Dr. Gina Stewart on Career Flexibility and Entrepreneurship
Mar28

Dr. Gina Stewart on Career Flexibility and Entrepreneurship

We're about to close up the world headquarters of Terra Sigillata to head out and convene with the PharmFamily in points north for Easter (but, thankfully, not a Nor'easter.) Before we do, I'd like to draw your attention to a short but astute editorial in The Chronicle of Higher Education by chemist Gina Stewart. Stewart launches her essay with a concise description of a dichotomy that's giving all of us agita: The STEM paradox: At a time when we have a national dialogue about the dearth of students pursuing these degrees, newly minted Ph.D.’s are having a harder time landing academic jobs. She then talks about her career and what she considers to be the shortest postdoc on record (believe me, Gina, I know of many shorter) in the UNC-Chapel Hill laboratory of Joe DeSimone. There, the seeds were planted for entrepreurship and a fascination with the practical applications of carbon dioxide. Years later, Stewart is now CEO of Arctic, Inc., a company that uses sustainable weed control methods by selectively freezing these nasty invasive threats to biodiversity - her company site is appropriately named frostkills.com. Her experience is one example where one takes a different approach to a chemistry career than following in the traditional academic progression. The first commenter already admonished her for saying that she was pursuing an alternative career. Based on percentages, being a tenure-track faculty member is now the alternative. It's a great read so enjoy. I was also delighted to learn that she and her husband live just west of the Research Triangle and base their company in Clemmons,...

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Are Popes and Chemistry Immiscible?
Mar12

Are Popes and Chemistry Immiscible?

Well, leave it to the British to put together one of the most enjoyable exercises of the day, at least for those of us with even a few remaining molecules of Catholicism. With apologies to my calculus teacher, Sister Agnes Mary of St. Mary's High School in Rutherford, New Jersey, I present to you the UK Guardian's Pontifficator. Choose your own pope – with our interactive Pontifficator This week, 115 cardinals will be secreted in the Sistine Chapel to select one of their number as the next head of the Catholic church. You can't get in to see them but you can use our interactive to explore their views on issues from contraception to relations with other faiths, peruse their CVs, and choose the man you think is best qualified for the job. Tap the pictures to read more about the candidates. There's a note on how we categorised them here Finding a pontiff who meets all of one's criteria is tougher than finding an apartment in New York City. But my selection ended up being Archbishop of Tegucigalpa (Honduras), Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga. The clincher? Of the 10 academic candidates, he's taught chemistry and physics. Of course, I'm not keen on his rating for handling the sex abuse scandals in the church and, shockingly, his agreement with the current pope that condoms will not prevent the global HIV/AIDS crisis. Umm, I don't know what kind of chemistry and physics he taught. So if I still were a churchgoer, I'd have to pass on Rodríguez Maradiaga. Italy's "tech-savvy" Gianfranco Ravasi is notable for having hosted the 2009 Vatican conference on evolution. But something tells me that this time won't break the latest string of non-Italian popes. For those of you interested in the outcome of the papal conclave, who are your favorites? I'm hoping it's someone from South America or...

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“Suicide Before PhD Defense”
Feb27

“Suicide Before PhD Defense”

I just received two hits to my PhD defense post using this search phrase. To the reader: If you are in such dire straits of stress before your defense, please call 911 immediately or get yourself to your local emergency room. The specter of the dissertation defense can amplify self-doubt and if you are considering suicide, you and your family and friends would be better served by you postponing your defense and checking into a hospital for a couple of weeks. If I can be of any help, please Gmail me at abelpharmboy call me at 919.564.9564. But first call...

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The Nobel’s great, but take a look at this!
Jan10

The Nobel’s great, but take a look at this!

