Science Careers Blog

Kate Travis

I've got a rather conservative list of stuff for you this week:

Those of you who blog, Tweet, participate in social networks, and so on may have seen buzz this week about the Science Online conference (Twitter hashtag: #scio11), held last weekend in North Carolina. I wasn't there (though I have been to Science Online London the past two years), so I won't attempt to report on the surely excellent topics discussed there. But, as is often the case for a meeting of people who contribute regularly to the Interwebs, you can learn a lot by perusing the Web site, wiki, tweets, and videos of sessions. I do know at least two of our correspondents were there and there will be a forthcoming Science Careers article from the meeting. Stay tuned.

One tweet I did pick up on from #scio11 noted a new list of so called Diversity Bloggers, assembled by the folks at Their list includes our very own Micella Phoenix DeWhyse, whose column was a blog of sorts before blogs were en vogue.

Late last week, The Times' science magazine Eureka hosted a Eureka Live event at the Wellcome Collection on women in science. I was gutted to miss the event, as two of the speakers are among my favorites to listen to on this topic. They are Athene Donald, Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge, and Ottoline Leyser, Professor of Biology at the University of York. Leyser is a recent winner of the Rosalind Franklin Award, and with her prize she put together "Mothers in Science: 64 ways to have it all" (free PDF download).

Fortunately, blogger Della wrote a summary of the event, touching on the themes of parenthood, competitiveness, social cues, and perception. Donald herself wrote a follow-up post on her own blog specifically on the theme of confidence, as the idea that women lack confidence in their credentials came up at the Eureka Live event. But in her post, Donald keeps the discussion gender-neutral and offers advice on confidence in presentations, job interviews, etc. "The key thing if you do lack self-confidence is not to let it undermine your accomplishments, but learn to fake an inner strength when in public," she concludes.

That's probably more than you wanted to know about what I did *not* do in the last week. In early February you'll hear about what's keeping me chained to my desk. Meanwhile, here are a few more interesting links:

On the research misconduct beat, the British Medical Journal this week published its third (and last) installment of journalist Brian Deer's investigation into Andrew Wakefield and misconduct in his research attempting to link the MMR vaccine and autism. "Thirteen years later, we are only now beginning to understand the root causes of the multiple system failures involved in the Wakefield incident," writes Douglas J. Opel of Seattle Children's Research Institute in a related editorial. "We must strengthen our ability to investigate research-adverse events. We need to use the tools and techniques available to protect the safety of patients in the clinical realm to protect research subjects. We also need to rethink and reform our customs and culture. The disastrous impact that Wakefield's study has had on vaccine coverage, recrudescence of disease, public trust, and, most of all, science, requires that we do so in haste."

The Duke Chronicle published an article looking at recently released documents in the misconduct case against Anil Potti, formerly a cancer genomics researcher at Duke. "According to the documents, the National Cancer Institute continued to raise questions about the research and its use as justification for clinical trials at Duke even after a Duke review concluded in late December 2009 that the trials could continue," the article states. "The information in the NCI documents is another indication of the growing doubts about Potti's research in the months leading up to his suspension and resignation." Science covered some of the issues in August; Nature published an extensive article last week.

If you haven't already checked it out, I highly recommend this week's Science Careers article Balancing Professional Aspirations With Family, in which our European editor Elisabeth Pain talks to neuroscientist John Apergis-Schoute about putting family before his scientific career.

January 17, 2011

Learning from Mistakes

One of my favorite headlines on a Science Careers article is Disasters of the Famous, in which we asked some now-prominent scientists about their laboratory mistakes. A surprising number of the anecdotes involve fire. But the point is, all of them overcame those setbacks and mistakes to go on to have successful scientific careers.

In August in the inaugural issue of iBioMagazine, Science's editor-in-chief Bruce Alberts recalls in a video presentation how 5 years' worth of his Ph.D. research experiments failed, and he went on to fail his oral exam.

It worked out for Alberts in the end: He went on to become a prominent cell biologist, served as president of the National Academy of Sciences, and is one of the original authors of the textbook, Molecular Biology of the Cell. "Success doesn't teach you much. Failure teaches you a lot," he says in the iBioMagazine video (below). Study your failures very carefully, he says: Those who are successful don't make the same mistake twice.


In 2008, we published a profile of Cambridge scientist Tony Kouzarides, who spoke honestly about his struggles with his research during his Ph.D. and postdoc, most of which was unpublishable. "Spend as much time as you like thinking about the experiment because if you waste your time doing the wrong experiment, you might as well not do it at all," advises Kouzarides, who is now a group leader at the Gurdon Institute.

An item in the Wall Street Journal last May offered up an example from the corporate world: Peter G. Peterson, the billionaire co-founder of private equity firm Blackstone Group LP, got kicked out of MIT for plagiarizing a paper from another student.

