Sunday, November 29, 2009

Science writing internship opportunity at Argonne (for undergrads)

A friend recently alerted me to a science writing internship opportunity at Argonne National labs. It sounds like a great opportunity. Unfortunately, it is limited to undergrads only, but perhaps some undergrads do read this blog?

The following description is from Argonne's web site

"Argonne National Laboratory's Communications & Public Affairs Division is offering one full-time science-writing internship for summer 2010 for an undergraduate student or student who graduates in May or June 2010. Former Argonne interns subsequently landed reporting and editing jobs with Science, Science News, R&D, Chemical & Engineering News, The Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the International Medical News Group and the Elgin Courier-News, and as science writers at Cal Tech, Purdue, the American Chemical Society, Ames Laboratory, Argonne, and the University of Chicago Hospitals.

Participants must be full-time students at an accredited college or university and must have a strong interest in science-related journalism. Participants will work at least ten 40-hour weeks on science news and feature stories and magazine articles for the Argonne News, Argonne Now and the Argonne Web site, as well as related news releases. The internship requires a strong background in journalism and an interest in science.

The working environment is collegial, creative and collaborative. Argonne's Communications & Public Affairs Division has nine full-time professional journalist/writers who work with our interns daily.

Argonne National Laboratory has more than 200 research programs in basic and applied science, including mathematics and computer science, biology, environmental research, materials science, physics, chemistry, energy research, and advanced nuclear reactor technology. Argonne's Illinois site is located on a wooded, 1,500-acre campus near Chicago."

For more detailed information on the program and application, see

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The thoughts of 17 science writers (and public policy experts, journalists, educators, editors, etc)

Emily Monosson is an independent toxicologist, writer and editor. You may have heard her name—she is the editor of the recent anthology, “Motherhood, the Elephant in the Laboratory: Women Scientist Speak Out.” I urge anyone who is interested in work/life balance or alternative careers to seek out this book; it’s not just for mothers! Although many contributors to this book have indeed managed to successfully balance family with traditional academic careers, a significant number also found success in the so-called “alternative careers.” In doing so, many forged entirely new career paths for themselves. Monosson’s book offers an enlightening and inspiring view of the many different careers possible in science.

In addition to her scientific and writing work, Dr. Monosson has spoken on various scientific career panels. I was recently honored to be asked for my input on a recent career panel discussion that she was putting together on the topic of parenthood, science, and alternative careers. Dr. Monosson sent out a brief survey to a number of science writers for their thoughts on their careers. What follows is a collection of responses from 17 very different writers. As you will see, these responses showcase the many many different forms that a career in “science writing” can take. Respondents included government public policy specialists, communication specialists, educators, at least one journalist and an editor at Science magazine. (By the way, I’m respondent #17 ). Dr. Monosson collected and summarized all our responses, and has generously agreed to allow me to post them here.

The Questions Asked in the Survey

“…I'm writing to you all because you've each indicated that writing is or has been a part of your work - and if you have a moment - I'd like to know if

1) you feel it is a satisfactory way to use your scientific training
2) if you feel you've left science behind or if you feel it's led to a broadening of your scientific knowledge base
3) any other thoughts you may have”

Emily Monosson’s Summary of the Responses

“For most writing about science satisfies the scientist in them, and while several sometimes feel a loss of the bench, the broad view of science (albeit shallower for some - not all) is viewed as a plus. Several also mentioned the need for scientists to do the kind of interpretation and synthesis that they do -- and finally several commented that reaching and possibly influencing a broader audience by writing is also a big plus to science writing.”

The Responses

Response #1: Writing for the public can be much more influential than
scientific papers (unless you're Darwin or Watson & Crick!)

Response #2: A critical function of my writing for this audience is education, so I have to synthesize scientific information for a lay audience. I do think it’s a very satisfactory way to use my scientific training…it’s serving the same function as my more scientific writing.

I feel like it’s broadened my scientific knowledge base. I was trained as an avian behavioral ecologist. My writing has focused more on the documented and predicted impacts of climate change on global biodiversity.

