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 (david.grier@nyu.edu) 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.

US

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.

Fermilab
• 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.

Worldwide

MERCK Group
• 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.

IAESTE
• 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.

UK

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:
http://www.rsc.org/Education/EiC/issues/2012May/science-writer-intern-summer-2012.asp

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

Catherine de Lange (naturejobseditor@nature.com) 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 naturejobseditor@nature.com 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 wgreener@bsk.com.

 

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Massive Online Open Courses Offer Free Learning on the Fly

11. January 2013

Charles Clark

Both within and beyond academia, there has been much lively discussion about how the future of higher education will be affected by massive online open courses (MOOCs)—classes taught over the Internet to a large number of students with limited involvement from professors. Predictions range from the mass extinction of universities as we know them to a fad that will soon join the dancing baby in the Hall of Fame of Internet Has-Beens. 

Even I entered the fray when I was quoted in an article about MOOCs in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which included a photo of me wearing a funny hat to an event that had been sponsored by Coursera in Menlo Park, Calif., last July. Coursera is an online startup that is working with a number of elite universities to offer MOOCs, which are free and widely available but do not confer academic credit.

Some of what I learned at the event may be of interest. Almost all of the Coursera students whom I met  were much like you, dear readers: Ninety percent of the 300 or so present were holders of degrees in science or engineering who were working in high-tech occupations. They were ambitious, career-minded, and eager to learn new skills.  The remaining 10 percent of attendees were either scarily smart high-school students or random fashion victims like me.

While the MOOC trend is clearly hot right now—the New York Times recently called 2012 the “Year of the MOOC”—no one knows how long it will last. So just in case the MOOC bubble is soon to burst, now would be a good time for the Bright Futures crowd to sample the merchandise, which is a steal at the attractive price of zero.  In addition to Coursera, courses are offered through the companies edX, Udacity and Stanford’s Classes2Go.

Some of the courses are stunningly good. They require intense, active involvement during brief periods of time, present challenging assignments and can even engage a social dimension of the learning experience.  It’s more than just watching lectures on YouTube.

They can’t all be as good as the first one I tried through Coursera, an introductory course on computer science taught by Nick Parlante. Nick is one of the best natural-born teachers I’ve ever seen, and within a few hours he had the students writing JavaScript code executed within a browser window to do image processing.  As the field matures, some turkeys will undoubtedly flock to it, but the early pioneers seem to be talented and motivated. After all, they are doing something new, innovative and hard.

While the concept of “distance learning” is certainly not new, what’s different about MOOCs is their scalability: the ability to teach tens of thousands of students, or more, all within the same time window. This is only made possible by eliminating one-on-one interaction between teacher and student. Although this seems at first like a grave disadvantage compared to traditional classroom learning, it also gives students a new opportunity to exploit the awesome power of social networking in order to advance learning worldwide.

Now struggling to build a MOOC myself, I have some appreciation for the real difficulties that are involved in their basic construction.  Just recording an ordinary classroom performance would, in most cases, yield pure box-office poison.  In addition, a sustainable business model for free MOOC distribution remains elusive. 

There’s no doubt that the MOOC landscape will be littered by the graves of pioneers, as was the railroad business and Internet retailing.  So now, while the going is good, and there is no potential loss other than your own time (which is, after all, subject to your control), why not give it a try? Coursera has a number of optics-relevant offerings in view. Sight unseen, I recommend Computational Photography, by Irfan Essa, scheduled to start on February 25, 2013.

Charles Clark (charles.clark@nist.gov) is co-director of the Joint Quantum Institute of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Maryland, and an enthusiastic supporter of the OSA Student Chapter program. Web site: http://j.mp/JQ1cc

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Lessons from a Faculty Search

9. January 2013

David McGloin

This post is reproduced from the blog Dundee Physics with the kind permission of the author.

When my department was hiring for a life sciences-related position this past fall, I was on a search and selection committee for the first time. It’s an interesting and tough process, so I thought I’d share some thoughts on how we went about assessing our applicants in the hope that other job seekers can benefit from my insight. We cast a wide net and ended up with a large number of very high quality candidates. It was a tough choice–so how did we decide?

