Science Networking Made Easy

20. February 2013

Marcius Extavour

Most scientists I know would do almost anything to avoid “networking.” They think of it as a horrible, shallow ritual that takes place at cocktail parties and sales meetings, and is anathema to the intellectual and meritocratic pursuit of science. Right?

Not so fast. I would argue that most productive researchers are actually great networkers, but many people have a misconception of what networking actually is. Networking is sharing your ideas and passion, listening to your colleagues as they do the same and introducing people to one another to make ideas and projects grow. In other words, all the conversations in the halls at CLEO, FiO or the AAAS annual meeting could fall into this category. Many scientists network without even realizing it.

For young scientists trying to launch their careers or seasoned professionals looking to move in a new direction, honing networking skills is a must. Here are a few methods that have served me well.

Be open and honest
The “sliminess” of networking comes from the feeling that you are being exploited. No one wants to feel used, nor is it pleasant to try to manipulate an acquaintance or colleague. To avoid this discomfort, be open and honest about your intentions. If you approach someone for advice, a favor, or an introduction to a third party, you should avoid trying to “game” that person. Instead, be straightforward about your request. This is the surest way to build trust and get the help that you need.

Offer to help
Networking is a two-way street. Sharing, give and take, and reciprocity are all basic networking principles. If all parties benefit from the relationship, then no one feels used or manipulated. Think about what you have to share that might help or interest a new acquaintance, not just about what he or she can give you. People are much more likely to respond positively if you start by offering help or value rather than just asking for something.

Network during low-stress times
We usually think of networking when we are job-hunting or looking for resources at a critical point in a project. Not surprisingly, it is much tougher to be open and natural when under that type of stress, and easier to come off as desperate or needy. A better time to build relationships is when you are confident and relaxed. Try to meet new people during the quiet periods after giving a conference presentation, submitting applications, or completing a major project. You can talk about your recent application or project as a lead-in, and then learn about new ideas from your acquaintances.

Use online tools
There are many resources available about networking online, including Bright Futures blog posts on using LinkedIn and other social media. I would also add that these online social networks can be especially useful for making contacts in fields peripheral to your own. Asking a LinkedIn contact to introduce you to someone who works in a completely different area can be a great avenue into that new direction.

Exchange business cards
Some say that the use of printed business cards is dying out, but I have found them to be more valuable than I ever expected. If nothing else, they can be a handy way to start a conversation with someone new. Keep in mind that different people and countries have their own business card styles, so be flexible. For example, in Asia the exchange of cards can be very formal, with each party taking time to carefully study the card as it is presented to them, while in the United States cards are passed out freely and widely with little ceremony.

Go slow
Walking up to a stranger and asking for a job takes huge nerve, and in my experience, almost never works. Instead, try taking a step back and committing to the relationship itself before going for the “big ask.” Offering more modest support or asking for a smaller favor – e.g. an introduction, an informational interview, or feedback on a piece of writing or project – are good ways to get to know someone, build trust, and establish a working relationship.

Marcius Extavour ( is the Director of Corporate Partnerships at the faculty of applied science & engineering, University of Toronto, Canada.

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Industry Postdoc to Physics Professor: Insights from David Grier

13. February 2013

OSA member David Grier talks with Optics & Photonics News about his path to academia—from aspiring historian at Harvard to the chair of NYU’s physics department and Center for Soft Matter Research. Thanks to OSA member Brooke Hester for working with David to gather his insights.

OPN: What was your background prior to becoming a professor?

David: I started college at Harvard assuming that I'd be a historian. Through an advising mishap, I signed up for organic chemistry and multivariable calculus in my freshman year. That was fortuitous because I discovered that I really wanted to be a scientist. I switched to chemistry in my junior year, but then came to realize that I was best suited for physics. Fortunately, the college allowed me to change concentrations yet again.

After Harvard, I went to graduate school in physics at the University of Michigan. I had no real sense of what I wanted to do beyond knowing that I would be an experimentalist. Luckily, I found myself in one of the hot-beds of soft-condensed matter physics in the days before the field even had a name. I liked the people in the field and their style of work, so that set the course for my studies. Because soft-matter was such a new area, the experiments I worked on involved new and unusual techniques. For instance, I was in the first generation of graduate students to be trained in digital image analysis. Having an unusual portfolio of skills probably explains my good fortune in landing a postdoc at AT&T Bell Labs.

OPN: How did you enter academia?

