At the ACS Careers blog, John Borchardt discusses what he calls "career potholes" — events or behaviors that disrupt one's professional trajectory — and how to avoid them. "Just like potholes in the road, career potholes can upset your mental equilibrium and focus," he says. Since some bumps are generally out of one's control — job loss, for example — Borchardt says it's best to prepare for the worst. "You should at the least be prepared for job loss by updating your résumé, developing a job-hunting plan, and building up your personal savings," he says. However, Borchardt adds, there are several career potholes that are avoidable. For example, he says that taking vacation time to "recharge your mental batteries" can actually improve productivity, adding that some "toxic career behaviors" are also avoidable. "I used to be so completely focused on my work that I seldom considered my coworkers. I would rush from my office to my lab and back again," Borchardt says. "My boss gave me a wakeup call when he commented that whenever he saw me I had a scowl on my face."
Blogger Prof-like Substance says that serving on a National Science Foundation panel can be as simple as just asking to do so. Prof-like says that when he began his tenure-track position, he phoned a PO at NSF to express interest in serving on a review panel. "In the next round I was asked," he says. "POs spend a lot of time and energy trying to fill out [their] panels, finding the right mix of career stages, gender, academic background … et cetera." Prof-like warns that panel service "is a huge amount of work, so it's not exactly something you just jump on." However, panel service is a great forum for young investigators to gain an insider's view of NSF reviews. "For all of you out there wondering about the process and what the life and times of a panelist are, take advantage of this. It was extremely helpful for me and I have received similar feedback from others who have been early-career people on panels," Prof-like says.
The Foundation for Biomedical Research's Paul McKellips spent around five months this year training the Afghan National Army in best media practices. "It was his second stint in this line of work, having helped train the Iraqi National Army a few years earlier," The Appleton (Wis.) Post-Crescent's Shane Nyman says in a profile of McKellips' career path. "His work overseas is just one of many road-less-traveled bullet points on the resume for the 52-year-old, who just released his first novel, the bio-terror thriller, Uncaged," Nyman adds. McKellips, who is now executive vice president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, had been home recuperating from an injury he sustained in Iraq when the foundation phoned him, asking whether "I was looking for something different, and my wife responded, 'Yes, he is,'" he tells the Post-Crescent. "I didn’t have any background in science or in medicine, but when the foundation approached me and said, 'What we need is to have a media professional that’s running the organization so that we can start to encourage our young people to consider science as a career, and those who support our universities and our medical schools' … I looked at it and I said, well you know, over all of the wars we’ve fought in American history, we’ve lost about 1.3 million [people], yet last year alone more than 1.7 million died from heart disease and cancer and stroke and respiratory disease and diabetes, so it really became a new war front for me to try to get out the word about the impact of science," McKellips adds.
At her blog this week, Dr. 29 says "choosing what to study during my PhD was a multi-factorial decision" that she made once she had gained some experience in different departments. Dr. 29 says she chose the lab she did because "I noticed that their area of research and the tools they employed were very interesting," and she also "liked the approach they were using, having just learned about it the previous summer." Overall, she adds, "I think it was a combination of finding two things I liked, which drove me to choose a lab where I could learn about the topic and approach in more detail. … The perfect combination of topic and technique were what drove me to decide." For others who face similar decisions, Dr. 29 suggests that they first identify a topic or technique they're drawn to, and then "study the prospects of this job — feasibility, how much you can get accomplished in however long you have in school, et cetera — and commit to it." If during the course of the project "you hit a wall … don't be afraid to re-evaluate your project and its future," she adds.
Over at her blog, Isis the Scientist reflects on the "best paper-writing advice" she has ever received: When composing a manuscript, it's best not to think in terms of the paper's linear format. "Instead, create the tables and figures first and organize them until you can use them to verbally tell the story. Then outline the key points of the story and organize the critical citations that support the story," she says. When it’s time to begin writing, Isis suggests starting with the results and discussion, then approaching the methods section. "Write the introduction and abstract last," she says, so as not to "lock yourself into a narrative that may not be the best fit for your data."
Over at the PostDocs Focum blog, Ben Mudrak canvasses "ways to produce peer-reviewed publications," other than by publishing in high-impact journals. "Of course, these alternative publications still require time and effort, but they can be based on activities outside of research that postdocs are often engaged in already," Mudrak says. For example, postdocs who mentor undergraduates might consider submitting a paper to "Perspectives on Undergraduate Research and Mentoring, a new journal … [that] welcomes submissions written jointly by a student and mentor that describe the challenges and evolution of a research project," he writes. For postdocs who teach, Mudrak suggests Bioscene: Journal of College Biology Teaching, Biochemistry, and Molecular Biology Education or Bioscience Education as possible outlets for papers that "specifically focus on teaching college biology." He adds that the newly launched Journal of Postdoctoral Affairs, which solicits "research articles focusing on the nature of postdoctoral positions or the motivations and concerns of postdocs," and is another viable alternative. Overall, Mudrak says, "these publications do not carry the cachet of a Science paper, but they do illustrate a commitment to scholarship in all of its forms and the ability to successfully navigate the processes of writing a manuscript and peer review."
