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Sunday, February 24, 2008


What's Ahead for Early-Career Scientists?

Every 2 years, the U.S. National Science Board (NSB), the 23-member body charged with overseeing the National Science Foundation (NSF) and advising Congress and the president, takes a detailed snapshot of the scientific enterprise. Unveiled on 15 January, NSB's main report, Science and Engineering Indicators (SEI), pronounced the U.S. research and development (R&D) effort "robust." But in a companion document, Research and Development: Essential Foundation for U.S. Competitiveness in a Global Economy, the group warns of declining support for basic research that "could over time have severe implications for U.S. competitiveness in international markets and for highly skilled … jobs at home."

For early-career scientists, this year's report paints a mixed picture. The report cautions against using "difficult-to-define words like 'surplus' or 'shortage' " to discuss the S&E labor market, because the great variety of fields and occupations in which scientifically trained people find work makes "any 'simple' comparison between projections of labor and market demand impossible." Overall, industry continues to "dominate" the nation's R&D, the report notes. Most young scientists, however, opt to start their careers in academe, where the proportion of traditional tenured faculty posts is shrinking.

A surge in scientists

One element of the robustness noted by the report is the continuing growth of the scientific labor force. Nearly 30,000 S&E Ph.D.s--a record number--were awarded in the United States in 2005, the latest year for which SEI presents graduation figures. About 12,000 Ph.D.s went to noncitizens, a category that has doubled since 1985. Meanwhile, the number of U.S. citizens earning Ph.D.s each year increased by about 2000, to 16,000. (The citizenship of about 1500 2005 Ph.D.s is "unknown.") Among U.S. citizens, female S&E Ph.D.s nearly doubled to 8000 and minority-group members more than doubled, to 3300, compared to 1985.

Paradoxically, the scientific profession, which is devoted to collecting and analyzing data, doesn't know how many postdocs work in the United States, and "some parts of [that] population are not systematically measured at all," says SEI, which estimates that there were 89,000 postdocs in the United States in 2005. This figure includes:

A postdoc advantage?

Despite their low pay and long hours, former postdocs generally value the postdoc experience. For several decades, a consistent 53% to 56% have told SDR that the experience "greatly helped" their careers, and 33% to 38% rate it as "somewhat" helpful. Only 8% to 12% found it "no help" at all, SEI says.

Objective evidence, however, paints a more complex picture. Doing a postdoc is related to a higher probability of getting a tenure-track job, but the size of the advantage varies greatly from field to field. Among scientists who earned American Ph.D.s between 1997 and 2001, 31% of the ex-postdocs, and 25% of those without postdoc experience, held tenure-track jobs at institutions offering at least a 4-year degree in 2006. The postdoc advantage was largest--21 percentage points--for engineers and physical scientists. It was a substantial 14 percentage points for computer scientists and mathematicians.

But in the life sciences, "where," according to SEI, "it is often said that a postdoc position is a requirement for an academic career," doing a postdoc didn't seem to matter nearly as much. For Ph.D.s earned between 1987 and 2001, ex-postdocs were about 5 percentage points likelier to be on the tenure track than their nonpostdoc classmates; for the 1997-2001 group, the figures were 30% for the former postdocs and 25% for the nonpostdocs. Among the most recent crop of Ph.D.s, with degrees earned after 2001, the difference shrinks to about 2 percentage points and the success rate drops to about 25%.

Outside the academy, the postdoc advantage is even less straightforward and depends on whether the focus is on income or the nature of the work. Comparisons of the Ph.D.s who earned degrees between 1992 and 1996, a cohort that has had time to build their careers, found that in every scientific field, ex-postdocs in industry earned less in 2006 than colleagues of their cohort who had skipped that stage--8% less in computer and mathematical sciences and 10% less elsewhere. The education field showed mixed results, with former postdocs earning more in social and life sciences and less in engineering and in computer, mathematical, and physical sciences. Only in government did ex-postdocs consistently outearn nonpostdocs, by 3% in engineering and 9% in life sciences.

Ex-postdocs, however, are likelier than nonpostdocs to have jobs in research and development--73% versus 59%--and to do work "closely related to their degree"--73% to 65%.

The labor market

The newest holders of American Ph.D.s report little trouble finding jobs. Unemployment among those with degrees from the past 3 years was a mere 1.3% in 2006. That same percentage reported inability to get work "closely related" or "somewhat related" to their field--although that figure was larger for chemical engineers (10%), physicists and astronomers (6%), and sociologists and anthropologists (5%). Half of those who earned Ph.D.s in the United States--and 60% in physical and life sciences--became postdocs in 2006, most citing "training" as the reason.

But 9% of the postdocs (including 5% of the life sciences postdocs, 8% of those in computer science and mathematics, 10% of those in physical sciences, and 16% of those in engineering) reported doing so because "other employment was not available." The percentage citing a lack of other opportunities was down from a peak of 14% for 1992-1996 degree holders (including 35% of those engineers and just over 20% of those computer scientists and mathematicians). But it was several percentage points above the rate that had prevailed for those with degrees from the 1980s.

Despite plentiful jobs, S&E doctoral study often has a low initial financial payoff. Holders of S&E bachelor's degrees 5 years old or newer earned a median $40,900 a year in 2003, ranging from $34,300 for life scientists to $53,500 for engineers. The median for graduates 5 years or less after master's degrees was $55,200. Ph.D.s averaged only $5000 more. The small differential is a result of both "relatively low postdoc salaries" and Ph.D.s' higher propensity to take academic jobs, SEI suggests.

That tendency notwithstanding, the proportion of Ph.D.s working in academe continues a "long-term decline" spurred by "continual movement away from the full-time faculty position as the academic norm," SEI found. The share of academic scientists with full-time faculty appointments has fallen nearly 20% over 3 decades, to 72% in 2006, even as real-dollar academic research funding rose 73% and the large cohort of tenured professors hired in the 1960s began to retire. Meanwhile, nonfaculty academic positions--"full- and part-time adjunct faculty, lecturers, research associates, administrators, and postdocs"--surged by 41% between 1993 and 2006, whereas full-time faculty positions grew by just 15%, the SEI says.