In general, I think this type of scientific writing is as important as writing scientific papers. The writing I’m doing now reaches a much larger population and I’d like to think it’s as impactful as my scientific papers.

Response #3: Most often my audience is Congress which I would consider lay readers. Here are a few quick thoughts.
Satisfactory isn't the word I'd use. Necessary is more like it. While my scientific knowledge is not often challenged, I would not want my job done by a non-PhD.

The research that I now report on is much different than that in which I studied. Therefore, I have a little regret that I left that part of science behind. But as far as leaving all of science behind, because of question 1, I'd answer no. I feel that because I'm fulfilling a need that is better in line with my interests and talents, I'm doing more for science now that if I were still in a lab.

Response #4: I did become a science writer in a way possibly only somewhere like the Washington DC area - I go to gov't science or science policy meetings and write them up (been doing this since 1989 first through contractors, then directly at NIH, and now semi-retired, through contractors again.

There is a really good discussion on the website of the National Association of Science Writers about what should come first, the science or the writing skills (obviously folks get into the field both ways). That part of the website is open to the public.
Of course in this days of cutbacks in science in newspapers and in science magazines, opportunities are somewhat more limited that even a few years ago.

Response #5:I was a Congressional Science Fellow in 1994-1995 and since then have been an earth science professor at Vassar. My CSF influenced me tremendously and I have tried to continue my work as a scientist as the same time as I communicate science to the public. My blog below lists two books that are part of that effort.

Response #6:I use my training in psychology and epidemiology to write op-eds for newspapers, articles for magazines and web sites, booklets for patients, as well as testimony for Congress and government meetings.
I enjoy it, especially compared to writing for scientific publications.

Response #7: Satisfactory? YES
Left science behind, or led to a broadening of your scientific knowledge base? THE LATTER

The late Stephen J. Gould is an superlative example of how a scientist can devote major efforts to communicating science to a lay audience without compromising their personal scientific or philosophical integrity.

Response #8: Satisfactory? Yes –I’m happy doing what I do.
If you feel you've left science behind or if you feel it's led to a broadening of your scientific knowledge base:both. I don’t do cutting edge research now (bad) but I know more about lots of things, and I don’t have to be first (good).

Response #9: I was fortunate to enjoy both the AAAS S&T Policy Fellowship and the AAAS Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellowship, both of which helped land me my current (dream) gig as an editor for science policy at Science magazine. So that's me, what I do. In answer to your questions:

1. absolutely
2. broader knowledge without question
3. i'm hungry, tired, and ready to go home. does that count?

Response #10:I have recently transitioned completely to a Science Communications position within the EPA from a science position (also at the EPA). I am mostly writing news releases, desk statements, content for web pages, and fact sheets as well as some resources for teachers and students. I love it and am very satisfied with my use of scientific training. I feel that translating science to the public is perhaps one of the most important aspects of actually doing the scientific research. I definitely do not feel that I have left science behind, as it is very much a part of everything I write or communicate; I am only making it make sense to the general public. It is still science. I am now part of a larger community of scientists and also exposed to more areas of science than before, for which I am grateful. I am very happy with my contribution to science and to the general public.

Response #11: I write reports and memos for Congress on science and engineering-related topics, tied to policy. My scientific training and career are essential, in many if not most instances, in helping translate the scientific issue or controversy to a non-scientific audience. I have left my own scientific career behind, surely, but this job requires that I keep abreast of the scientific discoveries in a broad array of fields, so I still attend scientific meetings and read journal articles. As a result, I have a much broader, although surely shallower scientific knowledge base. That is offset, in my view, by having to describe and analyze science in the broader public policy context, which is complex and nuanced in many instances.

Response #12: I definitely feel like writing has expanded by knowledge in science. There is absolutely no doubt about it. I know so much more than I ever did, and since this is the part of science I always enjoyed, it gives me a thrill.

Now, do I feel like I am using my training... yes, I was trained to read, synthesize, and understand primary research, and this knowledge is critical for my writing. If I was unable to understand the research by others, I would not be able to write the textbooks and study guides. What I do not use from my Ph. D is the actual bench research... taking what is known and devising the next experiment, performing that experiment, and interpreting these results. Can you be 50% scientist??