"The humiliating expulsion made Peterson realize he should avoid 'self-serving rationalizations about questionable behavior,'" the author writes in the article. "He instead asked himself: 'What would a person I admire greatly think about this behavior?'" The result, Peterson says, has framed his business practices since.

"To rebound from early mistakes, you need time to reflect constructively," Joann S. Lublin writes in the WSJ article.

And, if you don't want to take their word for it, you could listen to Michael Jordan:

Wow, 2011. I'm still not used to typing that. I'll stop marveling at the new year soon, I promise.

Anyway, here's a tour around the web this week for career- and career development-related items of note:

*This week's Science has an editorial, Boosting Minorities in Science, from Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "Because the


minority groups underrepresented in science and engineering are the most rapidly growing in the U.S. population, the country must develop strategies to harness this resource to grow a robust science and engineering workforce and remain globally competitive," he writes. One place to start is to focus on retention of minority students who start, but don't finish, science and science-related degrees. Another is to focus on mentoring.

*A group of HHMI-funded investigators write an Education Forum this week called Changing the Culture of Science Education at Research Universities. "To establish an academic culture that encourages science faculty to be equally committed to their teaching and research missions, universities must more broadly and effectively recognize, reward, and support the efforts of researchers who are also excellent and dedicated teachers," they write. They then propose 7 ways in which universities can accomplish this.

*Teachers, check out this report on an intervention that improved test scores: Researchers asked college and high school students to write about their anxiety about taking an exam before taking the exam. These students ended up performing better on the exam itself than a control group that didn't complete a writing exercise. You can listen to a podcast interview with the author.

As usual, the fine folks at Science Insider have been busy:

*The National Research Council issued a report calling for the National Institutes of Health to "maintain or even increase the number of graduate students and postdocs it supports," Jocelyn Kaiser reports. Recommendations include increasing the postdoc stipend to $45,000 per year and increasing the Medical Scientist Training Program to train M.D.-Ph.D.s by 20%.

Other Science Insider items of note:

*This week's issue of Nature has a news feature that looks at the state of science in Romania and Bulgaria, both of which joined the European Union in 2007 and, according to the article, occupy positions at the bottom of the league tables for research expenditure and output. "Romanian scientists working outside the country say that the changes give them hope of some day being able to continue their research careers back home. Meanwhile, the Bulgarian diaspora despairs," Alison Abbott reports. Also see our recent article on nearby Turkey, which apparently is doing quite a bit better.  

*In his World View column in Nature, Colin Macilwain writes about how universities are faring in the era of tight budgets. "While governments defend research spending, they are simultaneously slashing public funding for universities, where most research takes place," he writes.

*Nature Jobs this week takes a look at scientists with disabilities.

*This week's PLoS Computational Biology features an editorial from Philip E. Bourne, of the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science at the University of California San Diego, called Ten Simple Rules for Getting Ahead as a Computational Biologist in Academia. "This is not just about you, but an opportunity to educate a broad committee on what is important in our field. Use that opportunity well, for it will serve future generations of computational biologists," he writes.

*For those interested in clinical and translational research, the organization FasterCures has issued a white paper called Crossing Over the Valley of Death, which emphasizes the importance of translational research in the drug development process. The report also identifies some of the major challenges in translational research and offers some solutions.

*As always, there are many insightful posts in the blogosphere about science career development. This week I'll point you to just one: How to Ask For Help on the American Chemical Society blog. This is an important topic, and, as Lisa Balbes (who has written for Science Careers) points out, it's one many of us are not very good at. "Building your own professional network, one person at a time, will hold you in good stead when you next need to ask for help.  And knowing what to ask for will make it easy for them to help you find it," Balbes writes.

*Last but not least, check out the new articles on Science Careers. First up is a profile of veterinarian-scientist Laura Richman, whose research at the National Zoo ultimately led her to become interested in human translational medicine. Now she's in charge of translational science R&D at a biotech company. Her story is an excellent illustration that career paths can lead in unexpected directions and that, rather than worrying about following in the footsteps of people before you, you should focus on following your interests and passions.

*We've also got a historical perspective on two African-American brothers who were chemists during the 1930s-1960s. Larry and William Knox achieved success despite discrimination against them. "Perhaps the strongest message of all is that science moves forward via the contributions of many scientists of all stripes, not only the great names -- a fact that a proper reading of the history of science must acknowledge," the authors write.

Congratulations on making it through the first work week of 2011! Did you start with a clean desk like I did? Is it already covered in papers, magazines, and to-do lists, like mine is?

Well done.

Here is a (biased, as per usual) selection of the week's career-related tidbits:

* GenomeWeb's Daily Scan found a great link at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: new examples of "exceptional" R01 applications in the shorter format. NIAID has also published a new article in its New Investigator Series called "Start Writing Your Application." If you are a checklist person, this article is for you.