On the bright side, SEI reports a small uptick in the percentage of scientists with recent American Ph.D.s landing on the tenure track at institutions offering at least a 4-year degree in 2006, to 19.2% of those 1 to 3 years beyond their doctorates and 25.8% of those 4 to 6 years out. And holders of recent American doctorates working in industry also did well, with median earnings twice the $40,000 median for postdoc pay. Postdocs' "foregone earnings add significantly to the costs of a doctoral education and may discourage doctoral-level careers in S&E," SEI states.

The long view

Viewed in a "lifetime perspective," S&E can provide "very lucrative" careers, said NSF director and ex officio NSB member Arden L. Bement Jr. at the January news conference that launched the new SEI. According to NSF statistics, doctoral scientists' median income rises with each year of experience until late middle age, peaking 25 to 29 years after the Ph.D. at just under $100,000. Bachelor's- and master's-level S&E degree holders top out 10 to 15 years earlier and, respectively, at about $40,000 and $30,000 a year less than Ph.D.s. Young scientists need to look beyond academe--and the short term--to the many opportunities awaiting them, Bement advised.

But whether the next 30 years will prove as kind as the last 30, when the scientific labor force grew an average of four times faster than employment at large, is anyone's guess. "S&E occupations may be particularly difficult to forecast," SEI warns. "Many spending decisions on R&D by corporations and governments are difficult or impossible to anticipate. … R&D increasingly crosses borders in search of the best place to have particular research performed. … Finally, it may be difficult to anticipate new products and industries … created via the innovation processes … most closely associated with scientists and engineers."

Moreover, "indicators of stagnation, and even [of] decline in some subject areas" in the level of support "for U.S. R&D and especially basic research" are causing "concern," says NSB in Research and Development. "Especially alarming" are signs of a "de-emphasis" on basic research by American industry, such as drops in both the number of peer-reviewed journal articles by industrial scientists and "the industry share of support for basic research in universities and colleges." Support by both industry and government for basic research done in their own facilities also "has stagnated over the last several years."

In addition, federal government support for R&D at academic institutions "began falling in 2005 for the first time in a quarter century." Unless such ominous trends are reversed, NSB cautions, future snapshots of the American scientific enterprise--and, therefore, of the opportunities available to scientists seeking to build careers--may be considerably darker.

Source: Science Careers by Beryl Lieff Benderly


Top Five Regions Targeting Biotech Companies - 2008

This year FierceBiotech’s list of top economic development efforts for biotechnology stays focused on the U.S., with five states that have stepped up to the plate with offers of significant financial support designed to spawn a new generation of drug developers. The state funds are coming at a critical stage, with the federal government keeping the cap on research budgets--both for budgetary as well as ethical concerns. And in many cases these state programs are driving the development of new facilities that will likely have a profound impact in determining where the industry will find its most fertile soil for future growth.

In the space of just a few years, Florida has launched an ambitious program to woo some of the world’s top research institutes. Joined with university researchers who already have created a rich pipeline of discoveries, the state is likely to see its support for R&D breed new start-ups in the near future. California continues to innovate with its $3 billion stem cell initiative--after clearing the initial legal hurdles in the way. And California’s influence could clearly be seen in two other programs we recognize today in New York and Texas. Massachusetts, meanwhile, is promising to make up for years of benign neglect with a new set of biotech incentives that may well create a whole new model for a biotech economic development program other states can follow.

It’s only unfortunate that we have to limit the list to five. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut and other states have all been working overtime to widen the gates in order to lure more developers into their arenas. New Jersey officials, in particular, tried and failed to pass a $450 million program to back stem cell research in the state. And we suspect that more such efforts will be made as state economic development groups continue to see biotech as a prime source of top jobs that will in turn spawn new, clean growth.

This is the third time we’ve completes a Top 5 list, and the first time we haven’t had Singapore on the list. The city-state continues to push some amazing programs to fund research as well as corporate activities. And we’ll be closely watching to see what new programs are unveiled in the future.

When we started this list three years ago, the primary focus in the states’ economic support of biotechnology followed a traditional path of tax incentives and research grants. Now those efforts have been joined with new incubators that are springing up around the country as well as freshly created venture capital organizations in Arizona and other states directly targeted at early-stage companies. And states are channeling billions of dollars in direct support as they foster research on the way to spurring the development of new companies. It’s a pattern that has clearly raised the expectations of biotech companies in the U.S., and blazed a path that other economic development groups are sure to follow.

By John Carroll


International Kaloy Prize-University of Geneva

The Kaloy Foundation has created a Prize called “International Kaloy Prize - University of Geneva”, .in order to support research about the rlationship between neuro-sciences and cognitive sciences - on one hand - and the theory of knowledge and the philosophy of the brainfunction - on the other. This Prize intends to reward an exceptional and original work in neuro-sciences, cognitive sciences, biology, physics and psychology; studying the brain function and aiming to confirm, reject or elucidate some philosophical theories on the nature of knowledge or spirit.

It is an international competition open to students, PhD candidates or researchers who have already published an original work in these fields.

The Prize amount will be of 10’000 Swiss Francs (US$9,211).

The applications, either in English or in French, must be sent to the Rectorate of the University of Geneva before May 1st, 2008. The file must include the original work (maximum 20 pages), as well as the candidate’s CV. An abstract of the research could be joined to the application.

Send the file to :

Prix Kaloy International Université de Genève

Rectorat – PBS – Uni Dufour

rue Général-Dufour 24

CH-1211 Genève 4

Or e-mail to ;

The works will be submitted to a nomination committee. The laureate will be informed personally.


