Behind the Wood Shed with the ACS
Sep27

Behind the Wood Shed with the ACS

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. Here's the post from the Attempting Elegance blog of SUNY Potsdam Director of Libraries, Jenica P. Rogers, MLIS, and an accompanying article by Jennifer Howard at The Chronicle of Higher Education. 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. The news is not so much that journal pricing by ACS tends to favor the deeper pockets of institutions larger than SUNY Potsdam. It's a volume of use issue in a package pricing model. Instead, the response of Glenn Ruskin of the ACS Office of Public Affairs is what made news. A round-up: "This statement will be retracted, right?" and, "Glenn Ruskin clarifies his statement," from the pulse of the chemistry employment market, Chemjobber; "ACS to Bloggers: Shove It," by C&EN advisory board member, Chembark; "Are blogs journalism? Um, no. But they are a journalism medium," from one of my general faves, Emily Willingham "The American Chemical Society: Paving paradise to put up a parking lot," from the confessing science librarian, John Dupuis (others: please drop me a note in the comments if I missed yours)   In the Chronicle article, Mr. Ruskin is quoted as choosing not to engage with Ms. Rogers on her blog...

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The Colorado shooting suspect: how “smart?”
Jul25

The Colorado shooting suspect: how “smart?”

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. Not "supersmart" Getting back to the USA Today article, Bello and Vergano interviewed scientists who know of the suspect from his previous work in an eight-week summer science camp at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences in La Jolla, CA. They...

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WaPo: Not enough jobs for science PhDs
Jul07

WaPo: Not enough jobs for science PhDs

Tomorrow's frontpage of The Washington Post will run an article by Brian Vastag (Twitter, WaPo bio) on the employment challenges facing science PhDs. The difficulties are no secret to our readers - whether you are a freshly-minted PhD or a 50-something subjected to downsizing - but I believe that this is the highest profile treatment of the subject in the US print media. The article even cites the closure of the Roche campus in Nutley that we discussed two weeks ago and, below, employment numbers from the annual ACS survey. “Scads and scads and scads of people” have been cut free, [former Sanofi-Aventis scientist Kim] Haas said. “Very good chemists with PhDs from Stanford can’t find jobs.” Largely because of drug industry cuts, the unemployment rate among chemists now stands at its highest mark in 40 years, at 4.6 percent, according to the American Chemical Society, which has 164,000 members. For young chemists, the picture is much worse. Just 38 percent of new PhD chemists were employed in 2011, according to a recent ACS survey. Although the overall unemployment rate of chemists and other scientists is much lower than the national average, those figures mask an open secret: Many scientists work outside their chosen field. What amazes me are the number of comments already. I already followed Vastag on Twitter and when he tweeted about the article at 4:44 this afternoon, it had 22 comments. Right now, at 9:50 on Saturday night, the article has accumulated 504 comments. Some of these are nonsensical or non-sequiturs but the bulk are robust and on-topic. I can imagine that the sober assessment of PhD training vs. job market demands will be discussed far and wide on Sunday and in the coming week. One thing missing from the article was a discussion of the so-called alternative career paths where one uses PhD training but not in an academic or industrial setting. Even a typical non-lab career of science writing is becoming extremely competitive, both for salaried positions and freelancers. I hesitate to say this without complete data but we may indeed be reaching a point where more PhDs are being produced than can be absorbed by both academia/industry and non-laboratory positions. Source: Vastag, Brian. U.S. pushes for more scientists but the jobs aren't there. The Washington Post. 8 July...

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Call For Social Media Success Stories in Academia
Oct28

Call For Social Media Success Stories in Academia

We're packing up the world headquarters of Terra Sigillata this afternoon and high-tailing it out to San Jose, California, for the annual meeting of SACNAS - the Society Dedicated to Advancing Hispanics, Chicanos, and Native Americans in Science. It's a tremendous organization comprised of several of my former students and faculty colleagues from over the years and I'm ecstatic about reconnecting with them. With the initiative of my colleagues - Alberto Roca of MinorityPostdoc.org and Danielle Lee of The Urban Scientist at Scientific American blogs (plus a whole host of online activities) - we pitched and were accepted to present a session on Blogging, Tweeting, & Writing: How an Online Presence Can Impact Science and Your Career. I'll be discussing how a responsible, online presence on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook can enhance networking opportunities for graduate students, postdocs, and faculty. Specifically, I'll introduce how I've increased the exposure of my students who are RISE Scholars at North Carolina Central University. In this NIGMS-funded grant, I've been helping my students capture their research experiences in their own words (with previous review by their P.I.'s of course, to prevent accidental disclosure of unpublished data). The students have been surprised by the level of engagement and support they've received in the comments from scientists all around the world. But I know of many other students who use blogs and Twitter to engage with the scientific community in ways that brings them positive recognition outside of their academic and laboratory work. To better prepare for this session, I'd like to gather some advice from you, Dear Reader: Who are some of students, trainees, and junior faculty, who best exemplify the use of social media for career advancement? Are you a student who has had Good Things happen to you because of your social media activities? How did that transpire? If you have any responses, please drop a link in the comments with a brief explanation - or longer if you'd like! And also feel free to recommend the sites and stories of others. I'll be sure to promote your responses in tomorrow's talk and direct attendees to this post for future reference. The three of us thank you so much in advance for your...

