HMS Beagle was an online magazine produced by BioMedNet, part of Elsevier publishers,
which featured articles on a number of topics, including many focusing on careers and also
interviews with scientists describing how they became interested in science and their
HMS Beagle is no longer produced, however Elsevier have very kindly made the magazine
archive available to the Centre for Bioscience, below are links to some of the careers
focussed articles from HMS Beagle.
Please note: you can click on the title to go straight to the article you wish to read
Risk Assessment as a Career .............................................................................................. 2
Consider Consulting ............................................................................................................. 5
Bench Work and Bull Markets .............................................................................................. 8
A Dollar in the Life .............................................................................................................. 11
Bio Biz - Merging Money with Science ............................................................................... 14
Science and Technical Translation..................................................................................... 17
How About a Marketing Career? ........................................................................................ 21
Netting a Job - Job-Hunting on the Internet........................................................................ 24
Drawing Down the Bones ................................................................................................... 26
Goodbye Benchtop, Hello Laptop....................................................................................... 30
Peer to Peer ....................................................................................................................... 33
Too Few at the Top - Women in Science ........................................................................... 37
The Other Side of Life - Educating Young Scientists about Business................................ 41
Plugging the British Brain Drain.......................................................................................... 44
The Postdoc's Progress ..................................................................................................... 48
Forensic Science - The What, How and Why of "Who Dun It?" ......................................... 52
Bioinformatics - Key to 21st Century Biology ..................................................................... 55
DNetA ................................................................................................................................. 59
The Sweet Smell of Success - Careers in the Perfume Industry........................................ 63
Corporate Academia........................................................................................................... 67
Making a Living in the Past - Museum Research ............................................................... 71
Booming Bioethics Seeks Sense of Self ............................................................................ 75
Watch Your Extremities - The Real Survivor ...................................................................... 79
"It's the Dilithium Crystals, Captain!" - Science on the Screen ........................................... 83
Making Teamwork Work - The Importance of Diverse Psychological Types ..................... 88
Researching Undergrads - Sampling Life at the Bench ..................................................... 92
The Dynamics of Team Formation ..................................................................................... 97
Deep, Deep Down ............................................................................................................ 100
Teamwork - What to Do When the Deadline Looms ........................................................ 104
Accidents Will Happen...................................................................................................... 107
Sensing Incentives - Keeping the Team Motivated .......................................................... 111
Risk Assessment as a Career
Lara Pullen - June 25, 1999 · Issue 57
"There is no better job than working in the government. I have job security. I am not
dependent on getting grants, and I have flexible hours that I didn't have in
academics. I didn't find academics to be family-friendly at all, and that really makes
a difference when you are a mother. Here [at the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency] they discourage you from working overtime."
Having completed her Ph.D. in microbiology, Colleen Olsberg spent four and a half
years running an immunology lab as a research associate. Then, at the age of 33,
with two young girls and the anticipation of a third child, she took some time off to
be with her young children and to look for the perfect job. Seeking a job in the
federal government, she ended up hired by the EPA as a human health risk
assessor. She hadn't sought to be a risk assessor, but she found that her scientific
training in the basic life sciences provided her the background she needed to
perform risk assessments.
Quantifying Contamination's Health Impact
The EPA and other regulatory agencies clean contaminated sites in order to
minimize the impact to human health and to the environment. But it is difficult, if not
impossible, to quantify the negative effect that results from exposure to an
environmental contaminant. Risk assessments aim to put a number on the human
health impact of contaminated water, soil, sediment, or air.
Very little data is available on the direct effects of environmental contaminants on
humans. Extrapolations must therefore be made from animal studies of toxicity, the
first major component of environmental risk assessment. To ensure that these
extrapolations are truly protective, uncertainty factors are built in. A toxicity value
such as an LD50 is calculated based on experiments with mice. In order to apply
this factor to humans, the toxicity value is multiplied by uncertainty factors: 10 to
account for the possibility that humans are more sensitive than mice; 10 again in
case sensitive humans, such as babies, are more sensitive than lab mice; and
maybe by 10 again if the mouse studies are not particularly good. The result is a
toxicity value that is removed from any actual data by a factor of 100 or 1,000.
The EPA calculates these toxicity factors and revises them periodically as new
data become available and as time and resources allow. The average risk
assessor will never have the need or opportunity to create a toxicity factor,
although it is possible to expand one's career in that direction.
A Risk Assessment Is Algebra
The second major component of a risk assessment is exposure: with how much
chemical does the average person come into contact? A range of exposure
numbers are allowed by EPA headquarters, and the risk assessor can choose a
number within that range. For example, an individual drinks 2 litres of water a day
and eats 50 mg of dirt.
If all of this sounds unscientific, perhaps it is, but it is the best method available to
model risk from environmental contaminants, and from there to calculate cleanup
goals. These risk assessments represent the application of science to
environmental decision making.
Risk assessors combine predetermined toxicity values with predetermined
exposure estimates to produce a number that represents an individual's chance of
getting cancer (or some other health endpoint). The result is often a number such
as one in a million or one in a thousand. This risk number is then used to make
decisions such as how to clean a contaminated site, or how to provide clean
drinking water to a community.
In the most basic sense, a risk assessment is algebra. Toxicity factor
(predetermined and found in a database) multiplied by exposure (fairly standard)
equals risk. Risk assessments can and are being performed by people with a B.S.
in the life sciences.
A good risk assessor, however, goes beyond the algebra and becomes a
combination of magician, negotiator, communicator, and mostly problem solver.
The more the risk assessor understands the science behind the assessment, the
better she is able to explain, defend or perhaps even move beyond it.
Graduate School Helps
Olsberg describes the role of her Ph.D. in her job as a risk assessor: "Initially my
job did not take advantage of my scientific training. At the beginning my focus was
on very program-specific risk assessments. Later, I began to work on larger,
multimedia issues that took advantage of my training. . . . I use my biochemistry
and my physiology. Graduate school strives to teach you to question things and
think on your feet. It teaches you to work through problems, and that has helped
me. When I get put on the spot in meetings, graduate school training has helped."
Risk assessments are only one factor in the calculation of a cleanup goal. The
decision also incorporates feasibility (an engineering issue), cost, and
(unfortunately) politics. Sometimes, the determination of these cleanup goals
requires heated negotiations with the industry that must pay for the cleanup or
those that have a political stake in the outcome. At these times, the science behind
the decision must be rigorously defended.
Amy Mucha joined the EPA as a risk assessor after completing her master's in
immunology. She describes the process of negotiation like this: "You have to argue
a lot with people for a living - but then, you learn that in graduate school."
Pelka also explains the sense of accomplishment that comes from feeling that you
have contributed to sound decision making. "It's fun to apply the scientific
information and use it to inform better decisions. I feel that I get to use my scientific
training to accomplish good. I feel like I have effected change."
Traditionally, risk assessors have an academic background in public health,
toxicology, or epidemiology. Many employers will be surprised if an individual
without a traditional toxicology or public health background applies for a risk
assessment job and conversely, they would never think to recruit from schools that
offer training in the basic life sciences.
Jobs in Both Public and Private Sectors
Howard Zar, currently a senior environmental scientist at the EPA, is an exception
to this rule. He has hired individuals with an advanced degree in the health
sciences with the assumption that they would be bright enough to learn the
specifics of risk assessment while on the job. "I look for someone who has an
advanced degree in the health sciences. . . . It helps if they show knowledge that
goes beyond the health sciences. Performing the job requires flexibility and an
ability to meet with the public and be believable and talk about things that affect
people's lives and their children's lives. There has to be a sincerity about them and
the work they do."
There are many risk assessment jobs in state and local governments as well as the
federal government. In addition, large companies frequently keep risk assessors on
staff, and there are many consulting firms that specialize in providing contract risk
support both for government as well as industry. The Society for Risk Analysis is
the major professional organization of risk assessment and claims over 2,200
Salaries for federal risk assessors start at $35,000 (with a master's degree) and
can theoretically go up to $80,000 (with a Ph.D. and experience). Private
companies and consulting firms may pay much more.
As with all jobs, an employer will be more receptive if the applicant has taken the
time to learn about the specifics of the job, either formally by taking a course or
informally through reading. Beyond that, being hired is a matter of convincing the
government or company that you have intellectual flexibility, people skills, and the
desire to learn a new and challenging field.
Lara Pullen has a Ph.D. in immunology and worked as a human health risk
assessor at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for three years. She
currently stays home with her one-year-old daughter and freelances as a science
writer and environmental health consultant.
Christopher G. Edwards - July 9, 1999 · Issue 58
Abstract: This article discusses issues that scientists should consider when
contemplating part- or full-time consulting. The author identifies the business
issues, challenges, and required personal skills for consulting, based in part on
responses from successful consultants.
Consider consulting, either part- or full-time, as a way to make extra money or
launch a new career. Scientific consultants play a key role in transferring science
and technology into the commercial domain. For full-time academic researchers,
consulting can be an enjoyable and highly profitable way to translate your work into
social benefit. For those who leave the bench, consulting enables you to combine
your scientific knowledge and thinking with an entrepreneurial lifestyle.
What is a scientific consultant? Carl Sindermann and Thomas Sawyer, who wrote
one of the best books on scientific consulting (The Scientist as Consultant: Building
New Career Opportunities), define the role as "a technically trained entrepreneur
who makes available for a stated price his expertise, data, analyses, evaluations,
and recommendations relevant to client needs" . Practicing scientists who are
part-time consultants often have distinguished themselves through their publishing
and presentations. Although the best paid part-time consultants may hold
prestigious professorships, a less powerful researcher (who may be a lab chief)
could consult if he has established a reputation in an area of great commercial
A company would pay the prominent researcher on a nonexclusive basis to help
shape the direction of policy in, for example, a major pharmaceutical company.
She may be asked about the potential commercial importance of general areas of
research. In return, she would likely be paid an annual retainer and a per diem fee.
For the midlevel researcher with distinction in a niche, he may receive a retainer
and daily fee to consult on an exclusive basis about specific projects. One such
consultant suggested an annual retainer of about $10,000-15,000, plus a per diem
fee of $1,000-2,000 for such services.
Researchers who consult part-time usually get involved after being approached by
representatives from industry. A pharmaceutical scientist who has seen a
presentation in the area of his commercial interest might introduce himself to an
academic researcher after hearing his paper, possibly inviting the presenter to give
a talk at the pharmaceutical company. If the talk goes well and the pharmaceutical
company wants to proceed, it would approach the scientist with an offer. In other
cases, industrial scientists or scientist-managers might spot potential consultants
by reading research papers, and then contacting the researcher. In any case, it is
unlikely that an academic researcher would successfully contact a pharmaceutical
Full-time consulting, in contrast to part-time, requires a major career transition: the
scientist must decide to leave the bench, possibly permanently. Sindermann and
Sawyer surveyed full-time scientific consultants to assess their motivations and
how they transitioned from research . The main reasons, as expected, included
personal freedom, opportunities to use talents and knowledge in new ways, and
financial success. For many who were surveyed, the combination of personal
freedom and creativity added up to job satisfaction they could not find elsewhere.
My own experience as a biotechnology consultant for 19 years confirms these
surveys. My capacity to take on a wide variety of interesting projects, and the
ability to choose my work conditions, compensate for the absence of the stability
that a full-time position would offer.
Sindermann and Sawyer found that people often venture into full-time consulting
after major positive or negative changes in their academic or industrial careers.
However, the move often comes after enjoying the benefits of part-time consulting.
It may also occur after a client approaches you with a large contract while you
struggle with a dissatisfying job. Once you jump ship, having a few steady clients
on contract will greatly reduce the anxiety of full-time consulting. With enough
reliable consulting work to pay the bills, you have the freedom to pursue the types
of projects you most enjoy.
Full-time scientific consulting is a business, not a scientific enterprise. It is a high
risk, high reward field, where one has to have or develop the capacity to run many
business functions. If you try it on a part-time basis for a year as a moonlighter, you
would discover whether you have the proper skills and interests to succeed. Your
duties will vary, depending upon whether you are a solo practitioner, develop and
manage an office with junior consultants, or join a large scientific consulting firm.
However, you will have to understand marketing, and you must to market your
work in all of these cases. You will probably manage people, prepare budgets, and
develop projects. Unlike working as a bench scientist, you must develop excellent
interpersonal skills, especially presentation skills. Being a good communicator is at
least as valuable as being a good scientist. If you need to brush up on these skills,
don't despair; many seminars, books, and services are available to help you learn
Although you are a businessperson, as a scientific consultant you must still think
like a scientist. In other words, you bring objectivity and rigorous analysis to your
projects. Sindermann and Sawyer point out five different types of work that call
upon your scientific skills: analysing, interpreting, and making recommendations
based on someone else's data; creating and analysing your own data; a
combination of analysing your own and others' data; double-checking the opinions
of other consultants or in-house scientists; and managing large projects where you
supervise subcontractors. Unlike other businesses where "the customer is always
right," as a scientific consultant you should present your opinion in an unbiased
way - even if the client doesn't want to hear the bad news.
My rule of thumb: you should be prepared to tell your clients the truth as you see it,
even if they will fire you for it. You can always replace them with a client who
values your knowledge and integrity. Don't forget that you can also fire your clients,
diplomatically avoiding future business if you disagree with their values or business
Consultants often worry about keeping up with scientific advances, but all scientists
worry about this. As a consultant, you have to manage your continuing education
carefully, selectively going to conferences and reading certain journals regularly.
Some consultants even take sabbaticals or teach classes in an attempt to keep up.
Fortunately, you are often hired for your judgment about applications, not simply
your technical knowledge; this form of intelligence, which combines scientific and
business expertise, only improves as your career advances.
One client told me that he never wants to educate consultants on his own nickel. In
fact, each consulting project increases your knowledge base and your business
savvy. Of course, you won't be actually consulting for most of your week. Many
consultants are happy to bill 30-50 percent of their working hours. Like lawyers,
accountants, and other professionals, full-time consultants spend much of their
week on the financial, administrative, and marketing aspects of their businesses.
This fact helps account for why consulting fees can be so high.
People who consider full-time, solo consulting wonder what exactly they will do and
how they will get enough clients. Good answers to both questions often lie nearby.
You probably already know many potential clients if you go to meetings and are
aware of companies that profit from your science - as either suppliers of research
products or manufacturers of drugs and devices. Although clients will come to you
based on your reputation, you should also attract attention by giving conference
presentations and publishing articles in scientific and trade journals. You will learn
how to structure contracts by working with attorneys. By negotiating with clients,
talking to other consultants, and speaking to friends in the industry, you will
discover how and what to charge for your services.
New full-time consultants often underestimate the challenges of managing both
time and money. Research scientists tend to pay relatively little attention to time
management compared to people in business. As a consultant, in contrast, you are
constantly pressed to maximize your payment for your time. In addition, you must
juggle other time-consuming business tasks that compete for both billable time and
attention. Surveys from Sindermann and Sawyer suggest that consultants often
break even two to three years after they start their full-time business. However, I
have known consultants who could turn profits in their first year by carefully
managing their business.
Consulting, either part- or full-time, will stretch your capacities and increase your
resourcefulness. In this economy, such resourcefulness is your greatest security.
Christopher G. Edwards is a Boston-based science management consultant, writer
Bench Work and Bull Markets
Jim Kling - July 23, 1999 · Issue 59
Abstract: If you think you can't get there from here, think again. These examples of
diverse paths taken from laboratory science to an investment career may help you
see the way.
Investing. Maybe you've thought about it. After all, aren't biotech and
pharmaceutical stocks a hot item? You know the science, and wouldn't a job in
investing be a great way to keep up with what's going on at the cutting edge of life-
But the most distressing question to many is, How do you get to investing from a
bench job? The answer will vary greatly depending on whom you ask, but many
have transitioned from a lab position to an investment career. There's no one
pathway. You don't have to go to business school, though it wouldn't hurt. The
stories of three scientists-cum-investment-pros - outlined below - illustrate the
varying paths one could follow.
Even as a second-year molecular biology graduate student at the University of
Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), Jim Reddoch wondered about his prospects of
getting a research job. He saw graduating students forced into two or more
postdocs, so he decided to look at alternatives. He started an industry roundtable
that brought in representatives from the biotech and pharmaceutical industries to
talk about careers in and out of the lab.
"I probably got more out of those sessions than anyone else," he recalls. At about
the same time, the stock market piqued his interest when a UAB spin-off company,
BioCryst, held an initial public offering. Reddoch bought some shares and declares
he has been "hooked ever since."
"The net effect of hearing from industry types (through the industry roundtable) was
that I got names, learned the language, and could expand from there. I read a lot of
trade journals [such as Genetic Engineering News, BioWorld, BioCentury, Nature
Biotechnology]. BioCentury has a section on analysts' picks and changes; I got a
lot of names from that."
Even better, "[One of the roundtable speakers] gave me a research report on his
company - I used that as a template for drafting my own writing samples," says
Reddoch. After some interviews during graduate school, he went off to a postdoc
at Yale University, unsure whether he wanted to make the jump. Nine months into
his postdoc at Yale, he heard about an opening for a research associate at Gerard
Klauer Mattison and Company (New York City). His previous efforts helped land
him the job, where he worked until joining another large Wall Street firm at the
beginning of July.
In that position, he was responsible for "knowing everything there is to know about
nine companies. We issue ratings on those companies: buy, hold, or sell. Anytime
they release news we interpret it and tell how it affects our ratings."
John M. Rice
After a Ph.D. in virology from Ohio State University, John M. Rice joined Battelle
Memorial Institute, a private research contracting firm, and conducted research in
viral vaccine development. "Over the course of 13 years I moved from bench
science to management, managing projects and small groups, then large
divisions," he recalls.
Battelle's commercial orientation gave Rice experience in business and science
right away. "Battelle is sort of a hybrid environment, which might have made the
transition easier. I had much more day-to-day exposure to business activities,
including selling and business development. I was dealing with industry as part of
our customer base."
After rising through the ranks in management, Rice got involved with an attempt to
spin off one of Battelle's research departments into a separate biotech company
with a focus on drug discovery technology and diagnostic medical devices. "We put
together a business plan and a strategy . . . [but] when the market crashed in 1987,
we had no chance to raise capital and the initiative fell apart."
The next lesson was downsizing: "I was given the responsibility to divest some of
our technology and people. . . . I realized that some day I'd be divested. Then a
headhunter called about an opportunity here at Senmed Medical Ventures," and he
moved on to his current position as director of the medical technology division,
investigating new technologies as potential investments for Senmed's clients.
Of his gradual transition, he says: "It's a gravitation. When you're on the business
side of science it's a lot more oriented to people skills. . . . You also need the
experience of having been involved in making business decisions - employing
criteria beyond what you might use in making scientific decisions. Some people go
back for formal training and get an MBA, but my [path] was all by the seat of the
Roger Wyse seemed settled in a long academic career. He began as a plant
pathologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, researching mechanisms that
dictate how plants allocate carbon. "We were always presenting our results to the
industry, so that's where my early interest (in applied science) came from," he
He would eventually move into administration, becoming dean of Rutgers
University and, later, dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the
University of Wisconsin. "As an academic administrator, as you allocate resources,
you are investing in good science and in the faculty. And you spend a lot of time
raising money to support programs of the college . . . so it was a natural transition
to do that in the business environment," says Wyse.
In the mid-nineties, he got interested in improving translation of university research
into industry. Most universities have an office that evaluates discoveries to
determine if they warrant patent applications, and if they do, they begin the patent
process and simultaneously market the discovery to companies.
"What I was suggesting was, before doing the licensing agreement, the university
fund more research to get a better understanding of its value. If you put a little
money into proof of concept and early stage development, you can show the value
of the technology. The more value you can show, the more value you can reap
from the licensing agreement."
To test the idea, he brought in Steve Burrill from Burrill & Company (San Francisco,
California) to discuss the plan. Although the university rejected the proposal, Wyse
soon joined Burrill to help form and become managing director of an agricultural
biotechnology branch of the company. Today, he seeks out and evaluates new
technologies and companies. He also assists small companies in establishing
partnerships with larger companies.
The secret's out - now you know that it is indeed possible to switch from the lab to
Jim Kling writes in Washington State about science and the environment. His work
has appeared in Science, Nature Biotechnology, The Scientist, Scientific American,
and Popular Science magazine's Web site.
A Dollar in the Life
Jim Kling - August 6, 1999 · Issue 60
Abstract:This follow-up to last issue's Adapt or Die column highlights a day in the
life of three former scientists, each of whom has pursued a different path to a
career in investing.
Investing. Maybe you've thought about it. After all, aren't biotech and
pharmaceutical stocks a hot item? You know the science, and wouldn't a job in
investing be a great way to keep up with what's going on at the cutting edge of life-
Last issue, we profiled three scientists who moved from the bench into investment
careers. None followed the traditional approach of pursuing another advanced
degree, opting instead to widen their business acumen by bootstrapping and
organizing seminars (Jim Reddoch), or as a natural outgrowth of their scientific
careers (John M. Rice and Roger Wyse). In this installment, we'll take a look at
what their new jobs are like.
As a research associate for Gerard Klauer Mattison in New York City, Reddoch has
to know "everything there is to know" about nine companies. "Anytime they release
news we interpret it and tell how it affects our ratings," he says.
Those ratings take the form of recommendations to buy, hold, or sell the stocks of
one of those companies. They then package that information and offer it free to
portfolio managers, who in turn may place trades through the company and
generate a commission.
To get the skinny on those companies he's been assigned, Reddoch spends time
reading annual reports and financial documents. With those documents as a
background, Reddoch tours labs and manufacturing plants, and meets with
corporate executives. He says financial analysts like him rarely talk to company
scientists during these visits, because financial analysts often don't understand the
vagaries of basic science, so corporate representatives shield them from the day's
"You have to remember that all of this information is given a spin. . . . If the analyst
doesn't understand that 19 of 20 experiments don't work, they might think the
company's lead drug candidate is dead."
He also spends time talking with physicians and leading scientists to get
impressions of a company's technology or drug candidates, and he occasionally
serves as an in-house liaison between corporate scientists and coworkers trained
only in business.
Days are hectic. Each morning, Reddoch meets with the senior investment analyst,
his boss, to discuss the previous day's happenings. If there is news about any of
the companies he covers, they discuss it and decide whether or not to change their
buy, hold, or sell recommendations. If they decide a change is in order, they have
another meeting with the company's sales force - all before Wall Street opens for
business at 9:30 A.M. Eastern Standard Time. If a call by a salesperson piques the
interest of a portfolio manager, Reddoch may get a call later in the morning for
Still, no one's a true expert, he says. "We can only know so much - we can know
everything there is to know about a company and think it looks great, but if a drug
fails in a phase III trial or the FDA rejects a drug, there's no sustaining that
company's stock price."
John M. Rice
Not all jobs are on Wall Street. After joining Battelle Memorial Institute (Columbus,
Ohio) as a virologist in the late 1970s, John M. Rice gradually moved into
management and strategic positions, and is now director of medical technology at
Senmed Medical Ventures (Cincinnati, Ohio). Senmed serves as a venture capital
arm for many large companies, seeking out investment opportunities and putting
money into a select few. Rice's primary role at Senmed is to seek out medical
devices and diagnostic technologies that could be commercialised, so he spends a
good deal of time visiting universities, attending scientific meetings, and reading
the literature. "I've built a fairly broad network of . . . thought-leaders in the field of
medical science," he says.
Hobnobbing with creative scientific minds is the most fun part of the job, he says,
but it has its drawbacks, too: "It can be frustrating because there's a lot of ego
Once Rice identifies a promising technology, Senmed either helps license it to an
existing company, or builds an entirely new company around it. But before it can do
that, Rice and others must perform due diligence - that is, they must consider the
science, the people, the marketing plans, the intellectual property position, and all
of the other factors that suggest whether a venture will succeed or fail. "The difficult
thing can be jumping from molecular biology, to physics, to patent law [in the same
day], he says."
The investing environment is very different from the laboratory's daily routine of
testing hypotheses and moving on the next question. Business decisions are
based on a series of choices that determine in what direction you next go. To get
ahead, "you have to think strategically, not tactically."
A day starts anywhere between 7 and 9 A.M. ("I vary it purposefully") and ends
around 6 P.M., followed by an hour or so of catching up on reading and email. The
money is good. Rice makes about two to three times what he made as a scientist,
but the rewards aren't all monetary. "It's a nice combination of being close to a lot
of good science, and seeing the science get translated to products."
Not all paths lead directly from the lab to investing circles. Roger Wyse started out
as a researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and eventually moved into
academic administration, serving as a dean for Rutgers University and before
joining Burrill and Company (San Francisco, California) as managing director of the
agricultural biotechnology branch.
As a venture capital arm for corporations, Burrill helps small companies develop
partnerships, and helps larger companies spin out technologies or departments
into new companies. It also operates a family of life sciences venture capital funds,
including an $85 million agricultural biotechnology fund, which Wyse manages.
Wyse has three major responsibilities, and all three demand part of a typical day.
Although the ag biotech fund has $85 million in capital, Wyse still must make
presentations to investors - including major corporations, banks, and financial
institutions - to continue to increase the size of the fund.
Like Rice, he also spends time searching out new technology and investing
opportunities. "If you hear about somebody starting a company or a great
technology at a university, or there's a good company that is getting ready to [raise
additional money], you encourage them to submit a business plan to you so that
you can evaluate it," he says. With the business plan in hand, Wyse must spend
time reviewing the plan, visiting the company, evaluating the management team,
and getting scientific experts to evaluate the technology.
Negotiating deals between companies can be especially tricky for someone who
has grown up professionally in the relatively isolated laboratory environment. "You
have to be able to put a deal together, and be creative about structuring the new
relationship - sharing of the technology, the revenue streams, and how the
technology is paid for, so that the partnership is consistent with the growth in value
of the small company and yet meets the needs of the large company," Wyse says.
"It's a lot of instinct - though you do your due diligence. . . . The problem is,
scientists [who invent a technology] don't always make good managers. Some can
make the transition, but usually it's very difficult."
Some scientists can make the transition from the bench to investing, too, but the
journey isn't for the faint of heart. Still, as Reddoch, Rice, and Wyse can attest, it is
worth it for many.
Jim Kling writes in Washington State about science and the environment. His work
has appeared in Science, Nature Biotechnology, The Scientist, Scientific American,
and Popular Science magazine's Web site.
Bio Biz - Merging Money with Science
Lara Pullen - October 15, 1999 · Issue 64
Abstract: If a Ph.D. isn't for you, consider a degree in the booming field of
biotechnology. This article explores biotechnology as a career and describes
several programs that incorporate teamwork into teaching the business of science.
"During orientation there are [Outward Bound-style] ropes courses. Basically these
are exercises to figure out how to work together to solve physical problems. We
have these types of team activities so that you don't think that you can be a
maverick and do it all on your own. . . . Many projects are graded as a team and
that is a challenge - figuring out how to divide up responsibility. Most teams have a
person who assumes the position of team leader and delegates responsibilities."
If you think this sounds like no science program you have ever heard of before, you
are probably right. Leslie Wainwright, associate director at Northwestern
University's Centre for Biotechnology, has been through a Ph.D. program herself
and is impressed with what the Cent er for Biotechnology adds to an education in
the life sciences: "[Teamwork training] is something you don't get in science,
usually. . . . The mindset is fundamentally different [from that in graduate school].
There is not a company around that doesn't use teams. Some of our more
independent people have to learn that they have to rely on others and
communicate with others. They have to learn that a grade or a paycheck depends
on the ability to work together."
The Northwestern University Cent er for Biotechnology was established in 1990
and was one of the first of its kind. While there are only a few comparable
programs in the country (besides Northwestern's, probably the best known is the
University of Pennsylvania's Master of Biotechnology program), the number is
likely to increase exponentially. Each program is, of course, slightly different, and
like anything based on a relatively new concept, they are rapidly evolving. The
foundation of any biotechnology program is the merging of science and
commercialisation. Courses have names such as "Management of Science,"
"Medicinal Chemistry," and "Antibody Technology."
The programs intend to produce graduates who are well-rounded scientists and
who have an understanding of how to bring science to the marketplace. The
graduates are easily placed in the booming biotechnology job market with starting
salaries in the $40,000 to $70,000 range. Graduates pursue careers in business
consulting, technology transfer, and intellectual property. They are employed by
such companies as Wyeth-Ayerst Research, Ernst & Young, and the Boston
Generally, the biotechnology schools feel a responsibility to place their graduates,
and they take pride in the success of their alumni. Sometimes this job placement
involves identifying niches that are not classically thought of as being biology
related. For example, graduates may find themselves happily writing computer
code or performing equity research for a bank.
Anna Berdine is a biotechnology graduate who currently works as a market and
technology analyst at Abbott Laboratories. She feels that the degree has greatly
benefited her career: "I use my knowledge of business as much as my science in
day-to-day work activities. The inclusion of business principles in the curriculum is
a major difference between the Northwestern biotechnology degree and a master's
in molecular biology."
David Zhang is currently a student at Northwestern University's Cent er for
Biotechnology, but he has already landed a job (three months before graduation)
as an investment banking analyst with Salomon Smith Barney. "My career goal is
to be a senior analyst covering science and biotech stocks. Working in investment
banking will give me the analytical skills that I will need to pursue this goal."
Berdine's and Zhang's experiences are typical for biotechnology graduates. At the
Northwestern Cent er for Biotechnology, students spend thirteen months and
approximately $30,000 in tuition, and upon graduation find themselves with
interesting and practically guaranteed jobs coupled with great starting salaries.
Those who are familiar with the five-plus years required to complete a Ph.D. might
be surprised that so much can be accomplished in just over a year. The difference
in time seems to boil down to focus. Unlike Ph.D. programs that attempt to create
independent researchers who know a tremendous amount about a specialized
topic, biotechnology programs strive to create generalists who can contribute to a
This approach is successful because the biotechnology companies that hire the
graduates want to mould their new employees. The biotechnology programs
approach the students as life-long learners. The faculty realizes that every
graduate will continue to read and attend seminars and become specialized long
after the course work is completed. Therefore, the focus of the program is to
provide a foundation for this future learning. The biotechnology students learn a
little bit about such diverse topics as technology shifts, health management
organizations, basic finance, business plans, and epidemiological statistics.
Wainwright describes how the application of information is a key component of the
Cent er's philosophy: "We try to boil things down to the absolute essentials. The
more targeted we are, the better. Most importantly, we ask the question, How is the
science being used? Classic immunology is very tied to what is going on in the real
world. That should keep us ahead of our competitors for a while."
