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How to prepare a resume for a non-academic science job?

18 Dec

As you probably know already, my career path hasn’t exactly been a straight line. The transferable skills I developed during graduate school were very critical when I was looking for a job as a science communicator. Recently after a twitter conversation about the importance of transferable skills with Karen Lo (@kareynlo ) and Joanne Kamens (@JKamens), I was invited by Joanne from Addgene to write a guest post about presenting these transferable skills in a resume for a non-academic science job.

So here it is. My resume writing tips for those in graduate school, interested in moving into non-academic science careers.

Resume Writing for Non-academic Science Careers

If you have gone through a similar experience like mine, what would your advice be? Please feel free to share below in comments!

PS. Addgene is a non-profit plasmid repository – scientists who make new plasmids (small circular DNA molecule with codes) can share the plasmids with the repository, so that other scientists interested in the same plasmids can order them from the repository instead of having to make them. Its blog is a great resource not only for those working with plasmids, but also for any graduate students and scientists looking for career advice. Check out the career posts on its blog.

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How space dust teaches us about scientific progresses

30 Sep

Sometimes I feel that it sucks to be a physicist.

(Just to clarify – I am not one, and this is my personal opinion, having worked years in a department full of physicists, and with a background in non-physics fields. This is not after any discussion with other physicists in my dept – they might agree, they might not)

There was a major announcement back in March that results from BICEP2, a telescope sitting in the South Pole, showed evidence of cosmic inflation. This was, at the time, considered a Nobel Prize worthy discovery – I rounded up a few links on this back then.

The sun sets behind BICEP2 (in the foreground) and the South Pole Telescope (in the background). (Photo: Steffen Richter, Harvard University via BICEP2 image release gallery)

The sun sets behind BICEP2 (in the foreground) and the South Pole Telescope (in the background). (Steffen Richter, Harvard University)

However, recently new results from Planck, a space telescope run by the European Space Agency, showed that the patterns in cosmic wave background detected by BICEP2 are likely just space dust.

The Planck telescope up close (Photo: ESA for public use)

The Planck telescope up close (Photo: ESA for public use)

Suddenly the internet space is filled with criticism – like Big Bang blunder bursts the multiverse bubble, or When Science Gets Ahead Of Itself .

Enough, people.

The reason you are seeing all these in the public is because physicists are known to be open about their research results. There is no (or very little) “I am hiding this so that I can get rich off it” or “I think someone else is going to scoop my research.” Data are often shared as soon as they are available via the open access arXiv. People make results open so that others can criticize it. So that the public can better understand science. So the field as a whole can progress as much and as fast as possible. In fact, there was already some talk about data sharing between the BICEP2 and the Planck team. Physicists are years, if not decades, ahead of other fields in the openness and rapidness in sharing information.

In my mind, this is what science is about.

I completely agree with Philip Ball, as he said in his article in the Guardian:

The team involved has been criticised for publishing results before they were peer reviewed. But this is what science is: debate, discussion, deliberation.

This is also what makes science interesting. It is constantly changing, not static; it is the collective knowledge, not lines of facts. As mentioned by Astrophysicist Mario Livio,

As disappointing as these new results may sound, they provide for a powerful demonstration of how science truly progresses. Advances in science are far from being a direct march to the truth. Rather, they consist of a zigzag path that often results in false starts or blind alleys. The important point, however, is that through continuous checks, testable predictions, and new observations, science is able to self-correct and find the right way.

After Higgs Boson was found, Stephen Hawking (who lost $100 in a bet about it) said,

Physics would be ‘more interesting’ if Higgs boson hadn’t been found.

Let’s not go back to the age of waiting for years before the results are published. I say that realizing BICEP2 might come from dusts keeps the discussion of cosmic inflation interesting. And, this definitely means that the bet between Stephen Hawking and Neil Turok is not over yet.

