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October 2009

By: Gina | October 29 2009 | Category: Science Lite, Scientists in the Community, Tidbits for Teachers

A photo of a sign with text 'University Road'Like I said, I get bored easily. After a while, I got tired of investigating things that my boss wanted to study and wanted to try out some new ideas of my own. That meant I needed my own lab, which in turn meant I needed my own faculty position at a university. Getting one of those is not as easy as it sounds, but I worked hard and succeeded.

Great! Now all I needed was money. To get that, I needed to write a grant. Who would have thought that I would have to be a good writer to be a scientist? Between writing articles for scientific journals and applying for grants, I spent a lot of my time writing. Worse yet, my research involved doing experiments with mice and collecting blood from people. Both require special approval. I did lots of paper work to explain why it made scientific sense to study mice and collect human blood. I had to show how I was going to minimize any possible distress for the mice and protect the health and privacy of my human volunteers. As a new kid on the block, it was all pretty overwhelming, but I survived and got my lab going.

Of course, professors teach, too, so I spent a lot of my time doing that. I taught undergraduate and graduate courses and had students and postdocs in my lab doing research. In the summer, I even worked with some high school students. One fun thing about being a scientist is meeting people from all over the world. I had people from India, Iran, Egypt, Mexico, Russia, Serbia, and China working in my lab. I worked with other faculty from Nigeria, Romania, Germany, Canada, and Brazil, among others. Today, my three closest friends are a German, a Bulgarian, and an American.

There is a third part of being a university professor, but more about that next time.
By: Gina | October 28 2009 | Category: Science Lite, Scientists in the Community, Tidbits for Teachers

Photo of two feet standing amongst a number of arrows pointing to different paths to chose from.When it came time to leave my fellowship, I was still crazy about doing experiments in the laboratory. To keep doing lab work, I could choose between an industry and a university lab. (I didn’t know it at the time, but I could have considered one of the many government labs, too.) I decided on an academic job because, frankly, I still liked being able to play basketball in the middle of the day. I found a job working in a lab with a professor who was studying how genes get turned on and off. Oops! Did I change research areas again? Well, I get bored easily!

One of my best friends who also loved working in the lab took a job in industry. No more midday sports, but he had kids and wanted to work regular hours. It was perfect for him. Besides, industry usually pays better than academia.

Another friend still loved science but just didn’t want to work in a laboratory any more. She got a job in a university office that helps scientists patent and commercialize their discoveries. Her job was to work with the lawyers in the office to help them better understand the science behind the products and devices they were helping commercialize.

While I was looking for my job, I heard from a friend from my old theoretical chemistry days. He had become a full-time musician. He was applying all his computer skills to making electronic music.

Whew! We all got jobs, said our goodbyes, and moved to Seattle, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and Boston.
By: Gina | October 22 2009 | Category: Science Lite, Scientists in the Community, Tidbits for Teachers

Two feed holding a basketballTwenty years ago, I had finished my Ph.D. and was working as a postdoctoral fellow. That means I was working in the lab pretty much all day every day. Since I got my Ph.D. in theoretical chemistry, chemistry that uses computers not test tubes, you might think I spent my postdoc days in front of a computer. Nope! I was working in a biochemistry lab. Huh? Well, in the late 1980s, there weren’t a lot of jobs for theoretical chemists. Luckily, a science education opens doors, and I had offers to work in all kinds of labs. I liked biochemistry, so I chose that. 

Early on, I spent my days reading scientific papers to learn what other scientists were doing, and then I used that knowledge and my training in the scientific method to design and plan experiments. When things went well and I made new discoveries, my boss and I wrote papers and sent them to scientific journals for publication. After a bunch of other scientists reviewed them and we answered their questions and maybe did a few more experiments, they were published. It usually took a year or two to get one paper published.

It wasn’t all work. I also spent a good part of many days playing touch football and basketball. One good thing about being a scientist is that in many labs, you can work pretty much whatever hours you want. Of course, if I played basketball during the day, I was in the lab working late at night (even after I broke my foot-- twice!).
By: Gina | October 20 2009 | Category: Science Lite, Scientists in the Community, Tidbits for Teachers

Crossword cubes photoEver wonder what a scientist does all day? As a scientist, I have a pretty good idea. OK, at least I know what some of my scientist friends and I do. And what I do now is very different from what I did 10 years ago, which was different from what I did 10 years before that. There’s clearly plenty of room for growth and change as a scientist. Becoming a scientist does not mean you need to spend the rest of your life in the lab, but you can if you want. Some of my friends still do just that – working in the lab is their passion. But I, like many other scientists, have taken a career path that uses my scientific training not just to make new discoveries in the laboratory but also in ways you might never have imagined.

I want to share my story and those of a few of my friends and show you that being a scientist can be fun and challenging and take you in many directions. Look for my blogs on the next few Tuesdays and Thursdays:

  • Work Hard, Play Hard: Life as a Postdoc
  • Get a Real Job!
  • A Day in the Life of a Professor
  • Moving to Washington
  • Retirement: Girls Just Want to Have Fun
By: Cynthia | October 15 2009 | Category: Science and the Arts

Photo of young girls dancingIt’s official now. Interpreting science through dance is no longer far-fetched – it has become a creative and entertaining way to teach and learn science.

