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L’Embarras Des Richesses: ScienceOnline2013 and ScienceWriters2012

In this quiet moment on a rainy Saturday evening in North Carolina Piedmont, I lie here in awe of the breadth of creative talent and boundless enthusiasm that this place attracts.

Tonight at 5:00 pm Eastern time, a couple hundred folks or so learned that they had not scored a slot in the lottery for the remaining spaces at ScienceOnline2013. I won’t be there this year either but I can certainly understand the disappointment. This simple idea of Bora Zivkovic along with Let’s-Get-Together-and-See-Where-This-Goes Guy, Anton Zuiker, has grown from a small gathering of likeminded online science enthusiasts to become the South-By-Southwest of science meetings, now under the exceptional leadership of Karyn Traphagen.

I encourage everyone to stay on or sign up for the waitlist. Lots of plans change between now and late January so registration slots will most certainly open up.

Y’all come! Click for details.

But in the meantime, you might consider another possibility that just happens to be available this year very near to the same GPS coordinates: ScienceWriters2012, the annual conference of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and the National Association of Science Writers.

Scheduled for October 26-30, 2012, ScienceWriters2012 will be headquartered at the very same hotel with a program crafted by a broad group of science communicators that include a subset of ScienceOnline folks. (For the record, we’re called Science Communicators of North Carolina, or SCONC.).

Here, look at the schedule yourself.

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RTI scientists solving forensic, designer drug mysteries

Kerstin Nordstrom, PhD, AAAS Mass Media Fellow, News & Observer

. Credit: Losert Laboratory/Univ of Maryland.

Catching up on my reading this Sunday morning, I’m beaming with pride on the collective accomplishments and coverage of some old friends and colleagues.

Kerstin Nordstrom, a AAAS Mass Media Fellow with the Raleigh News & Observer

, had a nice story on 3 September about the work of Dr. Peter Stout at RTI International. You old-timers will know this non-profit entity as Research Triangle Institute, home to the discoveries of Taxol and camptothecin by Wall and Wani and colleagues.

Kerstin, or Dr. Nordstrom I should say as she holds a PhD in physics, interviews RTI’s Dr. Peter Stout on the institute’s forensic analytical chemistry capabilities with regard to the “designer drug” industry. Yes, here we go again with my long-running commentary on the “synthetic marijuana,” “herbal incense,” “plant food,” and “bath salts” products that have recently taken a direct hit from “Operation Log Jam,” a coordinated, federal operation to shut down the industry.

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Al Malkinson the Scientist: Eulogy by Dr. Lori Dwyer-Nield

Lori Dwyer-Nield, PhD, Associate Research Professor, School of Pharmacy, University of Colorado Denver’s Anschutz Medical Campus; Investigator, Eastern Colorado Veterans Hospital

In this second part of my remembrance of lung cancer biochemical pharmacologist, Colorado’s Dr. Al Malkinson, I’d like to share with readers some recollections by Lori Dwyer-Nield, PhD. I’ve known Lori since my appointment to Colorado’s faculty in 1992 when she had already been a postdoctoral fellow of Al’s. Dr. Dwyer-Nield continued on as research faculty at the CU School of Pharmacy and co-authored over 40 publications with Al.

At Al’s memorial service last Saturday in Boulder, Lori was asked by Al’s wife, Lynn, to eulogize Al on behalf of all his scientific colleagues. Her thoughts were so warmly received that I wanted to share them more widely, especially with members of the scientific community who knew Al but were unable to attend the memorial. Moreover, I had reflected in my previous post how supportive Al was of his women trainees in balancing career and family. This eulogy provides a glimpse into this philosophy of Al’s directly from someone who lived it for over 20 years.

My tremendous thanks go out to Lori for agreeing to share with us this text of her eulogy.

 


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On the loss of a mentor: Al Malkinson, lung cancer researcher, scholar, gentleman

Note to Readers: After reading through my writing here and at my Take As Directed blog between October, 2011, and October, 2012, I’ve decided to submit this post as my entry for The Best Science Writing Online 2013, formerly The Open Laboratory. The 2012 version was published by the Farrar, Straus and Giroux imprint of Scientific American.

