Scientists Simplifying Science

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The week that it was – 5th to 11th June

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    Celebrating World Environment Day, by IpsaWonders
ISRO launches its Fat Boy, image by Fuzzy Synapse

Over last week India has had quite a few reasons to celebrate. ISRO launched the country’s heaviest rocket GSLV Mk3, and won its independence from European space agencies for launching its satellites weighing more than 2 tonnes.  At the same time, CSG India’s efforts by IISc-ians got formal recognition by Indian Express, a nationwide newspaper in India. From career transition talks on campus to now communicating science to layman, the IISc team is bound to go places!

While India’s largest scientific and research body, CSIR, which runs 37 laboratories nationwide declared financial emergency, CCMB, a CSIR centre in Hyderabad, India has developed a novel drug delivery system to treat fungal keratitis in eye. The emphasis is on every CSIR lab to have marketable technology, while CSIR-Tech whose focus was on commercializing technology from CSIR labs shut down officially earlier this year hugely due to lack of funding and legal support from CSIR. That would put the onus on the individual lab to market its technology to earn revenue. If this model fails, we risk seeing 37 defunct labs all over the country. On a parallel note, Prof. Sujoy Guha’s team at IIT-Kharagpur, India has developed novel male birth control measures  but is having a hard time to find companies to launch the technology. Is it only a fear of accepting a new methodology or breaking the age old popular mindset around male’s passive role in contraception or the money of big pharma companies in existing contraceptive market! Prof. Guha’s technique are shown to be as effective as the current measures available, cheaper and more eco-friendly. The developing countries will certainly benefit a lot where a huge part of its contraceptive needs stay unmet. How do pharma companies and policy makers see such issues?

Pharma companies, however, do see hope in big investments on artificial intelligence. Preliminary studies show immense scope for AI in healthcare driving big collaborations in the cancer care. One name that has been appearing often is IBM Watson. While it has just joined hands with Novartis to gain better insights into development of breast cancer therapies, its 4 year collaboration with MD Anderson Cancer Center could not be sustained after a toll of at least $62 mn. In India, Bharat Biotech started with phase I human trials for its chikungunya vaccine.

National Science Foundation, federal science agency in the USA, declared stopping PhD grants in environmental science and organismal biology. Adding to the controversies, USA’s top patent and trademark official, Michelle Lee, known for her efforts to invalidate low quality patents, suddenly announced her resignation – adding one more vacancy to be filled under Trump’s administration. The reasons behind the resignation aren’t yet confirmed by her, but speculations hint towards rift with the Commerce Department.

Moving on from national interests to international implications of political views of the home countries of researchers. While it is not possible and/or worth building huge research facilities with overlapping functions all over the world, especially if the number of researchers using them is rather small. But in having common facilities worldwide, do we risk access for researchers whose home countries have not invested in building the facility? Over years, the field of astronomy has built numerous such common facilities of telescopes, and have been one of the better but yet not perfect examples to show to prioritize science over political agendas. This is probably a difference one sees when science is done for curiosity versus having political and economic gains.

With that let’s see what opportunities opened up in academia over the last week –

If you are preparing to apply for jobs outside academia, understand your potential and interests without falling for the long-held notions around careers. Here are stories from 5 postdoctoral researchers who found their calling beyond academia during their postdoc stint – if you identify with any of them, you have a role model to follow! Find here a networking event for life science professionals in MA, USA and an online free seminar that you might consider attending on gaining the necessary skills for a successful transition for some of the positions we saw over the last week.

And what if you wanted to work in academia and market your work? As a researcher should you head the startup with your technical skills or sell your technology to external licensees? Check what numbers have to speak. While it might seem discouraging for an academician to head a startup according to statistics at the moment, it might be simply mitigated by appropriate training and exposure to the academicians. A praiseworthy initiative is euVENTION that aims to support researchers in establishing startups focusing on chronic diseases in middle aged populations. Basel Life is setting up a platform to bring cutting edge science and technology in labs in front of potential investors and customers. Backed by reputed universities, this is a potent way to guide and support commercialization of technologies developed in universities. And those who think their research can impact policies, see if  and how the World Health Summit at Berlin, Germany might help you.

