At his Synthetic Remarks blog, Fredrik von Kieseritzky says that were he to "offer only one piece of advice to the young scientist getting ready to enter the field, it would be: Prioritize people before projects." Von Kieseritzky says this advice might seem counter-intuitive, particularly for scientists who do not consider themselves "people persons," but adds that people matter. "Say you have the chance to do diploma or graduate work for two different groups," he says — the first group conducts cutting-edge research but is led by a micro-managing PI, the other does "stuff you have never heard of before," but the PI cares for the group’s well-being. "Go for group B – without a doubt," von Kieseritzky says. "I have wasted years in A-constellations and I have been fortunate enough to be part of B-teams several times. In hindsight, the decision was ridiculously easy."
Wandering Scientist this week outlines the role of a project manager, saying that "if you are going to tackle multiple projects at once, or even just a single long and complicated project, someone probably has to forgo work doing the hands-on technical and/or scientific work altogether and focus on project management full time." Among the project manager's responsibilities, she says, are knowing project deadlines (and the consequences of failing to meet them), knowing when and where compromises are necessary, knowing "the tasks that need to be completed in order to get the project done, and … their interdependencies," managing communication among all members of a team, acting as a single source for all project information for senior management ("try to protect your team's time," she says), knowing and tracking the project budget, and keeping an "eye on your team's state of mind and availability."
Because she fell into the role, Wandering Scientist says she knows most researchers are less than enthusiastic about taking on the project manager's job. However, she adds, without project managers, "your projects will probably finish late and/or over budget, if they finish at all."
In a recent Psychology of Men & Masculinity paper, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin show that men on the tenure-track often struggle with many of the same work-life balance issues and institutional biases that their female counterparts face. In interviews, the researchers found that male academics "negotiated their multiple responsibilities by using compartmentalization strategies, significant time management, communicating with spouses and peers at work, and overextending themselves in work and family responsibilities, though with little knowledge or utilization of university policies that could ease their considerable workload and conflicts." The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that "though the study was limited in its scope, it suggests that academic departments may be well advised to evaluate some cultural and policy issues related to the support given to fathers."
Over at her blog, Katie PhD says publication requirements for graduate students can be beneficial:
Of course, once they've submitted their work, grad students have little control over the pace of publication. "A prospective PhD student could end up mired in this mess for a really long time through no fault of their own," she says of the peer review process, among other pre-publication procedures. For that and other reasons, Katie PhD says publication requirements can be detrimental:
In a recent PLoS One paper, researchers at Rice University show that of the 96 scientists who won a Nobel Prize in medicine or chemistry for work related to biomedicine between 1980 and 2010, 78 percent conducted their winning research before the age of 51 — the average age of an NIH principal investigator in 2008. Because of this, the team suggests that "limited access to NIH [funding] might inhibit ... potential and novel projects, and could impact biomedicine and the next generation scientists in the United States."
As a result, the team suggests that "policymakers need to continue to encourage NIH investment in new investigators through increased funding of their research and by extending more offers of faculty positions at academic institutions," to retain promising young talent. "Furthermore, attention should be paid to how PhD programs are managed, including monitoring the number of students admitted each year to more effectively match the supply with the demand for jobs," the group adds. (In April 2011, the agency established an external working group to assess the biomedical workforce in the US. Among its responsibilities, "the working group will help lay the foundation for ensuring that we have the biomedical workforce we will need to usher in the next generation of scientific discoveries," NIH Director Francis Collins said at the time.)
The Rice team adds that though their research efforts to date "cannot determine if the rise in the average age of new investigators or PIs will directly affect future innovation or the proportion of US recipients awarded the Nobel Prize, we do believe it could influence the number of scientists entering and staying in biomedical research positions in academia." To this, the group says further research to determine the number of scientists leaving the field during early-career stages is required.
"If nothing is done to reverse the rising age of PIs and first-time grantees, the scientific community could lose a generation of researchers, leading to an unsustainable biomedical research infrastructure and a dearth of talent participating in NIH-funded projects in the near future," the team concludes.
The (Montreal) Gazette this week says that internships are becoming increasingly popular, serving the interests of both students looking to try their hand at a profession and employers seeking to "assess candidates at a substantial savings." Concordia University biochem student Maria Eugenia Arias Montecillo worked as a virology intern at pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim. She tells the The Gazette that through her internship experience, "I realized this was my dream." Montecillo adds that, as a result of her real-world field experience, she "became more engaged in my studies. ... You're always unsure if you'll like the work. You want to figure out your life and what you're going to do in life." An internship in the field helped solidify her career choice, Monticello tells the paper.
Online PhD this week says that "as funding for higher education constricts, fewer tenure track academic positions for recent graduates are opening as universities increasingly turn to economically cheaper adjunct and part-time professors to instruct their ballooning classes." All the while, it adds, the US is producing significantly more PhDs than in the past. "The result is a job crisis for PhD candidates," Online PhD says.
