Science Policy and Communication
Dec06

Science Policy and Communication

The post du jour is by Paul Vallett, a grad student in physical chemistry  at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He's got a shiny new blog called electron cafe where he discusses his research, energy, and science policy (I highly recommend the Explosion Fridays). So true to his usual topics, he wrote a bit for us about science policy. Share and enjoy. When was the last time you attended a talk outside of your specific area of research? I study physical chemistry and recently went to a talk by Dr Paul Nurse, a 2001 Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine. I don’t have a strong background in biochemistry, but background in biochemistry, but how often do you get the chance to hear a Nobel Laureate speak? I went with my whole lab group and found a packed auditorium. After the talk our lab heartily agreed that Dr.Nurse was an excellent speaker but that we all had no idea what he was really talking about. This is not meant to be a slight on Dr. Nurse, because I am sure that if he attended one of our physical chemistry seminars he would have a similar experience. Scientists and researchers typically can easily communicate within their own research community but those outside the community cannot penetrate the barrier of scientific terms, jargon, and basic knowledge of the field needed to achieve full understanding of the work. If this is a problem for scientists who are from somewhat similar scientific disciplines, imagine the difficulty that someone without a scientific background will have when attempting to understand the importance of research results. This is a problem that plagues decision makers that require the findings of scientific research to create sound policy but do not have the time to sift through reams of published papers in an attempt to understand the results. This is where scientists who are able to have a deep understanding of research and can still communicate effectively with a broad audience are extremely valuable. Entering the field of science and technology policy is an option for those who wish to leave the laboratory behind but have a desire to use their technical background in a manner that has direct impact on policy decisions made. Here are a few opportunities in policy that you can explore while enrolled in graduate school and after graduation. Certificate Programs Graduate certificates are earned alongside your normal degree, similar to a minor on an undergraduate degree and are meant to supplement your program's coursework. Many graduate institutions now offer graduate certificates in the area of science and technology policy. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has...

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Profile: web entrepreneur
Dec01

Profile: web entrepreneur

Today's post is by the lovely and talented Biochembelle, a postdoc in biochemistry who blogs both at LabSpaces (Ever on & on) and There and (hopefully) back again. Today she leads us down the road of Alan Marnett, creator of BenchFly. Chemist. Entrepreneur. Oh, and he might just save a bit of your sanity. Alan Marnett is the founder of BenchFly, “a web-based resource and holistic, everyday guide for the entire career of a scientist.” Marnett is just the sort of guy you might expect to see in a chemistry lab. He’s a third-generation chemist. “Even as a kid, it appeared my chemistry genes were highly expressed,” Marnett joked. “Actually, it was probably more like my ‘will-these-two-kitchen-items-blow-up-when-I-mix-them’ genes.” He received a Ph.D. in Chemistry and Chemical Biology from UCSF and went on to a postdoctoral position at MIT, intending to eventually go into academia. “However, two years into my postdoc, I began to question whether an academic position was right for me,” Marnett said. “While there were many aspects I loved about becoming a professor, I felt I owed it to myself to at least consider other opportunities–to sort of career date before deciding to marry the lab.” But which career to date? “I found I gravitated toward entrepreneurial opportunities. I like the idea of trying to turn a dream into a reality, whether it’s pursuing a specific research project or starting a web-based resource for scientists.” It was during Marnett’s undergraduate work at Trinity University that the idea for BenchFly first shimmered into being, although he didn’t realize it at the time, he said. There he worked with a postdoc named Chad Peterson, who had both a passion for teaching and “golden hands,” as Marnett put it. “Every reaction he set up seemed to work,” he said. “Chad taught me all of the tips and tricks he’d learned over the years, and it was those techniques that gave me the skills and confidence to continue in research.” But when Marnett got to grad school, he discovered that not everyone was like Peterson. “I realized that whether a student gets properly trained or not is unfortunately pretty random—it depends on the project, the lab, the PI,” he said. “I saw many colleagues end up in bad situations that eventually soured them on research and drove them to leave science altogether.” But Marnett thought that there must be a better way. “I wanted to try to develop a resource that supported scientists and made them feel that they have a mentor and partner committed to their success both in and out of the lab–like a virtual Chad,” he said. So...

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These alternative careers? Maybe not so much.
Nov24

These alternative careers? Maybe not so much.

