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2003 WICB / Career Strategy Columns (Archive)

Pursuing Science Across the Pacific Ocean: Liqun Luo
  12/01/2003

Scientists born and educated in Asia have contributed significantly to life sciences research in the United States. Just open up any leading journal and one will find first authors, and increasingly senior authors, whose names are hard to pronounce for native English speakers. Applications to graduate school, postdoctoral and faculty positions are increasingly coming from Asian-born scientists. A significant proportion of this surge is contributed by scientists born in the People’s Republic of China, which opened the door to scientific as well as student exchange about 20 years ago. Given that one in five people living on this planet is born in China and assuming a roughly proportional distribution of talent and interest in biological research, it is not surprising that the sudden availability of this talent pool should contribute to the above phenomenon.

By many measures, scientists born and educated in Asia, usually through college, have been successful as a group in the development of their scientific careers in the U.S. (or going back to Asia after they are trained in the U.S.). However, behind these successes are many difficulties that Asianborn scientists have to overcome in pursuing science across the Pacific Ocean. In this essay I will focus on the special challenges facing scientists from China, although many of these challenges also apply to those from other Asian countries.

First, Chinese students need to find an appropriate graduate school to accept them for advanced education. Most top graduate schools need to interview their applicants before offering a place. This can be difficult to arrange for applicants from China. In addition, many schools have limited slots for international students because of NIH training grant restrictions. I was on the graduate admission committee of our department at Stanford for five years and witnessed these difficulties first-hand. Having benefited from talented Asian students, some U.S. universities have started to send professors to Asia to interview candidates there, which is a good idea.

After they get admitted, Chinese students must overcome visa problems. This has become much more problematic since 9/11. Often multiple interviews are required at American embassies or consulates, and even then visa requests are frequently declined. The National Academy of Sciences, among other institutions, is addressing this problem. For those that are successful in gaining permission to study in U.S. graduate schools, Asian students have to face many challenges including language, communication and socialization skills, and learning through critical evaluation of existing knowledge, probably in increasing order of difficulty. The last is especially problematic for many Chinese students, as the culture of the educational system in China is quite different from the U.S.: what the textbooks say is regarded as absolute truth; respecting authority (professors) is an important virtue. Asian students are not used to group discussions and critiquing textbooks, lectures, published papers or what professors have to say. In addition, a general lack of laboratory training in the undergraduate curriculum in China makes students’ laboratory rotations disorienting.

The help they receive from their American classmates and professors is invaluable. For students who are newly exposed to the environment and culture, an off-hand careless remark could be devastating at such a fragile stage. On the other hand, a kind gesture or word from a fellow student or professor can encourage a student immeasurably and may well change the destiny of their life.

The many students who are successful as graduate students move on to postdoctoral fellowships, and many of them then to faculty or other senior positions. Often the limiting factors are presentation skills and the ability to engage in interesting and effective scientific exchanges with their colleagues, both of which are important determinants in evaluations for these higher positions. These deficiencies stem from the original differences in language, culture, social and communication skills, and become all the more prominent as one’s career advances. Some get through this bottleneck by truly exceptional research accomplishments, others by consciously training themselves throughout graduate school and postdoc years. It cannot be overemphasized how important communication skills are, both oral and written. This of course is true for all scientists, but for Chinese scientists it takes extraordinary effort to train in these skills. From the perspective of faculty search committees, an open-mindedness to including colleagues raised in different cultures could increase diversity and exploit the talent pool from all over the world, both essential to keeping U.S. scientific research at the forefront.

After securing a faculty position, the endless tasks a professor has to deal with— teaching, grant writing, recruiting graduate students and postdocs, then not only training them in science but also sometimes being their psychological counselor—are amplified by whatever deficiencies have not been overcome since moving across the Pacific. An important new challenge at this stage is that social interactions with peers and leaders in the field become more important for name recognition (an area in which Chinese people in the U.S. are at an inherent disadvantage), successful grant and award applications, and promotion. There is more objectivity in science than in some other professions, yet one cannot deny the advantage gained by being pro-active about promoting one’s own research and being in the right social circle. These advantages are often less accessible to Chinese-born scientists, again because of their socialization skills, cultural barriers and their upbringing (modesty is a great virtue; pride is a vice).

Despite these challenges, many Asian-born scientists nevertheless achieve highly desired success, contributing to landmark scientific discoveries. Time will tell if they will also play leadership roles in their institutions and professional societies. Asian-born scientists at different levels also face the challenge of how they can contribute to scientific research and education in the country where they themselves grew up and were educated. Some choose to go back altogether to lead research laboratories and institutions there. Others spend considerable time supervising research groups in their home countries. Yet others actively participate in advising their home government on strategic planning, resource allocation and research management, including development of peer-review systems. Finally, some choose to focus on the young: they return to teach not only cutting edge research but also critical thinking and the social and communication skills that are key success factors in U.S. science. All these efforts take considerable time, but the hope is that such efforts will make it easier for the next generation of Asian-born and educated scientists to pursue research careers, whether in the U.S. or in their home countries.

—Liqun Luo for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

 


The Art of the Interview: Elizabeth Marincola
  11/01/2003

Scientists interviewing for jobs have a natural inclination to focus on the “scientific information exchange.” As important as this is, general interview protocol and behavior are also critical. The following offers general advice about some subtle but important aspects of winning an interview, making the interview successful, and maximizing the chance that a successful interview becomes a job offer.

The Initial Contact
Think of the initial contact as an opportunity for the reviewer to exclude your candidacy. Act on the assumption that the employer receives many, many more indications of interest than the number of people the company has the resources to pursue. For this reason, a small misstep at this stage can lead to a dead end. This does not mean that your prospective employer expects you to be perfect—it just means that there’s much more room for individual differences and imperfections in the context of considering a whole person than in the context of a description of a human on paper in whom the employer has no vested interest.

Write to the contact person listed on the announcement. If you know someone other than the contact person at the company, you may send a copy of your correspondence to the person you know with a personal note saying that you’re applying for a position at their company, and that their support would be appreciated. One way to inform the official contact that you’ve also sent your CV to someone else is to add a P.S. to your cover letter that says, “I have taken the liberty of sending a copy of this correspondence to Jane Doe, who was my colleague at the University of Alabama.” Do not blind-side someone by unnecessarily suppressing relevant information.

Take time to write a letter that clearly references the particular job for which you are applying. Generic letters that indicate that the candidate is looking, for example, for a position “that utilizes my skills in research” scream, ‘form letter!’ and are not worth sending. Touch upon your most impressive credentials, but do not repeat your CV in the text of the cover letter. The letter should typically be three paragraphs: the first states simply that you are applying for the position; the second briefly states the nature of your interest and most relevant and/or impressive qualifications, and the third asks for consideration and can indicate for example how you are most easily or preferably reached. The cover letter should fit easily, using 12-point type, on one page, and should leave ample white space at top, bottom and at the margins. In a cover letter, less is more.

Proofread the cover letter three times, then ask a trusted friend, colleague or relative to proofread it. Grammatical or typographical errors in the cover letter, like a cover letter that is unnecessarily long, are often grounds for exclusion.

If you’re sending a paper letter, sign your name in ink (do not use an electronic signature). Enclose your CV. Do not include a list of references unless requested.

Arranging an Interview
It is more preferable for the employer to contact you for an interview than for you to follow your letter with an additional request for an interview. However, if you hear nothing for two weeks after you send the initial letter or email, you may follow up with a phone call or email inquiring, cordially, if you can schedule an interview. Do not be defensive, accusatory or impatient.

A good analogy is dating behavior. People generally like to be pursued, but not too aggressively. Don’t devalue yourself or appear desperate.

It is typical for an interview to be scheduled by an administrative or clerical person. Be respectful, accommodating and professional with anyone who contacts you. Bear in mind that often interviews must be rescheduled or there can be other inconveniences or annoyances in the logistical arrangements. All it takes is for a trusted support person to comment to the principal, “boy, he sounds like such a jerk!” for your candidacy to end, even for an otherwise strong candidate.

The Interview
The most important possible thing you can do is your homework. Go to the organization’s website and spend some time there. You should be aware of the general parameters of the organization: its products and/or services, its corporate goals, the size of its staff and its revenues. If it’s a start-up, learn how it is financed: venture capital? is it publicly traded? If it’s a nonprofit, where does it get its revenues? publications? membership dues? All this information is available on the organization’s site.

Be on time for the interview, which means you shoul allow enough travel time to be early (this does not follow dating protocol!). Prepare questions in your mind but don’t read them. Many questions may be answered in the course of the conversation: don’t repeat them. When you ask a question, listen to the answer, and ask follow-up questions to demonstrate that you are engaged in the conversation, not just reeling off a list of prepared questions. Don’t take exhaustive notes at an interview because it can inhibit the interviewer and make you appear distrustful. The interview should feel like a conversation, not an interrogation— the candidate has to contribute to making the interviewer relaxed, not just the other way around. It is essential to ask intelligent questions about the organization, but don’t wear out your welcome: be sensitive to the other person’s answers becoming briefer and glances at their watch. If you find yourself asking about Casual Friday policy, you have prolonged the interview too long. The interviewer should like you more at the end of an interview than at the beginning.

Everyone has “a life”. You should neither offer up the details of it nor apologize for it if it comes out in the interview. For example, you may not wish to mention your spouse or children in an initial interview, because the interview is about you, not about your family. But if the question of children emerges (employers will often try to steer a conversation in that direction rather than asking direct questions, which can be illegal), you can comment matter-offactly. For example, if the interviewer says, “I have two sons but I always wanted a daughter”, you could respond, “yes, I can testify that daughters are wonderful, since I have one and I am one!”

