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.
The US National Institutes of Health Advisory Committee to the Director's Biomedical Workforce Working Group has issued a draft report, in which it reviews data collected and issues recommendations for NIH follow-up. [More.]
Among the newly named awardees are three New Investigators and 19 Senior Investigators, eight of whom are working together are part of joint awards. [More.]
The newly named scholars will each receive $240,000 over four years to pursue the research of their choice without restriction, the charitable organization says. [More.]
A new study shows that academics who choose to stop their tenure clocks earn less than their colleagues who do not, reports Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed. Stopping the clock — typically for family-related reasons — is an administrative benefit that allows tenure-track academics to extend the deadline for their tenure review. But, according to Inside Higher Ed, "research being presented today at the inaugural meeting of the Work and Family Researchers Network suggests that these new parents have reason to worry." In a study of multiple cohorts of tenure-track faculty hired between 1998 and 2002 at an unnamed research university, the University of Minnesota's Colleen Manchester and Lisa Leslie found that while stopping the clock appears to help junior academics earn tenure, it also results in a salary penalty, one that is most evident for male faculty members. Minnesota's Manchester tells Inside Higher Ed that academia may be less tolerant of male faculty members who stop the clock than their female colleagues, particularly because doing so can be viewed as "a signal of competing commitments." She goes on to suggest that academic institutions ensure that "there is more objectivity in the salary-setting process," stressing the importance of searching for sources of implicit bias.
Jaschik adds that "as more colleges have adopted these policies, many of those who would be eligible for the extra year have debated whether to take it." This new study could make for an additional consideration against doing so, he says.
From a survey of active mid-career physician researchers in the US, the University of Michigan's Reshma Jagsi and her colleagues found that male academics make more than their female counterparts, even when salaries are adjusted for differences in specialty, institutional characteristics, academic productivity, academic rank, work hours, and more. In a paper published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week, Jagsi et al. report the results of their study, which showed a mean salary of $200,433 for men in the cohort, $167,669 for women, and that the expected mean salary for female physician researchers, had they retained their measured characteristics but their gender were male, "would be $12,194 higher than observed."
Part of that gendered salary difference might be because the women in the cohort studied tended to work in lower-paying specialties and were less likely to hold administrative leadership positions, the researchers say. "Nevertheless, the gender difference in salary observed herein was not fully explained by measured differences in specialization, institution, academic advancement, or productivity," Jagsi and her colleagues write in JAMA. They point to personal choices — like deciding to raise a family — and priorities as potential sources of gender-related pay differences among physician researchers.
"Ultimately, this study provides evidence that gender differences in compensation continue to exist in academic medicine," Jagsi et al. conclude.
Over at the community blog MetaFilter, user qxntpqbbbqxl is soliciting career advice on behalf of his or her wife, a newly minted PhD whose research foci were biochemistry and mammalian physiology. "She's burnt out on academia and thinking about industry research jobs, but we don't even know where to start looking," qxntpqbbbqxl says.
In response, users suggest a variety of outlets, beyond what qxntpqbbbqxl calls the "obvious candidates … biotech and pharmaceuticals." Among the non-bench-centric suggestions are consulting, policy, science writing, IP, and investment banking work.
When it comes to working in industry, user Tandem Affinity suggests "networking and concentrating on gaining marketable skills" from the get-go. "I went direct from the PhD to industry research. The first position was fairly crappy but got my foot in the door and I have moved upward," Tandem Affinity says.
Writing in Source Code for Biology and Medicine, a trio of bioinformaticians presents a satire on working in the field that outlines how not to succeed. "By scrupulously following these guidelines one can be sure to regress at a highly satisfactory rate," the authors write. While written in sarcasm, these humorous how-tos — "make sure the output of your application is unreadable, unparseable, and does not comply to any known standards," for example — speak to the challenges of successfully navigating a career in the burgeoning field.
"The looming prospect of massive layoffs in the financial sector or the new hoped-for thrill to be working on things that matter following a mid-life crisis, have all contributed to the resurgence of a new breed of a mutant, super-resistant bioinformatician species," the authors write. "The resulting ecosystem of practitioners is an eclectic mixture of individuals, including a) those whose graphics card for video games would preferably be hammered out with algorithmic computations for the elucidation of the meaning of life, b) those submerged in the muddy waters of the ever increasing 'omics subfields, and c) those fulfilling their role as annotation monkeys."