* Speaking of grant writing, The Scientist's blog Naturally Selected this week writes about the Three deadly sins of grant writing. "Write highly dense, technical prose that is designed only for a specialist in your field to read," Morgan Giddings cites as her first sin. The bottom line of all of her list is to make your reviewer's job easy.

* Last Friday, the Augusta Chronicle profiled David Pollock and Jennifer Pollock, a dual-scientist couple at the Medical College of Georgia who work together on translational research related to kidney diseases, among other research questions. "The key that's allowed us to be successful is the fact that Jennifer has all this expertise in an area that I don't have," David Pollock said in the article. "And I'd like to think I have expertise that she doesn't have, although I think she's learned more about what I do than the other way around."

* The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article this week on moving abroad, written by a historian who moved form the U.S. to England (a move that I'm well familiar with). "In any long-distance move, you can expect many headaches. When moving abroad, expect a multiplication of hassles, large and small," the author writes. I'll second that.

In Nature Jobs this week, Paul Smaglik writes a 'where are they now' article that follows up with scientists who wrote journal entries for Nature. "One writer called her scientific career a "winding road". Today, many of those writers would add that the road also presents potholes, detours and dead ends," Smaglik writes.

* Science Insider this week summarized a white paper from a group of MIT researchers on what the group calls "convergence": "Their report defines convergence as 'the merging of distinct technologies, processing disciplines, or devices into a unified whole that creates a host of new pathways and opportunities' by combining life sciences, physical sciences, and engineering," Insider reports.

* Also this week, Insider took a look at the America COMPETES act, which President Obama signed into law this week. The act has implications for training and career development money from the National Science Foundation. "It's a reaffirmation of the value of integrating research and training at our universities," says Debra Stewart, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Council of Graduate Schools, in the Insider article. "It's what has made our research enterprise the best in the world, and it says that we are still on the right track."

* In Science this week, editor in chief Bruce Alberts introduces a new prize to recognize "outstanding 'modules' for teaching introductory college science courses that can readily spread to other settings and schools," Alberts writes. "Science is looking for lessons in which students become invested in exploring questions through activities that are at least partially of their own design. Instead of a typical laboratory exercise that begins with an explanation and results in one correct answer, an inquiry-based lesson might begin with a scenario or question and then require students to propose possible solutions and design some of their own experiments."

* In the News section of Science, writer John Bohannon takes a look at some pilot projects for virtual peer review panels. "Can the hard work of grant review be done without face-to-face meetings?," Bohannon asks. "With budgets tightening, scientific organizations like NSF are exploring ways to reduce the number of their physical meetings. Proponents see it as a win-win scenario, saving not only time and money but also carbon emissions. Whether the technology is up to the task is another matter."

* And of course, you should check out this week's stories on Science Careers: Taken for Granted: Stormy Weather and Seizing Career Opportunities in Turkey.

Have a good week!

Several career-related stories came out during or just before the holidays. I thought I'd round some of them up in case you missed them. Keep in mind that I'm sampling only the publications and blogs I read regularly!

* The Friday before Christmas week, the White House released a guidance for federal agencies on developing policies on scientific integrity. A mere 4 pages long and 17 months late, Science Insider says, the guidance suggests 4 areas in which agencies should develop clear integrity policies: the foundations of scientific integrity in government, public communication about science, the use of advisory committees, and the professional development of scientists. (See also our recent articles on research integrity.)

* Science journalist Elizabeth Pennisi did a follow-up interview with scientist Felisa Wolfe-Simon, lead author of the arsenic bacteria paper published online in Science in December that quickly came under heavy criticism, both for the hype surrounding it and for the science itself. "Since the press conference, my life has been really busy and stressful," Wolfe-Simon tells Pennisi. "We thought that our findings would generate some discussion, but we didn't anticipate the reaction we saw."

* Also on Science Insider, Jeff Mervis reported that Congress failed to reauthorize the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technical Transfer (STTR) programs, both of which are intended to move scientific discoveries into the market. The future of the programs, whose current authorization expires January 31, 2011, is uncertain.

A couple of items of note from the 24 December issue of Science:

* An article in the News section summarizes the upcoming federal court case of an astrophysicist who claims he wasn't hired by a university because he's an evangelical Christian. Beryl Benderly has written about the case on the Science Careers Blog.

* This week's Policy Forum, The Challenge of Feeding Scientific Advice into Policy-Making, presents three case studies that illustrate general principles that can guide scientists and policy-makers in interactions with each other and the public.

* In the 23 December issue of Nature, Nancy Baron, zoologist and science outreach director of COMPASS (Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea), writes about the importance of scientists' communication skills. "For scientists who would be agents of change, communication is not an add-on. It is central to their enterprise. ... Yet learning to communicate is a critical life skill not typically taught as part of scientific training. It should be."

