Success in science is a tricky thing to measure. The existing frameworks use journal output, number of successful PhD students and amount of grant funding achieved as metrics by which to measure scientific success.
But this certainly isn’t the only way for scientists to succeed. Once you break out of the confines of academia and into the world of business and enterprise, the criteria change dramatically.
I’ve recently been visiting people who have been winners of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Emerging Technologies Competition. These are researchers who have developed their scientific research into a marketable product. Some ideas are already spun out into businesses, with funding and a solid business plan, others are still within their parent university, their promising product prepared and proven, but not yet part of a business structure.
There’s one thing they all have in common – entrepreneurship. Each researcher or group that applies for the competition has the spark to recognise the possible commercial applications of their science. A great deal of scientific research fails to realise its commercial potential – it falls into the ‘valley of death’ – but those that succeed usually have someone with vision and determination pushing them through.
The Emerging Technologies Competition recognises these people early in their career, but with the Chemistry World Entrepreneur of the Year award, we hope to identify those who have leapt the deadly valley and landed on secure footing. The award recognises their achievements and encourages others to do the same, to see the potential in their research and to understand how to make it happen.
Science needs diversity. And a diverse way of defining scientific success will help to spur further scientific developments and inspire the next generation of scientists. Of course we celebrate the Nobel laureates and those that expand our understanding of the world through their research, but we should also celebrate those who extend science into the commercial arena.
So do you know anyone who has successfully bridged the valley of death? Someone who saw real commercial application in their research, and demonstrated the determination needed to see that potential through? If so, please nominate them for the Chemistry World Entrepreneur of the Year award, and join us in celebrating all kinds of scientific success.
We’re running a series of guest posts from the judges of the 2013 Chemistry World science communication competition. Here, science writer and Chemistry World columnist Philip Ball considers the place of chemistry in open science initiatives.
In the energetic current discussion about openness in science, chemistry has been largely absent. With the one obvious exception of drug trials – how can we encourage pharmaceutical companies to be more upfront with their findings? – chemistry seems to have been lost somewhere in the space between the life sciences, where the focus is on the accessibility and intelligibility of huge data sets, and physics, where open-access and participatory crowd-sourcing are already well advanced in projects such as the arXiv preprint server and Galaxy Zoo. Perhaps another way of saying this is that it is less obvious what is at stake for chemistry. Might it have continued to thrive on the basis of old models of how science is done, if left alone to do so?
My own view is that, among other things, a preprint server for chemical papers is long overdue, and I would rejoice if some enterprising institution were to initiate one. Partly this is selfish – for a science writer like me, the physics arXiv is an absolute boon for searching out interesting stories at the early stage, although of course this relies on the reader possessing some mechanisms for selectivity and discretion that do not depend on traditional peer review. But it is also invigorating to see how the arXiv has fostered a culture of active debate and engagement among physicists, in which responses to claims and controversies can be rapidly disseminated. That is something any science needs.
A preprint server for biology, called bioRxiv.org, has just been launched by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, and one for chemistry surely can’t be far behind. But that’s not to say that the model established by the arXiv has to be copied by the other sciences – there’s no unique way to go about disseminating and discussing preprints. I’d be interested to know what chemists in particular need and might look for in such a thing (I’d rate graphical abstracts as a must, for instance).
On the issue of data, I have encountered many debates and discussions about specific results and claims that require access to crystal structure data or simulation code. There’s no longer any argument for why such details cannot be made available, both during peer review and on publication. What’s more, computational tools appear to be moving towards greater standardization, so that for example raw data can be checked using off-the-shelf software. And the rise of well informed and well subscribed science blogs offers a growing forum for debating the issues free from the sometimes cumbersome procedures of traditional publishing.
Developments like this do seem to be cohering into a genuinely new way to do science – to forge collaborations, analyse data, share resources, communicate and assess results. No one yet knows what that will mean for time-honoured mechanisms of funding, networking and publishing, although one hopes that it might at least remove some of the entry barriers experienced by smaller laboratories or by researchers in developing countries. I’d love to hear what visions people have!
Philip Ball is a freelance writer. He previously worked for over 20 years as an editor for the international science journal Nature. He writes regularly in the scientific and popular media, and has authored many books on the interactions of the sciences, the arts, and the wider culture. Philip also writes for Chemistry Worldand has a regular column – ‘The Crucible‘.