A post-doctoral Position Available

We have funds to hire a post-doctoral research associate for one year, with the possible extension for an additional year. The post-doc will perform genomics-based research for a recently funded project on the plant pathogenic soil fungus Rhizoctonia solani. The incumbent will be responsible for cloning DNA, preparing fungal protoplasts for developing an optical genetic map and for constructing full length and normalized cDNA libraries to assist in genome annotation and assembly process. The research will include molecular biology techniques and some computational tasks with phylogenetic analysis programs. Qualified applicants will have a Ph.D. in microbiology, mycology, plant pathology, genetics, or related field, have excellent writing skills, be familiar with modern molecular techniques, and have a minimum of two years experience working with fungal biology and genetics. Experience with computational genome analysis is not required but is desirable. The position will be housed in the Center for Integrated Fungal Research within the Department of Plant Pathology at North Carolina State University and will operate under the supervision of Dr. Marc A. Cubeta. AA/EOE.

Click here for the lab-homepage.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


How to Negotiate and Get a Raise of Your Salary

Your boss is your enemy in a salary negotiation--he usually stands to lose by boosting your salary. It eats his budget, or he has to beg his own boss for extra money, which creates higher expectations for his work unit's productivity.

To win the salary battle, you'll need maximum ammunition and clever strategy.

First, check your ammo:

Don't have much ammunition? Perhaps this isn't the time to ask for a raise. Not only are you unlikely to get it, but your boss may think, "What nerve! He's already getting paid more than he's worth."

If you do have enough ammo, craft your strategy:

Source: Marty Nemko from U.S.News & World Report

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Gilliam Fellowships for Advanced Study from HHMI

Earn a Ph.D. at the university of your choice.

Work with distinguished scientists.

Lead a new generation of biomedical researchers.

For students who have participated in the Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP) of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, HHMI offers an extraordinary opportunity to pursue graduate studies in the life sciences.

The Gilliam Fellowships for Advanced Study provide full support for up to five years of study toward a Ph.D. for outstanding students who are from groups underrepresented in the sciences or from disadvantaged backgrounds. Gilliam fellows attend the university of their choice and work alongside distinguished scientists. Chosen for their academic excellence and scientific potential, they will become the leaders of a new generation of biomedical researchers.

The fellowships honor the legacy of the late James H. Gilliam Jr., a Trustee of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute who devoted his life to fostering excellence and diversity in education and science. Since the program’s inception in 2005, 17 Gilliam fellows have been named.



How to Apply

Gilliam Fellowship applicants must complete an application, which will be available in August of each year on the HHMI website at Note that only eligible former EXROP students may applyfor this fellowship. Direct all inquiries about applications to the Gilliam Fellowships Program at (800) 448-4882 ext. 8889 or

Source: HHMI

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


FY2009 Proposed Budget Released

National Institutes of Health
The President’s FY2009 budget proposes to freeze National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding at $28.9 billion, the same level provided in FY2008. If this budget is enacted, it will be the sixth straight year of flat funding and the agency will have lost 13.4 percent of purchasing power since the end of the doubling in 2003. Main points include:

National Science Foundation
The agencies and programs included in the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) fared well, as expected. As the last budget cycle left the National Science Foundation (NSF) with a meager increase and the Biological Sciences Directorate essentially flat-funded, the President’s proposed budget should be considered two years worth of increases, according to NSF Assistant Director for Biological Sciences Jim Collins. Main points include:

Source: The Society for Neuroscience

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Fellowships for Older Postdocs

Q. Hi,

I have found that most postdoctoral grants are for those just starting in their 1st year or up to their 5th year but nothing beyond that. Do you know of any grants that would be for more senior postdocs (i.e. beyond 5 years)? Thank you for your time and help.



A. Dear Holly.

U.S. (and international) labs are full of senior scientists that still go by the title "postdoc," and get paid proportionately. I meet these people whenever I visit a major research institution: graying, in their late '40s or even their '50s, highly skilled, doing good science, whether independently or as part of a team, but still earning--if they're lucky--just a little more than a first-year NRSA fellowship stipend. And unlike their more junior colleagues, they have to pay the social security tax and unemployment tax. At least they've got health insurance--usually.

It is very hard for a sixth, seventh, or eighth-year postdoc to get a fellowship, and for a very good reason: If you've been doing science for that long, you're a senior scientist, not a trainee. Beyond the fourth or fifth year it's hard to keep up the illusion that you're still in training. So while your institution may call you a trainee (it's implicit in the “postdoc” label) to justify how little they pay you, the panel that's reviewing your fellowship proposal is unlikely to be fooled, even if the fellowship rules allow you to apply, which they often don't.

You’re a professional scientist now, so you ought to get paid like one. That not only means that you ought to get paid more than a typical postdoc fellow (though a few postdoc fellowships pay pretty well), it also means that you ought to get paid more reliably, to have a stable income source. It's fine to pay a long-timer from a research grant, but there should be some assurance of stability from the department or institution: If your fellowship ends you shouldn't have to sell your children to stay afloat. After 5 years, in other words, you ought to start looking for--and expecting--something a bit more secure. You may not get it, but you should keep your standards high.

But I digress. You wanted to know if you could get a postdoctoral grant. Technically, you still qualify for a postdoctoral NRSA (F32), unless you've already used up your (typically 3-year) eligibility.

Let's assume that you have never had an F32 award. Do you, as an experienced scientist, have a realistic chance of getting one now, in your sixth postdoctoral year? There is undoubtedly a bias toward younger people; still the answer is "yes"--but only if you'll be making a major change. If you wish to win an NRSA, you need to become a trainee again, and that means doing something new. Here's how NIH puts it: "In most cases, the F32 supports research training experiences in new settings in order to maximize the acquisition of new skills and knowledge.” There's an assumption that if you've been working in the same lab for 2, 3, or 5 years, you've probably learned just about all you're going to learn there.

