the United States. The school's basketball coach recruited Kaun, who at 6'10" was the school's tallest student. Up to then, however, Kaun had never played more than informal pick-up games, and did not know a word of English.

Kaun had to learn not just English but also the basics of basketball, and then the finer points, where size by itself means little. His hard work and long hours in the classroom, weight room, and on the court, transformed him into a leading college prospect, recruited by Duke and Michigan State as well as Kansas. This season, he had to work through injuries suffered in his junior year that lowered his point production, but Kaun still leads the team this year in field goal percentage.

While Kaun's immediate goal may be the national championship, his career can take any number of routes, and computer science is high among the options.

April 3, 2008

Who Needs Scientists?

That's the title of a BBC Radio 4 piece that aired on Monday. Mark Miodownik, a research scientist and lecturer at King's College London, questions the periodic goverment and private institution reports stating that the U.K. needs to increase its scientific workforce. How can this be true, Miodownik wonders, when so many early-career scientists can't find jobs? Miodownik hits the streets, so to speak, to gather opinions on the subject from students, scientists, and leaders, including the U.K. science minister Ian Pearson and Royal Society president Martin Rees.

You can listen to the segment here. (Hat tip: Elisabeth Mahoney, the Guardian)

On that same theme, Dan Greenberg writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "The Odds Aren't Favorable for Careers in Science." A preview: "Unsolicited advice for students contemplating a career in scientific research: Don't -- unless you’re passionate about life in the lab and willing to undergo a long apprenticeship, at low wages, with an uncertain outcome, gain a situation where, against long odds, you can compete for position and money to do the research that interests you. Understand this: The chances of making it are not good."

Following a public consultation, the European Commission last month adopted a Code of Conduct on nanotechnology research. Member States, employers, funding bodies, and researchers are encouraged "to undertake the necessary steps to ensure that they contribute to developing and maintaining a supportive research environment, conducive to the safe, ethical and effective development of the potential" of nanoscience and nanotechnology, the document reads.

The Code of Conduct is based on 7 principles:

Meaning: Nano research should be conducted in the interest of society and be comprehensible to the public.

Sustainability: Nano research should be safe, ethical, and contribute to sustainable development.

Precaution: Nano activities should anticipate and protect researchers and the society from negative environmental, health, and safety impacts.

Inclusiveness: Regarding the governance of nano research, all stakeholders should be allowed to participate in the decision-making process in a open and transparent manner.

Excellence: Nano research should meet the best scientific standards, including research integrity and good laboratory practices.

Innovation: Governance of nano research activities should encourage creativity and growth.

Accountability: Researchers and research organizations are accountable for the impact of their work.

An article this week in Canada's National Post newspaper says that universities across Canada report increasing use of their mental health counseling services in recent years.  Queens University in Kingston, Ontario says the number of patients seeking counseling has tripled in the past 10 years, and Simon Fraser University, with three campuses in British Columbia, reports a 30% increase in one year alone.

Mike Condra, who heads counseling services at Queens University, says mental health is the fastest growing problem faced by his office, which also deals with academic issues, physical health, and student disabilities. At Queens, campus counselors are still seeing new patients quickly to determine if they are in immediate danger. But non-emergency follow-up visits with a psychiatrist are backlogged for as long as three months.  What worries Condra further is that there are probably many more students who need help but who aren't seeking treatment.

The problem apparently is not limited to Canada. The article cites the 2006 National College Health Assessment survey conducted on U.S. campuses that showed about a third (35%) of students reported feeling depressed at least once in the previous year to such an extent that they could not function. The survey also said about 10% of respondents seriously considered suicide. Some 88% of the survey's respondents were undergraduates.

The experts quoted in the article could not agree on a cause for the increased demand. Melanie Drew, director of health services at Concordia University in Montreal attributes much of the increase to higher expectations and more financial pressures. A student in the social work department (who was once a patient at the school's counseling facilities) started a drop-in screening kiosk at Simon Fraser University. She says about 70 percent of her clients are international students, who face cross-cultural problems on top of everything else.

But not all experts in the field, at least in Canada, are convinced that the demand for services means more mental health problems. Stanley Kutcher, a professor of psychiatry at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia attributes the increased demand to rising awareness among students that counseling is available and they are taking advantage of the service. "People are often going for assistance for distress, as opposed to disorder," says Kutcher. "The bar is lower."

As we've noted in Science Careers over the years, even scientists can get the blues, including those in the U.K. and Belgium.  If you think you need help, get help. Let the counselors tell you there's nothing wrong.

Hat tip: Education News


According to an article in Chemical and Engineering News this week, seven U.S.-educated scientists working in Germany have been charged with impersonating a doctor because they used "Dr." before their names on Web sites and business cards. The maximum penalty for the crime is one year in jail.

German law, it says here, prohibits anyone who didn't receive their doctorate from a German or European Union institution from using the title "Dr." One of the scientists interviewed for the article was able to get the charge dismissed, but others are still waiting. "More than anything, this is a big annoyance," says David G. Heckel, a director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology who earned his Ph.D. at Stanford, and one of the scientists who's been charged. "But there is also the uncertainty of not knowing what is going to happen."

You can read the full article here.

If you're looking for a nice way to end your workday, you may want to take a look at the pictures taken as part of the national competition for scientific photography, organized by the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT) and the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). For the 5th consecutive year, Fotciencia is aiming to bring science closer to the public by encouraging scientists to submit pictures with short, explanatory texts (in Spanish). These have now been published on the Fotciencia Web site, along with the names of the winners. Those of you residing in Spain or planning a visit some time in 2008 may also want to check the cities the road exhibition will visit this year.

The City Council of Paris is offering several grants for foreign researchers to work in the French capital for a few months. The grants aim at helping Paris labs develop long-term collaborations with scientists in other countries. 

Eligibility: Ph.D.-holders of foreign nationality, permanently residing in a foreign country.

Disciplines: All fields. Projects of a multidisciplinary nature or focusing on the city of Paris itself are encouraged.

Duration: From 3 to 11 months for scientists with less than 5 years' postdoctoral experience. More experienced scientists are also supported for a duration of between 2 and 6 months.

Stipends: Monthly stipend of 2,500 for postdocs, and of 3,000 for senior scientists.

Other allowances: Round-trip air fare from your country of origin to France, medical assurance, and administrative support in looking for accommodation.

What else you need to know: If you planned to learn French once in France, you will need some serious help with the language even before applying. Candidates need to complete a 10-page application form in French. Awardees also must write a 15-page report in French but not until the last month of the grant.

Deadline: 18 April 2008.

More information: See the Web site of the City Council of Paris

We had a steady flow of guests at the Meet the Science Careers Editors session yesterday (15 February) at the AAAS annual meeting. Here area few photos from the event.


Ric Weibl, Director of AAAS's Center for Careers in Science and Technology welcomes the guests.


Jim Austin, Brooke Allen, and Anne Sasso


We catch scientists VERY early in their careers


Vid Nukala and Babette Pain


Carol Milano, Jim Austin (foreground), and Kate Travis check out the Science Careers site


Sean Sanders (left), with Vasana Maneeratana (center), and José Fernández

The AAAS annual meeting, which  begins next week in Boston, will give attendees a chance to get together with friends old and new. In that spirit, we've scheduled a Meet the Science Careers Editors session on Friday 15 February at 3:00 p.m., in room 307 of the Hynes Center, where the annual meeting takes place. That room is just off Exhibit Hall D, where the Science/AAAS Career Fair will be going on. All of the Science Careers editors, including our European colleagues, will be there. If you have ideas for articles we should consider, have something else to tell us about careers in science (yours or in general), or would just like to meet us and chat, we'd love to see you.

Later that same afternoon, at 5:30 p.m., is a meet-up of the AAAS Facebook group, in Grand Ballroom K (fourth floor) of the nearby Marriott Copley Place. Watch the AAAS Group Facebook page for details (Facebook membership required).

With so much of our professional lives conducted online, these opportunities to interact in person are rare indeed. If you're in Boston for the AAAS meeting, or there for any reason, we hope you will drop by.

Although the number of doctorate degrees awarded in the United Kingdom has increased by almost 80 percent in the last 10 years, science Ph.D.s as a percentage of all doctoral degrees awarded has dropped from 65 percent to 57 percent, according to a report released yesterday by the Royal Society.

The overall increase in doctorates awarded was from about 8900 in 1994/95 to 16,000 in 2004/05. Absolute numbers on the change in science Ph.D.s would involve some graph interpretation and addition, which might result in a wildly incorrect number. The graphs do reveal, though, that biology Ph.D.s increased the most, while math, chemistry, and physics doctorates remained relatively stable.

Should we be alarmed? "Concerned" is the word the authors of the Royal Society report, called "A Higher Degree of Concern," use. They admit that it's very difficult to speculate on the needs of the future workforce, but, they say, the future is likely to demand a highly scientifically trained workforce that can compete globally. "While postgraduate study in the U.K. is very successful in terms of the overall numbers of people studying and the income generated, the skills base our economy needs is still well behind our competitor economies," Professor Judith Howard, Chair of the Royal Society Working Group said in a press release. "The technological breakthroughs that are required to keep us competitive will come from our labs but only if they have enough people with the best education and skills. Any investment now will pay dividends in the long term."

Here's what the report's authors recommend:

- encourage people to study science, technology, engineering, and math.

- consider an 8-year track from start of undergraduate through doctorate degrees to bring the U.K. in line with the higher education path recommended by the Bologna Process, the Europe-wide effort to standardize higher education degrees across all European countries. The Bologna Process recommends a 3-year undergraduate degree, a 2-year master's degree that's required before pursuing a doctorate, and 3-year doctorate programs. (A typical timeframe in the U.K. is 6-7 years -- 3 or 4 years for undergraduate and 3 or 4 years for doctorate.) The concern is twofold: Scientists coming out of the U.K. system may not be able to compete for jobs in Europe, and higher education programs in the U.K. may be less attractive to international students, who accounted for 39 percent of all doctorates awarded in the U.K. in 2004/05.

- consider exploring more integration between industry and universities through industry-funded Ph.D.s, integrating work experience into a doctoral program, and getting input on higher education curriculum from industry.

The home page for the report is here, and a Royal Society press release is here. You can also read more about the report in yesterday's Guardian.

Reuters, via MSNBC, reports today on a study in the European Heart Journal on the association between work-related stress and coronary heart disease. Science Careers often reports on conditions that can cause conflict or stress, to help scientists and engineers cope with their work conditions. But this research points out that it's the younger workers -- not necessarily the old folks -- who need to worry about the impact of work stress on their hearts.

