Category → The Working Scientist
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.).
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
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.
Addendum: I’ve since learned that chemistry bloggers Chemjobber and See Arr Oh have posted a podcast discussing this ACS webinar.
Don’t say ACS have their heads in the sand. A webinar this afternoon will face head-on the reality of training to be a doctoral-level chemist in today’s job market.
Is higher education producing more doctoral scientists than the market can absorb? With the attendance rates at graduate schools increasing, has the private sector’s growth been able to keep up and will there be enough options for tomorrow’s PhDs? Join our two experts Richard Freeman and Paula Stephan as they share their viewpoints on the state of higher education, the economy and how industry and academia can better prepare current and future graduates.
I’m not privy to any other advance information than what’s on the ACS Webinars™ website but others I’ve viewed have been top-quality.
I obviously encourage viewing by current doctoral trainees in chemistry and postdocs. Giving yourself a competitive edge in this market is information anyone can use.
But I particularly urge undergrads currently interviewing for chemistry doctoral programs to tune in. One of the four primary discussion topics will be assessing graduate programs for their ultimate employment record of their trainees.
Take advantage of what your professional society is offering.
Date: Thursday November 8, 2012 (TODAY!)
Time: 2:00-3:00 pm ET
To celebrate National Chemistry Week, the esteemed synthetic chemist blogger See Arr Oh put out a call for folks to describe to younger folks how they got where there are in the broad field of chemistry:
What do you do all day? What chemistry skills do you use in your line of work? How do you move up the ladder in chemistry? What do I need to do to be in your shoes?
The resulting answers from other bloggers — and any respondents, for that matter — will be compiled at his blog, Just Like Cooking, in what’s called a blog carnival. Specifically, contributors to blog carnivals are asked to respond to a theme or a series of questions. Here’s the list and below are my responses. You may find it helpful to play this Talking Heads video while reading my answers.
Your current job.
What you do in a standard “work day.”
What kind of schooling / training / experience helped you get there?
How does chemistry inform your work?
Finally, a unique, interesting, or funny anecdote about your career*
The most important question to ask yourself - If I were just coming into the field, would I learn something useful from your story?
How many of you could say this about your laboratory group?
In the hall outside the champagne reception for Bob Lefkowitz’s lab on Wednesday at Duke University Medical Center, I had a chance to catch up with Marti Delahunty, PhD. Delahunty is a research scientist in a connecting building but worked in the Lefkowitz group from 1998 until 2006.
This brief chat brings to mind Carmen Drahl’s post about one’s laboratory being your second family.
PIs, trainees, technicians, and administrators: Tell me if you’d be able to say the same about the environment of your laboratory.
As discussed in my previous post, I took a personal day off from work yesterday to bask in the excitement of a university community celebrating a Nobel prize for one of its most beloved researchers, Dr. Robert “Bob” Lefkowitz, MD. He joined Duke in 1973 when, he says, “it was not the powerhouse it is today.”
Lefkowitz will share the prize with his former trainee, Brian Kobilka, MD, now at Stanford University.
I had the honor of joining his laboratory’s champagne celebration in the morning and the Duke University press conference in the early afternoon. (The full 47-minute press conference streamed live and is archived here at Duke.).
I live barely three miles from Duke and had no idea when or if I’d ever have the chance to be so close to such an event. The Lefkowitz prize is particularly meaningful to me as he is a biochemist physician-scientist who also considers himself a pharmacologist. So, I write this not so much as a journalist but rather — as Duke Research Communications Director Karl Leif Bates put it — a fan boy.
Forgive me for sporting my crankypants today but I had originally intended to be in Islamorada right now, snorkeling and kayaking. Between the PharmKid hurting her wrist in nature camp (4 weeks in a cast) and my 4 weeks in an ankle brace, the PharmFamily took advantage of the wise purchase of trip insurance and stayed home to nurse our wounds.
So, I’m not in much of a happy mood with two of this week’s developments with the American Chemical Society, one of which revisits a longstanding argument over the organization’s pricing of its scholarly journals.
If you haven’t heard, yesterday’s clusterfluster was with regard to the library of the State University of New York at Potsdam (SUNY Potsdam) choosing to forego the purchase of ACS journals this year.
