Archive for the ‘Life as a post-doc’ Category

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) has released a new report, Sustaining Discovery in Biological and Medical Sciences: A Framework for Discussion,detailing FASEB’s most recent analysis of the problems/issues facing the biomedical research enterprise.

From the executive summary: “FASEB….is concerned about the future of biological and medical research. Inconsistent investment policies, growing demands for research funding, and outdated policies are jeopardizing current and future progress in this important area of research. This is a serious problem for the nation, and requires immediate attention and action.”

Options for mitigating the multitude of problems discussed in the FASEB report include: 1: Maximize research funding; 2: Optimize funding mechanisms; and 3: Improve workforce utilization and training.

ScienceInsider writes, “Although it echoes previous reports, FASEB’s analysis breaks new ground for the society because it provides “a comprehensive view of the problem and recognizes that an increase in funding is not the way out of this dilemma,” says Howard Garrison, director of FASEB’s Office of Public Affairs. He said FASEB’s board now hopes to collect feedback from its membership.”

There are a multitude of ways to become involved in science policy, communication and outreach. Until there are more opportunities for formal training in these topics at the undergraduate, graduate and continuing education levels, creativity and maintaining an open mind regarding how to gain experience is important. When possible, seek out help and advice from more experienced colleagues and mentors.

A scientist’s life is already extremely busy, and many find it difficult to find additional time for these learning and engagement opportunities. Do not over commit yourself, be honest with your time constraints and stress levels. I suggest greater participation in one or two things rather than little to no participation in a variety of things.

Open and honest communication with your mentor(s) is crucial. Not all mentors will be equally supportive of endeavors outside of the laboratory, start with explaining why you are interested in these activities and how they will help you in your future career aspirations. Seek outside advice, mentoring and support when required. See here for tips from AAAS on how to maximize your personal mentoring.

This list is not exhaustive and is a work in progress. Please comment additional suggestions and opportunities not listed here.


Join the Forum on Science, Ethics, and Policy (FOSEP) (if located in Seattle) and sign up for their listserv (for occasional emails containing suggested webinar trainings and events).

Search for and join campus groups related to science policy. Attend events and contribute to discussions. If no such group exists in your area, contact your graduate school and/or student activities office to start your own.

Start a blog or contribute original submissions to an already established blog. SciencePolitics and FOSEP are happy to accept guest posts and advise.

For graduate students: volunteer to serve as a student representative for your department’s council meetings and/or to serve as your department’s representative to the graduate student senate.

For postdocs: volunteer to serve on the postdoctoral affairs committee, if one does not exist on your campus, contact the graduate school to explore the possibility of starting one.

If active on social media (facebook, twitter, linkedin, etc.) connect with science organizations and universities. Many of these groups also have separate accounts for their advocacy arm. Example suggestions: AAAS, OSTP, NIH (and individual institutes), SfN, etc. (local to the PNW: NWABRNSWA, Seattle Town Hall, Pacific Science Center etc.).

Join applicable science policy and advocacy groups hosted through organizations (expl. ASBMB and ASPET). Sign up for their action alerts and emails.

If eligible, apply for applicable “Hill Day” trips to Washington DC. These usually consist of advocacy training, mentoring, and organized meetings with elected officials and their staff. Many early career Hill Day opportunities are funded through travel awards. See ASBMB for an example opportunity.

Sign up for volunteer opportunities through local and national organizations (science and education museums, scientific societies, local nonprofits etc.).

Attend for credit, audit, or sit in on science policy, communication and outreach courses offered at your local institutions (see here for a (partial) list of courses offered at UW). If no courses are offered, MIT’s Science Policy Bootcamp (open courseware) and/or read Beyond Sputnik – US Science Policy in the 21st Century.

Apply for science policy and communication related fellowships. Examples include AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship and the Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program. See here for additional suggestions.

Become active in local and state politics. Attend your legislative district meetings. Participate in election caucuses. Volunteer for city and county commission/committee seats. Volunteer for non-profits and board of directors seats.

New Action Alert from Research!America:

Funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has remained flat in recent years, and uncertainty is growing over the ability of universities and other research institutions to conduct the noncommercial medical research underlying new preventative measures, diagnostic tools, treatments, and cures. In response to significant concerns about the erosion of NIH’s purchasing power, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) has introduced legislation, the Advancing Biomedical Research Act, that empowers Congress to provide up to 10% increases in NIH funding for FY 2015 and FY 2016, and up to 5% increases through 2021. These increases are more than justified by the scientific opportunity unleashed when the human genome was sequenced. And that’s just one of the developments that has set the stage for accelerated medical progress. We need to conquer Alzheimer’s Disease, cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, and other deadly and disabling health threats…and we can. Show Congress that you support Senator Harkin’s efforts to fuel medical progress. Urge the senators who represent you to support the Accelerating Biomedical Research Act now!