After the Interview
Within two days after the interview, write a letter or email to thank the interviewer. If you are seriously interested in the position, say that you are, and what you learned in the interview about the job that appeals to you. If there were pending issues from the interview, address them in the follow-up letter. This is a good time to send references, even if you were not asked for them. Make sure that references have consented to speaking to prospective employers on your behalf, and that their contact information is current. The contact information you provide should be approved by the references—for example, do not give a home phone number unless a reference asks you to.

Even if you are not offered the position you wanted, having been through the interview is in your interest, because you will be more prepared for the next one.

—Elizabeth Marincola for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

 


Conflict Management: Lynne D. Richardson
  10/01/2003

Conflict is part of life: it is an inevitable consequence of interacting with other people. In both our professional lives and in our personal lives we are constantly faced with statements, actions, needs, drives, wishes, demands or positions that are incompatible with or opposed to our own. Conflict can create stress, produce anxiety, adversely affect performance, decrease productivity and disrupt the work (or home) environment. It can be difficult to decide how to respond when faced with conflict. We often react emotionally or reflexively, without thought or conscious decision. Learning to deal effectively with conflict requires that we learn to control our response, choosing the most appropriate strategy for the particular situation.

Responses to Conflict
Response to conflict can be described along two dimensions: assertiveness and cooperativeness. Assertiveness is the extent to which you attempt to satisfy your own concerns. Cooperativeness is the extent to which you attempt to satisfy another person’s concerns. There are five well-described strategies for managing conflict, which are comprised of varying combinations of assertiveness and cooperativeness. They are competing, accommodating, avoiding, collaborating and compromising.

Competing is assertive and uncooperative; you pursue your own concerns or interests exclusively. This is frequently characterized as “I win/you lose.” Accommodating is the opposite of competing; it is cooperative and unassertive. You pursue the interests or concerns of the other party and ignore your own: “I lose/you win.” Avoiding is both unassertive and uncooperative. You pursue neither the other party’s interest nor your own. You do not pursue the issue at all; you disengage from the encounter or situation. Extending the game metaphor, avoiding means, “I won’t play.” Collaborating is both assertive and cooperative; you simultaneously attempt to satisfy both your own concerns and those of the other party. This is the “win/win” scenario. Collaborating is often the most difficult of the strategies to employ. It may require significant time and effort from both parties. Compromising may be described as unsuccessfully assertive or reluctantly cooperative; it is a trade-off, each party gets part of what they want. Depending on the quality of the compromise, this may be a low form of “win/win” or, in particularly acrimonious conflicts, it may be “lose/lose.”

To clarify the differences among these approaches, let us look at an example. I have a memory of a particularly vivid conflict with my then-nine-year-old daughter. It was eight o’clock, her regular bedtime, and I wanted her to go to bed; she wanted to stay up until nine o’clock. A “competing” response would be to send her to bed without further discussion; I win, she loses. An “accommodating” response would be to allow her to stay up until nine o’clock; I lose, she wins. If I wanted to “avoid” the conflict I might say, “ask your father.” I thus avoid both enforcing the rule and granting an exception to it; I don’t play. “Compromising” might mean that she goes to bed at 8:30, or she goes to bed but can leave the lights on and read, or she stays up late tonight but goes to bed early tomorrow night, etc. I could employ any of these approaches, immediately and unilaterally, to resolve the bedtime conflict.

A “collaborating” response is harder to develop; how can she simultaneously go to bed at 8 o’clock and stay up until 9 o’clock? To collaborate, we must understand the reasons behind the positions, not just the positions themselves. I want her to go to bed at 8 o’clock because she has to get up at 6 a.m. and she needs ten hours of sleep or she becomes cranky and inattentive in school. She wants to stay up until 9:00 p.m. because she desperately wants to watch a particular television program that airs from 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Equipped with this information, we can now craft “win/win” solutions: she goes to bed at 8:00 p.m. and I videotape the program so she can see it tomorrow; or she stays up until 9:00 p.m. to see the program but she puts out her clothes, makes her lunch and trades her morning chores with her sister so that she can sleep an hour later in the morning—she still gets ten hours of sleep. This is why collaborating takes time; the parties must communicate openly, giving the reasons behind their positions, each actively trying to understand and satisfy the concerns of the other.

None of these responses are always correct; each has advantages and disadvantages. We have a tendency to default to whichever strategy reflects our emotions or personality. Some people become relentlessly assertive when faced with conflict; they will always try to “win.” Some will always seek to accommodate others, even to their own significant detriment. Others will do almost anything to avoid conflict. Still others are always ready to compromise. Strategies that are guided by our personal feelings rather than the specifics of the situation are often dysfunctional. The key to effective conflict management is learning to use the appropriate strategy for each situation. The choice is determined by the substance of the conflict, the time available to resolve it and the relationship between the parties.

Managing Conflict
The first rule in managing conflict is to ascertain that an actual conflict exists. There are many situations where incomplete information, misunderstanding or unwarranted assumptions create an apparent conflict when the parties involved do not actually have incompatible or opposing interests. Whenever you encounter what appears to be a conflict, the first response should be to clarify your position and that of the other party. It may become clear that no conflict exists. If you do determine that an actual conflict exists, you may have gained enough information to make a deliberate choice of strategies.

When to compete—the “I win/you lose” approach is not the exclusive province of competitive sports and games. There are times when you must insist on having it your way: when quick, decisive action is vital and the decision is yours to make; when enforcing unpopular rules; and when you know you are right. Using this approach, especially if there is little time for discussion, may damage your relationship with the other party. If this is your primary method of resolving conflict you may be perceived as dogmatic, unreasonable and inflexible. Sometimes you may be forced to use this approach to protect against people who take advantage of noncompetitive behavior.

When to accommodate—giving in gracefully may be the right thing to do when your relationship with the other party is more important than the conflict at hand. Accommodating can be used to preserve harmony or to build up social credit for later issues. Managers or teachers may use this approach to aid in the development of subordinates or students. You may choose to accede to someone else’s wishes to show that you are reasonable and can learn from others. If you recognize that you are outmatched and losing, accommodating may be prudent. Most of us have had the experience of realizing, in the midst of an argument, that we are wrong. Needless to say, when you know you are wrong, accommodating is the appropriate choice.

When to avoid—conflict should be avoided when there is no chance of satisfying your concerns or when the potential damage (to the relationship or to you) of confronting the conflict outweighs the benefits of resolution. Avoiding can be a useful temporizing strategy to let people, including you, calm down. It may be appropriate to avoid a conflict until more information can be gathered, either to clarify whether or not a conflict exists or to work toward a collaborative solution. Sometimes it is appropriate to choose avoiding when others can resolve the conflict more effectively. This is often true when you are a member of a team, particularly if you are a junior member, engaged in a conflict with a powerful external entity.

When to collaborate—identifying a “win/win” solution usually requires time and effort but yields tremendous dividends. Not only do you satisfy your own concerns, you create or enhance a positive relationship with the other party. Collaborating can allow you to test your own assumptions and often results in significant learning on all sides. This method of resolving conflict allows you to merge insights and experience to find an integrative solution. The process also allows both parties to gain commitment to the solution. This approach may be used to protect or enhance important relationships; it also may be used to work through hard feelings in the case of previous competitive, uncooperative or even hostile dealings. This approach to resolving conflict, when successful, is by far the most rewarding. However, it does require that you truly value and are willing to pursue the interests of the other party, and that you forego an easy win or a quick compromise.

When to compromise—while less satisfying than collaborating, compromising is usually quicker and easier. This approach may be used to find expedient solutions under time pressure or to achieve temporary settlements for complex issues. It may be an appropriate choice when the goals are moderately important: too important to avoid or accommodate, but insufficiently important to merit a collaborative effort. Compromising may be the only option when two opponents with equal power are strongly committed to mutually exclusive goals. It may also be the fallback strategy when competition or collaboration fails.

When faced with a conflict, the challenge is to consider, as dispassionately as we can, which approach is appropriate given the nature and importance of the conflict, the nature and importance of our relationship with the other party and the time available for resolution. If we can control our emotional reaction, we can think through the consequences of various choices. If we are aware of our default preference, we can monitor ourselves to make sure we make the best choice, not necessarily the one that comes most easily for us. Conflict management is an important professional skill, one that will also serve us well in our personal relationships. Like all skills, it can be learned and it improves with practice.

—Lynne D. Richardson for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

 


And the Winner Is...: Sandra Masur and Mary Ann Stepp
  09/01/2003

Claire Walczak and Philip Stahl are the Junior and Senior WICB awardees respectively for 2003, Yulia Overchkina will receive the Gilula Award, Erik Dent will receive the Bernfield Award, Zena Werb and Dennis Ausiello were among ASCB members elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and Paul Berg will receive the ASCB Public Service Award.

So you are thinking that you or a colleague would be appropriate for similar honors?

Nomination of a deserving colleague is an important feature of membership in the scientific community. Assembling a good nomination package for an excellent colleague is as important as other volunteer contributions on which we all spend time, such as reviewing or serving on committees. It is perfectly appropriate to make your own interest in being nominated for an award known to others.

The following steps can be applied as a nominator or a potential nominee. Identify the award of interest. Is this the right time in your career or that of the nominee? Does the candidate fit the criteria? Is the candidate the right age or gender, in the appropriate position and doing the right type of research to be eligible for the award? Are qualifications as good as past recipients? Don’t be modest but be accurate.

Identify who should be the nominator. It is perfectly appropriate for postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty members to discuss eligibility for awards with mentors, lab chiefs or division or department heads who are in position to make the nomination. If you are the potential candidate, the discussion alerts the senior person to your interest in the process and makes it more likely that they will think about you when they receive a solicitation for nominations for other awards. If they lack the time to put a nomination packet together but are supportive, it is appropriate and may be welcome for you to offer to construct the nomination package.