Today for your reading pleasure, we've got a guest post from the ever witty Chemjobber. According to him, not all alternative jobs are good ideas. . Leigh's always writing about good alternative careers for chemists; here, I suggest a few bad ones for those of you contemplating leaving graduate school or a postdoc for something, anything else. Don't try any of these: . 1. Counselor/psychotherapist: I can only imagine it: "Hey, dude -- your Dad doesn't like you? Cry me a river -- I worked for a guy for five back-breakin' years and all I got was this lousy sheepskin and a postdoc at East Butterfinger State College." Chemists just aren't big on sympathy. . 2. Singer: Sure there are some pretty decent folks who can sing along to the radio, but for every one of those, there's ten people screeching "Every Rose Has A Thorn" at the top of their lungs while running a column. Face it, none of us are going to Hollywood. . 3. Traffic cop: "Yeah, I don't really know how fast you were going, either. Probably 45 mph, plus or minus 5 or 10. What is the margin of error on this thing, anyway?" . 4. Organic farmer: The confusion between organic food and organic chemistry would be enough to make your head explode. Don't even attempt it, especially if you snicker every time you see "organic" written at the grocery store. . 5. Nurse: See #1. . 6. Temperance campaigner: Have you ever seen us before a departmental seminar or a Friday happy hour? Keep moving, folks. . 7. Diplomat: "You see, Senor Presidente, the reason we're invading you is, well, we just don't like you. And you rejected our paper a couple years back. Yeah, no, we haven't forgotten. Enjoy!" . 8. Motivational speaker: "So the reason that you should live your dreams and strive for excellence is... is... is... 'cause I've been here 5 years and I desperately need a job! Kids, I'm your role model!" . 9. Dancer: It's Thursday night, the chemists are out drinkin' and jerking their bodies around dancin' , and well, not really doing the field any favors. Cutting a rug, so to speak, isn't something chemists are good at (even though there are rare exceptions). . 10. Fashion designer: "So for this year's spring fashions, T-shirts! In all different colors: blue, blue, blue and blue. Don't forget these awesome acid holes! This one, that'll get them talking in Milan!" . Thanks so much to Chemjobber for his infinite wisdom. Oh, and this blog post. And speaking of thanks, if you're American, have a great Thanksgiving tomorrow!...

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Profile: Chemistry Librarian
Nov17

Profile: Chemistry Librarian

If I had to do it all over again, I think I'd be a librarian. They just tend to kind of awesome, you know? (If you don't believe me, check out the winners of last year's ALA Book Cart Drill Team World Championship.) Today we have a guest post by librarian Donna Wrublewski, who's in charge of the chemical sciences collection at the University of Florida. She may not play with book carts, but I think how she got interested in science qualifies her for the awesome badge as well. It all started when my mom and I discovered Doctor Who when I was about 5 or 6. I wanted to be a “mad scientist” who ran around saving the world. Science in general, and astrophysics in particular, captured my imagination. When I learned that fireworks were the result of chemical reactions, I was sold on chemistry. I felt an engineering degree would be more practical than a chemistry degree so I studied chemical engineering as an undergrad at MIT. However, all the pipes and numbers didn’t really agree with me, but my polymer science classes did, so that’s the direction I went in for graduate school. I went to the University of Massachusetts Amherst for my master’s and doctorate degrees, and worked mainly on mechanics of polymers. I learned all aspects of polymer chemistry, physics, and engineering, which made me very well suited for my current position – a librarian! I had been considering information science for a while, particularly after having experience with traditional academia and industry - neither one felt a perfect fit. Academia felt too “cut-throat” and single-track. I took time off from graduate school to work in industry, and it felt equally as single-track, as well as too dependent on the economy. I found my current job posting on Twitter, which was a perfect metaphor for my job talk (Chemistry and Web 2.0 technology, and how it applies to libraries). I learned all the resources I am now teaching to my patrons by actually being a graduate student in chemistry. I know where to direct them for reference questions and help them find the info they need, because chances are, I once needed the same thing. When I started, I immediately had a good rapport with graduate students because at the time, I technically still was one (I just finished my PhD this summer, after starting at UF in January). Having advanced degrees in chemistry has helped me interact with the faculty as they value the subject expertise I bring to this position. And the library faculty and staff are wonderful, especially because now...

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Chemist as cook–part deux
Nov08

Chemist as cook–part deux

Chemist. Cook. From Chemjobber’s previous post, it seems like the two professions do have some things in common. But is there any more to that? To get the dish on the details, I had a bit of natter with local area chef Nels Boerner, who happens to be my husband. So yeah, we're married. He knows what I do. I know what he does. Plus Nels just likes the chemistry. So between the two of us, we were able to come up with several additional ways that chemistry and cooking are the same. But also different. . A recipe log is totally like a lab book Nels was the executive chef at a French/American/Creole restaurant here in town for a number of years, which means he was in charge of developing new recipes to put on the menu. Record keeping for this process was done in a recipe log, which sounds a lot like a lab notebook to me. “When you set out to create a recipe, you start and you write down everything you put into a dish, then you make it, then you evaluate it,” Nels said. If it’s not so good? Then you start making changes. “But not too many changes at once,” he said. “Then you evaluate it, and if it’s still not what you want, you make more changes.” It goes on a while like that, he said. Change, record, change, record. “You need exact repeatability,” Nels said, so the cooks on the line can make it the same each time. And for each recipe, “you go through at least three iterations, and some times as many as ten.” . Making new molecules is NOT like making new recipes So how many times have you walked into the lab and thought, “Gosh! I’d better use up the rest of that n-butyl lithium before it goes bad!” This is actually how a lot of new recipes get made in a commercial kitchen. It’s a matter of necessity, Nels said. “You may have x amount of an ingredient in the restaurant that you have to use up, and it’s not enough to make some other recipe, but you don’t want to just throw it away,” he said. “So you take that ingredient and make something with it.” A lot of knowing what kind of tastes to pair with what comes from experience, but to create something totally new? That takes working with something Nels calls his “mind’s taste.” “I start out with the main ingredient of the recipe and I imagine in my mind what it tastes like,” he said, “then I got through seasoning containers and...

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