Fit to specification: My first piece of advice is to make sure that your cover letter, CV and research statement clearly communicate how you fit the specific position advertised. While our call wasn’t restricted to those working in a certain topic area, applicants still needed to state how their work aligned itself to the life sciences. Writing that you were “really interested in biology” wasn’t going to cut it, and for some really strong physical sciences applicants, this is where they fell down. We wanted to see at least some evidence of how the applicant’s work had been applied to biophysics research or how it might be applied in our department (and not just generically).

Experience: Your experience to date matters a lot – it shows the trajectory that you are on, what kind of thinker you are and what you might be capable of. The areas you have worked on, your general productivity and the papers you have produced make a big difference. However, the reality is that this is only part of the package. You might have been unlucky in where you have worked, or the projects you were assigned may not have gone according to plan. We recognize this. When your papers and background are a little lacking, then your research statement becomes even more important.

Research Statement: So you want to come and work with us, but what exactly are you planning to do? Your research statement should outline a coherent program of work and describe an interesting project in an innovative way. Incremental changes are not as persuasive as plans on a larger scale. However, you also have to be realistic, and this is where the challenge lies: to outline something of grand ambition in such a way that we can believe you will be able to deliver. In my mind this is perhaps the most important section: It gives you the opportunity to showcase your talent regardless of what you have achieved.

Metrics:  Does your h-index matter? Your publication count? Number of citations? Where you publish? In modern academia, these things are very significant, probably much more than they should be. The wide variety of postdoc positions that people have means you can’t always compare such factors in any meaningful way. One of my colleagues thought that postdocs should produce at least one decent paper per year. We used this as a general standard, but not a hard-and-fast rule. We did consider numbers of citations, but only as one factor to help us get a sense of the value of the papers published. Ultimately, I think the panel paid more attention to where papers were published over other numbers, but we really tried to look at the whole picture rather than just one metric. We put more emphasis on the applicant’s research ideas and his or her potential to deliver than pure numbers.

Interview: You might make a good impression on paper, but you also have to talk the talk. We decided on a full day visit for each interviewee, so the candidates got to speak to a range of people across the university. We asked them to think specifically about which faculty members they might like to converse with, in order to push them to think about why exactly they wanted to work with us. They were also asked to give a talk. All this information gave the interview panel a rounder picture of each applicant.

Ultimately, we hired someone with great potential, who we believe will take on big challenges. We were looking for—and found—a person who is a good colleague, who fits in with the department and who interacts well with undergraduates. I hope you find a similar good fit in whatever position you seek!

David McGloin (d.mcgloin@dundee.ac.uk) is head of the division of physics and a senior lecturer at the University of Dundee, Scotland.

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What They Don’t Teach You in Graduate School

3. January 2013

Arti Agrawal   

I learned a lot in graduate school: science, research, patience, and technical writing skills, among many other things. So when I took my first position as a lecturer, I thought that my grad school training and subsequent experience as a post-doc had prepared me for professional life as an academic.

Boy, was I wrong!  Many skills that I need in my current job were not taught in school, and sometimes I am blindsided when professional life rudely makes demands on me that weren’t part of my carefully scripted student career. Below are some abilities that I have learned in the workplace.

Persuading and negotiating with people: I must often deal with people in positions of authority to obtain necessities like lab space or funds for equipment, conferences, training courses, or publishing in open access journals. There are limited resources, and the people holding the purse strings are besieged with demands from many others like us, so it’s important to know how to get what you need. Start by prioritizing your wish list into must-have, nice-to-have, and don’t-need-right-now items so that you can focus your energy and efforts accordingly.

Developing good work relationships: You will interact with colleagues, students, peers, superiors, suppliers, vendors and administrative staff, and it can be difficult to maintain these relationships successfully. As a typical geek, I had no idea how to manage working relationships, especially with people who were very different from me. Sometimes taking personality tests like the Meyers-Briggs can help you to better understand yourself and others. You can also get a head start on cultivating working relationships by taking on volunteer leadership opportunities such as organizing an IONS conference  or leading a student chapter—or simply networking within a professional society.

