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Science Careers Editors' Best of 2009

Jorge Cham

Many scientists will remember 2009 but not all will remember it fondly. Many institutions and companies where scientists work suffered from effects of the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, which limited job opportunities for scientists, engineers, and just about everyone else. We asked the Science Careers editors to select the articles that best told the turbulent story of 2009; you can find their selections below.

(U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

Immigration was among the top issues of concern to scientists in 2009.

During this difficult year, Science Careers documented the lousy academic job market and kept track of the issues affecting employment opportunities in research and related fields, from government efforts to stimulate the economy to immigration. We offered tips on job hunting and interviewing for tough times, including how to look great when you walk through the door of a potential employer. Plus, for people in a hurry -- like many of our readers -- we talked about a new form of networking that puts a premium on speed.

Science Careers investigated the stories of scientists working in difficult circumstances. We looked at Eastern Europe 10 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which for many scientists meant returning to their home countries for meaningful work or advancement. We tried to help people facing adversity, whether it is the loss of tenure or the death of a leader in the lab. We told how some scientists struggled with depression -- clinical, not economic -- and offered tips on dealing with stressful times.

It wasn't all bad

Cecilia Aragon

Cecilia Aragon

Courtesy of Cecilia Aragon

(David Aragon)

Cecilia Aragon gained confidence as a scientist by becoming a competitive aerobatic pilot.

We tried to balance the torrent of bad news in 2009 with coverage of something more upbeat: emerging opportunities for scientists. Science Careers described the burgeoning field of climate change research, which is attracting more public- and private-sector money, and which offers opportunities that cross traditional scientific disciplines. In a special series, we outlined how some scientists are asking big, bold, audacious research questions. We wrote about scientists who started their own businesses, either as a supplement to their academic pursuits or as a full-time endeavor.

And we discovered interesting people using their science background or overcoming barriers in non-traditional ways. We met Gina Wingood who designed an HIV/AIDS prevention program for African-American women in San Francisco, California. In Cecilia Aragon, we met a computer scientist who found the confidence to pursue a scientific career in the cockpit of a souped-up Piper Archer aircraft. And we learned about Jorge Cham (pictured at top), who has developed a cult following among graduate students with his Piled Higher and Deeper cartoons.

In 2009, Science Careers opened its social-network communities, beginning with the Clinical and Translational Science Network (CTScinet) for physician-scientists and MySciNet, which highlights diversity in the sciences. We expanded the Science Careers Blog, adding new bloggers including Angela Posada Swafford who reported on the conduct of science at the South Pole.

Also in the blog, we began tracking online job postings for scientists and related occupations, using data from The Conference Board. The most recent of these reports shows that the worst of the recession may be over, but whatever direction the economy turns, Science Careers will be there in 2010 to chronicle what happens.

(Amelia Panico for Weill Cornell Medical College)
The tables at the speed-networking event were set up to minimize noise, maximize easy movement around the tables, and facilitate conversation.

Careers Editors' Best of 2009

Taken for Granted: Brother, Can You Spare a Temporary Worker Visa?

Beryl Lieff Benderly, 2 January. In hard economic times, the controversial H-1B visa program, which lowers wages for Americans while exposing foreign scientists to the whims of employers, needs major reform.

Darwin's Legacy: Keeping Order

Kate Travis, 6 February. As a curator in entomology at the Natural History Museum in London, Erica McAlister is responsible for everything from maintaining collections to fieldwork.

Tooling Up: The Cold, Hard Truth About Finding a Job in 2009

David G. Jensen, 20 February. Finding a job in 2009 will take a perfect plan, perseverance, and a positive attitude.


Audacity in Science

"Some scientists are driven to ask big, bold questions," says freelance science writer Anne Sasso in the first installment of a series about scientists who, as Sasso puts it, "challenge prevailing assumptions, transform their fields, and experience the notoriety, both good and bad, that comes with being a game changer." The series that began in September 2009 so far includes:

- Audacity, Part 1. What do paradigm-shifting scientists have in common?

- Audacity, Part 2: A Blueprint for Audacious Science. To do breakthrough science, you need passion, a supportive institution and mentor, and a suitable problem.

- Audacity, Part 3: Funding Audacious Science. What are the best strategies for funding high-risk, high-reward research?

Coming up next year in Part 4: How funding agencies are supporting, or not supporting, audacious science.

When Ironies Make Perfect Sense

Anne Sasso, 27 February. Gina Wingood, a black Catholic woman raised in a white suburb, found love and her calling in San Francisco's ghettos talking condoms, sex, and ethnic pride.

Redefining Tenure at Medical Schools

Chelsea Wald, 6 March. These days fewer faculty jobs are tenure-track, so job seekers in academic medical research need to look beyond the tenure-track label.

