"Can you name a female scientist?" asks the San Diego Union-Tribune. "Unless you know one, the answer is probably no."
The newspaper this week profiles seven female scientists — all of whom are in their 30s — who it says are "blazing new trails" in their research. Among them are La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology's Sonia Sharma, who directs the RNAi Center there and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies neurobiologist Nicola Allen.
"There are hundreds of such women in San Diego County," says the Union-Tribune.
While many government officials have in recent years called for US universities to train more PhD scientists, says The Washington Post's Brian Vastag, "it's questionable whether those youths will be able to find work."
Still, scientists' overall unemployment rate is much lower than the national average, though Vastag notes that is because "many scientists work outside their chosen field."
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation's Michael Teitelbaum tells the Post that while many scientists are indeed employed, they must often do other things because they can't find the position they spent their 20s preparing for."
This week at Inside Higher Ed's Confessions of a Community College Dean, a reader asks Dean Dad whether accepting an academic directorship is smart career move. Because this reader would eventually like to move up the career ladder, he or she is unsure whether taking a director position would be considered "a step down."
While every institution is different, and it may depend on field, Dean Dad says that directorships are not necessarily dead ends. "They’re typically one step 'below' an associate dean or a dean … and they usually have narrower scopes of control," he says, but "accepting and working well at a role like 'director of transfer' could give you that credibility, as well as the direct experience that could give you a more informed perspective when you do start moving up the ladder."
Plus, he adds, directorships offer candidates more exposure to the administrative side of academia than most typical teaching/research positions do. "After all, if it turns out to be a mistake, you can always move back," Dean Dad says. "That’s a real plus."
At his blog, Genomic Repairman points out how to bungle a postdoc interview. For example, by failing to read up on the lab's current work.
"Forgetting to read some of the most recent papers from the lab — ding, ding, ding! This is the kiss of death," Genomic Repairman says. "We no longer work on redacted [sic], that was like 10 years ago and what the boss got tenure on. We've changed topics. Hopefully you would have noticed this."
Acting impolite during the interview is another approach that's sure to result in no job offer. A postdoc candidate interviewed in Genomic Repairman's lab "reportedly checked his iPhone while speaking to one of the senior technicians in the lab and what we do and what the culture of the lab is like," he says.
Overall, Genomic Repairman says, the key to a successful postdoc interview is thorough preparation. Plus, he adds, it's probably a good idea to show at least a bit of "enthusiasm for … we do in the lab."
Sure, maybe management did make some questionable decisions, and perhaps the PI was especially tough to work for. But a resignation letter is probably not the best place to bring that up, Suzanne Lucas notes at her Evil HR Lady blog.
"Exit interviews and resignation letters should be thought of as marketing documents just as much as your résumé is," Lucas says. "If you leave in a spectacular way, telling everyone how rotten your boss is, it will get around." Plus, she adds, by providing negative feedback at this stage, "you have nothing to gain … and plenty to lose."
While it might feel great, airing out unfavorable feelings about a job while leaving it will likely do more harm than good, Lucas says. "Exit interviews can mention non-confrontational things like opportunity/more money/returning to school/changing industries," Lucas says, "but not bad managers, unfair practices, and how you never got to use vacation days."
According to the American Chemical Society Careers blog, it's good practice for scientists to periodically polish their résumés no matter their career status. After all, ACS says, "if you don’t keep track of your own professional accomplishments, who will? Keeping an up to date, comprehensive document will allow you to respond quickly to opportunities as they arise."
So, to keep a CV up-to-date, ACS suggests making a habit of adding new papers, presentations, continuing education, awards, and other significant accomplishments as they're published, earned, or completed.
"If you haven't completely overhauled your résumé within the last few years, it's probably due," ACS adds. "Does it still accurately reflect your professional self? Does it indicate where you are going? Should you consolidate older information, to make room for new?"
Finally, ACS says, editing is imperative. "No matter how many times you've read your resume, you're sure to miss something. Have someone else with good editing skills, read through it carefully to point out any errors or inconsistencies."
The University of Birmingham has withdrawn its advertisement for an "honorary" — unpaid — research assistant position after critics voiced concern that such cost-free assistance was exploitative, reports Paul Jump at Times Higher Education.
"The position, advertised last week on jobs.ac.uk, required applicants to commit to working at least two days a week on a 'voluntary basis' on a new clinical study of mental illness," Jump reports. In a statement, Birmingham said that "although the honorary research assistantships were conceived as training positions, the university recognizes that this was not clear and has, consequently, withdrawn the advertisement," THE adds.
Speaking with THE, University of Roehampton’s Rebecca Boden suggested that "a better way for universities to recruit cost-free assistance would be to recruit PhD students and to waive their fees."
Because she made the transition herself, Wandering Scientist knows what is it like to move from academia to industry. At her blog, Wand Sci shares some transition tips from her own experience.
First, she says, it's important to separate one's work computing from personal computing. Because at most private companies "you have no expectation of privacy in your work email," Wand Sci suggests opening up a separate account for personal use. Further, she adds, "a lot of companies provide their employees with laptops, and some people then treat those laptops as their own. They are not." Because of this, Wand Sci suggests investing in a separate computer for personal use.