So if you've never had an F32 and you want to get one now, you'll need to change labs and research directions. You will need to provide evidence, in your narrative, that you have a plan to get out of your 5-year rut and get yourself moving again up the career ladder. So figure out what you want to be when you grow up--when you finally get your first fully independent position--and make sure it's something new. This new field must build on what you already know, but it must be something quite different. Then go out and find a new mentor, in a new lab, who is willing to help you acquire the skills you need to work in this new field. If you can state a clear career objective and present a well-conceived training plan--and if you've published steadily and well over the last 5 years--your application will be competitive. And this is not just for NRSAs; any postdoc fellowship you qualify for is likely to require a change of direction and a serious training plan.

Other possibilities? You might look into applying for one of the K awards. The K-22 transition award is out in your case because you've been around the block too many times, but you might qualify for a K-01; contact the appropriate person at the appropriate institute.

In summary, many postdoctoral fellowships have an explicit experience limit, but even those that don't will require that you demonstrate that your work during the fellowship will in fact be spent in training--or retraining.

But let's get back to that digression. Fellowship or no, work with your department and advisor to see if you can get a promotion to non-tenure-track faculty, along with a guarantee of salary support if the grants don't come through. Soft-money professorships aren't the greatest situations in the world, but a promotion like this would provide evidence of progress, which will help you meet your long-term career ambitions. If your current employer isn't willing to help you, take a chance and move on. Lives are complicated and, with kids and such, moving is hard. But for better or worse, a career in science presumes a certain amount of mobility. With rare exceptions, you need to be prepared to move around if you want to move ahead.

Be Well,

The GrantDoctor

Source: Science Careers from the Journal Science

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Alternative Careers: Careers in Patent Law--Hiring Trends

As long as there are people with good ideas, there will be a need for patent professionals. And with the recent unveiling of the human genome sequence--to say nothing of the new drugs that are being tested every day--those working in the patent field are busier than ever. "Work just finds us!" exclaims Frederick Gibb, senior partner at McGinn and Gibb, a Washington, D.C., area firm that specializes in electrical patents.

So, what does this mean for the scientist looking to dive into a career in patent law?

When asked about the general outlook for hiring in patent law, all of the "associates" (junior lawyers in a firm) and "partners" (senior lawyers in a firm) interviewed by Next Wave for this feature gave upbeat answers. "We would hire people today!" says Terry Morgan, partner at Williams, Morgan, and Amerson in Houston. And according to E. Robin Plumer, shareholder at Wolf, Greenfield, and Sacks in Boston and leader of the firm's Biotechnology Practice Group, "Across the board, [the job market] is very, very good."

But the experts are quick to point out that the answer for any particular job seeker depends on several factors: What area of science is your specialty? Do you have a Ph.D. or postdoctoral experience? Are you restricting your job search to a certain geographical area? What other skills can you bring to the table? As with any job search, you need to reflect on your needs and wants, as well as the needs and wants of your prospective employer.

Patent Law in the UK

Kristina Cornish, a partner at patent attorney firm Kilburn & Strode in London, says of patent law in the UK, "In the last 10 years, the profession has changed because UK industry, and industry across the world, has increasingly realised the importance of intellectual property." There's also been a lot of encouragement from government for scientists to think about commercialising their research, which means that patent professionals are quite busy and "it's a good profession to be in at the moment." The big growth areas for patent protection are IT, computer software, telecomms, and biotech. In terms of her own field of biotechnology, important areas are molecular modelling and bioinformatics, rather than just basic products. Growth areas for hiring are biotechnology and IT, but there's no slowdown in traditional areas like mechanical engineering and chemistry.

--Kirstie Urquhart

Not All Fields Are Created Equal

Sure, much of the buzz these days is about patenting genes and enforcing patents on life-saving drugs in developing countries. But don't be discouraged if you aren't a card-carrying molecular biologist or pharmacologist. Patent protection can also be sought for a new way to culture cells (a "method") or for a novel electrophoresis apparatus (a "machine").

And outside of the biological/bioengineering arenas, law firms need people with expertise in electronics, chemical processes, and computer software. Although demand in the chemical area has always been small compared to that in other areas, it is expanding, Gibb says. But he also points out that engineers and scientists thinking about getting into the patent game should recognize that the livelihoods of patent professionals are closely tied to the fates of the industries they serve. For example, the big Internet bust of the past year has definitely had a negative effect on the electrical patent prosecution business. Nevertheless, Gibb explains that because the electrical was "extremely hot" until the technology market slowed down, the electrical patent field is still good, although not quite as good as in the glory days of the dot-coms in the late 1990s.

Ph.D.: Necessary?

Technically, a Ph.D. degree is not required to practice patent law before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), but you do need at least a bachelor's degree in a science or engineering discipline to sit for the patent bar exam. Passing the patent bar exam, officially known as the Registration Exam, qualifies you to communicate directly with the Patent Office on your client's behalf.

Although an undergraduate degree in science or engineering may be enough of a technical background in the eyes of the USPTO, Paul Rauch, an associate at Brinks, Hofer, Gilison, and Lione in Chicago, says that "in the biotechnology area, an advanced degree, or equivalent experience, is often necessary." He adds, "Advanced degrees, especially a master's degree in an engineering discipline, or a Ph.D. in chemistry, physics, or a biological field, can be a significant advantage." Echoing that sentiment, Plumer says that her biotechnology group is the only one in the firm that is "heavily into Ph.D.s," and she goes on to say that when it comes to hiring patent professionals, she looks for the applicants' "experience level in the science." Jorge Goldstein, founding partner and a managing director of Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein, and Fox in Washington, D.C., and head of the firm's biotech practice, says that lawyers who apply to his firm must have legal expertise in the biotech area, but not necessarily a Ph.D. degree. He goes on to say, however, that his firm only hires people with Ph.D.s for technical specialist positions. (For more on technical specialists, read this.)