Response #13: I have a Ph.D. in Neuroscience, and have been a science writer for the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke for 3 years. I write research news, publications for patients and families, and correspondence for senior officials, among other things. To answer your questions:
1) I don't think I could excel at my job without my scientific training. My job quite literally involves translating scientifc information for lay audiences - if I didnt' speak science, I wouldn't be an effective translator. But if you're asking whether I am personally satisfied with my position, the answer is no. I started here as an S&T policy fellow thinking that I would be doing a mixture of science communication and policy, but the policy has been lacking.

2) I have definitely abandoned the lab bench, but I wouldn’t say that I have left science behind. I feel more educated about general neuroscience and better informed about current neuroscience research than I ever did as an academic researcher.

Response #14: I work as a consultant to community organizations concerning the clean-up of contaminated sites, such as Superfund sites and closed military bases. My writing includes comments on technical reports and information pieces on topics of interest to the citizens concerning their site. These latter pieces may be about lead toxicity, endocrine disrupting chemicals, or the methods used to clean up contamination. I also write an editorial piece for my own web site.
Writing scientific material for a public audience is without a doubt one of the more rewarding developments in my professional life. My non-technical writing pieces include popular press letters and op-eds, white papers, position papers and information papers for communities. Much of the writing that goes to a more technical audience is also intended for public consumption, so I actually do little writing that is purely technical.
It’s not the adding on of the non-technical writing that has come with some down sides. Technical writing for journals can be cumbersome and tiring, and I still do write an occasional peer-reviewed paper or book chapter. And journal reviewers tend to be largely a pain in the butt. So, writing for other media and applications brings a way to keep both technical and non-technical writing in perspective. The losses have been in the change in work that accompanied the shift in writing. I no longer carry out lab/field research for which the principal outlet is peer-reviewed journals. There is nothing quite as satisfying as a lab experiment that goes well, and these are no longer in my work. That satisfying experience has been replaced by another.

Response #15: you feel it is a satisfactory way to use your scientific training?
Sort of. I use analytical skills and my background of science. But I'm not creating data points or designing experiments, which is what I was trained to do. This might bother some trained scientists, but it doesn't bother me. One of the things I liked most about my lab bench days was crunching through data, making graphs of it and trying to figure out what it meant. I do this now in my job as a science writer, except that my data points are quotes and other facts/figures I find and it's up to me to sift through it and come up with a story that people would want to spend their free time reading.

if you feel you've left science behind or if you feel it's led to a broadening of your scientific knowledge base

I think there are many ways to be a productive scientist. I was trained at a research 1 university where most grad students went on to be post docs. That's one way to be a productive scientist and contribute to society but generating new knowledge. But someone has to be out there to explain it in a way that's accessible to non-experts. Some scientists are able to find time to do this, through outreach at museums or giving layperson-friendly talks. But usually it's the job of a trained science communicator to distribute science to the public.

As for my career choice broadening my scientific base, it has! Before, when I was at the bench, my studies inevitably became more and more narrow as my research progressed. That's one of the reasons I left labwork. Now I get to cover a smattering of topics, and it's so much more interesting and fulfilling for me.

any other thoughts you may have
Just that scientists don't have to leave the bench in order to write for the general public. They can have blogs, give lectures, write op-eds in their local papers, etc. They should also be willing to talk to journalists about their work...there still seems to be a fear that the journalists will get it wrong (and sometimes they do!) or that they will appear to be tooting their own horn. Also, public affairs offices at universities can help scientists improve their communications skills such that journalists will write more accurately about the science.

Response #16: I trained as a PhD in biology and I have been working as a science writer now for almost 6 years. I write mostly long form narrative pieces.

I do feel like writing is a very satisfactory way to use my scientific training. I do not feel that I've left science behind at all. My knowledge base is much broader now (although less deep in my field of training). Having a PhD has made it easier to approach primary literature in diverse fields and gives me more credibility when interacting with scientists. I have also developed a keen sense for how to navigate the uneasiness felt by many scientists when talking to the media. I also help teach a communications workshop aimed at graduate students in science that focuses on writing for multiple audiences.