The study aimed to uncover the linkages between stress at work and coronary heart disease, when combined with risk factors such as smoking, lack of exercise, and poor diet. The research team from University College London and St. George's University of London studied some 10,300 British civil servants aged 35 and older, through interviews, postal questionnaires, and clinical examinations. The research covered a 20-year period, from 1985 to 2004.

The researchers measured work-related stress on the surveys and questionnaires. They rated work conditions more stressful when the demands of the job were high but the workers' decision-making latitude was low. The researchers also rated the degree of social isolation -- the degree to which workers faced by stressful conditions had no support from co-workers or supervisors.

The researchers found an association between higher work stress and coronary heart diseases such as heart attacks (myocardial infarction) and angina. When dividing the subjects by age, they found that the younger (through age 49) workers had a stronger association between work stress and heart disease, while the 50+ age group showed little association. Stressed-out workers also had lower heart-rate variability, a sign the heart is functioning poorly, and higher levels of cortisol, a hormone found in stressful ("fight or flight") situations.

The researchers found that the lifestyles of the subjects were also associated with heart disease. Subjects who smoked, exercised little, and had diets low in fruits and vegetables reported higher rates of heart disease.

January 18, 2008

Funding News You Can Use

When GrantsNet began adding new U.S. government science grants last spring, the volume of new funding opportunites on a given month tripled, which meant the monthly Funding News also tripled in size. To make it easier to find the grants you want in each Funding News, we added a search feature for each month's entries so you can avoid scrolling up and down the ever-lengthening Web page.

For those who have not visited the Funding News recently, we also moved the Deadline Watch to a separate page to make the Funding News less forbidding. The Deadline Watch lists GrantsNet entries with deadlines in the next four weeks.

The search feature uses Yahoo Pipes, an engrossing -- one may even call it addictive -- service that lets you create little applications like this one without writing computer code. In this case, we combined the two Funding News RSS feeds, for research funding and student and institutional support, and added a search box.

If you're a postdoc or student considering employment in Europe and you plan to be around Boston in early February, head over to the 12th European Career Fair in Cambridge, Mass., put on by the MIT European Club.

The career fair aims to bring together employers with candidates -- students and postdocs in the sciences and engineering -- interested in working in Europe.  The fair itself takes place on Saturday 2 February at MIT's Johnson Athletic Center, but there are associated activities taking place before and after: a panel discussion about globalization of the knowledge economy on Friday afternoon and interviews between employers and prospects on Sunday and Monday

While advance candidate registration that enabled the filing of resumes closed on 30 November (with some 4,000 resumes collected), unregistered candidates may still attend. So far, 141 employers plan to take part. About half of the employers are for-profit companies, particularly in engineering, technology, health care, life sciences, energy, and finance. The not-for-profit employers are mainly universities, government agencies, and research institutes.

Science Careers posted a special resources page for fair-goers. If this is your first career fair, or want to be better prepared than the last fair you attended, see the Science Careers instruction guide for these events.

The European Commission is inviting applications for the following Marie Curie programmes:

- Marie Curie European Reintegration Grants (ERG)

Who it's for: Ph.D. holders in any field of research who are nationals of a European or Associated country or have resided in Europe for at least 3 of the past 4 years. Applicants must already have received a Marie Curie grant that lasted for at least 18 months and ended no more than 6 months ago. Applicants may pick a host institution in any European country.

What it offers: A € 15,000 per year contribution towards the researcher's salary, research project, and other costs, such as travel.

For how long? 2-3 years.

When to apply: Applications may be submitted throughout the year, with 3 April and 8 October 2008 the two cut-off dates for selection.

You can find more information on the ERG call and a guide for applicants on the Framework Programme 7 Web site.

- Marie Curie International Reintegration Grants (IRG)

Who it's for: Ph.D. holders in any field of research who are nationals of a European or Associated country and have spent at least 2 of the last 3 years in a non-European country. Applicants must pick a new host institution within Europe.

What it offers: A € 25,000 per year contribution towards the researcher's salary, research project, and other costs like travel.

For how long? 2-4 years.

When to apply: Applications may be submitted throughout the year, with 3 April and 8 October 2008 the two cut-off dates for selection.

More information on the IRG call and a guide for applicants on the Framework Programme 7 Web site.

Marie Curie funding is also available for joint research projects presented by public and private research organisations across Europe under Industry-Academia Partnerships and Pathways, and for joint staff-exchange programmes presented by public organisations across Europe and other countries under the International Research Staff Exchange Scheme.

The Wellcome Trust has announced a new Ph.D. program aimed at clinicians who want to get rigorous research training in a doctoral program setting. Studentships for the program will be offered at nine universities across the U.K., two of which will also recruit basic scientists into an integrated program.

"This unique scheme sees a shift away from the traditional models of support for clinical Ph.D.s," John Williams, who oversees the Ph.D. programs for clinical scientists, said in a press release. "The scheme aims to provide a cadre of highly-qualified clinical researchers who can both contribute to and take advantage of the rapid advances in biomedical research."

Seven universities will offer 3-year fellowships exclusively for clinical research programs (those will be offered at Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London, University of Edinburgh, University of Dundee, University of Liverpool, and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine). Two schools (University of Birmingham and The Institute for Cancer Research, London) will offer 3-year (for medical students) and 4-year (for basic science students) Ph.D. tracks.

You can read more about clinical/translational research training programs in our recent special feature on translational research careers.

The British government is looking to recruit professional scientists, mathematicians, and engineers currently employed in industry to go back into the classroom as teachers.   

According to a BBC news story this week, England is in dire need of science-trained teachers at elementary and high schools. The new federal program hopes to tap various industries across the country for people who may consider changing professions, such as those looking at early retirement, and convince them that a teaching career is a viable and fulfilling alternative. "We now need this 'best of British' to get into our schools and colleges and bring on the next generation," says Schools Minister Jim Knight in the BBC story. "We need companies to encourage career switchers to take the leap and go into teaching."

Read the full BBC News story.

- Andrew Fazekas, Canadian Correspondent

December 27, 2007

Editors' Best of 2007 Now Live

For three years, Science Careers has devoted its last issue of the year to highlighting our editors' choices for the best articles of the year, and we continued that tradition this year. Our editors could apply whatever criteria they deemed fit to the decision, but had to limit their choices to five articles only. The results are a mix of how-to articles, inspirational profiles, personal perspectives, and job-market commentaries.

You will notice that the last paragraph of the text before the article list asks readers to give us their take on how we're doing. While we respect our editors' opinions, it's you the readers who really matter. You can add a comment to this posting, send us e-mail, write on the wall of our Facebook page (run by GrantsNet database manager José Fernández), or discuss with peers and experts on the Science Careers Forum. If you really got something to say about your career in science or scientific careers in general -- more than few paragraphs -- send us an "In Person" essay.

Enjoy the Best of 2007, but let's hear from you in 2008. Best wishes for the new year.

The Educational Testing Service (ETS) reported that it had to postpone the scheduled offering of its Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) on 15 December. According to the organization's Web site, ETS suffered "an internal service disruption during the check-in procedure" for the test. ETS offers the test at hundreds of locations worldwide, and uses the Internet to capture the test-takers' spoken and written responses. It still offers a paper-based TOEFL test in some locales.

ETS says it will offer a make-up test early next year. It will also provide on request a letter with an explanation of the delay to institutions expecting the test results for applicants.

TOEFL tests the ability of non-native speakers to use English in university settings. It measures abilities in reading, listening, speaking and writing English.

Hat tip: Inside Higher Ed.

December 14, 2007

First ERC Awards Announced

The European Research Council (ERC) today announced the completion of the selection process for its first Starting Independent Investigators grants. The awards -- aimed at scientists with between 2 and 9 years of post-Ph.D. experience, an excellent track record, ground-breaking research ideas, and in the process of establishing an independent research group in Europe -- attracted some 9,000 applications back in April. Of these, 559 were retained for the second round.

Within a few days, around 300 up-and-coming scientists will receive a notification for an ERC Starting grant of up to €2 million for 5 years. The awardees are from 32 different nationalities and are based in 170 host institutions in 21 different countries. On average, the awardees are 35 years old, and a quarter of them are women. The first contracts will be signed in February next year.

The competition was especially tough this year, but those who were disappointed may draw on their experience to apply next year. Here is some advice from ERC panel members that may help your grant application stand out. The ERC also issued many documents on the process, have a look at those, too. (In August, we wrote about the home countries, experience level, and gender of those 559 finalists; today's announcement includes a similar breakdown of the finalists.)

As for the winners: Congratulations! I think we're all curious to hear about you, your research plans, and what you thought of the application process. So send us a comment or use our Science Careers Forum to share your experience!

December 12, 2007

More on Work-Life Balance

This week's package on work-life balance has generated some interesting feedback, and once you start talking about these issues, related items pop up all over the place.

We heard from Kathleen Wiant, co-founder of It's a new job board that lists flextime jobs in professional fields. The site defines "flextime" rather broadly, and is a bit geographically limited at this point. (It's now listing jobs nationwide, but it's still biased toward its starting region, Ohio.) There aren't too many science jobs, either, but again, it's a relatively new site, and the flextime angle is certainly a novel idea in the usually-uniform world of job ad sites.

Just as we posted the articles on work-life balance, I got a press release about Jobshare U.K., a jobs site for flextime, part-time, and, you guessed it, jobshare positions in the U.K. The U.K. Resource Centre for Women (UKRC) has funded a science, engineering, and technology consultant for the site, so the organization is paying attention to science jobs. (Aside: The UKRC has an interesting fact sheet on your rights in flexible working.)

We also heard from a reader who suggested we address scientists with disabilities (in the context of the article on part-time scientists -- some of the issues may apply to dealing with disabilities, too). We addressed some of the issues in a 2003 feature, "Able Scientists Overcoming Disabilities."  In 2004, we looked more broadly at dealing with health issues in the workplace, including chronic fatigue syndrome and whether you should disclose your health issues to your employer. Earlier this year, we ran an article on hearing-impaired scientists. Last month, the Business Office of AAAS (the publishers of Science and Science Careers) wrote about programs in schools and colleges to encourage people with disabilities to go into the sciences. All that said, there's more we can cover. We're always glad to hear suggestions from readers, and we'll certainly look into how we can freshen up our content on this topic.

The European Commission has just made available a handy European Guide to Science Journalism Training for those of you interested in a career in science communication and journalism. The handbook lists all the relevant courses, exchange programmes, and support initiatives across the 27 member states of the European Union.