Read the criteria carefully so that you can provide the indicated documentation for the candidate’s qualifications. This is not something that should be left until the last minute, because the nomination process can be lengthy. Often the initial nomination letter needs to be followed by seconding letters and an up-to-date CV. The primary nomination letter should indicate the ways in which the candidate meets all of the award criteria explicitly. The other letters can provide in-depth data in support of specific facets of the criteria. If you are preparing the nomination for a senior colleague to submit, you and the nominator should develop the list and the timetable with this in mind. It may be effective to ask a prominent scientist in the field to evaluate the impact of the candidate’s research. But this approach should be used judiciously since it can backfire if that person lacks interest in or knowledge of the candidate. Only ask for an outside letter from a “big name” if you know that that person can and will write a detailed, enthusiastic letter and can testify personally to the qualities of the candidate. If there is a mentoring component to the award, letters could be solicited also from the candidate’s lab colleagues, including for example, for junior faculty, the post-doctoral fellow whose project the candidate helped direct. Someone who has received the award or an equivalent award is a good person to ask to write a letter.

If you keep your expanded CV up-todate so that you can readily supply needed information, you will be an easy person to be nominated for honors when the occasion arises. Every new publication, lecture, committee or grant should be added so that your CV is always current. An NIH biosketch is not sufficient for most nominations.

Nomination is an honor, even if the candidate helped organize the nomination. Remember that the chances of winning are zero without a nomination. Take a chance—you lose nothing if the candidate doesn’t get the award the first time nominated. Try again next year or find another award for which the candidate is qualified and revise and submit the packet. There are many situations that require repetitive nominations to meet with success. The hardest part is getting together the initial packet.

Keep your perspective. Awards and elected positions or elected membership can help a candidate move up the academic ladder, providing their institution with outside (“objective”) evidence of accomplishments and national or international reputation. However, don’t put too much stock in them, because awards can be highly competitive at best and arbitrary or political at worst.

Many institutions send out timely announcements for upcoming deadlines or provide an annual compilation on-line or in a printed catalog. Your professional organizations sponsor prizes for junior or senior scientists (typically awarded at the annual national meeting): the Promega and Bruce Alberts Education Awards of the ASCB, the AACR’s Women in Cancer Research-Charlotte Friend Memorial Lectureship, local chapters of the Association of Women in Science Outstanding Women in Science Awards, the AAMC awards that recognize mentoring, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Generalist Physician Faculty Scholars Program Awards, to name a few.

Isn’t this the time to start thinking about who can nominate you for the WICB Junior or Senior Award for next year?

—Sandra Masur and Mary Ann Stepp for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

 


Academic Research Career Opportunities- An Upbeat Assessment: Randy Schekman
  08/01/2003

In 1998, two reports appeared that precipitated a soul-searching discussion in the biomedical community about career opportunities for our PhD and postdoctoral trainees. A poll conducted by the ASCB of its members revealed a deep level of concern and some dissatisfaction with the degree of difficulty encountered by young scholars in completing dissertation work, in finding employment in academia, and in securing funds to sustain a research career. The results of this study were compiled by Elizabeth Marincola, Executive Director of the ASCB, and Frank Solomon, Chair of the ASCB Education Committee, and reported through publications, panel discussions at the ASCB Annual Meeting, and in a series of public lectures that Elizabeth and Frank delivered around the country.

Coincidentally and concurrently, a panel convened by the National Research Council and chaired by Shirley Tilghman, published a report entitled, “Trends in the Early Careers of Life Scientists”. This report collated statistics dealing with many of the issues that had caused such alarm in the cell biology community.

Extensive data covering three decades up to around 1996 documented the growth of the pool of PhD-level scientists, domestic and foreign, engaged in biomedical research. A particularly large influx of foreign scholars was noted. The inescapable conclusion of the ASCB and NRC studies was that biomedical career options were more limited and, perhaps, less desirable, and that action should be taken to encourage a broader range of professional options and to stanch the growth of the student pool contributing to this population crisis.

In response to these reports, universities and scientific societies convened courses and panels to publicize the numerous career paths available to biomedical scientists. At the same time, the growth of the biotechnology industry attracted an increased proportion of the pool of PhDlevel biological scientists in the country. Other options, such as patent law, public policy and teaching attracted renewed attention. Anecdotal evidence suggested the message was getting through. Applications to postdoctoral agencies tapered off as freshlyminted PhDs chose paths outside of those directed to traditional academic faculty positions. Many faculty openings attracted dozens rather than hundreds of applicants as had been true for many years. Of course, this remains a competitive environment but not out of line with other high-level professional career options.

For other reasons, 1998 was a watershed year on the national biomedical scene. Through the vigorous efforts of the ASCB, the Joint Steering Committee for Public Policy, FASEB, and numerous patient-oriented groups, the NIH budget began a meteoric rise in funding, reaching a twofold increase in just five years. In a rare and genuine bipartisan effort, Congress and the executive branch (Clinton and Bush, at least until this year) encouraged unprecedented annual spending increases, well beyond those enjoyed by almost any other governmental agency. Congresspersons who would otherwise disagree with the liberal sensibilities of most biomedical scientists are nonetheless enthusiastic in their promotion of basic research that supports our dominant position in the world of biotechnology and human health.

At the same time, a great deal of private wealth has been directed to the biomedical community worldwide. At the very top, the Wellcome Trust, with an endowment larger than the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has challenged the MRC to seize a leadership position in funding biomedical science in the U.K. In the U.S., several free-standing research institutes have been endowed by wealthy entrepreneurs convinced of the promise of biological science in this century (e.g. The Stowers Institute, Kansas City; The Van Adel Institute, Grand Rapids; The Broad Institute, Cambridge).

Universities are the biggest beneficiary of this recent investment in biology. Technological developments in genomics and proteomics coupled with the improved funding landscape have emboldened university administrations to erect new buildings, mount fundraising campaigns, and most importantly expand the size of biology faculty. Well publicized efforts at Stanford, UCSF, Berkeley, Michigan, Cornell, Princeton, Yale, Harvard and MIT, to name just a few, promise great new opportunities for young biomedical scholars. In all regions of the country, in public and private universities large and small, the excitement created by new discoveries in biology has led to a programmatic expansion that will benefit those dedicated to a career in biomedical science.

In the face of this unprecedented growth of the biomedical enterprise, the surprise is that a general sense of apprehension pervades the atmosphere at gatherings of students and postdoctorates. This is in spite of the fact that foreign scholars continue to flock to the U.S. precisely because of the buoyancy of our educational and research enterprise, and in contrast to the dearth of opportunities particularly for truly independent research positions elsewhere in the world.

Perhaps it is time for a reality check. The fact that so many universities and research institutes are planning to grow their programs in biomedical sciences means that the number of faculty positions likely to open in the next few years is larger than in any period of time in over a generation. It is disheartening to see talented young scholars discouraged from seeking a career they otherwise would have wanted to pursue based on outdated bad news. A rash decision based on this year’s weak economy would ignore the huge investments made in the past five years that will come online in the next few years.

Of course, the new investments from Federal and private sources will not sustain indefinite growth of research faculties. This year may be the end of the period of explosive NIH growth. The biotechnology industry is currently experiencing a painful contraction. Clearly, the system will produce an excess of trained personnel. Nonetheless, it is these very people who by adding to the store of biomedical knowledge foster the development of new frontiers that create new employment opportunities.

In 1998, the Tilghman report issued five recommendations, the first of which was to caution restraint in the rate of growth of the number of graduate students in the life sciences. Specifically: “the Committee recommends that the life-science community constrain the rate of growth in the number of graduate students, that is, that there be no further expansion in the size of existing graduate-education programs in the life sciences and no development of new programs, except under rare and special circumstances, such as a program to serve an emerging field or to encourage the education of members of underrepresented minority groups.”

Despite this admonition, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory created a new biological science graduate program, the Watson Graduate School, which in just a few years has become a most attractive training program that competes successfully for the very best students in the country. The experience of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is likely to be replicated by other educational and research institutions seeking to capitalize on the excitement created by developments in genomics, proteomics and structural and computational biology.

Fortunately, Shirley Tilghman, now Princeton University President Tilghman, is in a perfect position to help fill the gap in employment opportunities for talented academic scientists. Just this year, she dedicated a beautiful new research and teaching building, the Lewis-Sigler Institute, headed by David Botstein, devoted to the emerging discipline of genomics. And even more recently, the HHMI broke ground on an impressive new basic research institute, Janelia Farm, headed by Gerry Rubin, which will open for business in 2006. The good news is that similar dedication ceremonies are taking place across the country.

The time has come to consider another quantitative study of career opportunities for biomedical scholars, taking into account the new Federal and private investments in this enterprise.

— Randy Schekman for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

 


Protocol for Scientific Collaboration and Authorship: Yixian Zheng
  07/01/2003

Most scientists would agree that authorship in scientific publishing is a complex issue that deeply affects scientists as individuals and the progress of science as a whole. An open discussion about the right and wrong ways of determining authorship should increase the awareness and understanding among scientists. This article seeks to raise some questions regarding authorship to initiate such discussion.

Collaboration, Authorship and Reagent Sharing
In the good old days when one chose a problem to study in biology one found oneself in a wide open field where you didn’t have to worry about ‘jumping on fellow scientists toes’, but you also didn’t expect much help in terms of existing reagents or technologies. You started by ‘plowing the field and planting the seeds’. That was grand, but progress was slow. In today’s research, collaboration has become a critical component. In most fields in which we choose to develop our scientific career, there have already been numerous previous studies, existing reagents, and techniques.