Response #17: Yes, I feel that science writing has been a satisfactory way for me to use my scientific training.

My particular position is very specialized and rather unusual. I am currently employed as a scientific writer/editor for a large cancer research laboratory at a non-profit research institute. In this position, I edit and help write scientific manuscripts and grant proposals. My scientific training is essential for this work--the level of editing and writing required simply cannot be done by a person who does not have a science background. Indeed, I'd say my doctorate and even postdoctoral training have been invaluable for this job. I read a lot of primary literature. Depending on the project I am working on, I have to be able to get quickly up to speed on a specific subfield, and I need to be able to synthesize the primary literature into coherent introduction and discussion sections of papers. I also very critically evaluate the primary data presented in papers and grants--basically, I'm just another trained scientific mind who can offer some
perspective. I participate in lab meetings and journal clubs--basically, I'm like a postdoc who doesn't do experiments (but does everything else).

I haven't met anyone else who has my exact same job, but I've recently come to know of others who have similar jobs. Through the science blogosphere, I've come to "meet" a few people who are Ph.D.-trained scientific writers/editors for departments or divisions at biomedical research institutes. These people go by different titles and have slightly different tasks (one person I know has the title of "research development facilitator"). Most are devoted primarily to helping their departments or institutes get grant funding--identifying grant sources and working with PIs to help write, shape, and oversee the entire grant application process. What we have in common is that we are specialized in science writing/communication for other scientists.

2) No, I don't feel that I've left science behind. I'm as deeply involved as ever--if not working at the laboratory bench means that I'm not a scientist, then none of the lab heads at my institute are scientists!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Colorado's Industry Scene

If you live (or want to live in CO) there are a great number of small bioscience companies along the front range. Visit the Colorado Bioscience Association website to learn more about the awesome job opportunities that CO has to offer. The CBSA puts on numerous networking events as well to help people bridge the gap over to industry.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A truly alternative career

Today the New York Times featured an article on a truly unusual "alternative career." A Neuroscience Professor Makes her Move to the Racetrack. Dr. Michelle Nihei left a career in biomedical research to become a horse trainer and is aiming for the highest levels of the sport.

Yup. If you want, you really can walk away from it all. From all of it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Stimulus Money - Laboratory Professional Training

Received the following in my email. If you're considering becoming a Medical Technologist/Clinical Laboratory Scientist, you might ask around.

Department of Labor (DOL) Announces Health Care Sector Grants: Laboratory Professional Training Programs Urged to Apply

On July 23, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced the availability of approximately $125 million in new grant funds authorized for projects that provide training and placement services to help workers pursue careers within the health care sector. Eligible applicants include public entities and private nonprofit organizations. The grants are intended to fund projects that provide workers with training that will prepare them to enter and advance in the health care sector.

Earlier this year, ASCP alerted the laboratory professional training community that President Barack Obama's stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, would contain grants that prioritize training and placement for healthcare professionals in high-growth industries. To ensure that laboratory training programs were eligible for upcoming stimulus related grants, ASCP President Barbara J. McKenna, MD, FASCP, urged DOL to consider the critical role that laboratory professionals play in patient care. In 2008, a pre-stimulus $2 million grant from DOL was awarded to a consortium of universities and colleges in Minnesota to restore and build 2- and 4-year laboratory training programs throughout the state.

Laboratory professional training programs and schools at risk of closure or programs seeking to expand should proactively examine this grant money from the stimulus package. These dollars are specifically available for health care professions training and for projects that provide training and placement services to help workers pursue careers within the high growth health care sector. The DOL intends to fund 45-65 grants ranging from approximately $2-$5 million. Approximately $25 million of the total funds available through this solicitation will be reserved for projects serving communities impacted by automotive-related restructuring, so these dollars could potentially be considered to help retrain the workforce. See the full announcement for a list of communities impacted by automotive-related restructuring.

