"Tech Like a Girl"

23. May 2017
On 22 April of this year—Earth Daymarches were held around the world in the name of science. But at Central Carolina Community College (CCCC), USA, members of the campus' OSA/SPIE student chapter found a different way to advocate for STEM.

Workshopping STEM

CCCC organized an all-girls' STEM workshop, titled, "Tech Like a Girl." The occasion focused on spectroscopy using photonics, and allowed the participants to explore light and all that it can do. Gary Beasley, CCCC's lead instructor for laser and photonics technology and one of the workshop organizers, hopes that the Earth Day fête raised awareness about the CCCC laser program and helped the students open "their eyes to some of the vast career opportunities awaiting them in STEM."

The girls participating spent the day learning about photonics and spectroscopy with the help of the workshop's leader, Yvette Mattley. A principal applications scientist at Ocean Optics in Dunedin, Fla., USA, Mattley used that company's educational kit to teach students (and their parents) how spectroscopy is used to study matter. Additionally, Mattley shared her journey in becoming a female scientist, and how much pleasure she derives from her career. Nickolas Jorgenson, the CCCC OSA/SPIE student chapter president, believes that the workshop benefited CCCC students in addition to parents and participants."The chapter members also learned a lot about spectroscopy and career opportunities from Dr. Mattley."

Larger effort

The workshop, including the spectroscopy kits that the participants used in the active-learning exercise, were funded through LASER-TEC, a program funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in which CCCC participates. LASER-TEC is the Southeast Regional Center for Laser and Fiber Optics Education, based in Fort Pierce, Fla., USA, and was established by NSF in 2013 to develop a sustainable pipeline of qualified laser and fiber optics technicians to meet industry demand across the southeastern United States.                                                                                                      

The workshop also included a panel discussion titled "Interviewing Essentials—STEM Focus." The panel consisted of six participants, including second-year laser students actively involved in the job-interview process, and local photonics professionals. The goal, Beasley says, was to help first-year laser students understand techniques that can help them better prepare for interviews.

The event grew out of a larger initiative run by Constance Boahn, the chair of CCCC's engineering department. In 2016, Boahn launched strategic programming aiming to get more female students interested in a STEM career. The 22 April STEM workshop was the first in a series of similar events Boahn plans to run.

Is Industry Right for You?

9. May 2017

Some scientists originally looking to an academic career figure out early on that academia is just not right for them, and look at other career optionsparticularly careers in industry. And, according to a recent report from the American Institute of Physics (AIP), choosing a career outside of academia can be richly rewarding.

The AIP report, published in 2015 and titled Common Careers of Physicists in the Private Sector, claims that in just one decade after graduating from doctorate programs, many physicists "have found financially solid and meaningful employment in the private sector." Government contractors, in particular, enjoyed the flexibility of their roles and "appreciated the variety of projects they were able to pursue." Those working in finance (often called "quants" as Debbie Berebichez explained in a previous blog post) claim particularly high salaries.

These findings are good news for the "significant portion of postdoc researchers" eyeing non-academic careers. In a 2016 study, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology, USA, and Cornell University, USA, interviewed nearly 6,000 doctoral students across a broad range of academic fields. Of those interviewed, 33 percent held a greater interest in careers outside of academia. Of this group, many were interested in careers with government, firms or startups, or other non-research careers. Those already in the private sector said they "identified their jobs as intellectually stimulating, challenging and rewarding." According to the study, this was due to the constant influx of colleagues who are smart, interesting and from a wider range of backgrounds beyond the sciences.

If worried about the long-term implications of an industry career, fear not. A 2016 Science article notes that industry experience provides a unique value and can be used as a platform to enter an academic career down the line. According to the article, by taking administrative roles or exploring careers in industry-university relations, one can blend professional experiences. Location can be a boon, too; the Science article notes that "in certain regions around the world, industry experience is not only highly coveted but is a requirement for academic jobs."

For OSA members looking to explore industry happenings, trends and more, be sure to visit www.osa.org/industry.

