In a Rock Talk post, National Institutes of Health's Deputy Director for Extramural Research Sally Rockey discusses the "age distribution of NIH principal investigators and medical school faculty." Using Association of American Medical Colleges data, Rockey compares information on medical school faculty with data her group has collected on awards made to PIs who do not work at medical schools. The following video compiles data from both AAMC and NIH from 1980 to 2010.
Marty Zug moved to Russia after he graduated from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania in 1992, despite having no firm job offers there, The (Gaithersburg, Md.) Gazette reports. In 1996, after a project management stint at a logistics firm in Moscow, he opted to pursue a master's degree in business administration at Dartmouth College. Later, Zug worked at accounting firm Arthur Andersen, then Snyder Communications in Bethesda, Md., and eventually for the Washington Redskins — he served as the National Football League team's vice president for two years.
The Gazette this week profiles Zug, who is now chief financial officer at the Rockville-based biotech firm Sequella. "With Sequella, knowing Russian and having done business in that country paid dividends when Zug last year negotiated an out-license agreement with a Russian venture fund to develop a treatment for tuberculosis in the Russian Federation and neighboring countries," according to the Gazette. "That agreement could be worth as much as $50 million."
Zug tells the paper that his experience in professional sports management also helped prepare him for his current role. "I learned a lot about the management of a large team and a large budget," Zug says.
Now a member of the Tech Council of Maryland's Government Relations Committee, the Gazette says Zug has been a "leader in growing the state's biotech investment tax credit program." Zug says tax credit programs such as Maryland's are critical for biotech growth. "We want to make sure this program remains a shining star and an example for other states," Zug tells the Gazette. "It's a great market-driven program that works."
Bitesize Bio's Vicki Ronaldson this week says that "despite the temptation to play down past academic pursuits amongst more corporate peers, a look at the top level management, or even the board, of any global life science or technology company will reveal a high percentage of PhDs, all of whom started out at the bench." But, she says, transitioning from academic research to the corporate world can be tough.
Ronaldson says once a researcher leaves an "environment where everything is measured on academic merit … people's perception of you becomes an issue."
"The reaction to your PhD can generally go one of two ways. Non-scientists in particular, and much to our embarrassment, can be quite in awe of the fact that we are 'doctors,'" Ronaldson says. "On the other hand … you get the 'Oh gosh I could never understand all that brainy stuff,'" she adds.
In discussing the "value of a PhD in the 'real world,'" Ronaldson says it's common to sell one's credentials according to one's audience. "I've found … it met with varying degrees of awe, incomprehension, or even disdain," she says.
Science Professor says that while much attention has recently been paid to issues new investigators face, mid-career scientists need mentors and advice as much as their junior colleagues do. She says that deciding "whether and how to pursue tenured positions at other institutions," figuring out "how to use an offer of a job from another institution to negotiate an improvement in our current job," and determining "whether to pursue a part-time or full-time position in administration" are but a few of the mid-career issues scientists can face without much support.
"I do find it's a very tricky topic to approach and the amount of details to give. I applaud your efforts to make sure that mid-career researchers have tools to navigate the (sometimes) tricky waters of work/uni life," blogger 27andaPhD comments. RQ adds: "One of the mid-career issues that I think it under-discussed ... is how to make decisions about the 'rest' of one's career." Planning for the post-assistant and -associate professor stages — asking questions like "is it really a good idea to pursue potentially risky research paths at this juncture?" — is an especially important topic, RQ continues. "I guess this is really all about how to start shifting the intense focus on one's own career that is necessary from graduate school through tenure to a focus that is broader than that without losing the connection to one's specific research interests."
Duke University's Matthew Hirschey says that even if the department an interviewee is visiting says it's OK to use Powerpoint to give a chalk talk, it's not. "Don't," Hirchey writes at his lab's blog. "Powerpoint is a crutch." Because chalk talks are not meant to go as planned, it's best to "embrace the flexibility and use the board," Hirschey adds.
As for the talk itself, Hirschey says its best to "put your work into context." Start with a summary, he says, and then move on to outline future aims. All the while, it's important to keep the big picture in mind. "Experiments often fail. But the big picture will remain," Hirschey says.
Flexibility is also key. The chalk talk is "an important time for you to see how the department responds to your ideas," Hirschey says. "Clearly you can address a problem in several different ways, and the department will have their own way of thinking about your problem. This is a good thing: you can often get better ideas, avoid pitfalls, and come out the other side with a more clear idea of your project," he says, adding that "this will help you better realize how your [potential] new colleagues think, how they approach problems, and how useful they'll be to your science."
Finally, Hirshcey suggests highlighting the research of other faculty members in the department during the chalk talk. "A candidate should sell his/her fit in the department, but go one extra step and think hard about how to do this," Hirschey says. "The Department will likely be invited four [to] 12 people to interview and give a chalk talk. ... They will remember that great candidate who came in, has an interesting research theme ... wants to collaborate; and nailed the chalk talk."
Robert Drago, who The Chronicle of Higher Education called "one of the most prominent scholars of policies promoting work-life balance in academe" in a 2010 story the GenomeWeb Careers blog covered here, has been convicted of misdemeanor sexual abuse of a minor in Superior Court of Washington, DC, the Chronicle now reports.