Some of us may devote both time and money to developing the reagents and techniques according to the published literature. In so doing, we may be able to develop better reagents and improve existing technology. This is time consuming and costly, which is why many scientists write to request reagents and techniques from people who have developed them. Some of us may propose collaborations with the groups who have the reagents or techniques. This kind of collaboration often leads to new ideas and directions. Since both parties have a vested interest in the endeavor, progress is much faster compared to lack of collaboration. However, when it is time for publication, authorship issues may become complicated enough that many scientists have to think about collaborations carefully before initiating any.

One can certainly obtain published reagents or techniques without entering into a collaboration. While many scientists send their reagents and methods promptly, others exhibit various degrees of reluctance in sharing published reagents.

Productive collaboration and reagent sharing are without a doubt the driving force for scientific advancement. Individual concerns about authorship and competition have always impeded collaboration and reagent sharing. Is it possible for the scientific community to establish rules to regulate authorship and reagent sharing?

There are various criteria for authorship. The three most common ones are: authors contributing toward the conception and design of the study, authors involved in data gathering, analyses and interpretation, and authors contributing toward the writing and critical revision of the manuscript. However, these guidelines certainly have not prevented authorship disputes because individual cases are complicated and individual scientists have different interpretations of these criteria.

Many journals require authors to make their published reagents and methods publicly available, but not all authors follow this requirement completely. Let’s suppose that a research group has spent many years creating a double or triple knockout mouse, which has become an important model system to explore a genetic pathway. After the group publishes its first study, scientists in the same field may want to request the mouse knockout for further studies. With tenure clock ticking and competition looming, it is understandable if the group that had created the mouse knockout is reluctant to freely share. At present being acknowledged at the end of others’ papers for sharing reagents does not contribute toward one’s tenure consideration or grant renewal.

Clearly, although there are criteria, it appears to be difficult to regulate authorship and reagent sharing in a uniform manner. So far, the best reward for a generous and collaborative researcher is a good reputation in the field. Such a reputation should fully reward one’s contribution in the long run. However, it may not directly help the researchers to secure academic jobs, tenure promotions, and grant applications in the short run. How can we improve the way we credit sharing scientists to promote better reagent sharing?

The Responsibility and Credit of First Authors
In the biomedical research community, it is commonly accepted that the first author makes major contributions toward all of the following aspects: design of the study, experimentation, data interpretation, manuscript writing and revision. However, if the first author fails to fulfill some of the above responsibilities for various reasons, should he or she remain as first author? Many researchers probably have faced this question in their career in different capacities.

These days it is quite common for one paper to undergo substantial revision before it is accepted for publication. In some cases by the time the paper comes back from review with major revisions required, the first author has already left the lab. In this case, someone else in the lab has to finish the required revision. If the revision amounts to equal or more than the work done by the first author, how can authorship be determined?

Another issue is that as research becomes increasingly dependent on multiple expertise from more than one researcher, it also becomes more difficult to decide the order of authorship. Equal contribution has emerged as a way to solve this problem. However, equal contribution is a vague definition at best. Some papers explicitly declare the contribution of the equal contributors. The question is whether a declaration of contribution should become a common practice in scientific publishing.

It is essential for the scientific community to establish more effective and uniform guidelines to better inform authorship and reagent sharing protocols.

—Yixian Zheng for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

 


Dual(ing) Academic Careers: Liz Gavis and Fred Hughson
  06/01/2003

When life partners both choose careers in academic science, tough issues arise. Balancing the conflicting demands of work, relationship, and sometimes children is daunting for everyone, but dual academic careers bring this challenge into particularly sharp focus. Because time is such a strong constraint, setting both career and relationship priorities is essential. Certainly there is no optimal strategy for every couple, but some strategy is required and the only way to reach one is by communicating to forge agreement on core principles.

A primary factor in the equation for many couples is the decision to start a family. While it is widely acknowledged that “there is no good time to have children,” the corollary that “any time is as good as any other” is just as true. The integration of family with dual academic careers will require additional multitasking, whenever it occurs.

The first step in launching dual academic careers is landing two academic positions. There are at least two basic possibilities and many variations. Both partners can look for academic positions simultaneously, or one partner can find a position and the second can postpone the process, attempting at a later time to find something compatible. When possible, a synchronous strategy makes sense for one key reason: the job candidate holds the cards during the interval between receiving and accepting a job offer. A synchronous strategy can take advantage of this principle. Specifically, both partners carry out large-scale simultaneous but independent job searches. Each partner – in his or her dealings with prospective employers – maintains what amounts to a ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach regarding the other partner. Job offers received by either person allow that person to bargain from a position of strength in attempting to place the partner. Some departments may, however unethically, hesitate to make a job offer to a candidate with a “spouse problem”. Increasingly, however, many institutions recognize the prevalence of this issue and, having made an offer to a candidate in this situation will be eager to deal with it creatively. Some institutions may even see a benefit in being assured of acquiring two excellent faculty or may be able to join forces with a neighboring institution to the advantage of both.

To anticipate this process, both partners should apply, whenever possible, to searches at the same or neighboring institutions. This is worth doing even when the perceived match between applicant and job search is imperfect, because institutions may be able to bend the goals of a job search to fit the candidate, but be unable to offer a position to a candidate who did not apply at all. Including institutions that may not initially seem like top choices is essential to maximize the chance of overlapping offers; since preconceptions about institutions are often changed during interview visits anyway, too narrow a focus may eliminate what could turn out to be a golden opportunity. Geographic areas rich in job opportunities within reasonable commuting distance of one another can be particularly promising for dual career couples. Obtaining positions in the same department has certain advantages: less commuting, opportunities for sharing equipment and supplies and no need to play phone tag in arranging daycare pickup. The main caveat is that issues of independence may arise if both partners plan to dedicate their laboratories to similar research areas. In that case, and if the option is available, it is worth considering whether being in different departments is preferable.

An asynchronous job search can be more difficult. The first partner to take a position has already committed to that institution, and although one hopes the institution has reason to want to retain him or her, the incentive can seem less urgent outside the context of the initial recruiting effort. In addition to efforts to add a second position locally, casting a wider net and being willing to consider moving together could be both necessary and desirable.

In the end, reality dictates that no matter how the job search is run, compromises will have to be made. Even if two offers at the same institution are secured, couples in very different research areas may find disparities in the offers or in the scientific environment of a particular institution. Because compromise, especially if it entails substantial sacrifice, will weigh heavily on a relationship, open lines of communication are essential. It’s hard to overestimate the importance of choosing a situation where both partners’ needs are taken into account. In cases where there is significant asymmetry in the compromise, it is easy for the favored partner to become comfortable while the disfavored partner feels underappreciated. Therefore, it may be better to accept more equivalent positions in less desirable settings, or for one partner to move in order to improve the other’s prospects, than to create a situation in which one partner feels resentful.

The transition from postdoc to an independent academic position is a big one. New tasks and responsibilities join research in constant competition for one’s attention. Balancing research with teaching, committees, grant writing, mentoring, and travel are especially challenging for a dual career couple, particularly if children are also part of the mix. Indeed, many in this position have been heard to remark that they wish they had a spouse! But until polygamy becomes more widely accepted, other strategies are needed. The default approach among academic couples is to split everything 50:50 – from shopping, child care, and taking out the garbage, to weekend work schedules, meeting travel, participating in department jobs, dinners with seminar speakers and faculty candidates, even exercise. There are inevitable exceptions, of course. One partner may need to borrow time from the other in order to meet a grant deadline. (Most dual career couples scrupulously avoid trying to meet the same grant deadline, a grueling ordeal one couple refers to as “emotional PCR”.) Nonetheless, an almost obsessive fairness in dividing up time and responsibilities is one good strategy for maintaining balance among conflicting demands.

Couples with children can only build academic careers on an underlying foundation of high-quality, reliable, flexible child care. Therefore, time spent choosing the right situation is extremely worthwhile. Since the demands of two full-time jobs can become overwhelming at times, especially when one partner is travelling, the couple must inevitably take advantage of friends and relatives, daycare providers, and others who can be called into service. Such support networks can be life savers and are worth cultivating. Paying for help with house cleaning, and participating in carpools, provide other ways to optimize time. But, in the end, there will inevitably be days where things fall apart. On those days, one can be thankful that academic careers do provide a certain degree of flexibility.

Promotion and tenure are stressful issues for everyone. Although it might seem prudent for a couple to choose an institution where tenure is relatively assured, considerations of academic quality, colleagues, facilities, and financial support – all of which can contribute to launching a successful career – may be more important in the long run. Both tenure and biological clocks can seem to tick particularly fast for couples who plan to have children during this time. Many institutions now recognize that the pre-tenure years and the childbearing years overlap. They may allow faculty who have children during this period to postpone their tenure consideration, typically by one year. Since the laboratory continues to mature even in one’s absence, this extra year can be extremely helpful in offsetting the inevitable time lost during the preand post-natal months.

Many dual academic career couples comment on the benefit of being able to understand each other’s work and relate to each other’s needs. Both members of an academic couple have first-hand experience with the often-intense work schedules, the grant writing, the department politics; they can empathize vividly with bad news like paper rejections and experimental setbacks and even offer educated advice to help get things back on track. On the other hand, it is also important to be able to back off and take a break from work. When children start to complain that grants are the only thing their parents ever talk about, it’s probably a sign that rebalancing is needed.

In the end, communication is everything. Partners who are friends, parents, and coconspirators in the academic game can forge a very rewarding life together. Just not an uncomplicated one.

—Liz Gavis & Fred Hughson for the Women in Cell Biology Committee. The authors gratefully acknowledge input from colleagues who shared insights into the issues facing academic couples.