It can be viewed here for free.

November 29, 2007

More Space for Negotiation

According to an article published last week in Ecoaula, the education Web site of the Spanish financial newspaper El Economista, today's university graduates are in a privileged position when negotiating a job with a company. At least in Spain, "university graduates know that their specialised training is worth more than money compensation, and for this reason they feel in the position to demand from companies a bonus in personal benefits," writes Chus Muñoz, the article's author. 

Among the perks Spanish graduates want are opportunities for life-long training and long-term prospects for professional development. Also important to them are flexible working hours and what has come to be known in Spain as "emotional salary" -- a series of company policies that help employees achieve a good work-life balance.

Why the change in the balance of power between employees and employers? According to a study recently released by consulting firm PeopleMatters, it's the aging of the Spanish population and a greater demand for well-trained employees. "The shortage of talent guarantees ... a good salary, but [well-trained workers can] also demand, in addition, other things," Muñoz continues in the article.

That may not be possible in all countries, sectors, disciplines, or companies -- but it is a good reminder that, when negotiating for a job, there's more than just salary to contemplate. So before closing the deal, take some time to think about what you would need to be a fulfilled, well-rounded employee. Provided it's reasonable, ask for it courteously and be willing to compromise. It won't hurt to ask.

You may read the article in full here (in Spanish).

November 20, 2007

Job Trends in European R&D

A report released this month by the European Commission -- Business R&D in Europe: Trends in Expenditures, Researcher Numbers and Related Policies -- offers a snapshot of recent job-market trends in industrial research, with, as its main findings:

Over the 1995-2004 period,

* The number of researchers employed in R&D companies as well as R&D investments grew in line with Europe's overall economic performance.

* The representation of industrial researchers among the total employed population increased by 25%.

* The representation of researchers among all industrial employees rose by more than 1%.

* As measured in 2003, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) provided a fifth of industrial R&D expenditure but employed a third of all R&D researchers.

* The manufacturing industry (which includes pharmaceuticals) remained Europe's core industrial sector with around 80% of all industrial researchers and R&D investments.

* Among the manufacturing industries, the automotive and pharmaceutical sectors showed the greatest increase in researchers' employment.

* The main driver of R&D-employment growth, however, was the service sector -- in particular, computer-based services -- which saw the number of researchers quadruple.

* Germany, the United Kingdom, and France remained the biggest European employers of R&D researchers.

More information on industrial R&D and changes in policy context across Europe can be found in the report.

As my colleague Jim Austin pointed out earlier today, NIH is making funds available for particularly innovative biomedical research through its Pioneer and New Innovator programs. For researchers outside the U.S. -- those collaborating on international research teams -- there's funding available from the Human Frontier Science Program's (HFSP's) Research Grants, a funding opportunity with similar objectives.

In its Research Grants, HSFP is looking for "novel, daring ideas" on complex mechansims of living organisms, but it puts several interdisciplinary and geographic conditions on its funding. The organization funds projects for teams of researchers that combine biology with disciplines including (but not restricted to) chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer science and engineering.

Not only must research proposals be interdisciplinary, the teams proposing the research must be international in composition, with a preference for teams that are intercontinental as well as international. The principal investigator must be from one of HFSP's member countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus (EU part), the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

HFSP has two types of research grants: (1) Young Investigators’ Grants for teams who are all within 5 years of establishing an independent laboratory and within 10 years of obtaining their Ph.D.s, and (2) Program Grants for teams of researchers at any point in their careers, although HFSP encourages participation by younger scientists. Awards range from $250,000 to $450,000 per team depending on team size.

To be considered, interested researchers must register with HFSP by 21 March 2008. Letters of intent are due by 2 April 2008. For more details, see GrantsNet or the HFSP Web site.

It's true, as you've probably long suspected: People who feel inadequate to their responsibilities tend to hire less competent employees to feel better, at least according to a study published last year in the Spanish journal Psichothema.

Researchers at the University of Granada in Spain and the University of Louvain in Belgium first made students in psychology, education, and social work believe that they were looking for student representatives to attend an upcoming conference. Student representatives would be selected based on an auto-evaluation questionnaire and an assessment from their professors, the students were instructed. Seventy-three of them filled in the questionnaire, after which all were told to have been selected for participation to the conference. Half of the students were explained that they had been picked for the good marks given to their auto-evaluation, while the other half was given a poor score and told they had made it to representant because one member of the jury supported their application. The researchers then asked the students to pick one of two unnamed subordinates with clearly different levels of competence and sociability to accompany them to the conference.

The self-perception of skills the researchers thus triggered skewed the selection of subordinates by students. While both good and bad 'representatives' perceived the same candidate as superior to the other, 32% of those who had been given bad marks chose the less desirable applicant, against 12% of the 'more deserving' representatives.

This betrays "people’s attempts to rationalize and justify their position as well as to perpetuate the existing social arrangement," the study concluded.

November 7, 2007

Chefs as Chemists

In our article this week about Portuguese molecular-gastronomy researchers Catarina Prista and Joana Moura, they express concerns about their long-term career prospects in a field that still had a way to go to becoming accepted. A New York Times article published yesterday suggests that their field is gaining much more attention than before among gourmet chefs, which may enhance their career prospects.

In "Food 2.0: Chefs as Chemists" (free registration required), Kenneth Chang writes that not long ago chefs had little to do with food science, which had a reputation for focusing more on supermarket products than on refined palates. More recently, however, chefs are gaining a better understanding of the molecular properties of the materials they work with -- a result of research in molecular gastronomy and related fields -- and are finding creative ways of putting that knowledge to use.

Chang describes, for example, how chef Grant Achatz at Chicago's Alinea restaurant uses agar, a compound made from seaweed, to make transparent sheets he adds to hot dishes. Prista and Moura, who we profiled this week, could probably give chef Achatz a few lessons on this topic, judging by the stunning fish soup they made with agar, displayed in the article.

Read more in the New York Times and Science Careers.  Bon appétit.

Two German students, who brought a legal action against their regional governments for being refused a grant to study in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands back in 2004, have just won the case. As reported in EurActiv, the German regional governments had refused giving the grants because according to German federal law, this training abroad must represent a continuation of at least one year of study in Germany. On 23 October, the European Court of Justice ruled that "the German federal law on education and training grants restricts freedom of movement for citizens of the union."

This is not the first time that origin or host countries have been criticized for impeding the free movement of students around Europe. The European Court of Justice already condemned Belgian and British laws in similar cases.

Got something to say about starting or moving through a career in science? Here's your chance to let friends and colleagues know what's on your mind. This week, Science Careers unveils a series of personal essays called "In Person," about education and career development -- in the broadest sense -- in the sciences and engineering.

Your essay can relate personal experiences that gave you special insights; see the first article in this series as an example. Or, you can tell about a special person who had an impact on your career, or discuss a policy issue related to career planning, or come up with another topic related to scientific or engineering careers. Invitations from junior and senior scientists, policy makers and decision makers, are welcome.

Here are the guidelines: Your essay should be about 800 words long and personal in tone. Please send us your submission as an editable text document attachment to an e-mail message, addressed to (Subject: In Person submission); Microsoft Word format is preferred, but OpenOffice format is acceptable. Please do NOT include photographs or other attachments with the original submission.

We will give each manuscript we receive careful consideration, and contact you within 6 weeks if we decide to publish your essay. Most essays will be edited prior to publication. If you do not hear from us in 6 weeks, feel free to submit your work elsewhere.

OK, let us have it.

November 1, 2007

Legendary Advice

We like to focus on practical, tangible advice for new students/postgraduates/postdocs/scientists. Admittedly, it can sometimes be rather optimistic and positive. Consider this advice to graduate students written by Yale ecology and evolutionary biology professor Stephen Stearns:

"Always prepare for the worst."

"Nobody cares about you."

That may seem harsh, but it's a good dose of reality. To prepare for the worst, he explains, you should be cynical and have alternative plans/projects in case yours fails. As for no one caring about you, he points out that it's your education, so take initiative to make the most of it. There's more: Go read it here.

In response, Raymond Huey at the University of Washington drafted "Reply to Stearns: Some Acynical Advice for Graduate Students." That advice includes "Always expect the best," and "Some people do care." He summarizes: "Our main point is this: there is no one way to be a graduate student." Go read it here.

Now, perhaps you've seen one or both of those lists. Apparently they've made their way into graduate student lore and make their way around labs and universities nearly as often as the email about antiperspirant causing breast cancer or the one about the cell phone do-not-call list. But the advice lists are both prominently linked to from the scientists' web sites, and Huey explains their history:

"Our presentations were originally given in the fall of 1976 as coordinated, back-to-back "seminars" at Ecolunch, a weekly seminar/discussion group at the University of California, Berkeley. We handed out typed outlines of our presentations. These notes made it into the graduate student grave-vine and were distributed widely in subsequent years. Peter Morin eventually encouraged us to write them up for publication. We did so in the Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America. As Steve noted a few years ago, these articles -- not our scientific studies -- are undoubtedly our most widely read papers!"

I got to Stearns' advice from ScienceWoman at On Being A Scientist And a Woman. In that post, she offers her $.02: Good science takes time; make friends of your fellow graduate students; and don't forget the big picture. She explains each one: Go read it here.

My favorite advice in these comes in the comment section of ScienceWoman's post. A commenter writes: "I tell new graduate students to keep a massive stockpile of snacks in their office. ... Well fed students are efficient students."

Keepin' it real.

The European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) has announced the winners of this year's Young Investigator Programme (YIP) awards. In total, 18 new EMBO Young Investigators were selected for 2007: 3 each in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and Germany, and one in Italy, Sweden, Belgium, Austria, Israel, and the Netherlands.

Launched in 2000, the EMBO YIP programme aims to support talented young life scientists as they establish independent careers in Europe. It does so by offering them a grant of 15,000 euros a year for 3 years, financial support for networking activities among EMBO members and lecture visits to international meetings, access to a mentoring programme, and courses in lab management. "Europe’s young independent scientists are often not yet sufficiently established and have to fight hard for recognition and funding," programme manager Gerlind Wallon said in a press release. "Along with the financial support, EMBO focuses on helping these young investigators develop the network and skills they need to become successful group leaders."

The application deadline for the next competition (usually in Spring) still needs to be confirmed, but you may already find some information on the application process here. To be eligible, you must have been establishing an independent molecular biology laboratory for more than one but less than 4 years in one of the 26 European Molecular Biology Conference (EMBC) member states--though applicants getting established in Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Portugal, Poland, and Turkey may apply for an EMBO installation grant. More information on the EMBO Web site and Science Careers.