While the post details my emotions and recollections over a personal loss, I believe that it best reflects one of my strengths as a science writer: use of a personal story to touch on our own universal experiences as human beings who chose science as our vocation. All of you must have someone like Al Malkinson in your life. And he supported women in science long before special discussions groups on the topic even existed.

Finally, I also feel that my closing discussion — the lost art of the Festschrift — is an issue we must revitalize in modern scientific research. We rarely recognize our mentors and leaders while they are alive. I hope that my writing here motivates me (and you) to take action to formally celebrate the contributions of those who are still with us.


 

Alvin M. Malkinson, PhD. Credit: University of Colorado Denver, Skaggs School of Pharmacy

Those who make the deepest impression on you become the fabric of your being. Think about those who’ve passed through your life and have influenced your approach to science, society, family. . .

Even if years have passed since seeing one another, the lessons and attributes of these very special people continue to stay with you. But rarely do we truly get to express to these treasured souls just how much they have meant to us.

My first faculty mentor, lung cancer researcher Alvin M. Malkinson, PhD, passed away last Friday in Boulder, CO, at age 71.

Professionally, Al was Professor of Biochemical Pharmacology in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy, now on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. But if you were fortunate enough to know him, you learned that he was a scholar of the world, lover of the arts, and true gentleman.

I last visited the pharmacy school two years ago and had learned from colleagues that Al had been ill. He apparently deteriorated rapidly during this July and passed from pneumonia secondary to other complications.

I hadn’t been able to get back to Denver last summer or this year but I now realize that wasn’t an excuse not to at least call Al. I always remember Al as a vibrant, worldly soul whose intellectual energy, I thought, was likely to power him for a couple more decades. Alas, he has left us early – far too early – and without some of us being able to say goodbye.

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Colorado College seeks inorganic chemistry prof

Looking for a tenure-track faculty position at a visionary learning institution in one of the most beautiful places in the United States? Do you prefer non-carbon chemistry?

Well, here’s a position for you in Colorado Springs. From The Chronicle of Higher Education:


 

OPEN TENURE-TRACK POSITIONS

Colorado College, a highly selective liberal arts college with an enrollment of approximately 1900 students, seeks to fill five tenure-track positions for Fall 2013 in:

Inorganic Chemistry
Biological Anthropology
Dance Study
Global Christianity/ies
South Asian History I

Information about Colorado College is available at http://www.ColoradoCollege.edu.

Interested applicants should refer to the full job descriptions for each position found on the Faculty Positions page under Employment Opportunities, as they become available. Check the website for job closing date. Ph.D. must be complete or very nearly complete before starting date. Colorado College is distinctive for its modular “Block Plan” calendar. The academic year is divided into eight 3 week blocks. During each block, students take and faculty teach one course at a time, with a maximum enrollment of 25 students per class. Faculty teach six blocks per year.

The college’s unique academic calendar supports experiential learning opportunities such as field trips and service learning and lends itself to other innovative teaching and learning strategies. The college is committed to increasing the diversity of the college community. Candidates who can contribute to that goal are particularly encouraged to apply and to identify the ways in which they would bring diversity to our community.

As an Equal Opportunity Employer, Colorado College welcomes members of all groups and reaffirms its commitment not to discriminate on the basis of race, color, age, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, national origin or disability in its educational programs, activities, and employment practices.

 


 

I love Colorado Springs and have had the honor of guest lecturing at CC. Several of my colleagues have sent their kids to CC and they have done splendidly. It’s a tremendous learning environment.

 

WaPo: Not enough jobs for science PhDs

Tomorrow’s frontpage of The Washington Post will run an article by Brian Vastag (Twitter, WaPo bio) on the employment challenges facing science PhDs. The difficulties are no secret to our readers – whether you are a freshly-minted PhD or a 50-something subjected to downsizing – but I believe that this is the highest profile treatment of the subject in the US print media.

The article even cites the closure of the Roche campus in Nutley that we discussed two weeks ago and, below, employment numbers from the annual ACS survey.