This approach to life science education can be considered either innovative or
downright vocational, depending on your perspective. The traditional bench Ph.D.
focuses on scientific thought and the scientific process and (at least historically)
assumes that its graduates will go on to academic positions. It is generally also
assumed that the Ph.D. student is learning for the joy of it, with little expectation of
financial compensation. In contrast, while enthusiasm and joy are welcomed in a
biotechnology student, no one is kidding themselves about the financial
expectations. Biotechnology is big business and the players can expect to earn big
The Northwestern program generally receives about 200 to 300 qualified
applicants seeking the background required to enter this job market. About 20 to
30 students are ultimately accepted and enroll in the program. Most applicants
have a life science background, some have an engineering background, and there
is the occasional businessperson. Generally, the master's students are about 25
years old and have a bachelor's degree and a few years of work experience. Each
class includes a handful of part-time students who are successfully employed in
the biotechnology industry and seek to bolster their resume and gain valuable
So far, Northwestern has seen very few applicants with a research master's degree
or a Ph.D. The Cent er's Wainwright is not sure why this is, but wonders if the
tuition cost and idea of more schooling seem prohibitive to those used to life in the
laboratory. Elizabeth Sondgeroth is one former Ph.D. student who did make the
leap: "When I started the Ph.D. program, I didn't know that there was an
alternative. I got to graduate school and I thought, What am I doing here? I didn't
like working in the lab as much as I thought that I would."
Transferring to a biotechnology program may not make sense for everyone with an
eye on a job in the booming biotechnology market. Wainwright suggests that
interested researchers read The Wall Street Journal and Nature Biotechnology,
both of which do a good job of covering the biotechnology industry. She also
recommends reading about how financial systems work and what factors
determine when a company decides to go public. Of course, another low-cost way
to learn more about biotechnology is to attend Northwestern University's free
Summer Biotechnology Institute (SBI).
The 1999 two-day SBI focused on building a biotechnology community. The SBI
hopes to play a key role in the initiation of a true Midwest biotechnology "cluster,"
such as those that as exist on the East and West Coasts. Topics included "Working
with a University Invention in Your Biotech Company" and "Model University Tech
Probably the most important thing, however, is for those who love the life sciences
to realize that there are other options besides a Ph.D. program. A biotechnology
master's may make perfect sense for some people. Songeroth describes her
decision to leave a Ph.D. program and pursue a master's in biotechnology as "one
of the best academic decisions I have made. I like where I am at and where I am
Lara Pullen is a freelance science writer and adjunct professor at the School of
Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago. She is the president of
Environmental Health Consulting, a company specializing in environmental and
Science and Technical Translation
Ulrike Walter - November 15, 1999 · Issue 66
Abstract: If you're fluent in two or more languages, technical translation may be a
great alternative to a traditional science career. Ulrike Walter provides a personal
perspective and great resources for budding translators.
Having obtained the German equivalent of an M.Sc. in biology, and working on my
thesis for a Ph.D. in agricultural science, I knew I wanted out of the lab and out of
the rat race of a science career. Yet I did not want to part with science completely.
Looking for alternatives, I considered science publishing and science writing, but
was discouraged by the prospects of the job market and by the pay in those fields.
Then I translated the user's manual for a biological oxidizer used at "our" lab, and
the idea was born: translation as an alternative career.
But how to go about it? Was it a reasonable pathway to consider? Where to get
information? Probably everyone considering a major career change is faced with
insecurity and a lack of resources to help answer his questions. I was lucky enough
to chance upon a Web article by Cathy Flick, a scientist turned translator. She was
the first of many to advise and tutor me, and I would like to pass on to others what I
have learned since.
Where to Begin, Besides Knowing Science?
Obviously, one needs to be able to read and write more than one language. In your
native language, the one into which you will translate, you need to be able to write
clearly and concisely, to write in different styles, and to spell and punctuate
correctly. In your other language(s), you need to be able to fully comprehend the
source texts you will translate, to appreciate the style they are written in, and to
catch the cultural connotations (yes, they do exist in scientific and technical texts).
The latter is not usually achieved without immersion in the language by living and
working in a country where the language is spoken, by extensive reading in that
language, and by conversation with native speakers of that language.
But simply being able to read and write two or more languages is not enough.
Translation is a skill in itself that in Europe is taught at universities and other
institutes of higher education. In the United States, only a few university-level
programs in translation are available, and the art and science of translation is still
not much appreciated. Yet to translate a text means not only to render in the target
language the full and unaltered content of the original text, but also to give the
reader of the translation the same impression a native reader of the original text
would have obtained.
On certain occasions, this definition of translation may even force one to reproduce
a poor style. On other occasions, one may have to change a writer's style
completely. For example, user's manuals in the United States require a direct,
active, and personal approach, whereas German manuals favour a passive,
indirect voice that never addresses the reader personally.
You will also need patience and a love for detail - skills that are not foreign to
trained scientists. Translating long documents can be a tedious process, but the
quality of your output must not suffer from your wish simply to get it over and done
with. Clients, whether translation agencies or direct clients, expect a translation
that is free of errors and omissions - and the spell checker of your word processor
fulfills just a minimum requirement in that area.
Computer skills these days are a must for a newcomer to translation. They include
software skills such as word processing (with desktop publishing being an asset),
use of email, the Web, and FTP - tools with which most scientists should be
familiar. It also helps to understand about different computer platforms, data
exchange between different platforms, and the like, but a lot of that one can pick up
as needed. More important are the last two skills I want to point out: self-motivation
The satisfaction and money in science and technical translation are in freelance
work (or in running your own translation company). There are only a few positions
for staff translators, and they usually aren't well paid. An established freelance
translator, on the other hand, can easily earn more than what scientists in
academia are paid - although probably not more than the going salaries for top-
level scientists in pharmaceutical and related industries. However, in order to
become that established freelance translator, one needs an entrepreneur's spirit.
Working some nights and weekends should not deter you, and you should know or
learn about marketing as well as accounting. Building your client base is a never-
ending challenge, even for experienced translators. If you hate networking in
science, you probably won't like it much in translation, but without it you won't get
What Is the Work Like?
If you still are in academia, you are aware that money is always short there. Thus,
don't expect to be translating highly scientific journal articles only - unless you are
working, for example, with Japanese and Russian. Textbooks are translated -
sometimes - but usually translating them offers more prestige than money. The big
bucks in translation are where money is made using those translations: user's
manuals, product information, catalogues, material-safety data sheets, and
As a science and technical translator, you will often be asked to translate materials
related to information technology. I myself am interested in computer networks,
databases, and the like, and therefore I don't mind that kind of work, and it makes
up about 50 percent of my translation jobs. You should be prepared to work in
these areas (at least if you are not a complete computerphobe) when beginning
your translation career. It will be comparatively easy to get assignments, and one
can gain a lot of translation experience that way.
Translation is a challenge, because you are faced with new subject areas all the
time - even if you specialize in the sci-tech field. Last year I did jobs ranging from
seed-package instructions to scientific journal articles to manuals for radiation
therapy and telecommunications equipment. As a scientist with a broad
background training (biology, agricultural science, database design, and data
modeling), I feel confident taking on jobs in various areas, but I know my limits - no
contracts, no computer games, no novels, no financial stuff. I enjoy learning new
things practically every day. Often I need to do some background research (a lot of
which these days one can do on the Web rather than at a library), and that, in
combination with being my own boss, is what I love best about my work.
Where Do I Start?
Suppose you have established that you have all the skills outlined above and are
ready to plunge into that new career. Go and get a part-time job, preferably still in
science. While the market for translation is growing, the competition is as well, and
it will take some time before you can make a living as a freelancer. If you have that
part-time job to sustain you in the beginning, you obtain a certain freedom in
choosing your assignments. You won't have to accept low-paying jobs that force
you to produce sloppy results and will damage your reputation.
Next, set up your office. You don't need to rent space for it, but you need room for
a computer, fax machine, printer, telephone, and lots of shelf space. You will need
your own email account and a reliable Internet service provider. Get the latest
editions of good general dictionaries for your language combinations. You will also
need specialized dictionaries, but they usually are expensive, and you should take
your time figuring out what you do and do not need.
Now you are all set to market yourself. While direct clients such as biotech
companies are a desirable target, it is difficult for newcomers to break into that
market. Unless you already have good contacts due to your position in science, my
advice is to start working for translation agencies. A good agency (or translation
company) will have your work edited by another native speaker and will give you
feedback on your work. You can then gradually improve your quality of work and
acquire an in-depth knowledge of the translation process and the various problems
that may occur.
Since HMS Beagle is in English, I am assuming that at least one of your languages
is English as well. If you are based in the United States or still have connections
there, you should consider becoming a member of the American Translators
Association. Its annual conference, which usually takes place in November, is a
great place to network with translators and translation agencies as well as to learn
more about translation and the translation business. Also, the ATA offers an
accreditation program for the most frequent language combinations, and there are
translation agencies that prefer to work with accredited translators. But wherever
you are, get in touch with your local translators' organization and inquire about
regular meetings, job fairs, and the like.
Make use of the Internet - the Web as well as mailing lists. Enter your contact
information in the various databases on the Web, for example, the Aquarius
database, where you can also find contact information for several hundred
translation agencies worldwide. Subscribe to mailing lists specializing in your
languages or to LANTRA-L, probably the biggest list out there. They are a great
way to get in touch with translators, get a glimpse into a translator's daily life, and
sometimes even to get jobs.
Write up a one-page résumé detailing your expertise and experience, also
including all your contact information. Send it to translation agencies, using, for
example, the mailing addresses contained in Glenn's Guide. Send out a lot of
those letters, because the initial response rate will be low. Expect agencies to ask
you to do sample translations, and take care in preparing those. It will take some
time to establish yourself, but if you deliver quality translations and don't neglect
those marketing skills, you should find science and technical translation a
Ulrike Walter is a trained biologist and agricultural scientist. She now works as a
freelance translator for English into German, specializing in the biosciences,
medicine and information technology.
How About a Marketing Career?
Christopher G. Edwards - April 28, 2000 · Issue 77
Abstract: The lack of jobs in academia, combined with the availability of jobs in
growing biotech and pharmaceutical companies, are good reasons to consider
looking for marketing jobs after your Ph.D. This article is a primer on some of the
opportunities in marketing and how you might make the transition.
A surprising number of people in marketing positions at biotech and pharma
companies hold Ph.D.s in the life sciences. Over the years of working with such
companies, I have been impressed by how valued these people are, as well as
how much many of them enjoy their jobs. Let us look at what marketing is and why
it appeals to many newly minted Ph.D.s.
In the broadest sense, marketing comprises a wide variety of ways in which
companies capture markets for their products and thus build their revenues. In fact,
different corporations take different approaches to how they segment different
marketing functions among the various departments. For example, some
companies align marketing employees with sales departments, while others have
independent marketing departments. Smaller, growing companies may integrate
the various marketing functions more closely than larger ones, since people in
smaller companies may play many overlapping roles.
Regardless of how the companies parcel out marketing roles, every company must
hire people to perform several basic marketing activities. These functions include:
providing technical support to customers; conducting quantitative or qualitative
market research to develop new or better products; creating strategies for
marketing products to potential customers; working with sales employees to assure
that marketing strategies are accurate (and sometimes determining whether sales
people implement strategies well); and developing relationships with other
companies that can either help market the company, or provide resources or
technology to improve product development.
Recent graduates in the life sciences usually find it easiest to get initial marketing
positions in which they provide technical support to customers. They may simply
answer phone calls about technical problems with a product such as an instrument
or software, or they may help to train users of the company's products and provide
follow-up help as needed.
If you train users, you will go to their companies, perhaps develop training
seminars for a number of employees, or supervise small groups as they learn to
work with the product. In any case, you will first learn a great deal about the
science and technology in your own company. Furthermore, you will have to stay
abreast of related scientific and technical developments because they will help
determine your customers' expectations. In these positions, you will likely have as
much contact with other scientists as you did in graduate school, if not more.
Technical support positions can lead to market research positions, although others
in market research are likely to have MBA degrees. It is not rare to encounter
marketing executives who have both Ph.D. and MBA degrees. However, with your
Ph.D. and willingness to learn the business, you can grow into senior positions.
Quantitative market research will use your statistical and analytical skills to analyse
and anticipate who will buy products, under what conditions, and at what price. In
contrast, qualitative research draws more heavily upon social and verbal abilities.
Qualitative market researchers might, for example, organize focus groups where
selected users (such as physicians, patients, or users of research products)
respond to questions created by market researchers and delivered by a moderator.
If you conduct qualitative research, you might also call customers and potential
customers or analyse the results of other people's calls. Qualitative researchers
measure attitudes, while quantitative researchers measure demographics,
revenues, and other numerical data. They both contribute, however, to the end
result: the capacity to imagine customers and products, develop scenarios and
related marketing strategies, and forecast the results of the company's efforts.
Some other marketing positions focus on gathering market intelligence by informal
discussions and observation of potential customers. These jobs may require
attending meetings where prospects congregate, and perhaps standing at the
exhibition booths at the conference along with the company's salespeople. In this
position, one would listen closely to current and potential customers, examine how
competing companies are marketing their products, and watch competitors
demonstrate their products.
Marketing and sales functions can mesh easily at meetings, as well as when
marketers and salespeople go to offices of customers to give demonstrations and
other sales calls. Marketing employees, if they understand more about the
technical features of the product than the salespeople, may have to answer the
tough questions during a sales call. Extroverts take note: some marketing and
sales activities are so interrelated that you could make the transition from
marketing into a sales position, if you desire.
Another aspect of marketing is called business development. People in this area
do the work of finding and forging alliances that would add strength to the products
or to the marketing efforts. For example, I read a report recently about an alliance
between a company selling information based on human gene fragments and a
company that gathers clinical data from patients. Business development executives
must have engineered this alliance, which will probably combine research
resources as well as marketing clout.
Business development employees may have less interaction or knowledge of
current customers than other marketing people. They focus on strategies for the
future, sometimes for many years ahead, and interact with complementary
businesses far more than customers. Business development people must learn
how to structure and initiate deals, anticipating the needs of partner companies as
well as their own company, and represent the entire company (not just the
Why do so many scientists like to work in marketing? Except for quantitative
market researchers, people in marketing have more direct contact with people than
lab scientists do. In fact, some marketing people interact more with scientists than
bench scientists do. Marketers must keep current on scientific developments, but
unlike bench scientists, they do not have to deal with the tedium of research.
Finally, marketing positions tend to pay better than scientific positions, and they are
probably easier to find throughout the country. The flexibility and pay are great
advantages when raising a family or juggling dual careers.
A pundit once stated: all generalizations are misleading, including this one. It is
difficult to give more than a glimpse of what scientists may encounter if they
transition into marketing positions in biomedical, biotechnology, or pharmaceutical
companies. While I have tried to outline some of the issues and advantages of this
career move, you need to probe each prospective company and position carefully
to be sure that you can be happy working there.
The good news is that you will not sacrifice your knowledge or interest in science.
Instead, you will be translating the results of science into the marketplace,
ultimately for the benefit of consumers. So many scientists have made this
transition, sometimes grudgingly, and many of them enjoy their marketing careers.
How about you?
Christopher G. Edwards is a Boston-based science management consultant,
writer, and editor.
Netting a Job - Job-Hunting on the Internet
David Bradley - July 21, 2000 · Issue 83
Abstract: Whether you're hunting for a postdoctoral position or an academic or
industry job, in this competitive market it pays to know where to look. Job sites on
the Web can help you find that perfect position.
"Be as creative, obscure, and tangential as possible," is Allan Jordan's advice to
anyone surfing the net for a new job. He tried every site available until he got his
present position at Cambridge-based Ribotargets, a small pharmaceutical research
outfit, having worked on novel pro-drug approaches to the treatment of malignant
melanoma (melanocyte-directed enzyme prodrug therapy, or MDEPT) and other
anticancer agents at Reading University in England.
Jordan's method worked well. "I searched every job site for any vacancies, not just
in medicinal chemistry, but in assay development, molecular biology, biochemistry,
and pharmacokinetics," he says, and this eventually got him a job.
When you are looking for that perfect position, some surfing could certainly speed
things up. Some approaches might work better than others, and in the end it all
boils down to what you have to offer the job you are looking for.
A general jobs site such as New Scientist Jobs or Science Careers is probably as
good a place to start as any. "The best use I've found of the net is the online
newspapers, the Guardian, the Telegraph, New Scientist..." says Bob Noble, virtual
reality researcher at the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen. Nature, New
Scientist and Science took the brunt of Jordan's searching too, but there's lots of
competition from other applicants from the print editions, which is where a more
focused site like Science Careers or Sciencejobs.com can help.
Science Careers provides more than just job listings, adding advice, employer
profiles, careers fair information and features on job-market issues. "Such sites
also help you prepare for an interview," says biology postdoc Sarah Milburn.
If your ambitions are more focused, then a specialist site might be the next place to
visit. "If you go to the more generalized sites," explains Paul Guinnessy,
Webmaster at PhysicsWeb. "You get swamped by adverts; with a specialist, site
you can drill down to specific subject areas."
In contrast, Noble found the experience of net job searching disheartening.
"Basically, my difficulty is matching what I have to what is there. Years of research
and development experience, a Ph.D. in computer graphics, a math degree,
experience with robots, and the nuclear industry. I'm a researcher more than a
programmer; I like graphics but I don't write games. How do you tell that to a
There are more useful approaches for specialist job seekers, however. "The
general rule," says Darien Pugh, who manages ChemWeb's Job Exchange, "is the
more specific a site, the more likely you are to look at it and the more likely you are
to come across the information you need." Paul Heelis of Chemjobs.net
emphasizes the point. Try searching for a chemistry job at a general site, he
suggests. "You will be lucky to get more than three."
Stephanie van Willigenburg highlights the international benefits of job seeking on
the net if you're working abroad. "I'm doing a post doc at York U. in Toronto, and
certainly all the jobs I've applied for this year have been from Internet lists or the
Web," she says. "The Web has been invaluable for reading ads in the UK's Times
Higher Education Supplement and useful for checking out people's research
interests so you can tailor your application to a particular department."
Chris Rayner, a researcher working on nucleic acids and biotransformations at
Leeds University, has successfully placed ads for postdocs on the academic site
Jobs.ac.uk. But while that has been a successful approach for finding candidates,
he reveals that his own students are more likely to get a job through career fairs
than by other means.
Some Web sites allow you to post a resume into a repository of putative
interviewees. What approach might you use to boost the chances of your resume
being picked from the potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of others out there? "It
is crucial to put in all the important information," says Pugh, "and the kinds of
keywords you would normally include in a paper resume, such as 'teamworker',
'management experience,' etc."
According to Phil Mackie, who did endless surfing till he got his current postdoc
position at Trinity College Dublin, "The Web sites of the learned societies and the
science journals are the best place to start because the other sites don't focus on
the scientific subdivisions." As far as uploading a resume, though, he says
"sometimes you need to fine-tune a resume to match the job you are going for - but
if you're posting your resume it has to be general."
So your resume is in good shape. Is there anything else to watch out for in using
the Internet as a career stepping stone? First, you should avoid being caught by
your employer's site-tracking software by doing your searching from home - some
employers are taking an increasingly hard line on Internet "abuse." But even if you
do all of your surfing from home, that won't hide your resume once it is posted, so
your employer could readily discover you are looking for a new job. "Candidates
can specify the companies they don't want to be shown to at ChemJobs.net", says
Heelis, which offers some protection to the rightly paranoid. Pugh is also now
considering anonymous resume posting for those who want it, although he points
out that it is usually quite difficult to hide itchy feet from colleagues and the boss,
Guinnessy does not recognize this as a problem, in physics at least, and probably
the academic world in general. "I think most employers are too busy to go surfing
around the jobs-wanted pages of various sites, and the risk is limited, especially
considering most scientists are on short-term contracts anyway!"
David Bradley , a freelance science writer, lives on the edge of the fens north of
Cambridge, United Kingdom. Elemental Discoveries is his Webzine of science
Drawing Down the Bones
Toni Reed - August 4, 2000 · Issue 84
Abstract: Medical illustrators translate complex subject matter into comprehensible
pictures. In this article, the author outlines the history of medical illustration, what
illustrators do, training programs, professional certification, and the future of the
The world now has a near complete genome map of the human species. This
remarkable feat may facilitate cures for many life-threatening diseases, such as
cancer and diabetes. Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, said
publicly, "We have caught a glimpse of an instruction book previously known only
to God." To comprehend a topic as abstract as the human genetic code, one hopes
for an instruction book full of colourful, 3-D pictures.
Since the earliest cave dwellers painted pictographs on the walls of their dwellings,
people have communicated through the medium of art. Now, in the twenty-first
century, illustrations or animations of spiraling, ladderlike DNA molecules
accompany technical journals intended for scientists as well as explanations for
viewers of the six-o'clock news. Pictures simply make concepts more visible.
The field of medical illustration bridges the disciplines of art, science, medicine,
and communication. Medical illustrators create visual materials that communicate
vital information to doctors, medical students, health educators, and patients who
are better able to understand their conditions because of lifelike representations of
the human body.
VisceraIllustrations are used to clarify complex anatomical, surgical, or scientific
information involving 2-D images, 3-D digital images, computer modeling,
animation, or an entire multimedia presentation. Illustrations may also demonstrate
the interaction between the human body and technology. Consequently,
biotechnology firms hire illustrators who give shape and substance to an engineer's
vision, organizing for the human eye complicated biomedical devices. To create
clear, informative images, medical illustrators must possess a thorough
understanding of the subject matter.
History of the Profession
Evidence of medical illustration goes back to the beginning of recorded history.
Scientific and medical illustrations have been found in the paintings, inscriptions,
and sculptures of ancient China, India, Greece, Egypt, and Arabia. Perhaps the
most famous medical illustration ever drawn is Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man,
created about 1487. Leonardo has often been called the quintessential
Renaissance man because as scientist, inventor, and artist he sought to
understand and communicate the laws of nature through his unparalleled ability to
create faithful renditions of life. His dissections, performed on expired prisoners or
cadavers stolen from morgues, resulted in depictions of muscle and bone
structures that defined the study of anatomy for the next several centuries.
Leonardo once wrote: "The most praiseworthy form of painting is the one that most
resembles what it imitates." This, above all, describes the mission of the medical
illustrator, as true today as it was 500 years ago.
In 1894 Max Brödel, an artist at the Institute of Physiology at the University of
Leipzig, Germany, was persuaded to join the staff of the Johns Hopkins School of
Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, as a medical illustrator. In 1911 he became the
first director of the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine, the first school for
medical illustrators in the world. During the twentieth century, graduates of the
Johns Hopkins program trained new illustrators, and eventually new programs
At the beginning of the twentieth century, few hospitals and medical schools in the
U.S. employed artists. Following World War I, a small number of artists were hired
by medical institutions, although the profession as such was not fully established
until after World War II when the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI) was
What Medical Illustrators Do
Today medical artists are employed by medical, dental, and veterinary schools;
teaching hospitals, medical centres, and specialty clinics; research centres; private
physicians; publishing companies; pharmaceutical and medical-device companies;
advertising agencies; and law firms. Many illustrators form their own consulting
companies, or they freelance.
Artwork is used for classroom instruction, professional journals, medical textbooks,
television and film production, multimedia training materials, conference and
lecture presentations, posters, exhibits, catalogs, medical and pharmaceutical
advertisements, medical-device marketing literature, and patient education. Some
medical illustrators design prostheses or anatomical replacement parts for plastic-
surgery reconstruction. Renderings and animation are often used in courtrooms
today to explain difficult medical concepts. Many personal-injury, medical-
malpractice, and medical-product/drug-liability cases depend upon visual
explications provided by medical illustrators, and experience has shown that visual
props do sway juries and judges.
Medical illustrators use a variety of techniques, such as drawing, painting, and,
more recently, computer modeling and animation, depending on the purpose of
their artwork. Traditional media include pen and ink, watercolour, carbon dust,
airbrush, acrylics, and mixed media; traditional techniques are often combined with
computer-based renderings. Adobe Illustrator and Adobe PhotoShop are the most
widely used digital tools, followed by QuarkXPress and CorelDraw.
To become a medical illustrator, an individual must have an aptitude for drawing
and painting as well as a strong interest in science. There are a number of
undergraduate programs in the United States; however, many medical illustrators
have master's degrees from one of six programs in North America. The five
accredited postgraduate training programs in the U.S. are those of the Johns
Hopkins Medical School, the Medical College of Georgia, the University of Texas
Southwestern Medical Centre, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the
University of Michigan. The University of Toronto offers the only accredited
graduate program for medical illustrators in Canada.
All six schools offer two- to three-year programs leading to a master's degree in
medical illustration. In addition to the standard admission requirements for entering
any graduate program, an applicant must have a portfolio consisting of 15 to 30
slides that establishes artistic talent in a variety of modalities. An ideal candidate
has a bachelor's degree in applied art and design, commercial art, or fine art, with
a minor in biology or premedical sciences. Each program admits from three to
twelve students each year, with admission rates that range from 16 to 30 percent
The curriculum is evenly divided between art classes and science classes. Study of
human anatomy, physiology, embryology, cell biology, neurobiology, and pathology
is combined with art courses in medical/surgical/biological illustration, graphic
design, 3-D computer graphics and animation, multimedia production, interactive
computer-assisted instructional design, and photography. Students typically
specialize in one specific area, such as prosthetics, 3-D modeling, or computer
Since 1945, the AMI has provided professional standards and ethical guidelines for
medical illustrators. The Medical Illustrators Board of Certification is the certifying
body of the AMI. To become certified, graduates of accredited programs, or
illustrators with five years of full-time employment, take a two-part examination
consisting of a written examination and a stringent portfolio review. To be certified,
medical illustrators must successfully complete a full-body dissection course or its
equivalent in human gross anatomy.
Certification, however, is not required. Some artists see certification as a way to
demonstrate their professional competence, while others see the certification
process as an expensive and lengthy diversion once their careers are underway.
According to John Nyquist, chair of the Board of Medical Illustrators, out of 805
members of the AMI, 232 are certified.
The Future of Medical Illustration
With ready access to affordable, high quality, anatomically precise medical art
through software packages and the Internet, some institutions are downsizing their
medical illustration departments and outsourcing their assignments. The Internet,
however, opens up many opportunities for medical illustration firms and
Hip Surgery As consumers of medical services and devices become more involved
in their medical care, in part because of the Internet, the demand for original
illustrations that demonstrate key patient-care concepts is increasing. Because hip-
replacement surgery, for example, cannot be photographed easily, illustrations are
needed to convey the principles involved in illness and treatment.
Benjamin B. Broome, medical content director for Medical Legal Art in Atlanta,
states, "We have seen an explosion of the types of companies looking to employ
medical illustrators in recent years. It is a completely different market than it was a
decade ago. I believe there are more opportunities available for today's graduates
than ever before." The challenge, as always, is to link talented artists with those
who need their services. One thing is certain: as long as scientists continue to
expand the universe of knowledge, illustrators - as part of the scientific team - will
be used to translate complex subject matter into comprehensible pictures that
speak a thousand words in any language.
Toni Reed is a writer/editor at the University of Georgia Centre for Continuing
Goodbye Benchtop, Hello Laptop
Beth Schachter - September 15, 2000 · Issue 86
Abstract: This article profiles former scientists who moved into freelance science
writing and editing. It discusses the reasons for their career changes and describes
how they made their transitions. It shows a range of ways in which their scientific
expertise gets put to use "on a laptop rather than a benchtop."
Telltale Signs of a Future Science Communicator
Do you frequent seminars and journal clubs on subjects unrelated to your own
research? When scientists visit your institution, do you often get tapped to meet
with them because everyone knows you like chatting about a diverse range of
topics? Do you secretly read the front sections of Science and Nature when you
should be collecting or analysing your own data? Do colleagues seek your help
when they need to turn incomprehensible gibberish into well-crafted manuscripts
and grant proposals? If you nodded yes to these questions, and your own research
suffers from your eclectic interests, you may be a budding science writer or editor.
Bench scientists can find a niche in science writing.
Science writing and editing for general audiences often flows from the keyboards of
journalists and editors who learn about science on the job. However, as discussed
below, some types of science communication benefit from, and often demand, the
knowledge gained from hands-on laboratory experience.
You Needn't Leave Science
Alan Dove winces when queried "What made you leave science?" "I never left!" he
states emphatically. "In fact, as a science writer, I’m more involved with biology
than when I was a specialist, getting my Ph.D. in microbiology." Dove, who
currently writes for Nature Biotechnology, Nature Medicine, and the Journal of Cell
Biology, felt skillful in experimental design as a graduate student, but he was "all
thumbs" in the lab. Therefore, Dove chose to play to his strengths, merging his
passion for biology with the communication skills he had honed through formal
debating and the coaching of debaters.
Dove shifted into writing during his final year in graduate school when he took an
internship at Nature America. He learned that most staff writers and editors at the
Nature journals had Ph.D.s in the life sciences and thus favoured interns with
similar training. Flexible hours at the journals' office enabled him to finish his
dissertation while learning his new profession. The internship gave him clips from
press releases and news articles he authored and a valuable network of contacts.
Before starting the internship, Dove told his thesis advisor about his plan to leave
research. His advisor's initial response - the typical response of a mentor who
invests time and energy to train the student - was less than enthusiastic. With time,
however, the advisor acknowledged that science writing is a worthwhile endeavour.
After his internship, Dove briefly considered writing for general audiences, but
when the offer to become a regular contributor to the Nature journals came, he
took it. "I like the level of technical sophistication that writing for scientists
demands," he said. While he hopes to also write for a wider audience someday, he
gets ample pleasure from seeing his own work cited in the popular press.
New Fixes for a Self-Professed "Science Junkie"
Laura DeFrancesco, currently the editor of Bioresearch Online, spent many years
in research, and then motherhood interrupted her academic career development.
When she was ready to return to full-time work, DeFrancesco's talent for using and
teaching molecular biology techniques gained her an invitation to take charge of
the LabConsumer column at The Scientist.
DeFrancesco's innate curiosity about science led her to transform the
LabConsumer column from one of dry descriptions of high-volume items used by
researchers into lively presentations of specialized products. In the column's new
format, the articles covered not just the products, but also their applications for
addressing specific biological questions. This change made the articles far more
interesting for writers and readers alike.