* The Wall Street Journal's Career Journal had a post on Scoring Unlisted Jobs - using the oft-cited statistic that some 80% of jobs are never advertised. This is something Dave Jensen, our Tooling Up columnist, tells you, too, most recently in A Job-Search Plan for the Person Without One (Part One) and A Job-Search Plan for the Person Without One (Part 2).

* Finally, The Scientist has an opinion piece from immunologist Douglas Green on what it takes to publish a paper, get a grant, or get a job. His two-word advice: "Astonish us." "A favored application has astonished the reviewers, who can be very forgiving about mistakes, chancy experiments, and the occasional missing control if they are convinced that the work has a real chance of affecting how we think about something important," Green writes.

Scope, the blog from the Stanford University School of Medicine, posted the video below this week of Stanford scientists Carla Shatz and Helen Blau. According to the video, Shatz and Blau met in 1978 when they became the first women to be hired on Stanford medical school's basic science faculty as part of an affirmative action initiative. The video doesn't dwell on this, though, and instead lets the women talk about their research careers, and their friendship over the years. Well worth the 7 minutes to watch.

Hat tip: Dr. Shock MD PhD

September 14, 2010

Language barriers in science

Today's The Daily Scan uncovered a real gem: A YouTube animation of a hypothetical conversation between an investigator and a biostatistician.

Judging by the comments on the video on Genome Web and on You Tube, it resonated with several viewers. (I just thought it was really, really funny.) It highlights well the language barriers across scientific disciplines. 

September 7, 2010

Seeking the Alternative

This week, GenomeWeb's The Daily Scan featured two blog posts on alternative careers: Februa at Almost a PhD wrote about her discouragement at an incredibly vague career seminar on alternative careers, and the Prodigal Academic followed up with a great post highlighting some specific alternative careers.

Februa's experience highlights just how little information scientists get about the variety of career paths they can pursue away from the bench. Over the years, Science Careers highlighted several of these alternative/nontraditional careers in our articles, which almost always include stories from Actual People doing those jobs. Following on from what the bloggers above and their commenters have suggested, here are some alternative careers we've highlighted over the years, in no particular order: 

All funding agencies -- NIH, NSF, ESF, and so on -- have program officers behind the scenes making decisions about grant applications. Read about some of them in Working as a Program Officer.

Perhaps a teacher along the way inspired you to pursue a career in science. Why not try teaching? See, for example, Scientists as Schoolteachers, Community College Faculty: Must Love to Teach, and Careers in Teaching. (See also Teaching Science to Nonscience Majors, and Teach the Students You Have).

Did you love writing for your university paper or otherwise really love news? Consider a career in science writing. See Starting a Career in Science Writing, which includes Some Thoughts on Becoming a Science Writer, Science Journalism Degrees: Do They Make a Difference? See also my recent blog post on becoming a science writer.

When you send in a manuscript to a journal, there are editors on the other end who determine its worth. Book publishers and societies with publishing arms also employ science editors. See Careers in Science Editing: Feature Index

Similarly, many scientists have found rewarding work in public relations at agencies and scientific organizations. Read about them in Getting the Message Across: Scientists in Public Relations.

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

Do you love talking to people about science? Consider a career in science outreach: Read Transitioning from Researcher to Outreacher and Making Schools Better in New York City.

Science museums are a great place to be around science. Read more in Careers in Zoos and Museums, An Astrophysicist at La Città della Scienza, Darwin's Legacy: Rich Collections, Deep Expertise, and Darwin's Legacy: Keeping Order.

In most countries, science is funded by national governments, and that means politicians are making decisions about how much money science gets. Contribute your expertise through a career in science policy. Read more in A Matter of Policy and Finding Your Way Into Policy Careers in Europe.

If the intellectual property end of things interests you, you might consider a career as a patent attorney. Read In Person: Peter Brown, Patent Attorney Pending and Careers in Patent Law.

Regulatory science offers opportunities for life scientists to get involved in shepherding drugs to market. Read more in our recent article All in the Details: Careers in Regulatory Science. For an industry perspective, see Tooling Up: The Regulatory Affairs Career Track.

Universities have many types of jobs for Ph.D.s away from the bench:

Most research universities will have an technology transfer department responsible for working out how to commercialize its researchers' discoveries. Read more in Transferring Skills to Tech Transfer.

Read about one researcher's job in a university diversity office to make a difference in the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities in The Passion of the Science: A Nontraditional Pathway.

If you like to help others understand what their true career passions are, consider a career as a career advisor. Read more in It Isn't Just the Ambiance.

People in staff development work on everything from curriculum to course materials. Read more in A Developing Career.

Research administration
offers scientists a chance to help others find research funding, develop research proposals, and coordinate dispersal of funds. Read more in University Research Administration: Benefits, Not Bureaucracy.