We at Careers like to track down scientists who have unique jobs, but Sunday's Observer Magazine has found one of its own: Kevin Powell, laboratory director of Gillette, the company behind products such as the Venus and Mach3 razors. Writer Simon Garfield follows Powell around the Gillette Technology Centre in Reading, U.K., as Powell describes the engineering and testing that went into the company's latest product (here in the U.K., anyway), the Fusion Power Stealth razor for men, which features, among other things, five blades, a battery, and a microchip.

This article doesn't dwell on Powell himself, but according to a different article, the 39-year-old Powell has a Ph.D. in applied ceramics (as in, applied to fighter planes, not dinner plates). The article is an interesting read and good example of the R&D behind everyday products.

As researchers advance in their careers, they often have space to pursue professional activities outside their core research and teaching duties. They may, for example, choose to get involved in communicating science to the public or to take part in the management of their department or institution. Younger scientists should, of course, lay a solid research foundation before moving on to such things, but having a broad view of what might be coming can help them make better choices and make their profession more rewarding.

Achieving a comprehensive view of what research careers entail has just become easier now that the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) has released a referential list of all the professional activities scientists should or could pursue across all disciplines and career stages. The Referential for Researcher's Professional Activities, available in French and English, is the fruit of a 4-year project called MCPI: Métier de chercheur-e, profils et itinéraires.

Rather than providing a rigid set of duties researchers should perform or a model of the typical researcher, "the referential list gathers a body of activities that are all inherent to the profession of researcher, but can be performed in a smaller or greater extent relative to the profile of the researcher him or herself," the CNRS document states. The authors add that the document may be used either by scientists or host institutions to help them gauge career progression.

The most recent Education at a Glance report, released last month by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), tried to answer an interesting question. As the report's executive summary puts it, "Graduation rates from higher education have grown significantly in OECD countries in recent decades, but has the increasing supply of well educated workers been matched by the creation of high-paying jobs? Or will everyone with a university degree some day work for the minimum wage?"

Thirty-six percent of individuals at the typical age of graduation within the population have completed a university degree--that's a 12% increase since 1995. Have employment rates improved commensurately, or has "credential inflation" resulted,  the value of qualifications being watered down as the number of people with those credentials increases? The report found that a university degree still guarantees higher employment rates than upper-secondary education. It also found that the longer people study, the greater their chances of finding a job. Furthermore, the study found that individuals with advanced degrees earned at least 50% more than individuals without high school qualifications.

It seems then that degrees are still appreciated on the job market. Based on this snapshot of the current situation and many other data, the report concluded that "there are, so far, no signs of an inflation of the value of qualifications."

Today the U.K. Council for Science and Technology, the government's science and technology advisory body, released a report focused on career development for early-career researchers. Naturally, we were interested in seeing what it had to say.

"There is clearly a fragmentation of responsibility for ensuring that a career structure is in place which nurtures research staff," the report states. "There needs to be a wholesale improvement of the management of early research careers."

The two overarching recommendations are that a national framework for research careers should be developed, and that research staff (that's British for postdocs) must be allowed greater independence at an earlier stage.

On a more specific level, CST's report calls for supervisors and principal investigators to take a leading role in the career development of their early-career research staff. It also asks funding bodies such as the U.K. Research Councils, to increase funding opportunities for early-career researchers.

There's loads of other recommendations, which you can read here (links to PDF), and you can read the Guardian's news story here. It's not clear who will be charged with implementing CST's recommendations, and it remains to be seen whether drawing the government's attention to the issue of career development among young researchers is a good thing or whether more structure just makes for more bureaucracy.

According to a recent article written by Paz Álvarez in the Spanish finance newspaper Cinco Días, success in entrepreneurial families like Grupo Uriach, a Spanish pharmaceutical company spanning 5 generations, results from the founders and their successors transmitting their entrepreneurial spirit and vision during normal family life. "The company maintained itself over these years with our entrepreneurial spirit and our capacity to innovate, an attitude that has been transmitted naturally, day after day, by example," Joaquín Uriach, general secretary of the company, told the newspaper.

You can't change your family but you can change your attitude to entrepreneurship. The article, which reported on the preliminary findings of an international academic research project called Successful Transgenerational Entrepreneurship Practices (STEP), says that entrepreneurial families have in common the altruistic goal to contribute to well-being and employment in society; the vision that their company must take risks to grow; the belief that there is no limit to their ability to compete; the ability to make the most of new business openings; a client-oriented approach; and a good balance between short-term and long-term goals.

In addition, founders of such family companies most often showed great intuition, an ability to exploit opportunities to grow, and a great capacity to work and overcome difficulties.

If you too have such entrepreneurial a spirit, who knows where your ideas to commercialise your research may lead you...and your descendants.

Read the full article (in Spanish).

The European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics (ERCIM) is inviting Ph.D.-holders from all over the world to apply for their Alain Bensoussan fellowship program. The fellowships are addressed to scientists having gained their Ph.D. less than 4 years ago, or to final-year Ph.D. students graduating in time to start the fellowships by October 2008. The fellowships allow recipients to go and work at two of the 18 ERCIM institutes successively for a total duration of 18 months. The institutes offer a wide range of topics in informatics and maths, and applicants have to state which topics they'd be most interested in working on. The preferences of successful applicants are then matched with the needs of the various institutes.

Fellows will receive a monthly stipend and have their traveling expenses covered from their country to the institute (which needs to be outside their home country). The ERCIM doesn't say how many grants will be available this year, but currently there are 18 Alain Bensoussan fellows.

To apply you need to send an online application before 30 September.

September 7, 2007

The Perfect E-mail

Two weeks ago, our colleague Babette Pain reported on a story in the French daily Le Monde about ways to better manage the increasing flow of e-mail. Today, Wired magazine's blog offers a look at the problem from the other end of the telescope, offering advice on how to write better e-mail messages.

This entry, part of Wired's "How-To Wiki", makes a distinction between letters and e-mails. Those of us who were taught as kids how to write letters need to put some of those practices aside. "[A]n email is not a letter," Wired notes, "and you’re not typing at a Selectric II typewriter. You may look at the days of formal graces in written communication with some sadness, but rest assured that they are as dead as Dillinger."

Wired breaks down its advice about writing e-mails into four categories: (1) brevity, (2) context, (3) something to act on, and (4) a deadline. Here are some examples ...

Brevity. "If you’re passing a thread along, trim what isn’t needed. Why make the email look longer than it really is?"

Context. "When you’re asking a question, anticipate any missing details that could cause an extended back-and-forth. Each time someone sends you a reply, you’ve gone to the back of that person’s line. Do what you can to make your emails count the first time."

Something to act on. "Make your requests clear. You should set them apart from the rest of the message by paring them down to one sentence, with white space before and after. Make lists with dashes, asterisks, or bullets if you use HTML email."

A deadline. "There comes a time when the response you seek is no longer useful. If you know when that is, tell your recipient. This can be a good way both to prompt a speedy turnaround, and to let people off the hook in the long term."

Other e-mailing tips, from our collective experience: 

- Double-check the addressee. Do you intend for a reply to go to one individual, just some of the recipients, or an entire list-serve? 

- Consider how your words will be interpreted by the recipient. Unlike conversations, with e-mail messages you have no vocal inflections or non-verbal cues. Your words carry the entire meaning of the message.

- Don't send an e-mail written in anger. Give yourself time to cool off, gather your thoughts, and consider the implications of an angry e-mail.

My favorite piece of advice from Wired: "And for god’s sake, have a subject line. One that makes sense."


September 7, 2007

Prayers for Dollars

A rally this week in Bulgaria brought together religion and science, but not for the typical debate: A group of young scientists went to the Bulgarian parliament building to pray for more science funding.

The scientists, reportedly from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and universities throughout the country, walked around the parliament building and stopped at each corner to pray that "God endows the MPs with wisdom to take care of its people," according to a news story posted this week by the Sofia News Agency

Bulgaria, which joined the European Union in January, spends just 0.3% of its GDP on research and development, compared with the European average of 1.84%, according to the news story.

Hat tip: CORDIS

As communicated in a recent report by the European Commission, altogether women in the 27 European Member States were still earning an average of 15% less than men in 2005--a situation that has not changed since 1995.

The study looked across all economy sectors so it is difficult to say how much this pay gap actually affects women scientists. But what doesn´t bode well for them is that, according to the report, women with third-level education experienced a pay gap of more than 30%, compared to 13% for those with secondary education. And it sounds as though the gap will only grow as women grow older. According to the report, the professional progression of women tends to be slower because of more frequent career breaks and more obstacles along their career paths. As a consequence the gap grows with age, with female employees with over 30 years of service in a company being paid 32% less than men on the payroll for the same period of time, while the difference was 'only' 22% for those with 1 to 5 years of service.

"Girls out-perform boys at school and more women enter the labour market with a university degree than men, but a pay gap of 15% persists. This is an absurd situation and needs to change," said Vladimír Špidla, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities in a press release. "The pay gap is a complex issue with multiple causes. Sometimes we see pure discrimination. But often reasons are hidden: women do more unpaid work, like taking care of the household and dependents; more women work part time and often the women-dominated sectors are on a lower pay scale."

Many European countries are increasingly trying to tackle the issue and the EU intends to shift up a gear. But no-one can serve your own interests as well as yourself. The issue is more complex than asking equal pay for equal work, but be aware of what you´re worth and whenever possible, negotiate family responsibilities.

The new "Report on Racism and Xenophobia in the Member States of the EU," presented to the European Parliament by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) last Monday, shows that Europe still has much to do to guarantee a fair and equal treatment to all.

The report was not specific to scientists in academia, but sadly one can expect that some scientists, or their families, will experience discrimination on the grounds of their origin, culture, or religion at some point in their careers. How this affected them and how they overcame the difficulties will be the object of an upcoming feature on ScienceCareers. If you are a scientist from an ethnic minority in your current country please send me an e-mail and tell me about your experiences, good and bad. Have you encountered obstacles related to your minority status? Has some person or organization helped you deal with them?

Yesterday, the European Commission released some findings from its Mobility of Researchers and Career Development Implementation Report 2006. The report, soon to be published in full on the EC´s Web site, measures how well existing EC initiatives have supported the mobility of the European scientific workforce and helped make research careers more attractive in Europe.

Here are some of the most relevant findings already available:

- The European Researcher's Mobility Portal, which offers information on training and jobs as well as practical information on living and working in a foreign European country, advertised more than 1,000 jobs each month in 2006.