The U.S. biomedical science system “is on an unsustainable path” and needs major reform, four prominent researchers write in an opinion piece published today by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers should “confront the dangers at hand,” the authors write, and “rethink” how academic research is funded, staffed, and organized,according to Science Careers (published by AAAS, which also publishes ScienceInsider).”

“The world is heading towards possibly dangerous levels of global warming despite increasing efforts to promote the transition to a low-carbon economy, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns in its latest report today.”

A group of European pro-life organizations is mobilizing against embryonic stem cell research in a way that the European Commission cannot ignore. One of Us, a so-called European citizens’ initiative, has collected 1.7 million signatures from all 28 E.U. member states for a proposal that would block funding for research in which embryos are destroyed; under E.U. rules, the European Commission must now consider turning the proposal into legislation.”

“Haruko Obokata, the Japanese scientist at the centre of a controversy over studies purporting to turn mature cells to stem cells simply by bathing them in acid or subjecting them to mechanical stress, today apologized for her errors in the work.”

BMJ has published the latest volley in a battle over one of the most controversial drugs of the 21st century: the anti-influenza compound oseltamivir, better known as Tamiflu. A working group of the Cochrane Collaboration, an international network of scientists that performs systematic reviews of the medical literature, has carried out the most exhaustive meta-analysis yet of the drug’s efficacy—and its conclusions are, once again, pretty damning.”

President Barack Obama today nominated Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the White House budget office, to replace Kathleen Sebelius as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).”

“Stem-cell biologist Mahendra Rao, who resigned last week as director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine (CRM) at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), has a new job. On 9 April, he was appointed vice-president for regenerative medicine at the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF), a non-profit organization that funds embryonic stem-cell research.”

The next chapter in the long-running scientific story of Michigan’s Isle Royale wolves will not include a dramatic genetic rescue. After 2 years of consideration, the National Park Service (NPS) announced this week that it will not introduce mainland wolves to revive the genetically inbred and declining wolf population on the isolated island. “The decision is not to intervene as long as there is a breeding population,” Isle Royale National Park Superintendent Phyllis Green tells ScienceInsider.  “

From Research!America:

“Given that the budget allocated to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which funds the non-commercial, basic medical research required to develop new medical treatments and cures, is actually lower this year than it was in 2012, it has never been more important to fight for NIH funding. To help ensure that this unique federal agency receives the resources needed to support research at universities, hospitals and other research institutions across the country, Representatives Peter King (R-NY), Susan Davis (D-CA), Andre Carson (D-IN), and David McKinley (R-WV) are circulating a sign-on letter in support of critically needed funding for NIH.”

In addition to the NIH budget being lower this year than in 2012, as a recent NatureEditorial points out, due to inflation and continued flat funding, the NIH’s budget has decreased by 10% in the last 10 years! Inflation for biomedical research is high, which means flat funding is actually a funding cut when inflation is taken into account. For example, while President Obama requested a 0.7% increase in his FY2015 budget for the NIH, inflation is projected to rise by 2.2% in 2014, translating into  an actual 1.5% cut for NIH spending. Likewise, by FY2019 the Department of Health and Human Services is projecting biomedical inflation to be at 3.3%, which would mean Congress would have to approve at least a 3.3% budget increase just for the NIH’s purchasing power to remain flat!

While these numbers are quite disheartening, a bipartisan group of Congress members are now recognizing what flat funding for NIH actually means. The McKinley-Davis-Carson-King Letter for Medical Research currently being circulated reads, “As Members of Congress who value the critical role played by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in better health outcomes, job creation, education, and economic growth, we respectfully request that the NIH receives at least $32 billion for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. We feel this amount is the minimum level of funding needed to reflect the rising costs associated with biomedical research. At a time of unprecedented scientific opportunity, it is critical that the United States make forward-thinking investments that promote medical breakthroughs as well as our international leadership in biomedical research.”

The McKinley-Davis-Carson-King Letter for Medical Research’s $32 billion ask for FY2015 would be an additional 5.5% budget increase over Obama’s request. Please consider contacting your US House of Representative to urge them to sign on to the letter.

 Crossposted to Seattle FOSEP.

“Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives today laid out their arguments for keeping the National Science Foundation (NSF) on a short leash. It was the latest salvo in a yearlong battle with Democrats over the nature of federal support for basic research.