The One-Minute Talk

Victoria McGovern, 13 March. Whether it's on an elevator with a stranger or during lunch with a Nobel laureate, you need to know how to respond when asked, "Tell me about yourself."

Opportunities: Kauffman's Twelve

Peter Fiske, 13 March. A new fellowship program from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation will prepare 12 life-scientist fellows each year to commercialize their research findings.

Tooling Up: The Informational Interview

David G. Jensen, 20 March. Landing an informational interview starts with good networking. Succeeding at it takes preparation and practice.

Piled Higher and Deeper: The Everyday Life of a Grad Student

Sara Coelho, 27 March. Jorge Cham's comic strip, capturing the trials and tribulations of grad school, became so popular that he left the lab for a career as a cartoonist and lecturer.

Teach the Students You Have

Siri Carpenter, 24 April. To teach well while minimizing pain, take a scholarly approach, make your expectations clear, and focus on measures with a high rate of return.

Academia or Industry? Finding the Right Fit

Elisabeth Pain, 22 May. There are restrictions and limitations on doing for-profit science, but there are also many advantages to joining industry.

In Person: Breaking All the Rules

Ruth Ley, 29 May. Ruth Ley and Lars Angenent found that two-scientist couples don't have to compromise on independent research careers -- but the path isn't always easy.

Perspective: Speed Networking for Scientists

Louise Holmes, 12 June. Speed networking can be an effective way to promote new research collaborations.

Revising Best-Laid Plans

Siri Carpenter, 26 June. Tenured scientists tell stories about how they managed to restart their research careers.

Taken for Granted: Doing Something About the Postdoc Mess

Beryl Lieff Benderly, 7 August. Two new initiatives seek to prepare postdocs for off-campus careers.

In Person: The Pursuit of Happiness

Huda Akil, 14 August. The joy of playing with her granddaughter tickles the neurons of a noted neuroscientist and inspires her research.

Visa Delays Put Science Careers at Risk

Lisa Seachrist Chiu, 14 August. "Administrative review" is leaving some foreign scientists stranded overseas and others afraid to travel, putting their careers and science at risk.

A Physician-Researcher Thrives in the Balance

Chelsea Wald, 11 September. Regan Theiler balances her clinical work in the delivery room with lab research on infectious diseases.

Serving Human Rights and Humanitarian Needs

Elisabeth Pain, 25 September. Three passionate scientists describe their careers dealing with human rights and humanitarian issues.

Flying High

Susan Gaidos, 2 October. Despite a remarkable talent, Cecilia Aragon lacked the confidence she needed to be a scientist. And then she learned to fly.

The Funding News goes weekly

Since November 1998, the venerable Funding News has appeared on the first business day of each month, giving the latest additions to GrantsNet, Science Careers’s funding database. But beginning in May 2009, it became a weekly product, which means readers can find out the latest scientific-research grant announcements and student-support opportunities much earlier than before. GrantsNet is the most comprehensive source of science funding opportunities, covering both U.S. government and private foundation sources.

Destigmatizing Depression

Karyn Hede, 2 October. Medical students and physician-scientist trainees suffer from high rates of depression and often are reluctant to admit to their condition.

The Entrepreneurial Bug

Alan Kotok, 9 October. Three academic scientists tell how they became afflicted by the drive to commercialize their science.

Making the Most of Opportunities and Challenges

Robin Mejia, 9 October. Salk Institute for Biological Studies neuroscientist Sam Pfaff went on to success following a falling out with his Ph.D. adviser.

Life After Rejection

Siri Carpenter, 23 October. You've been denied tenure -- now what?

Returning to Science

Sarah Webb, 30 October. With the right support, it is possible to succeed in science after a family-related hiatus.

A Life Lived Backwards

Angela Saini, 30 October. Patricia Alireza already had grandchildren when her physics career began to bloom.

On Going Home: Succeeding in Science in Eastern Europe

Elisabeth Pain, 6 November. Three early-career scientists discuss returning to their native countries after spending time abroad.

A Recipe for Collaboration

Lisa Seachrist Chiu, 13 November. Serendipity, hard work, and good communication formed the core of an unlikely collaboration that resulted in a new technique for measuring hormone levels.

Climate Change Research Broadens to Meet New Challenges

Siri Carpenter, 27 November. New programs are emerging to help prepare scientists for the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of climate change research.

Translating Lupus

Karyn Hede, 4 December. An encounter with a lupus patient crystallized one scientist's concept of "translational research" and fundamentally changed the focus of her lab.

Dealing With a Lab Leader's Death

Sara Coelho, 11 December. When a principal investigator dies, it leaves behind a scientific gap, practical problems, and grieving colleagues.

Alan Kotok is managing editor of Science Careers.

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