Elsewhere in Science, 18 April 2014

Feng Zhang

Each week, Science publishes a number of articles that are likely to be of interest to career-minded readers. Because those articles are published on the other Science sites, Science Careers readers could easily overlook them.

To remedy that, every Friday we're pointing our readers toward articles appearing in Science—the print magazine as well as ScienceInsider, ScienceNOW, Science Translational Medicine (Sci. TM), and Science Signaling—that hold some relevance to careers in science and other technical fields. (Note that articles appearing in Sci. TM, Science Signaling, and Science may require AAAS membership, a Science subscription, or a site license.)

► On Thursday, ScienceInsider reported that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has abandoned its long-time policy of limiting the number of resubmissions of the same grant proposal. For many years, researchers were allowed to resubmit a rejected application twice—to make two amendments, in NIH-speak. In 2009, the number of allowed amendments was reduced to one. If reviewers rejected the last allowed amendment, researchers had no choice but to start over with a new idea, or with a very significant reconfiguration of the old idea.

Under the new policy, applicants will still be allowed one opportunity to address reviewer criticisms when their proposal is rejected. But after that, "the agency will allow an applicant to resubmit the identical proposal as many times as they like as a new submission," Jocelyn Kaiser wrote. That means that researchers won't have to give up on a good idea after a year or two just because they can't convince reviewers to support it.  The new policy takes effect immediately.

► Molecular biologist Feng Zhang, 32, won the National Science Foundation's million-dollar Alan T. Waterman Award, which is given annually to a scientist under 35. Zhang is one of this week's Newsmakers.

As a child, Zhang moved with his family from China to Des Moines, where he worked in a gene therapy lab as a high school student; the experience taught him to think about biology from an engineering point of view. He went on invent CRISPR, "a fast, cheap method of inserting, deleting, and substituting DNA sequences in animal genomes."

► In Letters, one of the scientists whose work was used to justify an antigay law in Uganda wrote to defend his role as an adviser to Uganda's president. The advisory group's letter "does not say that homosexuality is a social abnormality, as some media and political forces claimed. To the contrary, it clearly stipulates that homosexuality is not a disease and that the World Health Organization and American Psychological Association have removed it from their list of psychiatric illnesses," wrote Misaki Wayengera of Makerere University in Kampala. But the group's work was distorted and misused by the president and used to justify the discriminatory measure. "Some say we could have chosen to boycott participation altogether," he wrote. "I believe that if scientists had refused to carry out this research because we feared (rightfully) that our work would be misrepresented, we would have failed to do our duty as experts, which is to inform the public. Although the results were discouraging, it is worth recognizing that a developing country has relied on its scientists to inform policy. That alone is a step in the right direction."

► In Books et al., Gavin Schmidt of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies panned Behind the Curve: Science and the Politics of Global Warming by Joshua P. Howe. The review is titled, "On Scientists and Advocacy."

► In News Focus, Eli Kintisch profiled Jennifer Francis, the controversial Rutgers University climatologist who "has made waves linking the melting Arctic to extreme weather around the world." Many of her colleagues are skeptical of the idea, and "irritated by its high profile," Kintisch wrote. Yet, the idea and Francis herself have been influential: reporters love to talk to her, she has become a marquee conference speaker, and she is an informal adviser to John Holdren, President Barack Obama's science adviser.

Now she finds herself in the hot seat, before the science has had a chance to ripen. "Usually a hypothesis gets tested … the conclusions are solid and then it becomes news," Francis says. "But in this case, says Stephen Vavrus, a climate modeler at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who collaborates with Francis, 'Jennifer and I have been forced into the uncomfortable position of defending—or at least explaining—our position before the scientific process has run its course.' "

Francis's scientific background is fascinating. She was planning a career in dentistry until 1980, when, after her junior year in college, she and her soon-to-be husband overhauled a 14-meter sailboat and sailed it around the world. They avoided the usual "milk run," taking more dangerous polar routes and logging some 100,000 kilometers over 5 years. The trip affected her deeply, and when she got back home, she switched majors to meteorology.

She circumnavigated the globe again starting in 2009, with a crew that included her 12-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter. Long accustomed to thinking about the effects of climate on the Arctic, on that trip she began to wonder how the changing Arctic was, in turn, affecting the climate. She became a public figure in 2012, when an influential paper by Francis and Vavrus came out in Geophysical Research Letters just as the United States was in the midst of some unusual weather patterns. Since then, the amount of time she spends on outreach and communication has risen from about 20% to about 80%. Kintisch wrote, "She's an articulate scientist, after all, with a surprising take on a topic that everyone loves to talk about: the weather."

Top Image: Feng Zhang. CREDIT: Maria Nemchuk

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