David: I was invited to give a talk at the University of Chicago just as my postdoc was winding up, and I was offered an appointment as an assistant professor not long after. I jumped at the chance even though the move from industry to academia meant a very steep pay cut. After a dozen happy years rising through the ranks at Chicago, I was enticed to New York University by the prospect of helping to start the Center for Soft Matter Research (CSMR). I arrived at NYU as a full professor in 2004 and was appointed chair of the department of physics in 2005. NYU made it possible for me and my colleagues to build the CSMR into a research consortium that bridges physics, optics, chemistry, biology and several branches of engineering. 

OPN: What are your current responsibilities?

David: My work week is exceptionally busy. I typically teach one lecture course per term, which takes about 15 hours per week. Teaching used to take longer, but experience helps. I spend between 30 and 40 hours per week on research. That includes working with my students in the lab, analyzing data, writing papers and drafting grant proposals. I also do my fair share of refereeing and spend one day per month on educational outreach.

Not all of my research is done at work. I do a lot of writing at home late at night or early in the morning when my family is asleep. Finally, I have to do a lot of administrative work as chair of the department. The key consideration here is to recruit and retain an excellent staff and to work closely with them to prevent minor issues from developing into major problems. Similarly, forming good faculty committees and providing them with useful oversight ensures that the academic side of the department runs smoothly.

OPN: What advice would you give to others looking to break into academia?

David: Be enthusiastic and articulate. It is also crucial to write quickly and persuasively, since any academic job involves a lot of writing. Successful faculty candidates stand out to search committees because they convey the importance and excitement of their research to people who are not specialists in their field.

However, those characteristics will only get an applicant's foot in the door. To land a job, it is essential to have made progress on an interesting and important problem, to convince other people that your advances are substantial, and to demonstrate unambiguously that you were responsible for the results. It is equally critical to have exciting plans for the future and to communicate them effectively.

During an interview, listen closely to what others say about their own research. Ask questions. Figure out how their work might relate to yours. Make connections. Give your future colleagues lots of reasons to want you around.

The first years in a new faculty position can be daunting. On top of getting everything done, it's exceedingly important to balance research and work with personal life, which for many people means family life. I try to put family at (or at least very near) the top of my list. That means I pay close attention to how I budget my time. Time, it turns out, is your most precious resource.

David Grier ( is a professor and chair of the department of physics at New York University. After a postdoc appointment at AT&T Bell Labs, he joined the faculty of Physics at the University of Chicago, where he was a member of the James Franck Institute and Institute for Biophysical Dynamics. Grier moved to NYU in 2004 as a founding member of the Center for Soft Matter Research. 


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Science Internships Waiting for your Application

6. February 2013

Catherine de Lange

This post is adapted from one that initially appeared on the Naturejobs blog with the kind permission of the author. The list of internships will be updated regularly, so keep checking for additional opportunities here.

To make it easier for you to find a great work placement, we’ve dedicated this blog post to upcoming opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.


Science Magazine, Washington, DC
• Science News Writing Internship:  Science Magazine, the largest circulating weekly of basic research — founded in 1880 by Thomas Alva Edison and published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) — is offering an internship program for news writers. Science accepts applications for two 6-month periods: a winter-spring internship from January through June (deadline, September 15; selection, by mid-October) and a summer-fall internship from July through December (deadline, March 1; selection, by mid-April). Apply here.

National Institutes of Health (NIH)
• Summer internship program in Biomedical Research:  Summer programs at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provide an opportunity to spend a summer working at the NIH side-by-side with some of the leading scientists in the world, in an environment devoted exclusively to biomedical research. The NIH consists of the 240-bed Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center and more than 1200 laboratories/research projects located on the main campus in Bethesda, MD and the surrounding area as well as in Baltimore and Frederick, MD; Research Triangle Park, NC; Phoenix, AZ; Hamilton, MT; Framingham, MA; and Detroit, MI.  Internships cover a minimum of eight weeks, with students generally arriving at the NIH in May or June. The NIH Institutes and the Office of Intramural Training & Education sponsor a wide range of summer activities including lectures featuring distinguished NIH investigators, career/professional development workshops, and Summer Poster Day. Deadline is 1st March 2013. More information and application guidelines here.

• Summer Internships: Fermilab’s SIST program offers twelve-week summer internships in science and technology to undergraduate college students currently enrolled in four-year U.S. colleges and universities. Internships available in physics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and computer science offer a chance for students to work with Fermilab scientists or engineers on a project within the context of laboratory research. Deadline is Feb. 15 2013. Apply here.

Audubon Center of the North Woods
• Advanced Naturalist Internship, Sandstone, MN, United States: The Audubon Center of the North Woods (ACNW) is located in Sandstone, MN. We serve as a private, non-profit residential environmental learning center (RELC), wildlife rehabilitation facility, and conference & retreat center. We offer environmental learning experiences for people of all ages, with programming in natural history and science, team-building, adventure programming, and outdoor/environmental education. Our participants have the opportunity to experience a wide range of learning environments including our wildlife barn, yurt, log cabin, formal science classroom, and of course, the great outdoors! Apply here.