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ACS Public Service Award to NIGMS Director, Jeremy Berg
Apr22

ACS Public Service Award to NIGMS Director, Jeremy Berg

We here at the World Headquarters of Terra Sigillata wanted to send a shout-out to the only friend of the science blogosphere who oversees a $2 billion budget, Dr. Jeremy Berg of the National Institute for General Medical Sciences. In an April 13th Capitol Hill ceremony, Dr. Berg was recognized with a 2011 American Chemical Society Public Service Award together with Norman P. Neureiter, Ph.D., senior advisor to the Center for Science Diplomacy at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The ACS press release states: Jeremy M. Berg, director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has been an advocate for scientific research, research training, and programs designed to increase the diversity of the biomedical and behavioral research workforce. He has served as director of NIGMS since November 2003, overseeing a diverse array of research in areas including chemistry, biological chemistry, and pharmacology. The institute supports more than 4,500 research grants, about 10 percent of the grants funded by NIH as a whole. Under Berg’s leadership, NIGMS has increased the visibility of the role chemistry plays in improving health and has recognized the importance of green chemistry. Berg has also overseen the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award and New Innovator Award programs, which encourage innovation by supporting exceptionally creative investigators. Prior to his appointment as NIGMS director, Berg directed the Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md., where he also served as professor and director of the department of biophysics and biophysical chemistry. In addition, he directed the Markey Center for Macromolecular Structure and Function and co-directed the W.M. Keck Center for the Rational Design of Biologically Active Molecules at the university. Our overlords colleagues at C&EN - Associate Editor Dr. Britt Erickson, to be precise - also ran an article this past Monday with a nice photo of Drs. Berg and Neureiter. Berg will be leaving NIGMS this summer to relocate with his wife, breast cancer imaging guru, Wendie Berg, MD, PhD, to the University of Pittsburgh as Associate Senior Vice Chancellor for Science Strategy and Planning (Pitt press release). While his departure is bittersweet for those of us who have engaged with him on a variety of levels, his decision is one that was widely lauded across the science blogosphere as in this December, 2010, blogpost by our colleague, DrugMonkey: Many of us are in dual-professional and even dual-academic partnerships these days. There are struggles and compromises that are almost as varied as the number of couples involved. Here's a member of a partnership taking what looks,...

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NIH biosketch change as “Kick Me” sign?
Mar04

NIH biosketch change as “Kick Me” sign?

Will deviating from TheOneTruePath of academic science result in penalties during NIH grant review? I say "no." But a non-scientific poll of researchers at GenomeWeb.com says otherwise. Last month, NIH grantees learned that the US medical research agency will now allow grant applicants to include in their biosketch any explanations for a reduced productivity due to career disruptions - read: gaps in one's publication record. The 16th February announcement, NOT-OD-11-045, reads in large part: The NIH is aware that personal issues can affect career advancement and productivity. Such considerations have shaped the implementation of the Early Stage Investigator Policy (see http://grants.nih.gov/grants/new_investigators/index.htm). That policy permits Principal Investigators to describe personal factors that may have delayed their transition to research independence. Such factors can occur at any point in a scientist’s career and include family care responsibilities, illness, disability, military service and other personal issues. This modification of the Biographical Sketch will permit Program Directors/Principal Investigators and other senior/key staff to describe personal circumstances that may have reduced productivity. Peer reviewers and others will then have more complete information on which to base their assessment of qualifications and productivity relevant to the proposed role on the project. Beginning with applications submitted for the May 25, 2011 and subsequent receipt dates, the biosketch instructions will include a modification of the personal statement section to remind applicants that they can provide a description of personal issues that may have reduced productivity. The revised instructions for the personal statement are shown below and should appear in applications toward the end of March: Personal statement: Briefly describe why your experience and qualifications make you particularly well-suited for your role (e.g., PD/PI, mentor) in the project that is the subject of the application. Within this section you may, if you choose, briefly describe factors such as family care responsibilities, illness, disability, and active duty military service that may have affected your scientific advancement or productivity. Personally, I think this is a fantastic idea, one that has been commented upon by my scientist-blogger colleagues, DrDrA (Twitter) at Blue Lab Coats and DrugMonkey (Twitter) at Drugmonkey blog. DoubleDoc's post is particularly noteworthy because she includes a 2008 letter she wrote to NIH's Dr. Vivian Pinn, Director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health, on how such a consideration would work toward leveling the playing field for women grant applicants. DrugMonkey's post cites a comment from Cath@VWXYNot? that such a policy has been in place for some time at the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR). Before I start getting mansplaining about how this policy favors women unfairly - because any deviation from the time-honored system of white...

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