FierceBiotech's Ryan McBride and John Carroll received more than 130 nominations for their 2011 Women in Biotech feature. "True to our mission of providing readers the top news in biotech, many of the honorees here are women who drove some of the big stories we covered this year," they write. These women are "rallying scientists at young startups, gearing up for important late-stage trials or leading research of serious health concerns such as HIV," among other endeavors, McBride and Carroll add. The honorees include the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center's Julie Overbaugh, lauded for her work on the immunological factors that could prevent HIV infections.
Eleven Biotherapeutics' Abbie Celniker tells FierceBiotech that "the potential interesting little extra that you get from speaking to some of the women in biotech is we've probably been challenged with thinking a little bit more about how to cultivate our careers. … As a result, we can be a tiny bit more self-reflective because we've had to do lots of course correction to make sure we could compete in the days when it was more predominately male."
Full profiles for each of the 10 women honored appear here.
At The Chronicle of Higher Education's On Hiring blog, Audrey Williams June discusses negotiating tactics for women in academia, saying that "avoiding negotiation literally doesn't pay." In a Q&A interview with negotiations expert Sara Laschever, Williams June covers common mistakes women make during the negotiation process, the importance of doing research on an institution, and how to deal with being turned down, among other things. Overall, Laschever says that "a lot of women are nervous about negotiating." But with practice, she adds, there's no need to be. "It's really good to get together with someone and role-play. ... Get them to push your buttons and practice responding calmly and moving things in a positive direction away from conflict and emotionalism. Get them to explain why they can't give you what you want," she suggests. "That gives you some practice on drawing them out so you can figure out what to say to remove whatever roadblock they raise."
Chad Orzel at Uncertain Principles reacts to a recent discussion on STEM attrition in higher education that was spurred by a New York Times article. "As someone who sees a lot of first-year college students who think they want to major in a STEM field, I'm not sure that all that attrition is a bad thing," Orzel says.
For some students that begin as STEM majors, graduating with non-STEM degrees may actually have a positive effect, he says. "Particularly on the pre-med side ... moving out people who really shouldn't be in those majors in the first place. Not because they aren't 'smart enough' to do it — many of them will go on to be very successful in other fields — but because they don't have any idea what they're signing up for," Orzel says.
He adds that there is a difference between doing science for fun versus doing science for a living, and that university-level STEM courses are often students' first experience with that reality. "Everyone is capable of doing and even casually enjoying activities that they would absolutely hate to do professionally," he says. Debunking the "science is hard" wisdom somewhat, Orzel says that "everybody can do science, but that doesn't mean everybody should do it for a living."
Because of that, he says, attrition isn't necessarily bad. "If we're driving out people who aren't temperamentally suited to being professional scientists and engineers, that's probably a good thing," Orzel says, though he warns that "if we're driving out people who have the right personality type to be good scientists and engineers because the intro classes are boring and useless, that's a bad thing."
In discussing two studies on STEM career-related issues, Science Careers' Jim Austin says it's likely that many young investigators leave the STEM fields for lack of opportunities there. "Career-changers are often advised to avoid negativity. Admitting that you can't find a job is a bad idea for job seekers; few would answer that way even on a confidential survey," Austin says, referring to the sources of data for both studies. "Furthermore, anyone who has spent time around aspiring scientists will find the suggestion that they're unemployable ludicrous; socially inept scientists do exist, but most are earnest, personable, and very smart," he adds.
Over at the Science Careers' forum, readers laud Austin's analysis. Ana says that issues young STEM workers face also negatively affect STEM employers. "I am very frustrated when seeing excellent candidates turned down and open positions staying opened for several months," Ana says. "A few years ago I would have said supply and demand is the reason for this evolution … but seeing positions opened for so long makes me think of a mentality reason."
In P.C.'s opinion, "STEM workers are being transformed from professionals to commodities, often hired as temp workers with minimal benefits. It is in part due to the trend of management being non-STEM workers that moved to management."
