Thursday, April 20, 2017

Scientist jobs that don’t include teaching or research . . .

At the recent 2017 Northeast/North Central joint section meeting of the Geological Society of America, I ran into a thirty-something alumnae of my undergraduate college who had finished her Ph.D. in geology in 2009. I first met this woman on a metamorphic-geology field trip several years ago while she was still a grad student. It was great to see her again and catch up. She told me she is STEM coordinator and adviser for a leadership scholars program at a major university, but was apologetic that it was not a position actually doing science. I said no apology needed! What a better adviser for students considering STEM (science-technology-engineering-math) careers than someone who has done science research and personally navigated undergraduate and graduate science education?

This interaction also reminded me of grad school classmate who, just before finishing her dissertation at what is a major research institution, felt she was sensing disapproval from faculty for expressing an interest in post-grad academic positions that focused mostly on teaching and little on research. But there is not just one valid career path for persons educated as scientists or engineers: teaching, research, advising/consulting, academic or corporate leadership, public policy are among possible pathways, depending on one’s talents, interests, and opportunities.

Teaching science includes a range of university (post-secondary) positions from those at top-tier research institutions to community and junior college. Research may be an essential part of many university departments and a requirement for tenure; directing student research is an important component. However, at institutions such as community colleges, teaching may be the major or sole job requirement with limited opportunities for one’s own or student research. However, that does not diminish the important task of educating the students on the methodology of science, its role in society, and the specifics of the science field chosen for a major or distributive course requirement.  In addition, science education begins way before college: science subject K-12 teacher certifications start at the middle school level (~age 10), if not before.

Careers that have science as a base, whether one has a bachelor’s, Master’s, or Ph.D. degree in a science field, are numerous and varied. Teaching is only one career line. Those who do research or applied science work for a variety of institutions: academia, industry, government. Some scientists or engineers in industry, as they advance their careers, may transition into a corporate leadership track (example: Rex Tillerson, engineer and former CEO of ExxonMobil). In academia and government, those who start in research and/or teaching may choose to advance to institutional administration.

Scientists have also made career transitions into public policy, working for non-profit science institutions, as staff for elected representatives, or themselves holding elected or appointed government leadership roles. In the US, Congressional Science Fellowship programs sponsored by many professional scientific societies, under the oversight of AAAS, is one avenue to participate in public policy for a year or a basis to make a permanent transition into public policy. One could also apply directly for Congressional staff jobs through the US Senate employment office or the equivalent in the House of Representatives. AAAS and some other scientific societies have fellowships in other government agencies.

Science communication is a career path where a science background is a plus. Some professional societies (American Geosciences Institute, AGI; American Geophysical Union, AGU; American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS) offer media internships or fellowships. University schools of journalism, like at Columbia and Missouri, may have concentrations in science and/or environmental writing.

It was recently pointed out in an opinion piece in the AAPG Explorer (March 2017) by AAPG (American Association of Petroleum Geologists) Executive Director David Curtiss that General Colin Powell was an undergraduate geology major.

     He “completed his degree in geology from City College of New York and was immediately sworn in as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He never worked as a geologist. But, . . . his knowledge of geology and how the Earth works informed his entire career. Whether it was moving troops over rugged terrain or the delicate balancing act of the geopolitics of oil and natural gas, his understanding of the planet helped him navigate these challenges. If ever there was an endorsement for studying the geosciences – even if you want to pursue a career outside of traditional geological professions – look no further than Colin Powell.

So don’t be ashamed of whatever career path you take after getting a science degree! Your best contribution will be in a job that makes you happy.

Below is a limited list of scientists who made career choices where they eventually were not teaching science or doing research:

Rush Holt- physicist, former Congressman, CEO American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

Harrison Schmidt- Geologist, Astronaut (Apollo 17), Senator (1977-1983)

Joanne Liu- President of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF),

Marcia McNutt, Director, US Geological Survey (2009-2013); President, National Academy of Sciences

Melody Brown Burkins- Congressional Science Fellow (1999-2000); US delegation chair, 2016 International Geologic Congress (IGC); Director for Programs and Research of The John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding and Adjunct Professor of Environmental Studies (ENVS), Dartmouth College

Steven Chu- Physicist, Nobel Prize winner, US Secretary of Energy (2009-2013)

Ernest Moniz- Physicist, US Secretary of Energy (2013-2017)

Maria Honeycutt- Congressional Science Fellow (2007-2008), Coastal hazards policy analyst (NOAA)

Kevin Wheeler- USAID, science and international development consulting

David Curtiss- Congressional Science Fellow (2001-2002); Executive Director, AAPG

Wendy Hill- Neuroscientist and Provost, Lafayette College (to 2014); Head, Agnes Irwin School (private secondary school)

Friday, April 7, 2017

What do we do now? What post-election shell-shocked US liberal voters have been asking themselves since November 2016. . .