Managing my lab: When I began hiring people, I suddenly needed to understand legal requirements for equality and diversity, health and safety, and risk assessment. I also had to determine how to evaluate my staff. You can find much information online about hiring laws in your area, and my recent OPN article on “Learning to Teach” includes some ideas on how to think through student assessment.

Balancing more than one demanding job: As a post-doc, I would work on several research projects at once and even throw in a bit of teaching on the side—which felt overwhelming enough. But now added to the mix were administrative work, department meetings, lab management, securing funding, reviewing papers and supervising post-docs. Learning how to organize and prioritize is critical.

Saying no without offending: I find it hard to say no to people, and, as a result, I often take on more than I can handle. Although it can sometimes be difficult, it’s important to learn how to deal with such situations and say no without causing hurt or offense. Just be friendly but assertive about what you can and cannot realistically do. You must be able to set healthy boundaries in order to succeed in any relationship, whether personal or professional.

Indeed, these skills are not confined to any single profession–we need them in every sphere of life. Although they may not be part of any formal curriculum, you can learn them through experience and practice. Good luck!

Arti Agrawal (arti_agrawal@hotmail.com) 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 http://artiagrawal.wordpress.com.

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And So It Begins: Scientific Stereotypes

12. December 2012

David McGloin

This post is reproduced from the blog Dundee Physics with the kind permission of the author.

Recently, my daughter was asked to do a writing and comprehension exercise related to her science class. On the surface, it was a simple assignment: Look at an image and write descriptive words and phrases about it, and then put these into context in a few sentences. The exercise was linked to her current project work on magnets and their properties. (It was rather straightforward, as she is only in Primary 3.) But the picture that the teacher had chosen was what caught my eye. It was of a “scientist” in the old man, Einstein mold with a set of test tubes.

Although I don’t have a problem with the assignment itself, I do take issue with the way that this particular image reinforces the tired old cliché of the stereotypical scientist. This is the type of thing that seeps into kids’ minds and influences the way that they conceptualize the sciences. While it may not put them off entirely, it could lead them to perceive science as being uncool or only for a limited group of people. At a young age, I think many kids love science. They like doing experiments and discovering things. But after years of being bombarded with images like these, that can begin to change. I think my daughters are capable of anything, including becoming much better scientists than I am. However, in spite of their potential, years of reinforcement of the idea of scientists as disheveled old men could ultimately take its toll.

This is a deeply entrenched image in society, and it is not a simple problem to fix. The misconception should be addressed on multiple levels, and so science communication needs to extend much further than just the pupils. The solution begins with teachers. The instructors at a primary school may not know better. They too have grown up with these stereotypes, and they may be, through no fault of their own, unaware that this is an issue.  That is why we in the science community need to raise awareness among educators so that our teachers can help take on the lack of female students in the sciences. 

I have watched with interest the development of projects like Sciencegrrl and Geek Girl Scotland. For quite a while, I have sympathized with their cause and seen the need for such initiatives. However, before I had my own daughters, it didn’t hit quite so close to home. Now the issue seems much more personal. I have ordered a Sciencegrrl calendar to pass on to my local school. In addition, as the Head of Physics at Dundee University, I will try to look at ways to improve our attractiveness to female applicants. As a community, we need to explore ways in which we might help out more in the community to try and counter such stereotypes. As a start, I have ordered a Science Grrl calendar to donate to my kids’ school. You should get one too.

David McGloin (d.mcgloin@dundee.ac.uk) is head of the division of physics and a senior lecturer at the University of Dundee, Scotland. 

Academic Careers, Career Path, Communication Skills, Women in Science , , , , , , ,

Laser-focus Your Job Search with Work in Optics

4. December 2012

Jean-Michel Pelarpat

For optics and photonics industry professionals, navigating the vast universe of job listings on mainstream job sites can be daunting. The specific careers and organizations you seek may be buried among thousands of other outdated or unrelated positions, even after you’ve attempted to narrow down results as much as possible. Fortunately, professional societies such as OSA are available to provide career assistance for their members and the community. Indeed, part of OSA’s mission is to expand and develop the field of optics globally, and a critical step toward that goal is effectively connecting professionals around the world to industry leaders, emerging fields and opportunities for conducting breakthrough research.

