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Elsewhere in Science, 27 September 2013

Liquid Mercury

Every week, Science publishes a few articles that are likely to be of interest to career-minded readers. But because those articles aren't featured on Science Careers, our readers could easily overlook them.

To remedy that, every Friday we're pointing readers toward articles appearing in Science—the print magazine as well as the other Science-family publications (ScienceInsider, ScienceNow, Science Translational MedicineSci. TM—and Science Signaling)—that hold some relevance or nuggets of advice for readers interested in furthering their careers in science. (Please note that while articles appearing in ScienceInsider and ScienceNow can be read by anyone, articles appearing in Sci. TM and Science may require AAAS membership/Science subscription or a site license.)

At Science this week the big career-related story is effects of budget cuts, including sequestration, which are causing some careers to end prematurely.

• We'll start at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, which on Thursday "announced a plan to pare up to 475 positions from its staff of 4500 researchers, technicians, and support personnel," according to a ScienceInsider post by Adrian Cho. "Officials at the Department of Energy (DOE) lab hope to meet the target through voluntary buyouts, and there are no immediate plans for layoffs. The staff reduction is the second in 3 years and would leave the lab with nearly 1000 fewer workers than it had in 2010."

• Also on ScienceInsider, Jeffrey Mervis introduces readers to Jonathan Dordick, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, and a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grantee. Dordick has adapted to NIH's sequester-related budget cuts by being resourceful and moving money and personnel around to reduce the impact of the budget cuts.

• In the News & Analysis section of Science, Cho, Mervis, and Jocelyn Kaiser team up to provide an overview of the effects of sequestration on three key agencies: NIH,  the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy.

• On the topic of budget cuts and layoffs, I'll also mention Michael Price's article on Science Careers, "Funding Cuts Ravage Academic Laboratories."

• Against this depressing backdrop comes an Education Forum in Science, in which five authors, including Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor Jo Handelsman, propose a comprehensive "persistence framework" aimed at increasing retention—the flip-side of persistence—of college students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects. "Persistence of more top students would address the projected STEM workforce deficit, while building a deeper, broader talent pool," the authors state. It would be nice to see such focused attention paid to the problem of producing a deeper, broader pool of career opportunities.

• In an editorial related to this week's special issue on mercury, Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt points to areas where more research is needed and how it should be done:

[M]any environmental and health aspects of mercury are poorly known, except in the most acute cases of mercury poisoning. Science can help by linking research on mercury's behavior in the environment (see the Perspective by Krabbenhoft and Sunderland on p. 1457) with studies of its public health impacts. Research teams need to include environmental toxicologists who understand the biochemistry of toxic contaminants, ecologists who trace their bioaccumulation through the food chain, physicians who understand the effects of chronic and acute exposure on long-lived species such as us, and public health specialists who can extract patterns from large populations.

• This week's issue includes Science's annual guide to Gordon Research Conferences.

• In a long letter posted in this week's issue of Science, Enzo Boschi, one of the Italian scientists sentenced to 6 years imprisonment for (in his words) "failing to give adequate advance warning to the population of L'Aquila, a city in the Abruzzo region of Italy, about the risk of the 6 April 2009 earthquake that led to 309 deaths." In a ScienceInsider post in January, Edwin Cartlidge recounted the judge's explanation of the verdict.