***

Links to the original publications:

Ade P.A.R., M. Amiri, D. Barkats, S. J. Benton, C. A. Bischoff, J. J. Bock, J. A. Brevik, I. Buder, E. Bullock & G. Davis & (2014). BICEP2. II. EXPERIMENT AND THREE-YEAR DATA SET, The Astrophysical Journal, 792 (1) 62. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/0004-637x/792/1/62

Ade P.A.R., D. Barkats, S. J. Benton, C. A. Bischoff, J. J. Bock, J. A. Brevik, I. Buder, E. Bullock, C. D. Dowell & L. Duband & (2014). Detection of B-Mode Polarization at Degree Angular Scales by BICEP2, Physical Review Letters, 112 (24) DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/physrevlett.112.241101

Planck Collaboration, R. Adam, P. A. R. Ade, N. Aghanim, M. Arnaud, J. Aumont, C. Baccigalupi, A. J. Banday, R. B. Barreiro, J. G. Bartlett & N. Bartolo (2014). Planck intermediate results. XXX. The angular power spectrum of
polarized dust emission at intermediate and high Galactic latitudes, arXiv: http://arxiv.org/abs/1409.5738v1

Link roundup – BICEP2, the Big Bang, and the Inflation Theory

27 Mar

In the past two weeks, the biggest news in science was probably the detection of the comic microwave background pattern (due to gravitational waves from the early universe)  that serves as the evidence for the inflation theory. Ever since the news broke, many people and media outlets have written about this – and here is a collection of the articles if you are interested in learning more about the discovery as well as its impact.

The BICEP2 telescope at twilight, which occurs only twice a year at the South Pole. The MAPO observatory (home of the Keck Array telescope) and the South Pole station can be seen in the background. (Photo credit: Steffen Richter, Harvard University)

The BICEP2 telescope at twilight, which occurs only twice a year at the South Pole. The MAPO observatory (home of the Keck Array telescope) and the South Pole station can be seen in the background. (Photo credit: Steffen Richter, Harvard University)

Original publications on arXiv:

BICEP2 Collaboration, P. A. R Ade, R. W. Aikin, D. Barkats, S. J. Benton, C. A. Bischoff, J. J. Bock, J. A. Brevik, I. Buder, E. Bullock & C. D. Dowell (2014). BICEP2 I: Detection Of B-mode Polarization at Degree Angular Scales, arXiv:

BICEP2 Collaboration, P. A. R Ade, R. W. Aikin, M. Amiri, D. Barkats, S. J. Benton, C. A. Bischoff, J. J. Bock, J. A. Brevik, I. Buder & E. Bullock (2014). BICEP2 II: Experiment and Three-Year Data Set, arXiv:

BICEP2 results: BICEP2 2014 Results Release – including the papers, figures, video (technical and news conference), Q & A, images, etc

BBC articles:

New York Times has a pretty comprehensive story on it along with some graphic explanation: Space Ripples Reveal Big Bang’s Smoking Gun

Nature News has a whole special feature dedicated to this, including Q & A and discussion of implications: Special – Waves from the Big Bang

Some shameless self-promotion / Canadian context: My department got a little bit of attention because one of our faculty members, Dr. Mark Halpern, is one of the co-authors of the BICEP2 papers (I believe there are also collaborators from the University Toronto). Here are some interviews with Mark.

Now let’s be cautious here: 

Matt Strassler, theoretical physicist and a visiting scholar at Harvard, put together some posts about the BICEP2 results in his blog post If It Holds Up, What Might BICEP2′s Discovery Mean?. He is “cautiously optimistic” at the moment, which is a good place to be for scientists 🙂  His posts have more scientific content, but you can find a lot of background information on his site (mostly hyperlinked throughout his posts. You can also just start from the March 17th post).

Neil Turok, the Director of Canada’s Perimeter Institute, “urges caution on BICEP2 results” in a physicsworld.com article. Granted, he is not exactly a supporter of the inflation theory to begin with – he has a bet with Stephen Hawking on it, and Hawking is now claiming vistory. If you scroll down to the middle of the BBC article Cosmic inflation: ‘Spectacular’ discovery hailed, you can find a sound clip of Stephen Hawking and Neil Turok’s perspectives on the BICEP2 evidence (Hawking: I won! Turok: Not yet!).