Full name? Check. Updated contact information? Check. Now what? The National Institutes of Health Office of Intramural Training and Education's Careers blog this week contemplates the contents of a well-crafted business card. "Your contact information should be something that you will actually use," NIH OITE says, adding that "a street address is not as critical these days, and it is your choice whether to add that." In its place, the office suggests listing links to your Web site. "One of the best cards I have seen recently was from a postdoc who used an image of her work. It was a terrific conversation starter as she described her research interests and how that figure was a key piece of data in solving a scientific mystery," NIH OITE says. No matter what you put on them, the office makes one thing especially clear: "keep them protected, the last thing you want to do is hand out a card that looks like it has been chewed on," it says.
According to a European Council of Doctoral Candidates and Junior Researchers — or Eurodoc — survey, PhD students in 12 countries across the European Union are concerned about their financial situations, and most "are not aware of the European Charter and Code," which guides how doctoral candidates and junior researchers' employment contracts are to be drawn up. "In the majority of countries in which the survey was conducted, not even one out of 10 respondents has heard of it," the Eurodoc team writes, adding that "the exception is Spain, where one-fifth stated to know it." While in most countries, the role of doctoral candidates supervisors' is defined by "some form of a binding agreement," nearly half of the PhD student respondents in Germany indicated they did not have such an agreement, "and a 'disturbing' number of respondents — more than 20 percent in some countries — had no idea whether such an agreement even exists," ScienceInsider adds. The complete Eurodoc report is available for download, here.
The National Institutes of Health Director's Early Independence Award program enables young investigators to skip postdoctoral training and get a head-start on their independent research careers. [More.]
A group of higher education leaders from 16 countries led by the Council of Graduate Schools and the University of Hong Kong has agreed on a set of principles "to strengthen and create pathways from graduate school to careers," the co-sponsors announced. Among the principles they've outlined, delegates for the upcoming Strategic Leaders Global Summit have agreed to "support the recognition of (post)graduate education as the basis of economic progress," strengthen doctoral education through "the integration of essential transferable skills," and to support academic institutions' efforts "to track career patterns and outcomes for (post)graduate students over time." Over at the Science Careers blog, Beryl Benderly says that "merely stating principles provides neither the incentives nor the wherewithal for universities and faculty members to make the needed cultural, attitudinal, and practical changes," though she adds that such "a statement of support can help get ideas circulating in academic conversation."
Whether it's a long-term career plan or merely a "stopgap to produce income while they job hunt," the ACS Careers Blog's John Borchardt says self-employment can be challenging. Borchardt breaks down the pros and cons of freelancing, and notes that those who are self-employed "are constantly selling [their] problem-solving skills to prospective clients." As such, he adds that freelancers must be aware that they are "running a business," and that technical skills alone are not sufficient for running it well. Borchardt says it is "essential" to:
• the interpersonal skills to market yourself to prospective clients and to work well with clients
• the writing and oral communication skills to market yourself to clients and report your results to them
• the business skills to price your time appropriately, bill clients and collect your fees from them
He adds that time-management skills and the ability to meet deadlines are necessities for any self-employed professional. The ability to multitask is also important. "Self-employed people cannot afford to work for clients without simultaneously soliciting new work from prospective clients," Borchardt says. On the plus side, though, working for oneself often means "opportunities to work on varied projects, many of them fascinating, and meeting many interesting people," he adds.
US President Barack Obama named 94 researchers recipients of Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers this week. [More.]
Following the joint announcement of an initiative aimed at family-friendly policies and practices for men and women in research careers, the White House and the US National Science Foundation held a webcast in which the agency's Director Subra Suresh spoke about NSF's commitment to supporting work-life balance for the researchers it supports, and First Lady Michelle Obama highlighted the importance of retaining women in the STEM workforce. NSF's Suresh said that female scientists "should not have to choose between their baby and [the] lab bench," and added that "effective immediately, NSF will incorporate family-friendly policies and practices," such as those outlined in this week's White House statement. "Our country shouldn't lose out on its most promising talent because the career path is untenable," Obama said.
In the discussion that followed, panelist Catherine "Katie" Hunt, director of innovation sourcing and sustainable technologies at Dow Chemical Company, said that "women, with their unique experiences and perspectives, bring added value to the table," adding that "diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams" across all disciplines. Hunt noted that legislative changes form the necessary "framework" for supporting women in science, but that the research community as a whole can, and ought to, "construct paradigms for work-life effectiveness."
In a post at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy's blog, Director John Holdren doles out "kudos to NSF and others in the Administration, including staff here at OSTP, for using the convening power of the White House and the Obama Administration to encourage businesses and academic and professional organizations to adopt policies similar to those that NSF is putting into place."