Those making the move to industry, she says, ought to "expect a lot more meetings," and an increased emphasis on deadlines, particularly at startups. "Startup companies have a limited runway," Wand Sci says. "They need their projects to follow timelines, because if they run out of money before the project finishes, they fail."
In a comment to this post, reader Shandra adds that, in industry, "getting along with people is as important as being smart," and that product is generally valued over process. Because of this, Shandra says, it's important to ask for help when it is needed.
In a live chat hosted by Science Careers this week, US National Institutes of Health Advisory Committee to the Director's Biomedical Workforce Working Group co-chair Shirley Tilghman and Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology President Joseph LaManna addressed reader questions and comments as to whether the US is training too many PhDs.
Right away, Tilghman said yes, under the "view that PhDs should [be] engaged in research — either in academia, industry or government — or in a science-related position such as patent law, then we are training too many." However, she added, "If you argue that education — no matter the content — makes for a better citizen, then there is no such thing as too many."
Later, discussing how a tightening NIH budget might affect PhD training going forward, Tilghman said that "the enterprise [US biomedical workforce] will have to shrink, the growth in the number of trainees will shrink, and the growth in building of new laboratories will shrink."
FASEB's LaManna is not so sure the US is training too many PhDs. However, he did express with certainty that PhD "training programs have historically focused on preparing students for academic positions, the growth of which has not kept pace with the number of graduate students and postdocs."
When asked when NIH might limit the number of trainees any one PI might have working in his or her lab, Tilghman stressed that "it is unlikely that the NIH would limit the number of trainees that any one PI can have. After all some PIs are truly stellar mentors, and you would not want to limit their number of students," she said. Rather, she noted, the group suggested that the agency limit the length of time if would support a given trainee — to five years, she said — "as a way to encourage PIs to get their students through their PhDs in a reasonable length of time."
While Tilghman noted that NIH is limited in its abilities to encourage the employment of staff scientists rather than additional trainees, she did say that the agency "must … let study sections know that they should look favorably on such positions on grants."
Overall, she added, NIH can take steps to encourage timely completion of PhD studies. For their part, Tilghman said, "universities need to respond to the change in the biomedical workforce and develop training programs that reflect the employment landscape."
While the US National Institutes of Health Advisory Committee to the Director's Biomedical Workforce Working Group issued a draft report this month, detailing data it collected as well as its recommendations for the federal agency, Sally Rockey really breaks it down at her NIH Office of Extramural Research blog. "I plan to highlight some of the specific data in future posts, but first, I'd like to discuss the outcome — the conceptual framework that presents a snapshot of the biomedical research workforce, incorporating the latest available data," she says. And she does, in an infographic that follows the career paths of the 9,000 biomedical PhDs who graduated in the US in 2009. Seventy percent of them went on to do postdoctoral research, Rockey notes.
Down the line, "looking at the career paths taken by these US-trained biomedical PhDs, we can see that fewer than half end up in academia, either in research or in teaching, and only 23 percent of the total are in tenured or tenure-track positions," she adds. "Many other people are conducting research, however, with 18 percent in industry and 6 percent in government."
Overall, Rockey says, the non-academic biomedical workforce is huge. "If you're a graduate student or postdoc looking at these numbers, particularly the proportion of people in industry and government settings, it makes sense to learn as much about these career paths as possible," she writes at Rock Talk.
At the American Chemical Society Careers blog, John Borchardt says that "working effectively with patent attorneys can both increase the number of patents you are awarded and improve their quality." To initiate an effective working relationship with patent attorneys, Borchardt suggests getting to know a bit more about their goals, and about the patenting process.
"Patent attorneys usually approach situations with a different mindset than researchers do," he says. While researchers may consider the technicalities of an invention, patent attorneys are typically more interested in "how your competitors will try to legally get around your patent and develop something very similar," Borchardt says.
It's important that researchers understand the patenting process, Borchardt adds. For their part, patent attorneys "may ask questions leading to the inventor to perform additional experiments to broaden the scope of the invention and to support the patent claims that define the invention," he says — that's all part of the process.
Tabulating the results of a fall 2010 survey, the coalition found that members of the contingent academic workforce earn low per-course compensation and face a lack of professional support. [More.]
Publishing papers in top-tier journals, getting big grants and renewals, being invited to give talks at top-tier international conferences — those are some of the qualities shared by scientists who are considered stars.
In a Management Science article, the Georgia Institute of Technology's Alexander Oettl suggests shaking up the standards by which scientists are considered stars. "I expand the traditional taxonomy of scientists that focuses solely on productivity and add a second, social dimension: helpfulness to others," he says. For this, Oettl examines not only publications and citations, but also paper acknowledgments, as a measure of helpfulness.
In a study examining the change in the publishing output of the coauthors of 149 scientists who have died, Oettl found that "co-authors of highly helpful scientists that die experience a decrease in output quality but not output quantity," and that "the deaths of high productivity scientists that are not highly helpful do not influence their coauthors' output."
Further, Oettl also found that "scientists who are helpful with conceptual feedback (critique and advice) have a larger impact on the performance of their coauthors than scientists who provide help with material access, scientific tools, or technical work." This, he concludes, may well merit a re-evaluation of how the community conceptualizes what makes a star scientist.