- The European Network of Mobility Centres (ERA-MORE), which provides assistance to researchers and their families on the move to or within Europe through more than 200 Mobility Centres in 32 countries, answered more than 25,000 questions over the year.

- By the end of 2006, the European Charter for Researchers, which specifies the roles, responsibilities, and entitlements of researchers and their employers/funders, and the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers had been adopted by nearly 200 organisations representing more than 800 institutions in 23 countries.

- ERA-link, a free networking tool for European researchers in the United States launched in June 2006, currently counts 3,000 members. European scientists in Japan may soon benefit from the same service with the European Commission now considering extending the model to other countries.

- In 2006 more than 5,000 applications were sent to the EC for Marie Curie Actions funding, which supports the training and mobility of early-career researchers. Altogether, the EC offered 600 individual postdoctoral fellowships, contributed to the support of training and professional development programmes at 800 European research organisations, and to the organisation of more than 3,200 conferences and training courses in which around 93,000 researchers took part. 

Still, much remains to be done before Europe becomes the single, open, competitive labour market the European Union wants for its researchers. The EC plans to propose new initiatives in early 2008 following the current public debate of its Green Paper "The European Research Area: New Perspectives." You may contribute to the debate by expressing your views in the online consultation here, but be quick. The consultation will close on 31 August.

Do you feel overwhelmed or distracted by the number of e-mails you receive each day? Or do you value e-mail as essential in nurturing and extending your network of research collaborators? Or both?

An article published today in the French national newspaper Le Monde may spur you to assess how wisely you manage your flow of e-mails. According to a survey carried out by the foundation Suisse Productive, Swiss workers could save a month of work a year if they handled their e-mails better, Le Monde reports. Yet, an international study carried out independently by IT services provider Dimension Data and highlighted in the same Le Monde article found that 70% of the employees who responded believed that using e-mails made them more productive, not less. The entire article can be read here (in French, bien sûr). Both of these studies focused on industrial and corporate employment, but I see no reason why their implications should not apply in academia as well.

Another interesting fact that came out of the Dimension Data survey, which also may be applied to academia, is that while all respondents (100%) declared using e-mail, fewer picked up their landline (80%) or mobile phone (76%) to get in touch with people. This may be explained at least in part by the fact that only a little more than half of the respondents saw phone calls as enhancing their productivity, against 70% for e-mails. But by reducing direct and personal interactions, using e-mail instead of the telephone comes with its own risks, says Rob Lopez, Solutions Managing Director at Dimension Data, who in the press release questions "how effective and meaningful e-mail communication is when dealing with problem resolution and discussing complex issues."

You can participate in the Suisse Producive survey (in French or in German); in exchange they will rate how well you manage your emails and give you some advice on how to do it better. I did poorly, getting 47 points out of 100. Not all of their advice applies to my working context (that´s my excuse anyway), but I´ll take note of their recommendations to classify my emails neatly rather than letting them accumulate and refrain my compulsion to check them frequently.

Medicinal chemist Derek Lowe over at In the Pipeline recently posted some tips on interview seminars. "... [M]any of these are things that high school speech teachers have been telling their students for decades," he writes, "but you know, there's only so much new information in this world."

Of course, you've had to cram a lot of stuff in your brain since high school, so it's good to review the highlights. Among his tips:

  • Know your audience. Don't dwell on topics about which your audience is well informed.
  • Don't be afraid to say "I don't know" (or its equivalent). Admitting you don't know, Lowe says, is better than trying to whip something up on the spot.
  • Remember what your talk is supposed to do. "You are not giving an informational talk, you're giving a persuasive one, but a shocking number of candidates don't seem to realize this," Lowe writes.

In the comment section of the post, commenter MikeEast adds what I think is a helpful tip (edited throughout to spell out "minutes"):

"Be able to talk about your project for 50 minutes, 30 minutes, 15 minutes and 5 minutes - YES, 5 minutes!" MikeEast writes. "You never know how much time you are going to have to get your message across. I have seen too many candidates faced with a time constraint only quickly flip through all of their slides and cram a 50 minute talk into 20 minutes - not the way to go. You'll get way more kudos covering 'the most important message' or 'what I am most proud of'."

To see the rest of Lowe's tips, as well as the information-rich comments, view the post here. To read even more tips on preparing for interviews and interview talks, check out Dave Jensen's Tooling Up: Job Talk Jitters, the interview advice in You've Worked Hard to Get This Far, the dos and don'ts in Academic Scientists at Work: The Job Talk, and the tips at the end of Interviewing Skills for Scientists Entering Industry Science.

Last month, the Guardian announced that it's launching a new Web site for U.K. research news and funding, called Guardian Research. The site is still in its demonstration phase, and you need a subscription--or you need to be at a subscribing institution--to access it. Today, Gabriel Engelhard, field sales manager for Guardian Research, gave me a behind-the-scenes e-tour. 

The funding agencies are worldwide: As long as U.K. scientists are eligible to apply, the Guardian will include the grant or award in its database. As Engelhard showed me the site, a test search even pulled up an entry for the AAAS award for international scientific cooperation. Behind the scenes, four people screen and vet each funding call, Engelhard says.

Once logged in, users can search or browse funding opportunities by a variety of means--keyword, deadline, discipline, funding agency, etc. The database seems to cover the full gamut of disciplines: arts and humanities, computer science, physical sciences, chemical sciences, computing, agriculture, social science, education, law, biomedicine, medical sciences, and beyond--some 4,000 discipline keywords, Engelhard says.

When a user sets up a profile, he or she can choose specific disciplines from that same list. Then, whenever the user runs a search, the results are filtered to include only the profile disciplines. This option is easily turned off if you'd like to broaden a search. The portal will also send a user e-mail alerts about new opportunities based on this profile.

The site also features research-related news from the newspaper and has original content available only to Guardian Research subscribers.

In the next couple of weeks, Guardian Research will launch its trial phase, offering free trials to institutions so they can see if it's a product they're willing to pay for. Once your institution has a subscription, you can register and set up a profile. Engelhard wouldn't disclose subscription costs but he did say that the costs will vary by institution size, and that subscriptions will be available for individuals if your institution won't subscribe, or chooses not to.

The site's closest competitor is ResearchResearch, another subscription-based database that offers U.K.-specific grants and research news. I found Guardian Research very easy to use, but I can't tell you how comprehensive the database is since I was looking at a demo version that's not yet fully stocked. You can look at the site's home page and register your interest at

Shameless plug: Content on Science Careers and GrantsNet is available for free.

Two reports out last month provide some interesting--and troubling--information about science courses at U.K. universities.

According to the first report, from the U.K. College and Admissions Service (UCAS), applications for full-time undergraduate courses are up by 5.3% overall compared with last year. But the findings vary within science subjects. There was a 31.5% rise in the number of students seeking to join courses in complementary medicine while the more traditional medical disciplines--anatomy, physiology, and pathology--saw a 19% fall in applications. Surprisingly, engineering and technology courses had the greatest increase in applications, with 54% more students applying than in the previous year.

But this apparently encouraging trend pales when the second report, on the continuation rates of students in higher education courses, is taken into account. The survey by the National Audit Office (NAO) showed that when science, technology, engineering, and maths students are considered together, they are less likely to continue to a second year of study than students following other subjects. In fact, of all students, the most likely to drop out are those taking computer science, mechanical engineering, and electronic engineering--the same areas of study that the UCAS finds have the biggest increases in applications. The retention of science students is the biggest challenge facing universities, say the authors of the NAO report.

A key factor cited by many students leaving these courses was that they hadn't counted on the maths being so hard. It seems that, although universities are doing better at making science and engineering courses appear attractive to prospective students, once enrolled the students are left to sink or swim. And many, it appears, are sinking.

Taken together, the reports also provide a caution against taking a single statistic at face value.

-by Hannah Devlin

We reported in July that the European Research Council (ERC) whittled the 9167 applications for its Starting Grants for young scientists down to 559 finalists. Late last week, the agency provided further statistics (links to PDF) on those finalists. In a Science Scope in this week's Science (subscription required), Gretchen Vogel takes a look at the home countries of the applicants--and the fact that fewer than 5% of them are from the mostly eastern European countries that have joined the European Union since 2004.

Here's the breakdown that the ERC provided:

Nationality by country groups Number Percent
Founding Member States (Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands) 293 53%
Member States joining the EC/EU 1973-1995 (Austria, Denmark, Greece, Spain, Finland, Ireland, Portugal, Sweden, United Kingdom) 152 27%
Member States joining the EU 2004-2007 (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia) 30 5%
Associated countries (Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Croatia, Israel, Iceland, Macedonia, Norway, Serbia, Turkey) 47 7%
Other countries 37 7%

The ERC notes that 87% of the candidates have 4 to 9 years of experience after completion of their Ph.D., and their average age is around 36 years. They also say that only 24% of the finalists are women. ("Only" is my word, not theirs.) The applications are judged individually and without regard to the applicant's gender or nationality, and the starting grants are an awesome opportunity for young scientists to land some serious funding. Still, though, one would have hoped to see stronger representation in eastern Europe and a better gender balance.

Surely I'm not the only one who procrastinates by reading blogs? Or perhaps that's why you're reading this now?

While not exactly a blog, it reads like one: This week, our Educated Woman, Micella Phoenix DeWhyse, writes about how she's settling in to postdoc life and finding it a bit ... unsettling. "Why can't I stay upright and ride off to the next stage?" she writes. "Why do I feel the need to keep having someone set me up again? Why does it feel like I still haven't quite started out, when by all outside accounts I'm already pretty far down the road?"

She goes on to observe that there just aren't any gold stars in postdoc life--no rewards for showing up every day, nothing for performing successful experiments, and no encouragement from those around her. Sometimes all it takes is the tiniest nod from a supervisor or adviser to boost the self-esteem. Micella notes that it's weird that there are so few gold stars in training for a career that's all about winning the approval of others.

After you've read this week's Educated Woman, wander over to The Daily Transcript for the 6th edition of What's Up, Postdoc? -- the carnival of postdoc life where bloggers submit their favorite posts about lab life. (Links to previous editions can be found here.)

Some highlights:

Chris Rowan at Highly Allochthonous notes that things aren't always cheery in postdoc life, but he takes a look on the bright side in Seriously, I'm enjoying myself immensely right now.