In this month’s episode we’re highlighting the achievements of women in science – hearing from Professor Margaret Brown on mathematics education and from Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore on the teenage brain. Volunteers from our Wikipedia-edit-a-thon will be telling us about their experiences and we’ll also get a historical perspective on women and The Royal Society from Dr Claire Jones. Also this month, two of our books prizes were awarded, so we’ll also hear from Sean Carroll, winner of the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books and some of the young judges of the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize.
00:39 Professor Margaret Brown discusses mathematics education, after receiving the Kavli Education Medal.
04:45 Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore on her research into the teenage brain and her recent receipt of the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award and Lecture.
12:51 Interviews with volunteers at the recent Women in Science Wikipedia edit-a-thon.
16:55 Extracts from Dr Claire Jones’s public history of science lecture: Sisters in science: Hertha Ayrton, women and the Royal Society c.1900.
27:33 Students from Ellen Wilkinson School for Girls judges talk about judging the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize 2013.
29:22 Why Science? – Sarah-Jayne Blakemore
As we mentioned here before this week saw the very first Chemistry World Jobs Live event, held in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s London home, Burlington House. The queues outside and happy faces inside seem to suggest that it was a resounding success.
Over 250 people visited on the day to meet representatives from universities, recruitment agencies and industry. If meeting potential employers wasn’t enough, delegates could opt to have their CV spring cleaned by the Royal Society of Chemistry’s careers advisors, and explored alternative career routes by getting involved with the ‘meet the experts’ panel discussion.
— The Chemistry Centre (@thechemcentre) November 25, 2013
Speaking to attendees, the watchword was opportunities:
‘I’m finishing my PhD, writing up my thesis, so I wanted to look at what opportunities there are available for me as a PhD graduate.’
‘I’m looking for new opportunities to move my career on. I’m currently undergoing a redundancy situation that is not yet resolved, so I’m trying to look into the future a little bit and look for potential new opportunities.’
‘I’m now at the stage when I’m looking for graduate work. [I thought] this would be the perfect opportunity to come along, do a bit of networking, talk to some people. Because I’m still at the point where I don’t actually know what I want to do for a living yet!’
‘I’m looking for a change in emphasis in what I do. Get out of the lab; maybe get into a project management role or consultancy. I thought I’d come along and see what there is on offer.’
[Okay, that last one doesn’t actually use the word ‘opportunity’, but they were probably thinking it.]
— Ben Valsler (@BenValsler) November 25, 2013
For the twenty six exhibitors, including big names like GSK, Pfizer, AWE and AstraZeneca, it was a chance to test the waters of their future employment pool, and encourage the best to think of applying to them first. Their feedback after the event showed how they benefited from an event that outwardly is targeted at jobseekers:
‘From an exhibitor’s point of view it all went off very smoothly … The ‘standard’ of the delegates was very high and we were pleased that a significant proportion of them were what we might describe as being ‘experienced researchers’ … the day was of quite significant value to us in so far as it helped to build our profile with a number of young people who will only be applying in 2014.’
‘Thanks for putting on such a great event yesterday, I felt it was really beneficial for the business to increase its visibility.’
The ‘meet the experts’ part of the day was perhaps harder to quantify – rather than speaking directly to a potential employer, this event was a way to discuss other aspects of career progression.
‘The panel discussions were lively and well attended’ explained Bibiana Campos-Seijo, editor of Chemistry World and member of the panel. ‘The panellists had very different backgrounds and included among others representatives from Saudi Aramco, Hexcel, Royal Society of Chemistry, University of Bradford and none other than TV personality Ricky Martin, of The Apprentice and Total Wipeout fame now heading Hyper Recruitment Solutions in partnership with Lord Alan Sugar. We had an entertaining and diverse spread that reflected experiences both in academia and industry but also gave a flavour of some of the options that are available to those who wish to pursue an international career in the chemical sciences.’
The panel discussed alternative routes into chemistry careers, the value of having a PhD and the drama of facing redundancy. Bibiana noted that, in spite of the different experiences on the panel there were some common themes in the advice meted out to attendees. ‘Remain flexible – plans don’t always go as intended so be prepared to adapt and fully embrace plan B. And be opportunistic – remain resourceful and proactive, not letting opportunities pass you by.’
This approach certainly hit the mark for one attendee, who beamingly explained: ‘I was very pleasantly surprised; I’m very pleased I went. It was very inspiring to hear what they had to say … it really reinforced my enthusiasm and I thought it was very inspiring indeed.’