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex
• Invasive Plant Intern, Shirley, NY, United States : Interns will work with Refuge staff on the early detection-rapid response invasive species project at Oyster Bay, Target Rock, Seatuck and Wertheim National Wildlife Refuges. This internship will provide individuals with the opportunity to develop invasive species management skills, including identification, mapping and control. Training: On-the-job-training provided by biologists in plant identification and invasive species control techniques. Salary and Housing: Stipend $273/week plus free housing. More details and how to apply here.
•  Conservation Biology Intern,  Sag Harbor, NY, United States: The position will support conservation activities at four units of the Long Island NWR Complex and provide the intern with an opportunity to study wildlife management techniques through actual field work. This internship will focus on several tasks such as monitoring populations of beach nesting birds (e.g. federally threatened piping plover, least and common tern, and American oystercatcher), predator management and invasive species management. Duties include setting up/taking down symbolic fencing/exclosures, weekly population surveys, nest searches, behavioral observations, nest and brood monitoring, predator surveillance and trapping, invasive species mapping and control and public outreach. Position Dates: Start – mid-April or early-May; Ending – Late August to late-September (Approximately 14-18 weeks). Start and end dates are flexible. Salary and Housing: Stipend $273/week plus free housing. More information and how to apply here.

Sandia National Laboratories
• Student Intern – CSRI Grad Summer : Albuquerque, NM, United States: Performs work as an entry- to mid-level member of the workforce within a science and engineering environment involving graduate-level assignments, which may include research, application of project design and diagnostics, testing and documentation, development and analysis of technology options, and assembly and troubleshooting. More details and how to apply here.


• Internship in Analytical Software Development for at least 6 months in Germany: In a small team you will develop database applications for the .NET-platform. This includes Client/Server applications based on WinForms and ASP.NET with an Oracle database back-end. Based on existing user requirements’ specifications, you will work on the architecture of software systems and the implementation of classes and assemblies. During the development you will write automated unit tests to ensure a high quality of the finished product. Apply here.

• The International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (IAESTE) is an independent, non-profit and non-political student exchange organisation. It provides students in technical degrees (primarily Science, Engineering and the applied arts) with paid, course-related, training abroad and employers with highly skilled, highly motivated trainees, for long or short term projects. With over 80 countries involved and exchanging over 4000 traineeships each year worldwide, it is the largest organization of its kind in the world. More information and deadlines here.

Contact Singapore
• Research internships:  Undergraduate and graduate students in science, technology, research and engineering can experience the exciting city of Singapore by applying for theExperience Singapore: Summer Research Internships. From Nov. 15, 2012 to Feb 28, 2013, the program is accepting applications for internships. More information here.


The British Science Association
• Media fellowships for researchers: A Media Fellow experiences first-hand how science is reported by spending 3-6 weeks on a summer placement with a press, broadcast or online journalist such as the Guardian, The Irish Times or BBC. They work with professional journalists to produce well informed, newsworthy pieces about developments in science. The Fellows come away better equipped to communicate their research to the media, public and their colleagues.  They develop writing skills that could help  produce concise and engaging articles and funding applications. For details about the scheme, including eligibility and online application form, visit the webpage. Application deadline: 11 March 2013.

The Royal Society
• Summer Science Exhibition intern: The Royal Society has an opportunity for an enthusiastic, self-motivated individual to help deliver the Summer Science Exhibition as a paid intern.  The Summer Science Exhibition is the Royal Society’s premier public event lasting a week with audiences as varied as school groups, the general public and VIPs in the world of science, engineering and mathematics.  The exhibition is a complex event involving over 20 cutting edge exhibits from UK universities as well as a surrounding programme of café scientifique, lectures and debates and family shows. Apply here.

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Centre
• Summer placements are typically available to students studying for their first degree (including medical and veterinary students) who are seeking research/work experience, usually during the summer break. We also welcome applications from master students. Placements are typically for three months between June and September although it may be possible to accommodate alternative periods on request, ranging from one to four months. Placements are potentially available across the full spectrum of the Institute’s activities. Applications are invited from 3rd December 2012 until 28th February 2013 and should be made using our on-line recruitment facility. To apply, visit Current jobs and look for Summer Placement.

