Each week, Science publishes a few articles that are likely to be of interest to career-minded readers. But because those articles aren't featured on Science Careers, our readers could easily overlook them.
To remedy that, every Friday we're pointing readers toward articles appearing in Science—the print magazine as well as the other Science-family publications (ScienceInsider, ScienceNOW, Science Translational Medicine—Sci. TM—and Science Signaling)—that hold some relevance or nuggets of advice for readers interested in furthering their careers in science. (Please note that while articles appearing in ScienceInsider and ScienceNOW can be read by anyone, articles appearing in Sci. TM, Science Signaling, and Science may require AAAS membership/Science subscription or a site license.)
• Monday on ScienceInsider, Eliot Marshall wrote about a $540 million gift from the Daniel K. Ludwig Trust to Ludwig cancer centers at six research institutions: "Harvard Medical School in Boston; Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge; the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City; Stanford University in Palo Alto; and the University of Chicago." Each center will get $90 million to endow cancer studies in perpetuity or until cancer is no longer a problem. In total, the Ludwig trust has given $2.5 billion to cancer research. The money comes with few conditions, and no progress reports or renewal applications to write, which “allows you to focus on what you think will yield the most important results without being concerned about meeting artificial intermediate deadlines,” says oncologist Kenneth Kinzler, who co-directs the Ludwig Center at Hopkins.
• Thursday on ScienceInsider, Marta Paterlini reported that fliers posted anonymously in Milan, included the photos, home addresses, and telephone numbers of scientists involved in animal research at the University of Milan and labeled the researchers "murderers." The posters targeted physiologist Edgardo D'Angelo, parasitologist Claudio Genchi, pharmacologist Alberto Corsini, and biologist Maura Francolini. The texts of the posters say that the scientists are "guilty" of performing animal experiments. "Corsini is said to 'have tortured and killed animals for more than 30 years.' " The flier about Corsini includes his phone number and a suggestion to "call this executioner and tell him what you think of him." The fliers contained no explicit threat of violence, but Italian scientists note the implicit threat. "It's unacceptable that those who work for the good of science and public health are called murderers by someone who publicly incites violence against them,” says Dario Padovan, a biologist and president of Pro-Test Italia, quoted in the article.
• In Sci. TM, a paper in the Focus section considered the best way to train people to function well in a translational science environment, reviewing a University of California (UC), Berkeley and UC, San Francisco training program and describing the components the authors believe that any translational curriculum must have: "biomedical technology," "clinical issues," and "leadership and technology management" followed by a collaborative capstone project. For career-seekers the article is a useful introduction to the nature of translational work, capturing well the field's profoundly interdisciplinary nature and detailing the skill sets it draws on. The article briefly describes several translational training programs, making it useful reading for early-career scientists who are considering translational research training.
• A second Focus in Sci. TM addressed training in a particular field with current translational challenges: tissue engineering. As it matures, the authors wrote, it is moving "from laboratory-based experimental studies in model systems to a mature discipline that is yielding products that are being evaluated and used in the clinical domain. Researchers are working to decellularize entire hearts, lungs, livers, and kidneys to yield protein matrices that can be loaded with stem cells and then coaxed to grow in vitro into functional organs. Others are working with free-form fabrication technology to build fully vascularized tissues that might eventually lead to off-the-shelf transplants. Some are even trying to grow organs in vitro from single cells." To fully realize the field's clinical potential, the tissue engineers of the future must possess "a broad understanding of basic sciences (including biology, chemistry, and physics) and a sophisticated understanding of human pathophysiology, stem cell biology, and tissue mechanics." But even that's not enough. "[T]issue engineering, at its core, is devoted to designing and constructing physical objects, albeit of a vastly complex and organic nature. … Scientists attempting to create organs suitable for human transplantation must have the skills to build as well as biologically characterize their inventions along with facilities suitable for this type of interdisciplinary work. In short, we need to start training tissue craftsmen." It sounds like an exciting field to work in.
• More than half of all science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors either switch to another major or never earn a degree. "Both the low inflow and high outflow have long been thought to be unique characteristics of STEM disciplines," Jeffrey Mervis wrote in a News & Analysis article in this week's Science. Mervis reported on two studies released in November that "poke major holes" in this idea.
The first study found that the attrition rates for some non-STEM fields are higher than the rates for STEM fields. "The study, which tracked the students for 6 years, found an attrition rate of 48% for STEM majors (20% dropped out and 28% switched to a non-STEM major). That compares with 56% for initial humanities majors and 50% for business majors."
In the second study, researchers used data from the Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement and the National Survey of Student Engagement and found that the preferences of both STEM majors and non-STEM majors changed during the first year of college. The data, covering 78,000 students at 119 institutions in 2012, showed that 24% of STEM majors switched their major to a non-STEM field by the end of their freshman year, but 27% of non-STEM majors switched to STEM fields during the same period.
These new findings lead some to conclude that STEM fields may not have an attrition problem; it may just boil down to students changing their minds. "If you talk to 17-year-olds about their plans, or ask adults how they got into their profession, you'll find that their interests change and they change majors," says Hal Salzman, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, quoted in the article. "I think what has happened is that we defined [attrition] as the problem, and that led researchers down a certain path."