 


To Eurodoc or Not Eurodoc?: Sigrid Reinsch
  05/01/2003

Why go abroad for training when there are so many opportunities here in the U.S.? Perhaps you would like to finally capitalize on your wild success at high school French and can’t seem to nip the urge for wanderlust. Maybe you gravitate naturally to Europeans in a crowd.

Whatever the reasons, you can buck the trend of the European "brain-drain". European scientists are frustrated by the tendency for European postdocs to head to the U.S. — often permanently. European governments and scientists believe this adversely affects the quality of European science. The European Union has several organizations whose mission is to increase pan-European mobility so that scientists will choose other European countries for training alternatives rather than the U.S. Does this braindrain mean that European postdoc training is “worse” than in the U.S.? The Eurodocs I queried felt that their European training was as good as that of their U.S.-trained counterparts, and claimed innumerable benefits from their overall experience.

Planning Your Eurodoc
These days it’s relatively easy to plan a European post-doc. Email makes communication with potential sponsors rapid and inexpensive, and the Internet facilitates an in-depth investigation into the lab, the institute, the successes of former lab members, and the local amenities. European labs are happy to host American postdocs, especially those with a good pedigree. Having a native English speaker in the lab can also boost the overall productivity of the lab simply by having a ready editor for manuscripts. Be prepared to serve as such.

Choosing a Sponsor
The same tactics apply when choosing a mentor in Europe as when choosing one in the U.S.1 Successful Eurodocs consistently indicate that they seek internationally known labs. They choose sponsors with a demonstrated ability to recruit and train foreign postdocs. Consider how many foreign postdocs are currently in the lab. Assess the potential sponsor’s track record for helping them to become independent. Find out how the lab is funded. Is there technical support for postdocs? How about teaching opportunities? Contact former postdocs for recommendations. If your ultimate goal is to head your own lab, you will need to know how your sponsor deals with postdocs when they leave; is it easy to take reagents and projects?

If you are considering several potential European sponsors, you probably want more direct exposure to facilitate your decision. A European tour may be especially important if you are including a spouse and/or children in your adventure. This might seem prohibitively expensive, but outside funding is sometimes available. One way to do this is to prepare a seminar that highlights your graduate work. Diplomatically inquire whether the institute would provide partial reimbursement if you give a formal seminar during your visit to the institute. A sponsor may consider funding one leg of the trip and provide accommodations as well. You can fund the entire trip with several sponsors.

Not All Institutes are Created Equal
Choose an institute with a large international presence. Some examples are the European Molecular Biology Labs (EMBL) in Heidelberg, universities like Cambridge or Basel, or national institutes (Pasteur Institute, Max Planck) that regularly train foreign scientists from Europe and other countries. Such institutes may greatly ease and streamline help with immigration, visas, housing, banking and language courses. Some operate with English as the official scientific language: this is a must for those individuals that carry foreign language null alleles.

Funding
It is certainly possible to find sponsors that have funding for a postdoc position, but it is always preferable to have your own funding in hand. If you are going to a top lab and have a decent project with the backing of your sponsor, your chances of obtaining an internationally portable fellowship are very good. An informal query of former Eurodocs indicated a variety of funding sources including: the NIH, Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Cancer Research Fund, Human Frontiers, National Science Foundation, American Cancer Society, and the French Muscular Dystrophy Association (AFM). Make sure you check out grantsnet2 for additional fellowships without international restrictions, and speak with your sponsor about institutional, national or European fellowships for which you are eligible. In addition to fellowships, find out whether the institution provides additional funds for foreign nationals. Such funding may include “topping-up funds” so that all postdocs at the institute are funded at the same level. Additional funds may also be available to help support spouses and/or children. Apply for as many fellowships as possible to increase your chances and options. Some provide much higher levels of funding or longer tenures than others.

Bringing Along the Family
A European adventure can be enriched by bringing your family. Find contacts at your institute for your questions on childcare, schools, work options for your spouse, and support. Make sure you understand local school and daycare schedules and holiday times before you go, as these factors may affect your decision.

Children learn foreign languages and assimilate into foreign society very quickly. They can open doors to social interactions within your host country. If they attend public schools, this will force you to learn enough of local language to help with homework, host birthday parties, attend parent/teacher conferences and doctor visits.

Janet Chenevert (Ville Franche) observes that, “protection of personal time pervades the society here: spending time with your kids and not at work is accepted, encouraged, and made easy in many ways both concrete and intangible.”

Make Connections
One of the greatest lifelong benefits of a Eurodoc is international connections. Use this experience to develop world contacts for future jobs, sabbatical experiences and especially for collaborations. You never know where you will end up, so it is very useful to make as many contacts as possible. You will establish many friendships as well. Your global understanding will ultimately make you a better mentor when you start your own lab. Your international colleagues will more readily recommend you as mentor to their own protégés that seek a U.S. position. Attend and present at European meetings as often as possible. Investigate other European institutes and present your work. Be vocal and visible within your own institute so that scientists get to know you and your strengths. In the end you will find yourself more self-reliant, independent, and better connected with world leaders than your North American-trained colleagues.

Keep the Home Embers Burning
Just as important as developing international connections is not to let your colleagues in the U.S. forget you. Attend the annual ASCB meeting. As you near the time of your return, also go to smaller meetings in the U.S. Write regularly to your North American scientific colleagues to keep them abreast of your training successes or for advice.

Enjoy the View
Take some time to get involved in local activities so that you can mingle with your European community. Most of all, enjoy your European life. Sports, dance, singing groups, and community or neighborhood events provide easy access to your European hosts. While you might initially feel overwhelmed by differences in simple things like food choices or shop schedules, adaptation doesn’t take long; you may ultimately celebrate the differences and miss them dearly once you leave. Says Christine Blaumueller of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL): “ I found it refreshing to see the value Europeans put on their free time and on nature. The attitude that you can only work effectively if you also take time out for other activities seems to me much more healthy than the U.S. attitude of work, work, work (regardless of how mindless it becomes). Europeans also tend to gravitate toward non-synthetic foods and some level of self-propulsion (walking/ biking) instead of the American penchants for fast food and driving everywhere.”

The Transition Home
An easy transition back to the U.S. is a second postdoc. This allows a less stressful return to the U.S. and a more leisurely search for an independent position. But if you are ready for independence and are a competitive candidate with an impressive CV and publications record, you will succeed in the U.S. job market. If not, then applying to endless ads in Science and Nature is definitely not the route. Creating contacts is the most important step either in small meetings, or by going on your own “job tour.” “The key” says Kelly McNagny of the University of British Columbia, “is to contact a few of the world experts in your field, ask to visit their labs and give a seminar, and mention that if there are positions available, you would be interested in applying. Using this strategy, I stopped at four labs in the U.S. and Canada, and wound up getting three job offers without even pushing hard. By applying for roughly 100 advertised jobs, I got two interviews.”

Or Settling in Europe?
The European experience can be especially attractive to women scientists with children. Says Karla Neugebauer of the Max Planck Institute, “there is an idea in the U.S. that the European lifestyle does not support a woman working. I have found this not to be true, but rather the opposite. For example... because you don’t have the commuting lifestyle in Europe, life is simpler... I take my child by bike to Kindergarten which is five minutes away from home and lab. I do not have a car.….. in Seattle, I spent at least as much time finding a parking place as I now spend on my entire bicycle commute. The European lifestyle is by nature very supportive.” Laura Machesky of the University of Birmingham feels that she was offered independence and promotion to tenure earlier in the U.K. than she would have been in the U.S. She also validates the perception that Europe is familyfriendly.

And Finally...
Says Judy White of the University of Virginia and former postdoc at the EMBL, “I tell students that if they have the slightest inkling to do a postdoc abroad, they should. I am confident they can find a superb mentor and it would likely be a broadening experience. The postdoc years are often the ideal time in someone’s life and career to spend a significant amount of time abroad.”

While a European postdoc is sure to expand your mind and your horizons, one otherwise fabulously successful Eurodoc came away disappointed on one front: “I thought I would get to hang out with cool Italians, but they wanted nothing to do with me....”

—Sigrid Reinsch for the Women in the Cell Biology Committee

For some general tips.

2 grantsnet.org

 


Study Section Service: An Introduction: Frank Solomon
  04/01/2003

By several criteria, life sciences research in the United States has been phenomenally successful over the last 40 years. Some analyses ascribe at least part of that success to the peer review system for awarding research support. The core of the peer review system is the study section—a committee of scientists that evaluates the research in each proposal. But of course study section review is a human endeavor. Its quality depends entirely on the wisdom, commitment and integrity of the people who serve. Their task is to distinguish good and valuable science independent of whether it comes from new investigators or established ones, representing large programs or small, in fields fashionable at the time or relatively obscure.

At the beginning of their careers, most scientists view study section as a mysterious body, powerful and distant, in a position to make fateful decisions. Especially over the last several years, the NIH has worked to dispel some of that mystery and to make the review process more transparent. Still, the best way to learn how study sections work is to serve on one. The ways of serving effectively—getting the most out of the experience and in turn making the most significant contribution to peer review—are happily congruent with the ways of making study sections work well.

The Mechanics Different study sections operate differently, but the following description will fit many of them. Most study sections are organized around relatively contiguous areas of research, and its members are selected for their relevant expertise. Ideally, the panel members will share sufficient common knowledge that they will be able to assess proposals in areas that are at least fairly closely related. That said, the range of proposals each study section must consider requires considerable breadth.

A term on study section is usually four years. The NIH officer assigned to the study section, the Scientific Review Administrator (SRA), is a fixture. The Chair, selected by the SRA from among the roughly 20 members, usually serves in that role for the last two years of the term.

