The Elusive Search for Career Freedom

17. April 2013

Bob Jopson

A recent entry into the world of paychecks described his new job to me as “really fun,” but then added regretfully that he did not have the “freedom” he desired. Over the years, I have heard “freedom” used in this context many times, and the lack of it is almost always described in a wistful tone. A job might be challenging, fulfilling and well-paying, but somehow this is all for naught if the job lacks “freedom”– a code word for the sad fact that you usually cannot work on whatever strikes your fancy. Not surprisingly, the company, agency or university that is paying for your equipment, travel and salary expects something in return, and you can’t always choose the tasks required of you.

Our expectations of “freedom” arise in college or graduate school, when professors are our closest examples of professionals in our chosen field. We aspire to be just like them. They often encourage us to explore and pursue any wild idea we may have, so it may seem that they themselves are working without constraints. Well, hardly. The work day of most professors I know is consumed by committee work, teaching obligations, proposal writing and various support tasks. In their spare time, they can work on anything they want—so long as it does not require students, equipment or travel. Otherwise, they need to find someone to fork over the cash to fund the project. Once the contract is signed, the professors are obligated to satiate the person providing the funding.

Your job search will be easier and more successful if you seek an employer who needs whatever it is that you want to do, rather than looking for flexibility in the job description. This will allow you to do work that you like and keep your employer happy at the same time. Most people’s technical interests evolve in response to their environment, so your activities will tend to remain aligned with those of your organization.

You will soon be consumed by matters and problems arising in your job, which will stimulate new interests as well. You may even find that working under the constraints of a well-defined project unleashes your creativity in a way that you never would have expected. It is therefore important that you find employment that challenges your abilities and provides the opportunity to learn something. It helps when the work environment allows coworkers to discuss matters frankly without engendering hard feelings. 

Also consider which aspect of “freedom” is most important to you—is it the freedom to choose your hours, select your favorite tasks or projects, or create your own vision of something? Many people want to make a difference in the world: to make better devices, devise a better way of doing something, discover new effects, send forth well-educated graduates, etc. A number of my acquaintances have left comfortable situations for the uncertainties of startups, working stressful 16-hour days with very narrowly defined goals. Most find it to be stimulating, and if the start-up folds, they seek another one. They have almost no freedom on technical topics, but maximal freedom to make an impact. Many have told me that you cannot imagine the satisfaction you feel when a product on which you have been toiling for a year or two finally hits the marketplace, and you see it spreading throughout the country or world.

Many factors enter into a search for a position. Be wary of putting undue emphasis on the chimera of “freedom.” There are other factors that are more important and enduring.

Bob Jopson ( works on optical communications at Bell Labs, Alcatel-Lucent.

Academic Careers, Career Path, Consulting, Job Search , , , , ,

Making the Most of Your Ph.D. Experience in a Developing Country

9. April 2013

Angela Dudley

I like being different. In fact, one of the reasons I decided to pursue a career in physics is that there are very few scientists in South Africa, and even fewer female scientists. My thinking was that fewer people in the game meant less competition and more opportunities. Each year, there are only about 23 Ph.D. graduates produced per million South African citizens (and this encompasses all academic disciplines, not just the sciences.) Here, I provide a few tips for getting your Ph.D. in a country where high-level degrees are not the norm.  

Find a dynamic mentor.
At the end of my undergraduate studies, I chose the topic of my research project based not only on my interests, but also on the potential supervisors with whom it would put me in contact. Having a helpful ally is important for any graduate student, but even more so for those in a country that has fewer resources available for Ph.D. students. I had a checklist for the mentor I wanted. He or she needed to be:

• Available and approachable
• Able to provide me with the opportunity to attend and present at conferences (even if they were only local ones)
• Good at sourcing funding, and
• Well-connected in the South African science community.

While on vacation from university, I got a short-term position at the CSIR’s National Laser Centre that enabled me to test the waters for future opportunities. This was the ideal interview process: I got to see if I enjoyed the environment and the research, and my future Ph.D. supervisor was able to assess if I was a good fit for the group.

During this time, I saw that my mentor was ambitious and dynamic. He had an impeccable track record at securing funding and many local and international contacts. I could tell that, if I wanted to distinguish myself in my field, he could teach me how to do exactly that.

Be proactive. 
Where networks don’t exist, you must create them. Our student body formed local OSA and SPIE student chapters, which opened up many opportunities for me and other students, including travel grants, funds to bring in world-renowned lecturers, the possibility of hosting our own student conference (IONS) and discounts on publications. The OSA Recent Graduates program will also provide you with volunteer opportunities, so that you can gain experience and showcase your potential to science and business leaders from around the world.

Return the favor.
Admittedly, I pursued this field in part because I knew I would be a minority. But I hope this will not always be the case. I would like to encourage young people in South Africa and other developing nations to take advantage of the opportunities in the sciences and use their influence to help others along the same path. I intend to give back to the community by becoming as effective a teacher as my mentors have been for me.

