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Elsewhere in Science: Diversity, academic entrepreneurship, and more

Here is the past week’s career-related news from across the Science family of publications:

► Recent developments in the congressional probe into scientists using fetal tissue for research highlights the complications, and potential dangers, that those conducting controversial science face. “A special investigative panel in the U.S. House of Representatives ... intensified its probe into the use of fetal tissue in biomedical research with a dozen new subpoenas aimed at researchers and abortion providers,” Kelly Servick reported last Friday. “This second round of inquiries, two of them directed to individual faculty members at the University of New Mexico ... in Albuquerque, deepens concerns among some education groups and scientists that personal information revealed in the investigation could make researchers the target of extremist violence.”

► The National Cancer Institute has named a 28-member “blue ribbon panel of scientists and other experts to help guide Vice President Joe Biden’s ambitious $1 billion moonshot to cure cancer,” Jocelyn Kaiser reported Monday. The advisory board is gearing up to “take ideas from the public and hold a summit later this spring to discuss collaborations with industry.”

► “NASA Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld, an astrophysicist and astronaut who worked on three repair missions to the Hubble Space Telescope, will retire from his position as head of the science mission directorate on 30 April,” Eric Hand reported Tuesday. Grunsfeld accomplished a lot during his time at NASA, but “[t]he most important thing Grunsfeld did while sitting atop the science division may have been to keep the $8.7 billion James Webb Space Telescope on budget and on track for launch in 2018,” Hand wrote. Deputy Geoff Yoder will serve as acting associate administrator after Grunsfeld retires.

► “The tally of biomedical innovation bills trickling through the U.S. Senate got an update [Wednesday]: 18 down, with at least one more to go,” Servick wrote Thursday. “Lawmakers on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee held the last of three meetings to approve bills that, once bundled together, will form a companion to the House of Representatives’s mammoth 21st Century Cures bill. That legislation, which the House passed this past July, aims to spur medical breakthroughs through reforms at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration. But a final piece of the puzzle—a Senate agreement on how to increase funding for those agencies, and by how much—is still missing,” Servick wrote. “Among the measures that the HELP panel approved [Wednesday] were a bill broadly authorizing President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative, another that cuts down on administrative requirements for NIH employees, and a long-discussed proposal to speed the regulatory approval of antibiotics for serious infections in limited populations.”  

► In a Perspective (subscription required) in this week’s issue of Science, Beth Mitchneck of the University of Arizona in Tucson and her co-authors presented a six-point plan to address gender disparities and other diversity issues in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The points include “[learning] the social science research,” “be[ing] accountable for diversity and inclusion,” “[seeking] external catalyzing resources,” and “[focusing] at the department level.” The authors conclude that “[t]he barriers and those cultures, practices, and structures that require transformation are well researched as are remedies. Now it's time to act.”

► “A modified lottery system could improve the fairness and efficiency of grant peer review,” wrote Ferric Fang of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle and Arturo Casadevall of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, in a letter in this week’s Science. “[T]he first stage would use traditional peer review to do what it does best: create two pools of applications. The top 20 to 30% would be deemed meritorious, and the rest would be nonmeritorious. The second stage would use a lottery to select applications for funding from the meritorious pool.” Such a system would also help provide “a precise determination of the percentage of meritorious applications remaining unfunded[, which] would be a powerful tool to advocate for increased federal budgetary allocations.”

► The book Research to Revenue: A Practical Guide to University Start-Ups “provide[s] university researchers a solid introduction to the process of commercializing laboratory-discovered innovations through the startup approach,” wrote Yael Hochberg of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship at Rice University in Houston, Texas, in a review (subscription required), also in this week’s Science. “With an emphasis on best practices at the various stages of the process, the book”—written by Don Rose, director of the KickStart program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Cam Patterson, COO at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center—“presents the harsh realities of startups, including the particular challenges faced in commercializing early-stage technologies that were not necessarily born from a specific market need and the very real (and sometimes uncomfortable) truths about the appropriate role for the faculty member in the process,” Hochberg wrote.    

► “Russian President Vladimir Putin has signaled that a day of reckoning has arrived for Russian science,” wrote Richard Stone in the first of a series of articles about science in the country in this week’s issue of Science. “[O]n 21 January, Putin noted that 150 institutes in Russia account for a vast majority of the nation's scientific output. In the coming months, scores of weaker institutes are expected to be axed or merged.” In another story, Stone wrote that the country is undertaking “its biggest slate of lunar and planetary missions since the early 1970s. … But budget cuts are threatening to drag the nation’s space science revival back to Earth.” The remaining two stories (subscription required) explore how “science collaborations with institutions on the [Crimean] peninsula [have] foundered” since Russia annexed it in 2014 and the struggles of the Skolkovo Institute of Technology, “a new U.S.-style research university” developed as a partnership between Russia and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Initially, “[m]any Russian scientists looked on with envy as the federal government poured tens of millions of dollars into [the institute],” Stone wrote, but now, “Russia's deteriorating relations with the West have hampered efforts to recruit non-Russian faculty, and its hobbled economy is pinching funding.”  

► When she was a college student, Patricia Pérez-Cornejo found that she loved conducting research. But when she became an academic researcher, the teaching aspect of the job did not come easily. In this week’s Working Life story, she reflected on how, with help from a mentor and active learning tools, she was able to develop a “newfound appreciation and enjoyment of teaching.”

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