For those who want to prime themselves with the startup culture and the ideas that are making rounds in the market already, there are some great resources for Indian and global scenes. Those into it might want to know the effective and more importantly many of the free tools to get your startup working. We know what it means to bootstrap! And when it comes to forming your team, choose your members wisely – reports show that peer reviews and testimonies say a greater deal more than GRE/ GPA scores, alma maters, publication lists of an applicant’s abilities. See how you would like to maximize your sales – numbers say that you will benefit the most by having direct interaction with your buyers. But most importantly, remember it is about doing a good research in business too, which is your forte!

With that I come to my summer promise where I give you ideas to reignite your hobbies if they haven’t found a vent since some time. For all the crochet enthusiasts among us, look at these amazing pieces of Anne Mondro’s works. While we are talking of looking at anatomy with abstraction, Judith Brodsky’s work adds a different dimension to the art of science communication. Let your imagination flow, it is not about the prettiness of the art, as she says, but rather a deeper message that it sends across. And story tellers, get inspired by grad student Sara ElShafie as she makes her science stories more engaging with Pixar! CSG is currently brimming with ideas of all kinds, and is waiting to hear more of yours soon!

Featured images are by IpsaWonders (on Facebook and Instagram) and Fuzzy Synapse (on Facebook).

About the author:

Somdatta Karak works with Club SciWri as a project coordinator and Corporate Liaison. She is a doctorate in Neuroscience from Georg August University, Göttingen, Germany and has been a Teach for India fellow (2014-16). She loves putting her analytical skills to build newer and more sustainable solutions, enjoys traveling and communicating and takes every opportunity to expand her horizon.

You can reach her here.

The week that it was – 8th to 14th May, 2017

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This Mother’s day, going beyond the commercial reasons behind existence of such a day, CSG and Club SciWri celebrate the mothers of many a scientific discoveries. Let’s use this as another opportunity to remind ourselves of gender inequalities that exist around us in academia and beyond, and appreciate efforts by groups like Million Women Mentors in STEM, and Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association.

Earlier this week, Europe reassured that they still are away from far-right ideologies. And not only this comes as a reassurance in the wake of US, UK and Turkish elections and growing Nazi-like inclinations in India, the newly elected French president, Emmanuel Macron has also assured support to climate change researchers. Europe, is probably, going through its best time to regain its older glory in scientific research and development by collaboration. Why collaboration? To translate grand ideas into reality – like the bipolar disorder researchers have analyzed roughly 9000 human brains worldwide.

For us to remember in our race for power, by Ipsa Jain (her work at IpsaWonders, on Facebook and Instagram)

That also calls us, the scientists into action for making sure that we are able to convey our messages correctly to public – it is an art to not over-simplify science and yet be able to reach masses, through the power of words. You might even want to consider applying for a summer school in learning the art of science communication by ASBMB. And if you need inspiration, get some from the geniuses like Carl Zimmer.

Patience is a virtue for innovators, one that hasn’t changed since the last 30 years, when the first 3D printer was made, or when Daniel Martinez first noted that hydra do not die to the present day often heard biotech startup failures or the success of newer drugs in increasing the life spans of HIV positive individuals to near normal.  Not every idea is necessarily successful, rather growing while learning from the failures is the skill that we need. In this current age, nothing values more than data. The amount of data that an organization can gather and analyze marks its success. It will be interesting to see how governments work around the big private enterprises that virtually monitor most of us. And there is someone else too, who is getting unsettled with data sharing – science publishing houses. Nature news reports that publishing houses are building strategies to cope up with the increasing trend of sharing paywalled papers. But until that happens, as sad it might be, you can technically get into legal troubles by sharing scientific research articles. Do your bit by speaking up for open access research – OpenCon is one such platform to get yourself educated and heard on open access.

Choose a mentor first, lab next – it helps to ensure both personal and professional growth. But unfortunately, since this isn’t followed by many yet, a lot of us stay confused how will our research advisors react to our possible decisions of transitioning into industry. Read Catherine Sorbara’s opinion on how industries do not care to get academic recommendation letters. Beyond graduate schools, future employers will want to have references, not recommendation letters. And they aren’t the same thing – see what’s different! Know what and how to discuss matters with employers and colleagues. A loose word can cost a lot. And know how to keep your focus on your existing job while you plan your transitions. Accessing these resources to learn is much easier these days. Be spoiled for choice rather to know what you would like to pursue among the list of online courses. Those working in bio/pharma discovery should consider Global BioPharma Summits to stay abreast the rapidly changing trends in the field.