Angela Dudley ( conducted her Ph.D. research at the CSIR National Laser Centre based in Pretoria, South Africa. She received her Ph.D. in June 2012 from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and subsequently commenced her current position of Postdoctoral Fellow within the Mathematical Optics group at the CSIR National Laser Centre.

Academic Careers, Career Path, Graduate School, International Careers, OSA Student Chapters, Ph.D. Perspectives, Women in Science , , , , , ,

Do I Really Have to Go to All Those Meetings?

2. April 2013

Pablo Artal

OSA Fellow Pablo Artal has kindly allowed OPN’s Bright Futures career blog to adapt and republish content from his popular blog Optics Confidential. In his blog, Artal fields questions from students, colleagues and other researchers on science, society and managing a career in optics.

Dear Pablo: I have a faculty position and am rather active in research. I publish about one paper per year, but I never attend conferences or meetings because I hate traveling and I am not very good at giving talks. Do you think I will be able to further advance in my scientific career? Why do meetings still seem to be so important in this Internet era? Are there any alternatives? –Andrew, Canada

Many scientists wonder how important it is to go to different meetings: How many should they attend, and which meetings should they choose? I travel so often that I used to joke with my colleagues that I sometimes felt more like a traveling salesman than a professor!

Science is a social field, so getting acquainted with colleagues is a fundamental part of this business. I know some people who travel nearly all the time, some who go on a few trips per year and others who never attend any meetings at all. It is therefore possible to have a career without attending many conferences, but in my opinion one cannot be very successful (sorry!). The personal aspect is critical—everyone likes to put a face to a familiar name, and you will have more opportunities for collaboration with this type of exposure. You need to make yourself and your research known, and to take the opportunity to meet others in your field. There is no replacement for direct, face-to-face contact, although it is true that Skype and teleconferences can save you a few trips.

The number of meetings that you should attend depends on many variables, including your field and where you are in your career. Lack of funding can be an obstacle, but even if you are short of money, remember that this will be a good investment for your future. In many cases, with good planning and low-cost airfares, you can stay within a reasonable budget. In general, regardless of other factors, you should always try to accept invitations to give invited lectures. Taking part in this “invitation” circuit is crucial for advancing your career. It is a part of the system and a way to promote your research and yourself.

In short, you should plan to attend and participate in at least some meetings. I assure you that I understand how difficult it can be to travel. However, in this case, it’s in your best interest to force yourself out of your comfort zone. Initially, go to small meetings rather than large conferences. You will have easier access to key people, and the social interaction is usually much better. If you’re worried about your presentation skills, check out my blog post for some tips on giving successful talks.

Pablo Artal ( is an OSA Fellow and professor of optics at the University of Murcia, Spain. He is an optical and vision scientist with an interest in visual optics, optical instrumentation, adaptive optics, and biomedical optics and photonics.


Academic Careers, Career Path, Communication Skills, Conferences , , , , , , ,

The Value of 360-Degree Networking

27. March 2013

Arti Agrawal

At conferences, well-known scientists and speakers are often surrounded by a group of eager attendees. Those who are perceived as powerful (directors of research centers, heads of departments, presidents of organizations and so forth) are in very high demand, because it is desirable to have an influential person in one’s network. People want to ask more about their work, get their opinions or advice, ask them for jobs, etc. There are numerous reasons why it is useful to make such connections.

We all attempt to create networks that will benefit us professionally, and good networking skills are highly prized (see my blog post: The Networking Connection). To this end, we diligently try to meet people whom we see as potentially useful. Generally, this means seeking out individuals who are well-placed or higher up in the hierarchy than oneself.

I wonder, though, if sometimes we miss half of the picture?

Naturally, we look to those at a more advanced stage of their careers to find mentors and sponsors. But for sustained progress, we need more than just these associations. I believe that we must network with our peers and those who are junior to us as well.

We generally consider our contemporaries to be on the same level as us, and so we may not think of them as valuable contacts. But instead of ignoring these people or seeing them as competitors, we should view them as potential collaborators and partners. With that perspective, we can build strong, supportive relationships that help us throughout our careers. The parallel growth of an entire generation produces the leaders for the future. It’s important to know the person who may head the company of your competitor or supplier, or help you recruit the best talent for your business, or work with you on the best research paper of your life.

It’s also critical to cultivate relationships with those on the lower rungs of the proverbial “career ladder.” These are the people who will still be working when we approach retirement. Although they are are the youngest faces in our teams now, they are our future! I think that it is eminently sensible to support and mentor them as we have been (or wanted to be), and to treat them as valuable colleagues and friends. The most wonderful thing that younger people offer is a fresh and unique outlook. That’s why I really enjoy meeting students at conferences (although I am not yet ready to think of myself as “old”).