DeFrancesco's recent move to become the first editor of VerticalNet's Internet
newsletter Bioresearch Online gave her the chance to design the content structure
of the Web site, tailoring it to an audience of bench researchers. Along with editing
news releases and commissioning articles from her Los Angeles-area home office,
she keeps in touch with the scientific community by attending conferences and
then authoring meeting briefs.
Part of DeFrancesco's love of science came from making discoveries firsthand.
The possibility of that thrill is gone but, she notes, "when you're writing or editing,
you learn about exciting new discoveries at a much faster pace than when you're
doing the work yourself."
Look for a Niche: Kevin Ahern, like Laura DeFrancesco, did not plan to become a
science writer and editor. Rather, Ahern's interest in scientific software drew him in
that direction during graduate school in the mid-1980s. Ahern is now the
contributing software editor at Science. He writes a bimonthly column for Genetic
Engineering News, and he teaches biochemistry at Oregon State University. He
states gleefully that this set of activities gives him "the greatest job in the world."
Ahern's job gave him free access to new software.
Shortly after getting his first computer, Ahern started exploring scientific software.
When the editor of Biotechnology Software (now called Biotech Software and
Internet Report) asked him to write software reviews, he agreed largely because
the payment included free access to new software. Two years later, the editor
recommended Ahern as his replacement. The publisher encouraged this move
despite Ahern's professed lack of editorial experience. Seat-of-the-pants training in
editing and writing lasted over a decade, while in his other life, Ahern finished his
postdoctoral training and opted not to pursue a traditional career in research.
Reviewing his own successful move into science writing and editing, Ahern
stresses that he found a niche and filled it. This led him to hone his writing skills
and build his resume without needing to pitch stories to unknown editors. Since he
still struggles to write clearly, he advises students interested in science
communication to get some formal training, either in technical or creative writing.
Variety: The Spice of a New Professional Life
In the middle of her disappointing postdoctoral experience, neuroscientist Amy
Fluet realized that academic research was the wrong career for her. She liked the
intellectual and technical aspects of research, just not the professional hurdles and
the enormous time commitments. Writing her dissertation as well as editing her
postdoctoral advisor's grant proposals had been satisfying activities. "That's when I
started thinking that writing and/or editing might be a really fun career," she said,
"but I had no idea about how to pursue that possibility."
As often happens, Fluet entered the science-writing world through a referral from a
friend. The friend connected her with an HMS Beagle editor who needed
freelancers to write call-outs (quotes or paraphrases extracted from an article,
appearing in prominent letters) and find Web links for their articles. Soon she
started writing articles for the Webzine as well. In addition, to learn more about
nontraditional careers for scientists, she moderated an HMS Beagle dialogue on
Fluet eased her way into science writing during a second, and terminal,
postdoctoral training period at the University of Colorado. She let her advisor know
from the outset about her plans for a career change, and did all her freelance
assignments after laboratory hours. With support from her boss, Fluet took an
environmental journalism course at the university. The course, taught by a
practicing journalist, gave her writing skills that she uses on a daily basis.
Last summer, Fluet finished her laboratory research and officially became a
freelancer. Along with her work for HMS Beagle, she has two long-term projects:
writing and editing for a study conducted by the Institute of Medicine and
copyediting for Current Protocols. (Scientists seeking writing opportunities at the
Institute of Medicine should contact the managing editor, Michael Eddington.) Her
work with the IOM draws on her expertise in neuroscience and molecular biology.
For the editorial work at CP, she mentally returns to the lab to critique protocols
from the perspective of a bench researcher. "I really love this variety of activities,"
says Fluet, echoing Ahern's comments.
While Fluet's current work all came from referrals by editorial colleagues, she also
learns of freelance assignments through the National Association of Science
Writers (NASW). In fact, when asked what advice she gives about becoming a
science writer, she replies "Join NASW. I'm learning so much about the profession
from the information at their Web site and from their email discussions. Also, being
a member lets you post your own Web pages at their site." As Fluet has
discovered, having your resume online makes it easy for prospective clients to
learn about your work.
Conclusion (AKA Pitching a Story to the Editor): While reading this article, did you
pause a lot to imagine yourself doing the work of the individuals profiled in this
article? Meanwhile, did you fail to shut off a power supply before a precious protein
sample ran off the gel? Yes, it may be time to consider seriously saying "Goodbye
benchtop, hello laptop."
Beth Schachter, a freelance science writer and editor, lives in New York City.
Peer to Peer
David Bradley - October 13, 2000 · Issue 88
Abstract: Mentoring is an important aspect of a successful undergraduate and
graduate education, but asking a professor for help can be intimidating. Peer
mentoring programs provide opportunities for junior students to get the guidance
they need and for older students to learn valuable skills.
If you find your professor intimidating and don't want to lose face asking seemingly
naive questions about a course or your research, to whom can you turn? A peer
mentor might be the answer. Peer-mentoring schemes have been around since
ancient times - they even get a mention in Greek texts - but today they are
becoming increasingly popular in academic environments as educators begin to
recognize the benefits for their students of learning with a little help from their
Big Helping Is Helping
So what is peer mentoring, and what's in it for you? The system usually involves
coupling older students with their younger peers to make, as one recent graduate,
Joseph Branch, describes it, a "Big Brother/Big Sister" program. The system
provides the younger students with better insights into their courses and how to get
the most out of their time. Conversely, the peer mentors themselves learn valuable
skills in handling people.
Numerous universities now run peer-mentoring programs in the United States and,
increasingly, in Europe and the United Kingdom. These programs often come in
different guises with various names. Peer-assisted learning (PAL) and paired
learning are popular alternative names, although some advocates would argue
they are not quite synonyms. "In peer-assisted learning, there is a deliberate intent
to help another person or persons with their own learning goals," explains Keith
Topping, an educational psychologist at the University of Dundee in Scotland.
"Within this overarching principle, PAL includes a number of different methods:
peer tutoring, peer mentoring, peer modeling, peer education, peer counseling,
peer monitoring, and peer assessment." (The International Mentoring Association
hosted by Western Michigan University provides a good starting point for finding
out more details and background on the various methods.)
If your faculty is already running such a program, then it is not such a big step to
get involved. Indeed, you might be obliged to pair up with a peer mentor as part of
your course structure. Faculty administrators will usually link a mentor and a
younger student with common backgrounds in research, career interests, regional
and ethnic backgrounds and, sometimes, gender. One of the most straightforward
and functional peer mentor systems might not even rely on sharing a course or
research group. Janice Baker of London Guildhall University "runs a buddy scheme
for English-speaking students to help students using English as a second language
to upgrade their written work."
Peer mentoring comes into its own in helping students develop their own skill sets
and in dealing with their courses and research. Fellow students are, after all,
uniquely qualified to empathize and inspire. While that intimidating professor in a
white coat with the stereotypical wacky hair may not be entirely approachable for
the most trivial of problems, a student colleague just a year or two further on might
offer a friendlier face and help their "junior" colleague find their own solutions.
"It is a safe place to air understandings and misunderstandings - it is where
students realize that everyone else is having the same problem with understanding
that they are," explains Maureen Donelan of University College at London, which
runs the Peer Assisted Learning program in the math, physics, and biochemistry
departments. This is a task that no tutor can do. Tutors are often so far removed
from the problems of student days that they can no longer empathize in the way
that fellow students who have just been through the process can. "The students
are often the ones who initiate peer mentoring because they find the faculty
tending to give old and/or misleading information," adds Branch. "They were often
looking out for themselves. How often would a person in aerospace engineering or
history tell you the job market is tight?"
Emma Coe helped set up the Enterprise Centre Peer Mentoring program in
science at the University of Manchester in England. "Most of our postgraduate peer
mentoring is conducted by graduate students for graduate students," she explains.
"The basic idea of peer mentoring is straightforward - experienced graduate
students are assigned small groups of those less experienced." She adds that the
students can turn to their mentor with all kinds of queries for getting hold of
particular bits of information and for help, advice, and general support and
encouragement. The mentors act more as guides than teachers. Indeed, some
peer-mentoring schemes are set-up so that "teaching" is prohibited as it ultimately
benefits neither party.
Both mentor and mentee can gain a lot from a peer-mentoring program. "Mentors
experience leading a group, [and] learn facilitation techniques, teamwork, empathy
and communication skills as well as valuable revision," explains Donelan.
"Employers," she adds, "are very interested in these schemes, because students
provide evidence of transferable skills obtained in an innovative way." It is often
more difficult to encourage freshmen to join in because they often perceive the
system as remedial, which it is not.
Peer mentoring can also help the younger students define their career goals,
although there is generally no explicit component of the various systems for this
aspect of personal development. "Through talking as a group and having mentors
share experiences of their own goals and next steps," explains Coe, "students
might discover some of the choices open to them." Career guidance, per se,
usually comes under a separate umbrella. Just talking to other graduate students
and mentors can be a helpful way of sounding out ideas, hearing of useful
opportunities, or finding out about networks.
Traditional tutoring systems often fail because of staff shortages. A peer-mentoring
program can help solve such problems by integrating new students into a
university and its way of life. The mentors benefit from the added responsibility and
the opportunity to put something back into the system without simply adding to the
workloads of overburdened tutors and administrators. "The advantages of this are
huge," says Donelan. "Students are a university's most underused resource, and
have an immense amount to give, and when given the responsibility they rise to
Often there is some kind of remuneration or course credit for mentors taking part in
these programs. Topping says that in some programs, mentors can simply be
interested volunteers or have the inducement of a course or other credit for
tutoring. In the United States, he points out, it is more usual that senior student
mentors would receive some payment. "But," he warns, "if you pay, you might not
get the best-motivated helpers."
A department hoping to run a peer-mentoring scheme should offer workshops
within the program to assist both mentors and their "charges." Mentors can learn
about their role and what a student might expect, how to communicate effectively,
and how to maintain the relationship. In the Peer-Led Team Learning Workshop
Model at the City University of New York (CUNY), students who have done well in
their classes become guides and mentors to small groups of between six and eight
fellow students. This occurs at the undergraduate level, and peer mentors here are
actually within the same year group. The peer-led groups meet weekly and work on
carefully structured problems. The supportive environment provided by this
arrangement helps each student build his or her understanding of science.
There are several key components of the CUNY system that are equally applicable
to a mentoring scheme anywhere: the workshops become a regular course
component, the faculty teaching the course are heavily involved from the sidelines,
and peer mentors undergo training under close supervision. Everyone benefits
from particular attention being paid to mentor knowledge and teaching and learning
The lack of a peer-mentoring scheme in your department or faculty might present
an opportunity to be proactive. The easiest and most obvious tack might be to
approach your student society and see whether it might be possible to implement
an informal "buddying" scheme for new research students. Such a scheme could
be initiated easily at the usual freshmen social or orientation events.
Alternative to Tradition
Traditional mentors do not always provide the best learning "assistants" for young
research students. "I would never knock the personal tutoring system," emphasizes
Donelan, "which I think is also vital, but which plays a different role - in loco
parentis, whereas the fellow student is a role model." Structured peer mentoring at
the graduate student level is relatively new, but is breaking with tradition, and
comments from postgraduates underscore how valuable it can be. "I met people I
wouldn't normally come into contact with and also had someone to turn to for
advice," said one Manchester University scientist. Others mention
"encouragement," "reassurance that it is common not to get many results in the
first year," "gaining advice on seminar presentations," and "introductions to people
in the department" as important to their experience of peer mentoring.
Rather than finding yourself the junior partner in a long-term "tutor-student"
relationship, you might request that your supervisor or department set you up with
a peer mentor. If such a program does not yet exist at your institution, it might be
worth bringing the idea to the attention of your supervisor or asking an older
student to do that for you.
A friend could soon mentor you.
David Bradley, a freelance science writer, lives on the edge of the fens north of
Cambridge, United Kingdom. Elemental Discoveries is his Webzine of science
Too Few at the Top - Women in Science
David Bradley - November 10, 2000 · Issue 90
Abstract: While the proportion of female graduates in many scientific disciplines
has shot up, the proportion of women reaching the top is still low. The author
examines some of the factors underlying the slow progress of women in science.
Women just don't get it - recognition or high-ranking positions, that is. "Vertical
segregation" is the trendy sociological term, but while the proportion of female
graduates in many scientific disciplines has shot up, the proportion of women
reaching the top is still low. In most European countries, women occupy fewer than
one-in-ten top slots in science faculties.
Mookambeswaran "Viji" Vijayalakshmi is head of a bioengineering laboratory at the
Université de Technologie de Compèigne in France. Recently she became the first
winner from France since 1985 of the International Excellency Award in the field of
affinity technology and biological recognition. Viji, however, is aggrieved that her
university failed to communicate the news to the media positively. "They did not
want to mention my name or my identity as head of this lab," she says, "nor even to
mention the research field. . . . The local press was not even present during the
award ceremony." Is this a case of unwitting discrimination?
What is going on? Haven't those tough old glass ceilings long since been smashed
and piled up in scrap heaps along with that other structural blunder, asbestos?
According to Nicole Dewandre, head of the European Commission (EC)'s Women
and Science sector, there are several factors that underlie the slower progress of
women's careers in science. Surveys, she pointed out during an online debate
organized by the journal Nature, consistently show that women scientists more
often follow their partners than the converse when a job change is in the offing, and
women are also more commonly forced to compromise their careers in order to
balance the issue of childbearing and child rearing. While efforts are made by
some establishments to assist with relocation through bridging finance and job
offers for partners, the so-called received wisdom is that women follow their men.
"When women go into the workforce, they almost never have the kind of support
that men enjoy - their husbands have lives and careers," says Nancy Cox, who is
researching the genetic basis of diabetes at the University of Chicago. "Fewer men
have that kind of support either, but there are still some that do, and it's difficult to
break standards set in a different time."
A disturbing study  in 1997 by microbiologist Christine Wennerås and
immunologist Agnes Wold, funded by the Swedish Medical Research Council,
uncovered a strong gender bias in the way research funds are doled out. "The
system is revealed as being riddled with prejudice," the authors claimed. It became
apparent that women needed to be at least twice as productive to reap the
rewards. The revelation has prompted greater interest in the issues, and inspired
an EC conference in April 1998 that determined that beyond the need to be fair to
women, the promotion of women in science is crucial to European society as a
whole. The EC has now set itself a 40 percent target for female participation in its
Fifth Framework research program and the pressure is on to ensure women are
fairly represented, and represent fairly the program's expert committees. Currently,
however, only 15 percent of applications are from women, although the Sixth
Framework rather optimistically expects to achieve 50 percent women participants.
Nancy Lane, a cell biologist at the University of Cambridge, believes women
represent a "huge untapped economic potential." She says as few as 3 to 4
percent of U.K. professors in any branch of science, engineering, or technological
disciplines are women, while the number of women fellows within the hallowed
halls of the Royal Society and the Institute of Biology is, astoundingly, well below
10 percent. "Things are being done," she says, "but the culture takes a long time to
change, and many obstacles relating to the 'old boy network' still remain." Various
initiatives are in place, such as the Women in Science, Engineering and
Technology unit at the Office of Science and Technology, a U.K. government
department. Lane and colleagues are now establishing a Code of Practice for
Statistics from the U.K.'s Royal Society of Chemistry reveal that the percentage of
female graduates is higher in chemistry than in physics and mathematics, but is
lower than in biology. Nonscience subjects, such as French and English, still beat
the sciences by a wide margin. The female to male ratio of undergraduates in the
biological sciences is roughly 50:50. The percentage of females achieving higher
degrees in chemistry is smaller than at first degree, but it is increasing. United
States government statistics reflect something similar for the sciences in general,
showing that women are approaching half of all science and engineering bachelor's
degree recipients - the percentage having steadily increased since the 1980s.
But degrees don't always facilitate career progression. We are still seeing a strong
gender bias. The first female chemistry professor in the United Kingdom, Judith
Howard of Durham University, took her chair only in 1991. In chemistry, there were
a mere 0.8 percent females. Extrapolations see no parity between male and female
professors existing before the year 2120!
So where are the women in the upper echelons of science? There are a few
famous names, admittedly, but women seem to remain foot soldiers, or else leave
the ranks altogether when faced with a lack of professorships available to them.
There is a well-worn argument that science, with its goal-oriented attitudes and
methodology, is a more masculine than feminine pursuit. Women are said to be
more interested in finding ways to reach a solution and in learning from the
experience, whereas men tend to gain more from getting the results and
disseminating them in order to gain peer recognition. But, this argument relies on
the archaic white-coated-male stereotype. "I don't think the problems women face
in science and academia are so different from the problems they face in trying to
move into the upper echelons anywhere else," says Cox.
Women get nearly half of science and engineering bachelor's degrees.
Some commentators believe it will take more than conferences and proposals to
eradicate inherent and ancient sex discrimination in society. According to Anthony
Engwirda of Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia, the underlying reason that there
are so few women in positions of power is purely historical. "When a woman, her
mother, and her grandmother have no memory of personal discrimination, then we
could justify a belief about the integration of equal rights," he says. The duration
and prevalence of an idea might hint at the difficulty in revoking it, but Engwirda
adds, "changes to society are difficult and take time. The right of a woman to
equality must become a pervasive global idea for several generations before the
concept becomes self-perpetuating."
Lane emphasizes that women have been waiting for more than a decade to see a
gradual filtering of women up through the system. It has not yet happened. Some
argue that women are excluded from male lobbies, and so have to work harder to
get what they need, something certainly confirmed by the 1997 Swedish report. Viji
recounts a half-serious comment she heard from a colleague: "Decisions are so
often made in the 'washrooms' among men that women can do nothing but be
excluded from participating in the decision making process." Cox adds that,
"Women scientists are often underestimated because we are more social," she
says, "which can make it harder to recognize that you are serious."
"Time will tell if the huge number of women in biological sciences as students now
will rise to populate academic positions higher than assistant professor," affirms
Karen Cone, a geneticist and molecular biologist at the University of Missouri at
Columbia and joint owner of the WIS-L list-server discussion group. "We still have
a long way to go, and the prospects for the 'harder science' fields of chemistry,
engineering, math, and physics have a steeper climb because the number of
women choosing to enter these fields at the college level is incredibly low."
It was not so long ago that society created a stifling atmosphere for women
aspiring to engage in scientific research. Collaborations with male colleagues were
almost a necessity for women's research to be heard. The astronomer Caroline
Herschel relied on her brothers William and John to disseminate her research
results. Archetypal role model Marie Curie received the Nobel Prize in physics
apparently on the insistence of her husband Pierre, who would not accept it alone.
Curie, of course, won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in her own right after her
Society frowned on women in science - taunts of "unladylike behaviour,"
"immodesty," and worse were bandied about, according to physicist Gina Hamilton,
a staff astronomer at the University of Southern Maine, writing in Physics World
recently - the goading still goes on, albeit in more "modern" language. Hamilton
adds that while various efforts have been launched, in the United States and
elsewhere, to increase the number of women studying university science these
"well-meaning attempts are often frustrated by the reality of the numbers game." In
the more mathematically inclined physics and astronomy, there are simply not
enough women with the right skills who are interested in entering the field.
It is not all doom and gloom. At the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical
Research, a nonprofit private research institute, the departmental chair of virology
and a leading scientist in the department are both women. These are prestigious
positions, considering there are only four such labs in the country.
Bioinformatician Fiona Brinkman of the University of British Columbia at Vancouver
believes she has benefited from having female role models, however. "My Ph.D.
supervisor was a woman, and was head of a section of the Canadian Laboratory
Centre for Disease Control and a Pan American Health Organization project,
before taking a university chair," she says. She also reveals that her mother was a
technician in a scientific field. "I believe without really realizing it, I have chosen to
be around suitable role models," she says.
Hazel Moncrieff, working in the labs of Bristol-Myers Squibb in England, is also
more positive about the issue. "I have not been put off applying for jobs since the
jobs I would be looking for would require technical qualifications which are equal
irrespective of gender." She adds that within her company, most people are
B.S./Ph.D. qualified, and she does not sense any obvious gender bias. Women,
she says, are well represented in management although maybe not at the director
level. "I don't think this is due to a direct gender bias, but is rather attributable to a
wider issue of not affording flexibility to workers."
Isolated examples are not enough. Things may truly have moved on little since the
Herschels' day. Perhaps it is all about mobilization. Maybe action plans will create
integration, but nothing substitutes for the involvement of women scientists. All the
initiatives, committees, proposals, and programs in the world only make sense and
deliver results if women are involved and make their voice heard.
David Bradley, a freelance science writer, lives on the edge of the fens north of
Cambridge, United Kingdom. Elemental Discoveries is his Webzine of science
1. Wenneras, C. and Wold, A. 1997. Nepotism and sexism in peer-review. Nature
The Other Side of Life - Educating Young Scientists about
Deborah J. Ausman - November 24, 2000 · Issue 91
Abstract: In today's fast-paced economy, scientists, long considered as simply the
brains behind the technology, are jumping between the laboratory and the
boardroom. Rice University prepares its life and physical sciences' students with
the basics of business and entrepreneurship - helping them to bridge the gap.
Laughter erupts as the class watches the Clio Award-winning Super Bowl ad from
Outpost.com in which a pack of rampaging wolves chases members of a marching
band. But once the chuckles subside, the students quickly point out that the ad isn't
good business. Their consensus: Effective advertising must do more than simply
Such discussions may be commonplace in business schools around the world, but
this conversation is unique because the students are scientists. The course,
Entrepreneurial Management for Science and Engineering, is managed by two
departments at Rice University, the Department of Chemistry and the Department
of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, with assistance from Rice's
Jones School of Management. Chemistry 750 and its second semester follow-up
course, New Venture Creation for Science and Engineering, give students pursuing
graduate and undergraduate degrees in disciplines like chemistry and
bioengineering insight into how managers, consultants, and other "businesspeople"
"The real bonus to most of the students taking this course is that they won't be
starting from ground zero when they get a job in industry or start up their first
research labs," says Andrew R. Barron, a professor of materials science and
Charles W. Duncan Jr./Welch Chair of Chemistry. Barron worked with Michael
Heeley, assistant professor of strategic management at the Jones School of
Management, to design the course curriculum and recruit faculty to teach its
different segments. Barron admits he's never taken a business course, "though I
have started a couple of companies, and that's taught me more than I ever wanted
to know about how to run - or not run - a business." He hopes that Chemistry
750/751 will help his students avoid similar trials by fire.
"It may be that the material we cover will make a difference just twice in their
scientific careers," Barron notes. "But then again, quantum mechanics may never
make a difference in their careers, and they still have to learn that."
A Case Study of One's Own
The Kauffman Centre for Entrepreneurial Leadership reported last year that some
170 programs in entrepreneurship exist in the United States, most of them based in
business, management, or engineering schools. Given the location of these
courses, it's not surprising that most of them cater to MBA students, computer
scientists, and future dot-commers.
"Scientists, if they are involved in these courses at all, are typically viewed as the
providers of technology upon which a business might be based," states Heeley.
Rice's courses, on the other hand, put scientists front and Centre This is
particularly true in the second-semester course focusing on new-venture creation.
Rather than relying on the well-developed (and often infamous) case studies that
ground traditional business school courses in entrepreneurship, Heeley and Barron
select an actual fledgling technology to serve as the basis of all course activities.
Last year, students worked with a noninvasive clinical tool for point-of-care
biomedical monitoring and diagnosis. Their tasks included evaluating the
technology's patent portfolio, identifying possible market areas, evaluating potential
competitors, and preparing a market opportunity assessment.
"Students essentially write their own case study in this course," says Barron. "Like
in real business, there are no right or wrong answers. Every idea that the student
teams come up with could work, no matter how silly it might look to the other
students or to the instructors."
In fact, students can choose to shepherd particularly compelling ideas to
commercialisation, thanks to the course's close ties to the Rice Alliance. The
Alliance coordinates technology transfer activities among Rice faculty and
students, the nearby Texas Medical Centre, and entrepreneurial and business
organizations in the Houston area. Last year, one of the student teams from
Chemistry 751 presented its biomedical device application before the Alliance.
Licensing issues for the technology are pending, but Barron notes that the students
are getting involved with the company that owns the original patents.
Barron points out, though, that such opportunities are bonuses and not expected
as part of the regular coursework. "Ideas generated within this course are just that,
ideas," he says. "Those who might think that they could base a company solely on
the research conducted by these students have never conducted a real marketing
study or practiced real due diligence."
Developed by a Scientist for Scientists
The course could make students stand out
The second-semester course lets students apply concepts taught in the first
semester. Barron initiated Chemistry 750 after conversations with other chemistry
faculty members about how to make Rice graduates and undergraduates stand out
from those in other chemistry departments around the country.
"We have a course in the chemistry department about how to give effective
presentations, which I developed," Barron said. "And I teach a crash course in
chemistry to oil and gas executives through the business school. It occurred to me
that if we teach chemistry to MBAs, we ought to consider teaching MBA-type
material to our scientists."
The course developed by Barron and Heeley covers a variety of business concepts
- everything from accounting to organizational theory. But it also goes beyond
traditional "MBA" material to cover topics of particular relevance to scientists. For
instance, the course has a unit on intellectual property and patent prosecution
issues. "The rules about publishing and patenting are important for all scientists to
know, particularly with universities becoming interested in technology transfer and
adding value to academic research," explains Christopher Jones, who took
Chemistry 750 in the fall of 1999.
Jones received his Ph.D. in May 2000 and is now a research scientist with Bicron
in Solon, Ohio. He points out that most graduate students receive their Ph.D.s and,
in their first job, are expected to manage others either as an assistant professor at
a university or in an industrial post. Yet they are never formally taught how to
Barron takes this point one step further. "Running an academic research group is,
well, like a business," he says. "We have to raise our own money; we have to fund
our own students; we have employees; we have to work with the administration;
and we write reports. We don't make a profit, but it's a business." So even for
students committed to staying in academia, Chemistry 750 teaches important
lessons that scientists may not learn anywhere else.
Students seem to see the value. Since the course's inception in 1998, enrolment
has risen steadily. Graduate students make up 60 percent of the first-semester
enrolment; more undergraduates than graduates stay on for the second semester.
And this year, the course received a two-year grant from the Coleman Foundation
to help fund its ongoing development. Eventually, Barron would like to see the
course endowed by a company or an individual with strong ties to the business
For Barron, the most rewarding aspect of the course is seeing it pay off. He recalls
the story of one of his graduate students interviewing for a recent industrial job.
"The manager was looking at her CV and probably trying to think of something
intelligent to say about chemistry, when he noticed the course title, Entrepreneurial
Management for Science and Engineering," he relates. Barron notes that this led to
a long conversation about the course. The student got the job.
"I'm not saying the course got her the job, but it made her stand out, Barron
concludes. "If you have two qualified scientists with identical skills, someone like
this manager is going to say, 'But hey, this one knew about business.' It's one more
tool that gives Rice students an advantage - regardless of where their career
interests inevitably lie."
Deborah J. Ausman, is a science writer specializing in scientific software and drug
discovery research. She lives and works in Houston, but is planning her escape.
Plugging the British Brain Drain
David Bradley - December 8, 2000 · Issue 92
Abstract: Since the 1960s the U.K. government has worried about losing top
scientists down the "brain drain." In this article, the author explores how to plug the
hole and turn the brain drain into a brain gain.
In January 2000, it emerged that in the 1960s, the government of the United
Kingdom considered banning foreign job ads for scientists and engineers because
it was so worried about losing top people down the brain drain. The idea of treating
scientists as some kind of elite group within society was also mooted to help
secure better working conditions and pay, and so plug the drain. The ideas were
never implemented, and through the 1960s and seventies the U.K. lost many of its
top people abroad.
A scientist's standing in society is worse than ever, with dioxin scare-stories and
genetic-modification horrors filling countless column inches. British scientists are,
to the detriment of the U.K. economy, still gurgling away down that brain drain. The
government, however, is now taking a more practical approach to saving British
science than its 1960s counterpart did, and measures based on better pay, greater
funding, and improved conditions will, it hopes, plug the hole and turn the brain
drain into a brain gain.
The pressure group Save British Science (SBS) first revealed the recruitment
problems facing top-class universities in the early 1990s. One big-league biology
department, for instance, had 15 of 56 postdoctoral positions unfilled. In addition to
this and other reports, by April 1997, the U.K.'s governing Labour Party had
revealed its plans to create a brain gain, hoping in the first step to attract back top
scientists from abroad.
NESTA - the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts - was
created to grab some of the proceeds from useful inventions and discoveries and
plow money from that and the National Lottery into science as awards and
scholarships. Gordon Brown, who holds the government's purse strings as
Chancellor of the Exchequer, highlighted letters of support from some 21 respected
expatriate scientists who said the measures were important and might ultimately
lead them to returning home.
The following year, the U.S. National Science Foundation reported that foreign-
born scientists and engineers contributed significantly to the brain power of the
U.S. labour force, with immigrant Ph.D.s in science and engineering jobs
accounting for some 29 percent of those in R and D. At the time, a feature article in
the U.K.'s Times Higher Education Supplement described how medical schools
were reaching a crisis point in attempting to recruit top researchers to their clinical
chairs. It said that at least 74 of 401 established research positions were vacant at
the time. A lack of quality candidates was blamed.
The U.K. government continually reiterates its commitment to halting the brain
drain. Speaking at the annual science festival of the British Association for the
Advancement of Science (BAAS) in September 2000, Minister for Science Lord
Sainsbury posited, rather obviously, that research cannot succeed without people.
He said that highly skilled and knowledgeable people are essential if science is to
"export" benefit to the rest of the U.K. economy.
Sainsbury also brought up the perennial Labour Party tenet of achieving a brain
gain - "We also need to be able to attract the best- established scientists from
around the world to work in this country. For too long we have lost out on
homegrown talent to high-paying foreign universities and businesses," he told the
He added that top salaries were needed for top scientists - and to that end, the
government, in partnership with the Wolfson Foundation, has established a fund of
£4 million per year ($5.8 million) to help recruit about 50 top expatriate researchers
with a £100,000 salary ($145,000) and a grant. "U.K. science certainly needs the
high flyers, and, in a global market, needs to retain them," Willie Russell of the
University of St. Andrews and chair of Scientists for Labour said in Chemistry &
Industry magazine in November 2000.
It is not enough in the eyes of some commentators. Roger Gosden, an expat
British researcher at McGill University in Canada, is not convinced that creating 50
chairs at the equivalent of a U.S. professorship salary will go far toward saving
British science. "It will cause some jealousy in senior common rooms!" he says.
Colin Andrew, who did a Ph.D. at Newcastle University in England but now
researches metalloproteins at Oregon Graduate Institute, still considers himself a
"young" scientist (at 30-something). He would rather be working in the U.K. "Maybe
things in the U.K. will improve," he laments, "but I don't think that handing out
carrots to established scientists is the way to go. More financial support has to be
directed towards younger people." 