On top of that, "a myriad of new packages, formats, and databases keep on mushrooming daily throughout the biomedical arena, surreptitiously embracing complexity just for the sake of it," the authors say. "Bioinformatics has evolved into the cheap form of biology during cycles of funding shortages. Its tentacles now spread into pretty much every branch of life sciences."
Sticks and stones might break your bones, but words could kill a scientific career? That's what University of California, Davis' Paul Knoepfler says, discussing scientists' insults toward one another at his blog. These disparaging comments, which range from snarky to downright conniving, "are sometimes brutal or fatal career-wise," Knoepfler says. "Inserting one or more of these into a grant critique or tenure review could be lethal, so use with caution."
Among the worst offenders, he says, are statements asserting that a scientist's research program is not very productive. "If you are only putting out a trickle of papers, other scientists will slap you for it," Knoepfler says. Further still, saying that a scientist "mostly publishes in specialized journals" or "mostly middle-author publications" is clearly derisive.
Another zinger, Knoepfler says, is pointing out that a scientist's former trainees are not landing academic research positions of their own. This particular insult, he says, it "brutal," implying that "as a mentor, you suck. You're attracting and/or guiding your trainees to be patent lawyers, glorified technicians, industry pawns, teachers, or worse, anything but independent PIs running their own labs."
A US National Science Foundation report issued last week shows that graduate enrollment in science and engineering programs has grown "substantially in the last decade, but slowed in 2010." According to the report, graduate enrollment in biomedical engineering — which jumped 7.5 percent from 2009 to 2010 — is one of the fastest growing, experiencing 165 percent growth throughout the last decade.
According to Science Insider, report author Kelly Kang says that while an increasing interest in science and engineering degrees among US students is nothing new, her analysis presents further evidence for the trend.
Drawing on data from the report, Inside Higher Ed points out that during the last decade, "enrollments of women grew at a faster pace than those of men (roughly 40 percent versus 30 percent), and the rates of enrollments by underrepresented minority [students] outpaced those of white and Asian Americans."
The Scientist presents its list of the best places to work in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, which is based on 2,018 survey responses from its readers. Number one this year is the Australia-based ADInstruments, a data acquisition and analysis firm aimed at researchers and teachers in the life and physical sciences. The Cambridge, Mass.-based drug development firm Epizyme and DuPont's Wilmington, Del., location round out The Scientist's top three, respectively. Among the top 20 are Alnylam Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Mass. — noted for its RNAi therapeutics development — and Integrated DNA Technologies in Coralville, Iowa — lauded for adding a 1st BASE Custom Oligos DNA synthesis facility in Singapore, "which will provide Asian researchers access to high-quality DNA oligonucleotides with … fast turnaround times," The Scientist says.
Speaking of the industry as a whole, the magazine says that "the ups and downs experienced by biotechs and pharmaceutical companies over the last decade have prompted a noticeable change in how business is done." It adds that "as the industry recovers from the 2008/2009 financial market crash and faces shrinking revenue streams, research and development is shifting from the big pharma powerhouses to the ever-growing biotech sector, and the line between the two is no longer as clear-cut as it once was."
In its May edition of Peer Review Notes, the US National Institutes of Health's Center for Scientific Review reiterates how it defines a new application, in the context of an unsuccessful A1 resubmission. "A new application is expected to be substantially different in content and scope, with more significant differences than are normally encountered in a resubmitted application," CSR notes. A new application, it adds, should show "fundamental changes in the questions being asked and/or the outcomes examined" and demonstrate a "significant change in direction and approach for the research project."
When developing a new application in the context of a previously unsuccessful resubmission, CSR says it is important to consider whether the new application asks the same basic questions and expects the same set of answers. If that's the case, "your application is probably not new enough," the center says.
The center says that even after an unsuccessful resubmission, "you still have options for moving your science forward in a future application." To do this, CSR suggests that applicants deconstruct their research plans in search of new directions to take, apply for a different kind of grant ("some of the stronger research aims you originally proposed in an R01 application, for instance, may be proposed in an R21 application so long as you follow the requirements for this smaller and different type of grant," it says), or consider putting that particular project on hold, rather than resubmitting. After 37 months from A0 submission, "the same application will automatically be considered new," CSR says, adding that "of course, you'll want to update your application based on changes in the field during that time."
The foundation this week announced that it is accepting applications for two postdoctoral training program schemes, both with a clinical research focus. [More.]