The Royal Society of Chemistry
• The Royal Society of Chemistry runs a paid internship every year, which is supported by the Marriott Bequest. For eight weeks the intern will work in RSC’s magazine’s section on Chemistry World and Education in Chemistry. We’re looking for someone coming to the end of their undergraduate or graduate course, preferably in the chemical sciences. A bursary of £1750 is provided for the eight weeks and applications for the position close in late May, although the exact date hasn’t been finalized for the 2013 internship. The link from the 2012 intake is still active:

Disclaimer: Naturejobs takes no responsibility for these placements. Please contact individual companies/institutions directly for more information or to apply.

Catherine de Lange ( is a science journalist and the web editor of Naturejobs. She tweets at @catdl

The Naturejobs blog is regularly updated with expert science career advice as well as news updates and events that can help you succeed in your next career move. It also runs themed series of blog posts, guest posts and podcasts. If there's something you'd like to see covered, or you’d like to pitch an idea for a blog post please email the Naturejobs web editor, Catherine de Lange, at and follow us on Twitter: @naturejobs

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From Optical Engineer to Lawyer: The Unusual Career Path of Bill Greener

1. February 2013

William Greener has had a diverse career that has taken him from optics to farming to law school. He is currently a high-tech patent attorney with the law firm of Bond, Schoeneck & King, PLLC. This post has been adapted from an interview with him that appeared in the OSA Rochester section January newsletter.

OPN: Tell us about your career path.

Bill: I have wanted to be a physicist since I was about nine. I got hooked on optics after constructing a hologram as a sophomore physics major at Canisius College. I earned my M.S. in optical engineering from the Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester, where I learned from top optics experts including Brian Thompson, Rudolph Kingslake and M. Parker Givens. I also took a course with OSA Fellow Duncan Moore.

In 1976, I accepted a job offer from Pratt and Whitney Aircraft in West Palm Beach, Fla. I was part of a team that built and tested the closed cavity of MIRACL (Mid-Infra-Red Advanced Chemical Laser)—a hydrogen-fluoride gas dynamic laser whose 13-in. cavity mirrors were cooled by jet fuel.

After five years in Florida, my life took a different direction. My wife and I moved to New York to pursue another dream—to operate a farm. We enrolled in the agriculture college at SUNY Alfred and farmed dairy calves for the next eight years.

During that time, I also attended law school at SUNY Buffalo, which led to a federal court clerkship, a three-year stint with a small patent boutique law firm, and then a job at Corning, Inc. I was a senior patent attorney in charge of Corning’s worldwide erbium-doped fiber amplifier portfolio. Five years later, I joined Kodak and then Bausch & Lomb, where I managed the ophthalmic laser surgery portfolio.

I joined Bond, Schoeneck & King in 2005. We have a significant intellectual property group that includes 10 U.S.-registered patent attorneys. My primary clients include the University of Rochester, Cornell and the University of Central Florida/CREOL. Some of the technologies I work on include multiphoton and computational imaging, nanophotonics and opto-fluidics.

OPN: How did your scientific background prepare you for law school?

Bill: Law school emphasizes some of the same skills I learned as an engineer: logic, discipline and analytical thinking. What was new to me is the notion that 2+2 can equal whatever you can convince certain others that you want it to be equal to. Facts are always facts, but the laws are different in just about every jurisdiction, and the application of the law to the facts can lead to unexpected outcomes.

I took a systemic approach to problem solving in law school that drew on my experience in the lab and on the farm. In both scenarios, I had to not only address the problems at hand but anticipate all the things that could go wrong—whether they included a dysfunctional laser or a billy goat with its collar stuck in an electric fence.

OPN: What do you do as a patent attorney?

Bill: A typical case starts when I receive an invention disclosure from a client. I meet with the inventor to flesh out the details of the invention and determine the most commercially valuable form for which we will apply for patent protection. This often involves commissioning a patentability search through a professional search firm. At this stage I draft the broadest claims covering aspects of the invention that I believe would be patentable.

Once I and the inventor (and often a licensee) are comfortable with the content and scope of the patent claims, I prepare the specifications and drawings. We electronically file the application in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and then wait for at least 12 months to get our first substantive response—which is almost always a rejection of the claim. The examiner provides reasons that she believes render the submitted claims “obvious” or not new. My job is to convince her otherwise. If we are successful, the examiner will eventually send out a “Notice of Allowance.” We pay a fee and the applicant is granted a patent.

I also provide opinions about a client’s right to use their invention. I prepare confidentiality agreements, review contracts, formulate license agreements, and advise clients.

OPN: You’ve described a career that many optics students might not think of.

Bill: Practicing patent law enabled me to integrate my love of science and engineering with tools that make great technology accessible and sustainable. I encourage anyone with a passion for technology and its presence in the real world to explore patent law as a career. I’d be happy to speak with anyone who wants to know more. You can reach me via email at


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