OSA’s online job board, WORKinOPTICS.com, provides a global career resource for the optics and photonics community. Accessible by employers and job seekers worldwide, this niche job board gives optics and photonics professionals the unique opportunity to connect directly with organizations at the forefront of their field.

Since its inception, the Work in Optics site has been consistently updated to be as user-friendly and practical as possible. Users can sort job postings by state, country, education level and specific subfields, including academia, aerospace/defense, biotechnology/medical, telecom, government and more. There is no cost for job seekers to browse positions or post their resume, and there are more than 70 open positions currently posted, ranging from leading optics universities, government laboratories and prestigious companies.

The benefits even expand beyond the job seeker -- OSA corporate member companies receive 20 free job postings per membership term, and non-OSA corporate members are welcome to post jobs for a nominal fee. There are nearly 1,800 resumes in the resume database for companies seeking qualified candidates.

 A great new feature on the Work in Optics site is the internship listings page. As someone who serves on the OSA Corporate Associates Committee, I collaborated with OSA leadership and staff to establish this new component to the online job board. We’ve had great success with our internship program here at Vytran, and it was important to me that there be a means to connect students with internship opportunities on the Work in Optics site. The internship page allows OSA corporate members to post unlimited intern positions at no cost (there is a small fee for non-OSA corporate members), and students can browse those listings, apply, and post their resume for free.

I encourage all job seekers or professionals who may be open to a career transition to post their resume to the Work in Optics site. This job site was developed especially for you: It cuts through the clutter of mainstream job websites and gives you direct access to employers or job seekers in your specialized area. Share this resource with a colleague, friend or family member and help us continue to expand our network of bright, innovative optics professionals.

Jean-Michel Pelaprat (jmp@vytran.com) is president and CEO at Vytran Corporation, a supplier of optical fiber splicing and processing solutions based in Morganville, NJ, U.S.A. He is the 2013 chair-elect of the OSA Corporate Associates Committee.

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Curriculum Vitæ: Some Dos and Don'ts

27. November 2012

Jean-luc Doumont

Whether on paper or in electronic format, the résumé or curriculum vitæ still plays a crucial role in job applications. By analyzing a draft CV kindly provided by OSA student member Matt Weed, this article offers some dos and don'ts toward effective communication.

Compared to many résumés I have seen lately, Matt's draft CV shows many positive qualities. It sets the name of the candidate very visibly (top left) with unique contact data (top right), rather than multiple addresses or phone numbers that can confuse a potential employer. It focuses on competencies and goes beyond the mere research experience to include public policy and leadership. In terms of style, it puts forward specific achievements with action verbs.

On the other hand, the CV is on the long side (more than two pages), with page breaks in the middle of sections and a third page 75 percent empty. With some tweaking of the text and/or page layout, it can either be brought back to exactly two pages (my recommendation) or perhaps be extended to three, with the third page devoted solely to publications and presentations, almost as an appendix.

More important still, the otherwise effective structure is not very visible. Despite being set in small caps bold, the headings do not stand out. Whatever white space is left on the first page ends up separating related information horizontally (such as degrees and dates) rather than separating distinct sections vertically. Similarly, the dates on the right are a little lost.

While I know it is common practice, I am always skeptical about career objectives and other so-called profile information. The objective stated here is vague, hence hardly useful. It is best moved to the application letter and written specifically toward a given company or job. On the CV, it can be replaced by some sort of tagline under the candidate's name, summing up his qualifications and, indirectly, previewing the structure of the CV.

As for style, perhaps the best advice I ever received is that good writing is read-out-loudable. Matt's CV uses conjugated verbs but without the subject (understood to be I), probably in an effort to be concise. The outcome is compact and consistent yet would not read out loud well. For example, many readers may not recognize “image” to be a verb in “image devices and processing steps”. Along the same lines, beware of industry jargon. In the sentence “Developed quantitative naval periscope image resolution metrics across functional groups”, I did not know what exactly was quantitative (the periscope, the image, the resolution, or the metrics) and I could not quite place the phrase “functional groups” (which, to me, evokes hydroxyl or alcohol groups on organic molecules).

