Elsewhere in Science, 25 October 2013

Every 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 and Science may require AAAS membership/ subscription or a site license.)

• In a 21 October Insider article, Jocelyn Kaiser and Jeffrey Mervis described the impact of the 16-day U.S. government shutdown on grant processes at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “At the National Science Foundation (NSF), the shutdown forced the cancellation of 98 review panels involving 811 scientists, acting NSF Director Cora Marrett told reporters during a teleconference today.” NIH was also hit hard, as “officials canceled more than 200 peer-review meetings involving thousands of scientists and more than 11,000 applications.”

NIH and NSF are making a number of schedule changes to catch up with their workloads. NSF made plans to reschedule submission dates. NIH moved October due dates to November and planned to hold peer-review panels next year—until public outcry caused them to change those plans.

On 23 October, Kaiser wrote that NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research Sally Rockey had “announced on her blog that after hearing from many applicants—as well as reviewers ‘willing to do anything’ to move faster—NIH will now try to schedule most meetings in time for the January council meetings.” With a bit of luck—maybe a lot—new NIH grants will be delivered on time.

• In another ScienceInsider post, Mervis introduced ecologist Stacy Kim, who, despite the reopening of the government learned from NSF that her research in Antarctica would have to wait until next year. When she got the news, Kim was all set to take a 13-member research team to Antarctica to study the intricate food web there. ” ‘[My program manager] said my project was unsupportable because the resources won’t be available in time,’ says Kim, a researcher at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in northern California, a part of the California state universities. ‘So the project is being delayed until next year.’ “

NSF promised Kim that her project will be funded for the following Antarctic summer, but she is worried about the impact that the delay could have on the professional and personal lives of her team members. ” ‘Some of the engineers and technicians will have to go on unemployment, because if they can’t go to Antarctica they can’t work,’ she says. ‘I have two grad students finishing a master’s program, and a 1-year delay will be a big blow to them. My postdoc is in his last year. I’m also concerned about the future of my new Ph.D. student, because delaying her start is not good.’ “

• The shutdown is over but the budget anxiety continues. In News & Analysis, Mervis reported Congress’s plans to reduce the deficit now that it’s “business as usual.” Congress is “trying to set overall budget levels for the 2014 fiscal year, which began on 1 October, and decide whether to continue the automatic budget cuts known as the sequester.” The news is modestly good: Sequestration is still in effect, but across-the-board agency cuts are gone. Agencies now will have more flexibility in how those cuts are made. That’s good news for research advocates because they will now “have a chance to make the case that research is a long-term investment, that it generates the innovations needed for sustained economic growth and prosperity, and that its ultimate payoff can’t be predicted. The bad news, however, is that science is back to competing against every other special interest for a bigger slice of a federal funding pie that isn’t growing.”

• Yesterday, we pointed to a two-part report posted on ScienceInsider in which Mervis shined light on growing concerns about NSF’s “rotator” posts. “NSF itself credits rotators with keeping the agency on the cutting edge of science”—but three reports issued by NSF’s Office of Inspector General indicate that rotators can cost 23% more than government employees with the same job. 

In Part 2 of the report, Mervis introduced Anja Strømme, who was a rotator at NSF until she was accused of violating conflict-of-interest rules and fired. Under the current agreement, rotators can be terminated at any time. “The system needs to be changed to protect future [rotators] against something like this,” Strømme says.

• A few weeks ago, six Chinese nationals at U.S. universities were barred from a conference that is to be held at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. Since that time, members of the scientific community have been trying to figure out how something like this could have happened. This week, Yudhijit Bhattacharjee reported that according to NASA it was all a big misunderstanding. NASA will allow the students to attend the conference. “The agency has now reversed that decision. And it says a ban that agency chief Charles Bolden imposed in March on citizens from China and seven other countries from attending events at NASA facilities is no longer in place—and hasn’t been since this past July.” But because the government was shut down, NASA wasn’t able to set the record straight.

• Every scientist wants to do high-impact research, but how do you make that happen? Is it just about being in the right place at the right time? A report in this week’smay provide some guideposts for researchers. Studying 17.9 million scholarly articles on Web of Science, the authors conclude that “The highest-impact science is primarily grounded in exceptionally conventional combinations of prior work yet simultaneously features an intrusion of unusual combinations.” That’s not exactly a detailed roadmap, but it is suggestive. More useful, perhaps, is their observation that “teams are 37.7% more likely than solo authors to insert novel combinations into familiar knowledge domains.” If you want to do high-impact science, apparently it pays to be a team player.

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