I'm not sure whether he meant it to be so uproariously funny, but I found myself laughing out loud at Sunil of Balancing Life's post, Survivor - Biochemistry Lab. "Well, I don’t know about deserted islands, but let us say I had to choose to be abandoned all alone somewhere," Sunil writes. " ... There is only one place I can think of where I think I’ll be able to do just fine. And that would be a well equipped biochemistry/biology lab."

And Propter Doc writes about what the perfect postdoc looks like. "What do I think the perfect postdoc looks like? You know what, I'm going to really hate myself for my answer because my perfect postdoc looks scarily close to what I've got in some regards, but very different in others. But similar enough to make me cross with myself." For more on that topic, check out The Perfect Postdoc: A Primer on Science Careers.

The regional government of Galicia in Spain has just announced a plan to attract internationally recognised scientists to its research and technology centres. The programme, called IMAN (Unidade de Captación de Intelixencia Estratéxica), will spend more than 8 million euros through 2010 to offer both temporary and permanent contracts to high-profile scientists. Their role will be to lead strategic projects and to help the centres and research in the region grow.

Applications will be accepted between January and April of next year. The first contracts will be signed by the end of 2008.

The European Science Foundation this week named the winners of its European Young Investigator Awards. Each of the 20 winners will receive between €1 million and €1.25 million to set up their own labs and build a research team. Among the winners: a computer scientist who will design and analyze algorithms for efficient management of large datasets; a biophysicist who will study single-molecule nanomachines; and a medical geneticist who will map genes for diseases in the domestic dog.

According to a press release on the awards, the average age of this year's winners is 33.1--the youngest group of recipients ever for these awards. The 20 awardees will work in eight countries: Czech Republic, France, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey.

The awards scheme was originally developed to attract young researchers from anywhere in the world to come to Europe to establish themselves. This was the fourth year for the awards--and the last. The decision on whether to continue the awards--either in their current form or in a new format--now rests with the newly formed European Research Council.

The winners (full list here) will be honored at a ceremony in Helsinki on September 27.

July 31, 2007

Historias con Ciencia

The Spanish National Museum for Science and Technology in Madrid has just launched its first amateur competition for short films on scientific issues, called Historias con Ciencia. The films must focus on the problems and positives associated with at least one of the scientific advances and challenges listed in the announcement: intelligent houses, medicine and nanotechnology, the Internet and "real virtuality," climate models, genetic manipulation in humans, and mental dysfunction. The quality of the script, execution of the video, and the scientific content will be evaluated. The video should last less than 10 minutes and be presented either in Spanish or with Spanish subtitles. Entries should be submitted to the museum between 1 and 18 October 2007. Only young--under 35--Spanish people or people living in Spain are eligible to enter.

Museum visitors will be able to view the films during this year's Science Week (between 9 and 18 November; yes, we know that's a 9-day week). Winners will be announced on 18 November. The first prize is 2,500 euros, the second, 1,500 euros, and the third, 1,000 euros.

Today, the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology held the second in a series of hearings on off-shoring--the movement of U.S. science and technology jobs overseas. But the focus of this hearing was different from many others: it focused on American universities opening campuses off-shore.

"As an increasing number of American universities establish campuses in foreign countries, many questions and concerns are arising about the impacts this will have on American students, job opportunities, and competitiveness. To address this, we must learn more about how university globalization will impact our country's pre-eminence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics," said Research and Science Education Subcommittee Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA), who chaired the hearing.

In an opening statement, Committee Chairman Bart Gordon said that "…having a STEM degree, even from a top school, no longer guarantees lifelong employment in a well-paying job in the United States. Our students are increasingly competing with well-trained, low cost employees in countries such as India and China. Universities are our first line of defense in ensuring our leadership in the global economy by giving our scientists and engineers the special skills they need to set themselves apart from the global competition.”

But now, universities themselves are moving off-shore.

Baird added: “In some respects American universities have been global for many years. They have attracted large numbers of foreign students, particularly in STEM fields at the graduate level. But off-shoring is giving high quality foreign students outstanding job opportunities in their home countries. This may make it less likely that foreign students will stay in the U.S. after graduation, and may make it less desirable to come to the U.S. to study in the first place. So, American universities are taking their education to foreign students by building campuses and offering STEM degree programs in other countries." Most agree, however, that so far the numbers are small.

  Opening statements by Baird and Gordon, as well as the statements by the four witnesses (David J. Skorton, president of Cornell University; Gary Schuster, provost and vice president for academic affairs of Georgia Institute of Technology; Mark Wessel, dean of the Heinz School of Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University; and Philip Altbach, the Monan professor of higher education and director of the center for international higher education at Boston College) are available on the committee's Web site. (You'll find the links in the left column.)

July 26, 2007

Get it Moving

Europe has long been keen to promote the mobility of its students and workers in science and technology and to attract foreign talent. A recent report from Eurostat, the Statistical Office of the European Commission, suggests that many Europeans prefer to stay at home.

Looking at 2004 figures on tertiary (post-graduate) science students in the 27 EU nations, the report found that only 7.8%--around 123,000 students--came from another European country or further ashore. Cyprus topped the diversity list with 21.5% of its post-graduate science students coming from abroad, followed by the U.K. (16.3%), Austria (14.1%), Germany (12.1%), and then Denmark and Sweden (11.3%). The star European destination for science students was clearly the United Kingdom: a third of all expatriate students across Europe chose to study there.

Looking at 2006 figures on the mobility of the European scientific workforce, the report found that the share of science and technology workers living outside their own country was 5.7% across the EU-27. About half of these came from other European countries. The country that fared best in terms of workforce diversity was Luxembourg; 46% of its scientific workforce was foreign. Next came Switzerland (18.4%), Estonia (15.2%), Cyprus (14.2%), and Ireland (10.3%).

Other than pleasing European politicians, there are many good reasons to go abroad during your scientific studies and the early stages of your career. The experience may be unnerving and challenging at first, but almost all of those who made the jump found it rewarding, professionally and personally. In case you missed it, a recent Science Careers article explored the pros and cons of doing your Ph.D. abroad and offered some practical tips on, for example, funding for training.

If you feel like discussing your (working) experiences abroad or are burning to hear about others', you may join José Fernández of Science Careers, and other young scientists, on Facebook. If you don't have a Facebook account you will need to open one, but it's free.

July 24, 2007

Watch that Space

Two French Grandes Ecoles d´Ingénieurs specialised in space and aeronautics--SUPAERO and ENSICA, both based in Toulouse--have merged into the Institut Supérieur de l´Aéronautique et de l´Espace (ISAE) to more effectively meet the challenges that come with internationalisation. By pooling their resources, scientific networks, and reputations, the two Ecoles hope to increase their attractiveness internationally and become the European leader for higher education and research in space and aeronautics.

With around 240 permanent staffers in research and education, the ISAE now offers 30 Masters' degrees, six doctoral programmes, and two highly specialised courses for ingénieurs to 1,500 students, total. The institute has 66 international student exchange programmes with 22 countries across Europe and North America, and an Erasmus Mundus Master's degree in aeronautics and space technology. The institute will also aim to develop research partnerships with major institutes like the French Aerospace Lab ONERA.

The new institute will be launched in September this year.

"Women contribute a huge amount to teaching and research... but career barriers are preventing them from reaching their full potential. There is far more that could be done to create a level playing field in education and research." Thus spoke Anita Holdcroft, co-chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) Medical Academic Staff Committee, about the representation of female clinicians in academic medicine in the United Kingdom.

Holdcroft led a national study--the Women in Academic Medicine (WAM) survey--that looked at the experience of 1,162 medical doctors in the National Health Service (NHS) and at higher education institutions across the United Kingdom. Around 40% of those surveyed worked in higher education, and three-quarters were female. The survey's findings, released last week, tell some interesting tales. Here are the most relevant ones:

While 40% of medical graduates have been female in the last 20 years,

* only 2 out of the 33 heads of U.K. medical school are women

* only 11% of clinical professors are female.

In terms of job responsibilities,

* 14% of the male doctors who responded to the survey were medical journals editors, versus 6% for women

* 30% of men were on grant-giving panels compare to 20% of the women.

In terms of career progression:

* 43% of the male respondents reported having received encouragement from senior colleagues to apply for promotion, against 38% for women

* 77% of men felt they had some knowledge of the promotion processes, versus 61% of the women.

More findings, a series of recommendations, and a webcast of the conference launching the report may all be accessed from the BMA Web site.

The UK Grad Programme, which represents postgraduate students, launched a new magazine this year called GRADBritain. They've just posted their second issue. Once you register, you'll receive a PDF of it. The editor, Paul Wicks, appeared in Science Careers news articles earlier this year (specifically, here and here). Happy reading!

In 2004 the European Commission launched the Erasmus Mundus funding scheme to spur the creation of joint masters programmes between universities of at least three different European countries and attract foreign students to those programmes. So far 80 European Masters' programmes covering all disciplines have been established, involving 323 European and foreign universities. In addition, Erasmus Mundus has offered around 5,500 scholarships to students coming from India, China, Brazil, Russia, and 100 other non-European countries to study in Europe for one of these Master's programmes. Erasmus Mundus has also funded 500 foreign scholars so they may teach or do research in Europe in the context of these Masters' courses.

European students also have access to the new European Masters' courses, and about 1,000 European students in the programme have received scholarships to spend three months at a foreign partner institution.

Erasmus Mundus was scheduled to end in 2008, but the European Commission decided last week to inject 950 million euros to keep the proramme running until 2013. The new funding will do more than just keep the programme running, however.

The scope of Erasmus Mundus will expand to create joint doctoral programmes and offer scholarships to foreign and European Ph.D. students and academics to take part in these. The amount of the scholarships will be revised so that they are in line with international schemes like the Fulbright scholarships. As a guideline, a foreign masters student coming to Europe may expect 24,000 euros per year. In addition, Erasmus Mundus will integrate and expand an existing (but so far separate) programme to support partnerships between European and foreign institutions and offer short-term grants for the exchange of students and other academics. Details will be refined and confirmed before the new programme components are launched in 2009.

A story in the British press today (take your pick: the Guardian, the Telegraph, the BBC) serves as a reminder that the things we do and say in cyberspace are public. According to the article, administrators at Oxford University are taking disciplinary action against students based on photographs found on public Facebook profiles. The university is issuing fines to students for "anti-social behaviour" that violates the university's conduct regulations.

The Oxford University Student Union posted a notice stating, "While the Student Union does not condone unruly, violent, or disorderly behaviour, we believe that the privacy of our members should be protected and that disciplinary procedures at all levels within the University should be fair and transparent." The notice suggests that students change the privacy settings on their Facebook profiles so the profiles can only be seen by friends and classmates.