Bill Jones follows on that point, saying "administrators in my science department at my university get better pay, bonuses, and benefits [than] the postdocs and scientists who … bring in the money."
Whether a researcher moves to a different institution for each stage of his or her career, or remains at the same place, Science Professor says several factors play into his or her overall success. Still, she wonders whether it's better to "stay or go?"Turning to her readers, Science Professor solicits anecdotal evidence in support of either choice. "I have moved around a lot in my career, and I'm glad I did that. … For me, it was important to move on from time to time. I met many interesting people, gained new collaborators, and developed new research directions in each place," she says, though she adds "perhaps you can do this as well in a very large and dynamic institution, and therefore perhaps the key to whether staying [versus] going is good [versus] bad depends on what you do with your opportunities in each place."
For commenter Alex, deciding whether to stay or go depends largely on whether the researcher plans to change his or her research focus, and if so, how significantly. "I think that if you are staying 'in the same general area' it's a bad idea to stay at the same place for undergrad and grad, or PhD and postdoc," Alex says. Conversely, "if you decide to change subfields, and the best people to do that with just happen to be in a different building on the same campus, well, great," Alex adds.
DrugMonkey adds that, in his experience, "Bias against the homegrown is just as bad as … bias for the homegrown."
Still, Jim Thomerson says that while he completed a bachelor's, master's, and PhD at three separate institutions, he knows of a "a very successful colleague did all his degrees at one university, became a TT professor there, and is probably now an emeritus."
At Inside Higher Ed, Nate Kreuter wonders why some graduate students — even those who have been warned about poor job prospects in academia — seem "incapable of hearing" the bad news. Perhaps, he says, "the very same qualities that lead many graduate students to pursue higher degrees are the qualities that make them incapable of hearing and processing even the most dire warnings about their professional prospects." More specifically, Kreuter says those can make it "impossible for many graduate students to understand … that everybody in their cohort is just as smart and hardworking as they themselves are. At the graduate level, the smarts and diligence that once set students apart from their undergraduate peers will no longer set them apart, but merely allow them to keep up."
Overall, Kreuter says, "the bad academic job market that my cohort was warned about has become the abysmal job market that leads advisers to now say things to their grad students along the lines of 'I don't know. It's always been bad, but it's never been this bad.'" And that, he says, should not be taken lightly.
According to the National Science Foundation, the number of doctorates awarded in the US declined in 2010, though the biological sciences saw an increase in awarded doctorates. [More.]
When it comes to the STEM fields, if you're wondering where the women are, it's in the life sciences. "About 58 percent of all bachelor’s, master’s and doctorates in biology are awarded to women," Christopher Drew says at The New York Times. Georgia State University's Paula Stephan tells the Times that "women historically have been interested in subjects that were less math intensive and that had goals of helping people, and biology and the medical sciences have both of those."
To that, Fairer Science's Pat Campbell says, "Who cares that biomedical research is like saving our lives and those of our parents and our children? Since there are too many women in it, it has got to be close to worthless." In particular, Campbell takes issue with Stephan's thought that young women "don't realize they are limiting their pay and job options by flocking to the same field," as the Times' Drew puts it.
At Fairer Science, Campbell responds: "The acceptance that fields with more women or that become more feminine are less valued is just the way it is and that the answer is to go into a male-dominated field made me want to crawl into the bed, put the covers over my head, and not get out."