"Academic life in the U.S. is not a bed of roses," adds Andrew. "Jobs are hard to
come by and funding is very competitive," he says, "but if you are able to secure a
position, there is more support available."
SBS preempted the government's recent announcements when it pleaded for more
science money on the back of a report from senior civil servant Sir Michael Bett, in
which he stressed that £450 million ($650 million) was needed to improve
academic pay. Almost coinciding with this, Britain's largest medical research
charity, the Wellcome Trust, gave its senior scientists a record 30 percent salary
increase. The top of the salary scale is about £30,000 ($43,500), whereas that is
the U.S. average.
An SBS meeting in September 2000 highlighted the tendency among those who
say no brain drain exists to use a lack of reliable data and the superficial argument
that the raw figures demonstrate the drain is balanced by a gain. However, SBS
founder John Mulvey asserts that that attitude ignores a large body of anecdotal
evidence of the problems facing U.K. universities. Indeed, the balance argument,
he explains, challenges the quantity versus quality question. The evidence points
to an overwhelming brain drain in recent years.
The Royal Society (RS) - the U.K.'s equivalent of the National Academy of
Sciences - keeps statistics on its most distinguished members - its fellows -
working abroad. According to the RS, just 16 percent worked abroad in 1969;
today, 26 percent do. Is it any surprise with the low salaries, lack of research funds,
poor career structure, short-term contracts, and embarrassingly outdated facilities
and instrumentation facing many U.K. researchers?
SBS statistics also back up the anecdotes by revealing that scientists who stay in
Britain actually fare poorly in the eyes of their peers abroad. SBS researcher Alice
Sharp Pierson and director Peter Cotgreave, writing in Nature, used the Institute
for Scientific Information's Science Citation Index for 1985-1989 to check the
publication records of individuals who had received U.K. Ph.D.s. They found that
157 of 252 scientists still publishing have a U.K. address, 43 are U.S.-based, and
52 are from elsewhere. The mean number of citations per article for those now in
the U.S. was far higher, they say.
Phosphorylation expert Sir Philip Cohen of Dundee University tells HMS Beagle
how the coming of research to the city changed it from a run-down postindustrial
town into a major international research Centre The latest estimates suggest that
more than 1,500 people are employed in the life sciences in Dundee, bringing in a
research income alone of around £50 million ($72.5 million) a year. Cohen's
colleague David Lane, however, recently emphasized that the university might lose
its status if top researchers abandon ship for better funding elsewhere.
There are some notable exceptions to the qualitative rules that are emerging from
the British brain drain. One is Allan Bradley, a former Howard Hughes Medical
Institute investigator at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. In
October 2000, Bradley took the reins at the Sanger Centre, Cambridge, U.K. The
cynical might suggest that, with its massive pulling power, the Wellcome Trust has
deliberately employed a high-flying researcher from the States in a further effort of
its own to encourage other scientists to the U.K.
"The major problem with U.K. academia is the lack of financial support available for
young scientists to get their careers started," says Andrew. "I made the decision to
move to the U.S. after several frustrating years in the British university system." He
says he encountered job insecurity, inadequate facilities, and a woeful lack of
Scientists leave for higher pay, status, and better career prospects.
A whole generation of scientists might depart U.K. shores unless more action is
taken to improve the career prospects, status, and pay of researchers. Brain
researcher David Nicholls has already announced the defection of his team to the
Buck Institute in San Francisco. Nicholls himself will not only receive a doubling in
salary but points out that his research team will get a boost too, adding that young
scientists in the U.K. get less than supermarket checkout pay but work far longer
hours. Charles McGhee, another young scientist, says it would have taken him 20
years to achieve the same level of support staff in the U.K. as he will receive from
"day one" in his new position abroad.
At the bench, Britain's 30,000 postdoctoral researchers, mostly in their late
twenties and early thirties, are paid a pittance on short-term contracts. What is to
keep these people in the U.K. when offers of better salaries and facilities come
along? Many excellent young scientists are afraid they will never get a tenure-track
job, or when faced with the enormous lectureship workload simply depart for other
walks of life. "We should not aim to retain every trainee," explains Gosden, "but the
wastage at the moment is serious and would never be tolerated by the
professions." Andrew adds: "It was very clear to me that while there were U.K. jobs
around, the facilities and funds would not enable me to do what was being asked -
i.e., conduct world-class research."
John Cowell, chair of the Department of Cancer Genetics at Roswell Park Cancer
Institute, has been in the U.S. for some years and senses that the same problems
still exist in the U.K. as when he left. "In the USA, everyone has the same chance,
which makes getting grant funding easy for good science," he says. "This is also
the mood for postdocs from the U.K. who come through my lab who declare that
returning to U.K. academia would be hard."
Sainsbury, however, revealed at the BAAS meeting that postgraduate researchers
are to receive a substantial three-year financial boost. Graduate researchers can
expect £9,000 ($13,000) rather than the present £6,800 ($10,000) by 2003-2004,
he revealed; they are still checkout wages, though. "Not enough is said about the
problems of junior researchers - especially postdocs - who have been used as
cheap labour for many years," adds Gosden. "It is very pleasing to see the U.K. is
improving their income. But, what is really needed is a radical restructuring of
academia to create more security - or at least some hope of it - at the early stages
of a career."
New union activity in the U.S. is starting to make the voices of young scientists
heard. There is no very visible unionising going on yet in the U.K., although
Gosden suspects that if, like vets, lawyers, and other professionals, scientists had
some group power behind them things might be different in terms of retaining
scientists on decent pay and conditions: "If scientists had an equivalent
professional body to look after the interests of members we might see some
progress," he says, "now there's a campaign that's worth fighting for!"
Of course, research is disseminated internationally, scientists meet around the
world, and foreign sabbaticals are common. "Scientists work and think
internationally these days," says Gosden, "family ties apart, it matters less which
country we work in than the facilities and prestige of the institution." Most scientists
would likely up-bench and move to the best facility and package offered to them.
Russell told HMS Beagle: "We can only hope that somebody will wake up to the
problem before it is too late."
David Bradley, a freelance science writer, lives on the edge of the fens north of
Cambridge, United Kingdom. Elemental Discoveries is his Webzine of science
The Postdoc's Progress
Jay Martin - February 2, 2001 · Issue 95
Abstract: Inadequate pay, lack of benefits, and inconsistent training have
generated dozens of articles on the "postdoctoral plight." In this article, the author
offers a plan on what postdocs can do to improve their lives.
If postdocs were migrant farm workers, they would find fertile ground at the J.
David Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco.
"These postdocs are professionals," says Robert Mahley, president of the J. David
Gladstone Institutes for 21 years. Mahley staunchly justifies the fall 1999
implementation of a 12.4 percent salary increase over the first four years of a
postdoc's tenure at the institutes. The salary increase puts a postdoc's income
$5,000 to $7,000 higher than that recommended on the National Institutes of
Health (NIH) National Research Service Award (NRSA) scale.
The revamped Gladstone Postdoctoral Fellows Training Program addresses the
arbitrary and inconsistent benefits and training that postdocs receive nationwide.
These shortcomings are substantiated by at least two studies. One, published by
the National Academy Press and prepared by the Academies' Committee on
Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP), appears in Enhancing the
Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers: A Guide for Postdoctoral
Scholars, Advisors, Institutions, Funding Organizations, and Disciplinary Societies.
The other is contained in the executive summary of the National Research
Council's (NRC) 1998 report Trends in the Early Careers of Life Scientists.
The statistics in the COSEPUP guide and NRC summary point to a lack of strong
leadership to ensure adequate salary and training standards for too many
postdocs. In the 130 years since Johns Hopkins University hired the first 20
postdocs, trainees in all fields in the United States number about 52,000. In 1995,
nearly 40 percent of all Ph.D.s were still postdocs five to six years after receiving
their degrees, a fourfold increase of lingering postdocs since 1973. In a tight labor
market, many trainees are still looking for permanent jobs while in their second or
Many advanced postdocs are getting older, and many are working for low salaries.
As of 1998, the minimum suggested pay for first-year postdocs was $26,916.
Some evidence suggests that foreign nationals are earning significantly less than
that. Moreover, one-third to one-half of all postdocs are supporting spouses and
children on incomes that are far less than what seasoned technicians and high
school teachers make. Surveying the current postdoc experience, Sharon Milgram,
associate professor and director of postdoctoral education at the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) says, "People feel undervalued."
Dozens of articles have interpreted these statistics as signs of the "postdoc plight"
or "the growing crisis in expectation." Based on interviews with postdocs, advisers,
and administrators, this writer offers an outsider's perspective on what postdocs
can do to improve their lives.
Know What You Want
Love it or leave it?
Postdocs should prepare for the long commitment to the bench or choose another
path in science, given that the current median time spent from the first year of
graduate school to the end of postdoctoral training is eight years. To check out
alternative careers in science, trainees can read Cynthia Robbins-Roth's
Alternative Careers in Science.
Still, given the facts, nearly 40 percent of all postgraduate Ph.D.s in 1998 chose to
become postdocs. They and future graduates can read the COSEPUP guide; it can
help postdocs draw up a reasonable set of expectations, as part of a plan, for a
successful postdoctoral career. The guide summarizes the history, demographics,
rights, mentoring opportunities, salary, and benefits of postdocs in the United
States, drawing from statistics gathered over the years 1973 to 1998. It makes
"summary points" on what postdocs can expect in the way of salary, training, and
career building from their mentors. Citing the need for "more dialogue" among
postdocs, their advisers, and administrators, COSEPUP plans to hold another
convocation on March 2, 2001, in Washington, D.C.. The convocation is free to all
postdocs and will be Webcast.
Plan the Postdoc
Choose your postdoc very carefully
Armed with realistic expectations from the statistics at hand, postdocs can try to
negotiate high-quality postdoctoral appointments. "Pay close attention to whom you
interview," advises Paul Humke, professor of mathematics at St. Olaf College in
Northfield, Minnesota, and a 22-year veteran of the school. Postdocs are
sometimes unsuccessful, he adds, if "personalities don't match or working styles
don't match." It is key, he says, for the postdoc to step back and see if the scientific
leadership of the department sets the proper research environment, so the trainee
is eventually a "full partner" with the mentor and postdoctoral colleagues at the
institution. "There is a certain onus on the postdocs to look for what they want,"
Humke adds. After a while, the postdoc should be able to say, "I will learn a lot
from this guy [or gal]."
If a postdoc wins an appointment, the trainee needs to weigh gaining valuable
training experience with spending the time needed to avoid poverty as cheap labor.
Several articles, most accessible online, carefully document the financial rewards
and penalties a postdoc faces, depending on which of the 17 ways an institution
classifies a postdoc. The World of Postdocs provides an overall perspective on
postdoc status and is one of a number of insightful articles in the September 3,
1999 issue of Science. To gain a better insight as to what your classification really
means, take a look at Postdocs Are Not All Created Equal in Science's Next Wave.
If it is the plight of the postdoc that interests you most, Johns Hopkins Magazine
ran the feature The Postdoc's Plight. IRS Publication 520 spells out that a postdoc
on a fellowship pays income taxes, except for FICA. The fellow is not a student and
so does not usually receive university benefits. The postdoc on the research grant,
however, is normally considered a "temporary employee" who pays all taxes and
receives\ some but not all university benefits. In any case, PIs don't have to pay the
recommended $26,000 NIH/NRSA salary minimum.
The fellow is not a student and, therefore, does not usually receive university
benefits. The postdoc on the research grant, however, is normally considered a
"temporary employee" who pays all taxes and receives some, but not all, university
benefits. In any case, the principal investigator (PI) doesn't have to pay the
recommended $26,000 NIH/NRSA salary minimum to a fellow. To guard against
low pay, the COSEPUP guide recommends that the postdoc and PI draw up a
contract before the postdoc accepts an appointment. The contract should stipulate
benefits and salary and how long they will last. Robert Mahley made it the
Gladstone Institutes' mandate "to ease the financial burden of postdocs" by
publishing and paying the minimum NIH salary. The COSEPUP guide
recommends the "functional strategy" of paying postdocs what they would be worth
with the same experience as a research associate or technician. Unless newly
hired postdocs plan ahead, they may not have any leverage to negotiate a living
wage that a postdoc on the opposite bench, with the same qualifications, may
As postdocs mature in their fields, they often need to reconcile their research
interests with those of the PI. "PIs have complete control over where, how, and
when a postdoc publishes," says Patricia Bresnahan, applications scientist and
widely known advocate for postdoc reforms. The NRC's Commission on Life
Sciences concurs: "The student-mentor relationship . . . can be distorted by the
conditions of the mentor's employment of the student and limit the ability of
students to take advantage of opportunities to broaden their education."
When they need to turn to someone for help, postdocs will find support from those
who do not want postdocs to repeat their own bad postdoctoral experiences. These
are people who manage national associations, faculty, and administrators, and
who want to recruit, or to provide resources to enhance the recruitment of, talented
postdocs through attractive postdoctoral programs.
Postdocs should seek out people like Lisa Kozlowski. In the 1990s, she was senior
vice president of the Johns Hopkins Postdoctoral Association (JHPDA) until her
JHPDA experience led to her new post as program director of Science's Next
Wave, a weekly online "publication devoted to scientific training and career
In a related HMS Beagle article on the JHPDA, Kozlowski describes how "the
JHPDA was and still is a grassroots effort." In 1992, one of her colleagues, Artul
Varadharchary, surveyed the Johns Hopkins postdocs. Over the course of two
years, postdocs got what they wanted, as well as admission to key administrative
committees. These committees implemented an NRSA salary minimum, paid
health insurance, and off-site parking. The JHPDA continues to work with the
administration, most notably with Levi Watkins, associate dean for postdoctoral
programs, to implement training reforms, like a standard written contract between
postdoc and adviser.
Science's Next Wave provides links to at least 20 postdoctoral associations that
advertise their support to postdocs online, with many addressing postdoc needs on
a national level. Next Wave is a national resource to start and manage careers and
postdoctoral associations through the dissemination of news and expert opinions,
and it provides leverage to postdocs to negotiate contractual terms that postdocs at
other schools already have. While Next Wave does not sponsor a national
postdoctoral association, it facilitates collaboration among them, specifically
through its new Postdoc Network section, launched online in November 2000.
If Next Wave is the bulletin board for postdoctoral associations, the Postdoc
Network is the sounding board for postdocs. Their mission "is to connect postdocs,
their associations, and institutional offices, allowing these groups to share
information and ideas." The Postdoc Network lives up to its mission by addressing
controversial issues like the availability of visas for foreign nationals, funding career
fairs to promote alternative careers for postdocs, and creating postdoctoral
associations to help recruit postdocs. That's just what is now online. According to
Emily Klotz, manager at the Postdoc Network, the Network also serves the very
practical purpose as the "institutional memory" for postdocs while their leaders
come and go. The organization, in fact, rescued the content of the University of
California at San Francisco's (UCSF) Postdoctoral Scholars Association (PSA)
Web site when a UCSF server crashed. To further its mission of disseminating
information toward reforming postdoc programs nationally, the Postdoc Network
will host a one-day national meeting Sharing Solutions to Postdoc Needs on March
3, 2001, in Washington, D.C., the day after the COSEPUP convocation.
To meet their needs more quickly, postdocs sometimes need to go beyond postdoc
associations and collaborate with faculty and administrators. The Postdoc Network,
for instance, featured an article by David Wiest, associate member at the Fox
Chase Cancer Center. "I stress the faculty's involvement," he said during an
interview, "because they are the ones most directly affected by the scarcity of
postdocs." Wiest believes faculty and administration support are crucial to turn
advanced postdocs into permanent research associates and, thereby, ease the
labor crunch in the labs, improve the career prospects of postdocs, and make way
for fresh postdoctoral talent to tackle new research.
Postdocs may also seek administrative support for reform from Sharon Milgram,
who was tapped by the dean of the graduate school at UNC-CH, "to give postdocs
a voice." Spurred by her resentment for the lack of benefits while she was a
postdoc, Milgram is working hard so that a year from now, incoming postdocs will
likely receive the NRSA/NIH salary minimum and a packet of information that lists
the standardized benefits available at UNC-CH. She says the postdocs "will start to
feel they have colleagues."
New editions of the COSEPUP guide, new postdoc associations coming online by
the month, and freshly painted offices of postdoctoral affairs are signs that both
postdocs and administrators are taking rational steps toward making postdoctoral
appointments more sustainable and productive. It remains to be seen if postdocs,
the bedrock of research in the United States, will need to enlist new leaders to
address timely the growing concerns of the group.
Jay Martin is a full time technical writer at Genentech. He also writes for several
life-science and medical Web sites.
Forensic Science - The What, How and Why of "Who Dun
Kirstie Saltsman - March 2, 2001 · Issue 97
Abstract: Television programs about crime scene sleuths may be the bait that lures
future forensic scientists to a degree program. The promise of an intellectually
challenging and rewarding career keeps them there.
In the early 1900s, a German professor of jurisprudence, Franz von Lizst, staged
an argument between two students in a class he was teaching. Voices were raised,
a gun was drawn, and a shot was fired. When their classmates were later asked to
give an account of the altercation, many of them got substantial facts wrong. The
point von Lizst was trying to make was that eyewitness testimony is often
erroneous and should not always be trusted. In the century that has elapsed since
then, the point has been demonstrated time and time again, but with far more
tragic consequences than in the German classroom. Many people convicted on the
basis of eyewitness testimony were later proved innocent by scientific evidence.
Fortunately for the many remaining innocents serving lengthy sentences in prison
or on death row, the powerful tools of forensic science may yet come to the rescue.
The now famous Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at
New York has brought about the release of more than 30 convicts by the use of
DNA evidence, and promises to exonerate still more victims of the judicial system
as the project spreads to law schools around the country.
Forensic science - which is defined as science as applied to legal matters - is most
often associated with murder cases, thanks to television programs such as CSI:
Crime Scene Investigation and The Profiler. It is often, however, also used to settle
nonviolent criminal or civil cases. The expertise of forensic scientists has been
required for such wide-ranging situations as determining the cause of a building
collapse, finding the source of a pollutant in a community's water supply, or snaring
computer hackers who can wreak havoc on air traffic control systems or national
power grids. Forensic scientists are also involved in matching the remains of
unidentified military personnel with those known to be missing in action (MIAs) and
collecting evidence to be used in trials of those accused of war crimes. In 1999, the
FBI sent a team of 65 forensic scientists to the former Yugoslavia to collect
evidence to be used before the International Criminal Tribunal in the trial of ex-
president Slobodan Milosevic.
Because forensic science encompasses such a broad array of technologies, its
practitioners typically specialize and become expert in analyzing only certain types
of information. For example, testimony from an expert in blood-spatter patterns
contributed to the 1966 acquittal of Sam Sheppard, the Cleveland, Ohio doctor
accused of murdering his wife. (The case became the basis for The Fugitive movie
and series). Other forensic specialists are expert in identifying forged documents,
in pinpointing the weapon used in a crime from bullets found at the scene, or in
determining how a fire may have started. Still others, forensic toxicologists, can
detect drugs and poisons in bodily fluids and identify causes of death. However,
many toxicologists, rather than working on cases involving fatalities, carry out
functions such as workplace drug screening or measuring alcohol levels in those
involved in automobile accidents.
Today, one of the best known areas of forensic specialization (and one that offers
many employment opportunities) is DNA profiling, in which bodily fluids taken from
a crime scene or victim can be used to implicate or exonerate a suspect. First used
in the mid-1980s, DNA profiling has been refined to the point where a given sample
can be linked to an individual beyond any doubt whatsoever (with the exception of
identical twins). The weak link remains, as was so infamously demonstrated by the
O.J. Simpson trial, in the handling of evidence. The current effort by the FBI to
create CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), a national database of DNA profiles
from convicted offenders, is putting DNA analysts in great demand. Other lesser
known specialties include forensic odontology, which involves, among other things,
identifying bodies using dental records, and forensic psychology, often used to
create a psychological profile of a serial killer or rapist.
So how does one become a forensic scientist? Although many of those who now
work as forensic scientists do not have forensic science degrees, a number of
programs exist across the United States and are becoming increasingly popular.
Among the most well-known are those at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the
University of Alabama at Birmingham, Michigan State University in East Lansing,
the University of New Haven, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at New
York, and George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Most of these offer
both undergraduate and graduate degrees in forensics, but it is common, and
some say preferable, to begin with an undergraduate degree in one of the basic
sciences, such as chemistry or biochemistry, and subsequently to enter a master's
degree program in forensics. Because forensics covers so many different areas, an
undergraduate degree in forensics alone is unlikely to provide the specialized
training needed on the job. For example, according to David Foran of George
Washington University, "a DNA lab would prefer someone with a better DNA
background than you're probably going to get from an undergraduate forensics
degree." All degree programs typically include some chemistry, biology,
biochemistry, and criminal law courses.
Once they enter the work force, most forensic scientists work in lab settings of one
kind or another. Most work in the public sector in labs associated with federal,
state, or local governments, but some also work for private labs, such as Cellmark
Diagnostics in Germantown, Maryland. Another significant fraction of forensic
scientists work alongside police officers in what is broadly termed crime scene
investigation, but includes many subspecialties. Many students apply to forensic
science programs intending to become crime scene investigators, but David Foran
cautions that in many cities and counties, police officers themselves analyze crime
scenes and collect the evidence. In these areas, one would need to be a police
officer before becoming a crime scene investigator. Starting salaries for forensic
scientists typically range from $25,000 to $35,000, with the higher salaries
associated with federal or private labs.
What draws people to the field of forensic science? Robert Gaensslen of the
University of Illinois at Chicago answers in a word: "Television!" Programs such as
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation have attracted attention to the profession and
increased the number of applicants to schools around the country. Gaensslen
stresses that these programs present a fictional rendition of the profession and that
a certain amount of 'reality therapy' is necessary to avoid unrealistic career
expectations in beginning students. Others say that forensic science offers the
opportunity to join a love for science with the ability to solve social problems.
Rebekah Gundry, a student at George Washington University, likes the ever-
evolving nature of forensic science and the intellectual challenge it brings. In
addition, she says, "I've always loved a good mystery!" Kristin Koch, a DNA analyst
at Cellmark, likes the excitement of her job, but when asked about the downsides,
says it can be stressful and demanding. She adds that it is a job that needs to be
taken very seriously. "The work we do can ultimately determine the fate of another
human being," she says.
So if you're looking for an off-the-beaten-track career, love science and being able
to apply it to concrete problems, and have a penchant for mystery novels, put on
your sleuthing cap - forensic science might just be for you!
Kirstie Saltsman is a freelance biomedical writer based in Baltimore. She received
her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1996 and did postdoctoral work at Stanford.
Bioinformatics - Key to 21st Century Biology
Robert W. Wallace - March 30, 2001 · Issue 99
Abstract: Bioinformatics, which straddles the interface between traditional biology
and computer science, has emerged as a new discipline that promises to transform
research in fields from genomics to pharmacology, and may well reverse the life
sciences' longstanding reductionist paradigm. More and more universities are
establishing bioinformatics programs to meet the growing demand for training.
James Kent, a graduate student in the laboratory of Alan Zahler at the University of
California at Santa Cruz, recently was accorded hero status by the New York
Times for his role in the completion of the sequencing of the human genome. In
just four weeks, Kent produced a computer program known as the GigAssembler
that enabled the public consortium of sequencing laboratories to splice together
400,000 overlapping DNA fragments of the human genome. "I felt proud and a little
embarrassed," said Kent when asked about the Times story. "There are a lot of
other people working very hard on this project."
Kent was being modest. To complete the GigAssembler, he wrote code night and
day at a pace so furious he had to ice his painful wrists due to flare-ups of
repetitive-stress injury. "The month of March 20 to June 20, 2000, when I put
together the first working version of the GigAssembler, does rank as one of the
heaviest programming months of my life, but probably not the heaviest," said Kent,
who at 41 had had a career in computer graphics before embarking on a graduate
program in biology. "I figured they'd need somebody to index and hyperlink the
human genome soon enough, so I decided to switch to biology."
Kent's prediction proved uncannily accurate, and he rose to the challenge. The
public consortium hadn't realized how much it needed such an assembly program
until the last minute, reported the Times, when competition heated up between it
and Celera Genomics, the private Maryland biotechnology company that
threatened to run away with the sequencing crown. Kent managed to create a
program that allowed the public consortium, under the direction of the National
Institutes of Health's National Human Genome Research Institute, to remain
competitive with Celera. As a result, the two groups announced their completion of
the sequencing of the human genome on the same day - June 26, 2000.
Kent's story illustrates beautifully the impact that the new field of bioinformatics is
having on biological research. The complexity and vast quantity of genomic data
that have become available over the past few years have made it necessary to
develop new computational methods to assimilate and utilize this information.
"Without bioinformatics, there would be no genomics," said Charles DeLisi,
professor of biomedical engineering, dean of the College of Engineering, and
founder of the Bioinformatics Graduate Program at Boston University. This past
January 8, DeLisi received a President's Citizens Medal for his contributions to the
field of genomics.
Bioinformatics has emerged as a distinct discipline that straddles the interface
between the traditional biological sciences and the computer sciences and
advanced computational methodologies. It is rapidly becoming a powerful new
approach to understanding life, and it may well reverse the reductionist paradigm
that has held sway in molecular biology ever since Erwin Schrodinger turned on a
generation of physicists to biology with the publication of What is Life more than 50
Over the past half century, molecular biologists have focused on understanding the
"parts list" for living organisms. A researcher would devote enormous time and
effort to isolating and characterizing a particular gene, enzyme, or other protein,
often spending an entire career studying one or a handful of macromolecules.
Sometimes such research would reveal the interaction of a protein with one or a
few other proteins or genes, thereby providing a glimpse of the complex molecular
matrix of life. However, even the most talented - or luckiest - researcher could hope
to gain only the narrowest view of the enormous interacting network of genes,
proteins, and regulatory molecules that are found in even the simplest living
The new discipline of bioinformatics promises to provide the tools needed to attack
the complexity of conducting holistic biological research. "Because of this
complexity, biology will eventually become the most computational science,
surpassing physics," said DeLisi, who predicts that within the next 10 to 15 years
bioinformatics will become an integral part of biology.
With the maturation of genomics, it is now possible to go to a database and find
nucleotide sequence data for entire genomes as well as the deduced or
experimentally determined amino acid sequence of many of the proteins they
encode. Complementing this vast store of information are new technologies such
as gene chips that can reveal in a single experiment the pattern of gene expression
of an entire genome in a particular cell or tissue type, a capability undreamed of
just a few years ago. Such developments are rapidly transforming biological
research, allowing investigators to follow the ripples of perturbations as they
traverse the molecular matrix during normal cellular function as well as in
dysfunction. Bioinformatics promises to provide the tools necessary to exploit these
enormously exciting developments. In the future, some degree of facility with the
basic techniques of this rapidly developing discipline is likely to be a prerequisite
for success in many areas of biology.
Pharmaceutical research will clearly be one major benefactor of developments in
bioinformatics. Already, through the use of computational techniques to search for
genes similar to those known to encode proteins on which existing drugs act,
hundreds of potential new drug targets have been identified. In the future, virtual
toxicology screening may be the first step in predicting the effects of new
chemicals on complex metabolic pathways. In addition, bioinformatics will likely
provide the methodology finally to make highly accurate predictions about protein
tertiary structure based on amino acid sequences and a viable means to design
drugs based on computer simulation of the docking of small molecules to the
predicted protein architecture.
From genomics to taxonomy, all areas of biology will be transformed.
One of the major surprises that emerged from the completion of the human
genome is that the number of genes is somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 -
much smaller than the 100,000 or more that many investigators had anticipated.
This raises an obvious question: How is the rich diversity of protein structures
generated from such a small number of genes? The answer appears to include the
fact that protein domains are mixed and matched from one protein to another to
make a much broader array of protein structures and functions than would be
expected from a genome containing only 30,000 to 40,000 genes. New
computational techniques are being developed to identify these distinct protein
domains and to understand how they are combined to produce a large repertoire of
Bioinformatics is not limited to understanding DNA and amino acid sequence
databases. New computational methods will likely transform taxonomic and
phylogenic studies as well as our ability to understand and predict the results of
complex signal transduction cascades and the kinetics of intricate metabolic
pathways. The Texas A&M University Working Group in Bioinformatics focuses on
using new computational methodologies to access information in botanical
databases and developing new approaches for the expression of biodiversity data.
In short, the new discipline of bioinformatics appears destined to transform all
areas of biological research.
Boston University (BU) was one of the first schools to develop a graduate program
in bioinformatics. Its bioinformatics master's and doctoral programs accept
applicants with undergraduate backgrounds in either the biological sciences or
computer science and mathematics, said DeLisi; there are currently 32 doctoral
students. Those with undergraduate degrees in the biological sciences tend to
concentrate on graduate courses in the quantitative and computer science fields,
while students with computer science and math backgrounds concentrate on
courses in biochemistry, molecular biology, and cell biology. A unique aspect of
these programs is the selection of two research advisers to direct the student's
research; one will have expertise in computational areas, the other in the chemical
or biological sciences.
The BU program also includes internships, which allow students to gain industrial
experience as part of their graduate training. The internship can range from
participating in "grand rounds" to gain an overview of the field from an industrial
perspective, to spending three to nine months on-site doing industrial research with
a particular company. Some 35 to 45 companies participate in a senior project day.
Other universities with graduate programs in bioinformatics include the University
of Michigan, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of California
at San Diego, North Carolina State University, the University of Toronto, and
George Mason University. In addition, many biology, biochemistry, and molecular
biology graduate programs now include bioinformatics courses and research
opportunities. It's likely that in the near future many more universities will develop
specific programs in bioinformatics.
Competition for the available graduate programs is intense. For example, Boston
University selected its most recent class of 10 students from more than 300
applicants, noted DeLisi, and most of those 10 had some kind of industry
experience before entering the program. Moreover, the course of study is very
rigorous, requiring expertise in both biology and computer science. If you are
interested in graduate study in bioinformatics, says David Haussler, professor of
computer science at the University of California at Santa Cruz and a Howard
Hughes Medical Institute investigator, "take computer science courses so you can
understand how algorithms are designed and implement them well. Take statistics,
linear algebra, discrete mathematics, and differential equations. Take genetics, cell
biology, molecular biology, organic chemistry, and biochemistry.