  As I alluded to earlier on this index page, I was fortunate to score the cover story the January 9th issue of the Research Triangle's alternative weekly paper, INDY Week. Therein, I told the story of Robert J. Lefkowitz, MD, the biochemist and cardiologist who shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2012 with his former cardiology fellow, Brian K. Kobilka, MD, of Stanford University. In this first edition of pixels that didn't make it to the final article, I want to follow on the moments after I took this photo after interviewing Bob for the article. He was kind enough to bring in his original Nobel medal and diploma for me to see and photograph (he's currently having a replica made of the medal so that he doesn't have to carry around the real one.). As I was packing up my recorder, camera, and notebook, he pointed over at the sofa across his office where this framed photograph sat: On October 19th, a week or so after the Nobel announcement, Lefkowitz was invited to Duke's legendary Cameron Indoor Stadium for the men's basketball season kickoff/pep rally called Countdown to Craziness. Lefkowitz was called out to center court where Coach Mike Krzyzewski and the 2012-13 men's team presented him with his own Duke basketball jersey embroidered with his name and the number 1. Lefkowitz's lab group framed the photo and had the entire team and Coach K autograph the matte. After packing up his Nobel medal and diploma, Bob pointed over to the picture and said, “How do you like that picture? My lab gave me this framed photograph - signed by the whole team – and Coach K. Which’ll really be something if they win the championship this year. Yeah, I’ll really have something.” Uh, yeah. But you'll still have the Nobel prize regardless.   Here's a low-res video of the event. The commentators babbled about basketball until 1:13 when they finally told their audience what they were watching. But listen to the crowd as the team left Lefkowitz at center court. For me, the scene was reminiscent of a story I remember being told by the Southern "Grit Lit" writer and University of Florida writing professor, Harry Crews. Crews passed away last May at age 76 and had been beloved on the UF campus. But he was never as popular as the Florida Gators football team. I can't find the precise reference right now but I recall him speaking of a dream he had where he was sitting with his typewriter at the 50-yard line of Florida Field ("The Swamp"). He then typed what he thought was...

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Lefkowitz IndyWeek Outtakes
Jan10

Lefkowitz IndyWeek Outtakes

I was fortunate to be able to tell the story of Duke University biochemist and cardiologist Dr. Robert J. Lefkowitz in the 9 January 2013 issue of the Research Triangle's award-winning alt-weekly, INDY Week. Even with editor Lisa Sorg graciously offering 3,000+ words for the story on one of the 2012 Nobel laureates in chemistry, some terrific bits of my interviews with Bob and major players in his story didn't make it into the final version. Over the next few days, I'll post some of these gems. This page will index the running list of those posts. The Nobel's Great, But Take a Look at This! - Lefkowitz reveals where Duke men's basketball sits in his list of priorities...

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Thoughts on the “Doctoral Glut Dilemma” Webinar

As I wrote last Thursday, ACS Webinars featured an hour-long discussion on the perceived overabundance of PhD-level chemists and potential solutions to employment challenges. The site should have the entire discussion archived within a week. I participated in the session and ended up posting my thoughts at the new Forbes.com home of my other blog, Take As Directed. I'm hoping to get comments from a wider group of readers over there who might have impact on hiring of chemistry PhDs. One of the major points that struck me was the view by Harvard economist, Dr. Richard Freeman, that the chemistry job market might bounce back more quickly than the biosciences. But he views this comeback to occur slowly over the next three to four years. Freeman attributes chemistry's upper hand to two factors. First, US doctoral chemistry programs have had a fairly constant PhD supply rate over the last 40 years of approximately 2,000/year. In contrast, the biosciences have exploded from about 3,000 PhDs/year in the 1970s to 15,000 during 2010. Second, Freeman states that chemistry is far less dependent on federal research funding since 50% to 75% of chemistry PhDs ultimately go on to work in industry. As such, he expects the recovering economy to help chemists far more than those in the biological and biomedical sciences. I'd love to hear your feedback now or after the webinar is posted later this week. In the meantime, check out my thoughts over at Forbes.com. Addendum: I've since learned that chemistry bloggers Chemjobber and See Arr Oh have posted a podcast discussing this ACS webinar....

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