NIH study sections meet three times a year (somewhere near Washington, DC in most cases). Each meeting may deal with 70 to 100 or more proposals. Principal investigators can indicate which study section they want to review their proposal, based on experience—their own or their colleagues’—and the membership rosters are posted by the NIH Center for Scientific Review for each study section (http://www. csr.nih.gov/). Those lists are not a guarantee; at any given session, some regular members may be absent, and substitutes not on the roster may be present.

Commonly, the SRA assigns primary responsibility for each proposal to two members, who write detailed reviews in a form and tone suitable for transmission to the applicant. A third person, the reader, may write a shorter set of comments. These write-ups are prepared before the study section meets. The SRA identifies formal conflicts— when the applicant is at the same institution as a prospective reviewer, for example—but it is up to the reviewer to notify the SRA of other conflicts that may interfere with objective evaluation.

Study sections meet for about 12 hours— one full day until dinner time and then as much time as needed on the second day. Nearly everyone arrives the night before the first session, and the proceedings conclude in time to allow people on the West Coast to get home that evening.

The sessions are intense. The review of each proposal begins, once the members with conflicts leave the room, with a report from the reviewers and the reader. Frequently, each reviewer will declare a level of enthusiasm for the proposal, and then present the findings and analyses that justify that opinion. There follows a discussion involving everyone on the panel. Of course, proposals that are unanimously viewed as terrific, or as deeply flawed, do not require a lot of discussion. But for the many proposals that are somewhere between those poles, or about which there are significantly divergent opinions among the reviewers or other members, a full discussion is necessary for the system to work. The discussion can help resolve differences among the reviewers, sometimes by going back and forth between themselves, sometimes in response to the questions asked by other members. It is not uncommon for reviewers to change their positions significantly as a result of these discussions, helping the panel to reach a consensus view. Some differences simply do not resolve.

Either way, how this discussion is conducted is crucial to the success of the study section. It is the preamble to a confidential vote—a number attached to the proposal by each member (it would take another article to do justice to the voting process) which is the basis for the priority score. Each member votes on each proposal regardless of expertise. Different study sections—and in fact different chairs, who are responsible for the pace of the meeting—have different ideas about how these discussions should be regulated, ranging from the Stopwatch School to the Socratic School. The essential point is that a complete explication of the issues and concerns provides a more informed, better justified basis for voting.

The Reviewer’s Work Load
A study section with 20 members and 80 proposals will require that each of its members writes an average of eight full reviews and serves as reader on four other proposals—a ‘light’ to ‘average’ load, in most people’s experience. Reading 12 grants carefully is not trivial: each proposal is 25 single-spaced pages of usually dense scientific prose. But the importance of the job requires reviewers to read every word and to try to understand every thought. For beginners, it may take six to eight hours to read a proposal, but that time goes down with experience. Writing a thoughtful review takes another couple of hours. On top of all this work, reviewers frequently read proposals that are not their primary responsibility, for example because they’re interested in the field.

Effective Service
Becoming an effective and valuable member of a study section is an acquired skill. Some of the same qualities that help us in our work pertain: the ability to analyze complex situations, to identify important questions, to design well-controlled experiments, and so on. But peer review of grants also calls upon other qualities from reviewers:

  • Generosity: with respect to time and attention demanded from already busy lives, to be sure, but also in allowing for science that is substantially different from what the reviewer practices
  • Listening: to one’s co-reviewer on a particular proposal, or to the disagreeing reviewers discussing a proposal that is distant from one’s own field. Some people make a point of listening for what they consider to be crucial determinants. For example, how will this proposal, if funded, advance the field?
  • Fairness: the ability of study sections to assess all proposals in an even-handed manner, so that differences in scores are meaningful, depends absolutely upon the fairness of the members. Each scientist brings to the table a sense of what constitutes excellence—in hypotheses, experimental design, and impact. Applying those standards throughout, and keeping in check one’s biases—personal and scientific—allow the study section to establish high and firm standards as a group.
  • Clarity: reviews that effectively convey the reviewer’s analysis are extremely important. Reviews of high quality that are consistent with the score that the proposal receives enhance confidence in the system.
  • Persuasiveness: the ability to articulate crisply the qualities of a grant that underlie one’s opinion of it matter in the meeting. The majority of study section members must rely upon the reviewers for a guide to both the proposal and the field it represents.

What’s in it for the Study Section Member?
Most former members will agree that they have enjoyed multiple benefits from study section service:

  • The opportunity to contribute in a significant way to the research enterprise. By putting themselves in a position to be an advocate for interesting and well-done science, they help lift the standards and performance of their fields.
  • The opportunity to learn how to write a better grant. Reading others’ proposals, good and bad, allows people to see what works and what doesn’t, how to present data, how to keep reviewers engaged, what sorts of traps to avoid. The common experience is that study section members’ proposals get better and easier to write as a result of their service.
  • The chance to participate in an intellectual experience of a high order. The analysis of a scientific program, and its relationship to a field, calls upon the reviewers’ intellect and training in a way that too few other activities do. The members also can learn a lot of science in a short time.
  • The opportunity to form relationships with new colleagues that carry on throughout one’s career.

Which Study Section, and When?
People usually join study section after being invited to serve at a session or two as an ad hoc member. The invitation comes from the SRA (SRAs are notoriously on the prowl for willing talent) acting on names received from members of the study section past and present and other scientists in the field. These sessions give the study section and the potential member a chance to find out if they’re compatible. It’s a good idea to pick a study section that deals primarily with science relevant to one’s own interests. All those hours in a meeting talking about things that you don’t know or care about will make what is constitutively a demanding experience thoroughly unbearable.

When in your career to join is a delicate question. Evaluations of grants have a much larger impact than reviews of papers. But study section members are much more visible than anonymous journal reviewers. Rosters of study sections are available on the net, and the author of a proposal will inevitably guess (rightly or wrongly) which two or three members are the most likely reviewers. So people on study section can feel exposed, and many members have been blamed or (much less often) credited—again, rightly or wrongly—by a colleague for the disposition of a proposal. These circumstances frankly make study section service problematic for junior people. Add to that the time it takes and the level of judgment and experience required. That’s why many advise waiting until tenure to join a study section, save for exceptional cases. That’s a shame, because the learning part is especially beneficial to young people, but it’s probably sound advice.

There are many other aspects of study sections that are important: how the reviews are turned into numerical scores; what can go wrong in study section, and why, and who is responsible for making things right; the ethics of reviewing; and more—all suitable subjects for further articles. This piece is intended to explain and encourage participation in study sections, which do so much to enhance both science and the reviewers themselves. Dedicated, thoughtful members make all the difference.

—Frank Solomon for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

 


Favorites From Our Bookshelves
  03/01/2003

Members of the ASCB Women in Cell Biology Committee offer brief reviews of selected books about women, science, careers and leadership.

At the Helm, a Laboratory Navigator, Kathy Barker; Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press. A guide for new principal investigators and those who wish to become PIs. Using interviews and quotes from real scientists, it covers such topics as “You as Leader,” “Choosing Your People,” “Starting and Keeping New Lab Members,” and “Organizing the Lab to Support the Research.” A terrific resource for students and new PIs, it will be interesting to those who’ve done it “without the book.” Impeccable references, including some WICB columns. WSS

Athena Unbound: The Advancement of Women in Science and Technology, Henry Etkowitz, Carol Kemelgor, Brian Uzzi; Cambridge University Press.1 Despite the romantic title, this is a methodical look at women in science. As a reference book, it provides data and analysis that are usually interesting, occasionally mundane and sporadically profound. Addresses many issues that still dog women in science at all stages, including the competitive nature of undergraduate science classes and the exploitation of postdocs, as well as more subtle exclusions. EM

The Door in the Dream: Conversations with Eminent Women in Science, Elga Wasserman; Joseph Henry Press. Wasserman examines the experiences of 86 of the 90 women who had been elected to the National Academy of Sciences as of 1998. Each woman’s experience is unique but parallels exist. No surprise: it helps to be smart, flexible, and have good mentors. SKM

A Hand Up: Women Mentoring Women in Science Career; The Association for Women in Science. Career development guidance featuring interviews with women scientists and a series of essays by women in science about professional issues (very WICBcolumnesque). The book is out of print but you can still get it used through Amazon. JT

A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League. Ron Suskind; Broadway Books. Here is the remarkable true story of an African American teenager from his junior year in the worst high school in D.C. to his sophomore year at Brown University. Success in science was his “magic carpet.” SKM

How to Succeed in Academics, Linda L. McCabe, Edward R.B. McCabe; Academic Press. A small book with a big scope based on more than 50 years of combined experience of the authors who are currently at the Department of Pediatrics, UCLA School of Medicine. Starts with establishing personal goals, and touches many aspects of academic life— from finding mentors to getting funded to making presentations, dealing with ethical issues, and becoming a leader and gauging success. Its use of fictional vignettes makes it real and readable. WSS

Hypatia’s Heritage: A History of Women in Science from Antiquity Through the Nineteenth Century, Margaret Alic; Beacon Press. Reconstructs the careers of women scientists since antiquity whose contributions were forgotten or attributed to men. Hypatia of Alexandria (d. 415 A.D.), a famous mathematician, astronomer, and Platonic philosopher, was murdered because she was a woman and a pagan. Abbess Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179 A.D.) was the first woman scientist whose writings on art, music, medicine, natural history and astronomy are extant. She believed that the human body was formed from a seed, and was the first person to write about the need to boil drinking water for sanitation, and emphasize the importance of exercise and diet. She is famous as a composer of Gregorian chants. ZW