Chemistry World Jobs Live will return in 2014!
We’re running a series of guest posts from the judges of the 2013 Chemistry World science communication competition. This time, writer and broadcaster Adam Hart-Davis explains why he thinks openness is a benefit to all.
As researcher, then producer, and finally presenter, I spent 30 years in television, trying to get across to the general public scientific ideas, from why banana skins are slippery to the detector experiments at the Large Hadron Collider.
In the science office at Yorkshire Television, I was surrounded by creative people, but I noticed they came in two varieties. Arriving at the office in the morning with a new idea for an item or a programme, some (afraid of theft or ridicule) would go into a corner, scribble secret notes, and phone advisers; others would tell everyone about the idea, and ask for comments. This latter, open approach was hugely more successful. Some proposals would get instantly laughed out of court, but most would provoke arguments, sometimes heated, and these arguments always improved the basic idea.
In other words, openness paid off handsomely; taking the apparent risk of sharing the idea was almost always beneficial.
The same principal applies to practising science; the more scientists share their ideas the better the outcome is likely to be. Joseph Priestley made have regretted telling Antoine Lavoisier about his discovery of “dephlogisticated air” but at least Lavoisier coined the sexier name oxygen.
When I worked in a lab – a long time ago – I learned a great deal from watching and talking to my colleagues – theoretical ideas, tips of technique, and so on – and I am convinced that the more you share the more you gain.
Adam Hart-Davis is a freelance writer and broadcaster – former presenter on television of Local Heroes, Tomorrow’s World, What the Romans (and others) did for Us, How London was Built, and many others. He has collected various awards for both television and radio, as well as two medals and 14 honorary doctorates. He has read several books, and written about 30. He spends a lot of time hacking at green wood, making chairs, tables, egg cups, bowls, and spoons.
A chance to find your dream job?
More and more, we conduct our lives online. From shopping to socialising, there’s nary an activity that hasn’t been supplemented or supplanted by the electronic ether, and the internet is never far from our fingers.
Shortcuts through cyberspace make the world smaller, but some lament that this comes at the expense of conventional contact and communication, and in fact pushes us further apart.
Online job searching is perhaps one of the more innocuous, indeed welcome, invasions of life lived remotely. Most job hunts are likely to begin with offering up a few key strokes to a database and end with a fingers-crossed click to dispatch a payload of personal data. Your first encounter of the third kind with an alien employer will probably be a handshake on the day of your interview, should your digital demeanour persuade them to pause upon your CV.
But for all its convenience, we should be wary that our reliance on technology doesn’t diminish the personal interactions that are still so essential. We spend so much of our lives in our workplaces, our colleagues and customers see more of us than our families. But unlike families, you actually get to choose your job. Spending some time getting to know your could-be employer helps both of you know if the relationship will work. It has costs: time, effort and possibly money, but that’s a small price to pay to give yourself the best chance of landing the job you want.
At the end of November, we’ll be running our first careers fair, at Burlington House in London. An impressive selection of chemistry employers – big and small, global and local – representing all aspects of the chemistry industry will be there, and looking to recruit. The Royal Society of Chemistry’s careers advisors will also be on hand to offer their assistance. In one day, you can meet over 20 potential employers, speak to the people that work there, and learn what they do just by turning up and saying hello. And they get to meet you – a person, not a pdf.
‘The history of science, more than of any other activity, shows men and women of every nation contributing to the common pool of organised knowledge and providing the means for enhancing human welfare.’ – Ronald Nyholm, editorial in Education in Chemistry, vol. 1, issue 1.
50 years ago, the Royal Institute of Chemistry (RIC) announced a new quarterly magazine, with the aim of ‘improving the teaching of chemistry at all levels’. The RIC no longer exists (having merged with the Society for Analytical Chemistry and the Chemical and Faraday Societies to form the Royal Society of Chemistry) but the publication, Education in Chemistry or EiC, is still around to celebrate its golden anniversary.
Having spent the year in dusty archive rooms researching the history of the magazine, editor Karen J Ogilvie and assistant editor David Sait have emerged, blinking, back into the daylight, determined to celebrate in style. As well as planning a calendar of celebration events for those involved in the magazine, they’ve been busy rethinking their online home, and the refreshed and redesigned website launched on 12 November.