What Does an Aging Workforce Mean for Science?

27. March 2017

A new study conducted by researchers from The Ohio State University, USA, looks at the rise in the average age of scientists and engineers in the STEM field's U.S. workforcea topic that potentially bears both on the country's overall scientific competitiveness and the outlook for younger scientists entering the workforce today. In the study, economists David M. Blau and Bruce A. Weinberg looked in particular at why the workforce is aging rapidly and what that means for science. For instance, they note, "The science and engineering workforce has aged rapidly, both absolutely and relative to the workforce, which is a concern if the large number of older scientists crowds out younger scientists."

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) this week, is part of a larger research effort to determine what happens to the creativity and scientists and productivity of scientists as they age. "The conventional wisdom has been that scientists become less creative and innovative as they age," Weinberg said in a press release. However, Weinberg also said that some of his own research suggests otherwise.

Motivating the study—which rested on a combination of data from the U.S. Census Bureau and from a National Science Foundation survey of doctorate recipients conducted between 1993 and 2010—was the rising average of employed scientists in the United States. The average age increased from 45.1 years to 48.6 years between 1993 and 2010, faster than that of the workforce as a whole. And the authors also predict in the paper that the average age will continue to rise, reaching a steady state of 50,9 years in the future, all else being equal.

One reason for concern about an aging scientific workforce is that older, presumably less creative and entrepreneurial scientists might crowd out younger, presumably more innovative and enterprising talent. Weinberg says, however, that those fears have yet to be proven. (Though a press release on the study did admittedly note that the current study can't determine if this is actually happening.) Still, the researchers hope these insights will eventually also help determine if advancing retirement ages are indeed keeping young scientists out of the workforce.

Weinberg says that those fears have yet to be shown as rooted in fact (and, indeed, even Blau and Weinberg's PNAS study doesn't really offer an answer.) Still, the researchers hope the insights in the new paper, coupled with their other work, will eventually also help determine if advancing retirement ages are indeed keeping young scientists out of the workforce.

One reason that the scientific workforce continues to age on the job is that the law in the United States now allows them to do so. A law that had mandated that professors retire at age 70 was repealed in 1994. In the wake of that move, the proportion of scientific workers aged 55 and older ballooned from 18 percent in 1993 to 33 percent in 2010.

This is a significant increase relative to non-scientific fields, for which the proportion of over-55 workers expanded from 15 to 23 percent in the same period. More specifically, the researchers found that a "substantial majority" of the workforce rising in average age is due to the aging of baby boom scientists—of which there is a large cohort in the workforce.

According to the PNAS study, the average age of scientists in nearly all disciplines are on the rise. Even computer and information science—a field historically known for attracting the young and tech-savvy—has, according to a press release, "seen a graying of the workforce." Indeed, almost counterintuitively,  the average age of computer scientists is increasing more rapidly than in other fields.

In additionsomewhat surprisingly, in light of rapid demographic changesthe authors found no correlation or influence on the average age of the scientific workforce with immigration status or gender.

What this rise in average age means for science is yet to be fully understood. The authors  conclude that "The implications of these findings depend on whether and how rapidly scientific productivity declines with age, and whether the life cycle scientific pattern will change in response to the aging scientific workforce." Blau and Weinberg say they'll continue "to investigate the implications of our aging scientific workforce" in their future work.

Women in STEM: A New Report

9. March 2017

In recognition of the 106th International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March, countries and organizations have rallied to promote the significance and importance of women worldwide. At the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, a panel of female authors discussed this year’s IWD theme “Be Bold for Change.” The City of Brisbane, Australia, hosted an International Women’s Day Fun Run in support of women with breast cancer. The training company General Assembly presented 11 Women’s Day Lightning Talks around the globe, featuring panels of “female leaders who are spearheading local innovation in tech, culture, social media and politics.”