While working as a part-time substitute teacher several years ago, I thought about teaching mitosis through dance. I was limited by time and resources then, so I had to set the idea aside. Fast forward to DNA Day last year, when I finally had my chance to create a replication dance. NIH partnered with the Liz Lerman Dance ExchangeExternal Web Site Policy to present a day of workshops about science for high school students.

A dancer, an educator, and a scientist (me!) teamed up to lead the mitosis workshop. We reviewed the phases with students and had them assign “movement verbs” to each phase. The dancer led students through some warm-up exercises. Then, we asked students to create their own movements for each phase using the assigned verbs as inspiration. They put all the movements together with some hip music, and -- ta-da! -- they were dancing science. All the students seemed to enjoy the event. One student was quite reserved at first, but by the final performance, he was hamming it up and reveling in his chromosomal role.

Students beyond high school, professors, and researchers are dancing science, too. Some are actually dancing their Ph.D. theses and publishing papers! Even the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has gotten in on the act by sponsoring the 2009 AAAS Science Dance Contest. (See “Dancing Scientists Invade YouTube” in the November 20, 2008, issue of ScienceExternal Web Site Policy.)

Dancing science could work in any school with whatever resources are available. Teaming up with the school band and theater groups to create a performance for the community can work well. Brainstorming with community organizations, such as local dance troops, science clubs, colleges, or universities, will enhance your dancing adventure, too. The performance that caps off the dancing-science activity engages the student dancers and the audience and gives them both a new way to discover and appreciate the marvels of science.
By: Dave | October 9 2009 | Category: Science and the Arts, Tidbits for Teachers

Cover from I just came across a nice articleExternal Web Site Policy by Randy OlsonExternal Web Site Policy, a scientist-turned-filmmaker, on harnessing the power of storytelling in science. He's not talking about spinning tall tales, but framing research as a narrative. The article appears online at The Scientist.ComExternal Web Site Policy. He brings out an important point: "Great stories and great scientific investigations are built around great questions."

I could have used that kind of guidance in graduate school. To often, the only question I'd have during a research seminar was "When will this end?"

Speaking of good questions, we have an NIH curriculum supplement for middle school that addresses just that. "Doing Science" is all about the process of inquiry and getting students to ask testable questions. You can check it out now online and request a copy, too. Many science teachers across the country use these lessons to start off their school year. There's no need to wait until graduate school to learn how to ask good questions that will lead you to a great story.
By: Paul | October 8 2009 | Category: Issues in Education

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in a speech before education association representatives on September 24, explained the importance of a timely rewriting of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, the 2002 version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. He invited the educators to join in the effort.  “Today, I am calling on all of you to join with us to build a transformative education law that guarantees every child the education they want and need, a law that recognizes and reinforces the proper role of the federal government – to support and drive reform at the state and local level.”
While crediting NCLB for emphasizing the achievement gap in schools and focusing accountability on student outcomes, Duncan also pointed out some of the key defects of the current law. He noted the NCLB does not lead to high learning standards. “In fact, it inadvertently encourages states to lower them. The net effect is that we are lying to children and parents by telling them they are succeeding when they are not.” The Secretary sees the need for a new ESEA that produces assessments that better measure student learning, as well as a system of accountability that includes the academic growth of students. “Our role in Washington is to support reform by encouraging bold, creative approaches to addressing under-performing schools, closing the achievement gap, strengthening the field of education, reducing the dropout rate, and boosting college access,” Duncan said.
This meeting with the education association representatives was the first of several events where educators and education leaders can offer their suggestions on the rewriting of the ESEA. The additional opportunities for the educators to have input will take place at the Department of Education headquarters (400 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C.). The dates and times are:

  • Tuesday, October 13, 10:00-11:30 a.m.
  • Wednesday, October 21, 2:00-3:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, November 4, 2:00-3:30 p.m.
  • Friday, November 20, 1:00-2:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, December 2, 2:00-3:30 p.m.

These events comprise part of the Secretary’s “Listening and Learning” tour which by the end of the year will have led an event in all 50 states, Washington , D.C. and several territories.
By: Gloria | October 5 2009 | Category: Scientists in the Community

Arlyn Perez_gracia PhotoIn 1992, I celebrated with a young enthusiastic researcher, Arlyn Garcia-PerezExternal Web Site Policy, who had just  achieved tenure at the National Institutes of Health. Today, she serves as the Assistant Director of the Office of Intramural Research, in the Office of the Director. Dedicated to empowering women and minorities in science, Arlyn has mentored many other young scientists along her career path. Her abiding love of science is evident when she speaks about her research. Her enthusiasm is infectious to all who listen. She says she fell in love with the lab as an undergraduate at Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyExternal Web Site Policy. Instead of prescribing medicines, she wanted to discover them. In graduate school at Michigan State UniversityExternal Web Site Policy, the molecular view of renal physiology captured her interest. At NIH, she works tirelessly for women and minority groups because she believes that they lack mentors more then others. Her advice to young scientists is to build strong credentials early because there is no greater equalizer.

Arlyn is an example of an outstanding scientist who has achieved great success in her career. We celebrate her and many others during Hispanic Heritage Month. This month we recognize the contributions of Hispanic Americans to the United States and to celebrate Hispanic heritage and culture. Our celebration can continue all year round when we strive to mentor and support scientists of all ages. Look for opportunities in your community to encourage those who are interested in the sciences to follow their dreams and meet their goals.
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