“Scads and scads and scads of people” have been cut free, [former Sanofi-Aventis scientist Kim] Haas said. “Very good chemists with PhDs from Stanford can’t find jobs.”

Largely because of drug industry cuts, the unemployment rate among chemists now stands at its highest mark in 40 years, at 4.6 percent, according to the American Chemical Society, which has 164,000 members. For young chemists, the picture is much worse. Just 38 percent of new PhD chemists were employed in 2011, according to a recent ACS survey.

Although the overall unemployment rate of chemists and other scientists is much lower than the national average, those figures mask an open secret: Many scientists work outside their chosen field.

What amazes me are the number of comments already. I already followed Vastag on Twitter and when he tweeted about the article at 4:44 this afternoon, it had 22 comments. Right now, at 9:50 on Saturday night, the article has accumulated 504 comments. Some of these are nonsensical or non-sequiturs but the bulk are robust and on-topic. I can imagine that the sober assessment of PhD training vs. job market demands will be discussed far and wide on Sunday and in the coming week.

One thing missing from the article was a discussion of the so-called alternative career paths where one uses PhD training but not in an academic or industrial setting. Even a typical non-lab career of science writing is becoming extremely competitive, both for salaried positions and freelancers.

I hesitate to say this without complete data but we may indeed be reaching a point where more PhDs are being produced than can be absorbed by both academia/industry and non-laboratory positions.

Source:
Vastag, Brian. U.S. pushes for more scientists but the jobs aren’t there. The Washington Post. 8 July 2012.

Do you remember your PhD defense?

A new and already-dear friend is defending her doctoral dissertation tomorrow. I remembered that I had written a post awhile back on my feelings about my own defense, and how my perceptions at the time didn’t measure up to reality.

The timing of this repost also coincides with the Diversity in Science Blog Carnival just posted at Neurotic Physiology, written by another remarkable woman scientist friend of mine, Scicurious. The theme of that carnival is “imposter syndrome” – the broad pathology of self-doubt that one is somehow not qualified for one’s career. I should have submitted this post for that carnival because it falls into that category.

So, for what it’s worth, I’m reposting my feelings in 2008 from the 19th anniversary of my dissertation defense. (How quaint to see that I was using a Palm Treo back then!)


 

This post appeared originally on 13 November 2008 at the ScienceBlogs home of Terra Sigillata.

For whatever reason, I woke up really depressed and exhausted today – pretty much for no reason, I think.

I checked my schedule on my Treo – today marks 19 years since my dissertation defense.

I remember being really depressed throughout writing my dissertation thinking, “is this all I have to show for this many years of public support for my training?”

My defense was on a Monday so I spent most of Sunday practicing my seminar in the room where I’d give it – it sucked so badly that I couldn’t even get through it once.

When the time came, it was the most incoherent performance I had ever given or ever would.

I was a blithering idiot during my oral exam. There was a great deal of laughter in the room as I stood outside in the hall.

How in the hell did they give me a Ph.D.?

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Ch-ch-ch-ch, Changes

Hmm. . .I wonder what kind of natural products that whale made.

Regular readers probably know my childhood story of growing up within sight of the Hoffmann-La Roche tower in Nutley, NJ, and planning to one day be a research scientist there.

Me. Roche. Period.

That was my world and those were the lofty expectations when I left the little Polish town of Wallington to go off to college.

Little did I know that an education course through Philadelphia, north Florida, and Denver would make an academic out of me. And even less had I anticipated falling in love with a brilliant physician-scientist and leaving my tenured position at Colorado to move blindly to the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. I wiggled my way into a wonderful position with the co-discoverers of taxol and camptothecin, Drs. Monroe Wall and Mansukh Wani, and then moved across town to North Carolina Central University. In each position, I picked up new skills – teaching, public outreach, natural products chemistry, scientific writing – that when combined have led my career GPS to recalculate my route.

Well, today marks the formal announcement of another step in my unforeseen path.

Come January, I’ll be joining the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences as Science Communications Director in their new wing, the Nature Research Center (NRC).

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