Robert W. Wallace is a freelance writer in New York City.
by David Bradley - April 13, 2001 · Issue 100
Abstract: A new breed of scientists is looking to the Internet for inspiration. How is
the Internet changing the way we do science?
In 1997, the Internet domain name business.com was sold for $150,000... in 1997,
the Human Genome Project was less than halfway to completion... in 1997, the
genome of E. coli was sequenced... in 1997, Dolly the sheep was born... in 1997,
HMS Beagle went live...
Scientific discoveries come thick and fast these days. Fifty years ago, a single
postgraduate thesis might have been dedicated to fully elucidating a single
molecular structure, for instance. Today, while not a trivial task, technology readily
allows a crystallographer to pack in at least a handful of structures in a single year.
Even protein structures are revealed at a rate of two or so per Ph.D.
"These days very large structures can be determined, a task that was almost
unimaginable half a decade ago," says molecular biologist Nenad Ban of the Swiss
Federal Institute of Technology at Zurich.
If scientific practice is changing, so too is the way scientists operate. Robert Ubell,
president of BioMedNet USA in 1997, described in an early issue of HMS Beagle
how he periodically liked to ask groups of scientists about their library habits. At the
time, he found just one scientist in a discussion group of biologists in New York
who confessed to a visit to a library in the preceding week; some hadn't even been
that year. Even then it was more likely you would see a scientist in a discotheque
than a bibliotheque. Well, maybe not. It seems the situation has now swung still
further away from the library turnstile despite the attractions of hardwired Internet
cubicles and caffe latte.
According to bioinformatician Matteo di Tommaso , the general manager of
Wisconsin-based Genetics Computer Group , the Internet has changed everything
"by shrinking the world so that ideas and information can be easily and quickly
exchanged." Allan Jordan , a medicinal chemist at the drug discovery company
RiboTargets , based in Cambridge, England, certainly sees a persistent turning
away from the traditional library visit. "I get title pages in my mailbox on a daily
basis, access to the latest articles before they go to print, back issues searchable
in numerous ways, and multijournal searches with articles relevant to my work and
interests flagged up and mailed to me directly," he explains. "Why would anyone
want to spend hours scouring dusty shelves for months-old papers?"
It is only ten years or so since Tim Berners-Lee 's World Wide Web hit the streets
and less time than that since the emergence of the first graphical Web browser.
Yet you are reading a magazine that allows you to search millions of words in
seconds for topics and people of interest. HMS Beagle 's parent site BioMedNet
can connect you directly to other online periodicals and databases with a few clicks
of a plastic mouse. You can then watch other researchers develop their ideas
through online forums and pick up and comment on their research "publications"
before they even hit a printing press.
Think about it. Gutenberg's work brought words to the masses, but it took centuries
before we threw out the trays of metal letters. Essentially within the last four years,
we have witnessed the virulent spread of an information tool. It allows almost
anyone, anywhere in the world, from a cybercafe in the Australian outback to a
delegate en train to a conference in Paris, to access instantaneously (bandwidth
permitting) the very details that reside in every cell of our bodies and help make us
what we are.
There are still storage issues to be addressed, and there is still a need for journal
back catalogs to go further back in time, prior to about 1997. A scientist's need to
visit the library will decrease drastically, saving time and to a degree reducing
Matt Tudor is another of the thrusting new breed of scientists looking to the net for
inspiration. He began his biology Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology at Cambridge around the time of Beagle's launch and is working on the
modulation of gene transcription by DNA methylation. He touts his biological
expertise on the Askme.com discussion board, although he is not yet convinced of
the value of such schemes. "The chat boards like AskMe, Biosupplynet ,
Biowire.com , and DoubleTwist are not really useful resources for practicing
scientists," he says, "but the multi-hundred-thousand-dollar-a-year subscription
services are outside the reach of even the moneyed labs I work with."
Tudor recognizes, even in his short scientific career, some major changes in the
last four years in information technology, the primary development being "progress
in, not completion of, the sequencing of the human and other genomes." He points
out that traditional questions can now be answered more completely, and new
questions can be asked, for example, about the identification and delimitation of
previously unknown genes, the identification of control elements, and the ability to
theorize about the molecular evolutionary processes that brought us here.
According to Ormond MacDougald of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, "The
way my lab does business now is very different from four years ago." He points out
that the development of analysis by microarray gene chips and the widespread
availability of knockout and/or transgenic animals have altered entirely the way he
does research. "Knockouts," he says, "even alter how we do our in vitro analyses
because mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFS) allow us to do more mechanistic
work in vitro without messing around with antisense or other methods of killing a
gene's expression." The microarray work is opening the team's eyes to how
activation of signaling pathways and/or transcription factors coordinate regulation
of gene expression during cell development.
The microarray is certainly a major technological development. "It was," says
Tudor, "a trivial matter to predict that microarrays would impact research like mine,
which deals with gene transcription. But microarrays are also being used for
genotyping in disease gene hunts, for functional characterization, for diagnosis,
and increasingly for protein applications."
Microarrays, popularly known as biochips or DNA chips, consist of an array of
biomolecules on either a glass slide or a silicon chip, which allows one to
quantitate ten thousand or more genes in a hundred-milligram sample in a few
days. Previously, this took several years and kilograms of material. Such
technology facilitates gene expression profiles of different tissues and is leading to
a better understanding of biological processes. Ultimately, it will allow better drug
targets with controlled side effects to be developed and tailored treatments to be
Postdoc Bryan Crawford, who works on developmental biology at the University of
Washington at Seattle, has also seen the benefits of the information revolution over
the last few years. "There's definitely been a quantitative if not qualitative change in
the ease with which I can find information," he says. He points out that "relevant
references are frequently online within days of their submission, and sequence
data in the various databases is easily searchable and much more easily
interpreted than a few years ago." He feels that the human genome is not as
significant to his line of research at this stage, but that any completed genome will
be interesting. "I'm really looking forward to the day when we have completed
genomes for representatives of all phyla, and maybe even most of the major
classes," he explains. "That will be a database worth searching!"
"Just as computing and biology merge into bioinformatics, structural biology
transcends several fields, e.g., computing, biology, NMR, crystallography, and
chemistry," adds Jordan. "Furthermore, it's structural biology that will bridge the
gap between genome and medicine," he claims, "providing structural data for
pharma companies to use in the pursuit of new drugs, although this is not as trivial
as most commentators seem to imply!"
The level of automation has also rapidly increased in chemical synthesis, analysis,
and biological screening. It is making scientists' lives easier but at the same time
increasing productivity. Recently merged pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithkline ,
for instance, has the technology at its center in Harlow, England, to design a
chemical series, plan the synthesis, buy the materials, do a quality control
assessment, weigh out the reagents, do the reaction, purify the products, analyze
them, and test them for biological activity - all automatically.
Such a system simply did not exist four years ago. What will chemists and
biologists actually do when such systems are widespread?
Functional genomics, proteomics, pharmacogenomics, combinatorial chemistry,
and high-throughput screening have all fallen to the Web, with distributed
databases and Web applets providing researchers with access to the attendant
tools from their desktops, laptops, or, in many cases, Palms. These advances are
pushing forward the generally maturing biotechnology industry - despite financial
turmoil on NASDAQ. Where the process of drug discovery was once a singular art,
the computer-assisted conversion of genomic information to proteome and
metabolome brings mass to the scientific masses.
The new technologies are already forcing researchers to rethink the direction of
their projects. After all, once you have the wheel in hand, it is not such a long
journey to a transport system. With new systems comes the need for new
generalists in such diverse and relatively young fields as chemo- and
bioinformatics, combinatorial chemistry, genomics, and all the other "omics." Fields
that were tiny niches within the broader church just half a decade ago are now the
mainstay of countless research projects.
Areas such as bioinformatics are not simply computer support for the particular
branch of molecular biology that is looking for drug candidates. It works down the
discovery pipeline in a way that did not exist four years ago. It can validate drug
targets, unravel mechanisms and metabolic routes, and even offer a toxicity profile.
As such, some observers are describing it as the hot field for the post-genomic
scientist. Bioinformatics allows teams to integrate vast quantities of data from
countless sources. They - the data and the teams - can be scattered around the
world. With the Internet, it is irrelevant where you or your data are.
If bioinformatics hints at a fusion of two disparate sectors of science - biology and
computing - then it is the archetype of the new interdisciplinarity that is knocking
down walls and opening up borders between scientists. Where many of our
scientific ancestors usually saw themselves as polymaths - think Faraday, da Vinci,
et al. - convenient boundaries meant grant-awarding bodies knew exactly what
they were paying for, once science was running at the hot pace of the twentieth
century. But net savvy, computer literacy, chemical know-how, and some vital
biology now mean that specialists who keep to themselves are not so much a
dying breed as a dwindling group of outsiders. Multidisciplinarity is the cross talk of
"Certainly, science has become more integrated. During my Ph.D., I seemed to be
among a small number of scientists in my willingness to bridge chemistry and
biology and actually learn some new skills by working with biologists and actively
interacting. Now this is not only accepted more, but in most cases it is expected,"
There is one aspect that sets the modern scientist apart from the old image of a
solitary figure sweating over a Bunsen burner: with interdisciplinarity comes an
increasing need for team workers. There are too many threads to even the
simplest of genomics projects. Just look at the author lists on the Science and
Nature papers announcing the sequencing of the human genome!
Yet with the emergence of increasingly powerful computer technologies, we are
truly only at the beginning of developments; their greatest impact on scientists is
yet to be seen. Many buzzwords have been coined in the last four years, but one
word that persists is "adaptation." To survive and thrive, science and scientists
must continue to adapt.
David Bradley , a freelance science writer, lives on the edge of the fens north of
Cambridge, United Kingdom. Elemental Discoveries is his Webzine of science
The Sweet Smell of Success - Careers in the Perfume
by Kirstie Saltsman - April 27, 2001 · Issue 101
Abstract: While the study of olfaction has kept many researchers busy, the related
fragrance industry offers career opportunities for organic chemists, microbiologists,
In a recent study published in Nature , neurobiologists show how pheromones
emitted by the female moth induce the male moth to alter his flight pattern,
zigzagging closer and closer until he finally homes in on the source of the airborne
attractant. Although the authors of the study are optimistic that their findings will
shed light upon the relationship between odor and behavior in humans, until
human pheromones are purified and bottled, perfume-wearers among us can but
hope to alter the behavior of potential mates as does the female moth.
In the meantime, perfumers have to make do with the approximately 3,000 natural
and synthetic compounds already present in their arsenal. Additionally, they have
to contend with the diminished sense of smell in humans. The human genome
encodes between 500 and 750 olfactory receptors, which are expressed in the
sensory neurons of the olfactory epithelium, but over half of these appear to be
nonfunctional pseudogenes. It is thought that as human survival became less
dependent upon olfactory acuity, the selective pressure to maintain functional
receptors eased up. Our remaining functional receptor genes allow us to
distinguish between 3,000 and 10,000 different odors. The neurons of the olfactory
epithelium connect into the amygdala, the "emotions" center of the brain, and the
hippocampus, where memories are stored. This may explain why scents can affect
moods and are such powerful reminders of things past.
A perfume comes into being when a distributor, such as Estée Lauder or Calvin
Klein, puts together a "brief," which describes the image of the hypothetical client.
For example, a brief may invoke a sophisticated, self-sufficient woman accustomed
to brokering multilateral transactions and for whom international travel is routine.
She needs a versatile scent that works both during the day while she works, as
well as for dinner out later in the evening. "Suppliers" or "oil houses," the
companies that produce the perfume, will immediately set to work. In the past,
perfumes were often formulated over the course of a year or two, but in today's
competitive climate, perfumes are formulated in a matter of weeks. The perfumer,
who actually composes the scent, works hand in hand with a team of advisers,
including organic chemists, sensory psychologists, and consumer researchers.
Factors they consider are the volatilities of the various components. Perfumes are
constructed in layers, with the top "note," as it is called in the industry, consisting of
highly volatile compounds that will evaporate in a matter of minutes. The "middle"
and "base" notes will diffuse in a matter of hours and days, respectively. Thus, the
scent will evolve over time, making it possible for the worldly executive to smell
fresh and citrusy while she works and, perhaps, exude a richer, more sensual
fragrance in the evening.
Organic chemists will ensure that the components of the scent can withstand the
changes in pressure and climate integral to her world-traveling lifestyle. The
sensory psychologists, in turn, will make sure that the scent taps into positive
emotions and memories. For example, the smell of baby powder is one of the best-
loved scents in the United States, almost certainly due to its association with
freshly bathed babies. Consumer researchers do their jobs by assessing the kinds
of scents that are currently in vogue and, once the scent has been composed, by
gathering feedback to be used by the perfumer in formulating the final submission.
In addition, "evaluators," who have an extremely keen sense of smell, will provide
the perfumer with feedback and, thus, help shape the perfume as it is developed.
In addition, perfumers are increasingly considering the principles of "aroma-
chology" in designing their perfumes. Although there are differing viewpoints as to
its worth, aroma-chology purports to alter moods through the use of scents. Anne
Richardson, sensory sciences development manager at Quest International in
London, explains that there are measurable changes in patterns of brain activity
when people smell a fragrance. "The question then arises," she says, "of what you
can actually deduce from that. Is there a real mood change?" While the jury is still
out on its scientific merits, there is no doubt that consumer interest in aroma-
chology products will ensure that its tenets are considered in the design of many
Organic chemists are critical to the perfume industry. Perfumers work closely with
them and also have training in the chemistry discipline themselves. Organic
chemists can synthesize new scents using "headspace technology," in which a
scent from a fragrant flower found in the wild can be analyzed and recreated in the
laboratory. Headspace technology makes use of a device that can capture a scent
onto absorbent beads, to be coaxed out later and analyzed into its components by
gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. A company called Aveda has
recently used headspace technology to capture the scent of Mojave Desert flowers
that have bloomed for the first time in 100 years thanks to the rains brought on by
the 1998 El Nino. In a still more creative use of the technology, a team from Quest
International has isolated scents from underwater coral reefs off the coast of
Madagascar. In addition to recreating natural scents, chemists also seek to
synthesize novel fragrant compounds in the laboratory.
Organic chemists also generate the multitude of synthetic compounds that make
up most perfumes today. Although a few companies exclusively use natural
products and scorn the use of synthetics, the advent of synthetic compounds is
generally viewed as an improvement in the industry. Some botanical oils extract
poorly, and some flowers, however intoxicating their scent, are too rare to be
commercially useful. Aromatic compounds previously isolated from animals are
now almost entirely synthetic, much to the relief of animal rights activists and
animal lovers alike. Synthetics are said to give sparkle and freshness to a
fragrance, balancing and bringing out the best in the heavier natural oils.
Microbiologists also have their place in the perfume industry. Robertet, a supplier
based in Grasse, in southern France, has developed an aromatic compound called
Diomix, which has bacteriostatic properties. When Diomix is metabolized by body-
odor-causing bacteria such as Staphylococcus epidermis, compounds that inhibit
their growth are released, thus providing an environmentally friendly alternative to
the antimicrobials currently used in deodorants. In addition, neurobiologists are
using their knowledge of the signal transduction pathways that lead to the
perception of odors to assist in the design of malodor counteractants. Malodor
counteractants will typically act on the malodorous compound itself or on the
olfactory receptor to which it binds, acting as a competitive inhibitor.
Although the design of fine fragrances is certainly the most glamorous sector of the
industry, a much larger number of individuals work to design the fragrances added
to a wide variety of consumer products such as soaps, detergents, cosmetics, air
fresheners, and diapers. The jobs of these lesser-known perfumers may, in fact, be
more challenging. A fragrance added to a detergent must mask the odor of the
detergent itself and, in addition, smell good in the box, the washing machine, the
dryer, and after having been subjected to a steam iron. Unglamorous they may be,
but fragrances designed for household products typically bring in much more
revenue for a supplier than fine fragrances.
So how does one become a perfumer, or a "nose," as they are called in the
industry? In the past, the craft was passed down from father to son, and perfumery
was dominated by a few families in the vicinity of Grasse, France. Nowadays
access to the profession is more democratic, and one can attend a perfumery
school. One of the better known schools is L'Institut Supérieur du Parfum, de la
Cosmétique et de L'Aromatique Alimentaire (ISIPCA), located in Versailles, on the
outskirts of Paris. A second one, in Paris, is run by the supplier Givaudan Roure.
Admission to either is extremely competitive, and one must demonstrate an
exquisitely discriminating sense of smell to gain entry.
Once in the work force, aspiring perfumers can work in a variety of settings.
Evelyne Robert of ISIPCA says that graduates of her institute will typically work for
one of the multinational suppliers, such as International Flavors and Fragrances,
Firmenich, Quest International, or Robertet. In addition, perfumers are employed
by smaller, regional houses that generate a more limited range of products and
have more limited research capabilities. Also on the rise are perfumers who work
independently and create customized perfumes. The perfumer will meet with an
individual client and, after assessing his or her personality and particular likes and
dislikes, will create a customized fragrance. Finally, Jean Patou and Chanel, rather
than working with outside suppliers, employ their own noses.
Besides those who actually work to formulate a perfume, the industry also relies
heavily upon those who design the bottle and packaging and on those who market
it. Annette Green, president of the Fragrance Foundation explains that a perfume
must appeal to the senses of sight and touch in addition to the sense of smell. The
packaging and bottle must be attractive and reflect the scent within. In terms of
marketing, eye-catching advertisements, scented strips in magazines, promotional
events in department stores, and celebrity endorsements all contribute to the buzz
surrounding the launch of a new perfume.
In addition, technology may yet come to the assistance of perfume companies'
marketing departments. DigiScents, a company based in Oakland, California, has
developed ismell, a speaker-sized device that can be connected to a personal
computer's USB port and used to transmit fragrances into homes or offices. By
mixing and matching an array of fragrant compounds, ismell can transmit
thousands of different smells and can be used, among other things, to market
scented products online. At a cost of approximately $200, ismell is affordable, and,
according to David Libby of DigiScents, although the device has not yet been
launched, it has already generated significant interest. "To date, we have more
than 5,000 Web, software, and video game developers signed up on our Web site
who have requested the tools needed to learn how to add scent to their media," he
In reading a Webzine, you thought you had escaped the headache-inducing
"scented strip" phenomenon so common in hardcopy magazines? Just in the nick
of time. Soon an article such as this will likely be peppered with illustrative
examples of scents used in perfumes today - just a click of a mouse away!
Sometimes one has to wonder if technology truly does bring improvements.
Kirstie Saltsman is a freelance biomedical writer based in Baltimore. She received
her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1996 and did postdoctoral work at Stanford.
1. Vickers, N.J., et al. 2001. Odour-plume dynamics influence the brain's olfactory
code . Nature 410:466-470.
David Bradley - June 8, 2001 · Issue 104
Abstract: Will publicly funded research become mired in patent protection and
intellectual property rights or remain purely altruistic? In this article, the author
examines the impact of commercialization in universities.
On May 4, the University of Bristol (United Kingdom) announced the latest
company to spin off from one of its research departments. NeuroTargets, a
biopharmaceutical company, is a joint venture between the university and Progeny
bioVentures and will exploit gene technologies in identifying and developing new
drugs for chronic pain.
It's another fine example of wealth creation, a driving force in science today. But
does it have to be this way? There are still those who ponder scientific
fundamentals, and perhaps only the cynical see business pressure on science as
unseemly. Science seems to be riding the rapids toward a watershed.
Down one stream, we can ensure that every last modicum of data is patent
protected, that intellectual property rights are sealed and hand-delivered to the
lawyers, and that the tiniest of results are tightly bound in red tape. Follow the other
flow and science is purely altruistic, with fully disclosed, communally peer-reviewed
results, and not a lawyer in sight. Certainly, in corporate R and D, the goal is to
maximize the value of intracompany sharing and communication. But, society now
faces the question of how to maximize the value of publicly funded R and D.
Perhaps it is time to consider the massive losses we might face unless we find a
way to avoid a split stream and divert those opposing courses back together for the
As the recent race to map the genome highlights, R and D is continually torn
between the commercial applications and the purely scientific ones. From research
grant application to popular science news story, the need is paramount for an
emphasis on the potential technology that may be derived from almost any piece of
science. If the reviewers or readers find themselves asking the question "so what?"
having read the application or news item, then that crucial application aspect of the
research has almost certainly been overlooked. How many times do you see a
research grant application that claims that the product of the forthcoming
investigation has no use? Moreover, in our hype-driven world, what editor would
print a story that covers the "who, what, and where" but finds no "why."
The need for a commercial "why" is almost synonymous with that of the scientific
"why." Whatever the source of the funding - commercial or public - the purse
strings are tugged hardest only by researchers who can answer the "so what?"
question the most succinctly.
Is there a need for the research organizations, such as the National Institutes of
Health (NIH), the Department of Energy, and national laboratories and their
equivalent agencies elsewhere in the world to transfer technology direct to
industry, releasing money from the resulting royalties? Budget cuts in federal
research mean there is increased pressure on the public purse. One might think
that the NIH and its ilk must already make huge "profits" from patent and licensing
royalties, but the NIH reported (PDF format; Adobe Acrobat Reader required) that
for the year 2000, royalties were just $52 million, a tiny fraction of the
organization's $16 billion budget for 2000. In the United Kingdom, too, the
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) receives about
$280 million from the government but garners nothing from royalties. "We do not
obtain any income from licensing technology or patents - even if the work has been
funded by us," explains BBSRC's Andrew McLaughlin. "Any intellectual property
rights are assumed by either the researcher or their institution." Different
universities have different policies on this. The University of Cambridge, for
instance, allows the "inventors" to keep patents, whereas the University of Oxford
assumes them all. New rules at Cambridge mean the university takes ownership of
two-thirds of any work carried out on a research grant, which Cambridge chemical
engineer Geoff Moggridge sees as a "retrograde step" that won't encourage new
The BBSRC, like equivalent organizations worldwide, cites as its primary strategic
objective to "exploit the new opportunities provided by the science of genomics."
This is, of course, as ambiguous a statement as one might find, inherent in it the
ability to sate both the commercial applicants and, simultaneously, the
fundamentalists with the word "exploit" offering solutions to medical problems, as
well as profits to those who might sell them. Although it seems, if one reads
between the lines, that BBSRC's aim is in fact more noble than chasing hard cash
in that it claims a "key driver across our research portfolio is the optimization of
knowledge and technology transfer to ensure that research findings are used as
efficiently and effectively to support innovation and enhance the quality of life." It is
certainly not unique in its aspirations.
The Oxford Glycobiology Institute's Raymond Dwek, a glycobiology expert and the
scientific founder of Oxford GlycoSciences (OGS), a university start-up, was
quoted in the London Times recently as saying that there has been a cultural shift
at the university, "The creation of wealth is not incompatible with basic research,"
he said, "and making a contribution alongside everybody else in society and not
just providing the fountain of knowledge." Indeed, Oxford has been particularly
successful in spinning off companies from its science departments with such well-
known names as Oxford Molecular (now part of Accelerys, a subsidiary of
Pharmacopeia), OGS, PowderJect Pharmaceuticals, and chemistry's already
highly successful Oxford Asymmetry.
Other universities echo the sentiment. Cambridge, for instance, spun off the likes
of electronics and IT firms such as ARM Holdings, Cambridge Display Technology,
and Zeus Technology, while the traditionally industrial northern universities, such
as Leeds, Manchester, and Newcastle have spin-off arms to assist in the process.
The United States has perhaps made the creation of start-ups a fine art, with much
of Silicon Valley, the Research Triangle, and Massachusetts Institute of
Technology providing a constant supply of companies thriving on technology
"There are dangers in the recent enthusiasm to encourage commercialization in
universities," laments Moggridge. "The first is that it is rapidly being accompanied
by universities and research councils trying to reap the benefits." This, Moggridge
believes, is stifling commercialization, and he suggests that instead individuals
need incentives to do it. "That means individual academics being the main
beneficiaries," he explains. "Without that, we simply won't bother. Our preference
will always be publication unless commercialization is worthwhile financially." In
other words, the commercialization of science must not be simply a way to
subsidize university or research council budgets but a positive contribution to the
Other dangers cut to the heart of a university's raison d'etre. Universities exist to
educate and, although this can be enhanced by having commercially savvy
academics, commercialization needs to go hand in hand with an academic career.
Academia is quickly coming to terms with its commercial potential, and there can
no longer be an institution without some form of committee or department handling
the science faculties' intellectual property rights and patents.
There are still many problems surrounding patents that can stifle science. Patent
stacking in which, for instance, a single genomic sequence is patented in several
ways such as an expressed sequence tag, a gene, and an expressed sequence
tag can discourage product development because of the high fees payable to the
patent owners. "Patent stacking can be inhibitory to investment and progress,"
says David Porteous, head of the Medical Genetics Section at the University of
Edinburgh Western General Hospital. But, is this a critical problem in the
commercialization of science? Porteous thinks so, "It can be if there are multiple
licenses required with respect to background intellectual property in order to
develop novel background IP. One issue is the complexity of negotiations. The
other is the cumulative cost of multiple licensing."
The need for commercial secrecy is eroding the potential for collaboration. Sharing
research materials, reagents, antibodies, genes, cells, and animals is no longer as
easy as it once was because of the legal complexities that arise through the
commercialization of the science undertaken with these materials. The office of
technology transfer at NIH is building a code of conduct to help overcome a
problem that could affect the future course of science seriously.
According to a 1997 study by CHI Research for the National Science Foundation,
73 percent of papers cited by U.S. industry patents are public science, authored at
academic, governmental, and other public institutions worldwide. The link between
science and the commercial world is increasing rapidly, especially in the United
States where patents with U.S. authored research papers have tripled over a six-
year period. Governments may be responsible for this increase, according to an
editorial (paid subscription required for access) in the journal Nature, but for
technology transfer to be successful academics must become entrepreneurs.
"Finding the magic formula for the successful transfer of technology from
universities and government laboratories to commercial application is a perennial
quest of governments around the world."
Peter Cotgreave, who heads the Save British Science Society, feels the link
between science and the economy is stronger than ever. "Across the G7, there is a
positive correlation between public investment in R and D and private investment in
R and D, when both are scaled as a proportion of the national wealth, or for head
of the population, or by pretty much anything else," he told HMS Beagle. He
emphasizes that higher government funding of basic research usually increases
rather than decreases spending by pharmaceutical companies, and this is why
economists agree that governments should support basic research.
Maybe the ivory towers crumbled years ago, but can the total commercialization of
science benefit wholly the process of discovery for its own sake? Universities
everywhere, from Queensland to Kuala Lumpur, now have commercial arms, and
there is still no shortage of companies willing to contribute cash to create new
research centers. Nevertheless, when science reaches that watershed, we may
find academics must be academics. There is a danger that commercialization is an
end in itself rather than a useful by-product. "We should aim to keep our best
people in universities," concludes Moggridge, "but commercialization is not a
substitute to proper university funding; it just demonstrates the value to the
economy of education."
David Bradley, a freelance science writer, lives on the edge of Silicon Fen north of
Cambridge, United Kingdom. Elemental Discoveries is his Webzine of science
news, views, and interviews.
Making a Living in the Past - Museum Research
David Bradley - June 22, 2001 · Issue 105
Abstract: Who are the people behind the scenes at museums? And, more
important, how does one become a museum researcher?
My first visit to London's Natural History Museum (NHM), now only a distant
memory, must have been at the age of seven or eight, when I accompanied my
parents and younger sister. I do recall the imposing, blackened skeleton of a giant
sauropod, Diplodocus, that greeted me as I entered the massive front doors of the
main building. But what also struck me at the time was just how many "taxidermed"
animals could be stuffed into row upon row of glass cases. When I recently took
my own children to the museum, things could not have been more different. The
Diplodocus still stands guard, but most of those arrays of dusty species seem to
have been tucked out of sight and replaced with a much more lively and fun view of
natural history, featuring all kinds of hands-on and multimedia exhibits and
Behind the scenes, though, I suspect that the same curiosity-driven research
underpins museums like this around the globe. Who are the researchers opting out
of everyday academia to work among those glass cases and dinosaur bones?
David Johnston is one such scientist. "As with the majority of researchers, one
rarely is able at graduation time to say, 'I want to spend my life researching x, y, or
z.' Instead, you change fields as job contracts necessitate, and finding employment
is dictated by experience and expertise." Johnston's skills in fundamental molecular
biology landed him his first postdoctoral position, sequencing from parasitic
flatworms (schistosomes), a group second only to malaria parasites as a global
health problem, at the Natural History Museum. Tenure followed.
Museums, of course, are as diverse as any other area of human culture, from fine
and decorative arts, to antiquities and archeology, to ethnographic and natural
history and medicine. The type of research might involve reconstruction,
preservation, examination, analysis, and dating. In terms of research, as with any
scientific endeavor, a detailed understanding of the contextual relevance of the
research subject is crucial. But while the tools of the trade may be similar, context
underlies the differences between academic and museum research, although
perhaps only inasmuch as research focuses on collection materials. The questions
being asked can be very similar - what about the material itself, or "what does this
material tell us about patterns and processes in the outside world?"
Robert Ross, formerly on the faculty at Shizuoka University in Japan, is now
director of education at the Paleontological Research Institution in Ithaca, New
York, which is loosely affiliated with Cornell University. "We are doing scientific
research within the museum," says Ross. "I do believe some of our research is
different from that done in some large museums with large staffs of researchers,
because ours is so tightly integrated with public education."
In making the move from a university to a museum, the job and not the type of
building should perhaps be one's guide. In hindsight, some museum researchers
realize just how narrowly focused their university work was in comparison to their
museum work. "Researchers may be surprised to find greater fulfillment at a
museum and to enjoy considering doing and conveying their research in entirely
new contexts," says Ross.
"The oldest and most common route is by being a recognized expert in your field
and affiliating with or being hired by a museum," says Michael Lewis, curator of
archaeology at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New
Mexico. "This route," he adds, "does not necessarily require an advanced degree,
although strong emphasis recently has been placed on the master's degree as a
minimum - preferably the Ph.D." Moreover, in today's museum world, the emphasis
is on attracting research dollars, and this generally requires an advanced degree
and a research history.
Ross feels that museum researchers tend to follow a normal academic route. "I
have known a few people who were looking specifically for museum work because
they wanted to work with collections and/or they wanted to work in public
education, but their training was no different," he says. "A few may seek training in
collections maintenance, but most learn on the job." At the NHM and other
museums, collections maintenance is recognized as a separate skill, so there are
scientific curators looking after the collections and researchers who work on them.