The scientific-publishing behemoth Elsevier has now released its own lengthy study on the changing roles of women in research. In “Gender in the Global Research Landscape,” a team of Elsevier researchers reviewed data from the company's Scopus and ScienceDirect databases covering two separate five-year periods, 1996-2001 and 2011-2015, comparing authorship of papers from 12 different geographical regions as well as across 27 Scopus topics.

There’s a big caveat in assessing this report: It is not truly comprehensive. In particular, it omits data from China, and thus contributions of female scientists from a region that’s emerged as one of the world’ biggest single producers of scientific research. It also doesn't cover the work of unpublished and unpatented female scientists working in industry.

Still, within the sphere that it does cover, the report reveals some intriguing trends. One key finding, highlighted here, notes that the number of women researchers and inventors publishing papers and filing patents has increased. Another finding shows that research articles authored by women are cited and downloaded at a rate similar to those authored by men—even though women are still publishing fewer papers.

While this study offers some signs of progress toward reducing the gender disparities that plague many STEM fields, and can also be viewed as an extensive and much-needed benchmark of the progress made by women in recent decades, it may best serve as a means of identifying where gaps exist, both in available survey data and in global scientific gender diversity. Obviously, any study will be limited by data availability, and the sheer scope of women in STEM makes assessing progress a challenge. Still, the Elsevier study looks like a useful data point—and it will be interesting to see whether the same data set gives rise to more comprehensive assessments in the future.

Diversity, Women in Science

Coming of Age in the Workplace: Advice for Millennials

6. February 2017

According to the Pew Research Center, "millennials" are those born after 1980, making them the first generation to come of age in the new millennium. In popular media, millennials have not been regarded with such technicality and formality. Instead, the generation has gained notoriety for negative connotations that have been popularized via television and other media platforms, where characters decry millennials as lazy, entitled, tech-obsessed, etc.

Justin Bariso of Inc. Magazine noticed the heavy flack pointed at the age group, and has some advice for those on the receiving end. He states, in this article, that he is "a fan" of millennials, and the while the judgment toward the group may be in many cases be unfair, it's simply (and unfortunately) "the reality we live in." Bariso goes on to say that, "Society doesn't work like the justice system: In the eyes of many, you're guilty until proven innocent."

So for those born after 1980 and wishing to persuade the Baby Boomers in their office or lab that they are nothing like the millennials portrayed by the media (such as those seen on reality TV shows like Jersey Shore), Bariso has a few tips. He advises millennials to be open to criticism, because, inevitably, "you're going to get it." He also suggests that "actions build character" and the workplace should be viewed as an all-encompassing learning experience.

Similarly, Angela Almeida, in The Atlantic, addresses the "worn narrative" that millennials are, in essence, "moochers," living off their parents. She counters this notion with statistics that instead imply that the labor market favors the young workers more so than their elder counterparts. She weaves a personal tale of both young millennials and middle-aged Baby Boomers searching for jobs in a stretched market. The different tactics and responses of both age groups makes for an interesting read.

In Email, Emojis Aren’t for Everyone

26. January 2017

The rise in digital communications, and the use of technologies such as email in both personal and professional capacities, can blur the lines of etiquette. When it comes to the do's and don'ts of e-communication—especially when emailing with colleagues or clients—consider turning to an article shared by Jacquelyn Smith of Business Insider.

Smith's helpful email etiquette guide, titled, "17 Rules of Email Etiquette you Need to Know," was concocted with the help of Barbara Pachter, a career coach and published author on topics such as business etiquette. Many of the 17 rules Smith and Pachter lay down are generally common sense for modern email etiquette. Yet they serve as useful reminders.

For instance, most people know to use a professional email address (instead of something along the lines of labrat123@sciencerules.com). But lesser-known rules are also noted on the list, such as the belief that all emails should be replied to—even if you weren't the intended recipient. Pachter says that this often overlooked courtesy “serves as good email etiquette, especially if this person works in the same company or industry as you.”

Job Search, Networking, Toolbox, Communication Skills

An Inspiring Challenge

17. November 2016

The last few weeks seem to have been characterized by the term "change." While each new change to the status quo impacts our daily lives at varying levels, as a whole, they are causing us to look towards the future with both concern and hope.