Patent Law in Germany

Patent law is currently a booming field in Europe, with Munich--home to both the European Patent Office (EPO) and the German Patent and Trademark Office (GPTO)--serving as the continent's "patent capital." As Next Wave reported in May, the EPO announced that it has hundreds of open positions to fill (see Next Wave article), and now the GPTO is also looking to hire 180 patent examiners over the next 3 years. Uwe Ausfelder, patent examiner with the GPTO, reports about his work in Next Wave's accompanying feature on patent law.

--Eick von Ruschkowski


There is a definite geographical factor at work in the patent field. In the U.S., job seekers generally should look toward major cities on the East and West coasts for the bulk of the opportunities in patent law: New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, Seattle, San Diego, and Los Angeles are a few "hot spots."

But beware of cities that are home to several prestigious research institutions that are churning out the Ph.D.s. Plumer's Boston law firm, which is close to powerhouses like Harvard, MIT, and Yale, is often bombarded with resumes from Ph.D.s. She says that biotech in the Boston area is "highly competitive" and points out that the job market is indeed "region-dependent."

On the other hand, you have to be where the business is and research institutions are potential clients, as are companies. Universities and companies themselves are prime settings for patent job opportunities. Instead of (or in addition to) contracting with nearby law firms, schools and companies often employ patent professionals in-house to handle patent prosecution and licensing agreements. Grant Reed, formerly an associate with a Washington, D.C., firm, was recently in the job market himself, looking for a position in an industrial setting. He was open to jobs anywhere in the country, and he reports that there is no dearth of good jobs for patent professionals. Reed is now working as a patent attorney at Eli Lilly in Indianapolis and reports that he is enjoying his new job, which affords him much more contact with inventors (the scientists) than when he worked for a law firm.

Standing Out From the Crowd: Other Skills

Regardless of the area of patent law you wish to pursue, there are a few ways you can distinguish yourself from the rest of the applicant pool:

No Easy Answers

As with many things in life, there are no simple answers when it comes to landing your dream job in patent law. There are many things to consider, from where you want to live and work to what skills you can offer to your employer. And if patent law is your calling, you will even have to decide if you want to go to law school or if you'd rather dive right in as a patent agent or technical specialist. Whatever you settle on, the future is bright for patent professionals!

Source: Science Careers by Katie Cottingham


Alternative Careers: Careers in Patent Law

Reaching into the Next Wave electronic vault, we have found a rich collection to complement the articles in this month's feature.

In Next Wave

seven scientists working with patents write about what they do and how it connects to their training as a scientist. Meet a patent examiner, a patent agent, several patent lawyers, and a licensing agent. Read about their work.

What kind of review would this be without a list of patent law resources available on the Web? Read our links on intellectual property and patent law.

Harold Varmus, former director of the National Institutes for Health, talked about ethics and patents in genetics with Next Wave. Read it here.

Sure you think it is a novel idea, something new that others will find very useful. In fact you are certain. Read about how the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office defines "utility".

Not everyone can be a registered patent agent before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Read about the qualifications and the career of agent Elizabeth Dougherty.

Can a postdoc "own" an invention discovered in a university or industrial lab? The issues are complex and bound by legal distinctions.

In Science

Reforming the Patent System

The costs of the intellectual property system in the United States are growing significantly faster than the amount of research. This article proposes three responses: to raise the standards for patentability, to decrease the use of patents to bar research, and to ease legal attack on patents of questionable validity (Science 17 March 2000, p. 1933).

On the Web: Patent Resources From Around the World

There is no question that patent and intellectual property issues are not limited to the U.S. or any single nation. Evidence of this is affirmed by this collection of Web sites.

The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore has a comprehensive patent search service.

The Intellectual Property and Technology Forum, a publication of Boston College, has news articles on IP developments, commentaries, and resources for patent professionals.

The World Intellectual Property Association --an international organization based in Geneva, Switzerland--administers treaties among nations and works to simplify intellectual property rules and practices worldwide.

The Canadian Patent Office is part of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.

The Intellectual Property Institute of Canada is an association of professionals who specialize in intellectual property. Their Web site provides basic details of how to become a patent or trademark agent in Canada.

This Industry Canada article provides a comprehensive review of the ins and outs of Canadian patent law. For more specific information on biotechnology patents in Canada, you may wish to read this article from the Life Sciences Legal Resource Centre.

The European Patent Office was established in 1973 to establish a uniform patent system in Europe.

The German Trademark and Patent Office information is in German only.

The United Kingdom Patent Office is responsible for intellectual property (copyright, designs, patents, and trademarks) in the UK. They also have a rolling recruitment programme for patent examiners.

The Chartered Institute of Patent Agents is the professional body for patent attorneys in the UK. Their Web site includes careers information.

Inside Careers contains an extensive section on training and working as a patent attorney in the UK.

The Government-backed home of UK Intellectual Property information brings you answers to your questions and the resources you need to find your way through the IP jungle.

The British Library Science Technology and Business provides useful links on how to search for and use patent information, and how the patent process works.

Source: Science Careers by Ric Weibl

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Careers in Medical Writing: Resources


It's been almost 3 years since Next Wave last covered careers in technical writing in depth, and although a lot has changed, a good deal has remained the same. You might, for example, want to check out Charles Boulakia's exposition on the differences between technical writing and journalism, as well as Philip Hunt's description of his transition from molecular biology to medical writing. We also have an entire feature dedicated to the often closely related field of clinical trials.

But--not surprisingly, perhaps, given the vocation of the people who run the place--there's much more in the Wave on writing. So, here's a partial list of some of the other features and one-off articles that you might want to peruse if you're considering a career in this particular corner of the scientific world. ...

The Spy's report on Everything You Wanted to Know About Becoming a Science Writer But Were Afraid to Ask.

Next Wave's first ever feature, which focused on careers in--you've guessed it--Science Journalism.

Andrea Lord's thoughts on getting started in writing.