Setting aside any career advantage, connecting with folks of all ages and career stages will enhance your life with new perspectives and friendships. Simply put, the best way to network is to realize the value of people, and not just the positions they occupy.

Arti Agrawal ( is a lecturer at City University London in the department of electrical, electronic and information engineering at the School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences. To follow her personal blog, visit 


Career Path, Communication Skills, Conferences, Job Search , , , ,

Designing a Better Boss: Applying a Consultant’s Mindset to An Academic Job

20. March 2013

Damon Diehl

I stumbled into my career. I started working as a "consulting scientist” while waiting to defend my Ph.D. thesis. I had a knack for helping customers distinguish between what they really need and what they think they want. The customers’ needs, not all of which are technical, become additional input and output requirements when solving their problems. I then give them technical advice in terms that they understand. My angle proved to be successful, and within a few months, my gig as a consulting scientist turned into a full-time job.

Making a transition.
Last year I made a career change from full-time scientist to full-time undergraduate professor. Some colleagues were concerned that I wouldn’t like the change in the scope of my work. However, I’m actually doing the same thing: I evaluate what my students need and then give them technical instruction in terms that they can understand. Sure, generating 15 hours of lecture material every week is demanding, to say the least, but it lines up with what I’m best at. I enjoy it immensely.

Adjusting to authority.
The culture shock came from an unexpected quarter: having a boss—four layers of them, to be exact.  As a professor, I have immediate responsibilities to the department chair, the dean, the vice president and the president of the college. Separately, I must also answer to the people who control the way the college uses its money, time and facilities. That all adds up to a lot of bureaucracy. For example, I discovered this semester that having pizza delivered to campus, while not technically impossible, requires a purchase order, two weeks’ notice, and a variance for not using the on-campus cafeteria. After a while, I started to feel like I was trapped in an invisible mesh of rules designed to stop me from getting things done.

Creating a customer.
My solution came from a change in perspective. I have learned to view the college as my customer. This is not a stretch—they are paying me to do something, which is the definition of a customer/vendor relationship. I am still mindful of requests and demands from folks up the authority chain, but now I  take a step back and separate what they request from what they need. I make sure I understand the real problem, and then I let my engineering brain solve it within the allowed parameters. This has two advantages: It is more intellectually fulfilling for me, and it produces more effective results. In learning to shift my view and cut to the heart of the matter, I have reduced extraneous demands on my attention … leaving more time to grade the four-inch stack of lab reports, homework assignments and exams on my desk.

Damon Diehl ( is an assistant professor and program coordinator of Optical Systems Technology at Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y., U.S.A. He is also the founder and owner of Diehl Research Grant Services.

Academic Careers, Career Path, Communication Skills , , , , , ,

How to Prepare for a Postdoc

12. March 2013

Yanina Shevchenko

Although a postdoc appointment might only last for a few years, it can have a tremendous influence on a scientist's career. A good way to approach the process of choosing one is to think about your long-term career objectives, identify your research interests and find a laboratory where you can leverage your strengths.

Like many people, I started my postdoctoral work right after finishing my Ph.D. I enjoyed joining a new lab and starting fresh research projects. Here I offer a few tips that could help current students to prepare for this important transition.

Plan ahead.

There is no such thing as preparing for your postdoctoral position too far in advance. I have colleagues who started planning two years before they completed their degrees, and it completely paid off. It takes time to choose a new research direction, identify the main players in the field, go through the interview process, and move to a new place. Last-minute arrangements might not be as rewarding as a well-researched decision.

Seek external funding.

There are generally two ways to fund postdoctoral work: through the research grants of a professor for whom you work, or with your own funding from an external source.

I highly recommend researching the scientific funding agencies in the country where you plan on working and applying for existing external postdoctoral fellowships. Having your own funding not only looks good on your resume; it also provides you with some flexibility in choosing an institution and a research group. Additionally, the application process is a useful exercise that allows you to polish your grant-writing skills and think about specific projects that you would like to work on. It is helpful to ask professors and other postdocs about available sources of funding as some of the fellowships are not very widely publicized or may be offered only within certain organizations.

Consider your long-term career objectives.

Are you preparing for an academic career and need to publish intensively in a certain research domain? Or are you thinking of broadening your research skillset in preparation for transitioning into industry? Depending on the answers to these questions, some people prefer to work in the area where they completed their Ph.D. in order to build a stronger reputation and deepen their expertise. Others choose to work in a completely different field in order to diversify their skills and learn about emerging research trends. Which direction you choose depends on your long-term career goals.

Choose a research group with care.

Before selecting a specific research group, find out as much information as possible about their work. Everything is relevant: the group's research priorities, their size and dynamics, the principal investigator's management style and expectations, etc. It helps to discuss these issues with other students, postdocs or former lab members. Time invested in learning these details will pay off, as it will help you to find a lab where you will be the most comfortable and productive.