"Whether this is a happy division is a matter of debate," Johnston suggests.
In terms of the ease of shifting from academia to the museum environment, Ross
feels it is not intellectually more difficult, but concedes that there can be important
new skills to develop. "Many natural history museum researchers are responsible
for taking care of collections, and must learn database technology, preservation
issues, and so on," he says. "Researchers at museums are also often called upon
for advice with exhibits, for programs for the public, or to give media interviews
when something even vaguely related to their research shows up in the
newspaper," he adds. Johnston suggests that "maybe science wouldn't have such
a bad reputation in the public's eyes if all scientists did this more often."
"Indeed," he adds, "the soon-to-be completed Darwin Centre (Phase 1), which will
house the Zoology Department and spirit collections, has been designed to
maximize scientist-public interaction." In addition, museum outreach programs are
extending substantially the educational role of scientists in museums. Certainly
many scientists teach and mentor students in academia as part of their wider job
description. "Museum researchers often must respond to the public outreach and
education role of the museum," adds Lewis. "This may predetermine the type of
outcome or the manner of presentation of museum research in response to
nonacademic or purely scientific concerns."
In theory, the research itself and the source of funding are identical in museums
and academia, but there are other pressures that also can color museum research,
such as the museum's collection itself. Ross explains, "Individuals are often hired
who are expected to use the museum collections in their research, and interesting
new research questions are often posed through exposure to available collections,
new collections as they become available, or collections from museum-
administrated expeditions." Commonly, the two communities - collections-based
and field-based researchers - publish in different venues, but there is some
Critically speaking, museum research can easily become detached from
undergraduate and graduate students unless museums foster relations with local
colleges and universities, which can mean welcoming interns at this level, too.
University level teaching, of course, may not play a significant role in the work of a
museum, in direct contrast to academia. "Museum researchers can do pure
research with no teaching or committee responsibilities, giving them more time to
concentrate on their research," says Lewis. As one might expect, though, many of
the scientific staff in a museum also contribute to the public understanding of
science and to adult education courses.
Since many academic researchers lament the fact that much of their "research
time" is spent preparing and presenting lectures, chairing tutorials, and organizing
internal seminars, it might seem that without the constraints a student contingent
necessitates, the museum researcher would be more free for research. But this
simply is not so. Museum researchers do contribute to undergraduate, graduate,
and other courses, both within museums and at universities and research centers.
"Many staff at the NHM hold honorary or visiting lectureships or personal chairs,
and the museum has one joint appointment with Imperial College London,"
Indeed, joint courses in areas such as taxonomy, biodiversity, and molecular
systematics (molecular taxonomy) are becoming increasingly common. He adds
that in addition to hosting numerous students at universities and other research
centers, the NHM also has more than 100 students working within it.
What about prestige and kudos? "It isn't clear to me that it's possible to make a
general statement about this," says Ross. "There may very well be issues of
prestige related to the size and prestige of the individual universities and museums
in question, the kind of research being done, the degree of time going into
education and administration, and so on, but none of these fall into a university-
museum dichotomy." After all, some of the world's leading paleontologists work at
museums, and taxonomy underpins absolutely every other branch of biology. "You
might be working on some high-tech gene knockout system in C. elegans or yeast,
but how do you know that what you are working on is really C. elegans or yeast?
Taxonomy, that's how!" Johnston says. The state of the art in phylogenetics,
systematics, and genetics is there to be found in museum research centers as well.
Nonetheless, research conducted in a museum setting may be applied in ways
contradictory to scientific methods and outcomes, according to one researcher.
"Research may be used in educational contexts that require so much simplification
and modification of the outcome as to distort the original research," posits Lewis.
"This type of presentation can create problems for the researcher in the
professional research community." Johnston, however, begs to differ. "It should be
possible to explain the fundamentals to anyone and to tailor the complexity of
explanation to the target audience," he believes.
The transition to museum research is no harder or easier than finding a job
anywhere else in academia, but it may carry an added burden if one chooses to
concentrate on collections-based research rather than field research, suggests
Lewis. "In some disciplines, such as archaeology, collections-based research is
viewed in the professional community as 'less worthy' than field research," he says.
But as with conventional academic research, results are just as often presented at
professional meetings and published in peer-reviewed journals. "Museum
researchers use the same methods and the same tools as academic researchers,
and grant-writing skills, some readers will find regrettable, are just as necessary,"
Research at a museum can often take on more of a public focus, particularly if
external funds require it. "One's research may end up on display in exhibits or in
other educational contexts, and one may be encouraged to involve volunteers from
the general public or school students in the research process," says Ross. Indeed,
many museums, including NHM, have such volunteer programs. There is in such
cases the pressure that research might need to be tailored so that nonspecialists
can participate and so that the research can readily be adapted for exhibits or
Museums and academia may differ in the kinds of funds they are able to obtain.
Funding bodies such as the National Science Foundation have to account for the
suitability of a research department of whatever disposition. Importantly, though, a
museum might play the public-education card and so apply to nontraditional
funding bodies interested in fostering public science education rather than research
results. But perhaps this should be a role of universities as well.
Although museum research might seem to outsiders to be a very different
environment than that of a life in university research, Johnston does not feel that
there is much of a distinction. "They're very much the same, in fact," he says.
According to Ralph Salier, an archeologist and expert on North American early
man and stone tools, "one major difference is that museum jobs are far rarer than
academic research posts simply because there are far fewer museums with
research departments than there are universities."
Megan Dennis, who is working in North America before returning to Europe to do
her Ph.D., adds that "you have to be keen and know it is what you want to do. The
hardest thing is finding somewhere to get experience in museum science." As one
other "anonymous" museum researcher has it, "the job market is very, very limited,
and one often has to be willing to volunteer until a funded position opens."
David Bradley, a freelance science writer, lives on the edge of Silicon Fen north of
Cambridge, United Kingdom. Elemental Discoveries is his Webzine of science
news, views, and interviews.
Booming Bioethics Seeks Sense of Self
Maia Szalavitz - July 20, 2001 · Issue 107
Abstract: Following the sequencing of the human genome, the advent of
mammalian cloning and increased spending on biomedical research, opportunities
in the field of bioethics have exploded. Despite the boom, there is no clear career
path to follow.
When should life be protected? How could anti-aging techniques, genetic
engineering, and mood-controlling drugs change human nature? What moral
obligations do drug companies have to provide life-saving medications at low cost
to the poor? Can people with severe mental illness truly give informed consent to
participate in research?
These are just a few of the thorny questions that bioethicists are paid to consider -
and with the sequencing of the human genome, the advent of mammalian cloning,
and continued increases in spending on biomedical research, opportunities in the
field are expanding.
David Magnus, graduate studies director and professor of bioethics at the
University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics, says, "The field is absolutely
growing. It's hard to assess, because there is not a clear sense [of how to define a
bioethicist], but master's programs have sprung up all over and the number of
students enrolled is booming." Penn's master's program started four years ago with
15 students; it now has 32, and the school is considering adding more slots.
The number of publications devoted exclusively to bioethics tripled between 1987
and 1997. The study of ethics issues related to the Human Genome Project was
funded by the government from the project's outset, with a total of $76.8 million
spent by 2000. Moreover, there are now over 100 academic bioethics research
According to Magnus, the growth results from increased opportunities to publish in
major journals like the Journal of the American Medical Association and Science as
well as in specialty journals, and from increased grant money for bioethics
research. Research ethics is a particularly hot area. "It's booming," says Magnus,
who notes that the institutional review boards that oversee research in human
subjects are mandated to consider ethical questions, and often hire bioethicists.
Major academic medical centers - including Penn and Duke University - have had
research projects shut down by the government for failing to deal properly with
ethical concerns, and the FDA won't approve drugs if it believes that researchers
have not treated human subjects ethically.
The accounting firm Price Waterhouse has even begun offering "ethics audits" and
hiring bioethicists to run them. "In general, a big outfit will want to do one every few
years just to be sure everything's OK," says Magnus.
Public interest in the field is also at an all-time high. Magnus notes that
Bioethics.net, the Web site of the American Journal of Bioethics and the largest
Web site in the field, gets eight million hits per month and is ranked between sixth
and tenth amongst the highly popular medical sites.
"The field has been redefined several times."
Though medical ethics has been a concern since Hippocrates swore his oath to
"First, do no harm," bioethics as a medical discipline did not really exist until 30
years ago. Then, because of growing concern over issues such as abortion and
euthanasia, a number of people with religious training began to consult with
doctors and hospitals. "The field has been redefined several times," says Glenn
McGee, editor in chief of the American Journal of Bioethics. "First, it was religious
scholars, then rabbis and priests, then there was the introduction of philosophers."
By the late eighties, physicians and lawyers had gotten involved as well.
As a result, there is no clear path to follow for those with a general interest in
bioethics. Some are trained in science or medicine first, then take a master's in
bioethics; others go to law school. Some start their training with a philosophy Ph.D.
and focus on applied ethics - there are only a few Ph.D. programs in bioethics
itself. Yet others have degrees in medical anthropology, medical sociology,
religious studies, or the history of medicine. And many combine these varied forms
of training. For example, Cat Myser, research director at the Tuskegee University
National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care, has a Ph.D. in
philosophy and bioethics from the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown
University, which is recognized as one of the top programs in the field. Since
philosophy departments don't focus on empirical methods - either quantitative or
qualitative - Myser also did postdoctoral work in medical anthropology at Stanford.
"The main controversy is what type of background and training is needed to
become a bioethicist," says Myser. "The question of credentialing is one of the
ugliest ongoing arguments, and is most obvious in clinical ethics [where ethicists
work with doctors to help resolve issues in particular cases]."
"Not surprisingly, I think bioethicists should be trained the way I trained. But the
way I advise students is to consider what types of work appeal to them. People's
training and orientation should be 'transdisciplinary.' By that I mean they need not
only to study and have a good grounding in the knowledge and methods of multiple
disciplines, but they should be able to speak and understand across disciplines."
Myser has taught in medical schools and practiced clinical ethics for 17 years. One
disturbing trend that she has noticed is that doctors and institutions are now more
likely to argue in favor of "pulling the plug" on patients for cost reasons rather than
reflexively favoring life support. "I was asked by a chief operating officer [of a
medical system] to develop a policy for doctors and hospitals to decide unilaterally
when additional care is 'futile.' I am an ethicist, I wouldn't be party to that," she
says. Myser sees the role of a clinical ethicist as bringing a different perspective to
the table - which can be difficult for those who are trained primarily as doctors and
may not be able to step outside that role.
"Physicians are trained to advocate for the interests of the patient, but as an
ethicist, I'm nobody's advocate. I go in completely open to discussing the values at
play. If pushed, of course, I say I advocate for patients and their families, but you
would be amazed at how many physicians are unaware of their own subculture
It's necessary to learn the language of the field in which one is working and enough
of the science to understand the methods and the implications of the ethical
dilemmas, says Myser, but "you aren't there to cut open a heart." Though doctors
often believe that they know all they need to know about ethics simply because of
their medical experience, a good ethicist can show that there are other points of
view and ways of thinking.
For example, at one medical center, Myser found that the doctors who had been
offering ethical consulting got three requests for help per year - but she got 115
requests annually. "You show that you understand the clinical reality and that this
is a whole other area of expertise," Myser says. "I don't say I have the right moral
answers; what I have is tools to make sure you have all the facts, all the value
data, and that we are all communicating with each other. Decisions should be
made by families, and I try to clear the way for that to happen."
A case she considers one of her greatest successes involved a 13-year-old
intellectually disabled girl who came to an Australian hospital 20 weeks pregnant.
No one knew who the father of the child was. The girl was being raised by her
grandparents, and the doctors were pressing her to have an abortion. "I met with
her and it was my job to find out how much she could participate in the decision
and help the family to stave off the doctors, who were saying, without medical
evidence, that the child might be mentally retarded as well."
The grandparents were pretty much passively agreeing with "the experts," but they
began to cry when Myser asked, "What about the fetus?" She learned that there
was a long family history of infertility and that the grandparents wanted to help
raise the child. The girl delivered a normal baby. "You don't always find out what
happens," says Myser. "But you allow the family to do what's best for them, and
that's the goal for me."
Erica Rose is director of research and development policy for the United States at
GlaxoSmithKline. She came to bioethics by a different route - starting with a B.S. in
microbiology from Pennsylvania State University and then getting a law degree
from Case Western Reserve University. Rose became interested in bioethics when
she heard that the government planned to sequence the human genome. "I felt that
there would be significant social, ethical, and legal issues," she explains, "and at
the time, I was making decisions about my own educational path. I decided I would
like to be involved with issues where policy and science intersect. At the time, there
wasn't a real field, but I hoped that there would be."
Rose worked first in the department of microbiology at Hershey Medical Center at
Penn State, studying human genetics, and then began working for the U.S.
Congress analyzing policy issues related to genetics for the Office of Technology
Assessment (since closed). "At the time, Smith Kline Beacham [now
GlaxoSmithKline] was looking for someone with experience in genetics as well as
policy issues, and there weren't many people who met that description."
"We look at issues that could threaten research activities, or if we are fortunate,
that could benefit and encourage biomedical research," she says. Right now, much
of her work focuses on medical privacy issues and protecting human subjects.
Like Myser, Rose believes that choosing the right training to become a bioethicist
depends mainly on the person's own skills and desires. "I think there is great value
in understanding biomedical research if you are going to work in policy
development," she says. "As in any area, it's much easier to develop policy if you
understand the underlying research."
"There's a lot of critical analysis involved," she says. "That's one thing many people
with legal training find attractive. There are a lot of different interests that need to
be protected and you want everyone to win." She adds: "I don't know many who do
this as a day job. It really does require that you put your heart and soul into
overcoming what may seem like insurmountable obstacles. As odd as it sounds,
what it requires is analytical thinking and passion."
When asked what she'd say to critics of the pharmaceutical companies, Rose
responds, "If people are critical of the industry itself, I don't know how they could
ever expect to change it if no one is working internally to bring about change. By
my having a role at GSK, I hope to help research move forward and help the
industry become one of the leading voices in developing protections for patients
As training programs become more specialized for bioethics, the paths into the
field will become more formalized. "We're in a period where we are undergoing a
shift from being a multidisciplinary field to an interdisciplinary field," says Magnus.
"Right now, we're figuring out what the mix of disciplines within the field should be."
With Penn and other schools now offering undergraduate majors and
concentrations in bioethics, and with even some high schools offering bioethics
courses, he says, "There will be a new generation of people who took bioethics
from age 18 or younger and went on to get a Ph.D."
Jokes Tod Chambers, assistant professor of medical ethics and humanities at
Northwestern University, whose career path began with religious studies and who
has considered issues like surgery on babies born with ambiguous genitalia and
the implications of drugs like Prozac: "Eventually, our dream is that there will be a
bioethicist in every family."
Maia Szalavitz is a health/science journalist who has written for the New York
Times, the Washington Post, Newsday, New York Magazine, Salon, and other
Watch Your Extremities - The Real Survivor
David Bradley - August 3, 2001 · Issue 108
Abstract: The extreme cold and isolation of Antarctica creates a unique
environment and opportunity for scientific study. In this article, the author explores
what it's like to do research in one of the most remote places on Earth.
You can't get there from here. Not easily, anyway. Night follows day and lasts for
several months of the year, and the nearest supplies and spare parts are
thousands of air miles away. Moreover, the risk of losing your extremities to
frostbite is high even in the middle of summer. But if you fancy abandoning the
attractions of city life and seeking solace in the seeming cold and isolation, then
Antarctica may be the place for you. You have to be dedicated and love the
science you are studying, perhaps even more than the scientist back home. But for
some, the extreme conditions are part of the attraction.
Antarctic discoveries like the ozone hole and collapsing ice shelves fire the public
imagination with fears of imminent global catastrophe, but as with much popular
science, the headline grabbers are really only the tip of a very big iceberg. There
are almost as many types of scientists carrying out the same diverse range of
studies in the last continent as elsewhere in the world. Climatologists do everything
from studying the changing depth of ozone high above their heads to digging out
columns of ancient frozen mud from deep beneath the ice in the hope of tracking
prehistoric weather. Ecologists, meanwhile, watch everything from penguins and
seals to polychaetes and stygarctidae.
Glaciologists observe collapsing ice shelves while mineralogists assess inorganic
content. Micropaleontologists, geochemists, historians, and even cosmologists
watch over the fallout from supernovae. Medical researchers, too, spend time
keeping a weather eye on the health of the inmates of various research centers.
The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) says there are about 5,000 international
scientists from 27 national research organizations working on the continent during
any one year. The BAS - as well as such stations as the United States' Mac Town
(formally known as McMurdo), Russia's Vostok Station, the coldest and most
isolated place on Earth, or Germany's Georg von Neumayer station - serves the
scientific community with various observations of Antarctica. The Antarctic ice
sheet covers an area the size of the United States and Mexico combined, so there
is still plenty of open, desolate space out there.
The BAS recruitment literature claims that scientists working in Antarctica are
actually among the fittest in the world, and that since Antarctica is far from sources
of pollution and disease, it is probably the healthiest place in the world. You don't
get to work there if you are past your prime, prefer the soothing climate of warmer
climes, have a weakness of spirit, or simply fail the rigorous medical tests that
research organizations such as BAS put you through before you are posted to the
"I became fascinated by the ability of microbes to thrive at extremes," says BAS
scientist Alison George, "and jumped at the chance of working on Antarctic
bacteria 'in the field.' " Like many other visitors, she was apprehensive of her first
visit. "I have only visited the Antarctic once, but then for 18 continuous months. I
was apprehensive of committing so much time to somewhere so very different from
anything I had known." She was excited, however and, "pretty sure that I'd like it,
having fallen in love with the place from colleagues' descriptions."
The Antarctic truly provides researchers with an "extreme" environment in which to
work - in many senses of the word. Jennifer Skerratt of the Antarctic Marine
Microbial Biotechnology Program in Hobart, Tasmania worked as a volunteer for
Australia's CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research
Organization) marine research after completing her degree, and siezed the chance
to work there. "Hobart is the 'gateway to the Australian Antarctic,'" she explains,
"so it was really a case of being in the right place at the right time." Her stay was
for five months. "I only knew of two other people who had been there, and they
were both experienced, older, male scientists, so being a young female, I wasn't
sure what to expect," Skerratt says. BAS' George adds, "After a few weeks of
feeling homesick and getting used to the new culture and language - yes,
Antarcticans have their own vocabulary - I loved the atmosphere on base."
Skerratt's research involves isolating cold-adapted enzymes from bacteria. "These
have potential in various food processing, bioremediation, and janitorial industrial
applications," she explains. "For instance, as low-temperature biological washing
powders or potential medical products."
Skerratt was worried that it might be dangerous, but her biggest fear was of the
unknown. "I had no comprehension of what it would be like," she confessed to
HMS Beagle. But her fears were quickly allayed on arrival. "It is still the most
spectacular place I have ever been to - haunting, untouched, and extreme. I felt
that it was so spectacular that I could never fully absorb and appreciate the
Carol Mancuso Nichols was also astounded by the beauty of the Antarctic. She
became involved with research there when she was invited to participate in an
expedition to study Ace Lake in the Vestfold Hills near the Australian Antarctic
Base, Davis. "The trip to Antarctica was a wonderful opportunity to be involved in
an exciting project in a magnificent environment," she enthuses. "I was
apprehensive about being far from loved ones, but the day-to-day excitement
helped to pass the time."
Ace Lake has a lot of secrets to reveal, microbiologically speaking. "It is one of the
few meromictic lakes in the world," explains Mancuso Nichols. "It is ice-covered
nearly all year long, and as a result, the top and bottom waters don't mix." This
means that there are layers within the lake, and about halfway down, there is no
oxygen, so the microorganisms that live at this depth are peculiar. "I am using lipid
markers to characterize the community structure of these microorganisms," she
The conditions in this extreme environment can be stressful, and this is often a
major determinant of one's immune response. Researchers such as Desmond
Lugg of the Australian Antarctic Division have observed physiological changes in
the staff and scientists spending prolonged periods there. Lugg has measured
alterations in T cell function as well as other immunological changes that might
explain the reduced cognition, mood disturbances, increased energy requirements,
and a decline in thyroid activity recorded by other researchers.
Randall Hyer, now a civil military liaison officer at the World Health Organization in
Geneva, overwintered as a U.S. Navy physician at Mac Town. This most remote of
all earthbound medical postings makes telemedicine crucial to good practice.
Radio, fax, and now the Internet can save lives among workers in Antarctica when
serious and life-threatening illnesses emerge. "During my winter," Hyer says, "we
had coronary artery disease, acute appendicitis, hip dislocation, and complicated
Colles' fracture of the forearm, among others." All medical problems that occur
anywhere in the world can arise - with the possible exception of heatstroke - and
the lack of a local city hospital can make a simple problem into a real emergency.
Most important in riding out such emergencies is the personal contact with outside
specialists. "I knew many of the specialists personally, and this human connection
was my most important asset," Hyer explains.
Hyer was also apprehensive of the isolation, darkness, and whether he could
handle medical emergencies. "The isolation is the hardest. It is the lack of new
personalities and energy that wears people down,' he says. He points out that
seasonal affective disorder is rampant, although overt depression is rare. He adds
that compensating for that is the fact that the long, dark winter beginning in March
and running through August actually has "a nice, cozy feeling." In addition, those
who overwinter are rewarded with aurora australis, the moon, the stars, and "an
untouched, unpolluted, pristine beauty that I will never forget."
For many scientists working in the Antarctic, much of their work is quite physical. A
degree of mechanical competency and a bit of lateral thinking are called for when
things go wrong, which, according to Skerratt, they often do. "There is a need to be
able to get on well with other people from a variety of backgrounds - mechanics,
scientists, public servants, chefs, and others," she adds. At each station, workers
are essentially confined to a microcosm, and "people skills" come to the fore.
Mancuso Nichols agrees. "Living very closely with the people you are 'thrown
together with' is very interesting - a mix of scientists, technical support people, and
trades people." A lack of privacy means that you get to know your colleagues
rather well. "I'd say lifetime friendships were formed in my four months in the
Antarctic," Nichols adds. But not everyone wants to be so close. "There was very
little privacy," points out BAS' George. "In the summer, with up to 100 people on
base, I was sharing a room with three others. Despite being in one of the most
remote locations in the world, it was very hard to 'get away from it all.' You couldn't
disappear off on your own, for safety reasons."
Having the rare ability to enjoy oneself under such difficult conditions can be very
beneficial, as Skerratt can testify. "We were collecting samples on the ice one day
when it was below freezing and blowing so hard we could only just stand up," she
laughs. "The seawater was freezing on us as soon as it touched our clothes, and
the wind was so strong I had to hold the bottle to be filled on a horizontal plane,
and the water flowed in, in a perfect straight horizontal line. It was a difficult day,
but it's a memory of sampling that I won't forget." In stark contrast, the scientists
tend to wear shorts and T-shirts indoors.
The experience is not always fun and games. "We spent a summer at Davis,
although it took six weeks to get there since we were stuck in the ice for four
weeks!" says Mancuso Nichols. "We took three weeks to get back, via Casey
Station, which left only six weeks to collect profiles of water column bacteria and
sediment cores. That meant several helicopter chases to and from the lake."
George offers some perspective on being a scientist in the Antarctic: "In the
company of the same people for so long, wearing practical clothes and no makeup,
I felt that gender became less and less of an issue. Being there makes you realize
what stupid games we play back in the so-called 'civilized' world."
David Bradley, a freelance science writer, lives on the edge of Silicon Fen north of
Cambridge, United Kingdom. Elemental Discoveries is his Webzine of science
news, views, and interviews.
"It's the Dilithium Crystals, Captain!" - Science on the
David Bradley - September 14, 2001 · Issue 110
Abstract: Many of us who became scientists may credit TV shows and movies such
as Star Trek or The X-Files with sparking our inital interest in science. But who are
the people who make the science in these shows realistic and believable? And
how does one make the transition from scientist to movie consultant?
Occasionally, I get a call from a TV researcher. "You're a science expert, right?"
They might flatteringly inquire before I can deny everything they're asking. "So, can
time travel ever work?" "What about a cure for cancer?" "Does acid dissolve
glass?" "Is there a pill we can give our lead character to stifle a voracious libido
that's ruining the plot?" Plot? We're talking never-ending soap operas here.
Sometimes, I can answer; sometimes, I point them to a real scientist who might be
able to help with the script's scientific accuracy.
I am still awaiting that call from Spielberg, of course, but there are many scientists
who provide advice on the technological and scientific continuity of TV shows and
movies - most do it informally, others make a career of it. But the real reward is in
ensuring that the science is credible while still allowing us to suspend our disbelief.
There are many movies, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Apollo 13, where
attention to detail is very high - for instance, the sound inside the spacesuits in
2001 or the free-fall behavior of objects in the spaceship. "You can tell someone
(probably Clarke) was paying close attention to such details," says software
developer and science-fiction movie fan Steve DeGroof of Raleigh, North Carolina.
Of course, the director Stanley Kubrick was also well known for his mathematic
ability and incisive knowledge of physics. It is easy to label as nitpicking pedants
those who notice seemingly minor details, but we expect to see accuracy in other
walks of life depicted in the cinema and on TV, so why not scientific aspects too?
One of four "comet advisers" for the movie Deep Impact, helping to maintain
accuracy, was Joshua Colwell, an astronomer in the Laboratory for Atmospheric
and Space Physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Colwell initially
provided some informal, free advice to the producers through his brother, who
happened to be first assistant director on the movie. "My brother had questions
about some aspects of the script," he explains, "asked me for my scientific opinion,
and relayed that to the producers." Eventually the producers realized they needed
astronomy consultants in addition to the NASA consultants they already had and
hired Colwell and three other scientists to serve as "comet advisers." Colwell
reckons his broad knowledge of the field and a willingness to come up with
innovative yet plausible ideas helped make the movie more realistic than it might
otherwise have been. "It is, after all, their movie, and I believe the consultant's role
is to find a way to make their movie as accurate and plausible as possible," he told
Colwell describes how the consultative process ranged from eradicating minor
errors, such as correcting star names, to ensuring that the comet took a realistic
timeline on its Earth-bound journey. "I was sent every revision of the script, and I
would provide corrections and comments to each revision," Colwell explains. As to
any glossing of the script at the expense of science, he calculated that there was
certainly a possibility of being blown off the comet by a "jet," but that this would
happen "nowhere near as quickly as is shown in the movie."
It is not just space movies where accuracy is important. Wright State University's
John Fortman, in the Chemistry Department, specializes in rifling through the
cinematic test tubes. Two films he cites as having been well advised are The Man
in the White Suit starring Alec Guinness (1952) and It Happens Every Spring
starring Ray Miland (1949). "Most newer films," Fortman adds, "seem to not care
about details." He agrees with DeGroof that Apollo 13 does a good job, as does
Lorenzo's Oil, but emphasizes that too many are like Dante's Peak, "full of
impossibilities, such as acid water dissolving the aluminum boat and stainless steel
Although Fortman is keen on the science in the older movies, University of
California at Berkeley cinema lecturer Sofia Hussain suggests that, "In the 1950s,
the science in sci-fi movies such as The Fly and Godzilla was 'handwaved'; most
movies were pure entertainment and did not try to explain how real something was
or how it worked. They just had an old male professor spout out some gibberish,"
she explains. "Some movies still do this today," she laments. Hussain admits that
there are exceptions to the rule. "Movies such as Deep Impact try to get the
science right," she says. "The figures about the mass of the asteroid, the velocity it
was traveling, and even some of the predictions about the impact were good."
"Attention to details (of any kind) is just one of the multitude of things that
differentiates a mediocre film and a potentially great one," says movie fan Jeremy
Lichtman, a computer programmer at Cherniak Software in Thornhill, Ontario.
Poetic license is perfectly acceptable, though, under certain conditions. "I'm willing
to suspend my disbelief with regard to things that are critical to the plotline of a
movie," he says, "particularly if the movie has a good storyline and acting going for
it." But poetic license can only be taken so far and, where laboratories are
concerned, the mistakes are sometimes incredible, as Fortman has found. He says
it can be laughable at times; in Medicine Man, for example, the functioning of the
gas chromatograph is totally implausible, providing the scientists with instant
baseline resolution, identification of nonvolatile ionic inorganics like iron sulfate,
and the structure identification of a "mystery" peak.
On a show like The X-Files, where science is often the story, the producers pride
themselves on getting it right. University of Maryland virologist Anne Simon, in the
Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics, is a science adviser for the
The X-Files TV show and movie. She got involved through an old friendship with
producer-writer-director Chris Carter. "Carter likes my knowledge of genetics,
molecular biology, virology, and plants," she explains. But she points out that
getting into this kind of consultancy work can be a purely chance event.
The kinds of questions a director might ask of a consultant are, "How can Scully
show that she is infected by an alien organism?" or "How can you make a
genetically superior soldier?" Simon offers Carter some ideas, and the scripts
evolve. She also reads through his scripts and corrects any scientific mistakes.
Other script advisers reckon the knowledge level required is often fairly basic.
Andre Bormanis, a physicist by training and script consultant for the TV series Star
Trek: The Next Generation, describes it as "'first order' knowledge of physics,
astronomy, chemistry, biology." Bormanis took screenwriting classes and was
pitching his scripts when his agent found out that the TV studio needed an adviser.
"Sometimes I have to do research or call a specialist in a field I'm not familiar with -
medicine especially - to provide the writers what they need," he told HMS Beagle.
It is not all space and aliens in the world of science in the movies though. Biologist
Stuart Sumida of California State University at San Bernardino's Department of
Biology has worked on a whole raft of movies, from animated features Prince of
Egypt and the Lion King to live action George of the Jungle and Hollowman and to
the semianimated Stuart Little (and its in-production sequel, the imaginatively
named Stuart Little 2). He is a paleontologist and comparative anatomist focusing
on the evolution and functional morphology of the first terrestrial vertebrates; as
such, his expertise in the field has been invaluable to animators. "My comparative
anatomical and reconstructive perspectives have 'preadapted' me to explaining
anatomical structure and function to animators who have to build convincing
organismal movement with component parts as well, this time on screen," he
Sumida, like many other script advisers, snuck into Hollywood through a side door.
The first film he worked on was Beauty and the Beast, having been recommended
to the producers by friend and respected critic Charles Solomon. "Since then,
something of a 'coevolution' has occurred between the artists (and studios) and
myself - they learning how to tap my expertise as a scientist and me focusing on
their particular needs," explains Sumida. He reckons advisers will be in continual
demand. "I expect that we will continue to do such work as the standards in both
traditional hand-drawn animation and computer graphics are continually rising," he
says, "especially with photorealistic special effects; computer artists have an even
greater need to understand skeletons than do others, as the skeleton is the model
for an underlying wire frame."
