According to Michael Spires, grant-seeking scientists ought not to cold-call their program officers, ring them up for the sake of small talk, or otherwise pester them. "All of that sounds like I'm discouraging researchers from calling. I'm not. I'm just encouraging you to call for the right reasons," says Spires at The Chronicle of Higher Education. So, why, when, and how should investigators contact their POs?
First, he says, it's important to seek answers elsewhere. "Check the agency's or program's Web site, review the applicable guidelines, or contact your institution's sponsored-research office," Spires says. "You'll also demonstrate that you've done your due diligence." He also suggests initiating contact by e-mail, so that the PO has a chance to "respond at their convenience, rather than trying to understand your question, give a response, and still get you off the phone in time for them to make a panel-review meeting or a pressing appointment with the director."
It's critical, Spires says, that researchers be as specific as possible in their requests. "Narrow the focus of the question or issue that you need resolved," he says, adding that "that becomes critical the closer you are to a program deadline."
Finally, "in today's competitive grant environment, even a little misstep can have large consequences," Spires says, so it's best to ask questions. While POs inevitably need to say 'No' from time to time, investigators can follow-up with something along the lines of "Is there a way to move to 'yes' here?" Spires says. By following this advice, he adds, "you'll then be well on your way to developing a good working relationship with your program officers, and enhancing your chances of getting your proposals approved."
A group led by Fabio Pammolli at the IMT Institute For Advanced Studies in Lucca, Italy, presents a study in PNAS this week on the annual research production of a given scientist, analyzed in the context of longitudinal career data for 200 scientists and 100 assistant professors within the physics community. "Our empirical analysis of individual productivity dynamics shows that there are increasing returns for the top individuals within the competitive cohort, and that the distribution of production growth is a leptokurtic 'tent-shaped' distribution that is remarkably symmetric," Pammolli et al. write. Further, the team presents a theoretical "model of proportional growth which … accounts for the significantly right-skewed distributions of career longevity and achievement in science," and says that it found, using this model, that "short-term contracts can amplify the effects of competition and uncertainty making careers more vulnerable to early termination, not necessarily due to lack of individual talent and persistence, but because of random negative production shocks."
The researchers also focused on the effects of career uncertainty, "portrayed by the common saying 'publish or perish.'" Overall, Pammolli and his colleagues "highlight the importance of an employment relationship that is able to combine positive competitive pressure with adequate safeguards to protect against career hazards and endogenous production uncertainty an individual is likely to encounter in his/her career."
Nature's Daniel Cressey says that "recognizing that few graduates spend their entire careers at the bench, research funders and education authorities are reshaping the PhD to train students in non-science skills such as networking as well as research." He adds that the UK has led the charge to change, adopting a doctoral training center, or DTC, model — "a university-based hub focusing on highly specific areas," in which "courses last four years rather than the three of a standard UK PhD, and include formal coursework as well as lab experience."
The UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has opened more than 50 such centers, and "this year, for the first time, it has funded more students through centres than through research grants," Cressey says. EPSRC Associate Director Neil Viner tells Nature that "the world of research is changing, has changed, and will continue to change. I see centres as being a way that we respond to that."
In a recent commentary in The Chronicle of Higher Education, graduate student Jon Bardin says his path to a PhD "has been full of teachable moments that I know will benefit me regardless of the specific work I pursue." Blogger Chemjobber, though, cautions readers about the costs of graduate school, and how time is but one of them.
"When we talk about the costs of getting a PhD, I believe that we don't talk enough about the sheer length of time ([five-plus] years) and what other training might have been taken during that time," Chemjobber says, adding that opportunity costs also matter. "Are the communications skills and the problem-solving skills that he [Bardin] gained worth the time and the (opportunity) cost? Could he have obtained those skills somewhere else for a lower cost?"
Taking somewhat of a devil's advocate stance, Chemjobber asks whether, financially speaking, US taxpayers' contributions to Bardin's graduate education were well spent. Typically, taxpayer-supported scientific training pays for itself, Chemjobber says, as PhD-level researchers "can go on to generate new innovations in their independent career in industry or academia." But, should a PhD scientist chooses to leave research, "is this a bargain that society should continue to support?" Chemjobber asks.
HT: Derek Lowe
Over at the Wiley Life Science Blog, written by the publisher's life science staff, Andrew Moore discusses writing review articles, and the importance of learning to do so early on in one's research career. "For a PhD student to write a review is certainly a good thing, but not because it's a straightforward way into the literature — rather because of a more noble aim: that of contributing novel, synthetic, insights to one's field," says Moore, editor of Wiley's BioEssays , adding that "many people in science are in it for the challenge of understanding new things; a good review … can be a masterpiece of thinking and writing that will be read (and cited) by a disproportionately large readership compared with the primary literature it contains."
Plus, Moore says, integrating existing knowledge to produce new meaning can be equally important as making new discoveries.
The Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass., the David J. Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco, and the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia are the top three US institutions for postdocs, respectively, according to The Scientist's 2012 rankings.