Professional Societies

American Medical Writers Association

AMWA is one of the better known professional organizations for medical writers in North America. Their site is a rich source of information about the discipline, and you could find yourself spending many happy hours perusing the various links they provide on their links page. You'll also get a sense of the kind of jobs that are "out there" by visiting their jobs pages.

European Medical Writers Association

EMWA is AMWA's European cousin, offering a similar range of information geared toward the European audience. One interesting twist: The site offers a description of medical writing in Spanish!

Society for Technical Communication

The STC is the big daddy of technical communications organizations in the States. Consequently it's site, which has changed considerably since Next Wave reviewed it as part of our earlier feature on technical writing, has a great deal to offer.

Council of Science Editors

A broader focus than AMWA, but the CSE's site is also very useful. Follow links to articles about authorship, ghost writing, and many more. Like AMWA, the CSE site includes a job listing page.

Pharmaceutical Organizations

The Drug Information Association

This site has a lot of information on the pharmaceutical testing process, as well as a variety of job listing tools. According to Next Wave's guest Tooling Up columnist Chandra Louise, "the membership directory of the Drug Information Association might be an excellent place to start looking for the name of a clinical trials manager in a pharmaceutical company."

Canada's International Scientific Products Exchange site contains an extensive list of links to pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies.

Job Search Sites and Recruiters

You know all the big ones, and in any case, it's not always clear whether or not resume-posting sites are all that helpful (see Peter Fiske's recent Tooling Up column for more details). But for what it's worth, here are a few sites that tend to offer writing jobs:

Source: Science Careers by Crispin Taylor

Alternative Careers: Careers in Medical Writing

Academia, industry, government, journalism, freelance. As the stories of the five essayists in this feature illustrate, the term "medical (or clinical) writing" covers a diverse and increasingly broad range of job types. Perhaps because of this diversity, each essayist has found that their writing job has opened doors to all kinds of other professional opportunities, including business, biotech, marketing, and designing (as opposed to writing up) clinical trials. As one of them puts it, "The choices are myriad, the pay (generally) good, and the jobs plentiful." Says another: "A first job in clinical writing is an excellent steppingstone."

But how can you tell whether medical writing is the right career for you? Well, you might want to start with Kate DeBruin's essay, in which she poses 10 questions that prospective writers should ask themselves before taking the plunge.

And once you do take the plunge, what will it feel like? Will the water be too cold, too hot, or just right? Theresa Vera left the bench to pursue a career in medical writing just a few months ago. In addition to describing the various subdisciplines of medical writing, Vera's essay offers a fresh and engaging perspective on the pros (many) and cons (rather fewer) of her research-to-writing transition.

Speaking of transitions, John Oldenhof has found that the information and internal contacts he has acquired while fulfilling his duties as a clinical writer for a start-up medical biotech company have propelled his career in a number of fascinating (and unpredictable) directions.

If you're considering a career transition into medical writing, you'll likely want to know more about the kinds of jobs that are available. From his position with a medical communications contractor in the United Kingdom, Mark Hughes helps out by explaining the distinction between regulatory writing and other forms of clinical writing. As a bonus, he also discusses the kinds of skills employers look for in their clinical writing employees.

Along with writing, so goes editing. And although she's not exactly a medical writer, Hilary Dean is heavily involved in the process of disseminating medical information as an editor. Now, far be it for us to tell you how critical an editor's contribution can be. Why not read Dean's essay to get a sense of what her job involves and why she enjoys it so much?

Finally, as with each Next Wave feature, the editorial team has--with the help of the essayists--assembled a list of potentially useful Web resources, both within the Next Wave site and elsewhere on the Web. Like clinical writing itself, these resources run the gamut, from incredibly rich Web sites to simple lists of links. If we've missed sites that you've found helpful in your own investigations of clinical writing careers, then please let us know about them.

Source: Science Careers by Crispin Taylor

Monday, February 11, 2008


Alternative Careers: Starting a Career in Science Writing

Science writing encompasses a wide variety of niches that can include writing for newspapers, mass-market magazines, trade publications, university press offices, broadcast media, and newsletters, among many other venues. But regardless of where you end up publishing -- most writers end up working several of the venues listed above -- a great way to learn the terrain is to listen to others who already work in the field, either on the writing side or the hiring -- that is, the editing -- side.

That's why in preparing this feature we queried established writers and editors on many of the issues we remember facing when we were first getting started: deciding what training is best, what markets are most accessible and lucrative, how to get that very first gig, and practical, day-to-day concerns like accounting and dealing with taxes.

We asked, they answered, and we wrote it down. The result is a coherent package of articles that we believe constitutes -- pound for pound and dollar for dollar -- the best short introduction to a career in science writing currently available.

We suggest you start off with Some Thoughts on Becoming a Science Writer, in which Jim Austin, Editor of Science's Next Wave, covers some of the basics from the perspective of an editor and a former (and occasionally a current) freelancer, offering tips on making the transition from the scientific bench to published authorship.

In preparing Science Journalism Degrees: Do They Make a Difference? Robin Arnette spoke to school officials and former students from three leading U.S. science-writing programs about the value of formal training in science journalism. Do you really need a credential to make it in this field?

In Breaking into the Media -- Do You Need Formal Training? Contributing Editor for Europe Elisabeth Pain addressed the same question, more or less, from a European perspective, where writers can choose between a journalism program, a program in science communications, or no formal training at all.

Also reporting from Europe but, for this article, covering a broader territory that includes North America, European Editor Anne Forde suggests Some Markets to Explore, noting that the most lucrative and approachable science-writing niches aren't always -- or usually -- the most obvious. Opportunities exist in everything from newspapers to books to internal company reports. What are the differences between these markets? And what strategies do seasoned professionals recommend for budding science writers? Anne and her sources aim to answer these questions.

It is entirely possible for a seasoned -- or not so seasoned -- scientist to make it as a writer, but that doesn't mean it's easy. In Survival Secrets of Freelance Writers, Canadian correspondent and frequent freelancer Andrew Fazekas joins a select group of freelance writers in offering advice on surviving in this hectic world and noting that earning a living as an independent science writer takes discipline, perseverance, and a thick skin.

