Tag Archives: research

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.

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

Introducing “The Lab” – a YouTube comedy series about grad students working in a science lab

10 Sep

What can four busy graduates from the Banff Science Communications Program come up with during a random night of dinner and chats?

This. Introducing “The Lab” – a YouTube comedy series about grad students working in a science lab.

We first came up with this concept about a year ago. After the Banff program, we have all gotten really busy with our lives, jobs, or school work, but the desire to do a project together never left us. That’s when this idea came up. “How about a show like, ‘the office,’ except it is about a lab and the grad students working in the lab?”

All four of us – Suraaj, Agatha, Pam, and I – have experience working in research labs. And if you have met any of us, you would know that the idea of doing a YouTube series totally makes sense. So it started. Script writing meetings, google hangouts, edits, rewrites, …

Those who spend much of their time doing science communication know this – outside of science communication, most of us have other things going on. May it be that PhD thesis, the Post-doc fellowship, a (real?) full-time job, and maybe others. After we finished working on the script of the first few episodes, people got busy, and we all moved on.

But at some point, Suraaj continued – huge kudos to her. By the time that we got another email about this from her, it was a year later, and the scripts for a few more episodes had been written. In fact, she had started looking for actors and actresses for the show.

Unfortunately, Agatha is now all the way in Washington DC for a fellowship program. Pam and I managed to drop by and help out a little, with Suraaj (“the director”) driving the show. And this, is what we got.

So you see, this is not simply a comedy series. This show is about our passion for science communication. This show is about moving on to better things. This show is about sticking to your guns to make something happen. This show is about, on a random night when the 4 of us got together, catching up and talking about science communication. This is what it is about.

Okay, I think I am romanticizing this too much. You can watch the first episode below. Make sure to subscribe to the YouTube channel, to “like” it on Facebook, or to follow it on Twitter. New episodes come out on Wednesdays until Halloween.

(By the way, I will have a little cameo in the show. Make sure to watch all the episodes to find me! Feel free to let us know what you think of the show. And, *screams* man does it feel good to see my name on the screen! :D)

Missed opportunity? On AAAS President’s Address

14 Feb

Note (Feb 15, 2014): The AAAS President’s Address is now available online via the AAAS website! Please do take a little bit of time to watch it. Opinions are mine but would love to know what you think. Also thanking AAAS for letting me know that the video is available.

In case you don’t know yet, I am currently in Chicago attending both the International Public Science Events Conference (just wrapped up today) and the AAAS annual meeting (American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, also the largest general science meeting in the world with more than 10,000 participants).

Maybe it is because I have been going to sessions on how to better communicate science and to reach a broader audience for the past 2 days, maybe it is because I am always pretty sensitive about the level of a talk when students and young scientists are part of the audience. But for me, the speech by Nobel Prize Laureate and AAAS President Phillip Sharp on the first night of the AAAS annual meeting, did not to inspire me.

IMG_20140213_185000698 (1)

Philip Sharp is a molecular biologist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1993 with Richard Roberts, “for their discoveries of split genes.” If you studied biochemistry in the past (oh, wait, I did!), you would know that it is a pretty big deal (well, it is a huge deal). Back in the days, we didn’t know that the DNA code for a gene is not really just one continuous chain of information. What Sharp and Roberts found was that after the DNA code is translated into mRNA, parts of it called “introns”are removed. And it is based on this processed (spliced) mRNA that proteins, the building blocks of an organism, are actually made. The cool thing is that sometimes different ways to splice the DNA code could result in different proteins being produced. You can learn more about it from the slide show provided by the Nobel Prize website.

Like I said, I studied biochemistry for my undergrad degree, so this is really exciting for me.  I was truly looking forward to a talk in which he incorporate his experience and vision (or that of AAAS) for science, for future scientists, and for this AAAS meeting.

Instead, we were treated with “Discovery, Invention & Entrepreneurship need to be better linked for science to meet global challenges.” In my plain language, I think it means that 1. basic science research can significantly inform applied science, while applied science can mobilize basic science, and 2. scientists across disciplines, applied scientists, and the industry should collaborate better to solve the global challenges we will be facing in the next few decades, if not years: health care, food shortage, and I think the last one is poverty. The overall theme was actually quite good, especially considering the debate on funding rationale for basic science research nowadays. He concluded with the following question:

summary question

(If you are wondering, although you really shouldn’t, the expected answer was NO…)

Yet, the delivery just did not match up to the message. As technically the first talk for the day, it was rather stiff, scripted, and factual. Why should I feel motivated to do this? What’s the vision? What would be the significance? (see postscript) The more interesting part of the presentation though, was this quote from Susan Hockfield, the President of MIT from 2004-2012:

quote Susan Hockfield

(Ironically, none of the 5 opening talks this evening was by a female speaker – they are all white males above the age of 50. Nothing against them…but just want to point that out, and I was not the only one to notice that.)

Perhaps. AAAS is not an event for the general public. Yet with so many budding scientists in the audience, and the brightest high school students attending the conference via the American Junior Academy of Sciences, with attendees from all over the world, I feel frustrated and sad that this was a missed opportunity- that this speech did not make me feel like I should go home and think about how I could contribute to moving science and innovation forward. I just wanted to go back to my room and write this post.

It doesn’t mean that all scientists should be perfect science communicators. Not all of us can be Brian Cox or Neil deGrasse Tyson, and not all talks should be like their talks to the general public. Yet I believe that we can all find ways to improve ourselves, or talk to others (scientists, non-scientists, your parents, cousins, pretty much anyone you can find) to make sure the message is delivered to and understood by the audience.

Am I too critical? If you were at the talk, I would love to know what you think. Although this dampened my enthusiasm a little, I am still super excited about all the talks that I will get to attend at AAAS – now the question is, how to I pick which talk to go to…there are so many and all of them are so interesting…

PS. I hope that AAAS will post the video so that there is more context to this blog post. In the mean time, here is a photo I took of the transcription of the talk (via voice recognition I think, so might not be exact). I personally don’t like terms such as framework, model, convergence (which was used a lot), etc etc. I felt quite disconnected…

transcribed speech

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:

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