This crazy Universe – or universes? Sean Carroll from Caltech wrote about the evidence for inflation and its implication for “multiverse” in New York Times Opinionator article When Nature Looks Unnatural (A shorter highlight could be found on io9). He also expanded on the topic on his personal blog, The Preposterous Universe.

Onto the lighter side of things: See how Andrei Linde, one of the main authors of the inflation theory, reacted to the news re: BICEP2 results delivered by Chao-Lin Kuo, a co-author of the BICEP2 papers.

If you have any additional resources or articles to add, please feel free to comment below. Otherwise, enjoy!

How is gender bias in science studied? IV. The future

10 Dec

This is part 4 and the final part of my series on how gender bias in science is studied. In the past few weeks, I summarized how gender bias in science has been studied: through surveys and interviews (Part 1), through existing data (Part 2), and through experimentation (Part 3). What we have learned is that there is evidence to support gender bias in science, most objectively through experimentation. Now the tough question – what do we do now? And I certainly hope that it doesn’t involve turning the physics department pink.

Here are a few things I could think of:

1. First, let’s start by changing the process of job and scholarship application review. Bias during reviews of job/scholarship applications and interviews is nothing new, and definitely not limited to gender and science. A study from 1997 showed that blind auditioning of musicians for symphony orchestras resulted in a significant increase in the percentage of women advancing into the next round, as well as being selected as a winner in the end. Additional research supports the use of anonymous job application procedures to ensure that the job application review process is less biased against women. These provide established cases for modifying the current process of hiring and award evaluation in research and academia. While it might be difficult to introduce an anonymous/blinded process at the faculty-hiring level (it is not difficult to guess who the researcher is given one’s work experience and publication record), it is very doable at the early career level. I think because the potential implication can be very significant, this should be implemented as soon as possible, with experimental conditions set up so that we can actually see if anonymous application processes can actually improve the hiring of women into positions in science, as suggested by my friend Artem.

On top of this, I agree with the suggestion by the Moss-Racusina et al paper reviewed previously, that the policy for hiring should be specific and the process should be transparent.

2. We have discussed the role of implicit bias in my previous postCan we actually reduce or eliminate implicit bias? Researchers in the US found that in the case of race, implicit bias is malleable. In an industrial setting, there are firms that provide strategies to address work place bias. Whether or not such a strategy is effective should be further evaluated, as noted by Bendick and Nune, but it is worth considering. It looks like the European Research Council will be introducing unconscious bias training for award selection panels; I am hoping that this will set itself as a good example for future academic hiring and award evaluation.

3. There needs to be some major structural changes with regards to how academic research and tenureship appointment works. For the past hundreds of years, it has been assumed that academic careers are taken up by men who do not need to make time for their families, and who are comfortable with leaving their families behind to advance their careers. This is unfair for both men and women, and creates a hostile environment toward women and pregnancy.  And believe me, students are already thinking about the bad rep of an academic career when they are in undergrad. Just check out this question by a student during UBC Science’s 50th Anniversary Lecture – Science: The Gender Dimension.

Now, as noted by Eileen Pollack in her New York Times article Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science? during her conversation with Meg Urry, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Yale, she said:

No one is claiming that juggling a career in physics while raising children is easy. But having a family while establishing a career as a doctor or a lawyer isn’t exactly easy either, and that doesn’t prevent women from pursuing those callings.

The chance is that, it is more than providing child care services or parental leave, but also about whether people in academia welcome such practice. We have had a bad rep for long enough – changes in the system could provide a positive view of academic careers as a whole for female students who are just starting their academic career.