Finally, Managing Editor and long-time freelancer Alan Kotok offers his Freelancer's Business Start-Up Kit, a succinct introduction to the business aspects of writing for a living independently.

Source: Science Careers by Andrew Fazekas and Jim Austin


Alternative Careers: Switching Gears

With shrinking funding and growing population of Ph.D.s, for the great majority of Ph.D.s, launching a faculty position is becoming more and more unrealistic. When research not for you, it is not the end. It is a new beginning for us. We need to open our eyes, and then our arms to all other options in this world.

I will introduce some other career paths for our Ph.D.s. Wish you can find something useful.

Faith in God is down to your genes, says Researcher

Do you believe in God? Which may be controlled by your genetics-God Gene. I just read this article, very fascinating, although controversial.

Whether or not you are religious and believe in God is down to your genes, says Dean Hamer, National Cancer Institute's Gene Structure Regulation Unit, USA. He reckons Jesus, Mohammed (the prophet) and Buddha probably carried the 'God Gene' in them. Church representatives have criticised Dean Hamer's findings.

Church representatives say Hamer fails to understand exactly what faith is and what it entails.

This is not the first time Hamer has come out with controversial findings. In 1993, he said there was a DNA sequence associated with homosexuality.

Hamer claims there is a version of the VMAT2 gene that is a 'God Gene'. The presence of this version of the gene makes the person who has it more religious and spiritual than people who do not.

Hamer has written a book called 'The God Gene - How Faith is Hard Wired into our Genes'.

Hamer studied 2,000 DNA samples. He interviewed 2,000 people extensively (226 questions in each interview). The questions, among other things, looked at how spiritual a person is and what their level of faith in God is.

He found that the VMAT2 Gene was significantly more common among people who believed in a higher spiritual being. According to his research, whether or not your upbringing is religious has no bearing on how religious you turn out to be - but the presence of the VMAT2 Gene version does.

Hamer believes Buddha, Mohammed and Jesus probably had the version of the VMAT2 Gene. He said they all experienced a series of mystical experiences or alterations in consciousness.

Hamer said "This means that the tendency to be spiritual is part of genetic make-up. This is not a thing that is strictly handed down from parents to children. It could skip a generation - it's like intelligence."

A spokesman for the Church of Scotland, Donald Bruce, said Hamer's declarations were nothing more than a publicity stunt as his book is launched. He said God makes himself available to all equally and there is no such thing as a God Gene.

According to Donald Bruce, Hamer had told him a year ago that the term 'God Gene' was misleading.

This is not the first time the Church has disagreed with the findings of scientists. Many years ago, the Church got upset with Galileo because he said the earth went round the sun, he also said the earth was round (not flat).


Sunday, February 3, 2008


Mastering Your Ph.D.: Dealing With Difficult Colleagues

In an ideal world, your lab would contain only bright, capable people working harmoniously together in the pursuit of scientific knowledge. If this describes your lab, count yourself lucky, because most scientists work in close quarters with at least one person who tries your patience or is difficult to get along with.

By difficult people, we mean those whose attitude and behaviour can sabotage your work and career. Take a look around your lab or department (and in a mirror, too!) to see if you recognise any of these "types" who have the potential to sink your career or your self-esteem:

- Star Researcher (a.k.a. The Hotshot): The Star Researcher is on the fast track to success--or so he thinks--and has an ego to match his ambition. He or she dominates group meetings and touts his own success while belittling the contributions of others. Your supervisor gives him the best projects and showers him with attention and praise.

- The Energizer Bunny: This dynamo seems to live in the lab. He's there when you arrive in the morning and when you leave at night and seems to run twice as many experiments as anyone else. All this would be fine if it weren't for his tendency to treat with derision anyone who doesn't show the same fierce dedication that he does.

- The Stealth Bomber: The Stealth Bomber attacks without warning. Right in the middle of a group meeting or department gathering, she'll say something about your latest failed experiment or cock-up in the lab. The Stealth Bomber operates best in front of an audience and loves nothing more than to ambush others.

- The Know-It-All: Without any prompting, this person will launch into a lecture on the right way to do a procedure or protocol or look over your shoulder and announce that what you're doing is "all wrong." "Here, let me show you" is the Know-It-All's mantra as he plucks a pipette from your hand.

- Woe Is Me: Ah, the chronic complainer. Everything in this person's life is grist for the mill. Experiments aren't going well, she isn't getting along with her supervisor, there are problems in her personal life, and the equipment is not up to par. If it exists, this individual will complain about it.

- The Hornet: A prime candidate for anger-management coaching, the hornet will explode with wrath for no reason at all or if confronted, challenged, or rubbed the wrong way. You and everyone else in the lab walk on eggshells in fear that The Hornet will deliver a nasty sting.

- Sneak Thief: The Sneak Thief borrows your equipment and expertise, picks your brain for ideas, then refuses to give credit when credit is due. When the Sneak Thief has a success, he'll say he did it all on his own.

- Who, Me?: This person has a hard time keeping commitments. Say that you've decided to work on a project together and have divided up the work. Then it comes time to deliver: "Who, me? Was I supposed to do that experiment? Order those supplies? Calibrate the machine?"

Strategies for coping

Perhaps you're the type of person who usually turns the other cheek in difficult situations and prefers to avoid conflict at all cost. If that's the case, your strategy so far has been to ignore the difficult person. But in a lab situation, avoiding the difficult person will only make matters worse: He or she will go on being difficult, and you will feel increasing discomfort, not to mention resentment. Bringing the problem to your supervisor's attention may seem like another option, but not all supervisors are good managers.

So how do you deal with a difficult co-worker? Each type of person requires a different approach, but there are some simple things you can do to diffuse the tension. For some types of difficult behaviour, the best approach may be to talk to the individual about how his behaviour affects you. For other types, more subtle and oblique ways of dealing with the problem behaviour may be required.