Internationally, the Champalimaud Foundation in Lisbon, Portugal, earned first place, followed by the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Vienna, Austria, and the Center for Molecular Medicine, also in Vienna, in that order.
"Our survey shows that postdocs are more content than ever," The Scientist says, adding that "today, postdocs have a markedly stronger support system, which is reflected in the noticeable rise in postdoc job satisfaction seen in our survey."
"Why must dryness be written by us?" Adam Ruben asks in a passive voice in Science Careers this week. As scientists, he actively asks, "why can't we tell our science in interesting, dynamic stories?"
Ruben goes on to discuss the ways in which scientific writing is "just plain different from all other writing." He says that journal articles are "not written in English, per se; they're written in a minimalist English intended merely to convey numbers and graphs." For example, scientists are often taught to avoid writing in the first person. "Science succeeds in spite of human beings, not because of us, so you want to make it look like your results magically discovered themselves," Ruben jokes. Another oddity, he adds, is that many journals prefer manuscripts be written in past tense.
"But there's a reason scientific journal articles tend to be dry, and it's because we're writing them that way," Ruben says. "We hope that the data constitutes an interesting story all by itself, but we all know it usually doesn't. It needs us, the people who understand its depth and charm, to frame it and explain it in interesting ways."
One-hundred-and-twenty characters. That's what LinkedIn allows its users for their "headline" — a short, descriptive professional statement — though many use less than half that, listing only their titles. "You can write up to 120 characters so instead of just listing your job title alone, consider crafting a statement that explains what you do and what sets you apart from others who do the same," writes Rachel Bowden at the Nature Careers blog. Reporting advice Joshua Waldman shared at the American Chemical Society's virtual career fair this week, Bowden says an enhanced headline is but one way to improve job seekers' LinkedIn profiles.
"If you are currently unemployed, also explain what kind of job you are looking for in your summary and incorporate a call to action to encourage potential employers to get in touch," she writes. A complete profile, Bowden adds, should address three key points: who you are, what you do, and why you are the best. In addition, profiles considered complete by LinkedIn's standards show up first in search results, she says.
In its current issue, American Scientist discusses policy problems that female academics who choose to have children face. The magazine's Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci say that their "own findings, as well as research by others, show that the effect of children on women's academic careers is so remarkable that it eclipses other factors in contributing to women's under-representation in academic science."
Williams and Ceci go on to suggest how universities might work to overcome such under-representation. "One potentially promising way to increase women's representation is to focus efforts on the problems faced by mothers struggling to raise young families while building tenurable scholarly records," the authors write.
They suggest that academic institutions "might educate women graduate students about the downsides of alternative career paths, following partners' career moves, and taking time off." Alternatively, universities "could explore the use of part-time tenure-track positions for women having children that segue to full-time once children are older, and offer members of a couple the option to temporarily share a single full-time position," the authors write. Another idea, Williams and Ceci say, is that academic employers could perhaps work toward "leveraging technology to enable parents to work from home while children are young or ill; providing parental leaves for primary caregivers of either gender and offering funding to foster successful reentry; and providing an academic role for women who have left professional positions to have children."
The Arizona Republic this week takes a look at a new program at Arizona State University that is "geared toward building an educated workforce for the Valley's biotechnology industry." The Maricopa-ASU Pathways Program enables a "seamless transition" from community college to academic training at ASU, the paper adds.
ASU's Todd Sandrin tells The Arizona Republic that "right now, we don't have a ton of the biotech industry in Phoenix," though he adds that "we have huge opportunities to build in that sector."
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute today announced a new national competition, representing a nearly $200 million-investment in basic biomedical research. [More.]
Times Higher Education released its compilation of the top universities by reputation for 2012. Topping the charts is Harvard University, followed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Cambridge in the UK. Rounding out the top five are Stanford University, and the University of California, Berkeley, in that order. Overall, among the top 50 universities ranked by reputation, 30 are in the US, six are in the UK, three each are in Australia and Canada, two each are in China and Japan, and one each are in Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Switzerland. THE's ranking data are the result of a survey distributed last spring.
Over at Inside Higher Ed, Kris Olds considers why THE chose to release these rankings data now, and reflects upon whether "such rankings are improving learning and research outcomes, as well as institutional innovation."
Nature's Virginia Gewin this week says that "academics who delay retirement could create roadblocks for early-career researchers." Graeme Hugo at the University of Adelaide in Australia tells Gewin that more than half of the academic workforce is over 50 years old. So, while Hugo says he expects around 40 percent of that workforce to retire in the next decade, Gewin says that will not produce the ideal situation for young academics because as faculty members delay their retirements, "increasingly, vacated permanent posts are divided into contractual, non-tenure-track jobs."
Harvard University's Cathy Trower says that "the pipeline isn't emptying like administrations thought it would," as academics delay their retirements. Frances Rosenbluth at Yale University says that "there is not going to be any massive wave of retirements for a while — we've got 20 years to wait for the anaconda bulge of baby boomers to work itself out."
Overall, Gewin says, "the recession has only exacerbated a growing trend towards deferring retirements; no one expects a retirement boom, even if the economy improves."