The setting was a markup of controversial legislation, H.R. 4186, by the research panel of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. The bill, called the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act, would reauthorize research and education programs at NSF and the National Institute of Standards and Technology and provide greater oversight of federal efforts in science education. ”

“Sen. Dick Durbin today called for $150 billion more in federal spending on biomedical research over 10 years, saying America’s place as the world’s innovation leader is at risk because it no longer invests enough in basic science.”

“Animal rights activists have dramatically shifted their tactics over the last decade, targeting individual researchers and the businesses that support them, instead of going after their universities. That’s the biggest revelation to come out of a report released today by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), the largest coalition of biomedical research associations in the United States.”

“Little Foot, the world’s most complete hominin fossil, dates back much further than the widely thought 2.2 million years, and should help scientists narrow down the identity of the first human ancestor, according to new research published today in the Journal of Human Evolution*. The findings were announced at simultaneous press conferences in Paris and Johannesburg.”

“Amid mounting allegations of problematic images and plagiarism, the lead author and two co-authors are considering retracting two controversial papers describing a simple method for creating stem cells known as STAP (stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency). Their written statement was released during a press conference here today at which an investigating committee confirmed finding problems in the papers but stopped short of rendering a judgment on research misconduct.”

“NIH’s biomedical research workforce initiatives, which implement Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) recommendations, include improving graduate student and postdoctoral research training through a number of measures, including increasing postdoctoral stipends to reflect years of training, and considering policies on benefits. In February we announced increases to NRSA stipend levels in the NIH Guide. Today, I’d like to talk about how we are proceeding with evaluating postdoc benefits.”

“The Swiss government is stepping in to support individual researchers currently excluded from receiving grants from the European Union.

Hundreds of Switzerland-based scientists who had applied, or intended to apply, for European Research Council (ERC) grants have been badly hit by the fallout of a referendum last month which obliges the Swiss government to restrict immigration into the country. In response, the European Union suspended talks with Switzerland over its association with the EU’s €80 billion Horizon 2020 research programme, of which the ERC is a part.”

“The US National Science Foundation (NSF) has a new leader. The US Senate voted today to confirm astrophysicist France Córdova to lead the agency, roughly a year after former director Subra Suresh resigned mid-term.”

“Has the cull begun? New data show that after remaining more or less steady for a decade, the number of investigators with National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding dropped sharply last year by at least 500 researchers and as many as 1000. Although not a big surprise—it came the same year that NIH’s budget took a 5% cut—the decline suggests that a long-anticipated contraction in the number of labs supported by NIH may have finally begun.”

Powerful article on the negative effects continued flat funding and budget cuts have had on the research force in the US (and especially on young scientists). Focuses on a poll of over 10,000 basic science researchers. Nothing too new in the poll’s findings, except that whereas even just a few years ago you would be hard pressed to find even 10% of lab heads encouraging their mentees to seek out non tenure-track positions and career alternatives, based on the poll, now more than 50% responded that they currently encourage this type of “alternative” career planning. Subscription required unfortunately.,0,528842.story

“Scientists continue to neglect gender in medical research, endangering women’s health by focusing on males in studies that shape the treatment of disease, according to a report released Monday.”

“US President Barack Obama’s budget proposal for the 2015 fiscal year seems destined to please no one. The US$3.9-trillion plan, released on 4 March, exceeds the spending limit approved for the year by Congress by about $56 billion, drawing quick rebukes from lawmakers. But it also proposes almost flat budgets for key research agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), which has disappointed science advocates.” For a supposedly science friendly president who has repeatedly claimed a strong commitment to basic biomedical research, his request for essentially flat funding for the NIH is very disappointing and disheartening.

“According to the agency’s Biomedical Research and Development Price Index, which calculates its purchasing power, the cost of doing research is expected to rise by 2.9% in fiscal year 2015, far outpacing the NIH’s 0.7% budget hike.” Case in point for why flat funding is actually a budget cut for the NIH.

See also:

From Dr. Sally Rockey’s blog Rock Talk: Success Rates, Award Rates, and Funding Rates”

“The South Korean Supreme Court has upheld a 2010 ruling that sentences disgraced cloning expert Woo Suk Hwang to a one-and-a-half-year prison term for embezzlement and violation of the country’s bioethics law. The term comes with a two-year probation, however, and if Hwang does not commit a crime during that period, he will not have to serve jail time at all. This is the final judgment on a trial that started in 2006 andreached its first verdict in 2009 after 43 hearings involving 60 witnesses.”

QS World University Rankings by Subject 2014, published on 25 February. University of Washington does quite well, with 23rd for medicine and 24th for biological sciences.

“Women whose male partners have high concentrations of three common forms of phthalates, chemicals found in a wide range of consumer products, take longer to become pregnant than women in couples in which the male does not have high concentrations of the chemicals, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health and other institutions.”