When dealing with the Star Researcher, it's easy to get defensive: "Why does she get all the attention?" In this case, though, the best response is no response. Confrontation may cause things to escalate, and you'll end up with a powerful foe. When alone with your supervisor, resist the temptation to mention your irritation with the Star Researcher's ego; criticism from you will seem like sour grapes. Second, concentrate on producing great work. When you submit your own (dazzling) work for publication, the peer-reviewers won't know or care about the Star Researcher's outsized ego. It's the work that counts in the end, so make sure yours is top-notch.

To the Stealth Bomber you might say: "During group meetings, I've noticed you habitually bring up problems I'm having with my research. I understand that this makes for dynamic discussions, but I'd feel better if I could bring up those issues myself." The advantage of this approach is that by explaining why a certain behaviour upsets you, you focus on the behaviour rather than the individual. By being direct but subtle, you also allow the Stealth Bomber to save face by, it is hoped, getting him to see your point of view. This approach also lets the Stealth Bomber know you're aware of what he's doing. Every time it happens, bring it up again until he stops.

With the chronic complainer, you might try adopting a stance of neutral listening rather than co-complaining and feeding the complaint cycle. For example, acknowledge what the complainer is saying by nodding and making neutral statements such as, "Hmm, I'm sorry to hear that." Let the complainer moan about how bad everything is for 2 minutes and then move into problem-solving mode. You might say: "It must not be easy to get work done when your equipment keeps breaking down. So what are you going to do about it?" In short, reward positive action, not endless complaining.

When dealing with aggressive individuals such as The Hornet, the best way to cope with an angry outburst is to do nothing. In some cases, it is best to let such an individual rant. Remain cool and detached, and when he's finished, walk away. Or, depending on how volatile the situation is, you might suggest that you'll discuss the issue when he's ready to talk calmly about it. By adopting a Zen approach and not allowing an outburst to escalate, you probably will eventually stop being a target of his anger.

The Know-It-All can be particularly irritating in the competitive atmosphere of a lab, where everyone is working hard to become an expert. One way to defuse the Know-It-All is by agreeing with everything he says. Nod thoughtfully and then introduce your own thoughts and opinions in a questioning manner: "Your way of doing that procedure sounds terrific, but have your ever considered … ?"

As for the Energizer Bunny, so what if she puts in 16-hour days in the lab and runs marathons on the weekends? If that's not your style, so be it. Embrace your positive attributes and don't beat yourself up because you work at a pace different from someone else's. It might help to find subtle ways to let the Energizer Bunny know that your work is just as important to you as hers is to her. If you make it clear that you won't be intimidated by her input or output, you may even earn her respect.

Monitor your response

Finally, take a look at how you react when dealing with a difficult person. Do you get defensive, angry, intimidated, irritated? Or are you able to brush it off? A big part of dealing with difficult people is having confidence in your own work. Building confidence takes time, but as you start to amass a steady stream of successful experiments and publications, other people's attitudes and behaviours will matter less. In the short term, it might help to remember that difficult people often act as they do out of fear. And ultimately, because you can't really change another person's behaviour, all you can do is change how you handle it. So keep working on your own goals and don't allow others to undermine you.

Working with difficult people is never easy. But if you learn how to cope with contrary colleagues early in your career, particularly in the competitive atmosphere of a lab, you will develop valuable coping and people-management skills that will serve you time and again, wherever your career path takes you.

Source: by Patricia Gosling

Saturday, February 2, 2008


Ready Your Job for Recession

Amid market slides and the ever-present threat of recession, you'd be smart to prepare yourself (and your job) for a rocky road ahead. Plenty of big companies, including Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO), Sprint (NYSE: S), and Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS), have announced or are expected to announce substantial layoffs.

Times have definitely changed. Don't let old assumptions and behaviors leave you unprepared if layoffs affect your job.

Out: Assuming your job is safe. In: Readying for the worst
Making the assumption that you're secure in your job is a misstep. Instead, take some steps to prepare yourself for the distinct possibility of layoffs by doing the following:

Out: Water-cooler talk. In: Networking
Use time on the job to make strategic alliances and partnerships that will advance your career goals. Take care not to alienate anyone along the chain of command -- low to high; you never know when that could come back to haunt you. Make sure, too, that you reestablish contact with old colleagues and employers who may offer valuable support or assistance in any future job hunt.

Out: Vacations. In: Training
Now may not be the best time to indulge yourself with the vacation of your dreams. Time away means an opportunity for your boss to assess how well the company can get along in your absence. The exception? Pursuing advanced training that will make your skills on the job that much more valuable -- and make you much more difficult to replace. Work with your boss to determine what type of training would be most beneficial, both to you and your company. A bonus? You can use the training as an opportunity to network with others in your field.

Out: Cutting out early. In: Asking for extra responsibilities
Perception is everything. If colleagues see you cutting out early on a regular basis, they won't stop to ask if you have your work completed before they pass judgment. Instead, volunteer for extra work, lend a hand to colleagues, and fill in for those on vacation. Of course, it pays to be strategic in your extra efforts. Send work-related emails late at night or early in the morning and come into the office on the nights or weekends when you know the boss is there, too.

Out: Expecting to be noticed. In: Making sure your value is noticed
Make sure that your employer has multiple examples of your worth to the company. You can do this formally (by creating a portfolio that includes an updated resume and work samples) and include it as part of a performance review. A less formal approach might be asking your boss how you can offer even greater value to your company, while outlining your current contributions. Either way, you want your boss -- if he or she faces a decision about whether to lay off you or the guy in the next cubicle -- to have the impression that you're flexible, eager to learn, hard-working, and accomplished.

The time to follow through on these job-saving measures is now. While no strategy can guarantee that your current job is safe, you can't go wrong in upping your value as an employee.

Source: by Elizabeth Brokamp

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