With regard to grants to support allied health, DOL indicated it is interested in proposals that "support recruitment, retention, and career pathways in related allied health occupations," particularly "in hospitals and in medical laboratories." Successful training programs funded through the grant program will prepare participants for employment within the health care sector, and will: (1) target necessary skills and competencies; (2) support career pathways, such as an articulated career ladder or lattice; (3) result in an employer- or industry-recognized certificate or degree (which can include a license, as well as a registered apprenticeship certificate or degree); (4) combine supportive services with training services to help participants overcome barriers to employment, as necessary; and (5) provide training services at times and locations that are easily accessible to targeted populations.

The announcement noted that "recognizing the long-term needs of workers, it is strongly recommended that training lead to portable industry-recognized certificates or degrees." The grant announcement outlined DOL's mandate that proposals "must demonstrate that the proposed project will be implemented by a robust strategic partnership" utilizing entities from the public workforce investment system, public and private employers, and the education and training community as well as other partners such as nonprofit organizations and foundations.

Grant applications must be submitted to the DOL no later than October 5, 2009. To obtain a copy of the grant announcement, please click here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Chad Orzel delves ...

... into non-academic science positions with a new series of interviews he is conducting. The interviews can be found on his website. Some of them interviews can be found at these links: here, here, here, here, here, and here. Dang, there are a lot of them, so check out his site. Here is his blog entry soliciting potential interviewee candidates.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Alternative career profile: Rachel Carson, scientist and writer

I thought it would be fun to start posting profiles of people in alternative careers. Recently, I ran across a very interesting such profile in the publication, "Science Editor", the monthly journal of the Council of Science Editors (I'm a member). April’s issue had an eye-opening story about Rachel Carson, the environmental activist best known for her book, “Silent Spring.”

I admit that I’ve never read “Silent Spring” or any of her other books. Actually, I know almost nothing of Carson other than that she was a famous environmental activist best known for “Silent Spring.” But the article I read makes it clear that Rachel Carson was a remarkable person with a remarkable career path and life. And it brought home to me (yet again) that career paths are often unpredictable, that they turn and twist in unexpected ways, and that long-held dreams can blossom late in unlooked-for spaces.

Adapted from “Rachel Carson, Science Editor” by Olga Kuchment. Science Editor (April 2009) Vol 32: 39-42. (Too bad there’s no online access to the journal!)

Rachel Carter was born in a rural setting in 1907. She started writing at an early age, and early on she dreamed of becoming a professional writer. But she was introduced to zoology at the Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham College) and fell in love with the subject. She switched her major from English to zoology and decided to become a scientist. At the time she “thought she would have to give up writing.” (Kuchment, 2009).

She earned a master’s degree in zoology from Johns Hopkins University and tried to continue for a Ph.D. But her family was poor, the Great Depression hit, and she was unable to afford the tuition to continue her training. (Hmmm, seems you actually had to pay for a science Ph.D. in those days?) Rachel Carson became the main economic support for her widowed mother, sister, and nieces. She took a job at the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, where she wrote scripts for a radio program on marine biology. The radio scripts jump-started her writing career; she reworked the scripts into articles that were published in the Baltimore Sun. On the urging of her boss, she reworked one of her government assignments into an article that was published in The Atlantic. She secured a book deal and wrote her first book “Under the Sea Wind.”

Her first book was not a commercial success, and she stayed on as a scientific writer/editor with the government for many years, eventually rising to the position of editor-in-chief of the publishing program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Kuchment’s article in the Science Editor quotes interviews from admiring colleagues who praised Carson as both an editor/scientist and person. Carson continued to work on personal writing projects in her spare time, and eventually hit commercial success with “The Sea Around Us.” She then retired from her civil service job and worked full-time on her own writing projects. “Silent Spring” was her last book.

I love this story. A dream deferred, put aside—the early dream of being a professional writer. A new dream and its loss—what a bitter pill it must have been to not be able to finish her Ph.D.! But then the marrying of interests—her initial job title with the government was “junior aquatic biologist”; she went out into the field and interacted with scientists; it seems that one could still call her a scientist, as well as a writer/editor. And then, at the age of 45, the realization of her dream to work full-time as a creative writer pursuing her own interests. Interests that sprang directly from her training and love for science.