Meselson, Stahl and the Replication of DNA: A History of “The Most Beautiful Experiment in Biology”, Frederic Holmes; Yale University Press. An exhaustive (but not exhausting) history of the famous experiment that demonstrated that DNA replicates as suggested by the structural discovery of Wilkins, Franklin, Crick and Watson, by a Yale historian of medicine. Conveys an insightful look at that clique of CalTech men and their 24/7 lives in science. It does not ignore, however, that the good old days were not all good, by recounting the personal price paid by some of the people involved. The index is a Who’s Who of mid20th century biochemistry and cell biology. EM

Nobel Prize Women in Science: Their Lives, Struggles and Momentous Discoveries, Sharon McGrayne; Citadel Press. Only about 3% of the Nobel Laureates in science are women. This book clearly reveals that these passionate scientists had to struggle against gender discrimination throughout their careers. Yet they triumphed as scientific and political leaders, mentors and mothers. ZW

The Periodic Table, Primo Levi; Random House. A series of essays, each centered around an element, mostly describing autobiographical events but with a bit of fiction and broader historiography thrown in, too. I read this for the first time back in graduate school and recommend it to all my students. It is full of delightful examples of scientific thought and problem solving and the day-to-day joys of tiny discoveries from the mature point of view of the older Levi reflecting on his earlier life as a young Jewish chemist in pre-WWII Europe, up to his deportation to Auschwitz. JT

The Road from Coorain, Jill Ker Conway; Random House; True North, Alfred A. Knopf; A Woman’s Education, Alfred A. Knopf. Some good memoir/autobiography-type books about a woman’s life in academia. The first woman president of Smith College tells the story of her childhood in the Australian outback in The Road from Coorain. True North is about her career development as an academic historian and university administrator until her appointment as president of Smith. A Woman’s Education tells how at Smith she solved many of the challenges of preparing the college for the future. She promoted a potential opponent, used her service on corporate boards to build the Smith endowment, and parlayed her experience on the board of IBM to position women for the information sciences. JT and WSS.

Rosalind Franklin and DNA, Anne Sayre; W. W. Norton. Very personal about the family and social events that shaped the personality, determination and sheer grit of Franklin. You feel like you are listening to a person who knows her very well and has known her all her life. Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA, Brenda Maddox; Harper Collins. Excellent narrative. A personal, ethnographic account: you observe and record without being part of the scene. Both books have bibliographic notes that are extremely interesting. CMK

Sex and Power, Susan Estrich; Riverhead Books. Women in America have more access to power than any other women in the world, but they need to learn to use it. The author contends that we need to restructure the workplace. She asserts that, “the debate has to move beyond questions of conscious discrimination, of who did what to whom, to the more important challenge of how we include everyone at the table.” Her arguments are based both on statistics of who has access to power, and her own personal experiences and observations of the positive consequences of women using their power. WSS

Ship Fever, Andrea Barrett; W. W. Norton. Short stories about science or medicine, many set in the 19th century. Some are fictionalized accounts of real people (Linnaeus, Wallace) or fictional people who knew real people (one of Mendel’s protégés); some are pure fiction. Won the 1996 National Book Award for Fiction. JT

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell; Little, Brown. Examines social change in the language of epidemics. Just as an epidemic takes off, there is a point at which an idea or behavior (such as paying women equally for equal work) takes off: the “tipping point.” The author characterizes three rules of the tipping point, the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context. Leaves the reader optimistic about effecting change and provides ideas for change under your control. VS

Tuxedo Park, Jennet Conant; Simon & Schuster. The fascinating biography of Alfred Loomis, a wealthy New York banker whose passion and beneficiary was science and scientists. Perhaps the last of the “gentleman scientists”, Loomis actually built a state-of-the-art lab in his basement and lured many of the world’s most distinguished researchers there with facilities, funding, elegant meals, recreation and isolation. He’s reminiscent of William Randolph Hearst (including the salacious sex life) except that he shunned public attention. Your stomach will turn when you come to learn of the influence of this quiet operator, who was cousin of Secretary of State Henry Stimson, on world events (including the Manhattan Project.) And you will wince to learn of how unapologetically the Old Boys thrived. EM

Walking Out on the Boys, Frances Conley; Farrar, Straus & Giroux. The first tenured woman neurosurgeon at Stanford, she resigned her position to protest what she viewed as the medical school’s long-ingrained overt gender discrimination. This is a fascinating story of the culture and events leading up to her resignation and its consequences. WSS

Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, John Lewis; Harcourt Brace. The RFK Book Award-winning autobiography of the civil rights leader-cum-Congressman. In addition to a riveting insight into the struggles of the 1960s, this is a great study in leadership. Should be required reading not just for U.S. high school students, but also for advanced students of business and organizational behavior. EM

Who Rules in Science: An Opinionated Guide to the Wars, James Brown; Harvard University Press. Debunks the premise of C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution”, that sciences and literature have nothing to say to each other. This lucid philosophical treatise is a defense of science as the most important institution in our lives. Makes the case that scientists must keep knowledge free in the public interest. ZW

Why So Slow, Virginia Valian; The MIT Press. Attempts to explain why women still are less successful than men—advance more slowly and in fewer numbers, paid less, perceived as less powerful—regardless of their profession. Men and women both act on unconscious assumptions about women’s capacities and behavior. Tiny disadvantages accumulate, like compound interest, to produce large disparities. Using anecdotes, summarizing other studies, Valian discusses problems, consequences and possible solutions. WSS

The Woman’s Guide to Navigating the Ph.D. in Engineering and Science, Barbara B. Lazarus, Lisa M. Ritter, Susan A. Ambrose; IEEE Press. Primarily directed at beginning graduate students, this book lays out a map of the graduate school experience. It specifically addresses successful strategies for women. Its topics range from choosing an advisor, to stages in the graduate journey, self-esteem, feeling alone, and how to get a job after you get your degree. WSS

The Women Who Broke All the Rules, Susan B. Evans and Joan P. Avis; Sourcebooks. Personal stories based on interviews of American women born between 1945 and 1955. They were raised with traditional expectations of college, marriage, and motherhood, and came of age during enormous social change—including those brought about by the civil rights movement, equal opportunity, and the birth control pill. What did they do with this unexpected freedom? What choices were they faced with? No matter your age, you can’t help but measure your experiences against theirs. WSS

Reference 1. Biological Imperatives: Women’s Careers in Biosciences, E. Marincola, Cell, 2001, 105: 326-327.

 


Salary Negotiation: Julie Theriot
  02/01/2003

Many young scientists entering the job market for the first time are unprepared to negotiate their salary. Graduate and postdoctoral stipends are usually fixed by the department or institution, so the first independent job offer may also be the first occasion for scientists to question their own financial worth. An informal survey suggests that many people in this position feel so flattered to have gotten a job offer that they decline to negotiate their salary at all.

Starting Salary is Important
Usually yearly raises are based on existing salary. The first opportunity to negotiate a substantial raise may not be until a major promotion, three to seven years in the future. When an applicant is considering whether she can live with a particular starting salary offer, she should account for the long-term financial impact of only modest increases over several years.

This issue is not mitigated when changing jobs. Most companies will base an offer on an applicant’s existing salary. Furthermore, aggregate salary information is frequently used to compare competing institutions and to expose discriminatory practices. In a sense, it is the duty as well as the right of a new employee to negotiate an appropriate starting salary.

An applicant must consider a salary offer in the context of the whole job offer package, including the challenge of the work and the work environment.

Negotiate from a Position of Strength
The recruit starts with a strong hand, because she was selected from among many applicants. It is in the best interest of the employer to meet the applicant’s reasonable requests to succeed in recruitment. However, other applicants may have been attractive; the employer may withdraw the unaccepted offer if the applicant’s requests are unreasonable.

In negotiations as well as interviews, knowledge is strength. The well-prepared applicant will have gathered information in advance of the negotiation.

Know What You Need
Before beginning negotiations, the applicant must consider what she needs, as opposed to what she wants. A starting salary must sustain a reasonable lifestyle for several years. For applicants used to accumulating debt through years of lowsalaried training, it is useful to calculate realistic financial needs, including student loan repayments, housing, utilities, transportation, child care, food, entertainment, vacations, insurance and taxes. It may be advisable to also save for retirement and future family expenditures. Regular expenses will vary substantially depending on the location of the job; the arrival of children will cause significant, long-term increases in living expenses. Although employers generally do not consider an applicant’s individual financial needs, the applicant should be aware if her obligations prevent her from considering a low-paying but otherwise rewarding job.

Consider Salary Alternatives
People have different needs and priorities, which may include buying a house, quality day care, future wealth, or travel.

Recruits should consider potential benefits in lieu of higher salary. Universities located in high-cost areas frequently can assist new faculty in buying homes through low-interest loans or co-investment. Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are less likely to offer real estate loans but more likely to offer signing or relocation bonuses that may be applied to a down-payment. Some employers may offer on-site or subsidized child care, and most offer family medical insurance. Some companies may be willing to sweeten a salary offer with stock options. Others may offer extra vacation or sabbatical time. The relative value of these benefits is individual, depending on an applicant’s priorities and goals, and should be weighed along with the salary. Frequently, an employer will have more latitude to add benefits than increase salary.

A stock option is the right to purchase a share of company stock at a fixed price at some future time. Stock offers should be researched seriously, including restrictions on exercising options and tax consequences. If the company’s stock is worth more than the cost of the option at the time of purchase, this amounts to cash. But most stock options vest over periods of time ranging from months to years. If the stock value falls below the option price, or if the company fails, the options are valueless. If the employee leaves the company, she loses the unvested options. The value of stock options for companies that are privately held (i.e. not traded in stock exchanges) is particularly hard to measure.

Consider Stability and Terms
Most academic job offers require that some part of the applicant’s salary be paid by external grants. This portion can range from 100% at “soft money” institutions to 25% or less at universities that expect the applicant to cover only “summer salary,” to 0% at the NIH. At many institutions, this fraction may be reduced in the first years to help a new P.I. get started.