U.S. Capitol, 9 PM, January 20, 2017. Photo by MLMalinconico during evening walk, checking out any preparations for next day's Women's March (nothing set up yet, still removing Inauguration traffic barriers).

By 10 pm Eastern standard time on election night, November 8, 2016, liberal-progressive American voters were getting the uneasy feeling that the likely, but not guaranteed (71% chance according to FiveThirtyEight), election of Hillary Clinton to the US Presidency was not going to happen. The next day, pro-Clinton voters, started to go through the various stages of grief with anger and disbelief being most common, walking around like aimless zombies. With sustained Republican majorities in the House and Senate, a combination of fear and uncertainty has gripped left-to-moderate citizens concerned about what promises by conservative candidates (or, in some cases, those running as Republicans but whose commitment to even conservatism is not clear) may actually be enacted and become law. 

There are a range and number of issues that could be severely affected, changed, undone: government-mandated health care, immigration policy, women's health access, gender rights, environmental regulations, federal science funding, etc. The large number and variety or breadth of endangered policies is part of the confusion among many citizens yearning to be come more civilly active: where to start, what exactly can one do now? Even now in the Spring 2017, I hear these questions. They are voiced both by those who had worked/volunteered for campaigns of Democratic candidates and those who did not. In contemplating this, I have assembled a list of some possible ACTION CHOICES:

A) Do GENERAL advocacy for multiple liberal/progressive positions: I have come across these various initiatives for involvement that cover a range of issues.
    1) The "Indivisible Guide" (, "Practical Guide on Resisting the Trump Agenda" written by former Congressional staffers, outlines using the strategy of the successful Tea Party movement for the benefit of liberal causes. The essential point is start local and small, forming groups to influence municipal/state/federal legislators for the benefit of liberal causes. The website has a search feature to find contact information for groups in one's area. As of mid-February 2017, over 7000 local groups are being reported. One issue on the liberal agenda is gerrymandering. In many states, the state legislature determines federal Congressional district boundaries after each 10-year census (next census 2020), and gerrymandering in favor of the political party with a state-legislature majority is common. In Pennsylvania, district boundaries in 2011 were determined by the conservative Republican state legislature, and will not be redrawn until around 2021. Therefore, focusing on state elections in the next few cycles can have an eventual effect at the federal level. 
     2) To become or continue to be active in local established political parties is always an avenue: one may not have to wait until the 2018 midterm Congressional elections to volunteer for a campaign, since some gubernatorial elections will be in late 2017. One can always volunteer across state lines. A friend from the blue Democratic District of Columbia may commute up here to the flipped-red state of Pennsylvania to volunteer for the 2018 mid-term Congressional election.
     4) The Women's March on Washington, which morphed into a nationwide and international event, occurred on January 21, 2017. As follow-up, the March website ( outlines future actions, and provides activity agenda for the formation of small local groups (huddles). Like Call to Action, the Women's March tries to make advocacy easy for eager participants by outlining series of action steps and activities.
     5) The Resistance Calendar ( lists advocacy events all across the country by date with links to event/organization websites.

B) Pick ONE issue area that is important to you and focus on that. When I looked back at my own history, I realized that I had a record of active support for federal science spending through participating annually, since 2011, in Geoscience Congressional Visits Day (GeoCVD). I wrote about GeoCVD in a November 2015 blogpost, and it will be even more vital now that I continue to participate in GeoCVD, take part in other science events, and, as is the intention of any Congressional visit, nurture those established relationships during the year through written/phone communication, visits to local Congressional district offices, and/or town hall meetings to voice related science (or perhaps other) concerns. (Some friends, on the other hand, want to diversify and pick one issue very different from their work life; a few in education (school social worker and a principal) are investigating options distinctive from their daytime work with children and families.)
Here are some science-related events and resources, particularly earth and environmental science issues and legislation:     
     1) The March for Science (; @ScienceMarchDC; also on Facebook), Earth Day April 22, in Washington, DC and satellite locations around the world. This has now been endorsed by numerous professional science societies which may also have March information on their websites or Facebook pages.
     2) "Protect our Air, Water, & Public Lands - Call Your Reps & Senators!" A fantastic easy-to-follow spreadsheet updated frequently by a group of paleontologists, listing coming legislation with bill number, brief synopsis, action stage, which committee or member to contact, and separate lists of House and Senate members and their Committee memberships. (
     3) If you are a member of a professional scientific society, check out their science policy pages and resources they offer. One may also be able to sign up for policy alert services. Geoscience societies with US-focused policy programs include: American Geophysical Society (AGU;;, Geological Society of America (GSA;, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS,, American Geosciences Institute (AGI,a federation of 51 geoscience societies including AGU and GSA, 
     4) Apply for policy or media internships/fellowships. Many professional scientific societies, including AGU, GSA, AGI, AAAS listed above, sponsor such programs including Congressional Science Fellowships, media fellowships, policy internships for scientists in various stages of education and career.
     5) Attend a Congressional Visits Day! Geoscience Congressional Visits Days are traditionally in September and information can be found on the professional society policy pages above. In the spring is the large SET-CVD (Science-Engineering-Technology:; this year, it will be held April 25-26. One must pay their own travel/lodging expenses to attend.
     6) In the second part of a recent AGU blog 3-post series by earth scientist Dr. Christy Till, Arizona State University, she also contemplates what to do now, and lists her areas of focus: conversation, science mentoring, advocacy connections, community involvement, and education with helpful web links. For the last, education, she is both becoming involved in local public school outreach and, focusing on assuring the high quality of her own science research and teaching.
     7) Dr. Till, above, also mentions 500 Women Scientists (, a group similar to the Women’s March that is building a network of local groups (pods) of women scientists. Even if there is not a pod near you, you can follow and support through their website.
     8) Join an environmental organization like the Nature Conservancy, American Rivers, Sierra Club, etc., that matches your interests and goals. These organizations range from the small and local to large national and international groups. Many have policy or action webpages.

