Science Careers Blog


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

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

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

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

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

The following letter was submitted in response to Chelsea Wald's article Scientists Embrace Openness.

Open Results from Biomedical Research Projects: Where Are They?
Maojo, V., Garcia-Remesal, M, Crespo, J., de la Calle, G., de la Iglesia, D. and Kulikowski, C.

Wald has addressed scientific openness in a recent Science article (1), including data and methods used for research. Advances in software tools for bioinformatics search helps (2), but, just becoming aware of open results of research projects funded by public agencies* -- e.g., databases, software, papers, e-books* -- and finding them efficiently still proves harder than it should.

In the course of producing an advanced, automatically generated on-line inventory of bioinformatics resources (3), we analyzed results from research projects publicly funded by the European Commission, Spanish agencies, and the National Institutes of Health. We discovered that finding the complete set of available information reported to have been generated by the projects could prove quite elusive. Non-peer-reviewed summary reports were commonplace, but specifics of electronic resources, with Web locations, were frequently not, even when researchers mentioned their existence as being openly available.

To enable searches with sophisticated text mining, publicly-funded projects should provide a minimum information set including titles, authors, funding agency, annotations with concepts from ontologies or controlled vocabularies that characterize the functionalities of the resources, papers reporting significant findings using these resources *peer-reviewed quality indicators,* and their Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs).

Earlier suggestions for structuring abstracts of papers (4) resulted in an experiment with disappointingly limited success (5). However, to provide basic information resources from projects already on the Web ought to be more straightforward. Requiring a minimum information set like the one we propose to be available online under clearly specified standards might help bring about more comprehensive open access, which would promote wider reuse of resources and avoid duplication in scientific projects, worldwide.

Agencies are increasingly requiring that papers reporting research funded by them become publicly available. Our proposal is that they require that other products of research, like open electronic resources that back-up a paper's results, should be made equally easily accessible.

1. Wald, C. Scientists Embrace Openness. Science Issues and Perspectives. Science. April 09, 2010
2. Dinov ID et al. iTools: a framework for classification, categorization and integration of computational biology resources. PLoS One. 2008 May 28;3(5):e2265
3. de la Calle G, García-Remesal M, Chiesa S, de la Iglesia D, Maojo V. BIRI: a new approach for automatically discovering and indexing available public bioinformatics resources from the literature. BMC Bioinformatics. 2009 Oct 7;10:320.
4. Gerstein M, Seringhaus M, Fields S. Structured digital abstract makes text mining easy. Nature. 2007 May 10;447(7141):142.5.     
5. Lok C. Literature mining: Speed reading. Nature. 2010 Jan 28;463(7280):416-8.

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

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

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

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

January 12, 2010

Send Us Your Essays

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

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

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

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.)

July 9, 2009

More Fun with Fungi

A note from a reader:


It was great to see fungi out in science careers as a career option!  Having working with fungi since an undergraduate I am often surprised at how little focus they get given the diversity of jobs related to mycology (from brewing, baking, pharmaceuticals, chemical industry, agriculture, forestry, academia, growing edible ones), so I am sure all people like myself who try to interest students in fungi will find the article a useful thing to wave about - it is already printed out and up in pride-of-place on my notice board outside the lab.

I was also interested to see the mycology labs and resources highlighted.  In case you ever write an update on this topic, one unique US fungal resource is the Fungal Genetics Stock Center here at the University of Missouri in Kansas City ( and housed next door to me.  The FGSC has been funded by the National Science Foundation for over 50 years, and distributes c. 30,000 strains of fungi at cost around the world every year, mostly to researchers interested in the genetics of fungi.  Fungi are excellent for genetic research since unlike plants and animals they normally have only one copy of each chromosome (this saves a ton of time): the FGSC even has the original strains used by Beadle and Tatum for which they were awarded the Nobel prize for showing one gene gives rise to one protein, done in the fungus Neurospora crassa, and they are more than happy to give them out to people!  The FGSC is not a big career option (they have 2-3 full time people), but their resources and distribution of materials (not to mention what must be nearly a record for continuous federal funding) further highlights the importance of mycology and potential careers in this area.

With best wishes,

Alexander Idnurm, Ph.D.
Division of Cell Biology and Biophysics
School of Biological Sciences
University of Missouri-Kansas City

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.


Dr. Albert has hit the nail right on the cheesehead!  My daughter (Allison H. Bartlett, MD , a pediatric infectious disease specialist raised in Madison, WI) sent me Albert's article this am.  I am a graduate of UW-Madison medical school as is my husband, trained at Washington University in St. Louis and moved back to raise our family and practice in Madison.  My daughter Allison attended Princeton University, medical school at Washington U in St. Louis, and residency through fellowship and is now on faculty at Baylor U/Texas Children's Hospital. My son, a musician, attended school in New York, London, and recently lived 2 yrs. in Philly.

We talk about this phenomenon often, as we have all experienced it, but Dr. Albert has described it very precisely.  It brings a chuckle to all of us.  Both environments have their merit, but growing up in the Midwest, I (we) prefer the cheesehead environment.  This extends into most aspects of life, I (we) have observed--well beyond the science/academic/research environment.  It is really the Midwest vs. the East coast values/ethics/mentality.

Thanks to Dr. Albert for the interesting article.

Cheryl A. Bartlett, MD