Skim through the works of 41 international biomedical researchers who just got awarded by well-known philanthropies – it might help you as well to know what are the topics trending in the field. 26 biotech startups  in Karnataka, India are awarded funding by the state government. I hope that has gotten your brains active and you are ready to fish out where you see yourself in the coming years.

And then there are freelancers who can mix and match quite a few of these together, quite successfully, eventually with practice! Wonder if you have the right credentials to do it all? Count your relevant experience rather.

Those aspiring for MSL positions, might also consider attending the 2017 MSL Society Candidate Career Conference in North Carolina, USA from June 10-11 – Use the opportunity well for networking with hiring managers. Those who are lost on how to prepare for the HR interviews, here is a great resource. See what are the skills that the big pharma companies look for in their new recruits. Those who are not yet sure if a formal MBA course is what they are interested in, but still might want to gain some education into it, might want to consider the micro-MBA course at UCSD this summer. For the enterprising entrepreneurs, here is a dose of inspiration from Regeneron, on their path from basic research to commercialization.

Now we understand knowing which job suits you the best isn’t an easy job. But one has to start somewhere, sometime! At the same time, know the tricks to look and apply for jobs outside academia, if that is where your heart is.

And since I promised the last time that I will keep you all updated on the out-of-lab activities that you can indulge in this summer – check the live radio streaming worldwide, you might like some light music running while you are busy with your experiments. And because many of us at CSG are also keen on building a library of Goodreads in Science, there is one out by Prof. Jennifer Doudna and her former postdoc, Samuel Sternberg on gene editing by CRISPR, called ‘A crack in the creation‘.

And let me leave you with a food for thought – While India in her pre- and early post-independence days created the stalwarts in science from the likes of Raman to Ramachandran, how does the country still struggle coping up with scientific development when compared to many of her peers like China? Does the answer lie in simply better management of resources and adding accountability? If so, how might that be achieved? Read Prof. Gautam Desiraju’s latest opinion surrounding this.

Featured images are by Ipsa Jain, a Ph.D. student at IISc. She wants to gather and spread interestingness. She prefers painting and drawing over writing. She posts on Facebook and Instagram as Ipsawonders.

About her featured cover image: (From left to right) Shown are Sally Ride, Ada Lovelace, Maria Sibylla Merian, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Hilde Mangold, Barbara McClintock in celebration of Mothers of Science by Club SciWri.

About the author:

Somdatta Karak works with Club SciWri as a project coordinator and Corporate Liaison. She is a doctorate in Neuroscience from Georg August University, Göttingen, Germany and has been a Teach for India fellow (2014-16). She loves putting her analytical skills to build newer and more sustainable solutions, enjoys traveling and communicating and takes every opportunity to expand her horizon.

You can reach her here.

The week that it was – 23rd to 30th April, 2017

in ClubSciWri by
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The week in the scientific community has been hugely highlighted with plans and meetings around ensuring that the March for Science momentum doesn’t fizzle out. And communication of unaltered facts has clearly gathered a lot of attention and has been rightly prioritized. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales launches Wikitribune to provide ‘correct facts’. University of Split, Croatia and Rita Allen Foundation with WGBH could not have been better in timing the announcement of their Summer School in Science Communication and fellowship in science communication, respectively. Plos Pathogens has started a new series – Research Matters – for researchers to write how their fundamental research matters. NASA goes public with its 104,000 pictures, videos and audio files. The European Research Council is actively gathering data from researchers in Europe as well as outside to know how to get the community more engaged in publishing in open access journals. Mozilla has offered paid fellowships for 10 months to train those with ideas in open access science and help them materialize their ideas. Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has joined hands with BioArxiv (the open access repository for life science research from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory). On a local scale, initiatives like Pint of Science and Pune drunk on Science (details available on Facebook, at the moment) are gaining popularity. After all, open access to science is going to be beneficial to all – lay public to entrepreneurs and industrialists.