4. We should continue to encourage female students to consider STEM careers in their future. The reality is that if a girl does not take high school level science courses (physics, chemistry, biology), she will not fulfill the requirement for taking upper-level first year university science courses – this becomes a barrier for the girl to enter a physical science degree program. According to the US Department of Education, by grade 8 you can see the level of interest in science diverging between boys and girls – this means that we need to start early in order to sustain girls’ interest in science. There were many ideas about how this should happen, but trying to figure out which one works is a delicate matter – many suggestions are based on surveys or personal experiences, which suffer from recall bias. I again hope to see more longitudinal data on which strategies influence girls positively (without negatively discouraging boys). I also want to point out that I don’t yet see evidence for the following two strategies. One is to turn everything pink – you probably already know how I feel about that. If someone can do a study to show how pink wires and capacitors actually get girls to be interested in building with electronics more, I am all for it. The other is to introduce over-feminine role models. The “Science, It’s a Girl Thing” video from the European Commission is a prime example of this:

(Because, right, if girls want to study chemistry then they should all be interested in cosmetics, wear heels, and blow kisses)

While I understand the motive for these two strategies, my fear is that we are simply reinforcing existing gender stereotypes. Last year, research by Betz and Sekaquaptewa actually suggested how feminine models could turn young girls away from science. I hope to see more studies such as this to to tease one which strategy works, and which one doesn’t.

5. Last but not the least, we all need to change our attitudes toward success. Being a woman in science can be a double-edge sword: If you are not aggressive and successful, people think that it is your fault and your decision to not stay in science. But if you are ambitious and aggressive, people think that you are not approachable and intimidating and event not good for the job (see Competent Yet Out in The Cold: Shifting Criteria for Hiring Reflect Backlash toward Agentic Women by Phelan et al.). It also looks like we women hesitate to promote either ourselves, or promote other women. Furthermore, some women become “non-feminine” in order to feel they belong in a male dominant field, as suggested by Pronin, Steele, and Ross in their article, Identity bifurcation in response to stereotype threat: Women and mathematics.  This recent ad from Pantene, albeit a commercial ad, pretty much sums up the problem.

The consequence is that many of us ended up settling into the stereotype set out for us. Günthera, Ekincib, Schwierenc, and Strobeld found that women tend to hold back when we feel like we won’t win anyways. As suggested by Cordelia Fine, in her book Delusions of Gender,

One possibility is that…when stereotypes of women become salient, women tend to incorporate those stereotypical traits into their current self-perception. They may then find it harder to imagine themselves as, say, a mechanical engineer.

As women, we need to realize that some of this responsibility does fall on our shoulders, that we should be more supportive of our successful colleagues (and sometimes the difficult decisions they made), and push ourselves further even though there is a risk and we might not win. If we all just sit back and do what is expected of us, the future of women in science will not change for the better.

***

Here are a few other posts/resources to check out. I am also including a list of research references I used in the post at the very end. There is a podcast based on this series in the plan, so look out for that in the future! 

Research articles referred to in this post

Download the list in pdf format

Bendick M. & Nunes A.P. (2012). Developing the Research Basis for Controlling Bias in Hiring, Journal of Social Issues, 68 (2) 238-262. DOI:

Goldin C. & Rouse C. (2000). Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of “Blind” Auditions on Female Musicians, American Economic Review, 90 (4) 715-741. DOI:

Aslund O. & Skans O.N. (2012). Do Anonymous Job Application Procedures Level the Playing Field, Industrial and Labour Relations Review, 65 (1) 82-107. http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/ilrreview/vol65/iss1/5/

Rudman L.A., Ashmore R.D. & Gary M.L. (2001). “Unlearning” automatic biases: The malleability of implicit prejudice and stereotypes., Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81 (5) 856-868. DOI:

Betz D.E. & Sekaquaptewa D. (2012). My Fair Physicist? Feminine Math and Science Role Models Demotivate Young Girls, Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3 (6) 738-746. DOI:

Phelan J.E., Moss-Racusin C.A. & Rudman L.A. (2008). COMPETENT YET OUT IN THE COLD: SHIFTING CRITERIA FOR HIRING REFLECT BACKLASH TOWARD AGENTIC WOMEN, Psychology of Women Quarterly, 32 (4) 406-413. DOI:

Pronin E., Steele C.M. & Ross L. (2004). Identity bifurcation in response to stereotype threat: Women and mathematics, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40 (2) 152-168. DOI:

Günther C., Ekinci N.A., Schwieren C. & Strobel M. (2010). Women can’t jump?—An experiment on competitive attitudes and stereotype threat, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 75 (3) 395-401. DOI:

Science vs. Politics in Canada Update: Link Roundup

14 Nov

I was originally planning to include the links here in my next general link roundup, but considering that the Canadian Science Policy Conference will be coming up in a week in Toronto, these links sorta deserve a specific post. I previously wrote about Science vs. Politics in march – I therefore consider this a follow-up post.