The Huffington Post's Christopher Emdin this week outlines "five major reasons for why youth ... are not likely to have careers in the STEM disciplines." First, Emdin says he has found that most STEM majors have at least one scientist in their family. "They become interested in STEM because they see examples of STEM-minded careers in their own lives," he says. "However, in too many homes, the phrase 'I'm not good at math and science' or 'science is hard' have become part of everyday conversation," he adds. Emdin says STEM curricula is also partly to blame. He says that "in too many cases, science teachers see science as an exclusive club only for the 'best and brightest' students," such that "the subject is taught to purposefully 'weed out' students who may actually have the skills to do well in the discipline." It does not help, Emdin says, that science lacks the "'cool factor,' and kids have no 'science heroes.'" He goes on to say that, in general, "kids have no idea what is going on in the world of science." Finally, Emdin says it's a common misconception that good grades in science make good scientists. Rather, he says, "being a scientist, and having success in STEM requires passion, resilience, curiosity, analytical skills, creativity, collaboration, and very often those can be fostered at home as well as in school, but are rarely reflected by merely a good grade in a science class."
Times Higher Education's Jack Grove this week reports on a study that suggests "some professors are perceived to shirk their role as advisers and are viewed as 'personal glory seekers,'" he says. Of the 1,200 academic staff respondents to a Leadership Foundation for Higher Education-commissioned survey, 53 percent said "they did not receive sufficient help or advice from professorial staff," Grove says, while 14 percent said they did receive sufficient support. Study lead Linda Evans at University of Leeds tells Times Higher Ed that one respondent described professors as "prima donnas, bullies and not team players." Another, she adds, expressed that professors seem to be "only looking after their own interests." While Evans says the survey comments were predominantly negative, there were some positive notes. "It's certainly not a case of 'professor bashing,'" Evans tells Times Higher Ed. Evans says the survey results may point to a larger issue — that professors are typically hired for their research and teaching records, not for their abilities as advisors. "If we are not careful we will be pulling professors in too many directions. They are not Superman — we can't push them into roles they do not want or cannot do," she says.
It has been more than three years since he has done steady bench science, Prof-life Substance says at his blog. As such, he has begun to forget just how complicated even the seemingly simplest lab tasks can be. "Just a couple weeks ago I was talking with a person in the lab about how great it would be to have These Data for an upcoming proposal. We talked about how to get These Data and off they went," Prof-like says. "It turns out that to get These Data they had to track down Those Data and write a program to wrangle Them Data and the initial analyses with All Data didn't make sense, so they had to be troubleshot with Some Dudes. Some Dudes found a bug and had to overhaul That System, which meant These Data needed to be collected in a slightly different way." That situation, he adds, exemplifies the struggles of "the not-in-the-lab PI." It can be tough to accept when things don't go according to plan, Prof-like says, but as head of the lab it's important to recognize that certain problems are unavoidable, and "likely [have] nothing to do with the dedication or work ethic of the person tasked with collecting These Data." Overall, Prof-like says he finds it useful to "remind myself of this from time to time."
Several young investigators in Australia and the US this week received grants to get their independent research programs up and running.
The Australian Research Council named 277 researchers with recent PhDs who are to receive its inaugural Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards. According to The Australian, "the ARC diverted the $104 million funding handed out in DECRAs from its mainstream Discovery Grants program."
ARC's Margaret Sheil spoke with The Australian about the importance of supporting early-career researchers. "Once you have that independence it gives you credibility, negotiating power, and kudos that help you to do other things," Sheil said. "And in terms of attracting global talent, the entry point for most new blood is early in the career, not late," she added.
Meanwhile, the US National Institutes of Health Director's Early Independence Awards program announced its 10 winners, as well. Funding for the NIH Director's awards is supplied by the agency's Common Fund.
Applications for 2012 NIH Director's Early Independence Awards are due January 30, 2012.
In a letter published in this week's Science, HHMI professors at several US institutions express a need for curricular changes to university-level science. "Because a large fraction of undergraduate students enroll in science courses to meet the requirements for admission to medical school, courses satisfying these requirements dominate the undergraduate science curriculum," the authors write. But this isn't necessarily a good thing, in their opinion. "The prescribed course structure has impeded educational innovation, particularly the development of new, multidisciplinary courses," the authors write. "Now is the time for science faculty to convene to reconsider what all future scientists (not just medical doctors) should know and how that material should be taught in their institutions."