An offer of $60K as a 9month base salary represents a larger commitment on the part of the institution than an offer of $90K that is entirely soft money. To weigh the relative merits of these offers, the applicant must consider the likelihood of attracting sufficient grant money to cover the higher salary, especially in the present grant climate where roughly 25% of new NIH grants are funded. Since most NIH grants are now modular, any grant money that is earmarked for the P.I.’s salary will decrease the amount of grant money available for graduate and postdoctoral stipends, supplies and equipment.

Similarly, in industry long-term stability must be weighed against short-term gain. Small start-up biotechnology companies may offer attractive salary and stock options, but if the company fails, stock options become valueless. Pharmaceutical companies will typically offer lower salaries and fewer stock options, but are less likely to lay off scientists or fail.

Be Informed
Publicly available data can provide useful benchmarks for negotiation. All public universities and many private universities publish average faculty salaries. Search the internet or campus newspapers. The university’s human resources department can help direct the applicant to this information.

Nationwide salary surveys are available. Abbott, Langer and Associates publishes Compensation in the Life Sciences that tabulates salaries for life scientists in all sectors as a function of rank, type of work, type of organization, and geographical location. Radford Surveys publishes a similar report for the biotechnology sector. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) publishes an Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession. Similarly, the American Association of Medical Colleges tracks salaries for basic scientists at U.S. medical schools.

Know the Rules
The well-prepared applicant has a good sense of what she wants and what she is likely to get. Actual salary negotiation depends on the policies and limitations of the specific employer. The best source of information is a sympathetic colleague at the institution. Some places, especially public universities, have essentially non-negotiable salary scales based on rank. An applicant need not waste time negotiating salary there and should focus instead on negotiable variables or a higher starting rank. Some public universities and many private ones have an “x” or scale component of salary, distinguished from the “y” or off-scale component. The “y” component is usually negotiable.

Know the person empowered to negotiate on behalf of the institution. This could be the dean, the department chair, or someone else. The applicant should seek to negotiate directly with the person making the offer, but it is useful to know whether that person has the sole authority to negotiate salary. Similarly in companies, salary ranges may be set by directors or vice presidents, but group leaders may have some freedom to negotiate.

The applicant should also learn the rules of advancement. At some companies scientists may expect to be promoted frequently with salary increase with each promotion. Others base salary increases solely on productivity. Some employers may offer a better title for lower salary, but the applicant should beware of a lowpaid Assistant Director position at a company that has fifty Ph.D. employees of whom thirty are Assistant Directors.

Don’t be Rushed
The first offer is an opening bid. The salary offer may be made in a one-on-one conversation, ending with, “what do you think about that amount?” Unless the offer is generous beyond the applicant’s wildest imaginings, it is best not to respond immediately. It is appropriate for the applicant to express appreciation, and say, “I need a little time to consider the offer [and/or] think about it in light of my other offers [and/or] discuss it with my partner.” Even if an applicant eventually accepts the offer, clear and calm-headed consideration is preferable to a rush judgment in a flush of flattery.

Use Competing Offers
An applicant’s bargaining power is enhanced by a tangible competing offer. It is appropriate to let the prospective employer know about the competition to give them the chance to sweeten their offer. It is easier for an institution to justify a higher salary to match a competing offer than to make the case on merit alone.

Some high salary offers from industry do not influence negotiations with academic departments because the jobs are not comparable. Likewise, a top-rated academic department may not respond to a more lucrative offer from a less prestigious institution. An applicant should provide competing offer information to her first-choice employer rather than to make an explicit demand that the offer be matched.

An applicant should never exaggerate or lie about the existence or value of competing offers. The scientific community is like a gossipy small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, and this will inevitably come to light eventually. Some employers will not respond to a competing offer unless they see it written. Furthermore, it is counterproductive to cultivate offers merely to up the ante for the firstchoice offer, a practice which is almost always transparent: the first-choice employer feels manipulated and the second-choice employer feels used. Long-term professional goodwill and personal integrity should not be sacrificed for what may be a modest short-term gain.

Value the Goodwill of Your Colleagues-to-Be
In the long run, honesty about needs, goals and priorities is the best policy for salary negotiations. The salary negotiator is often a department chair or project leader who is limited by institutional policy. This individual is strongly invested in recruiting the top applicant and can intercede on behalf of the candidate only if she knows the applicant’s actual needs and priorities. If an applicant would like to accept a job offer but cannot because her partner has been unable to find a job, the employer may be able to help. If the applicant is enthusiastic about the job but shell-shocked by property values, the employer may be able to swing assistance. However, an applicant should only make special requests if she intends to accept the offer if they are met.

Accepting an Offer
When you have considered all the issues and negotiated a good starting salary at a place where you are eager to begin work, accept the offer and don’t look back. The negotiation process is idiosyncratic and never completely fair. It is likely that you will learn that a colleague at your level is making more money than you. As long as you entered the negotiation well-prepared and feel good about the process and the outcome, you did well.

—Julie Theriot for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

 


Career Advancement: Job Search and Promotion: Caroline Kane
  01/01/2003

Four senior ASCB members tackled the job hunt and promotion at the WICB Evening Program at last month’s ASCB Annual Meeting in San Francisco. Marc Kirschner, Suzanne Pfeffer, Joan Steitz and Jeremy Thorner made light of the issues by dramatizing outrageously incorrect strategies, and were then empanelled to discuss seriously good approaches to the start and the advancement of one’s scientific career. Questions and comments followed from the 400 people in attendance.

Candidates were reminded that, in a recruitment, the organization has put significant time, energy, and money into the search, and thus has an interest in the success of recruitment and career. Panelists encouraged job seekers to invest effort beyond the job seminar and to be prepared to discuss a fiveyear research plan. Candidates were urged to be broadly knowledgeable and to show interest in other members of the department and their work, and to ensure that their written research plan is accessible to scientists even outside of their field. The quality of work, more than the number of papers or years of postdoctoral training, is of overriding importance. Candidates were urged to talk with junior faculty about the atmosphere in the department, the professional development of new hires, and how well the department lives up to its promises, written and unwritten.

The panel provided some specific advice. When offered a position and negotiating needs, be sure you have your priorities straight. Strict comparisons of startup dollars and salary across institutions are short sighted. Consider colleagues, shared resources, opportunity for advancement, chances for collaboration. Let the department chair, or your immediate supervisor, know what you need to succeed, and convince that person of the reality of your requests in both salary and start-up funds. The chair will be your advocate in securing institutional resources, so this person needs rationale to convince the administration to recruit you.

An interesting, but not unrealistic, scenario was raised in one skit wherein the job candidate was so obnoxious that the recruiting chair skillfully assisted the candidate in procuring an offer from a different institution. If one arrives to find that promised resources or assignments agreed upon in writing are not forthcoming , find out why not. If circumstances have changed and interfere with the fulfillment of a promise, find out the timetable for fulfilling that promise. Negotiate an alternative timetable and interim resources.

The panel had mixed advice on when to raise the issue of a two-career search. All agreed that the situation is so common that it should be raised, but in a manner that does not damage negotiations. The consensus was to indicate interest in learning about opportunities for your partner, but to make demands only after the institution is “infatuated with you as a candidate.”

Success in the first promotion may range from tenure to simply an increase in job security at academic institutions, or a promotion and/or salary increase at most industrial organizations. In academia, there is a growing tension between two strong strategies. The historical goal has been to “carve your own niche and develop a national and international reputation” through publications, seminars and meeting presentations. The emerging goal is to encourage and reward interdisciplinary work where your original contributions add to the quality of a team effort. Evaluating your effort as an individual within a team can be difficult for department members raised in the individual, go-it-alone tradition, and who use that mindset to measure the gold standard. Complicating matters, types of articles and publishing thresholds are very different in different disciplines. In an interdisciplinary situation, or any collaborative situation, scientists are urged to talk about their work in their department and at meetings so that one’s own contribution to the effort is clear. Develop your reputation proactively outside your institution, whether in the traditional, individualistic way or as part of an emerging team. As in the job hunt, the number of publications or seminars is less important than the overall quality of work.

Science is not the only consideration in promotion. Relationships with colleagues are very important since you have joined a community with community goals. Teaching and service must be good and useful at an academic institution. When assigned teaching, be inventive; if you see a need, fill it. Be sure to point out to your chair or supervisor how you have filled a service need. External letters remain critical in evaluating performance, both in science and external service. Request letters from individuals familiar with multiple facets of your career.

An important question from the audience was if junior people up for promotion should solicit credible offers from other institutions. The panel recoiled from this common strategy, although it is used by some junior people during promotion and by some senior people seeking a salary or resource increase. The panel felt that this strategy is transparent, noting that, interestingly, the “ruse” tends to be used most often by men. Alternatively, where one feels that their needs are not met by the salary or resources provided by their institution, the audience was urged to ask for more, and provide the chair or supervisor with a strong rationale that can be taken upward in the institution.

An ancillary situation is when other institutions choose promotion time to try to recruit successful junior people away from the home institution. This courtship at promotion time is not unusual, and junior people are encouraged to consult more senior colleagues, particularly their chair or supervisor, about the best ways to respond to such invitations. Such legitimate outside interest can help the chair to make a strong case for resources or promotion for a junior person. Again, the institution has invested time, energy and money in your success; it is in its interest to retain you.

—Caroline Kane for the Women in Cell Biology Committee

Comments or suggestions for future WICB E vening Programs should be directed to Zena Werb or Caroline Kane.

Recommended reading: Life Sciences Research & Teaching: Strategies for the Successful Job Hunt, the American Society for Cell Biology Women in Cell Biology Committee, 2002.

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