Here, in her recent CAM Lounge, OSA Senior Member Dr. Patricia Bath takes a moment to focus on hope and provide some inspiring advice for future and current scientists. Although, those familiar with Dr. Bath's groundbreaking work, briefly summarized by Biography, will find her admonition "do better than I did" to a daunting challenge!

Women in Science, Inspiration

The Mid-Career Transition

28. October 2016

There are many reasons to begin searching for a new job or career path—and just as many everyday-life hindrances, such as recurring bill payments, that make taking the leap into a new position unnerving. Sometimes self-doubt is the biggest deterrent to change.

Luckily, Engineering and Technical Jobs, in the article You Can Completely Change Your Career - and Your Age Won't Matter, has compiled the key questions to answer in determining whether you really are ready to make a career transition. These rather straightforward questions, such as "How happy are you at the moment?", are surprisingly thought-provoking as you find yourself answering the real question: "Is job dissatisfaction the real source of this unhappiness or are there other areas that can be addressed as well?"

No matter how confident you are in your skills, experience and knowledge, the job search arena can be overwhelming, even if you have only been out of job-search mode for a few years. To help ease the shock, several online resources, like Job Seeking for the First Time in Years: How To Do It, another article from Engineering and Technical Jobs, offer simple guidance for established professionals who are re-entering the applicant pool. Tips range from updating your CV to brushing up on the latest advances in the field. Taking courses to expand your skill set and volunteering while on the job hunt are great ways to constructively use any employment gaps!

Job Search

Conquer Social Anxiety One Conference Reception at a Time

18. October 2016

With the autumn meeting and conference schedule in full swing, the air is frequently buzzing with new scientific advances and applications. The plenaries and panel talks are invigorating and inspiring. Then come the anticipated, yet dreaded, cocktail hours and receptions.

A great opportunity to engage in further discussion and to forge new connections for future collaborations, the social aspects of conferences are also a huge source of anxiety for some. Although attendance isn't mandatory, many people feel pressured to attend - and, once there, are awkward and unsure of themselves, marveling at the conversational ease displayed by the extrovert in the center of the room.

If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. While there is no instant cure for social anxiety, Forbes contributor Megan Bruneau has 5 Hacks For Overcoming Social Anxiety and Networking Like a Pro that you can begin implementing today. Don't be discouraged or skeptical of the beginning step, "Change Your Relationship to Anxiety" (as if you need help being aware of it!). The small steps advised in the article center mostly around mental preparation, like remembering that anxious thoughts are not "objective truths." We found that what's in this resource can be applied to many other aspects of life, not just large scientific conferences.        


Are Your Online Profiles Haunting You?

14. October 2016

The internet has revolutionized the job hunting process in some really great, and some not-so-great, ways. A prime example of the double-edged nature of internet-enabled capabilities is the internet name search. Many experts strongly advise active job seekers to ensure that if a prospective employer were to search their name, most search engines will return their most relevant resume information. But what happens after the job offer is accepted? How many of us remember which websites we posted our profiles and resumes on, let alone return to them to deactivate our accounts?

Those mysterious and now out-of-date profiles are not just cluttering the spam box of your email with new alerts; they may actually be impacting your online presence, or digital footprint. Long after the job search ends, your digital footprint is continuing to speak for you to a wide variety of audiences including current and prospective colleagues, fellow conference attendees, potential clients, and even funding sources.

In her article, Ten Ways Your LinkedIn Profile is Hurting Your Credibility, Forbes contributor Liz Ryan lists simple things to do that will keep the popular networking website from becoming problematic. The first, and biggest, piece of advice: Keep your profile current! Review and update your professional activities every few months while they are still fresh in your mind. An updated profile can also make networking at events much easier. As Liz points out in the article, "it only takes a moment to grab someone’s business card when you meet them, and to ask them, 'May I send you a LinkedIn connection request?'"   

Your Digital Footprint