Finally, a word of caution for those of you applying for jobs internationally. Matt's draft CV is US-centric, with phrases such as “Annually visit DC” or “Orange County schools”, a phone number without country code, and no information whatsoever on language skills. Even the full name “Matthew Davidson Weed” would confuse many people outside the United States, who are not used to middle names, especially when these sound like family names: To a Latin reader, “Davidson Weed” is a perfectly normal compound family name for the son of Mr. Davidson and Ms. Weed. For international communication, I recommend sticking to one given name and one family name (in that order), perhaps with the family name set in small caps to clarify which is which, given that not all cultures place the family name last.

In the attached PDFs, I propose a revised version of Matt's draft CV and I provide more detailed comments on both draft and revised versions.

Jean-luc Doumont (jl@principiae.be) holds a Ph.D. in applied physics from Stanford University. He now devotes his time and energy to training researchers and others in effective communication. He is a traveling lecturer for OSA.

Matthew Weed (mweed@creol.ucf.edu) is a Ph.D. Candidate in Optics studying integrated, chip-level lasers and photonic systems at the University of Central Florida. You can visit his website at www.MattDWeed.com

Academic Careers, Career Path, Communication Skills, Job Search, Ph.D. Perspectives , , , , , ,

Learning to Teach

16. November 2012

Arti Agarwal

As a young academic focused predominantly on research, I felt conflicted when I was asked to lecture at my university. I was nervous about teaching for the first time and concerned about the amount of time and work required but also excited about the opportunity to impact students.

When I actually got into the classroom, I found that it was every bit as difficult as I had expected.

For those of us who are not natural teachers, the idea of facing a few hundred students, waiting like hungry lions to devour our fearful attempts at introducing discrete Fourier transform, is not an enticing prospect. However, in spite of its challenges, teaching is an integral part of an academic career. Every academic could benefit from learning how to do it well.

Fortunately, there is help out there. Here are a few ways that you can learn how to be a better, more effective teacher:

Take courses. Many universities offer classes on various aspects of teaching: theories of learning and teaching in higher education, curriculum development, assessment, teaching techniques, etc.  These courses can be very helpful for new teachers, so take advantage of them.

Find relevant workshops. I participated in a two-day teaching workshop focused on designing classes, including preparing slides, hand outs, and assignments. We practiced giving lectures that were video recorded and played back to us. Watching ourselves on tape allowed us to see how we appeared to students. Did we talk too quickly or too quietly? Was our writing legible on the blackboard? Did we fidget or appear nervous? Seeing these kinds of errors helps you to correct them.

Look to professional societies. Many professional groups and technical societies also have teaching resources for educators. Usually they will be subject-specific, and thus can be a great place to find material, teaching tips and activities for your particular area.

Seek advice from teaching experts. You can also find support from people who specialize in the study of teaching and learning. Input from these sources can be very helpful in engaging students For example, I recently had a group of students who were not solving tutorial problems. No amount of exhortation on my part could convince them to do the assignments. I was getting increasingly frustrated, so I went to the Learning Development Centre at my university and asked for their advice. They suggested that I divide the class into groups, and assign a question to each one. They would have to solve their problem on the board in front of the rest of the class, and then prepare a new question for the other groups to tackle. The most challenging question won. Peer pressure and healthy competition provided the motivation necessary to get my students excited about their work.

Even if you don’t feel that teaching comes naturally to you, you can learn techniques to help you be a more competent and comfortable teacher. It takes a lot of hard work and practice, but the rewards are worth it in the end. There is no better feeling than when a class goes well and you know that your students are truly learning and benefitting from your efforts.

Arti Agrawal (arti_agrawal@hotmail.com) is a lecturer at City University London in the Department of Electrical, Electronic and Information Engineering, School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences. To follow her personal blog, visit http://artiagrawal.wordpress.com.

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