Read more about careers within university settings in Alternative Career Routes in the Ivory Tower

The Prodigal Academic did a great job of describing some of the jobs in industry. Dave Jensen, our Tooling Up columnist, has written about some specific industry job types in the last year: The Medical Writing and Corporate Intelligence Career Tracks, The Applications Scientist Career Track, The Project Management Career Track, and The Biomanufacturing Career Track.

As the Prodigal Academic mentioned, sales is an important career sector. Read articles about scientists in these jobs in Careers in Sales and After-sales Service

Perhaps you have an outside interest that you're really passionate about. Read about a coffee roaster, a comedian, an artist, and more folks who left science altogether in And Now for Something Completely Different. See also The Itinerant Artist and Finding the Way Back to a First (Career) Love.

The Science Careers outreach program has a bunch of materials you might find interesting, too. Check out these slides, this booklet, and this handout on alternative careers (perhaps suggest to your department that they use this at the next alternative careers event ...).

This is not an exhaustive list, but it hits the major categories of so-called alternative careers that aren't really discipline-specific. Please feel free to offer more suggestions below in the comments. Best of luck!

Physician-scientist Peter Agre's biggest research contribution to date is his discovery of aquaporins, the proteins that regulate and facilitate the transport of water molecules across cell membranes. Aquaporins are important in physiological processes such as kidney concentration and spinal fluid secretion, and play a role in several diseases as well. Their discovery in the early 1990s earned Agre the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

These days, Agre, 61, is contributing to science in slightly different ways: by addressing infectious diseases in the Third World, and by promoting scientific diplomacy.


Agre, currently the director of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, is now using his basic science discoveries about aquaporins to understand the role the proteins play in the parasite that causes malaria. The goal is to find innovative ways to target and treat the disease, which causes nearly 1 million deaths annually, most of which occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

"About the year 2000, after we'd worked on aquaporins for almost a decade, we'd answered the questions we felt were most important," Agre said in an interview in July at the Euroscience Open Forum meeting in Turin, Italy. "It was a matter of doing some translational work ... . There were a lot of groups that are really good at cancer biology and neuroscience, but the Third World diseases are still largely neglected." The shift to disease-focused research represents a return to Agre's original humanitarian goals when he went into medicine. "It was always something I wanted to do -- to get involved in Third World medicine," he said. "I had ... hoped at about age 50 to make a new direction in science in Third World diseases, human rights, and areas I felt were important."

In the mid 2000s, Agre got involved in science advocacy and politics; he even considered a run for the U.S. Senate. He ultimately didn't pursue a political career, but he did find a different platform a couple of years later: In 2009, he became the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS - the publishers of Science, Science Translational Medicine, and Science Careers). In that role, he traveled to Cuba, North Korea, and Myanmar as a member of scientific delegations tasked with finding common scientific ground with these countries, which are at odds politically with the United States. In an editorial in the August 25 issue of Science Translational Medicine, Agre explains how such science diplomacy can have an impact on medicine in such developing countries.

"Clinical and translational medicine represents an important arena of investigation ripe for 21st-century science diplomacy, beginning with -- although by no means limited to -- infectious disease research," he and co-author Vaughan Turekian, chief international officer and director of the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy, write. "As private American citizens, we brought a message of good will, formed by a shared interest in science and science-based solutions to problems, that would have been greeted with great suspicion if delivered by officials of the U.S. government." Agre and Turekian conclude by noting that addressing global health needs will require scientific cooperation that transcends political borders.

Agre embraces all the aspects of his career these days. "I love the job, I love the excitement," Agre said in the July interview. "It's a new adventure for an old scientist."

Listen to my conversation with Peter Agre, recorded in July at the Euroscience Open Forum meeting in Turin, Italy: 

Alternate link to mp3

August 3, 2010

Becoming a Science Writer

This week, Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science started what has turned out to be a really popular meme directed at science writers. If you have ever wondered about careers in science writing, this is required reading. His instructions: Tell your story, and give your advice to people considering a career as a science writer.

What has resulted is a series of more than 100 (and counting) short autobiographies of and by people from a variety of backgrounds working as science writers in various capacities. (In the interest of disclosure, my own story is there.) Yong tells his story: "My hazy hopes of a research career were stymied by a degree of experimental ineptitude that is still spoken of in hushed whispers and/or raucous laughter," he writes. He ended up leaving his Ph.D. and pursuing science writing; he's now head of health evidence and information at Cancer Research U.K. His advice: "Be sure you really want to do this. A lot of people want to do this line of work because they don't like research. But this can't just be a fallback option - you really have to love it."