EiC still lives up to its original intentions, as a way of sharing ideas and discussion on the teaching of chemistry, as well as keeping educators up to date with news from the frontline of chemical research. Recent articles place the history of drug development alongside innovations in virtual experiment software that could enhance or replace traditional laboratory-based practical work. This balance fits perfectly with the aim set out by Ronald Nyholm in the editorial of the very first issue:
‘[Our task] is to present modern chemistry in ways that will stimulate teachers at various levels to improve their own presentation of the subject, and to record the experiences of those who have tried out new methods and new approaches.’
But sticking to their original principles doesn’t mean resisting change. EiC has developed over the years alongside the teaching profession, keeping pace with technology, policy and an ever-changing curriculum. They continue to support chemistry teachers both inside and outside the classroom, and with the announcement of a new strand looking at continuing professional development, hope to encourage chemistry teaching as a lifelong career.
So happy birthday EiC!
We’re running a series of guest posts from the judges of the 2013 Chemistry World science communication competition. In this, the first of the series, we hear from Sam Tang, public awareness scientist at the University of Nottingham.
The phrase ‘openness in science’ offers a variety of meanings. For me, as a science communicator, I feel openness describes how we communicate science to the public and the media.
I like to think we’ve come a long way in making science more open and accessible, and over the last nine years, I’ve seen science communication evolve from being a fringe activity that only a handful of volunteers gave their time to do (and, dare I say it, were looked down upon for partaking), to becoming an embedded activity in universities across the UK. Type ‘science communication’ into Google and it becomes apparent that it is now a discipline in its own right: a wealth of pages appear, from masters courses to conferences, jobs in the field, even a Wikipedia entry.
I tried the same web search for the arts and the humanities and there simply aren’t the equivalent qualifications or jobs available for these disciplines. Does this make science more open, or have we had to create such roles precisely because of public perceptions, be they real or imagined, of science being secretive or incomprehensible?
Openness also applies to interactions between us scientists, whether working in the same or different subjects. I recently spoke to a professor in mechanical engineering whose group is developing new methods and materials in 3D printing. He has started collaborations with pharmacists, polymer chemists and even psychologists. This sharing and collaboration comes about because each group strives to advance their respective fields, and in order to do so they have to look beyond their own research areas. ‘Interdisciplinary’ and ‘innovation’ are funding buzzwords but could they actually be a driving force for openness in the scientific community?
Openness is relevant for so much of science, I think I can see why it was chosen for the competition.
Samantha Tang occupies an unusual position in UK science communication, as a public awareness scientist at the University of Nottingham. Her role involves explaining chemistry in an informal, accessible and entertaining manner to a wide range of audiences, through varying mediums – including the University’s Periodic Table of Videos. She is also a former Chair of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s East Midlands section (2007-2013).
Guest post by Emily James
On Wednesday 30th October, I attended the CaSE debate, hosted at the Royal Society. David Willetts (minister for universities and science), Julian Huppert (MP for Cambridge) and the freshly-appointed Liam Byrne (shadow minister for universities, science and skills) sat in good position to debate the future direction of science and engineering in the UK. The BBC’s Pallab Ghosh led the discussion, with pre-selected questions from the audience.
I couldn’t help but notice that despite the name of the event, there was a slight lack of hearty debate. My own desires for things to get a bit heated were met with held tongues – I blame the run up to the 2015 general election. However, perhaps consensus is not such a bad thing if you consider the cross-party agreements made on policies that act favourably on STEM education and industry.
Indeed, the underlying topic that stood out for me was the coverage of STEM subjects in education. All three MPs agreed that to close the STEM skills gap, the excitement of science should start in school. Huppert wants subject specialists in schools, who convey that ‘science is fun, not just a list of facts’. Byrne is not only in support of improving the careers service to draw STEM students into the workforce, but also a fan of the technical baccalaureate and more students becoming registered science technicians. Hands-on practical science was also a theme Willetts rode on, stating that to meet the supply for well-trained scientists we need to change the perception of British scientists being exceptionally paper educated, to that of using this knowledge to get our hands dirty.
— CaSE (@sciencecampaign) October 30, 2013
Speaking of training, Willetts is disappointed in the number of part time students. I’m disappointed that he didn’t mention anything about part time postgraduate study, specifically support for those returning from work to academia. As a scientist who is doing just this, I did indeed consider studying for my PhD part-time. However after weighing up the options, a seven-year PhD, with the combined stress of two jobs didn’t really appeal to me. Besides, the engineering and physical sciences research council (EPSRC) funding website for part-time studentships not part of a doctoral training centre is rather vague. Huppert came out on top for me here, advocating the Open University and that anyone should be able to re-train at any point in your life.