In September, Drago was charged with misdemeanor sexual abuse and misdemeanor sexual abuse of a minor because of "complaints that Mr. Drago's then-girlfriend, Laurie A. Bonjo, and her 17-year-old daughter filed in late July with the Washington police following an alleged encounter that month between Mr. Drago and the girl," the Chronicle reported at the time.
Ewan Birney, who will become an associate director at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory's European Bioinformatics Institute in April, tells Nature that his love of science "has helped me to get through some difficult times, when I've pushed myself and others perhaps too hard." Birney, whose career trajectory the journal profiles this week, says that for his new managerial post, "hiring excellent people, setting up situations for them to succeed in and coaching and mentoring them will be key parts."
Over at his blog, Birney expands on Nature's coverage, discussing how became interested in bioinformatics — which he says is no longer a stand-alone field. "I would argue that bioinformatics has already become an everyday part of modern biology, and that it has begun to filter through the entire system," Birney says. Of his upcoming job change, Birney adds that "one thing I'll regret as I take on the new co-Associate Director job is working on the kind of big scientific consortia I've been so involved with over the past decade — human, mouse, chicken and above all ENCODE. That work has been a huge part of my career and I'm sure I will miss being so deeply involved in that kind of research."
The National Institutes of Health's Office of Intramural Training and Education's Careers blog this week discusses a CBE Life Sciences Education study that shows more and more graduate students now view tenure-track positions as non-traditional career choices, alternative to the norm. The study shows that "71.2 percent of all graduate students polled were 'strongly considering' a career that was outside of scientific research," the OITE Careers blog says. "These data are interesting and certainly validating for those who are having or have had the desires to move from the traditional career path for a bioscience PhD," OITE Careers adds, sayng that the study's results "drive home the point that there is a need for graduate education to evolve."
A new report from the National Institutes of Health Advisory Committee to the Director reviews feedback the group received following its request for information on the future of the biomedical workforce. Sally Rockey, deputy director of extramural research at NIH, sums up the report, noting at her blog that "questions of supply and demand and characteristics of the PhD received the most comments." The report, which is based on 219 comments, also offers recommendations. To address the concern of supply and demand, the report advises decreasing the number of supported students and postdocs while increasing funding. Then to deal with PhD characteristics, it recommends changing how NIH supports PhDs, providing funding for career development programs that include alternative career advice, and modifying grant review policies so that having trainees who go on to work outside academia are not termed "training failures."
Over at Future Pundit, Randall Parker says the scientific community "should be concerned that biomedical research funding is under [the] control of older scientists that younger scientists spend much of their career working for." Because investigators now receive their first independent funding at a later age on average than they did even a decade ago, "they spend their younger years as grad students and (poorly paid) postdocs. This puts their research directions much more under the control of (older) professors who run labs and have grants flowing to them," Parker says. To combat that, he suggests that funding agencies "set aside a substantial portion of research funding for younger scientists." When it comes to "funding … people most likely to make big breakthroughs," he adds, "a bucket of money for under 35s would help matters."
Nature Chemistry's Neil Withers can't imagine attending meetings without poster sessions. "This is surely testament to the power of the humble poster: They are the places to see the newest science and talk to the people who actually do the work in the lab," he says at The Skeptical Chymist.
To have an effective poster, Withers says that "clarity on content are key." He recommends thoroughly considering the audience before putting the poster together. "When presenting your poster to other delegates, finding out what level of background knowledge they have will mean you pitch it at the right level and gives you the chance to create a dialogue" — which, Withers adds, is the point of the poster session. "One of the key attractions of most poster sessions is the opportunity to talk to the people. ... As networking events, poster sessions are unequalled at most scientific meetings: relaxed and full of opportunities to bump into people who might make the ideal advisor for that post-doctoral position you were looking for — and vice versa," he says.
Over at the Discover magazine blog Cosmic Variance, Julianne Dalcanton shares tips for crafting what she calls a "well-argued proposal." Such a proposal must show that the science is "important, feasible, [and] efficient." To demonstrate those three qualities, Dalcanton suggests focusing first on selling points — the importance — and on potential weaknesses — which speak to the feasibility and efficiency — of the proposed work. "I then start filling out each with short bullet points listing every possible argument for or against what I'm proposing," she says. While pointing out selling points is relatively simple, Dalcanton says focusing on potential weaknesses can be tough because "you need to channel your inner crabby reviewer."
Once that's done, Dalcanton says to take a step back to evaluate the overall proposal, making sure that its main message comes through. "If your ideas are strong, you'll usually find that several of the most compelling bullet points will group together and can be ordered to tell a single story," she says. For any unresolved potential weaknesses, Dalcanton suggests constructing a "road map for what you need to do to make your experiment look feasible and efficient" in the reviewers' eyes.
Overall, Dalcanton recommends thoroughly considering all positive and potential negative points to include in the proposal before beginning to write it. "The exercise of structuring your argument first is designed to be fast, so you don't sink much time in before you decide whether to continue or not," she says.
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute will fund each awardee $650,000 in total support over five years. [More.]