His CRUK colleague Kat Arney writes about taking on writing -- including as a columnist for Science's Next Wave (the precursor to Science Careers) -- while doing an "utterly miserable postdoc." Her personal revelation: "The most important thing I've discovered as I made my transition from being a lab rat to a science writer was the fundamental truths about my talents and skills. I'm not a scientist. I don't have the logical mind, the insight, or the patience and dogged determination. I'm a creator -- of words, audio, video, music, cakes, socks, whatever... Coming to terms with this was tough, especially dealing with the severe feelings of failure over leaving lab science after so many years of training. But I'm much, much happier now."

Ivan Oransky, executive editor of Reuters Health, came to science writing by way of medical school. He has been a columnist for American Medical News, founding editor of the now-defunct Praxis Post, deputy editor at The Scientist, and online managing editor at Scientific American. "I would be the last to claim that medical school, or some other graduate school, is the only place to gain that kind of expertise, but I would also be the last to claim, for obvious reasons, that someone with a doctorate can't make it as a journalist. (Yes, I've heard both of those arguments.)"

Alex Witze, contributing editor at Science News and former U.S. news editor for Nature, offers some direct advice: "Don't get into science journalism if you want to bring the wonders of the universe to the unwashed public. If so, go be a teacher instead."

The advice repeated over and over and over by people from/in all fields: Get A Mentor. Perhaps multiple mentors. Find someone whose writing you like, who has a cool job, whose job you want some day. Write to them. Ask them about what they do. Find people who will read your stuff and give you constructive feedback. Listen and learn from them. Buy them coffee and Twix bars. (Just a suggestion.)

Where do you find such mentors? Well, you could start with the 117 (and counting ...) people who have submitted their stories to that post, titled On the Origin of Science Writers.

Still interested in science writing? Check out this list of articles I pulled together in February for an event on careers in communication. (Note that was for a British audience; American readers should also check out the National Association of Science Writers.)

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

Even if you haven't heard of Linda Bartoshuk, you probably have heard of her research. Now a professor at the University of Florida, Gainsville, Bartoshuk coined the term "supertasters" to describe the 25 percent of the population who have an unusually high number of taste buds,  affecting how food tastes. She has spent nearly 50 years studying psychophysics, the study of how physical stimuli from the environment lead to subjective experience, focused mostly on taste. In this week's Science (subscription required), correspondent John Bohannon writes about her career and her latest projects, including developing new evaluation methods for sensory research.

While Bartoshuk's research involves the senses, some of her stories are more likely to arouse your emotions: Now 71, Bartoshuk grew up in an era where women just didn't do science.  She faced blatant discrimination throughout her career. Here's an excerpt from the Science article:
As a girl born in mostly rural South Dakota in 1938, science was not high on the list of career options for Bartoshuk. But after reading every science-fiction book she could get her hands on, the young Bartoshuk dreamed of astronomy. Her high school had other plans for her. "They forced me to take secretary classes," she recalls with a wry smile. They did accede to Bartoshuk's request to take trigonometry, physics, and chemistry. "I was the only girl in the class, and I was as surprised as anyone when I got the highest grades." It helped her win a scholarship to attend Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota -- her family couldn't afford the tuition otherwise -- and it was science ever after.

Bartoshuk says she abandoned astronomy when she learned that "women weren't allowed to use the big telescopes." She switched to the field that would become the scientific love of her life: psychophysics, the study of how physical stimuli from the environment -- sugar on your tongue, vibrations in your ear, heat on your skin -- lead to the mysterious phenomenon called subjective experience. ...

As a first-year graduate student at Brown University, Bartoshuk wanted to work with Carl Pfaffmann, the first to identify the nerves that send taste signals from the mouth to the brain. She vividly recalls her first conversation with the man who would become her Ph.D. adviser. "Pfaffmann told me point-blank that he didn't want women in his lab," Bartoshuk says. "They're always crying and washing their hair."
I spoke with Bartoshuk this week to learn more about the resistance she faced throughout her career. She spoke about her rocky relationship with her Ph.D. adviser, and how she managed to succeed in his lab. She talked about the discrimination she faced from the director of the research foundation where she worked. "The discrimination against me was so blatant that I had all kinds of social support," she says. "The more subtle discrimination is much much harder to live with, I think."

While she'll gladly share her stories, her path is not one to emulate, she says: "There's no moral here. I think I should have done things differently, and I didn't. In the era I lived in, it turned out that that was a survival path, and I can't tell you the sympathy I have for women who just don't get lucky like that."

It's clear from reading the Science article and from talking with her that she absolutely loves her research -- and that is the key to working in science, she says: "The fact is, you can't make luck happen. So my advice is, work in an area you love. If nothing else, you get to go to work every day and enjoy what you're doing."
Here is an edited version of our conversation:

[alternate link to mp3]

Or, listen through AudioBoo:


Conflict of interest policies have been a hot topic in recent weeks. Here's an unscientific roundup of some recent articles on the subject:

A couple of weeks ago Science Insider reported on new conflict of interest guidelines from the National Institutes of Health. Jocelyn Kaiser writes: "NIH wants to lower the definition of "significant" financial conflict from $10,000 to $5000, or any equity in a nonpublicly-traded company (the previous cutoff was 5%). Researchers would have to tell their institutions about all conflicts over this threshold that "reasonably appear to be related to the Investigator's institutional responsibilities"--leaving administrators, not the investigator, to decide which are related to a specific NIH-funded project."