As the conversation predictably turned to student loans, Huppert said he wanted to prioritise bursaries for living expenses and scrap tuition fees. However, he admitted he had no idea where the money was going to be sourced from when Willetts put forward that a reduction in university fees ultimately means cuts in science – a position Willetts is against. Further to this, Huppert’s solution to the advancement of blue-skies research is to convince people to do science for the love, not just the money; study what you’re interested in and don’t just focus on the financial return. This could work, if you also love to sleep on your lab floor because your research doesn’t pay the bills at home. If everyone bought into this thinking, we might even save the housing crisis!
Willetts: we need to reward scientists for working collaboratively – papers & promotions #casedebate
— Science Grrl (@Science_Grrl) October 30, 2013
The panel also broached a very hot topic, and one of my areas of interest: diversity in STEM. Ghosh opened the topic with a terrifying fact that half of the state schools in the UK don’t have a single girl studying A-level Physics. Willetts followed this up with another shocking statistic: that only a quarter of female A* physics GCSE students carry the subject onto A-level, which is half the number of boys that do. Biology represents a very different picture, with 60% of girls going on to study it at A-level.
So what’s happening early on in the lives of our future female scientists? Willetts had a thought-provoking theory: girls are aspiring to become doctors of medicine. To do this they study the biological sciences, but then if they don’t get through the fiercely competitive application process to study medicine, they can only use these subjects to choose an alternative career path. Unfortunately if they didn’t study physics at A-level, they can’t convert back to it at degree level to become engineers or physicists. Basically we are sending girls up a blind alley – they specialise too early. I agree with this, but I had to drop physics at A-level due to a timetabling issue – I couldn’t take five A-levels.
Fortunately the panel were in agreement on the obvious solution is to improve the careers service. Byrne also added his solution to focus on role-models in the classroom, getting female graduates back into schools to inspire the next generation – a comment I heartily agree with as I had a role-model myself: a female chemistry teacher with a PhD (in a state school!). I was actually quite impressed by Byrne’s contribution to the whole discussion, despite only being in the position for 3 weeks and his initial comment on ‘only being here for enthusiasm and excitement’.
Not just women is STEM, also ethnic and economic backgrounds – lots of barrier issues to address. Huppert citing good campaigns #casedebate
— Dr Marianne (@noodlemaz) October 30, 2013
Huppert rounded off the discussion by (finally) pointing out the irony of the panel’s diversity. Although comic, it does rile to see three white, middle-aged men discussing diversity related issues, as is often the case. As Huppert put it, we need to break down stereotypes; it’s not just about women, but also people from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.
Although armed with big ideas, the panel offered no advice on what voters can do to go about this. The panel wants an unbiased STEM education that starts early on. In my opinion, this needs to begin at home. The public need to understand and confront gender specific ideas. At least, buy your kids science toys regardless of how they are branded. Speak out against those who say that STEM is ‘just for boys’ and show your children diverse role models. Anyone can be a scientist; it’s up to you to prove to the next generation that they can too.
You can watch a video of the debate below. I recommend a viewing, especially for the discussion on ring-fencing science funds and to see Willetts’s genuine surprise that anyone had actually read his BIS innovation and research strategy paper – let alone Byrne!
Emily is on the Royal Society of Chemistry graduate scheme and currently works in the Chemistry World team. She feels strongly about challenging the public’s perception of science and what it takes to be a scientist. A medicinal chemistry graduate, Emily will return to academia in 2014 to begin life as a PhD student. No doubt she will continue to talk about science in her daily life and campaign for @RSC_Diversity.
This month we celebrate our 50th episode of the R.Science podcast. Every episode we ask one of our guests, “Why science?”, so for this episode we are showcasing some of the best answers we’ve heard over the past 4 years. Highlights include Professor Brian Cox OBE, Sir David Attenborough FRS, Carol Vorderman and the students of Britannia Village Primary School.
01:45 Sir David Attenborough FRS.
03:34 Professor Henry Pollack.
04:25 Dr Olivier Restif.
05:15 Carol Vordermann MBE.
06:58 Jasper Fforde.
08:05 Britannia Village Primary School students.
10:36 Professor Brian Cox OBE.
11:06 Sir John Sulston FRS.
12:50 Dr Max Little.
13:56 Professor Helga Nowotny.