An Online PhD infographic outlines the budget cuts in academia that led adjuncts and postdocs to be on the rise, as well as the consequences of those and other recent trends.
Discussing a recent Georgetown University report , The Chronicle of Higher Education's Beckie Supiano says unemployment rates among college graduates vary by field of study. Compared with recent graduates in non-technical fields, those "who studied health or education" are experiencing significantly lower unemployment rates. Still, Supiano says that "the job security of an industry-oriented major may not coincide with high earnings, the report cautions."
But according to the Financial Post, a new Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers report shows that while "university students graduating next year will face the same stagnant hiring conditions 2011 graduates faced," graduates who do land jobs are likely to earn higher starting salaries than in the past.
Oscillary Thoughts' Bradley Voytek this week names "five reasons to love academia." Though he constructs his list as satire, Voytek says that "in all seriousness … I really do love this job."
First, Voytek says the ivory tower affords a favorable, flexible schedule. "Academia's not a 9-to-5, cubicle slave job! We didn't go to school for 20[-plus] years to work a measly eight hours per day for 40 hours a week," he jokes. And while PhD stipends and postdoc salaries don't always make up for the late nights-and-weekends lab schedule, "we academics eschew time, family, and money for a higher purpose! We are adding to humanity's knowledge — one tiny nudge at a time," Voytek writes, playfully. "Because someday, you too get to review scientific manuscripts and help build upon the foundations of progress," he adds. Finally, he says, academics enjoy the privilege of "educating young minds." While dealing with students can at times be tough, Voytek says "as academics we are privileged with the highest of honors of educating tomorrow's thought-leaders!"
At US News & World Report's STEM Education blog, the University of Virginia's Joanne McGrath Cohoon says that technical fields need capable women, "especially at a time when unemployment is high and our economy is weak." But McGrath Cohoon says attracting women to work in STEM fields will be difficult until "women experience the same conditions as their male classmates," and gender-based stereotypes fade.
"Evidence continues to mount that capable women in technical fields have less confidence than men that they will be successful," McGrath Cohoon says. "Unfortunately, many of these women are wrong. They could succeed in engineering or computing, and it is in our interest that they do."
In the meantime, she adds, educators can take action by giving their female students "lots of opportunities to succeed at technical tasks." McGrath Cohoon also suggests verbal encouragement. "With these steps, we could double the number of technical people working to make this a better world," she says.
For Dr27, the pace of work was the most surprising aspect of becoming a staff scientist. "Since I'm working on various projects at the same time, I do have to plan my time carefully, so I can try to keep everyone satisfied," Dr27 writes at the 1 DegreeBio blog. Working in a structural biology lab, the blogger's primary responsibilities include training staff, collecting data, "keeping the lab in shape, ordering supplies, [and] maintaining the lines of communication ... between my PI and the engineers who keep out instruments in top shape." Dr27 says it was a bit of a shock at first to be doing work other than at the bench. "Besides doing science, I have to do administrative tasks and organizing, and bookkeeping, and other tasks that have nothing to do with science," Dr27 says, adding that because of this, "I finally have a better understanding of what the lab techs and research assistants went through in my previous positions."
It can be tough, Dr27 says, to meet all of the lab's needs. "Keeping everyone satisfied is quite challenging," Dr27 writes. Still, the experience of working as a staff scientist has "been like nothing I had envisioned, and much more than I was expecting," Dr27 adds.
For scientists, meetings offer the opportunity to "share information, set goals, and both analyze problems and develop possible solutions." And that's why the ACS Careers blog's John Borchardt says that facilitating and managing meetings is an important non-science skill for researchers to cultivate. It's what he calls "an advanced soft skill," in that "facilitators need to be diplomatic individuals who remain quietly observing most of the time but insert themselves into the meeting to take action as needed." During a meeting, the facilitator faces the tough task of observing the discussion and directing — disruptive individuals in particular — as needed. "During the meeting they may need to invite comments from the meeting participants and encourage them to remain focused on meeting goals, and record and display key comments and conclusions," Brochardt says.
Overall, he adds, as scientists increasingly work in teams, lab managers and their staff "spend a considerable part of their working hours in meetings." Managing and facilitating productive meetings, then, is both a difficult but necessary skill for scientists.
BenchFly's Sean Seaver offers easy-to-implement tips to help increase lab productivity. Science is all about teamwork, so Seaver says delegation is key. "To ensure a smooth transition when delegating, write out protocols with the most junior member of the lab in mind," he says. Though composing detailed protocols may at first seem a time-sink, it can spare precious lab time in the end. "For example, consider a common daily task such as putting away clean dishes," Seaver says. "It may seem like it only takes a few minutes per day, but when optimizing for efficiency every minute counts."
He adds that "standardized documentation not only increases quality and consistency," which in turn increases efficiency as certain lab tasks become no more than routine.