The actions were aimed mostly at undergraduates celebrating a bit too much after exams. Still, it's a good time to remind ourselves that, if you're not ridiculously careful, blogs, blog posts, forum posts, MySpace pages, Facebook profiles, Yahoo group discussions, etc., can all be traced back to you. And that's all fine and dandy when your blog is about sharing news in your field or listing what you had for breakfast. But if you use your blog or a web forum to write about what a jerk your boss is, put whole minutes of thought into who might read it and whether it can be traced back to you. It's not just your supervisor who might see it--co-workers and potential employers might stumble across it, too, and it'll quite possibly be archived publicly forever and ever.

Happy blogging!

Last week, the first recipients of the L’Oreal U.K. For Women In Science Fellowships were announced. This week, the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) and the Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS) launched a new award for female life scientists.

This year's L'Oréal U.K. fellowship winners are Theresa Burt de Perera of the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford, U.K., who is investigating the cognitive capacity of fish; Seirian Sumner of the Institute of Zoology at the Zoological Society of London who studies the origins of sociality in simple insect societies; and Araxi Odabachian of the Institute of Medical Genetics at Cardiff University whose research has shown that genes are not ordered randomly but rather are sorted according to their levels of activity.

The winner of the L’Oréal/UKRC For Women In Science "Women Returner" Fellowship is Anna Git of Cancer Research U.K.'s Cambridge Research Institute. Git studies antibodies that are known markers of cancer.

Each winner will receive £10,000 to advance their careers, be it to buy equipment, pay for child-care, or pay for attending an overseas conference.

The U.K. awards, sponsored by L'Oréal, the U.K. National Commission for UNESCO, the Royal Institution of Great Britain, and the U.K. Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology, are a national version of the L'Oréal-UNESCO International Fellowships, which are awarded annually to 15 young women in the life sciences at the graduate or postdoctoral level. Applications for the 2008 international fellowships are due by 14 September, but some countries (such as the U.K.) have earlier deadlines because they administer the program nationally and then submit their top candidates.

Also this week, EMBO and FEBS announced the launch of a new award to "highlight the major contributions being made by female life scientists to European research and to present inspiring role models for future generations of women in science."

The annual award will honor a European woman scientist with 10,000 euro, and the recipient will present a plenary lecture at the FEBS Congress, which in 2008 will be in Athens, Greece. Nominees should have made outstanding contributions to life sciences research in the last 5 years and advanced understanding of a particular discipline. The deadline for nominations is 15 August, and the details are at

July 6, 2007

U.K. Science Shake-Up

An article in this week's Science (p. 28, subscription required) highlights changes in the U.K. government's science infrastructure made by new U.K. prime minister Gordon Brown, who took power on June 27. The biggest change is the creation of the Department for Innovation, Universities, and Skills (DIUS), which merges responsibilities from the Department for Trade and Industry and the Department for Education and Skills.

"The new department will be responsible for driving forward delivery of the government's long-term vision to make Britain one of the best places in the world for science, research, and innovation, and to deliver the ambition of a world-class skills base," Brown said in his written statement outlining the major government changes.

"The challenge for John Denham, the new minister [of DIUS], will now be to ensure that the department has a strong voice at the cabinet table," Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, said in a statement. "The strengthening of the science base in the U.K. and a greater interaction between science and industry must be priorities for the new department."

This week, Brown named Ian Pearson as the U.K. science minister, a job most recently held by Malcolm Wicks, who will return to his previous post as energy minister. Pearson had been the minister for climate change and environment in the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs.

Earlier today, Managing Editor Alan Kotok posted a blog entry about the U.S. State Department announcement that it wouldn't accept any more green-card applications for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends in October. I called Mark Harrington, a Houston-based immigration attorney and friend of Science Careers, hoping he could provide a little perspective on the situation. Here's what I learned.

Employment-based "green cards" come in several flavors, designated EB-1 (a and b), EB-2, and EB-3, in descending order of prestige. EB-3's are the most common, and there's a backlog for immigrants from most (maybe all) countries. There's a backlog for EB-2 applicants only for immigrants from India and China. EB-1 applicants are rare; there has never been a backlog for this category.

Each month, the state department issues a "Visa Bulletin" announcing what visa applications are likely to be processed in the coming months. Last months' bulletin was extraordinary: It announced that there no longer were any backlogs in any of the employment-based categories. Chinese Immigrants, who a month earlier were expecting a 4-year wait (applications were being processed from mid-2003), suddenly found themselves with no wait at all. Immigration attorneys were scrambling to submit applications on behalf of their clients before the door closed again. These changes would take effect on 2 July, the first business day of the new month.

But the door closed too fast. The notice Alan Kotok mentioned in his earlier blog post, which took effect on 2 July, effectively reversed the earlier ruling by announcing that no further applications would be accepted. The notice explains this action as a consequence of "backlog reduction efforts" and the resulting "use of almost 60,000 employment numbers." But, since the changes announced in June were not scheduled to take effect until July, it isn't clear what happened to all those "employment numbers."

But the new notice doesn't just restore the status quo. Previously there was no backlog for EB-1 applicants, or for EB-2 applicants from countries other than India and China. But the new notice effects all "employment-based preference cases," including the categories most important for research scientists. This new development means that (unless the decision is reversed or modified) EB-1 applicants--and EB-2 applicants from countries other than India and China--are out of luck until the new fiscal year.

Immigrants seeking employment-based green cards, and their attorneys, await the next Visa Bulletin eagerly.

Embarking on a Ph.D. is not a decision that should be made lightly. This is the message a team of doctoral candidates in France have set to convey in a 9-minute video that can now be viewed (in French) on YouTube. The video, named 'Aperçu de la vie des doctorants et moniteurs', describes in a nutshell the motivations for doing a Ph.D., the daily life of doctoral candidates, and the main career prospects for newly-graduated natural and social scientists.


The 10 doctoral candidates behind this video come from disciplines as diverse as informatics, geography, geology, biology, and physics. In addition to doing research, all have been gaining some teaching experience as moniteurs of the Provence-Côte D'Azur-Corse Initiation to Higher Education Centre (Centre d'initiation à l'enseignement supérieur, CIES) . The idea of the video came as they were asked to do a science-communication project to end their training. "We decided to communicate about the doctorate because we found that there were quite a lot of false ideas," Benjamin Ricaud, a doctoral candidate in physics who took part in the project, writes in an email to Science Careers. "For example, we wanted to show that a Ph.D. candidate is a true professional." But above all the team wanted to show undergraduates the pros and cons of doing a Ph.D. A doctorate "is a lot of work and then, when the diploma is obtained, there is still a long way to go before obtaining stable employment."

The team found the experience enriching. "We have been able to share our different perspectives on the doctorate (and also on life)," says Ricaud. In particular, the video allowed them to air their doubts and concerns. "We don´t really have a very positive image of the working conditions during the doctorate ... especially in terms of workload, pressure [to get] results, and the attitudes of Ph.D. supervisors." 

The German Academic Exchange Service, which goes by the German acronym DAAD, offers a publication describing grants for student and scholar exchanges in Germany. The 25-page booklet lists opportunities for undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, and faculty, from DAAD and other organizations. The booklet, which is aimed at American and Canadian exchange prospects, is available in American English, Canadian English, and French versions. Institutions may order multiple copies of the printed version. (Hat tip: Institute of International Education)

June 29, 2007

YouTube for Science

This week, the European Commission's Research Directorate-General relaunched AthenaWeb, a video portal of sorts where science communicators, organizations, and institutions can upload and share videos with the public.

According to a statement released this week, AthenaWeb already hosts 750 or so videos and has a subscriber base of 8,000 people across Europe. A quick scan of the library reveals mostly video news releases and videos produced by regional European Commission offices. 

"We've tried to envisage the different ways our users...could benefit from better access to science audiovisuals and smarter ways of communicating their activities," AthenaWeb's manager Kathleen Van Damme said this week at an international conference on documentary films. "We came up with a new 'pro-zone' (for science broadcasters and film producers) with its marketplace and intelligent web workstation for managing projects, as well as a host of new tools (blogs, syndicated links) for educators and scientists in need of a place to profile their research and develop their communication skills."

The site was originally created in 2005. The rapid proliferation of video-hosting sites such as YouTube led to the rethinking and redesigning of AthenaWeb. The developers have dubbed it "Athena Web - Take 2."

Spain and India are about to get closer to each other. No, this isn't a story about plate tectonics; it's about a new agreement, signed in June, in which Spain and India decided to promote the exchange of researchers in science and technology. As part of the agreement, co-access to facilities in both countries will be facilitated and joint conferences will be organised. Spanish Education and Science Minister Mercedes Cabrera sees "food processing, transport, health, biotechnology, nanoscience and nanotechnology, information technologies, mathematics, physics, and chemistry" as promising areas for collaboration. The initiative builds on an existing programme, called India & Spain Innovating (ISI), which supports cooperation between companies from the two countries for technology development, innovation, and technology transfer.

For further announcements of opportunities under this new agreement, keep an eye on the Spanish Ministry for Education and Science and the Ministry for Industry, Tourism, and Trade.

Also see our recent feature for research opportunities in India and experiences of researchers who've lived and worked there.

Spanish authorities believe their country isn't as big a science and technology player in Europe as the size of their economy justifies. According to official figures, Spain is Europe's fifth-largest economy (of the 25 E.U. nations) with a Gross National Income--which partially determines the contribution of individual member states to the European pot--close to 8% of all the income generated in Europe. Spain is aspiring to a larger share of the funding for pan-European research projects and mobility fellowships, a share that's in line with its economic weight within the European Union. Yet, under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), the previous framework programme, Spain only got 5.9% of the money available from the European Union, even less than the 6.5% share the country obtained under FP5.

Now that FP7 is under way--it started in January--the Spanish government has launched the EuroIngenio programme, which they hope will help Spanish researchers get at least 8% of the FP7 funding (which totals more than €50 billion). "The Spanish R&D system has to face the challenge of increas[ing] its participation in the production of knowledge and innovation at a global scale, taking advantage of the opportunities of co-operating through FP7 and other multilateral programmes," Violeta Demonte, director general of research for the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science, writes in an e-mail to Science Careers.

EuroIngenio's budget of €15.6 million for 2007 will be spent on four fronts. The EuroCiencia programme will help public research institutions attract European funding, whereas EuroSalud will help hospitals, the TecnoEuropa programme will help large businesses, and InnoEuropa will expend its efforts and resources to help small- and medium-sized companies. 