C) DONATE money or join (pay membership in) an advocacy organization such as a non-profit organization, scientific society, or political party. Do NOT think that just giving money is lazy!! Even though you can easily do this sitting on your couch with your dog, credit card, and laptop while watching The Big Bang Theory, this is a VERY important contribution. Organizations' advocacy and policy activities and staff require financial operational support. Organizations may have special funds, like AGU's Capitol Cause, that directly support public policy programs. However, funding of advocacy and policy activities (including staff, interns, fellows) of an organization may come directly from membership, other income, or from associated foundations. The American Geosciences Institute did an innovative GoFundMe campaign to raise money for Spring 2017 policy interns, this campaign website seems to still be open despite the 12/31/16 deadline). What happens when organization income decreases? Programs are cut. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists recently closed their ten-year-old Washington, DC, Geoscience and Energy Policy office and laid off the 2 policy specialists (plus decreased general staff at AAPG headquarters) because of serious budget shortfalls during the recent downturn in the petroleum industry and resulting decreases in membership and conference income.

So how best to contact one's Senator or Representative? AAPG Geoscience and Energy Policy Office Director Edie Allison's concluding communication, "DIY Advocacy", outlined how to contact elected representatives, track bills, and provided general background on federal regulation ( Phone calls, email, faxes, post cards are best. Snail mail in envelopes to Congress goes through an extensive and slow physical security screening since the anthrax attack of late September 2011, so not recommended. There are all sorts of advice out there about which method is best with some that just does not seem true. Someone on Facebook posted that a friend of a friend of a friend who was a former Congressional staffer said that offices only track phone calls and discard, don’t log paper mail and email. Fake news!! Emails, faxes, postcards are all counted regarding topic and position (for/ against).

There were rumors that the office of my Republican Senator Patrick Toomey was not answering phones on January, so thousands of people sent faxes. I sent two Toomey emails, got immediate general thank you replies with a promise of a more detailed reply, and that I did, a few weeks later! Interestingly, I got more responses from Toomey than from my Democratic Senator and Representative.

Most important in whatever communication form one uses is to be succinct, brief, and to the point. Some of the action services will give one talking points for phone calls. Remember, you have only a minute or two to convey your message. Think “elevator talk”. Many others may be trying to call in. For emails, make sure the first paragraph says upfront exactly what you want. I had started one email to my Congressmen pointing out that I had visited their offices during GeoCVD which promotes the importance of federal science spending; then in the second paragraph, my topic sentence was my issue of concern and my stance (the importance of international science collaboration in the wake of the January immigration executive order). However, Senator Toomey's reply was on his support for federal science funding (good), but missed addressing my specific point. Totally my fault for not putting the "ask" right in the first sentence. 

Remember, EVERY little bit counts. This revitalized liberal effort to make one's voice heard is not a contest of who does more, or how frequently. The goal should simply be to do something. However, the most important aspect in whatever strategy one chooses, is CONTINUED SUSTAINED EFFORT or communication= "persistence". On The Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC) on February 1, 2017, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) voiced his concern about "outrage fatigue", that interest would fade. Indeed, some initial criticism of the Women's March on Washington (January 20, 2017) was that, if the event was a one-and-done event, its impact and legacy could be minimal. Recognizing this is why the Women's March supports and encourages continued advocacy, as outlined above. 

 ". . .We must put to rest threats to science, while at the same time seeking friends among opinion-makers who understand the power, beauty, and usefulness of science and the need to incorporate it into public policy. . . to confidently, respectfully, and clearly explain the connection between scientific advancement and our economic progress, human well-being, and national security. . . The need for scientists and scientific institutions to effectively communicate about science and its relevance is more important than ever."  AAAS CEO (physicist and former Congressman) Rush Holt, December 20, 2016.

Keywords: science advocacy, science policy, March for Science