Another benefit of having science in open repositories will also help in better peer review. The current way of evaluating research is killing the risk appetite among researchers, limiting scientific progress. It becomes imperative to discuss this now as Springer decided to retract 107 of its papers from Tumor Biology for being published with ‘fake reviews’. On the other hand, the field of oncology is also going through one of its most exciting times – Nanoparticle vaccine for immunotherapy, to target multiple types of cancers, developed by researchers at UT Southwestern, is the talk of the town now. And for novices in this area, you can’t miss the overview of the exciting and inspiring development of this field, from Allison and Sharma‘s eyes, the successful couple of the field.

Potentially entrepreneurial ideas are regularly being churned out of IITs, with IIT Madras this time, developing a hand glove to study the hand kinematics – a promise to help detecting the severity of Parkinson’s disease, and also translate the hand movements into speech. An MIT graduate student- an MIT – Tata fellow – is working in Mumbai towards developing ready to use therapeutic food to fight malnutrition in India. WHO is ready to start clinical trials for its malaria vaccine in three African countries. It might now be possible to think of growing premature human fetuses, of 23 weeks and above, outside wombs. If you are buzzing with an idea that can be translated, it might interest you to know that Millipore Sigma has joined hands with LabCentral, a nonprofit startup incubator in Massachusetts.

Despite these, hardships of traditional academicians haven’t changed much yet, with the indecisiveness of a postdoctoral tenure and the heavily unfavorable ratio of academic positions available with the number of applicants for tenure track. The first draft of Trump’s budget for this fiscal year is out, with sizable cuts in biomedical funding. The proposal claims that better planning will ensure achievements aren’t compromised. It has been a year since Germany announced plans to introduce 1000 tenure track positions in academia. University of Göttingen is trying to set an example by inviting suggestions from the current postdoctoral fellows in penning the proposal.

And finally let’s talk of the jobs available around –

  • Immunologists, take note of scientist positions at Biogen, Antibody Discovery, MA, NIBR Biologics Centre, MA, and multiple positions open at CSIR-IMTECH, Chandigarh in areas of therapeutic R&D and drug discovery
  • Electrophysiology experts might want to check the scientist position, at Synapses and Circuits, Roche, Basel, Switzerland
  • Check the exciting scope of ‘designing your own role’ at Chan Zuckerberg Biohub
  • In this age of CROs, know what are the skills that are sought for in a Clinical investigator, and see if the position of Clinical Trial Manager at Celgene suits you.
  • For those interested in advancing and revamping science education, check this interesting postdoctoral fellowship at Yale-NUS College, Singapore
  • Those interested in exploring industrial collaborations while being in academia, take a look at calls from Boehringer Ingelheim for research proposals around GPR68, and an industrial postdoctoral position at Biogen, MA to study neurodegeneration
  • Interested in working on RNA mediated gene regulation? Check the Research Associate position at Cambridge, UK
  • For the non-biologists wanting to transition into biomedicine, Francis Crick Institute is looking for group leader positions in physical sciences
  • For the psychologists among us, there is a lecturer position open at University of Reading, UK
  • For those imaging lovers with commendable interpersonal skills, see if the Microscopy Specialist position at PicoQuant, Berlin, Germany interests you
  • Those without a PhD and wanting to explore industry might want to consider the Scientific Assistant position at the Biorefinery department, Luxembourg Institute of Health

And if you are confused among what to choose from, do consider the possibilities of having multiple careers at once – there are many now who can vouch for its merits.

Nevertheless know the essentials of effective networking from the uber successful in the industry – Chris Fralic talks of his networking stories in the pre-LinkedIn era. And today with technology helping you in your pursuit, you really don’t have to wait for an opportunity to open up to express your will to work with someone – just cold email, the right way though. But at the same time, it has also become more common to have not-in-person interviews. Know how to ensure you make the best impressions on the telecommunication based interviews.

And when this gets too daunting and overwhelming, make sure you are getting enough of that sun. With the regular CSG meets happening all around, here is an interesting outdoorsy and nerdy enough an idea that you might want to consider. Happy May coming soon – we will ensure that you use the summer cheer to the fullest to grow personally and professionally!

About the author:

Somdatta Karak works with Club SciWri as a project co ordinator and Corporate Liaison. She is a doctorate in neuroscience from Georg August University, Göttingen, Germany and has been a Teach for India fellow (2014-16). She loves putting her analytical skills to build newer and more sustainable solutions, enjoys traveling and communicating and takes every opportunity to expand her horizon.

You can reach her here.



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