Friday, November 28, 2008

Why do we work the job we work?

Over at my blog, I posted a new entry which basically answers the question of why I work the job I work. For me it is a matter of, and I quote ...
What keeps me going is that paycheck I receive.
Which is why the entry is labeled Pragmatic Me. It's also part of the reason why I'm in what can be considered an "alternative scientific career" as opposed to what I view as the endless tedium of academia (no offense to the academic types here). The fact that I can work a 40 hour week, not worry about funding issues, get yearly raises and performance bonuses for the hard, and truly awesome, work I do ... are all definite bonuses, and were the deciding factors in my rejection of my academia job offers and acceptance of my government position.

So why blog about any of this here? Well maybe this isn't the right place to blog about such things, but I obviously think it is. When considered a career choice in an alternative scientific field, one must look at all the factors. A lot of us are not in these positions because we failed at academia ... I imagine quite a few people, like myself, are here because we thought academia didn't offer enough to us and felt we would ultimately be left feeling unsatisfied.

What are your reasons for looking into an alternative scientific career? Are they the right ones?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Medical Technology - Part Deux

A while back, I was asked the following question: [How comparable is a] BS/MS in med tech vs a BS/MS in straight chemistry or microbiology?

Two of the four major disciplines within Medical Technology are Clinical Chemistry and Microbiology, so there is definitely some overlap. However, I'd say that there is probably a fair bit of difference between a Chemistry major and the discipline of Clinical Chemistry. The same holds true for Microbiology. The issue becomes, what is the focus of the university programs curriculum?

If the Microbiology B.S. degree has more of an environmental focus, the student is going to have a lot less exposure to medically relevant organisms, and probably will not know the tests needed to properly differentiate phenotypically similar organisms, which is a core skill in Medical Technology. Same goes for the Chemistry major. If they have a solid background in Biochemistry, they'll be on their way, but will they have enough knowledge in some basic laboratory skills to run some of the non-standard tests (especially when it comes to drug testing and validation tests, which are usually not machine-based)? Plus they'll be missing the instrumentation classes necessary for the job (which often includes troubleshooting and routine maintenance).

That is why, while both majors can be used to work an individual into ASCP certification (which is a standard registry accepted by all hospitals in the USA), on their own they are not sufficient. In most cases, the individual with a BS in Microbiology and/or Chemistry is looking at about a year of additional training before they can sit for the ASCP Board of Registry Chemistry or Microbiology Certification exam. They can, however, be employed during that time, but it will be a position which will be heavily supervised.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Science Journalism...

...I ran across this blog entry by Matt Brown on Nature Network and he did a nice write up on how you get into science journalism that I thought I would just pass along for those who are interested.  He outlines 1) Why you would be interested in it,  2) Some myths that are associated with the career, 3) Some skills you will need, and 4) Some tips on how to get into science journalism.

Also...I hope all is well and that everyone is plugging away at discovering or pursuing their alternative science career!!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

More on scientific writing/editing (thoughts from a novice)

Jennifer said in a comment to my last post: I am interested in pursuing science writing, but am not fortunate enough to know anyone in the field. Do you have any advice on starting to freelance without such connections?

Okay, I’m not an expert, but I’m going to give this a try….

Getting the first gig.

(1) Cold-calling/cold e-mailing

There are a number of online editing services geared toward the needs of non-native English speaking scientists. Off the top of my head, I can name ScienceDocs, EquityEdit, BioEdit, Bioscience Writers, Write Science Right, etc. etc. Just Google “science” and “editing” and you’ll see what I mean. These companies recruit postdocs with good English skills to edit the manuscripts and grant proposals of international scientists. Although some companies may ask for an editing sample, many others will simply give you a test sample to edit as a way to evaluate your skills. So this can be a relatively easy way to get some freelance experience under your belt. These companies will often advertise open positions on their web sites. Even if they don’t, try e-mailing them anyway to express your interest.

You may also find other types of companies with which you’d like to do freelance work. Be aware that there are many many different types of science writing and editing jobs—from medical education/communications to more “newsy” science journalism. If you come across a company site you find interesting, don’t be afraid to shoot off a cold e-mail inquiry. If you have a really great news idea for The Scientist, don’t be afraid to pitch it! And please read Maddox22’s post here for some advice to freelancers, from a science editor (She works in K-12 science educational publishing).

(2) Advertised jobs
Science writing/editing jobs are also advertised on a number of sites, including the Council of Science Editors and the American Medical Writers’ Association. More on these organizations in a little bit.

Building your writing portfolio.

Of course, it’s easier to get a job when you have experience. You need to start accumulating samples or “clips” of your writing. It doesn’t need to be paid writing. If you are still a grad student or postdoc, there are great writing opportunities right there in academia. See Cath’s great post on Finding the Alternative in Academia. Offer to help your advisor with a grant, write a review, or copyedit a manuscript for a colleague who needs help with his/her English. And by the way, if you are editing a colleague’s paper remember to turn on the “track changes” function in Microsoft and save drafts of both the original and edited versions! You can use these as “editing samples” if you apply for editing jobs. (I’m still kicking myself because I didn’t do this after I copyedited a postdoctoral colleague’s twenty-page review).

Other ideas: your university probably has a press office. That press office probably publishes a newsletter spotlighting faculty research and other university news. Contact the press office and volunteer to contribute a piece on some university research you think would be of general interest. Or submit a story to your local community newspaper/newsletter/trade journal. At the beginning you may get paid very poorly or not at all; you want the experience, and you want to build up your portfolio. Have clips to show, and they can help you land paid jobs
Network, network, network.

This is so critical. Read Cath’s excellent post on networking. And read my post on networking within professional science writing societies. And don’t forget your grad school’s alumni database—my grad program has an excellent alumni website that tracks and profiles graduates by career outcomes. Because you have a built-in connection, fellow graduates are often happy to respond to someone with serious questions. Much of the advice I’m giving here was actually first passed on to me by a writer I “met” through my school’s alumni website!

Keep reading, keep researching (I think is an excellent place to start). Keep talking to people. It’s all intertwined—the networking, the pitching, getting experience that leads to more contacts and yet more jobs.

And last of all, follow this link to Emma Hitt’s site for a nifty video interview on freelance medical writing. (Emma Hitt also maintains the HittList, a weekly updated list of medical writing jobs)