Sumida reckons on a consulting fee of between $50 and $100 for a half-hour
session or long phone call. A few hundred dollars for a presentation and, of course,
expenses for any travel, accommodation, meals, and additional compensation for
being away from home and work. He points out, however, that for the amateur
adviser there is a potential trip wire that would expose the unscrupulous. "All
consulting must be secondary to [one's] primary job of teaching, research, and
administration at the university; so, much is done over holiday breaks, summers,
weekends, and evenings."
Although film producers have no moral obligation to get the science right, Colwell
believes scientific accuracy is extremely important. "Many people's ideas about
what is and what is not realistic and possible are formed almost exclusively by
popular culture depictions," he explains. "That's not a good thing." He suggests that
being able to tell the same story in an accurate way does the movie and the
audience a service. Bormanis also believes that reality checks are vital. "I always
try to ensure our representation of interstellar space - the nature and scale of stars,
planets, nebulae, etc. - is consistent with what's been established observationally
by the Hubble Space Telescope and other modern instruments," he explains.
"The more realistically things are portrayed," says Colwell, "the better it is for
everyone - producers and public alike. The basic premise of Deep Impact is
scientifically sound in that life on Earth faces a threat due to comet and asteroid
impacts. That threat might be mitigated through observation and destruction or
deflection of the object with nuclear bombs. The fact that the movie made an effort
to portray all this realistically helps convey this message to the public and raise
awareness of a real issue. In contrast, Armageddon, while about the same threat,
is so completely off base on so many fundamental aspects of reality that, on its
own, it is dismissed as pure fantasy in its entirety. The reality of the threat of
asteroid impact in that movie is completely lost in the clutter of physical nonsense,"
Others take the view that in the end, "fictional inaccuracy" is an oxymoron. "In a
story like Jurassic Park," author Michael Crichton says, "to complain of inaccuracy
is downright weird. Nobody can make a dinosaur. Therefore, the story is a fantasy.
How can accuracy have any meaning in a fantasy? " In that movie, the scientific
script consultants can, at best, guess at the color of a dinosaur's skin or the sounds
it makes, even the position of its nostrils .
Hussain, however, disagrees. "Although many movies like Jurassic Park should be
considered fantasy they still try to bring reality into it by using parts of scientific
theory to explain the plot," she says. "This can be confusing to inquisitive minds in
the audience who want to learn more about science, hearbits of truth they already
know, and mix the unknown fiction with the facts."
The problem stretches to the characters themselves and not just the test tubes
they wield. French Anderson, of the Department of Medicine at the University of
Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, was the scientific consultant on
Gattaca. Anderson is a very well-known name in the field and is referred to as the
"father of gene therapy," so he was perhaps an obvious "name" for the producers
to turn to for advice on genetic accuracies. "Gail Lyon of Jersey Films called and
asked me to consult on Gattaca," he told HMS Beagle. "They wanted a 'reality
check' on the science. Andrew Nichols had done a superb job, and I had little to
contribute except my enthusiastic support of the film and its message." Anderson
believes that the characters can strongly influence viewers, though. "Whether
appropriate or not, young people get a lot of their ideas about careers and what
"being a [particular person]" would be like from movies and television," he explains,
adding that the likes of "Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey were major draws of young
people into medicine a number of years ago, for example."
Bormanis believes the problem, as it is, lies in the fact that movies and TV are
generally interested in dramatic or otherwise extraordinary people. "From a
dramatist's point of view, the priest who's lived decently and honorably all his life is
much less interesting than the one who's giving in to the temptation to break his
vows. The same kind of thing is true with scientists." Anderson adds that scientists
and doctors are people like everyone else with the same virtues and flaws as
everyone else. "With science requiring team efforts nowadays, the isolated
'scientist' doing something significant either good or bad is highly unlikely," he
"Sci-fi for fun, or sci-fi for education?" asks Hussain, "The best thing to do is better
educate before seeing the movies, so we can all sit back and enjoy the show.
David Bradley, a freelance science writer, lives on the edge of Silicon Fen north of
Cambridge, United Kingdom. Elemental Discoveries is his Webzine of science
news, views, and interviews.
1. Why Science Is Media-Dumb: The Story by Michael Crichton; an address
recorded at the American Association for the Advancement of Science on January
25, 1999, and broadcast on the Science Show on April 3, 1999.
2. Stokstad, E. Dinosaur nostrils get a hole new look . Science 292(5531):779
Making Teamwork Work - The Importance of Diverse
Robert W. Wallace - September 28, 2001 · Issue 111
Abstract: An academic scientist accustomed to the freedom of his own lab, the
author was taken aback by having to deal with the different styles of members of a
corporate research team. But with a little insight into his own psychological type, he
found that this diversity actually enhanced innovation.
The conference room was packed with members of the compound development
team. I was the new scientist in the group, having recently made the move from a
medical school faculty to the biochemical division of a major pharmaceutical
company, and I was still trying to get my bearings. Surrounding me were scientists
from departments of chemistry, pharmaceutics, pharmacology, drug development
and metabolism, and biology. Even marketing, regulatory affairs, and a department
called quality assessment had representatives assigned to the team. Collectively,
we were charged with selecting the most promising compound from a yearlong
screening effort, proposing additional experiments, and collecting the necessary
supporting data to propose it as a new drug candidate to senior management.
As I sat through the first of what were to be many weekly team meetings, I
reflected on how different the corporate world was from the university environment
to which I had become accustomed. As an academic with tenure, I worked with
great autonomy. As long as grant money flowed into my small laboratory, I could
pursue any line of research that struck my fancy, and I could proceed at my own
pace and follow my own proclivity. Sure, I sometimes worked as a member of a
team, usually with postdocs or graduate students, but I was the senior person.
There was a clear-cut pecking order, and if I chose, I could have my way in making
critical decisions. This was different; here we were peers with different areas of
expertise. We had to make decisions and act through consensus.
In addition, there were great differences in temperament among the members of
the team. Some would have been delighted to spend the afternoon trudging
through the details of spreadsheet after spreadsheet of experimental detail. Others
seemed immersed in the minutiae of the assay methodology, without any apparent
appreciation or understanding of the overall biological pathway that the chemical
compounds were designed to perturb - the theoretical underpinning of the project,
to my mind. Some team members seemed to devote inordinate attention to
comparing every result to data from previous projects, while another group tuned
out the details of the assay or past data and focused on the remotest possibilities
for utilization or chemical modification of the compounds and the most arcane
connections to other successful drugs. Some members sat quietly taking in the
presentations that afternoon, while others were vocal, expanding upon or
challenging the material presented.
Participating on this team was going to be a totally different and demanding
experience, and I felt very uncomfortable. My response was to retreat into my
favored role as a quiet, analytical observer. As the afternoon wore on, I behaved as
if I had climbed into an imaginary submarine, executed an emergency dive, and
was observing the proceedings through the safety of a periscope, as I quietly
mulled it all over in my mind.
As time progressed, I became more comfortable with my new team environment
and at times even reveled in interacting with such a diverse group. It was not until
later, however, while taking company-sponsored management training courses,
that I really began to understand and appreciate the team dynamic. Although
initially I had been taken aback by the diversity of personal styles on the team, I
discovered that the interaction of individuals with different styles and
temperaments, as well as different professional expertise, is what provides
synergy. That is, it's what makes the overall ability of the team much greater than
just the sum of the abilities of the individual members.
"Each of us has a preferred temperament that seems to be 'hardwired' and can be
identified in early childhood," says Susan Nash, a training specialist, consultant,
and author of Turning Team Performance Inside Out: Team Types and
Temperament for High-Impact Results. In this book, Nash describes the four basic
temperaments - Artisan, Guardian, Rational, and Idealist - which were first
delineated by David West Keirsey, a behavioral scientist who developed the
modern theory of temperament in 1956 in his book Please Understand Me:
Character & Temperament Types.
Each of the four temperaments has distinct strengths and potential weaknesses.
"The power of the team dynamic is in the combination of the strengths of all four
temperaments," says Nash. It allows the team to approach a problem with many
more perspectives than are possessed by any one individual, and it compensates
for the potential weakness of any one person's approach. Of course, this dynamic
depends on the team's actually being composed of people with different
temperaments. If a team leader does not understand the importance of a variety of
temperaments and selects only members with temperaments like his own, team
interactions will likely be more comfortable, but much less productive.
The concept of temperament is based on an understanding of psychological types
first identified by psychologist Carl G. Jung in the early 1900s. "This work sprang
originally from my need to define the ways in which my outlook differed from
Freud's and Adler's. In attempting to answer this question, I came across the
problem of types; for it is one's psychological type which from the outset
determines and limits a person's judgment," wrote Jung in his Memories, Dreams,
Reflections. His book Psychologische typen was published in 1921; an English
translation, subtitled "The Psychology of Individuation," appeared in 1923.
Jung's theory was elaborated upon and made accessible to the general public in
the United States by the mother-daughter team Katharine C. Briggs and Isabel
Briggs Myers. Today the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) instrument, a 94-item
questionnaire of preferences, is used to identify quickly a person's psychological
type, which can then be related to temperament. The MBTI is designed to identify
the preference for four pairs of Jungian functions, which reflect preferred ways of
relating to the world, collecting information, and making decisions. Each of the four
functions has two possibilities, giving a total of 16 distinct psychological types.
The best known of the Jungian functions is the pair termed Introversion (I) and
Extroversion (E). If a person prefers to focus on the world outside the self, or is
energized when interacting with other people, then the term Extroversion would
apply. If an individual prefers to focus on an inner world or gains energy by tuning
in to her inner dialogue, the opposite, Introversion, applies. Frequently the
extroverted individual will spend nonwork time in activities that involve interacting
with other people; the introvert, on the other hand, will recharge her batteries in
more solitary pursuits and may require down-time alone in order to feel refreshed
The functions that describe how we gather information are termed Sensing (S) and
Intuiting (N). A person who prefers to gather information using the various senses
is considered a Sensing type, while a person who prefers to use intuition is termed
Intuitive. The Sensing person tends to look for a concrete basis for information.
The Intuitive person tends to focus more on finding meaning and on possibilities
and relationships, types of information for which it is more difficult to provide hard
The different ways of arriving at decisions are termed Thinking (T) and Feeling (F).
Thinking involves relying on what logic tells us regardless of whether or not we like
the decision, while Feeling is more subjective and often involves values and
The last two functions are termed Judging (J) and Perceiving (P); they describe
how one prefers to relate to the external world. A person with a Judging function
would prefer to have closure; she wants to bring things to a head and make a
decision or take an action. The Perceiving individual, on the other hand, tends to
be more flexible and open-ended. He always sees additional options to explore
before coming to a conclusion or making a decision.
My initial impression of the MBTI was that it had to be grossly oversimplified and
was therefore of little use. However, I was already enrolled in a class called
"Understanding You" in which I was to complete the MBTI to determine my own
psychological type and temperament, so I went ahead with it. My type turned out to
be INTJ, which correlates with the rational temperament. I remained skeptical until I
read the descriptors of the INTJ psychological type and the rational temperament. I
was blown away - it was a dead-on-accurate description of me - which turns out to
be not an unusual reaction of first-time users of the MBTI.
Just because the MBTI indicates that a person is a certain type, it doesn't mean
that he cannot act like a different type. It just means that another type is not that
person's preferred mode of action, and to act otherwise requires extra effort. I
certainly can and do frequently behave like an extrovert by relating to other people
and "getting out of my head," but sometimes it does exhaust me. Rarely do I gain
energy by acting like an extrovert, and I would almost always rather spend a quiet
evening at home reading or visiting with friends than going out to a social event.
One major use I found for this insight about myself is in arranging my work
schedule in a way that makes me most productive. I'm a professor at New York
University, where I once lectured four days a week. After explaining to the head of
my program the enormous toll on my INTJ psyche it took to meet classes four days
a week, I successfully negotiated the same number of lectures on a two-day-a-
week schedule. Now I expend the energy to be "on" for lectures only twice a week
(which usually exhausts me on those days) and spend the other three days
engaged in more solitary, INTJ-like pursuits such as reading, writing, and thinking.
As for the work team, it turns out that crawling into my imaginary submarine,
submerging, and becoming the quiet, analytical thinker was totally predictable for
my type and temperament. It did not mean that I was less involved or less valuable
than the more vocal members of the team, only that I had a different way of looking
at the problem, utilizing my own distinctive analytical style. On the other hand, the
group would not have benefited if the room had been filled with INTJs. Clearly, to
create the most effective team it was necessary to have members with a diversity
of types and temperaments. As the Talmud says, "We do not see things as they
are, we see them as we are. We do not hear things as they are, we hear them as
Robert W. Wallace is a freelance writer based in New York City.
Researching Undergrads - Sampling Life at the Bench
David Bradley - October 12, 2001 · Issue 112
Abstract: Undergraduate institutions across the country are emphasizing research
in their science curricula and actively encouraging students not only to carry out
leading-edge research, but to present their findings at conferences and in journals.
Many institutions run summer research schools for undergraduates where they
help those studying science get their hands dirty and sample life at the bench. But
on the whole, "real" research is left to the professors, postdocs, and graduate
students. There are, however, some centers of education that have more than a
passing interest in undergraduate research and provide their students with the
opportunity to participate fully in scientific endeavor.
Undergraduate institutions across the country have for years emphasized research
in their science curricula and actively encouraged students not only to carry out
leading-edge research, but also to present their findings at conferences and in
journals. For instance, undergraduate students Chad Williams and Matt Marvin at
Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colorado, are undertaking forensic studies
under Rick Dujay's supervision on samples from the fabled Alferd Packer murder
scene, to figure out whether Colorado's most famous cannibal was a murderer.
Other students at Mesa are investigating the link between deer mice and the lethal
hantavirus, while undergraduates at Grinnell College in Iowa are documenting
archeological finds from an early Stone Age site in Namibia, West Africa.
At Davidson College in North Carolina, one student is studying how white rats find
their way around a maze, while another is looking for clues about Alzheimer's
disease in slices of rat brain. Undertaking such research helps put the students'
studies into a scientific context and adds a real-world perspective.
Neuroscientist Julio Ramirez of Davidson College has mentored more than 85
students in the last fifteen years, with many of them assisting in his neuroscience
work on the recovery of memory following brain damage. "I think that conducting
research is the best vehicle by which we can educate our students and introduce
them to the research world," Ramirez says.
There are several predominantly undergraduate colleges and universities from
which good undergraduate research emerges. The Department of Chemistry at
Furman University in South Carolina, for instance, has an undergraduate research
program that dates back to 1968 and has inspired many other departments. Others
institutions, such as Hope College in Michigan, the College of Wooster in Ohio, and
Williams College in Massachusetts have active undergraduate researchers in
departments such as chemistry and biology.
Chemist Merle Schuh of Davidson has spent his entire career at liberal arts
colleges and says he has not had the luxury of graduate students to work on his
research ideas. "Yet," he says, "my students and I have been sufficiently
successful for nearly 40 of them to coauthor research publications." Many other
faculties at colleges and universities that do not have graduate programs have had
similar success with undergraduates. "The point is that good undergraduates, with
close supervision, can do significant research and, as a result, become interested
in pursuing a career in science," Schuh reasons.
Of course, many professors supervise both undergraduate and graduate student
research. David Durkheim (name changed) points out that while graduate students
at the doctoral level come to universities prepared to do research, undergraduates
are "lucky if they can find a professor willing to take them on in a research
capacity." However, in his experience, "those students with significant research
experience as undergraduates are better prospects for graduate education and a
career in science or another academic discipline."
Certainly, those partaking of undergraduate research can go on to achieve greater
things. For instance, University of Colorado at Boulder chemist Thomas Cech, the
1989 Nobel Prize winner for chemistry and medicine and president of the Howard
Hughes Medical Institute, is a Grinnell graduate.
Cech is not the only one. Thomas Chang's undergraduate project at McGill
University in Montreal was aimed at creating an "artificial cell." From this seed, a
whole area of research has grown with more than 70 groups worldwide, with
Chang now director of the Artificial Cells and Organ Research Center at McGill.
More students are opting for smaller schools with the option to develop research
much sooner than they might at a larger university. "Each year more and more
institutions adopt undergraduate research as a model," says Ronald Dotterer, chair
of the board of governors of the National Conference for Undergraduate Research
(NCUR), founded in 1987. "The extraordinarily steep increase in the numbers of
NCUR participants is our most impressive statistic; we grew in 12 years from 388
submissions from 130 colleges/universities (1987) to more than 2,253 submissions
(1999) from 288 institutions; we anticipate 2,200 submissions in 2001 from
approximately 300 institutions," he adds.
Mina Bissell of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories in California has
mentored many undergraduate students through research projects and has
watched as they put themselves on public display through the Internet-only Journal
of Young Investigators. The JYI covers the biological and physical sciences,
mathematics, and engineering.
According to Scott Kemp of the University of California at Santa Barbara, JYI's
current CEO, the journal has grown tremendously over the last four years, with
some 1,500 new readers each month. "More exciting," he says, "has been the
realization that JYI has become an instrument to reform undergraduate education,"
he told HMS Beagle. "Not only has JYI created awareness of undergraduate
research and its value to participating students, but JYI is bringing to light a harsh
reality regarding education - many young scientists are unable to effectively
communicate their research either to the public or their peers. Undergraduate
science education has focused so strongly on analytical skill that we have
neglected to teach our students the value of writing and the skill of distilling
complex research into palatable layman's terms."
When it comes to participation in that other branch of scientific dissemination, the
conference circuit, the NCUR provides undergraduate researchers with just that
opportunity. The organization's mission statement pledges to promote
undergraduate research scholarship and creative activity done in partnership with
faculty or other mentors as a vital component of higher education. To this end, the
association supports college and university faculty, students, and administrators by
providing opportunities for students to experience the academic process of taking
part in a scientific conference.
"For an NCUR submission, we require a faculty mentor to have been involved in
the project," says Dotterer. "Joint authorship by faculty member and student is a
natural by-product of such a collaborative investigative project. Institutions that
value undergraduate research include supervision of an undergraduate research
project and joint publications with students as factors that they specifically include
in portfolios for tenure and promotion."
Undergraduates who actively seek out the chance to do real research are often the
more highly motivated students. Durkheim points out that the ride is not easy: "In
terms of science outcomes - publications and advances - the doctoral-level
students, of course, produce the best work on average, and this only makes sense
in that they have much less to learn," he explains.
Encouraging students to conduct scientific research is much like what those in the
performing arts encourage their students to do. "It would be a tad inaccurate to
claim that you are a pianist if you've never played the instrument," Ramirez points
out. "So, too, it would be inaccurate to claim that you've been properly educated as
a scientist if you've never conducted a scientific investigation."
Jeff Buzby, an immunity researcher at the Children's Hospital of Orange County,
California and a part-time biotech consultant, agrees with Durkheim that the most
obvious difference between graduates and undergraduates is that graduate
researchers are more knowledgeable and generally more experienced, which
usually translates into greater productivity. However, there are certainly exceptions
to this rule - overachieving undergraduates, as well as underachieving graduates.
"Much depends upon the principal investigator's needs and expectations, as well,"
he points out. "An inexperienced undergraduate who works their tail off on less
technically demanding tasks can be an enormous benefit."
"An undergraduate facing his or her first research project must learn a tremendous
amount of very basic things just to get off the ground," says Durkheim. Having said
that, many undergraduates do accomplish far more than some master's-level
students. "I am a strong advocate of research opportunities for undergraduates,"
he adds. "Indeed, if such opportunities were made available to secondary school
students, we would all be better off." Schuh would not go quite so far, but still sees
value in early exposure to research. "Secondary school students know so little
about science that they cannot, in general, make much of a contribution to
science," he argues. "However, by getting such students interested in research at
their young age, we might attract some of them to research as a career."
"There are research opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students in
most major university labs, but there are many smaller college research
departments without graduate students, and they are often very productive, though
generally not as much as those with graduate programs," points out Buzby.
It is important that federal and private agencies continue to provide strong support
for exclusively undergraduate research programs. "In order to merit such
programs," says Schuh, "it is important for faculty at predominantly undergraduate
institutions to realize that we must maintain productive undergraduate research
programs that have verifiable records of success. Such success generally requires
very hard work beyond the normal expectations of our teaching and institutional
responsibilities." According to Schuh, the importance of organizations such as the
Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR), founded 1979, and NCUR cannot be
overstated, and such organizations deserve strong support by individual faculty as
well as funding agencies.
CUR, not to be confused with NCUR (although they share a common origin and
motivation), is a dues-paying organization for science, engineering, and
mathematics faculty members at primarily undergraduate institutions. "As a
volunteer organization, we draw our energy from the many faculty who believe so
deeply in the importance of [conducting] research and remaining student-centered
at the same time," says Mitch Malachowski, CUR's president-elect. CUR's mission
statement suggests that education is best served by faculty-student collaborative
research combined with investigative teaching strategies, and as such it provides
avenues for faculty development and helps administrators to improve and assess
the research environments of their institutions.
Dotterer, who sits on the CUR council as well as chairing the NCUR board, notes
two major themes in education that are relevant to undergraduate research: first,
active learning is the key to effective learning, and second, the historical missions
of universities and colleges to teach and research have too often become
separated. "Teaching colleges are practicing less research than they might, and
research universities sometimes neglect teaching their undergraduates well," he
says. "The undergraduate research movement attempts to address both of these
issues simultaneously by heightening the quality and practice of all forms of
inquiry-based education at the undergraduate level - undergraduate research,
scholarship, and creative activity."
NCUR's annual conference and the annual NCUR-Lancy grants for institutional
interdisciplinary summer research programs are two endeavors aimed at adjusting
the balance on both sides. "We believe that undergraduate research and inquiry-
based education are the pedagogies for the 21st century," Dotterer explains.
"Our goal, obviously, is not to decrease the commitment to research at research
institutions but to heighten higher education's commitment to mentoring students
who do their own investigations at all types and sizes of colleges and universities,"
adds Dotterer. "The goal of research at predominately undergraduate institutions is
similar to that found at doctoral universities," adds Malachowski, "but in addition,
we believe that student learning should be one of the explicit outcomes of faculty
"Discoveries not communicated are lost and fail to advance science; and progress
not communicated to the masses only serves to injure future science funding as
well as further the science literacy problem so prevalent in today's society," says
Kemp. "I have strong concerns that research programs for undergraduates be
continued," says Schuh. "It is important that strong funding of undergraduate
research programs be continued by governmental and private agencies."
Having undergraduates enter the world of real research and disseminate their
results benefits them considerably by broadening their education and teaching
them directly that science is not just about learning through lectures and tutorial but
also about working at the bench and making observations. And with increasingly
motivated undergraduates, more scientific innovation can begin to emerge from the
David Bradley, a freelance science writer, lives on the edge of Silicon Fen north of
Cambridge, United Kingdom. Elemental Discoveries is his Webzine of science
news, views, and interviews.
The Dynamics of Team Formation
Robert W. Wallace - October 26, 2001 · Issue 113
Abstract: In a previous article, Making Teamwork Work: The Importance of Diverse
Psychological Types, the author described the varied personalities to be found in
research teams, and how, when brought together to achieve a common goal, those
differing temperaments can combine in creative and productive ways. But what
actually happens in the course of that collaboration? Here, the author looks at
some of the pangs and processes undergone by an evolving team.
As many researchers have learned the hard way, forming a team that can function
effectively over time to achieve a difficult task is not an effortless process, and
certainly not instantaneous. Frequently, it takes more time for the diverse
individuals on the team to come together as a community than it does actually to
accomplish the work. But as Robert Reusing, acting director of programs and
services for the Foundation for Community Encouragement, says, "Community
building is a practice, much like yoga or meditation. It can be cultivated with an
The path that a group or team typically follows when seeking to become a
productive community is described by psychiatrist M. Scott Peck in his book The
Different Drum: Community Making and Peace. Peck's writings have focused
largely on the spiritual growth of individuals, and at first glance they may seem an
inappropriate model for team formation in a research or academic environment.
However, I believe that Peck's approach is very powerful in this context. To me,
there is nothing more spiritual than exploring the frontiers of our understanding of
At the end of The Different Drum, Peck describes how he believes his model
applies to a variety of different types of organizations; and numerous consultants,
such as Robert Reusing, have worked over the past 10 to 15 years to successfully
facilitate community building in private, business, and academic organizations
within a wide diversity of cultures. Manufacturing, service and high-tech companies
- even the United States Army - have used the principles of community building to
develop more effective teams, notes Reusing.
Upon first forming, a team will usually try to "fake it," writes Peck, who refers to this
stage as "pseudocommunity." "The members attempt to be an instant community
by being extremely pleasant to one another and avoiding all disagreement. . . . The
essential dynamic of pseudocommunity is conflict avoidance. . . . The basic
pretence is the denial of individual differences." Obviously this is not a state in
which individuals with the diverse personality types that make up a properly
formulated team (see Making Teamwork Work: The Importance of Diverse
Psychological Types, HMS Beagle) will be very productive. Team members
squelch what they truly think in order to avoid conflict with other members of the
group. Such reticence is a poor formula for developing novel solutions to a
pressing research problem or negotiating an effective compromise for a difficult set
of conflicting priorities. I've participated in a number of groups that never seemed to
get beyond pseudocommunity. We meet on a routine basis, go through the
motions, and are all very pleasant, but usually nothing of substance gets
accomplished. Eventually the group disintegrates as we all find more important
work to do.
After wallowing in pseudocommunity, the team, if it continues to work as a team,
may next progress into what Peck calls "chaos." As the group gets to this stage, it
becomes increasingly obvious that differences of opinion and viewpoint do exist
between the individuals in the group. This is a period where "individual differences
are, unlike those in pseudocommunity, right out in the open. Only now, instead of
trying to hide or ignore them, the group is attempting to obliterate them. . . . The
stage of chaos is a time of fighting and struggle," writes Peck. It is an unpleasant
period and carries the danger that the group may disintegrate as a functional unit.
Sometimes the team leader will be the subject of attack and, if he or she does not
understand the overall dynamic, may give up in despair, vowing that this group of
people will never be able to work together effectively.
Should the team survive the chaos phase, the next step toward community,
according to Peck's paradigm, is "emptiness." In this stage the group enters a
phase of letting go: those who felt the need to be in control of the group give up
their need to control. Individual members drop their preconceptions, expectations,
prejudices, and pet solutions to the problem at hand. In many ways this is a time of
exhaustion. The team members collectively recognize that no one person has all
the answers and begin to feel that they must come together in honesty and
sincerity to work as a single entity. Once this stage, a stage of "death" in Peck's
terminology, is reached - if it is ever reached - then it is but a short jaunt into
In community, the team is ready to do its work. The team is now a safe place,
where widely diverse opinions and approaches may be expressed and are
welcomed. Now, each individual is free to make his or her unique contribution to
the work of the team as a whole. At this stage the group's effectiveness and
creativity are at their maximum and the team is much more than the sum of the
individual members' contributions. Community can be a time of great synergy.
Brainstorming can be very effective as novel ideas emerge because each
individual feels free to make his or her contribution to the vision of the group. Once
the group finds its way into community, the actual work that the group needs to
accomplish frequently gets done rapidly, and problems that once seem impossible
to solve often are found to have obvious solutions.
Unfortunately, this community phase may be fleeting. Ongoing teams may move
from community all the way back to pseudocommunity or chaos, and then have to
work their way back through emptiness and into community, again and again over
the life of the team. There seems to be no way to permanently freeze the team in
community; the team-building process must continue throughout the life of the
The standard model for stages of team development in organizations, which is
routinely taught in team-management courses, is the forming, storming, norming,
and performing paradigm. In many ways it is similar to Peck's model: forming
compares to pseudocommunity, storming to chaos, and performing to community.
The big difference between the models, says Robert Reusing, are the stages of
norming and emptiness. In norming, the members of the group may finally
understand its task, or else one dominant member of the group may persuade the
other members that their vision is the best and everyone follows. Emptiness, on the
other hand, consists of all the team members letting go of their individual agendas
to allow something to emerge from the group as a whole that may be unexpected
and highly innovative.
The standard forming, storming, norming, performing paradigm is likely to be found
in organizations where a centralized "command-and-control" management style is
dominant. The community-building paradigm described by Peck, on the other
hand, will only work in organizations where the individual team members are fully
empowered to work as integral members of the team rather than an extension or
representative of a manager who is outside of the team.
Robert W. Wallace is a freelance writer based in New York City.
Deep, Deep Down
David Bradley - November 9, 2001 · Issue 114
Abstract: What is the motivation for cramming oneself into a tiny capsule and diving
to the bottom of the sea? In this article, the author explores why scientists go deep
and the thrill that keeps them going back.
How do scientists cope under pressure in the depths of the ocean, in a place
where the only natural light is the product of bioluminescence?
Plumbing of the ocean depths began in earnest in the 1930s with the invention of
the bathysphere. Built by New York explorers William Beebe and Otis Barton, the
device was little more than a two-ton steel ball dangling from cables attached to a
ship. In 1934, Beebe and Barton dived to almost a kilometer below the sea surface
off the coast of Bermuda and piped details of their findings through a telephone to
the crew up top. They reported sightings of fish and invertebrates whose like
science had never seen before, which have inspired generations of scientists to
Paul Tyler of the Oceanography Centre at Southampton University in England is a
marine biologist who dives regularly and has tried out all the deep-sea
submersibles except the Japanese Shinkai. "It's like sitting in a refrigerated VW
Beetle without the seats," he says. "There are normally three of you in a two-meter
sphere with three portals to look out of; as you get deeper, you put more and more
clothes on, but it's fantastic, priceless." But a 4,000-meter dive can take three
hours to reach the seabed, "so you sleep, read, or chat. But once you reach the
bottom, time flies past because you don't want to waste a second, you're so busy -
you're either collecting, photographing, or setting up experiments," Tyler adds.