EuroCiencia aims in particular to encourage universities to offer more supporting services to their researchers by asking institutions to come up with a concrete plan and rewarding those that succeed in increasing their participation to European projects.

How does this affect young researchers? EuroCiencia is addressed to research centres rather than individual researchers, so "young scientists … should contact the European Project Office (or similar office, depending on the particular institution) in [their] own institution expressing [their] willingness to participate in FP7 initiatives," says Demonte. "In the present context of globalisation, … the participation in international R&D activities, [e]specially in FP7 activities, is a must for all young scientists wishing to develop a scientific career as [a] researcher."


June 21, 2007

Calling All Loners

If you thought your postdoc was long and lonely, try spending 500 days in a hermetically sealed laboratory in Moscow or 13 months on an over-winter crew in Antarctica.

The European Space Agency issued a call this week for applications for 6 candidates and 6 alternates for the Mars500 program, which will simulate a mission to Mars, complete with 250-day journey, 30-day planetary exploration, and 240-day return. Candidates have to be 25 to 50 years old, in good health, highly motivated, have a background in science or engineering, and be fluent in either Russian or English with a working knowledge of the other. The psychologically disturbed need not apply.

The agency is also looking for one person with a medical background to spend 13 months at Concordia Station, high on the Antarctic Ice Cap, including a brutal winter with temperatures approaching -60 degrees C. The ESA has partnered with the French Polar Institute and other groups because the autonomy and confinement of Antarctic missions mirrors that of future space exploration missions. In addition to the usual chores of isolated lab life, the successful candidate for this job will administer medical and psychological tests to the crew throughout the expedition.

- Kate Travis

June 14, 2007

Are You Serious?

Or are you funny? Here at Science Careers, we're very serious about careers in science. That's a good thing, but sometimes I worry that we're a little too serious. Our coverage can seem a little ponderous and heavy, even to me, the editor.

Don't get me wrong; we've had our funny moments. Almost all of Kat Arney's stuff was really funny...except when she decided to be serious. They're all good, but check out Dr. Bridget's Postdoctoral Diary. And I don't mean to suggest that Kat was our ONLY funny writer. We've had others. It's just that, well, I can't quite remember who they were.

But the point is, I'd like to publish more funny stuff. Problem is, really funny writers are rare, while writers who think they're funny are all too common.

Can you be funny? Can you write funny stuff about scientific training and careers? I'd love to hear from you. Send a sample to me at .

In this week's Science Careers, Beryl Lieff Benderly describes the debate over proposals in the new U.S. immigration bill to increase the number of scientists and technical specialists from abroad. A critical piece of the bill, especially to scientists and engineers, is a merit-based system to determine the priority of candidates for permanent residency in the U.S., a status that can lead to citizenship.

Many news accounts of the bill refer to this part of the bill as a "point system," but so far at least few of those stories tell how the proposed system will work. In this week's news section of Science (subscription required), Yudhijit Bhattacharjee describes the system in detail, with an example of a typical scientist applicant. Bhattacharjee shows how younger scientists and engineers would benefit more than most others. As the story notes, this bill is far from being a done deal, and the merit system will likely undergo close scrutiny.

This is a comment on the article titled "A Tunnel to Atlanta", written by Beryl Lieff Benderly (4 May 2007). The author talks about the importance of networking within ones own ethnic group and how that can help people in their scientific careers. While this may be true to an extent, it also leads to some very avoidable situations in scientific environments. The biggest potential problem posed by excessive intra-ethnic networking is the formation of closed groups (popularly referred to as 'mafias') of foreigners in the work environment, often leading to a chasm between the members of this group and everyone else. In many situations, such groups result in its members lacking confidence or developing a sense suspicion when it comes to interacting with other nationalities or cultures: ghetto-isation in other words. This negates any advantage an international experience can have and can only be bad for science for two reasons. The first is that Science is and should be an international activity involving active interaction between different ethnic and cultural groups. Most high profile laboratories, irrespective of the field, are highly international in composition. Secondly, being scientists, we must endeavour to be above the boundaries of culture, language, religion and ethnicity, at least in the workplace.

I can give myself as an example of a person who had an excellent start to my scientific career without having another person from my country or culture anywhere near me. I left my native India to do my PhD in a Macromolecular Crystallography lab in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I was the only person from my country in the whole building but never experienced any homesickness during the six and a half years of my stay there. My colleagues in the lab and my boss were fantastic and very supportive, so much that I did not feel the need for any support from people of my own cultural background. This has had an effect of making me immune to the effects cultural differences usually have on people, and I can now feel comfortable anywhere. I like to believe this is a good thing.

To sum up, I believe that active interaction with other cultures makes one a better person and a better scientist. Culture shock is a great thing to be experiencing all by oneself.

Dr Ganesh Natrajan
Post-Doctoral Associate
Macromolecular Crystallography group.
European Synchrotron Radiation Facility
Grenoble, France.

The first round of preliminary proposals for the Starting Independent Researcher Grants, which are being offered for the first time this year by the European Research Council (ERC), which is also new, has just closed.

The grants, which will pay an average of €1.5 million over 5 years, have been designed to help early-career scientists establish their own labs in Europe. The ERC intends to give out between 200 and 250 of these grants in a yearly call. According to a news article published this week in Science (an AAAS membership or Science subscription is required to access the article), as the first call came to a close the ERC counted an astonishing 9,167 proposals, beating all expectations. The ERC will invite only 10% or fewer applicants to submit a full proposal. But if you make it that far your odds are good: The success rate in the final round will be between 30 and 50%.

Martin Reddington, Director of Scientific Affairs and Communications at the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP), pointed out a couple of errors in our discussion of HFSP's research funds involving India in our article "GrantsNet Guide to Financing Your Research Exchange in India." This article is part of our feature on research opportunities in India.

Here's an excerpt from Reddington's message explaining the organization's policies ...


We were delighted to see HFSP in your item on funding opportunities for research exchange with India .... However, there is an inaccuracy that gives a too restrictive view of eligibility and could mislead some of the Indian scientists we would like to support.

In the fellowship programs, scientists from non-member countries can only do their postdocs in labs in member countries, but now that India is a member, young Indian scientists could apply for HFSP funds to do their postdocs in non-member countries. This is an important point since we could imagine young Indians going to centres of excellence in non-member countries such as Singapore or China.

Further, labs in non-member countries may only host fellows from member countries, so Indian membership now opens the possibility for Indian labs to recruit post-docs from all over the world....

We updated the article page accordingly.

Dear Science Editor,

The discussion in Elisabeth Pain`s "Moving Out of the Shadows: Publishing From the Rest of the World" points to the typical publishing scenario in Brazil, where the mother tongue is Portuguese.

Indeed, Brazilian researchers can be an exemplar of those from most of Latin America, when it comes to getting published in English in international journals. The difficulties range from limited English skills to lack of funding to afford language-editing services. Brazilian scientists have contributed to approximately 1.6% of what is published in ISI-indexed journals, and this small percentage notwithstanding, it is the result of a steady growth in academic productivity in the last decades. However, as in most South American countries, attempts to understand research output is mostly focused on traditional indicators of research performance, which does not include English proficiency.

If sound science and readable English are markers of a manuscript's quality, why is the role of English in non-native English-speaking (NNES) countries undermined? A number of editorials and full articles have devoted attention to language constraints involved in publication by NNES scientists, and this problem appears to affect novice and experienced writers alike in South America. However, concerning Brazil, lack of awareness of the extent to which it could affect their authors' publication output reveals a blind spot in policy making.

According to Pain, "While researching the issues faced by scholars in Hungary, Slovakia, Spain, and Portugal, Curry and colleagues found that 'scholars sometimes don't have high-level English proficiency but publish in high journals.' Their success, Curry says, is 'because they can draw [on] a network of people that help out.' " Such a network can certainly be the difference between having a manuscript accepted or rejected in high-impact journals. But in the case of South American authors, the fraction of "off-network" scientists is considerable, and being off network in this English-only research world is even more disadvantageous. Reducing the language gap among scientists would thus be well worth the effort.

It is thus about time South American scientists paid more attention to English proficiency in their countries. It is true that compared to other research priorities, this issue can be regarded as minor, but it may be huge for NNES authors who produce sound science and take an enormous time to gain visibility because manuscripts have to be re-re-rewritten because of poor English. In Brazil, research in the Science Education Program of the Medical Biochemistry Institute of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro has investigated the correlation between the English proficiency of more than 35,000 Brazilian scientists registered in the National Research Council (CNPq) and their publication in international journals in English. The preliminary data have pointed to higher output for those whose writing skills are better developed.* Is this a trend that may turn out to be similar for other South American countries?

Sonia Vasconcelos
PhD Student
Science Education Program
The Medical Biochemistry Institute
Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)

Supervisors: Profs Dra. Jacqueline Leta and Dra. Martha Sorenson

* Vasconcelos, S.M.R., Sorenson, M., Leta, Jacqueline. "Scientist-Friendly Policies for Non-Native English Speaking Authors: Timely and Welcome." Concepts and Comments. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, 2007, in press.

Dear Editor,

It was a great day when I read the article Running in Place (“You're running as fast as you can. Why aren't you getting anywhere? Our newest columnists provide some traction.”)

It was an afternoon. I was worried because I was working as hard as I could, but I didn’t reach one of the main objectives given by my supervisor.

The advice about the way to improve our time [management] was very helpful this precise moment--and the next 3 months.

I also bought the book, [and] kept in mind and applied some precious comments!

I hope to master my structural biology Ph.D.

Moreover, it was an exciting week at Paris “For women in science, 2007 –UNESCO& L’Oreal”

So thanks a lot!!


In my article on the new EMBO Installation grants, I wrote that although scientists from western Europe can apply for the grants, they must be in the process of establishing themselves in one of Europe's less-well-off countries. For the first competition (applications due 15 April) is limited to applicants established in Croatia, the Czech Repubic, Estonia, Poland, Turkey, and--one geographic outlier--Portugal.

But according to programme manager Gerlind Wallon the scheme may include other countries in the future. While initially the new EMBO scheme was intended to help Central European countries, "All countries have been invited to participate," Wallon says, and each decides for itself how many scientists they want to help relocate. Those countries must then provide funding for the awards. "At present, also some Western countries are debating possible participation," says Wallon.

So, if your country isn't one of the six participating in the first competition, keep an eye on the EMBO Web site to find out whether it will participate in the future.

For our loyal readers of Science Careers Weblogs, here are the links to their previous incarnations and all of the earlier posts:

Americas | Europe

Thank you for your continued readership and support of Science Careers.