**Note: this was cross-posted from my personal blog.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"Tell me about yourself."

A general question re: interviewing:

How do you typically answer the "Tell me about yourself" interview question? It's pretty common, but I'm never really sure where to start. I've read a few books suggesting one should tailor it to the position, but I'm not really sure what that means.

I'm particularly interested in how to handle issues of changing careers or interviewing for jobs that are non-traditional for someone with a given background. Do you just launch into why you're interested in the position?


Friday, April 10, 2009

Science policy fellowship links

Sheril Kirshenbaum over at The Intersection has posted links to a number of science policy fellowships through various organizations.

I haven't had a chance to look through all of them, but there is certainly a wide variety. If policy is something you're interested in, these will probably be a great resource!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


There is a "Nontraditional Careers: Opportunities Away From the Bench" Webinar being held on April 28th, 2009 by the AAAS/Science Business Office.

Registration is free, but mandatory to participate.

Please visit this website for more details and to register!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Alternative Careers workshop

For those of you in the Toronto area, you may be interested in this workshop:
Exploring Career Options: Tracks Don't All Have to Lead to Tenure: This HCTP professional development workshop is designed to explore various career options for those who wish to pursue alternatives to the tenure-track positions offered by the academy. Panellists: Darrel Bricker (Ipsos Reid), Cheryl McLean (CCAHTE Journal), Shaun Young (Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care), and Roger Chafe (Cancer Care Ontario). Moderator: Raza Mirza (HCTP Fellow 2007-09 Pharmaceutical Sciences).
If anyone goes to this, report back in the comments section to let us know what you learned!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Medical Technology Blurbs

A couple of interesting bits concerning Medical Technology/Clinical Laboratory Science.

1. Went to today and typed in "medical technologist". This brought up 575 hits. Not all of them are Med Tech jobs, but a large portion of them are. As I've said before, it's a job which does not have a lot of people competing for those positions. As of a recent study, over 15,000 Med Tech positions remain unfilled.

2. If you plan on getting your Med Tech B.S. degree, Arizona State University might not be the place you want to do it. They're in the process of cutting almost 4 dozen programs, with their MT program being one of the unfortunates. I've blogged about it, and posted a letter from the American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP) advocacy branch which is asking ASU to reconsider. If you think this vital source of training for good jobs needs to remain open ... click on the link, fill out your information, and have the advocacy group send out emails to the relevant ASU officials for you.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Looking for an Alternative Science career?

Now might be your chance! While lots of jobs are being lost elsewhere, the US government continues to hire.
A report released in January by Christina Romer, head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, and Jared Bernstein, an economic policy adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, predicted that more than 90 percent of the 3 million to 4 million jobs that Obama proposes to save or create would be in the private sector.

But the report also estimated that 244,000 government jobs — some at the federal level, but more at the state and local level — would be created or saved.
A federal job comes with some nice perks.
... job security, health and life insurance, a federal retirement program, paid vacations and leave and other benefits.
I'll blog more on life as a federal employee in the near future. I promise!

Friday, January 9, 2009

An amusing take on the biotech experience

Richard Grant of The Scientist blog recently posted a highly entertaining three-part series detailing his experiences as a senior scientist in a small UK start-up.

Part One covers the application process, the project, and the first warning signs that "would have made a more mature head send insistent ‘run away, quickly’ signals to its legs and ‘scream, loudly’ signals to its mouth."

Part Two outlines the evolving project, "tinkering with the machine, making sure it was as good as it possibly could be, and wondering how Marketing were going to cock this one up", and the inevitable meeting and management frustrations.

The Finale covers Richard's escape from an ailing company as "things started moving in even more disturbing directions."

Richard's story highlights the risks inherent in working for a small start-up. Although the biotech company I worked for was much more mature, I recognised some of the issues caused by scientists left in charge of business endeavours. Having said that, the right company, and the right people, can turn a small start-up into the ideal employer.

Read, enjoy, and please be patient while the contributors to this blog work get around to more posts. The second of my "interview a friend over drinks" series is in the early planning stages, and I see a few other draft posts in the back end of the blog.