In a May 21 JAMA editorial about the proposed regulations, NIH Director Francis Collins and Deputy Director for Extramural Research Sally Rockey wrote: "Capitalizing on innovation to benefit health requires a robust partnership that joins bias-free research with the most effective methods for translation and dissemination. As NIH strives to accelerate the movement of discoveries from the laboratory to the clinic, it is clear that already complex relationships between NIH-funded researchers and industry will likely become more complicated, even as they become more exciting and more productive."  That editorial also includes a handy table to illustrate the current and proposed rules.

In today's JAMA, Bridget Kuehn writes about provisions in the health reform law passed in March that will require drug and device manufacturers to report any payments they make to physicians and hospitals. The new law "will require manufacturers to disclose individual payments or goods or services with a value of $10 or more and cumulative payments or gifts exceeding $100, including travel, meals, consulting fees, honoraria, research funding, and royalties," Kuehn writes.

The May/June issue of Boston Review includes an editorial by Marcia Angell, former executive editor and editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, called "How Corporate Dollars Corrupt Research and Education." She writes, "Much of the time, the institutional conflict-of-interest rules ostensibly designed to control these relationships are highly variable, permissive, and loosely enforced. At Harvard Medical School, for example, few conflicts of interest are flatly prohibited; they are only limited in various ways."
And later on:
"To be clear, I'm not objecting to all research collaboration between academia and industry--only to terms and conditions that threaten the independence and impartiality essential to medical research. Research collaboration between academia and industry can be fruitful, but it doesn't need to involve payments to researchers beyond grant support. And that support, as I have argued, should be at arm's length." She goes on to suggest her three "essential" reforms.

In a February Perspective in the New England Journal of Medicine, UC San Francisco professor of medicine Bernard Lo discusses conflicts of interest in the context of the differing missions of academic health centers and for-profit companies. "Sound conflict-of-interest policies require careful analysis of the benefits and risks of a relationship between academia and industry," he writes, following that with several questions policymakers should ask when crafting conflict-of-interest policies.

Later, Lo summarizes the responsibility of the individual physician-investigator in developing such policies: "In their roles as clinicians and researchers, physicians tackle difficult, complex problems, clarify countervailing interests and values, make tradeoffs explicit, develop innovative approaches, and rigorously analyze the advantages and disadvantages of various options. Physicians should apply these skills to help improve conflict-of-interest policies for AHCs and professional societies."

While it's important to communicate potential conflicts to scientific peers, the true end users of that information are patients. Do they really care? An April study in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that they do. In a literature analysis of studies of patients', research participants', and journal readers' views of financial ties to drug and device companies, researchers found that, overall, patients do believe disclosure of financial ties is important, and research participants say that such disclosures would affect their decision on whether to participate in a clinical study.

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:

This week, CTSciNet, the Clinical and Translational Science Network, teamed up with Science Translational Medicine for a podcast on fostering a translational medicine workforce.

The podcast features an interview with Garret FitzGerald, director of the Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia. FitzGerald and colleague Carsten Skarke write in a Perspective, published this week in Science Translational Medicine, that expertise in translational medicine and therapeutics is scarce in academia, industry, and regulatory bodies.

"To facilitate the translation of more personalized therapeutics, we require investigators facile with model systems, informatics, principles of drug action, quantitative signatures of drug exposure, and both mechanism-based and unbiased readouts of drug effects," they write. The article goes on to describe how such expertise could be developed.

In the podcast interview, FitzGerald further discusses translational medicine and therapeutics as a specific subset of clinical and translational science, where deficits exit in the workforce, and how researchers can direct their training to prepare themselves for a career in translational science.

Find more online:

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.

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.

We write about dual-scientist couples every so often, since scientists do have a knack for pairing off with each other. This month, we've published two articles on dual-scientist couples in which both partners work in the same -- or a very similar -- field.

Today we've posted a profile of physician-scientists Deepali Kumar at Atul Humar, transplant infectious disease specialists at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. When I spoke to them earlier this month, they offered this advice on working with your partner: "If you're going to work together as a couple, you really, really have to like each other and get along well," Atul said. "A lot of people tell me, 'oh, if I had to work with my wife all day, I think I'd go crazy.' For us it's just not the case. I think we work really well together."