"Try to find a group, not a place," says Carlos Lopez-Mariscal, a research scientist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. "That is, get a postdoc at XYZ group because of its merits and reputation, rather than getting one with ZYX group at Harvard just because it is at Harvard."

Approach a potential supervisor.

Some postdocs meet their supervisors at a conference or through collaboration during their Ph.D. Others are referred by a mutual colleague or someone who knows a professor personally. However, soliciting people directly via email can also be a great way to find someone to work with. Before contacting a potential supervisor, it is important to spend time putting together a comprehensive cover letter. Showcase how your experience would be useful for that particular lab and include ideas for future research. Familiarize yourself with the group's current efforts, and make sure that the cover letter is personalized--not just a copy of a letter that was sent to another researcher.

Overall, working as a postdoctoral researcher allows you to learn new skills, broaden expertise and establish new connections. Even if you have not made up your mind about your ultimate career goals, doing a postdoc can help you figure out your next steps. It can also provide you with an opportunity to relocate to a different country or start working in a new field. Although a postdoc takes some planning, it is a very rewarding experience that is worth all the hard work.

Yanina Shevchenko ( is the NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow in the Whitesides Research Group, department of chemistry and chemical biology, Harvard University, U.S.A.


Academic Careers, Career Path, Graduate School, Job Search, Ph.D. Perspectives, Postdocs , , , ,

Breaking into Academia: OPN Talks with Audrey Ellerbee

7. March 2013

OSA member and Stanford assistant professor Audrey Ellerbee talks with Optics & Photonics News about her path into academia. Thanks to OSA member Brooke Hester for working with Audrey to gather her insights.

What is your background prior to becoming a professor?

My background is pretty typical for someone in my field, but two things stand out. First, my appointments spanned several disciplines. I received my B.S. in electrical engineering, went on to graduate school for my Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in chemistry and chemical biology. Second, I took time off to do other things between career transitions. Before I started my Ph.D., I spent a year teaching math and computer science in the department of infocommunications technology at Ngee Ann Polytechnic in Singapore through the Princeton-in-Asia program. Immediately after completing my degree, I did a year-long fellowship working in public policy as the 2007-8 OSA/SPIE Arthur H. Guenther Congressional Fellow. Although non-traditional, these career choices were very helpful in broadening my skill set and experience.

How did you enter academia?

The beginning of my career was a little unusual in that I was offered a position directly out of graduate school but did not actually begin my work until three years later. It was during that time that I did the policy fellowship and postdoctoral work.

What are your current responsibilities?

I can categorize them into five areas: research, teaching, mentoring, service and administration. Of these, research is the broadest and most difficult to define because my progress is intimately tied with that of my graduate students. Research tasks include writing proposals and papers, conducting experiments, analyzing data and giving talks. Teaching encompasses everything from generating new content for a course to preparing lectures and homework assignments to managing teaching assistants. My mentoring work involves tracking the progress of my graduate students and any other students or mentees to whom I play an advisory role. Service includes any work for university committees, my department or my professional communities. Finally, my administrative responsibilities are day-to-day things such as managing budgets, hiring people, planning travel, ordering equipment, etc.

How does your role differ from the one you had as a grad student or postdoc?

The major differences are the volume of responsibilities and the authority to manage people. As a graduate student, I did some work in all of the areas I just described, but most of it was optional and limited in scope. For example, my decision to serve as student body president meant that I worked on many university committees, but that was a voluntary extracurricular activity. The teaching I did (apart from my work in Singapore) was as a teaching assistant, and I only gave one lecture as a graduate student; I never had to design a new course. Now, I have a much greater number and broader range of tasks that I am expected to do.

Managing people is also very new to me. It takes time to learn to hire the right people, to help students stay on track, and to build a work culture that is consistent with your vision. This last goal is the biggest challenge that I face. I believe that my lab will run much more smoothly if the culture is right. Although it is not always that simple, I make an effort to be systematic in my approach to the work environment so that it is easier for people to connect with and work well in my lab.

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

Develop a clear vision for what you would like to do and begin planning before you start your postdoctoral work. If at all possible, choose a postdoc that will complement your current background, broaden your experience, and allow you to move into a new area.

Audrey Ellerbee ( is an assistant professor of electrical engineering in the department of applied physics at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., U.S.A.

Academic Careers, Career Path, Graduate School, Job Search, Nontraditional Science Careers , , , , ,

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.

Academic Careers, Career Path, Communication Skills, Job Search , , , , ,

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. 


Academic Careers, Career Path, Communication Skills, Graduate School, Job Search , , , , , ,

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

Academic Careers, Career Path, Graduate School, International Careers, Internships, Job Search , , , , ,