1. The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), “the largest union in Canada representing scientists and professionals employed at the federal and some provincial and territorial levels of government”,  recently commissioned a survey of 4,000 Canadian government scientists. They found that:

  • 90% of the federal scientists do not feel like they can speak freely about their work.
  • 37% reported that they were prevented from answering questions from the public and media in the last 5 years
  • 24% were directly asked to exclude or alter information for non-scientific reasons
  • 50% were aware of actual cases where the health and safety of Canadians or environmental sustainability has been compromised because of political interference with their scientific work

Check out the full reports on their page: Most Federal Scientists Feel They Can’t Speak Out, Even If Public Health and Safety at Risk, Says New Survey.

This story was covered by CBC (Muzzling of federal scientists widespread, survey suggests), and Nature (7 days – Trend Watch).

2. Sarah Boon (a great science communication colleague) organized a series of blog posts on Canadian science policies. John Dupuis has organized all the posts (so far, 10 of them) on his blog Confessions of A Science Librarian. Topics in the blog series range from the muzzling of government scientists, the experimental lake area, science and politics, and open data.

3. A few UBC students put together a great podcast – Silencing the Scientists, via the Terry Project. Excellent work, by the way, especially since this came from students – hope to see more from them.

Has Harper politicized federal science? Since 2006, the Canadian government has laid off scientists while expanding its communication staff. On this episode of The Terry Project on CiTR, Gordon and Sam speak with scientists, journalists and activists about the state of science and spin in 2013.

Graphic Design by Talal Al Salem/Terry Project

Graphic Design by Talal Al Salem/Terry Project

4. This came out a while ago, but I thought that it is worth sharing here again. Tom Spears, a reporter with the Ottawa Citizen, was working on a story for which he was hoping to talk to scientists from the National Research Council Canada (NRC) and NASA of the United States. Here is an infographic on what he went through: Comparing Science Communication in Canada and the USA. It has been pointed out to me in the past that this might not be a fair comparison (NRC and NASA might have different priorities when it comes to outreach), but the difference is astounding.

5. Simon Fraser University graduate student David Peddie recently wrote to Georgia Straight (a local Vancouver Community newspaper with a large circulation). In Evidence-based dissent and Canada’s war on science, he talk about the response from former chief economic analyst for Statistics Canada, Philip Cross, regarding the “war on science.”

He argues that government scientists have no right to complain of muzzling… Cross looks at the situation like a good business manager—employees exist to serve their employer; should they feel the need to give an opinion (however knowledgeable) that the public relations department deems damaging to the employer’s mission, they’re welcome to post it anonymously in a blog or resign…Cross’s outlook is the root of the whole problem. Acceptable business practice is not acceptable government practice. Democracy is not the act of electing a representative corporate body to power to execute its agenda. A corporation is free to pursue its objectives as it pleases within the confines of the law but a government has a responsibility to be accountable and transparent to its electorate. The public is not a body to be manipulated and appeased by a public relations department; they are the raison d’être of the government. Open channels of honest communication should be made available to encourage an informed, engaged, and critical public.

6. CBC Radio Program The Current recently covered the story about the War on Science. Anna Maria Tremonti, the host of the program, also interviewed Tim Powers, Vice-Chair of Summa Strategies and Conservative commentator. Tim Powers’ stand that “there is no war on science” triggered a strong response from brain research scientists from the Dalhousie University: the Decreasing Funding of Scientific Research Funding in Canada.

Have you come across a few that I should have included? Let me know by commenting below.

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