Earlier this month in A Husband and Wife Play Science on the Same Team, we noted that Michael Crickmore and Dragana Rogulja had different interests when they started out in science, but their work and research questions now regularly overlap. An excerpt:

Even as their research interests have converged, Crickmore and Rogulja have tried to keep their careers and professional identities separate. They decided, for example, not to include each other as co-authors on their papers even though "we easily could have been," Crickmore says. "Dragana reads my manuscripts more than my boss." It's not rivalry, they say: They simply think they can help each other more if they keep some distance. "My secret weapon is that Dragana is both my adviser and my postdoc," Crickmore says. They even have complementary traits, they say: Crickmore obsesses over the details of problems whereas Rogulja likes to zoom out to see the big picture.

You might think we planned these stories around Valentine's Day, but really it just worked out that way. Eric Berger at the Houston Chronicle did plan his Valentine's Day article: an excellent profile of Wadih Arap and Renata Pasqualini, both based at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center where they study the unique molecular signatures of blood vessels. Medical oncologist Christopher Logothetis had a nice observation about the couple: "They feed off of each other and it creates a synergy," he said in the Chronicle article. "Him being a physician, her being a pure scientist, he's more pragmatic, and she's more of a risk-taker. Together, they're a perfect match."

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.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us know what you think.

Newly implemented guidelines at Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women's Hospitals will restrict the amount of pay top officials at the research hospitals can receive for serving on boards of pharmaceutical companies, the New York Times, Boston Globe, and others report. Junior faculty will face new restrictions, too: All faculty members within the Partners HealthCare system may no longer accept speaker's fees from drug companies, nor can they participate in industry speakers' bureaus.

One of the senior officials affected is physician-investigator Dennis A. Ausiello, chief of medicine at Massachusetts General and chief scientific officer of Partners HealthCare. He received more than $220,000 from Pfizer last year for service on the company's board. He told the New York Times that the drug companies are "crucial to translate academic research into drugs that benefit patients," the Times reports. "I'm very proud of my board work," he told the Times. "I'm not there to make money. I certainly think I should be compensated fairly and symmetrically with my fellow board members, but if my institutions rule otherwise, as they have, I will continue to serve on the board."

Not everyone agrees that top brass at medical centers should be interacting at all with drug companies. Thomas Donaldson, a professor of business ethics at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times that "dual roles in a hospital and at a drug maker were 'dicey at best' because a director's duty is to look out for the corporation's financial interests," the Times reports.

The rules for senior officials, which, according to the Boston Globe, affect about 25 senior officials and executives, limits physicians to receiving $500 an hour to a maximum of $5000 per day for serving on drug company boards. They also may no longer accept stock. The new guidelines stemmed from recommendations made last April by an internal commission appointed to examine Partners HealthCare's policies regarding interactions with drug and device companies.

The issue is somewhat of a moving target, concedes Eugene Braunwald, a Harvard professor and former Partners chief academic officer who chaired the internal commission. "In all fairness," he told the Times, "what was OK three years ago is not OK now."

As it happens, the January issue of the journal Academic Medicine has a special series of articles on academia-industry relationships, including two articles that are available for free to non-subscribers: "Commentary: Conflict of Interest Policies: An Opportunity for the Medical Profession to Take the Lead" and "Can Academic Departments Maintain Industry Relationships While Promoting Physician Professionalism?"  

You can read more from AAMC on financial conflicts of interest from its Web site, Financial Conflicts of Interest in Academic Medicine, and you can read about the subject on CTSciNet in For Physician-Scientists, Conflict-of-Interest Issues Are Complex.


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."

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has awarded $16 million to 23 universities for its Med Into Grad initiative, a program that integrates clinical medicine into the graduate school curriculum. Each of the winning institutions will receive up to $700,000 over 4 years.

The Med Into Grad program began in 2005 with awards to 13 schools with the goal of finding out "how graduate schools could provide doctoral students the skills necessary to investigate the scientific mechanisms of disease and translate scientific discoveries into clinically relevant treatments, diagnostics, and public health practices--and whether such programs would attract students," it says in HHMI's press release on the new grants.

Just how the universities use those funds varies. For example, the press release notes, "Some schools, such as Baylor College of Medicine and Cleveland Clinic/Case Western Reserve University, are creating entirely new doctoral programs that teach clinically relevant topics in the classroom, in the clinic, and in the laboratory. Others, such as the University of California, Davis, designed a series of extra classes and clinical experiences for students interested in clinical research. These students can earn a master's degree or emphasize translational research in their studies."

The new awards include those original 13 schools and add 12 more. (Click here for a full list of all participating institutes.) We've written about some of the Med Into Grad programs and the students in them in Basic Scientists in the Clinic, Programs Aim to Train Translational Scientists, and Carving a Career in Translational Research.

Disclosure: HHMI is a partner in CTSciNet, the Clinical and Translational Science Network, a joint project of Science Careers and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.