From Jenica’s self-described tl;dr summary:
SUNY Potsdam will not be subscribing to an American Chemical Society online journal package for 2013. We will instead be using a combination of the Royal Society of Chemistry content, ACS single title subscriptions, the ACS backfile, and ScienceDirect from Elsevier** to meet our chemical information needs. We’re doing this because the ACS pricing model is unsustainable for our institution and we were unable to find common ground with the sales team from the ACS. Instead, we explored other options and exercised them. You could do the same if you find yourself in a position similar to ours as ACS standardizes their pricing, and maybe together we can make enough choices to make our voices heard in meaningful ways.
Note to Readers: After reading through my writing here and at my Take As Directed blog between October, 2011, and October, 2012, I’ve decided to submit this post as my entry for The Best Science Writing Online 2013, formerly The Open Laboratory. The 2012 version was published by the Farrar, Straus and Giroux imprint of Scientific American.
While the post details my emotions and recollections over a personal loss, I believe that it best reflects one of my strengths as a science writer: use of a personal story to touch on our own universal experiences as human beings who chose science as our vocation. All of you must have someone like Al Malkinson in your life. And he supported women in science long before special discussions groups on the topic even existed.
Finally, I also feel that my closing discussion — the lost art of the Festschrift — is an issue we must revitalize in modern scientific research. We rarely recognize our mentors and leaders while they are alive. I hope that my writing here motivates me (and you) to take action to formally celebrate the contributions of those who are still with us.
Those who make the deepest impression on you become the fabric of your being. Think about those who’ve passed through your life and have influenced your approach to science, society, family. . .
Even if years have passed since seeing one another, the lessons and attributes of these very special people continue to stay with you. But rarely do we truly get to express to these treasured souls just how much they have meant to us.
My first faculty mentor, lung cancer researcher Alvin M. Malkinson, PhD, passed away last Friday in Boulder, CO, at age 71.
Professionally, Al was Professor of Biochemical Pharmacology in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy, now on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. But if you were fortunate enough to know him, you learned that he was a scholar of the world, lover of the arts, and true gentleman.
I last visited the pharmacy school two years ago and had learned from colleagues that Al had been ill. He apparently deteriorated rapidly during this July and passed from pneumonia secondary to other complications.
I hadn’t been able to get back to Denver last summer or this year but I now realize that wasn’t an excuse not to at least call Al. I always remember Al as a vibrant, worldly soul whose intellectual energy, I thought, was likely to power him for a couple more decades. Alas, he has left us early – far too early – and without some of us being able to say goodbye.
Apologies in advance to any readers who might be put off by my writing about the science aspects of the Colorado movie theater tragedy. I was a faculty member at the University of Colorado in Denver from 1992 to 2001 and was in the area during the Columbine High School shooting rampage. I also still have some friends out there and feel a personal connection to the place and people who helped launch my independent research career. Nevertheless, I claim no special knowledge of the current inner workings of the University – all of my sources for this and other posts come from publicly-available information sources.
I write this disclaimer because Marisol Bello (@Marisol_Bello) and Dan Vergano (@dvergano) have an intriguing article today at USA Today on the relative level of specialized intelligence of the Colorado shooting suspect. The suspect was one of six students on a NIH neuroscience training grant – called a T32 Ruth L. Kirschstein Institutional National Research Service Award, or just T32 or NRSA. The specific grant that supported the suspect for his first year of graduate school at University of Colorado Denver is described here at the publicly-accessible NIH RePORTER database.
An “institutional” training grant?
These are training grants awarded to institutions, not specific students, that are noteworthy for having an excellent and comprehensive training environment for predoctoral students. The institutions awarded these grants then have the discretion to appoint the candidates for grant support.
This NIH notice (NOT-OD-12-033) describes the support given to each student appointed to the training grant: a stipend of $22,032 per year (to which Colorado adds to bump it up to $26,000), “training related expenses” of $4,200/year to cover things like health insurance, another $4,200/year to host laboratories to offset the costs of laboratory supplies, and 60% of the trainee’s tuition and fees up to $16,000/year (to which most schools add to completely cover tuition.)
Being appointed to one of these institutional training grants is generally considered to be less prestigious than winning an individual NRSA. These individual grants are awards given to the student’s mentoring professor based on the individual research project and training environment of the individual host laboratory, in addition to institutional considerations.
Still, institutions are judged on the quality of the students they appoint to institutional NRSAs. So, the Colorado shooting suspect had to meet some minimum undergraduate GPA and standardized GRE test scores.