Even graduate students can go deep. Coral biologist Scott France of the College of
Charleston in South Carolina made an early start in diving. "My Ph.D. studies
included research on dispersal of crustaceans between hydrothermal vents," he
explains. "Within eight months of arriving at the Scripps Institution of
Oceanography, I made a dive in Alvin to 3,800 meters." Alvin is a submersible
operating out of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. France realized that no
amount of reading would have prepared him for the experience. "I was ecstatic," he
exclaims. "I was an explorer venturing to a place on Earth that virtually no other
human had seen before, witness to an environment completely alien to most
For some, the experience can be quite out of this world. "It takes a few hours to
descend to the bottom and is very eerie," says Emma Jones, a fish behaviorist at
the FRS Marine Laboratory in Aberdeen, Scotland. "The sub tends to creak as it
sinks, which can be a bit disconcerting." She revisited a dead whale that had been
"planted" on the sea floor 18 months previously. "The skeleton was a very spooky
sight," she says. "We were collecting bone samples to see what had colonized
them, [taking] sediment samples, sucking up amphipods, and filming."
Submersibles are certainly not the most luxurious way to travel, notes geologist
Paul Aharon of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, who has just returned
from diving in the Atlantic in Alvin. "It is an uncomfortable ride inside the
submersible with three people crammed in among the oxygen tanks, carbon
dioxide scrubbers, and electronic consoles," he explains. "Last dive I almost got
hypothermia because I forgot to take long pants with me," he confesses. "I worked
at 3 degrees Celsius with no possibility of moving my legs for over 8 hours!"
He and Tyler also point out that there are some rather personal problems that face
anyone on a submersible. "There is always the question of vital body functions
such as urinating," Aharon muses. "In addition, the air we breathe has less oxygen
and more CO2 than the atmosphere, to prevent sudden ignitions. The results are
headaches, memory lapses, and slowdowns in brain functions."
Alvin is a titanium-hulled submersible that can remain submerged for 10 hours
under normal conditions, although its life-support system will allow the sub and its
occupants to remain underwater for 72 hours. It makes about 150 dives every year.
There are several other equally adept submersibles, including the Clelia and the
Johnson Sea-Links I and II, which are run by the Harbor Branch Oceanographic
Institution (HBOI). There is also the Japanese craft Shinkai 6500, which weighs
almost 26 tons and can descend, as its name suggests, to a depth of 6,500
meters. Shinkai, like the others, carries the requisite TV cameras, temperature and
depth sensors, still cameras, and navigational devices. But riding Shinkai can be a
lonely experience, because there is room for just one diver.
Discomfort aside, it is the wonder that keeps the scientists going back for more.
"You don't realize what a unique experience entering 'inner space' is," says Tyler. "I
went to Axial Seamount on the Juan de Fuca Ridge, which is actually the
shallowest of my study sites, at about 1,550 meters," says Maia Tsurumi, who
recently finished her Ph.D. on hot-vent ecology with Verena Tunnicliffe at the
University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. "Getting to go down to the
bottom in a sub was amazing - definitely one of the highlights of my grad career."
The sites can be almost beyond belief, it seems. "The most fantastic biological site
I have seen in my life is a tube worm pillar," Tyler adds. "It is just unbelievable, 14
meters high and 5 meters in diameter - it's just enormous, covered in these tube
Visual ecologist Tamara Frank of HBOI made her first dive in 1992, and is now
studying the effects of light on the daytime depth distributions of organisms with
colleague Edie Widder. At the moment, their dives need go no deeper than 1,000
meters, but Frank is hoping also to collect benthic animals, which would mean
much deeper dives. "Most dives in the submersible are fascinating; seeing these
spectacular organisms in their natural habitat is just the most amazing experience
in the world," she says. "Once you pass through the air-water interface, you're
surrounded by seawater, and don't even realize that you're looking through a
Plexiglas sphere because the refractive index of Plexiglas is the same as that of
seawater. . . . there's none of this 'looking out of little tiny portals' if you're lucky
enough to be in the front of the JSL [Johnson Sea-Links]. And the seats are very
Aharon is also enthusiastic. "There are too many rewards to count. First, we
descend for hours without lights, to conserve electricity, and we'll see all kinds of
eerie bioluminescence with psychedelic colors. It is a wonderful experience!" "I
wish I had more time to just sit and observe," laments Frank, "but on most of our
dives in the Gulf of Maine, we immediately have to start transects, which are
exhausting, because you're straining to identify organisms that pass through the
transect area as the sub goes through the water." She confesses that science
sometimes obstructs the view. "Both Edie and I have seen beautiful, gelatinous
organisms during these transects, but couldn't stop to film or observe them
because data collection always has priority, and that's sometimes frustrating."
Takeshi Matsumoto of the Japan Marine Science and Technology Center
(JAMSTEC), which operates the Shinkai submersible, agrees that underwater
observation is a busy game. "The most serious problem during a dive is the
restriction of diving survey time," he explains. "Observers have to accomplish
everything within a few hours during the dive. Planning and preparation are
essential." Jones agrees: "Because research vessels cost so much to run, and
weather can change so quickly, you do feel you have to make use of every minute
available to do your science."
So what is the motivation for cramming yourself into a tiny capsule and diving to
the bottom of the sea? "I was always fascinated by the abyss and grabbed the
opportunity when it came my way," Aharon says. "I guess my initial attraction
started in childhood when I read about [Jules Verne's] Captain Nemo." Tsurumi
agrees that the deep can affect you profoundly: "There is nothing so romantic and
exciting as going somewhere seemingly totally inaccessible," she says. Aharon is
totally hooked. "It's an addiction, once you start going down (and hopefully, coming
up again)," he says.
It is not always so dreamy, though. One of the more frustrating aspects of deep-
sea science is not diving, as Southampton University oceanographer Mark Varney
explains: "I went on an expedition to the central Indian Ocean in June, and found
the entire trip something of an ordeal. The weather was bad for most of the period,
and the science wasn't terribly successful."
Indeed, extremely rough conditions are perhaps the worst aspect of doing research
at sea. "On our Indian Ocean trip we were blown out on two occasions, to
Indonesia and then towards Australia; both [times it] took several days to get back
on to station," says Varney. Tyler points out that "bad weather and, very
occasionally, malfunctions are the only things that stop us diving." But, Frank
notes, the hazards of diving are overrated. "I find it much more terrifying driving in
Boston than diving in a submersible," she asserts, "At least in a submersible,
you're being 'driven' by a professional, there's no 'traffic' to worry about, and you
know the vehicle has been through an enormous number of safety checks."
France, too, is not perturbed by the potential dangers. "My desire to see the deep
sea and its organisms first hand represses rational consideration of the dangers
involved," he says. "Of course there are dangers involved in traveling to such great
depths. One can't simply call for a tow-truck if the sub is stuck."
"The longest cruise I have been on was slightly over five weeks," says France,
"and this was as a graduate student. At that time everything was an adventure and
so the time passed quickly. Now that I am married, being away for that length of
time would be an emotional hardship." However, at the end of a trip, the coming
home can be a problem for some. "I often get 'post-cruise blues' after a cruise,"
admits Frank, "as do many of my colleagues, because you go from this exciting,
noisy, 'happening' environment, where there's always someone to talk to, to a very
But one question remains…how do they cope with those "personal" problems
during a dive? Jones had her own method: "I found out I was diving in Alvin at 4
pm the day before, so I deliberately stopped drinking any fluids from then on, as I
didn't want to be squirming and crossing my legs for 10 hours," she says. Aharon,
however, explains the standard approach: "We take capped bottles fitted specially
for men and women. Not a pretty sight, but we are all human."
David Bradley, a freelance science writer, lives on the edge of Silicon Fen north of
Cambridge, United Kingdom. Elemental Discoveries is his Webzine of science
news, views, and interviews.
Teamwork - What to Do When the Deadline Looms
Robert W. Wallace - November 23, 2001 · Issue 115
Abstract: In two previous articles on teamwork, Making Teamwork Work: The
Importance of Diverse Psychological Types and The Dynamics of Team Formation,
the author explored the advantages of including individuals with diverse personality
types on research teams and the convoluted interpersonal dynamics often
encountered as these individuals tread the path to their goal of a creative
community. Once the goal of community is reached, however, the stressors of the
work on the team, pressing deadlines, and interference by well-meaning
management can take a toll on morale and function. Here the author explores
some of the characteristics of well-functioning teams and discusses the role of
team leader, team members, and management as the deadline looms for
completion of the work of the team.
The hour hand on the clock seemed to fly past midnight as our research team
worked frantically to put the finishing touches on our latest grant application. Our
deadline was 2:00 A.M. We were both blessed and cursed to work for a research
institute in Memphis, Tennessee, home of Federal Express. While other grant
applicants around the country had to finish their work by early evening to make the
deadline for overnight delivery, we could carry on until the big FedEx jets roared
out at 3:00 A.M. from their Memphis hub carrying the early morning's sorted
packages from all over the country for next-day delivery. By experience, we knew a
mad dash to the airport would consume 30 minutes, leaving a final 30-minute
window to get our package rushed out on the tarmac and delivered to one of the
jets already preparing for departure.
This had become the standard routine for our research team, one that we went
through several times each year. The grant applications were critical to our survival
as most of our salaries were paid from grant funds, and all the money for carrying
out our research program came from grant sources. We would begin working on
the proposal several months before the deadline date, but it always seemed to
come down to a mad dash to the airport, arriving just in time to entrust our precious
package to a harried agent who nightly had to deal with frantic, last-minute arrivals.
Even now, more than 20 years later, my stomach tightens as I recall the angst
involved in making those early morning rendezvous at the Memphis airport.
Could there have been a better way to deal with these crucial deadlines, or is the
maxim that the work will always swell to fill every minute of available time an
immutable law? Today, I firmly believe that the frantic rush to meet our 2:00 A.M.
deadline was not a necessary element of being part of a research team. However,
at that time, and in some perverse way, it provided a shared adversity that
triggered a leveling sense of emptiness that ultimately allowed our team to stumble
into community, at least for a while . But surely there is a better way to have
achieved community, one that would have made us more productive and creative,
while at the same time letting us spend that final evening at home, secure in the
knowledge that we had produced a first-rate grant application. An application that
had already arrived at its destination, not subject to last minute glitches that could
have spelled disaster.
Ideally, once a decision is made to form a team of individuals with different skills
and temperaments to undertake a particular task, considerable resources and time
should be invested to facilitate the transformation of that group of diverse
individuals into a coherent community. This is a different strategy from what is
described above, where we managed to stumble into community through shared
adversity and sheer panic over the rapidly approaching deadline. Yes, our research
team did come together as a cohesive group, but only by chance. We could have
just as easily ended up vowing never to work together again or creating grudges
that would have forever blocked a productive work relationship. If we had made a
conscious effort to come together as a team prior to embarking on the work of the
group, it would have likely made for a more effective and satisfying experience,
one that would have provided an optimal opportunity for a superior grant proposal,
while allowing us to meet our deadline with far less anxiety.
The first step in becoming an effective team is to meet on a regular basis with a set
agenda, writes Deborah Harrington-Mackin, author of The Team Building Tool Kit.
This suggestion alone would have been a major help in the scenario described
above. In my experience, the grant writing process is often a piecemeal affair in
which a number of different investigators may be involved, but they may never sit
down together in one place to discuss the overall strategy of the proposal or the
work plan. The result is that each of the participants has a different view as to the
objective of the proposal and their individual roles, a misunderstanding that may
not come to light until the last minute, requiring a hasty round of negotiations and
rewriting. Worse are situations where the participants misunderstand the overall
project until after it is funded and work has already begun. Then it is likely that
severe animosities may arise over misunderstandings that could have been dealt
with easily if all the participants had simply gotten together, talked through their
different views of the project, and worked out an agreement by consensus, which
does not always mean 100 percent agreement. Some groups have used the "70
percent comfortable rule," notes Harrington-Mackin, meaning that consensus is
reached if each member of the team is at least 70 percent comfortable with a
Each team should have a leader, and what it means to be a productive and well-
functioning team means different things depending upon one's perspective as the
team leader or as a member of the team. Anthony Montebello, author of Work
Teams That Work: Skills for Managing Across the Organization, writes that an
effective team leader will have made the transition from one who "pushes his own
agenda, squelches disagreement, and punishes mistakes" to one who works more
as a coach, coordinating the overall work of the team. In this role, she will "help the
team decide what it will achieve, keep people informed and involved, and let
people know how they are doing." The effective team member will have made a
transition from one who may "talk more than listen, argue, stick to his own position,
blame, find fault, and put others down" to one who "freely shares information and
resources, probes others' ideas, and uses conflict as a springboard to greater
creativity." As a result, the team as a whole will determine what work must be done
to meet the deadline, assign individual responsibility for each part of the work to be
done, and keep each other fully informed regarding their progress and problems.
All of this team building takes time and is a messy business, especially from the
viewpoint of a manager who may not be a member of the team, but who, especially
in a nonacademic environment, may be responsible to higher management to see
that the work of the team gets done. As a deadline looms and the team still seems
to be in disarray, this manager may consider adding additional staff to the team in
an effort to help, or she may even decide to move the deadline so the team has
additional time to accomplish its goals. Both actions are likely to be
counterproductive. Addition of new staff will likely damage the community-building
process, pushing the team all the way back to chaos or even pseudocommunity.
Then valuable time will be wasted as the team works its way back to community so
that it can carry on with its task. Moving the deadline ignores the fact that often 90
percent of the work of the team is accomplished in 10 percent of the time, much of
the time having been used to come together as a functioning, creative group that
has the insight and skill necessary to accomplish the work. Moving the deadline
may allow the group to continue to wallow in pseudocommunity or disintegrate into
chaos instead of being forced to come together in community to complete the task.
A manager might also sincerely believe the team has made a second-best decision
regarding some aspect of the work and be tempted to step in and countermand
their decision by managerial fiat. This may also be a poor decision. "I'd rather have
a second-best decision diligently pursued than a first-best decision lackadaisically
pursued," wrote Tom Landry, in Tom Landry: An Autobiography. Landry, an expert
on team dynamics as a former coach of the Dallas Cowboys football team,
understood that a second-best decision reached by team consensus is much more
likely to be pursued diligently than a first-best decision imposed by management.
So, what to do as the deadline looms? Hopefully, the design of the team
membership has provided the necessary skills for the work to be done and
sufficient time has been provided for the team to come together as a community. If
so, then management should hold the deadline firm and should refrain from adding
additional staff at the last minute. Then it is up to the team to come together and do
whatever is necessary to meet the assigned deadline, even if it means a frantic trip
through the middle of the night to deliver a precious package at the very last
minute to a departing courier.
Robert W. Wallace is a freelance writer based in New York City.
1. Dynamics of Team Formation, HMS Beagle, Vol. 113
Accidents Will Happen
David Bradley - December 7, 2001 · Issue 116
Abstract: Most researchers do not actively seek out hazards, but accidents do
happen. So, who is it that ensures the safety of researchers in the lab? And what
routes are there into safety?
A friend of mine who worked in a biotech lab in Europe suffered a bout, this year,
of what he thought was hay fever - snuffling and runny nose, itchy and sore eyes,
the usual thing - except this was in February!
He took a few days of sick leave - it was that bad - and the symptoms subsided
until he went back to work and took up his experiment of enzymatic chemical
synthesis where he had left off. The devastating result was far worse than the
snuffles he had suffered before his sick leave: his neck and face went bright
scarlet, and he started shaking and collapsed, gasping for air. Anaphylactic shock
was the diagnosis. He had to leave his job. Although the lab in question has
implemented very strict protein-powder handling control systems, it's the kind of
accident that is almost impossible to predict and in the future may become more
There have been more unusual lab accidents. In December 1999, Emory
University in Atlanta paid out $66,400 in fines and changed its procedures following
the death two years earlier of primate researcher Elizabeth Griffin, who contracted
herpes B after being hit in the eye with fecal material, urine, or saliva while putting
a rhesus monkey in a cage at the Yerkes Regional Primate Center .
A small-scale lab accident may involve someone mixing something and getting an
unexpected exothermic or explosive reaction. The results often reach the
community by word of mouth and through a note in the literature. For instance,
Toshi Nagata of the Institute for Molecular Science, Okazaki, Japan, recently
reported an accident while following a literature procedure published 10 years ago
. The chemical preparation involved synthesizing a brominated bipyridine, but
instead of using standard quantities, Nagata's team had scaled it down to a 10th.
While they were purifying the product, the 100 ml reaction flask exploded violently,
injuring one of the team in the arm. Nagata suspects that the problem lay in the
formation of a peroxide by-product, which would have been less concentrated on a
larger scale. Nagata wrote to Chemical & Engineering News, the flagship journal of
the American Chemical Society, saying, "I do not intend to blame the authors for
not describing the danger, but all chemists should be aware that this procedure
could be dangerous."
Guidelines and regulations are all well and good, but what about insidious threats
like this? Such incidents beg the question of how they might be predicted. Should
there be stricter guidelines for the way procedures are described in the literature? If
so, what might they be and how would they be applied?
In 1995, a seemingly small-scale spill of hydrofluoric acid killed a technician in
Australia. He died from multiorgan failure two weeks after the incident. Several
factors contributed to his unfortunate death, according to the official report. He was
alone, wearing only rubber gloves and sleeve protectors but nothing covering his
lap, He was working in a crowded fume hood. The lab had no emergency shower
nor any calcium gluconate gel antidote available. The lessons may be obvious, but
accidents happen to even the most experienced of scientists.
The slow death that befell Dartmouth chemist Karen Wetterhahn when she was
exposed to a few drops of the highly toxic dimethylmercury in August 1996 took
several months to kill her. Although Wetterhahn was wearing latex gloves, this
compound rapidly penetrated them and was absorbed through her skin. Ironically,
she was, at the time, using dimethylmercury to examine the effects of toxic metals,
such as chromium, on human cells. In October of this year, Michal Wilgocki of the
University of Wroclaw in Poland, a chemistry professor with thirty years'
experience, died after an explosion in his laboratory. Firefighters have suggested
the accident may have happened while Wilgocki was drying unstable perchlorates.
So, who ensures that rules and regulations are adhered to in order to prevent
accidents? Who makes sure that the fume hoods and filters are up to a high
enough standard and that the reagent bottles are stored safely?
According to Jim Kaufman of the Laboratory Safety Institute (LSI), "There are three
levels of responsibility. First is management. Safety is their responsibility.
Preventing accidents and injuries is their responsibility. If you manage others, you
are responsible for their health and safety. You have to enforce the rules," he
explains. "Second is the chemical hygiene officer and the lab's safety committee.
They are advisers and recommenders. Third is everyone. Everyone needs to be
responsible for health and safety. Follow the rules, report accidents, injuries, and
Organizations such as LSI (formerly the Laboratory Safety Workshop), a not-for-
profit center, endeavor to provide a focus for safety in science education, work, and
our everyday lives. LSI makes several assumptions about the level of knowledge of
those "in the know." It says "You know the hazards; you know the worst things that
could happen; you know what to do and how to do it if they should happen; you
know and use the prudent practices, protective facilities, and protective equipment
needed to minimize the risks." But, when the pressure is on, there can always be a
proverbial roller skate left on a stair to wreck the best of intentions.
With the ubiquity of the Internet, every lab now can have instant online access to
its health and safety rules and guidelines. The Biological Safety Policy of
Washington State University at Pullman is a typical example of the materials freely
available. One aspect of safety that is often ignored is that while personal
protective equipment (PPE) such as eye protection and lab coats, and fume hoods
are usually essential, there is an alternative and that is to design better an
experiment so that the hazards are controlled without resorting to PPE. If safer
materials or processes are available or the whole experiment can be enclosed, that
There are numerous career opportunities in the field of safety and quite a few
glamorously named positions available, many of which are fairly synonymous, job-
description minutiae aside. There are process and equipment safety engineers and
technicians; laboratory safety officers; environmental protection agents; industrial
(and chemical) hygienists; environmental, safety, and health specialists;
occupational health specialists; and many others.
Most of these positions require at least a bachelor's degree in a technical subject,
usually chemistry, biology, engineering, or physics, and it is, of course, possible to
graduate in industrial hygiene or the related occupational safety field. One
important aspect of many of these positions is that they usually require that the
jobholder can physically wear appropriate PPE and be capable of functioning while
wearing respiratory protection. This requirement precludes some applicants on
An experienced industrial hygienist might work within an institute's occupational
and environmental safety office, for instance, and be responsible for coordinating
support for the various laboratories and ensuring that employees, students,
visitors, patients (if they are working in a hospital), and the surrounding
environment are protected.
Jason Worden has just completed his first year as a laboratory safety technician at
the University of Idaho and has enjoyed the experience so far. "I work at a
university in the Environmental Health and Safety Office," he says. "My job
includes surveying and inspecting labs on campus and testing and maintaining
safety equipment. Another part of my job includes radiation safety duties, as well
as responding to hazardous material emergencies and general office duties."
There are important differences between the various job descriptions though. For
instance, a safety engineer deals with protecting people and property from injury
and damage, and investigating incidents. An industrial hygienist, on the other hand,
may be working on protecting people from more insidious threats, including injuries
and illnesses that result from exposure to chemical agents or materials that may
not be such an obvious hazard, such as a boiling vat of solvent outside a fume
Jay Jamali is the environmental health and safety director at Enviro Safetech, a
San Jose, California company. So what routes are there into safety? "I have a
client who went from researcher to safety specialist in a biotech company," says
Jamali. "In other cases, the safety staff have no background in biotech." He adds
that the position of safety officer is usually dependent on the size of an
organization or institute. "Smaller organizations assign safety to multiple site
personnel," he explains, "some doing a chemical hygiene plan, some radiation
safety, some blood-borne pathogen safety, some laser safety, some doing the
personal protective equipment, and some the lab safety." Alternatively, outside
contractors such as Enviro Safetech can take on the entire safety support
operation on an as-needed basis.
Bill Paletski of the Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program points out that
"flexibility and diversification is your key to beginning a career and improving it in
the field of safety." While not belittling education, he suggests, "degree after degree
will not help . . . Getting your feet wet is a good start."
Many countries have regional safety departments that also inspect laboratories,
while every university should have a safety officer or section. Companies too, of
course, are usually bound by law to ensure the safety of their staff and visitors to
their labs. Pay with a government agency, such as the U.S. Occupational Safety
and Health Administration or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is
generally not as high as with a permanent position within a nongovernmental
organization, but they do offer good experience and training, according to Jamali.
On the whole, though, salary is usually commensurate with experience, degrees,
"The work is very addictive," Jamali enthuses, "and very few leave the field after
they get in because it gets under your skin." He adds, that, "The key to success is
to be a generalist, specialize in one of the three [main] fields [environmental,
health, and safety] and be an expert in at least two topics in your specialty."
There are many specific problems that have not previously been of major concern
in lab safety. Post-September 11, however, the threat of biological and chemical
terrorism has brought safety issues into sharp relief. Although most institutions are
carrying on, essentially, as normal, security will ultimately impact on working
practices in laboratories around the world. According to a spokesperson for Cornell
University, "We're still discussing all of this at various levels, and there aren't any
clear answers. The one place that's definitely involved is the College of Veterinary
Medicine, where research on anthrax has been ongoing for years."
Merle Schuh, a chemist at Davidson, a small college in North Carolina, told HMS
Beagle, "We have not instituted any new security measures or management
procedures as a result of the increased threat of terrorism. We have always been
conscious of safety considerations and lab and building security, and our present
activities and procedures are deemed adequate. Since we are a small college,
most students and faculty recognize each other, and any strangers to the
chemistry building and other science buildings during daylight hours would
generally be noticed."
Instructors at colleges and universities have a duty to emphasize and teach safety
to their students. Proper education increases awareness of safety issues and
motivates students to safeguard themselves and others. "By the time science
students graduate," says Schuh, "ideally, their conscientiousness about safety
issues should be as well developed as their skills in doing laboratory work." These
days, not even the smallest or most ill-equipped lab has an excuse for failing to do
its best to keep its researchers safe. But, still, in real life, there is no safety net.
David Bradley, a freelance science writer, lives on the edge of Silicon Fen north of
Cambridge, United Kingdom. Elemental Discoveries is his Webzine of science
news, views, and interviews.
1. Herpes B case settled: Atlanta's Yerkes Regional Primate Center settles with
OSHA on a fatal accident but controversy about safety practices continues. 1999.
The Scientist 13(1):1.
2. Butler, I.R. and Soucy-Breau, C. 1991. Bipyridylacetylenes 1: the synthesis of
some bipyridylacetylenes via the palladium-catalyzed coupling of acetylenes with
2,2'-dibromobipyridyl, and the single crystal X-ray structure of 6,6'-bis-
phenylethynyl-2,2'-bipyridine. Canadian Journal of Chemistry 69(7):1117-1123.
Sensing Incentives - Keeping the Team Motivated
Robert W. Wallace - December 21, 2001 · Issue 117
Abstract: In this final article of a four-part series on teamwork, the author explores
how to keep a well-functioning team motivated. The key, according to the author, is
to recognize the specific personality type or temperament of each team member
and make sure each one receives rewards for work well done that is appropriate
for that personality type. The previous articles in this series are Making Teamwork
Work: The Importance of Diverse Psychological Types; The Dynamics of Team
Formation, and Teamwork: What to Do When the Deadline Looms.
Our team had been working hard for several months develop a short course for the
nonscientist employees of our pharmaceutical company to help them understand
how the Research and Development division went about discovering and
developing new drugs. We had just finished the presentation of the prototype
course to a group of 20 employees, ranging from secretaries to directors and vice
presidents. The day-long course had gone well, and most of the written evaluations
from the participants were glowing. Now, with just a little fine-tuning, the course
would finally be ready to be presented to the whole company. As a reward, the vice
president of R&D proposed a celebratory dinner complete with fine wine and
gourmet food. Some of our team were delighted. Others, myself included, just
wanted to go home for some quiet time and to crash, but that, of course, was not
possible. So, off we went to extend our workday late into the evening, as a
"reward" for a job well done.
Providing the appropriate rewards to keep a team motivated may seem like one of
the easiest tasks in team management, but in reality it may be one of the most
difficult things to do well. Certainly, spending one evening out when I would have
rather been at home did not, by itself, make me decide to flee corporate life.
However, many such evenings and weekends over the long term - leaving me with
the feeling that the company could command my time and energy on short notice
at any time of the day or night, sometimes for what I viewed as frivolous reasons -
was certainly a major reason I eventually looked for new venues where I would
have more control over my work and personal life.
Today, as a freelance writer and professor, I have that control, and I'm far more
satisfied, even though I work just as many, maybe more, nights and weekends as I
did as a corporate scientist, and I do it for less money. The difference is that I am in
control of my schedule. I have the sense that I'm doing creative work and that I am
doing it for myself. "People create because it is satisfying to them - it is self-
actualizing. This is why many standard management techniques fail in the area of
encouraging creativity. Creative people are marching to their own drummer and
seeking their own deep-rooted rewards. They may not be seeking the rewards
normally held out by managers in order to motivate people," says Robert J.
Graham, in his book Project Management as if People Mattered.
Graham's statement about the self-actualization of creative work is certainly true
for me. When the vice president took our team out to dinner - to an arena in which
he would be the dominant person at the table, holding court, if you will - it conjured
up the perverse notion that he was taking the credit for our success, and it
undermined that sense of self-actualization. What was meant to be a reward for a
job well done ended up being be a major disincentive to me and probably to others
on the team.
So, how does one effectively manage a successful team to keep its members
working over the long term? One point to remember is that successful teams must
achieve community (see The Dynamics of Team Formation) in order to do their
best work. However, teams rarely remain in community over a long period of time.
Team formation is a dynamic process; a group may move all the way back to
chaos or pseudocommunity and then have to work its way back into community for
the next project. In many cases, the team may only attain community when it is
necessary to accomplish a particular goal, or even just before the deadline for the
goal (see Teamwork: What to Do When the Deadline Looms). Thus, one important
principle in maintaining an ongoing team is that there must be sufficient work over
the long term to keep the team dynamic in action. Otherwise, it may be best to
disband the team and reform it when a new job comes up. This is often better than
letting the team wallow in pseudocommunity or chaos, from which it can become
increasingly difficult to move back into community.
Rewards for successfully completing a team project must include kudos that will be
recognized such by all team members. The key is to understand the personality
types or temperaments of the individual members (see Making Teamwork Work:
The Importance of Diverse Psychological Types) and to then provide a variety of
rewards so that all of the members feel recognized for their work. According to
Susan Nash, author of Turning Team Performance Inside Out: Team Types and
Temperament for High-Impact Results, team members who are "artisans will be
excited to celebrate successes; guardians will feel proud with recognizing
achievements, rationalists will be stimulated by new intellectual learning, and
idealists will feel enriched by team-building events and opportunities to reconnect."
She suggests that each approach be used at different times to celebrate the team's
achievements in order to keep the team working optimally.
In a scenario such as the one I described earlier, team members with the artisan
temperament would feel most satisfied by the R&D vice president's night at a fancy
restaurant. These are the people who are most comfortable in celebrating
successes in style and who are motivated by things like social events, awards, or
Team members with the guardian temperament would probably be energized more
by recognition of their small day-to-day achievements. This group has a strong
memory of the team's previous successes and failures, and can be counted on to
compare new achievements with old. Left to themselves, they may forget, or more
likely consciously forgo, a celebration of the team's major success because of their
natural tendency to caution and because they will only recognize what they
consider the very best accomplishments. They may be made very uncomfortable
by the fancy celebration, because they fear that the accomplishment is not
sufficiently worthwhile to merit such a lavish reward.
For the rationalists, such as myself, "it is important to continue to learn and develop
new mental models," says Nash. We live in an inner, rational world. Thus, I, the
rationalist, analyzed and interpreted the vice president's reward as a means of
taking credit for the accomplishment himself. A better reward for the rationalist
would be some type of recognition that provided an opportunity to learn a new skill
or an opportunity for further achievement, something that the individual could
pursue and then relate back to the team. At the end of the successful day, the
rationalist desires a period of quiet introspection, a chance to relive the success
and revel in the accomplishment.
The members of the team with the idealist temperament would probably prefer to
celebrate by interacting and discussing the day's work with the other members of
the team, individually or as a group. They might enjoy a celebratory dinner with just
the team members, where they could rehash the day's events as part of a group or
in one-on-one conversations without the imposition of the vice president's
The important thing to remember in keeping a group motivated is that what
motivates one person will not necessarily will motivate another. Since well-
functioning teams must contain members with diverse personality types and
temperaments, team rewards, too, will require a number of different approaches at
Finally, as a conclusion to the last article of this four-article series on teamwork, it
seems fitting to quote Susan Nash on the importance of respect: "If the team
members don't have respect [and I would add trust] for each other and for the
leader, and if the team leader doesn't have it for each and every team member, the
team will not succeed."
Robert W. Wallace is a freelance writer based in New York City